It was simply one of those movies you just had to see to believe; over-sized aliens appearing as grotesque clowns invade anywhere town America and cause havoc with popcorn guns and cotton candy cocoons over the course of one chaotic night (which in theaters originally landed on May 27, 1988).
Spawned from the minds of Charles, Edward, and Stephen Chiodo (collectively known as the Chiodo Brothers) in their directorial debut, the trio applied their skills they had previously honed on such other creature-effects driven films as the Critters franchise. The three were at their creative prime, unleashing one of the wackiest movies to ever hit the screens up until that time.
In the film, young lovers Mike (Grant Cramer) and Debbie (Suzanne Snyder) are interrupted at the local lovers’ lane hot spot when they see what they believe to be a comet crashing to the earth. But upon further investigation, they discover a glowing circus tent where the comet by all accounts should have landed, and it’s then that the mayhem truly ensues.
From there the film becomes a classic case of a group of small town kids trying to save the world from evil, but this time that evil just happens to be murderous clowns. Cramer – joined by two dimwitted brothers in an ice cream truck (played by Michael S. Sigel and Peter Licassi) does an admirable enough job as the leader of the group, protecting Snyder (the de facto ’80s damsel in distress, also known for 1986’s Night of the Creeps and 1988’s Return of the Living DeadPart II) from the threat of both the aliens and one very hard-assed local sheriff (played brilliantly by John Vernon of Animal House fame).
The film is also notable for being one of the final appearances by late old-school actor Royal Dano (who had carved out a niche for playing the “old man” role in many a late ’80s horror film, including 1987’s House II: The Second Story and 1988’s Ghoulies II), appropriately appearing as simply “The Farmer.” Pop punks The Dickies also provided the theme song to Killer Klowns…, complete with an accompanying music video. Years after the film’s release, I was able to actually catch the band perform and even meet their guitarist Stan Lee in 2003 (but alas, I can’t recall them performing the track that night).
The author with Dickies guitarist Stan Lee (left) and The Damned drummer Pinch (right) after Fiend Fest in Tampa, FL on 8/12/03.
Today, the film remains a staple in pop culture, with endless midnight screenings and/or cable showings (the film will once again be featured on the upcoming schedule of Svengoolie soon), and countless masks, decorations, and various other appearances across multiple spectrums (including full displays currently seen on a national level at most Spirit Halloween stores. Not bad for a little comedy-horror flick that brought in $43 million in its original theatrical run (that’s a LOT of cotton and popcorn!).
Author Jesse Striewski (right) with wife Brooke and Killer Klown “Slim” on display at a Spirit Halloween store on 8/26/23.
Each year brings the inevitable loss of another cultural icon. It seems this has been happening a lot lately, especially for those of us who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
The recent passing of Ivan Reitman at 75 is another reminder of irreplaceable talent in a fast-paced, ever-changing world. Reitman was one of the most reliably talented in his field. As the director, producer, and/or writer of countless seminal classics, his work behind the camera helped define the essence of modern American comedy. His films launched the careers of several comedic legends throughout the ‘80s, while reveling in absurd, wildly original concepts that always delivered.
Reitman’s strength lied in his dedication to offbeat premises and the realism necessary to keep them grounded. His track record wasn’t perfect, but there’s a reason his films remain so beloved today. He respected audiences and sought primarily to entertain. But none of that would have been possible without an adept storytelling methodology and greater understanding of the comedy formula overall.
Reitman was born in the Slovakian town of Komárom in 1946 to parents who were both Holocaust survivors. His family later immigrated to Canada, where Reitman studied music and directed several short films. After years of TV and stage production gigs, his first professional foray into film production began with two films from Canadian horror legend David Cronenberg, Shivers (1975) and Rabid (1977).
Soon after, he found early success as producer behind the anarchic comedy hit Animal House (1978), notable for its memorable ensemble cast, including the great John Belushi. Reitman’s directorial debut Meatballs (1979) gave Bill Murray his first starring role as a clownish camp counselor. This was followed by another Reitman-directed comedy hit Stripes (1981), starring Murray and Harold Ramis, who sadly passed away in 2010.
