“When I was a littler kid” and It Came From Hollywood made its way to HBO, I watched it religiously, not because it was entirely funny all the way through, but because I was transfixed by all the clips from old movies. I’d seen some of them, but most were from some kind of weird, lost world of movies so bad that they had long stopped turning up on even the lowest-band UHF stations. Later, Mystery Science Theater 3000 would dust off many of these old epics and introduce them to a new audience, but at the time, we could only marvel.
It Came From Hollywood is a clip movie with wraparounds introducing the various segments. These feature John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and Cheech and Chong. It’s a remarkably well-done film, with none of the clips or segments really going on too long, and little groupings to give it all some structure. Some of it has aged incredibly badly, and some of it would have been resoundingly inappropriate for a nine year-old if he had understood the slang, but just about all of it brought a smile or ten.
Interestingly, the movie doesn’t simply take blasts at bottom-of-the-barrel bad movies. There are a few very highly-regarded old sci-fi movies that make the cut, like Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and War of the Worlds. The House on Haunted Hill, which surely nobody dislikes, except our son, who was scared out of his mind by it, is represented by its trailer.
Even when they mock the schlock, though, the tone isn’t really smug or superior. It’s a knowing, and loving film, and as John Candy points out at one point, many of these old movies were made under really impossible conditions and incredibly tiny budgets. That doesn’t mean that watching two islanders running from what appears to be one of Witchiepoo’s evil trees from H.R. Pufnstuf isn’t hilariously stupid, but you have to spare a thought for the poor guy who only had ten bucks to make the monster.
Before we got started, though, I felt it was important to have a quick talk with the kid about what was acceptable, and allegedly funny, in older movies. First and foremost is a stop-the-conversation-dead blackface musical number from 1934’s Wonder Bar. Then there’s the transvestism explored in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda, and I wanted to make sure our son understood that the film is worthy of ridicule because it’s so melodramatic and badly made, and not because Glen has a thing for angora sweaters. And there’s the drug stuff, which may not be acceptable in some places, but is probably always going to be funny, especially when some dude claims to be smoking pot but he must have really rolled about four pounds of Halloween candy and crushed amphetamines instead.
Funniest moment in the contemporary stuff: Russ Tamblyn throws away his date’s joint and Cheech protests there’s a lot of starving kids in Cambodia who’d want that roach. Funniest moment in the classics: those two doctors from The Brain That Wouldn’t Die trying badly to overact each other as they debate the ethics of stealing limbs from amputee operations.
The kid didn’t join in with the riffs too much, even though this is definitely a movie that encourages it. He mistook The X From Outer Space as one of Godzilla’s gang rather than a rival studio’s creation, but he enjoyed good guffaws of recognition over Prince of Space – he suffered through the MST3K take last month – and Bride of the Monster, which was so awful that when we watched it recently, he just flat out gave up and left. He knew who Rocket Man was, since I showed him some pictures before we watched The Rocketeer a couple of weeks ago, and he was happy to finally see some proper clips from Plan Nine From Outer Space, which lived up to the reputation his old man gave it, and he surprised the absolute heck out of me at one point.
Several months ago, I had told him about a particularly dumb movie with Ray Milland and Rosey Grier, and as soon as he saw that white bigot’s head transplanted onto a soul brother’s body, he immediately knew what it was and said “Hey! The Thing With Two Heads!” I still can’t believe he remembered the title. He can’t remember what time school starts but he remembered that title.
Maybe in a world where everything is available online even if you can’t find it on the shelf of a good store, It Came From Hollywood doesn’t quite fill the void that it once did, but I think that even with the questionable content, this is a great introduction for younger viewers to old movies, good, bad, and ridiculous. Can you imagine a world where people just aren’t interested in the goofball monsters, hubcap starships, high school hellcats, and silly films that their grandparents watched? God help us in the future!
It Came From Hollywood does not appear to have ever been released on DVD, but you can cheat and find it on YouTube.