Wacko - Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray Review
Release Date: February 2019
Format: Blu-Ray & DVD
Starring: Joe Don Baker, Julia Duffy, George Kennedy, Stella Stevens and Andrew Dice Clay.
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Thirteen years ago, at the Halloween Pumpkin Prom, the infamous Lawnmower Killer went on a brutal rampage, murdering several high school students, including Mary Graves’ older sister, traumatizing her for life. Now, after the unexpected escape of a prisoner from the state mental hospital, who may or may not be the killer, it’s up to hard-nosed gumshoe Dick Harbinger to solve the case before the Lawnmower Killer seeks out a new slew of victims at the upcoming Pumpkin Prom, that is if anyone is able to survive the hilarious horror hijinks leading up to it!
A raucous parody of horror films and teen sex comedies, predating the Scary Movie franchise by nearly two decades, director Greydon Clark’s (Joysticks) WACKO features a mind blowing ensemble cast including Joe Don Baker (Goldeneye, Fletch), Stella Stevens (The Poseidon Adventure), George Kennedy (Charade), Charles Napier (The Blues Brothers, Supervixens), Julia Duffy (The Doctors) and Andrew Dice Clay in his first feature film role! Never officially released on DVD and barely available in any format since the 80s, Vinegar Syndrome brings this sidelined chunk of horror-comedy gold to Blu-ray, newly restored in 4k from its long lost camera negative!
I have a weird history with this film. I first heard about it/saw it on a “recorded off TV” VHS back in 1997 or 98. A friend at the time, whose name I sadly forget (let’s call him Mike), showed it to me in a “have you ever seen anything like this before? It’s nuts!” type way. My hazy recollection is that I remember it being Naked Gun-lite but, back then, didn’t quite have the film knowledge to understand the slasher film and sex romp era it was made in.
It was one of a handful of films I watched around this formative time that you couldn’t just go into a shop and buy. It was a film that I would occasionally look for when in groovy, collector VHS shops or on friends’ shelves but it was out of print for a long time, destined to just be a very vague and weird memory in the back of my mind.
Then I saw that Vinegar Syndrome was releasing it on Blu-Ray and even just for curiosity’s sake, I had to take the plunge.
Now I can’t sit here and tell you, with a straight face, that Wacko is a good movie. If you’ve seen National Lampoon’s Class Reunion or Student Bodies then you’re in the right ballpark and once you know it’s directed by Greydon Clark who made the immortal 80s sex romp Joysticks, you can kind of put that stuff together in your mind and imagine what we’re dealing with. The weird thing is that it has a pretty great cast, enough of a budget for a very impressive car stunt and one of the four writers, Dana Olsen would go on to write The ‘Burbs but these combined elements do not make the greatest whole.
Firstly the film plays like the four writers went off to four corners of the globe, with a rough idea, came back with some sketches and bits written and Greydon Clark just showed up and said “Whatever, let’s just shoot it, we’re burning daylight here!”
Secondly it’s not enough of any one thing. it doesn’t have the rapid fire, multiple spoof gags of an Airplane or Naked Gun, it doesn’t have the requisite titillation and nudity to please the sex romp crowd and it doesn’t have any affective horror or weird effects to please that audience either.
What it does have in its favour is a cast willing to flagrantly embarrass themselves. The older, established actors Joe Don Baker, Stella Stevens and George Kennedy - all probably hoping they were in the next Airplane (Kennedy would actually go on to great success starring in The Naked Gun franchise) and the younger actors, Julia Duffy, Scott McGinnis, Elizabeth Daily and, in his movie debut, stand-up Andrew Dice Clay who were probably all just happy for the work. The cast genuinely go for it and damn near save the film from its patchy writing and pedestrian direction.
