Vinegar Syndrome’s ‘Wacko’ (1982) 4K DVD/Blu-ray Review

Last month, I was greeted at my mailbox by a package from one of my very favorite film distributors, Vinegar Syndrome (see my review of their 4k Blu-ray release of 1993’s Body Melt here). Since I hadn’t ordered anything from them recently, the contents inside that inconspicuous mailing envelope were a complete mystery to me. To my surprise, it was Blu-ray/DVD for the 1982 National Lampoon-style slapstick horror film, Wacko, restored in glorious 4k restoration from its long lost camera negative, along with a reversible slipcover. Slapstick horror? Count me in!

Originally releasing May 28, 1982, Wacko predates this generation’s most well known slapstick horror film, Scary Movie, by over twenty years. Not only is it a parody of both horror films and teen sex comedies, it is called by those in the know the slasher version of Airplane!. This little known film hasn’t been available on VHS since the ’80s, and never on DVD or Blu-ray, despite the fact that it came out around the same time as other similar horror comedies like Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), Student Bodies (1981), Full Moon High (1982), Pandemonium (1982), Hysterical (1983), Saturday the 14th (1981) and Class Reunion (1982), which was written by The Breakfast Club’s John Hughes.

“Death to all teenagers who fuck!”

Directed by Greydon Clark (Joysticks 1983) from a script by The ‘Burbs’ Dana Olsen, Wacko stars Andrew Dice Clay (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane 1990) in his debut role as Tony Schlongini, along with Joe Don Baker (Fletch 1985, Goldeneye 1995) as Dick Harbinger, Stella Stevens (The Poseidon Adventure 1972) as Mrs. Doctor Graves, George Kennedy (Creepshow 2 1987) as Dr. Doctor Graves, Charles Napier (The Blues Brothers 1980) as Chief O’Hara, Julia Duffy (Newhart TV series) as Mary Graves, Elizabeth EG Daily (Rugrats TV series, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure 1985) as Bambi, Scott McGinnis (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock 1984) as Norman Bates, Sonny Davis (Fast Times At Ridgemont High 1982) as the Weirdo and Michael Lee Gogin (Critters 1986) as Damien.

Both sides of the reversible Wacko slipcover

Synopsis:

Thirteen years ago at the 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 the prisoner from the state mental institution, 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!

Special Features

  • Newly scanned and 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
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible cover artwork
  • English SDH subtitles

I honestly can’t believe this film isn’t more popular. Sure, it’s not scary, but the horror elements mixed with the hilarious comedy is certainly noteworthy, and Wacko should get more recognition. Like Body Melt before it, this Wacko restoration is absolutely gorgeous. It’s so clear, that if I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was a throwback film in made in contemporary times. The only thing I noticed were some glitchy bits during the credits, but that may have been my personal copy of the film and not something that’s been recreated on all of these Vinegar Syndrome Blu-rays and DVDs.

Rather than go through what I liked and didn’t like about it, I’m just going to list some of my favorite things.

Horror Nods

  • Alfred Hitchcock:
    • The recurrent use of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme song, The Funeral March of the Marionette
    • The name of the school is Alfred Hitchcock High School
    • The football game played at Alfred Hitchcock High School was between two teams: Hitchcock’s BIRDS and the Brian de Palma High School’s KNIVES
  • Like Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, The Lawnmower Killer wears a mask… although his is a giant Jack-O-Lantern with a pumpkin stem nose
  • Mary’s little brother, Damien, has a a 666 on his forehead and can summon actual Hell in the attic
  • A teacher named Dr. Moreau, who happens to own his own island, has invented a secret serum that will give the football team a leg up over their competitors by turning them into a literal pack of wild animals
  • Detective Dick Harbinger is the movie’s Dr. Loomis, trying to capture a killer that no one believes is real
  • During lunch, Tony Schlongini drinks a bowl of pea soup and does a full-on Reagan from The Exorcist impression
  • The Pumpkin Prom is a shoutout to Carrie (1976), Prom Night (1980), Halloween (1978) and My Bloody Valentine (1981)
  • The Lawnmower Killer could possibly be a lunatic from the local insane asylum, who escaped 13 years to the day of the original Lawnmower Killer’s slaughter, similar to Michael Myers in the first Halloween
  • A nurse being mauled by a werewolf is a nod to An American Werewolf in London (1981)
  • A line from a note received by Mrs. Doctor Graves, “… and don’t go into space, ’cause no one can hear you scream,” comes from Alien (1979)
  • The black goo spilling out of Tony Schlongini’s locker is a shoutout to The Amityville Horror (1978)
  • The final showdown between Mary and the Pumpkin Killer is nearly a shot-by-shot recreation of the climactic Halloween (1978) chase scene between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers
  • In a dream sequence right out of the one at the end of Carrie (1976), as Norman and Mary are finally about to have sex, a mini lawnmower bursts out of his chest like a grass clipping chestburster from Alien (1979)
Norman Bates and his lovely mother

