It seems like as long as there have been horror movies, there have been horror movie parodies. From Abbott and Costello, to Mel Brooks, to Scary Movie…several horror comedies have become fan favorites. Today, though we’re going to look at a horror parody from the 1982 that quickly faded into obscurity. Coming just a few years off the heels of Airplane! it clearly attempts to copy the Zucker Abrahams Zucker approach. You know Psycho…but get ready for Wacko.
We begin 13 years ago when a teenage girl is killed by the pumpkin-head lawnmower killer on the night of the Halloween Pumpkin Prom. Plus, this happens in full view of her four year old sister, Mary, and some of her friends. Then we jump to the present. Mary (Julia Duffy) is now a 17 year old high school student looking forward to the Pumpkin Prom, largely because she and her boyfriend Norman (Scott McGinnis) plan on doin’ it for the first time after the prom. All their classmates are looking forward to the evening’s activities, too, including Bambi (Elizabeth Daily) and Tony Schlongini, aka “the Schlong” (Andrew Dice Clay…credited without the Dice).
There is trouble in town, though. A mental patient escapes a local nut house, leaving a dead nurse in the wake. Leaping into action is Detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) who has been trying to track down the lawnmower killer for the past thirteen years. Thinking the escapee is the lawnmower killer, and determined to finally nab the maniac this time, he starts snooping around the school. Of course, that night at the prom, the pumpkin-headed maniac shows up once again, and the bodies start piling up.
Wacko is a movie that doesn’t let any opportunity to take a jab at another horror movie slip by. Unfortunately, many of the gags don’t land well. We are almost constantly reminded that it’s HALLOWEEN, it’s also PROM NIGHT, and it’s the THIRTEENTH anniversary of the first lawnmower killer attacks. There’s more, though. May’s boyfriend is Norman…as in Norman Bates. He even has a sequence involving “mother.” Then there’s Mary’s younger brother, Damien, complete with the numbers 666 on his forehead. We also have a scene where Andrew Dice Clay’s head spins around before he spits pea soup. Oh, and the science teacher at the school is Dr. Moreau. Speaking of the school, it’s called Alfred Hitchcock High, their mascot is the “Birds,” and they are due to play a football games against their rivals from DePalma High School, the “Knives.” The whole Hitchcock High thing also means we get to hear the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme ad nauseum. Some of these gags come across as slightly amusing at first, but most are so on the nose that they just induce extreme eye rolling on the part of the viewer.
The film is not without some funny moments. I found that most of the jokes that worked were those that were in that Airplane! or Naked Gun style. I know it shows me for being a bit of a simple-minded idiot, but so help me I find it funny when Norman gets a door prize at the prom and it is, of course, an actual door. Still, there are many other attempts at these sort of jokes that, though funny ideas, are just not executed well. It just goes to show the nuance that the ZAZ team brought to their films. Others have tried to duplicate it but rarely succeeded. It doesn’t help matters that there are also some truly nasty jokes peppered throughout the film that are a bit hard to get past. The film opens with the first occurrence of a running gag where Mary’s father (George Kennedy) has a habit of climbing a ladder to spy in her window and see her in various stages of undress. That’s supposed to be funny? A sequence where Andrew Dice Clay’s erection causes a fancy dinner table to capsize was also not high on my list of things I needed to see before I die.
Though the material is hit or miss, heavy on the miss part, I did enjoy the cast. Joe Don Baker is always a treat and here he puts in an appropriately scuzzy performance as cop who probably has changed out of the one suit he owns in about ten years. There’s a weird scene with Baker as a clown that struck me as bizarrely funny. I could’ve done without the scene where he locks lips with Elizabeth Daily in the back of the driver’s ed car, though. Speaking of Daily, she’s as adorable as ever here. Julia Duffy (later of Newhart fame) is also enjoyable, though she does have a scene or two where she inexplicably switches into valley girl mode despite that not being a character trait for most of the film. Even Andrew Dice Clay has a few nice moments, essentially doing his riff on the Fonz. I felt bad for George Kennedy and Stella Stevens, as his wife, though. Both are saddled with some of the film’s worst moments.
Though Wacko is a film I can’t recommend, I did get a certain level of enjoyment out of watching it. Simply being able to locate this all-but-lost 80’s oddity was a treat in itself. Truthfully, though, despite an interesting cast, the film is no great shakes. It has some promising comedic ideas, it’s just they’re executed with the nuance of a sledgehammer.