It is Halloween, on Prom Night, on the thirteenth anniversary of the infamous Lawnmower murders. As a child Mary Graves (Julia Duffy) witnessed her older sister’s grisly death at the hands of the pumpkin-masked Lawnmower Killer. Now a senior at Alfred Hitchcock High School, Mary is eager to lose her virginity to doting boyfriend Norman Bates (Scott McGinnis). Following the escape of a mysterious bald, half-naked inmate from the local insane asylum, dogged police detective Dick Harbinger (Joe Don Baker) suspects the Lawnmower Killer will strike again. Thirteen years ago Harbinger swore he would not rest until he arrested the elusive madman and literally hasn’t slept a wink since. With the cranky, bleary-eyed, caffeinated cop on the case, Mary and her friends hit the prom, unaware the Lawnmower Killer lies in wait.
Wacko was among a handful of slasher movie spoofs released in the early Eighties alongside the hilarious Student Bodies (1981) directed by Woody Allen cohort Mickey Rose, Pandemonium (1982) an amusing parody from offbeat horror auteur Alfred Sole and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982). It was evidently obvious to many that the genre had already lapsed into self-parody anyway, although these shrewd satires did nothing to stem its continuing decline in quality throughout the decade with straggling items like Bloody Pom Poms (1988) and the ever-worsening Friday the 13th, Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels. Versatile journeyman Greydon Clark got his start as an actor as part of the stock company of infamous schlock merchant Al Adamson before going on to become one of the more engaging exploitation filmmakers of the Seventies and Eighties. His most notable works include the good-naturedly trashy likes of Black Shampoo (1976), Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) and, a personal favourite, the alien-in-the-woods classic Without Warning (1980). Here Clark assembles an exceptional cast who inhabit their ridiculous roles with gusto performing comedy so broad it makes the Three Stooges look like Alan Bennett.
Co-written by an intriguing array of future big league scribes including Jim Kouf who went on to pen comedy cop capers Stakeout (1987) and Rush Hour (1998) as well as cult sci-fi favourite The Hidden (1988) under the pseudonym Bob Hunt, Dana Olsen writer of Joe Dante’s excellent The ’Burbs (1988) and the less-than-great Inspector Gadget (1999), and most notably David Greenwalt, writer-producer-director on seminal shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel as well as the more recent fairytale-themed Grimm, Wacko is a predictably hit-and-miss affair. Its humour wavers from riotously funny into the downright surreal including a frankly unsavoury running gag wherein doting dad George Kennedy - in a dry run for his role in The Naked Gun (1988) - keeps spying on his scantily clad daughter, Mary. Indeed the film displays a troubling prediliction for scenes with middle-aged men leching on teenage girls as Detective Harbinger indulges in a steamy clinche with a nymphet played by prolific voice-over actress E.G. Daily in the midst of a high speed car chase!
Other memorably bizarre moments include the doo-wop chorus that inexplicably accompany school stud Tony Schlongini (stand-up comedian Andrew Dice Clay, in his film debut), the mad scientist named Dr. Moreau (Victor Brandt) who transforms the school football team into snarling beast men and the Vice Principal (another stand-up comic, Jeff Altman then fresh off the infamous J-pop variety show Pink Lady and Jeff!) who acts like a televangelist. For all the jokes that drop like lead balloons, there are enough to amuse jaded horror fans such as the moment one suspect remarks: “So this is the classic throw suspicion on the perverted gardener scene?” Sitcom stalwart Julia Duffy makes a delightfully daffy heroine but there are memorable moments from co-stars Scott McGinnis (whose Norman Bates performs a ventriloquist act with his mother’s mummified corpse!), the aforementioned Elizabeth Daily (in a ridiculous stalking scene),Charles Napier (as Harbinger’s flustered superior), Stella Stevens (as Mary’s mom), and Clu Gulager. Look out for former child star turned exploitation regular Darby Hinton in a small role as a sarcastic cop. The finale goes wildly off the rails (what is with the talking elephant?) but Mary’s absurdly prolonged cat-and-mouse with the Lawnmower Killer is pretty funny (“You asshole, why can’t you stay dead?”).