Turn on your television and you'll see the news that there has been a mass murder at a picnic, brought to you by local reporter on the spot Joe Putzman (Eric Allison). Talking with the police detective in charge, Wino (Saul Kahan), he reveals that the law have no leads and absolutely no idea what has happened - not much to go on, then. On the bright side, the TV station has organised a competition to identify the body parts of those victims who were dismembered, the prize being a chicken dinner for the whole family. But back at the plot, what could have perpetrated this atrocity?
How about a man in an ape suit? For that man was John Landis, and this was his first film which he not only wrote and directed but starred in as well, taking the role of the rampaging apeman. It's interesting to see his nascent style emerge here, with its anarchic humour and fan's appreciation of the conventions of science fiction and horror cinema, but the real question is, for a first attempt is it any good? To which the answer can only be, well, not very, but the enthusiasm carries it.
That ape suit is far better than the film has any right to, and designed by future makeup expert Rick Baker, also showing signs of talent (more than his director, if truth be told). In some scenes it looks like the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage as Landis stalks around the Californian countryside and he and Baker could have made a nice line in hoaxes had they so desired. But comedy was their main objective here, and the film becomes a series of sketches where Schlock, as the creature is named, has close encounters with the townsfolk.
There are recurring characters, of course, Detective Wino (who we never see taking a drink, so why he's called that is anyone's guess) and his very tall sidekick appear throughout. Wino is subjected to cartoonish gags, like a cigarette lighter blowing up in his face leaving him covered in soot, or being fired upon by his own trigger happy men and subjected to a hail of bullets that, Yosemite Sam style, mess up his appearance but don't kill him. At the opening there is a group of four people who look to be the Scooby Doo gang to get to the bottom of the mystery, but soon Schlock bumps off two of them.
Another character who keeps popping up is blind girl Mindy (Eliza Roberts), who has just received an operation to allow her to see, but not before she mistakes Schlock for a dog and keeps throwing sticks for him to retrieve. Her mother (Harriet Medin) also makes regular appearances. There are spoofs, such as a 2001: A Space Odyssey one, and a lot of in jokes that few but Landis would relate to (notice the number of See You Next Wednesday references), but most of the humour is in a random fashion and not much hits the funny bone. It all ends in a King Kong note of tragedy which will have no one shedding a tear, much less of laughter, but it's fast moving and shows invention; this is more the Kentucky Fried Movie Landis than the American Werewolf in London Landis. Music by David Gibson.