Quotes

  • (Opening line) “Death to all teenagers who fuck!”
  • Mary (about her father): “… he’s acting like he’s killed somebody!” Mary’s mother, Mrs. Doctor Graves: “Mary! Your father is a doctor… He kills people every day!”
  • “Lawnmowers do not kill people. People kill people.”
  • Prom Chaperone: “I can’t allow you to leave. You’re either going out for drugs or drink. It’s against the rules.” Mary’s friend, Rosie: “It’s okay. We’re just having some kinky sex.” Prom Chaperone: “Oh, alright.”
  • After kissing Mary in the car, her boyfriend, Norman Bates, starts making engine revving noises. Norman: “Mary, I can’t help it if I sound like a lawnmower when I get excited.”
  • Dick Harbinger: “Frankly, Frank!” A nod to the line in Airplane! “Surely, you can’t be serious.” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”
  • Dr. Doctor Graves and his wife, Mrs. Doctor Graves, get high on the laughing gas that the good doctor uses as anesthesia during his surgeries. When she asks him what his real first name is, he replies, “My first name is Doctor. I don’t even have a degree!” They both burst out laughing
  • Repeated throughout the film when referring to Mary witnessing her sister’s murder: “She’s bound to be screwed up by the terrible images she must carry with her for the rest of her life.”
Detective Dick Harbinger delivers the news to the Graves: “I don’t know how to tell you this, so I’ll have to be blunt. Pam’s been murdered. And the other daughter, Mary, she saw the whole thing. She’s bound to be screwed up by the terrible images she must carry with her for the rest of her life.”

Random Weirdness

  • Mary’s father is a pervert who likes to spy on and even touch his sleeping daughter (which was a little too uncomfortable to be funny). When he gets caught, he always says he was just mowing the lawn
  • The main psycho is called The Lawnmower Killer because he chops people up with a giant, upgraded lawnmower
  • Character names:
    • Norman Bates
    • Damien
    • Dick Harbinger
    • Tony Schlongini
    • Dr. Moreau
    • Vice Principal/Preacher Harry Palms
    • Dr. Doctor Graves
    • Mrs. Doctor Graves
  • Andrew Dice Clay’s character, Tony Schlongini, is a parody of Danny Zuko in Grease, from the way he looks and dresses to the fact that he introduces himself with a finger snapping musical number
  • Dick Harbinger and the loony bin doctor recite a version of the Abbott and Costello number, “Who’s On First?”
  • Detective Dick Harbinger is so addicted to caffeine that he carries a briefcase that he fills to the brim with coffee. It even has a spout on the side for easy access
  • When Harbinger, a white man, has dinner with his family, it’s discovered that they are all black. This could be a nod to the 1979 film, The Jerk
  • The escaped lunatic offers up a pretty good Johnny Carson monologue impression
  • Dr. Doctor Graves’ operating suite is always covered in blood, pictures of half-naked women and lawnmowers
  • All kills were offscreen and bloodless
Dr. Doctor Graves answers the phone during surgery

This finally wraps up my review of Greydon Clark’s Wacko. Yes, I know it’s really long. There’s just too many things that I wanted to mention. This movie is a fun time, especially for fans of National Lampoon-style comedy. If you’re interested in picking up a copy, you can go here.

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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