Vintage Cable Box: “Jekyll And Hyde – Together Again, 1982”

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“Will a proctologist please report to the Emergency Room?  There’s an asshole waiting!”

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Jekyll And Hyde – Together Again, 1982 (Mark Blankfield), Paramount Pictures

Just before the end credits roll, the camera sweeps over a London cemetery to find the grave of Robert Louis Stevenson. In his coffin, Stevenson’s bones literally turn as he curses the makers of Jekyll And Hyde – Together Again. I know how he feels. It must be how Mary Shelley felt to know that her deep, probing analysis into the Prometheus Complex and the serious deconstruction of reanimating dead tissue was turned into a goofy monster movie directed by James Whale (I’m sorry, but I never much cared for the original Frankenstein). At least, the filmmakers know that they’ve defiled a classic, unlike say Stephen Frears and his dreadful Mary Reilly.

Mark Blankfield is Daniel Jekyll, a somewhat brilliant surgeon who has decided to abandon his practice and conduct research dedicated to non-invasive procedures, namely administering drugs in place of surgery. While working in the lab late one night (“he did the mash!”), he accidentally mixes powders and snorts it up while he sleeps. After a violent fit of coughing, he transforms into a mustachioed sex maniac, decked out in a leisure suit and gold chains, with an electrified jew-fro. A cocaine-scooping nail emerges from his pinky, and his penis grows to impressive lengths. This is really silly. What follows is filler. Mr. Hyde takes to the town.

A respectable schlub, Jekyll is being pressured by his soon-to-be father-in-law (Michael McGuire) into performing a “total transplant” on a Howard Hughes-type character, or else he won’t be able to marry McGuire’s daughter (Bess Armstrong, completely wasted and cast against type in the role of Blankfield’s fiancée). When he becomes Hyde, he hangs out in sushi bars and makes passionate love with a singer and part-time prostitute named Ivy (leader of the hilariously-named new wave/punk band Ivy & The Shitty Rainbows), whom Jekyll had earlier treated for a “foreign object” in her vagina. The foreign object was a small Asian man, but we don’t need to go into that.

Torn between his responsibilities as a “healer”, the chaste relationship with dizzy socialite Armstrong, and his sexually hyperactive libido unleashed upon Ivy, Jekyll begins to lose his mind. Blankfield performs admirably as a physical comedian. Unfortunately his delivery is rife with over-annunciation, and it becomes too much to bear, and because the movie is nothing more than a series of episodes and cheap gags (like lazy Mel Brooks or Carl Reiner), the narrative never manages to probe the deeper metaphysical connotations of Stevenson’s source material. I wasn’t expecting a serious treatise about a dissociative identity disorder, but this movie is almost unbearable to watch and excruciatingly silly. However, the movie does provide a window into the decade of decadence and the rise of cocaine: the drug that is obviously being parodied here.

It absolutely boggles my mind to consider that four extremely talented and prolific writers had their hands in this mess of a screenplay.  Monica Johnson collaborated with Albert Brooks on several excellent screenplays (notably Modern Romance and Lost In America).  Harvey Miller wrote for Taxi, The Odd Couple, Laverne & Shirley, and The Tracey Ullman Show.  Michael Leeson wrote The War Of The Roses.  Director Jerry Belson started writing for The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1961, as well as Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C and I Spy, and uncredited rewrite work for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.  Later in his life, he produced The Drew Carey Show.  The participation of these exceptionally gifted writers reminds me of a review I read about Brian De Palma’s 1990 fiasco, The Bonfire Of The Vanities:  “Only filmmakers this talented could make a film this bad,” or words to that effect.

Mark Blankfield would later appear in the KISS documentary parody, KISS: Exposed (1987), as a clumsy journalist who interviews Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, with hilarious results.  He would also appear in Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men In Tights (1993) as the blind idiot, Blinkin.  Ubiquitous eighties movie presence, Bess Armstrong, will be making further appearances in the annals of Vintage Cable Box, including Jaws 3D and The House Of God.  This movie was a real struggle to get through.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird).  We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images.  We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates.  About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

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Vintage Cable Box: “National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, 1982”

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“Most likely to die crossing the street.”

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National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, 1982 (Gerritt Graham), ABC Motion Pictures

This is one of those very rare occasions where I remember enjoying a movie immensely when I was a kid, and then looking back at it as an adult and thinking it has either not aged well, or it was my eleven-year-old brain that supplied most of the guffaws. It could’ve been that I had seen Class Reunion right after seeing Vacation (now considered a comedy classic) and was not impressed.

I’ve never been to a class reunion. Never been invited. Because of the reckless and impulsive behavior of my mother, we often found ourselves packing and leaving so I never had the opportunity to finish in schools, nor was I privileged to have a stable mailing address. I’ve certainly seen enough movies and television shows about class reunions. My wife was invited to class reunions, but she didn’t have a much of a desire to attend, either. Something about those gatherings seems sad to me. It’s a reminder of age, having to grow up, having to not be what you were when you were young.

Some of those sentiments are touched upon in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, though very briefly because this is a silly comedy/spoof of horror movies. Several movies of this type were released in this time period, notably Saturday The 14th, Love At First Bite, and Student Bodies. Attendees gather for the 10-year class reunion at Lizzie Borden High. The cast is filled with familiar names and faces like Stephen Furst (Flounder from National Lampoon’s Animal House), Miriam Flynn (who would appear in National Lampoon’s Vacation the following year) and Michael Lerner (from Barton Fink).

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CLASS REUNION, Fred McCarren, Zane Buzby, 1982. (c) ABC/ Courtesy: Everett Colleciton.

The participants in the class reunion festivities are being knocked off, one by one, and suspicion points to a less than popular kid (played by Blackie Dammett) named Walter Baylor, who was humiliated by this circle of kids on one fateful night ten years before. Gary Nash (Fred McCarren), formerly the guy everybody forgot – even his best friend – takes charge and leads the investigation, with the help of a mysterious doctor (Lerner). Along the way he attempts to woo the girl he was in love with: Meredith (gorgeous Donna Dixon look-alike, Shelley Smith).

John Hughes started writing for the National Lampoon print magazine in 1979. His first television credit came in the form of Delta House, the failed Animal House spin-off. He wrote Class Reunion, which tanked at the box office, but he followed it with three brilliant comedy scripts: Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Nate and Hayes with David Odell (a personal favorite of mine), which earned him a three-picture directing deal with Universal.

Looking at the picture recently, I noted that despite the otherwise funny and talented cast, Class Reunion lacked true comic timing. There is no focus, no lead character to propel the story, nor someone we can identify with. The director, Michael Miller, shoots everything in wide shots to assemble his cast, and good comedy screams for close-up shots to break up the tedium. The jokes fall flat, which is odd for John Hughes. The warmth and humor of his later work is missing here, and this script would be his only dud in the early eighties. His creative output was astonishing. He worked fast, and his pictures were economical. His unofficial retirement began in 1994, and he passed away in 2009 at the age of 59.

Next time, we take a look back to the classic era of horror movies on Vintage Cable TV, starting with 1983’s Psycho II!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.