Comedy redubbing! MGM did it with their “Goofy Movies” in the mid 1930s; 50s US comedian Ernie Kovacs did it in a few TV sketches; the TV show “Fractured Flickers” did it in the early 60s. But as far as I can tell, the first movie entirely dubbed for comic effect was Woody Allen’s “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” in 1966. A work of genius, the idea was so odd that the movie had Allen appear at the beginning to explain what was going to happen; a Japanese spy thriller was transformed into a story about finding the perfect recipe for egg salad.
The internet has turned this sort of thing into a cottage industry, and there are many weak imitators too. But the most notable “joke dub” movies are probably “Ferocious Female Freedom Fighters”; “Hercules Returns” (probably my favourite); “Can Dialectics Break Bricks?”; and “Kung Pow: Enter The Fist”, which goes one step further and digitally inserts writer / star Steve Oedekerk into an old martial arts movie.
“What’s Up, Hideous Sun Demon?” is a fairly obscure addition to this tiny sub-genre, from 1983. Information is a bit thin on the ground about it – future horror movie writer Craig Mitchell got the complete blessing of Robert Clarke, writer / director / producer / star of a low-budget independent horror movie from 1959 called “Hideous Sun Demon” (aka “Blood On His Lips”), to re-edit, re-dub and generally mess with his movie, to his heart’s content. Mitchell gathered together a group of LA comedians, most notably future TV host Jay Leno, and they made…well, a movie with a surprisingly similar plot to the original.
“Call me Ishmael. Ishmael Pivnik” is a fantastic opening line, and I was in stitches through most of the movie. Lord knows why this sense of humour just chimed perfectly with me, but if you’ve agreed with my views on comedy up to now, I feel confident you’ll love this one. Pivnik is a scientist developing a tanning solution that tans you from the inside (weirdly, a plotline ripped off by is-it-racist? Comedy “Soul Man” a few years later), and messes up the formula, using too much plutonium – he thinks, he’s a pretty poor scientist. Anyway, this turns him into a fairly hideous creature (more Black Lagoon than Sun Demon, but whatever) whenever he’s exposed to the sunlight. He falls in love with a lounge singer, and has a lot of interaction with his…neighbour?…Professor Essor, and the professor’s wife. A bit of action between Mr and Mrs Essor where they do some roleplay to spice up their love life is absolutely hilarious.
There’s little bits of extra footage here and there when they needed an extra gag – a little old lady’s magazine is replaced with a bondage / S&M publication, and when Ishmael is trying to entice the lounge singer he first puts down a bunch of flowers, then chocolates, then an 18-inch rubber dildo. Stupid, but it works. And they’ll occasionally mess with the footage in other ways, such as running all the driving footage backwards and having Pivnik claim it’s easier.
“Sun Demon” sort of gets bored with its own premise towards the end and turns a little girl into a pot-smoking “jive” talker, and her mother into a cyborg killer. It’s this “go anywhere for a joke” idea that’s one of my favourite things about it – the density of gags is truly fantastic. The only slow bit, really, is the open, which was shot specially in 1983 and features a group of college guys slowly gathering round a TV to watch “Hideous Sun Demon” (presumably done to boost the movie to feature length, as it barely scrapes 70 minutes even with this “prologue”).
An interesting thing about “Hideous Sun Demon” is that the original movie is rather well-regarded by some people. It’s claustrophobic, well-acted, and deals with the nuclear panic of the day in an interesting way (okay, the ending is bonkers, but that’s by the by). All the other movies that have been dubbed in this way were rotten; but this was likely picked because it was effectively a home movie – made from whatever money he could scrape together by a studio actor, filmed with his friends on weekends. In the pre-VHS days, it had probably lapsed into obscurity (I’m guessing, like I said, there’s really barely any information about this out there).
If you can find it – easier nowadays, there’s a bare-bones DVD available – and you have any love for dubbed movies, I highly recommend watching this. A hidden gem.
Rating: thumbs up