Stripes further set the tone of the anti-establishment comedy prevalent during that time and featured Murray and Ramis as two aimless slackers who join the Army on a whim. Reitman seemed to have a knack for cultivating comic talent in what critics deemed the “slob genre,” mainstreamed by movies like Caddyshack (1980). But nothing could contend with the multi-million dollar cultural phenomenon that followed.
Ghostbusters exploded into cinemas in 1984 and quickly became the highest grossing comedy of its time. The supernatural special effects extravaganza was scripted by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, introducing a group of eccentric scientists who start their own ghost-catching business. Everything about the film has become a mainstay in our culture. The ubiquitous Ray Paker Jr. song and merchandise that followed continue the endearing legacy of a cherished film and its subsequent franchise.
As director, Reitman was primarily responsible for establishing a realistic backdrop to make the story more believable, and thus, more effective. Aykroyd initially envisioned the Ghostbusters battling supernatural entities in space. After several rewrites with Ramis and additional guidance from Reitman, the story was set in its now iconic location in the heart of New York City. Reitman hired effects wizard Richard Edlund and his company to deliver the groundbreaking special effects, including the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s downtown rampage. Reitman knew that for the film to work, everything needed to be convincing. He also expertly merged comedy, suspense, and horror into the proceedings. The results are pure movie magic and a testament to his directorial abilities.
Reitman followed his biggest hit with the moderately successful comedy drama Legal Eagles (1986), starring Robert Redford, Debra Winger, and Daryl Hannah. The idea stemmed from Reitman to emulate the sophisticated legal thrillers of the 1940s. But its impact paled in comparison to his next comedy, Twins (1988), starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his first comedic role) and Danny De Vito as two “twins” reunited after being separated at birth. By this period, Reitman displayed a mastery of the form and once again delivered a fantastical premise with heart, suspense, comedy, and broad appeal.
Ghostbusters II (1989) was released during a summer of blockbusters that included Batman, Back to the Future Part II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It held its own and successfully brought back the original cast for more supernatural adventures in NYC. As a child, Ghostbusters II was the first film of the franchise I saw in theaters. It left me enthralled, even rivaling Batman as my favorite movie of the year. Today, the film holds up just as well as the original, despite what the naysayers say. Reitman’s direction remains reliably solid, utilizing the effective chemistry of the film’s key players and equally impressive special effects.
Kindergarten Cop (1990) saw Reitman once again team up with Schwarzenegger to deliver a raucous comedy blockbuster based on an improbable concept turned real. In this case, Schwarzenegger’s hard-edged detective character goes undercover as a kindergarten teacher to catch a bad guy. The movie was criticized as being too intense for children, which speaks to Reitman’s knack of fusing several genre elements together. Reitman was still at the top of his game, delivering the comedy hit Dave in 1993, the successful but embarrassing Junior (1994), and his welcomed return to science fiction comedy with Evolution in 2001.
When not directing, he produced dozens of notable films throughout the ‘90s and 2000s. He never stopped working, even producing the latest incarnation of the Ghostbusting franchise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021), directed by his son, Jason. For someone beholden to comedy, it’s evident by the sheer quality of his work that he took his profession and work seriously.
The passing of a film director may not have the same impact as an actor, musician, athlete, or noted celebrity. The same could be said for scientists, authors, physicians, or anyone whose grand achievements occur outside of the limelight. We only know what we see. To me, a director’s work represents one piece of their catalog. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, but I always look for the stylistic similarities.
I remember seeing the Twins trailer in the coming attractions before The Land Before Time (1988). It showed two newborn babies crying, still in the hands of doctors, with caption across both infants that read, “Danny De Vito” and “Arnold Schwarzenegger.” I was intrigued, especially when Reitman’s name was listed in the credits. I recognized his name from the sleeve of my worn-out VHS copy of Ghostbusters. Today, I remain grateful for his work. He gave us with laughter, excitement, and a love for the memorable characters and situations that will live on for generations to come.
When legendary film producer/writer Paul Maslansky originally agreed to speak with Rewind ItMagazine, I doubt he knew the extensive knowledge I had on such films of his like Police Academy and Ski Patrol. And no doubt he was unaware how endlessly I watched these films when I was hospitalized for many months after a freak car accident when I was just eleven years old (something I rarely mention), or how I wanted to be a police officer for the longest time “when I grew up” thanks to the Police Academy films (I would come close, working many years side-by-side with law enforcement in the security field, in addition to journalism).
