Filmmaker John Landis’ twin preoccupations of campy horror tropes and rebellious juvenile humor permeate his first feature, Schlock, which he made when he was only 21. A one-joke spoof that sputters well before its brief 80-minute running time has elapsed, Schlock is nonetheless endearing—it’s a love letter to the movies from a lifelong fan, and it never takes itself seriously. Although the story is really just a makeshift framework on which Landis hangs innumerable one-liners and sight gags, Schlock tells the “story” of the Schlockthropus, a missing-link monster that emerges from centuries of hibernation and goes on a rampage until falling in love with a teenage girl. Landis, who wrote and directed the picture in addition to playing the title role from inside an ape suit created by future movie-makeup legend Rick Baker, borrows from Frankenstein (1931), King Kong (1933), and about a zillion other shock-cinema favorites, even including footage from The Blob (1958) at one point. Parts of the movie are presented mockumentary-style, with reporter Joe Putzman (Eric Allison) speaking directly to the camera and/or interviewing experts and victims. Other sequences are presented as straightforward narrative, though Landis (in his capacity as an actor) occasionally breaks the illusion by mugging for the camera.
Schlock is completely silly, but Landis’ deadpan approach to sophomoric humor was already fully formed at this early stage of his career. Clues at murder sites are banana peels. Looney Tunes-style gags occur regularly, such as the bit during which a cigarette lighter that won’t ignite for the longest time suddenly produces a huge jet of flame. Stock characters lampoon stock lines—for instance, a professor proclaims, “I believe we’re on the brink of the greatest scientific breakthrough in the last eight or nine weeks.” Sometimes, this stuff works in a groan-inducing sort of way, and sometimes it doesn’t. The scene of the Schlockthropus participating in a Bronx-cheer contest with a little kid goes on too long, but the bit when the Schlcoktropus uses a throw pillow as a weapon is casually amusing. Throughout the picture, Landis’ camerawork is clean and confident. Editor George Folsey Jr., who subsequently cut most of Landis’ hit comedies, energizes the director’s footage with his customary zippy pacing, thereby ensuring that Schlock has momentum even when it isn’t going anywhere.