Thursday, December 16, 2010

Pandemonium (1982)

Directed by Alfred Sole
Starring Tom Smothers, Carol Kane, Judge Reinhold, Paul Reubens, Candy Azzara
Rated PG

Close on the heels of the sudden rise of the slasher genre in the early 1980s came a brief little burst of slasher parodies, remembered by some though largely forgotten. Among the titles in this little niche are Student Bodies (1981), Saturday the 14th (1981), Pandemonium (1982), and Wacko (1982).

Taken together, these flicks might be said to have a couple of things going for them. All appeared well before Scream and a number of other films sometimes regarded as clever, “postmodern” commentaries and/or extensions of the genre. And all enjoy small cult followings, mostly by those who recall airings on the early days of HBO or who watched them as VHS rentals.

These films also all share many of the same failings, too. All more or less adopted the same absurdist approach used by Airplane! (1980) in its send-up of Airport and other disaster films, though without the genuine inventiveness or consistently successful humor. All pretty much tanked at the box office, too, not coming close to the commercial success of many of the films they spoofed. And all were universally panned by critics -- understandably, for the most part.

Of the group, Pandemonium was actually directed by someone who had directly contributed to the slasher genre -- Alfred Sole, whose Hitchcockian thriller Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) stands as a minor classic of the form. Richard Whitley, co-writer of cult fave Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979), also had a hand in the script here. And the cast is filled out with several recognizable faces at various stages of their careers, many of whom have a number of well-received performances to their credit.

Ultimately, however, Pandemonium ends up coming off much like the other films in this group, a very amateurish-looking affair with a lot of over-the-top goofiness that mostly misfires, most particularly for audiences coming to the film a few decades after Airplane! and all of its imitators.

The film begins with a melodramatic credits sequence replete with full moon, threatening clouds, and urgent music.

We’re then taken to a college football game (with cheesy, obvious stock footage) involving “It Had to Be U” in Indiana, 1963. Blue Grange (Tab Hunter) scores the winning touchdown, and much celebration follows.

We meet Bambi (Candy Azzara), devoted to Blue though ignored by the football star. She’s also shunned by the five snotty cheerleaders, who are swiftly done away with in a single stroke. Making reference to a halftime salute to vegetables, the cheerleaders are carrying their props single file across the field...

...when someone throws a javelin through all five, an act soon to be described as the “Shish-Ke-Bob” murders in a newspaper headline.

“This must be the act of a maniac,” says a photographer at the scene. “Either that or a very large chef,” replies Phil Hartman in a brief cameo.

More newspaper headlines report further murders of cheerleaders. Then, the backstory sufficiently communicated, we cut to “It Had to Be U... NOW” where Bambi has returned to start her own cheerleader camp. She explains her plans to the maintenance man, Pepe (David Lander, a.k.a. Squiggy), and his mother, Salt, such “exposition” being noted by onscreen prompts.

You get the idea -- we’re being taken through the formulaic steps of a slasher film, with a few more direct borrowings from particular films further signaling the filmmakers’ purpose.

For example, we soon meet innocent Candy -- presented as “Victim #1” -- played by the pixie-like Carol Kane (When a Stranger Calls). Leaving for cheerleader camp, she has a Carrie-like moment with her protective mother (Eileen Brennan), with obvious jokes about “dirty pillows” and such, and Candy revealing her telekinetic powers.

“I just wanna be a normal girl,” says Candy, with Kane employing that cute, baby-like tone for which she is known. And which makes the subsequent lines a touch funnier. “I’m gonna make friends! I’m gonna have fun! I’m gonna go out with boys! I’m gonna sleep with truck drivers and get crabs...!”

We quickly meet the other five “victims,” each introduced in equally farcical set pieces. There’s Glenn Dandy, played by a young Judge Reinhold with his hair dyed blonde. Then comes Mandy (Teri Landrum), Sandy (Debralee Scott), Andy (Miles Chapin), and Randy (Marc McClure).

And, yes, later on they get together and enjoy some candy. Which, in the search to create some more daffy dialogue, comes in quite handy.

They all journey to the camp via various means, including riding a bus marked “Certain Death.” We’re then introduced to Sergeant Reginald Cooper, played by comedian Tom Smothers, apparently charged with maintaining law and order there at It Had to Be U, Indiana, and its immediate environs.

That he’s a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- or the “Royal Canadamanadanies,” as he mispronounces it -- riding around on a horse named Bob is never explained. I remember reading somewhere this was meant as an inside joke referring to the fact that many of the slasher pics were filmed in Canada, which I suppose is a bit inspired, if not that funny.

Smothers does his best, though, and produces a few grins during his scenes with Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens who plays Johnson, an assistant of some kind. They discuss and explore the escape of a man named Jarrett from a nearby mental asylum, a murder-slash-carpenter who is said to have killed his family and made bookshelves out of them.

At the asylum we run into the weird chicken dude from Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams (in which Reubens also appeared). Stunning to think this guy somehow found a second opportunity in which to strut his stuff.

Finally everyone gathers at the camp, where further slapstick ensues. The six cheerleaders swiftly segregate into three couples. Glenn Dandy is smitten with Mandy, whose name he tries to guess by covering her nametag.

Sgt. Cooper arrives and apparently is immediately taken with young Candy. They surprisingly break into song (with dubbed operatic voices), one of the few genuinely funny moments in the film.

The craziness continues. The cheerleaders go eat at a diner called House of Bad Pies, served by Crystal and China, played by Candi and Randi Brough -- their real names (no shinola). The twin beauties appeared together in a ton of films and TV shows, and at the time were probably best known for their recurring roles on “B.J. and the Bear.”

All of this silliness has to end, however, as the killer must start claiming victims. Actually the silliness continues even there, with a rapid sequence of supposed-to-be-funny-but-aren't-really improbable kills following. To mention one example, Mandy, who has an irrational (even nauseating) devotion to dental hygeine, meets her end somewhat ironically in a toothpasty mess.

There’s strip poker. A milk (and cookies) bath. Some red herring-like misdirection regarding the identity of the killer. Death by pom pom. Death by megaphone. And lots of eye-rolling double entendres, such as when Andy goes to inspect a troubling noise.

“Do you want me to come with you?” asks Sandy. “Sure, if we time it right,” answers Andy. (Rim shot.)

Soon enough we are left with the Final Girl, Candy, running around in her pajamas.

Sgt. Cooper and his horse Bob turn back up near the picture’s end, too, after seeming to have been riding around in another film for most of the way.

The cast might make this one worth seeking out for some. And as I say, there’s a certain (small) segment who will have some nostalgia for this bit of lunacy. Overall, though, unless your interest in slashers carries you to the point of having to check out all the parodies, too, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going out of your way for this one.

For me, Student Bodies -- with unforgettable Malvert, the double-jointed janitor -- is the one among this group I like the best, a movie that Ken and Seth reviewed way back in Episode 9. Wacko, directed by Greydon Clark (Black Shampoo, Satan’s Cheerleaders, Joysticks), has its moments, too.

- Triple S

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