So when Maslansky begun recounting to me recently over the phone the story of how he initially came up with the idea for Police Academy on the set of 1983’s The Right Stuff after seeing a group of misfit police cadets, I was already prepared with a question, and asked if he thought he still would have came up with the idea or not that would ultimately spark an entire franchise had he not been there that day to see those inspiring recruits. He seemed genuinely surprised and impressed; “You know, that’s a damn good question…I’ve never been asked that before! But I I always wanted to make “gang” comedies ever since AnimalHouse, which I thought was extraordinarily good, and that was an inspiration in many ways. So I don’t know whether or not I would have ever come around to it. It was really the moment, when I saw what was happening right in front of me that inspired me to write the story. Damn good question, though.”
I also wanted to know just how it was possible to churn out so many films in one series six consecutive years (from 1984-1989) in a row. He informed me; “It was almost like a sitcom; You had Hugh Wilson who came from WKRP in Cincinnati, and then Jerry Paris who was of course Gary Marshall’s guy. And that’s really why we were prepared for it; we had a cast that was steady, and every year everything was just serendipitously there, and the studio kept asking to make another one because the results were just so damn good, and the costs for these pictures was not that much. It was just really smooth operation, and I had the right directors, production managers, and just overall people in general all of the time.”
And does he have a film in the series other than the original that’s his personal favorite?; “I do have a favorite other than the first, and it’s because it was under great difficulties making it, and that was the last one in Russia. I made a number of films in the Soviet Union, and then I decided to bring Police Academy there for Mission to Moscow, and Warner Bros. said they wouldn’t finance it. But eventually they agreed, and then we went over, and it was then they had the counter revolution in the middle of the picture (Laughs). But we managed to complete it, and it’s really a silly movie that a lot of people seem to enjoy.”
I also asked a little about his background and how he got into filmmaking. He informed me; “I went to one year of law school at NYU, and I have to admit it wasn’t my calling, so we decided it would be best to part company (Laughs). But I met some terrific people at that time, and up until even quite recently they remained friends of mine, but sadly most have passed on. But I did go to an extraordinary undergraduate school, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA, before I went to Kansas City University after I got out of the military. But I was a C student at best, because I had so many other interests, especially music, and played jazz trumpet.”
He continued; “Once I left school, I decided to play music in Paris, and I was successful at that. I eventually met a young Danish film student, Benny Corsone, who was studying in film school at the time. He had to make a documentary film for his class, and he asked me to produce it. The film won a modest prize at Cannes, and in any event, a producer by the name of Charlie Schneer, was working on a film called Jason and the Argonauts, and had seen my film, and called and asked me to interview…and from there I became his assistant and we shot it in Italy. And that was really my baptism by fire and start in serious filmmaking. And eventually I decided to produce myself, and made a picture in Rome with Christopher Lee called Castle ofthe Living Dead with a guy named Warren Kiefer.”
But the whole reason for my conversation with Maslansky in the first place was thanks to recent interviewee and Ski Patrol star Roger Rose, who told me of their plans to remake the film. Maslansky filled me in a bit more; “Roger came to me a couple of months ago and said there were some people really interested in getting Ski Patrol going again, and I said, ‘Why not?’ So now we’re in the process of trying to get MGM, which we discovered wound up with the underline rights to the film. It’s gone through a couple of different hands over the years, and MGM is in the process of being taken over by a different group, so it’s been difficult to get to the right people there at the moment. But I have a feeling that ultimately, we’ll be able to pursue it properly. And we’ve also got the interest in of group called the Workaholics; it was one of their favorite films, and they would very much like to do that.”
He then gave me some background on how the original film came to be; “One of my neighbors at the time, Wink Roberts, was a stuntman and a damn good skier, and said, ‘Let’s make a movie called Ski Patrol,’ and the next thing you know, we’re making the movie (Laughs). It helped at that time that the Police Academy films were a great success, so it was easy to produce another gang comedy. And that’s really the genesis of it all. And then Roger came to me about doing it again with the Workaholics guys, and they were so enthusiastic about doing it that I said, ‘Let’s proceed!’ But I think nearly any ski resort in the country would be happy to have us film there right now, because I think unfortunately there’s been a bit of a decline in the sport recently, certainly because of Covid.”
