Wacko Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Greydon Clark
Written by Dana Olsen, Michael Spound, Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt
1981, 87 minutes, Rated PG
Released on February 26th, 2019
Joe Don Baker as Dick Harbinger
George Kennedy as Mr. Doctor Graves
Stella Stevens as Mrs. Doctor Graves
Julia Duffy as Mary Graves
Scott McGinnis as Norman
Elizabeth Daily as Bambi
Andrew Clay as Tony Schlongini
Thirteen years ago, the Lawnmower Killer struck at the Halloween Pumpkin Prom, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Now, as the anniversary arrives, a mental patient has escaped the local asylum and it is up to Det. Dick Harbinger to solve the case before more blood is shed. Meanwhile, high school student Mary Graves and her friends are looking forward to tonight’s party. Her parents are supportive and want their daughter to have fun despite the fact that Mary’s older sister was one of the victims of the earlier massacre. Mary was present at the time of the killing and has been scarred for life with a fear of lawnmowers. Her friends encourage her to put it behind her and enjoy life and with the help of her boyfriend Norman, Mary appears to be on the right track.
Det. Harbinger failed to catch the killer last time and is certain he will strike again tonight. He stakes out the high school in his search for the missing mental patient, determined to stop him before he can add to his body count. There is no shortage of suspects, as the community is full of odd characters, including the faculty, the eccentric vice principal and shifty janitor at the school. Mary’s dad is a bit strange himself as a peeping tom who targets his own daughters! Mayhem ensues throughout the day, but it is at the prom where things really take off. The killer returns and targets Mary and her friends while the majority of the school remains clueless. Can Mary survive long enough to expose the murderer or will she be another victim of the dreaded Lawnmower Killer?
By 1982, the slasher film was saturating the box office with seemingly weekly releases. The genre was ripe for parody and a string of horror comedies had arrived in response, including Student Bodies (1981), Saturday the 14th (1981) and Pandemonium (1982). Director Greydon Clark (Without Warning) stepped up with his own spin on the concept with Wacko, a screwball comedy owing as much to films like Airplane! as it does to the horror genre. Clark loads his picture with sight gags and background jokes while having his actors play the material straight. The comedy is broad at times but there is some subtle humor that really works.
The cast is a mixture of fresh faces and seasoned veteran performers. Joe Don Baker (Walking Tall) stars as Dick Harbinger, the rumpled detective in pursuit of an escaped madman. Cast against type, he delivers a solid performance filled with excellent comic timing. Oscar winner George Kennedy (Uninvited) appears as the bumbling Doctor Graves in a role that pre-dates his comedic turn in The Naked Gun franchise and is a welcome addition. Stella Stevens (The Poseidon Adventure) plays the daffy housewife and comic foil to Kennedy, with whom she shares great on-screen chemistry. Julia Duffy (Newhart) does a fine job as Mary Graves, our teenage heroine trying not to be crippled by her childhood trauma. She is funny and plays well off her co-stars, including Elizabeth Daily (Bad Dreams) and comedian Andrew “Dice” Clay making his big screen debut.
Wacko is a fun ride that served as a precursor to the Scary Movie franchise that followed nearly two decades later. Briefly available on VHS and frequent late-night cable screenings, the film never appeared on DVD, remaining largely unavailable until now as it makes the jump to Blu-ray. If you are a fan of silly horror parodies and are looking for something fresh, consider picking up this forgotten gem.
Video and Audio:
Newly scanned and restored in 4K from the original camera negative, the picture shines in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors pop and black levels are deep and strong. The transfer features a lot of small-object detail and natural flesh tones throughout.
The original stereo mix is presented in the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track. Dialogue levels are clean and free from distortion. Music cues are well-balanced with sound effects and never intrusive.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Director Greydon Clark shares his memories of the production in this newly-recorded audio commentary. The track is laid back and conversational but full of interesting anecdotes, including tales of future celebrities who auditioned for him that he passed on for other talent.
Cinematographer Nicholas von Sternberg sits down for the interview segment Die Laughing (7 minutes). He discusses his efforts working with Clark and helping bring his vision to light. He shares his thoughts on the cast and seems genuinely pleased that the film is getting a wider release.
A collection of deleted scenes appears as a series of never-before-seen outtakes (10 minutes) that play without audio. The footage looks really good and it is a shame the sound is missing, as these are dialogue-heavy sequences.
The original trailer has been included.
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