This is a film where just wondering how on earth it ever came to be is almost as much fun as the film itself. Ivan Reitman has directed some of the best comedies ever (“Meatballs”, “Stripes”, and the two “Ghostbusters” films, to name a few) and stars Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin were, two years after this film, cast members on “SCTV”, one of the best sketch-comedy shows of all time. It’s a weird little low-budget slasher film that predates “Halloween”, “Friday The 13th”, even “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, and the dialogue is almost entirely improvised. Sound interesting so far?
Levy and Martin are Clifford and Gloria, a new couple who are driving for a weekend getaway and are a bit lost. Once you’ve got over the shock of seeing the genial old man from the “American Pie” movies as a young hippy, with an outstanding curly mass of hair (the “jewfro”, as it’s known by my Jewish wife), you can settle into the storyline, which involves them sort-of breaking down in a small town which definitely has an odd secret or two. They’re told an urban legend by the manager of the B&B they find, about a mysterious man and his three “wives”, who eat people and apparently never ever get sick. The house in the legend is in reality a restaurant, and the guy who runs the restaurant is a very strange man, and has three beautiful assistants…
Apparently, Eugene Levy met Ivan Reitman at film school, and this was their second film together (both Levy and Martin had a small part in Reitman’s first film, “Foxy Lady”). Although Reitman is credited as one of the writers, there’s a “disclaimer” during the opening credits that the dialogue was actually improvised by the cast, even though I’m guessing they’d finished the improv by the time they were filmed – it’s really really well done, either way. That people who’d clearly already trained in improvisation would choose to make what is, to all intents and purposes, a straight-ahead slasher film is a puzzler, especially as both director and stars would stick to comedy from this moment on, pretty much exclusively for the rest of their careers. I mean, there’s funny stuff in this film, but it’s much more a straight horror than it is a parody of that genre – at least partly because the genre didn’t really exist at the time.
Once the idea wandered across my mind, it was impossible to shake – this film is the unholy offspring of “Manos: The Hands Of Fate” and “Troll 2”. You’ve got a naive couple wandering down the wrong path; a weirdly charismatic but super-evil father figure to a house full of oddballs; they share very strong similarities when it comes to the ending, town full of people who are in on it…you can describe this film completely just by referencing two of the worst films ever made.
The improv nature of it lends it that unusual flavour, but their discipline means the film never feels too baggy. It’s not perfect, by any stretch – like so many horror films, it relies on people being trusting to the point of stupidity to get them into position – but it’s good enough to be viewed and enjoyed not just as one of the great modern cinematic oddities (although it’s definitely that as well).
Rating: thumbs up