And when asked if Rose will show up in the new film or not, he assured me; “Oh yeah, I very much want Roger to appear in it, and maybe get some of the older guys from the original film to make appearances, too. A lot of them are still around, but it’s different with Police Academy, every year we seem to lose more. We just lost a wonderful guy, Art Metrano (Captain Mauser from the second and third installments, who passed away earlier this month on September 8 at age 84), who lived down there in Florida. We’ve lost so many more of them, including Bubba Smith, George Gaynes, Marion Ramsey, David Graf, and said directors Hugh Wilson and Jerry Paris.”
I asked Maslansky to tell me a little about Metrano, with which I’ll end on; “Art was a tough Brooklyn guy, and had one of the quickest wits, but also had a wonderful comedy act. He was a religious man, and a damn good father. We were buddies and used to hang out, and he was as brave a man that you could find after his horrific accident that paralyzed him in the late ’80s. But through it all, his sense of humor was infectious, and he used it to make people laugh during the many months he spent in that hospital ward. It was remarkable the amount of good cheer there was as a result of Art’s presence. And working together with Lance Kinsey in the two Police Academy films he did, they were just a terrific pair. I sure will miss him.”
The 1980’s no doubt saw an unprecedented surge of werewolf films; the original Howling starring Dee Wallace spawned a franchise full of endless sequels, while Stephen King’s Silver Bullet was adapted in to a feature film starring Corey Haim in 1984. And who can forget when Michael J. Fox became a Teen Wolf in 1985 (and when Jason Bateman followed in his paw prints for its sequel just two years after that?)? But out of all of these films, none of them reached the sheer surrealism (or weirdness) of 1981’s An American Werewolf inLondon, which just reached its fortieth birthday mark this past week.
Originally released on August 21 of that year, the plot found two best friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) attacked by a werewolf while backpacking through England together. Jack is killed mercilessly, while David survives the bloody ordeal, only to carry the curse of the lycanthropy with him until his eventual transformation.
In the meantime, David is taken in by the beautiful young nurse (Jenny Agutter) who befriended him while his stay in the hospital. Unbeknownst to her, David is not only suffering from terrifyingly vivid nightmares, he’s also being paid visits from a decaying Jack, warning David of his grim fate, and urging him to take his own life before it’s too late. When the inevitable finally happens and David turns, it causes for some of the most tense animal rampage moments ever captured on screen up until that time, eventually leading to its near tear-jerking climax.
The film was written and directed by John Landis, who was previously known primarily for such slapstick hits as National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), which no doubt aided in the levels of dark comedy found within Werewolf. The award-winning makeup effects were handled by the legendary Rick Baker, whose resume not only includes such Hollywood blockbusters as Star Wars, but numerous other werewolf films as well, including not only the previously mentioned The Howling from the same year, but also Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller two years later (for which he and Landis were both handpicked by Jackson for their work on the film). But it was Baker’s revolutionary work on Werewolf that would forever help shape the face of the genre to come.
Even the music in the film stands out with its own sense of irony; not only are two different versions of the hit pop song “Blue Moon” featured, so is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” (a band Rewind It Magazine was also there to cover live in 2019 – the “Revisited” version anyway). These songs (among others) are brilliantly inserted at prime moments throughout the movie.
Since it’s release, An American Werewolf in London has become somewhat of a cult classic, and was one of those films that seemed to always be on cable TV any given Saturday afternoon in the ’90s (I still even have the VHS copy of it that I picked up at a Kmart at some point in my teens). By the end of the decade, it even spawned it’s own stunningly predictable sequel, 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris, starring Tom Everett Scott.
But it’s the original film that will no doubt be remembered for years to come. In 2007, I was lucky enough to meet the film’s star, David Naughton (see photo below). Even then, I asked him something along the lines of why he felt the film had such a lasting effect with audiences (my early journalistic instincts obviously kicking in), to which he said (and I’m completely paraphrasing here) something along the lines of; “I think it just struck a nerve because of how different and shocking it was at the time. People were not expecting what unfolded before them at all.” I couldn’t agree with you more, David.