It also has its moments. When you have four writers throwing random spoof mud at the wall there’s bound to be a few jokes and ideas that stick, even if Greydon Clark tries his best ruin them with his ineptitude. The Grease-like intro to Andrew Dice Clay’s Tony Schlongini character is good for a few chuckles, Joe Don Baker’s general schlubby, messed up detective antics, George Kennedy’s repeated hysterectomy gag, the splendid poor taste of Baker’s detective Dick Harbinger having to tell parents their child is dead while dressed as a clown and his anger that a colleague stole his idea for a kangaroo costume and even the, slightly over played, sensitive psychologist in Charles Napier’s office skit, among others. All of these moments could’ve been presented better and written stronger but the nugget of the concept shines through.
It also has a bunch of sequences where the sheer, mind-boggling audacity of it all is enough to keep you watching. These moments are not exactly funny but you’re weirdly happy or just utterly baffled they exist. The driver’s ed car chase and massive, impressive explosion, the weird science class, the puritanical Vice Principle, Detective Harbinger’s ever increasingly weird flashbacks, the idea that the insane science teacher injects the football team and turns them into monsters (which writer and later Buffy The Vampire Slayer producer David Greenwalt recycles in the swim team episode of Buffy) and then the absolutely jaw-dropping, “what were they thinking”, was this even funny in 1982? running joke that Dr. Graves (Gordon Kennedy) openly, creeps and peeps at his own daughters. This last “joke” is made even more sleazy and just wrong by the repeated “What are you doing Daddy?”
”Oh just… mowing the lawn”
”That’s what you always say Daddy” exchange. Yes the “mowing the lawn” reference is a joke on the fact the pumpkin headed killer in Wacko uses a lawn mower and the film constantly and ludicrously sets up red herrings but the “that’s what you always say Daddy” closing line doesn’t illicit a laugh so much as a shudder and an “ewwwwww”.
However it’s pleasingly transgressive and ballsy that it’s in there. These early 80s romps need those moments to remind you just how wonderfully messed up movies used to be allowed to be. It’s why these re-releases are important. It feels like a generation was already allowed to grow up thinking the world is meant to be a safe, shiny space with entertainment that doesn’t challenge, shock or skate along the edges and look where that’s got us! I say, never again! Let bad taste be seen!
So, while you shouldn’t go in to Wacko expecting Naked Gun (or even Scary Movie) type hilarity and while, despite the place it holds in my movie memories, I will never make the claim that it’s a “good” movie, it is another oddity of the 1980s that deserves to still be out there. The 80s was the decade where so many people just “went for it”. VHS and video rentals meant there was a market, an audience and distribution was relatively cheap and abundantly prevalent.
I always thought that with streaming, YouTube and Vimeo etc. that we would usher in a new dawn of mad, creative filmmaking but a lot of the so-called transgressive and daring indie movies being made out there are just trying to redo the seventies exploitation schtick because it worked, momentarily, for the guy who made Hobo With A Shotgun and streaming sites are either filling up with corporate produced TV shows, safe, indie drama films and fucking true crime documentaries - sure, we all loved that one about the kidnapped daughter where, out of nowhere at all, the Dad admits to wanking off the kidnapper on his lunch break (Abducted in Plain Sight) but enough is enough - take a fucking chance and make a few mistakes filmmakers or risk becoming ordinary.
BLU-RAY REVIEW: The big plus, as I have indicated above, about this Blu-Ray is that it exists at all. For that alone, Vinegar Syndrome should be applauded. The picture and transfer is clear with not too much grain. It’s not a film where the colors pop or the majestic widescreen photography is given a new lease of life but from a technical standpoint, it looks better than it has in 35 years. The extras are ok, with the commentary really being the best thing on here but I don’t think you buy Wacko on Blu-Ray because you’re expecting an hour and a half long retrospective documentary about how they decided exactly how much whipped cream to put on the breasts or how they created the pumpkin killer’s rubbery nose. Could there be more interviews? sure but it’s not a deciding factor.
Newly scanned & restored in 4k from its 35mm original camera negative
Brand new commentary track with director Greydon Clark
“Die Laughing” – an interview with cinematographer Nicholas von Sternberg
Never before seen outtakes
Reversible cover artwork
English SDH subtitles
Run Time: 87 min
Wacko is available to buy on Blu-Ray, DVD or stream on Amazon Prime