Hysterical Will Crack Your Bowl

Horror comedies can be hit or miss.  By that I mean, about one hits for every 999 that miss.  And many of those misses can be downright excruciating.  So if one gets made that actually works, we should all hold it up, protect and praise it.  Well, I'm not sure if 1982's Hysterical works, or if it's just because I grew up with it since I was a little kid, but I love it.  Unfortunately, though, it's been languishing in relative obscurity, available here in the US only on a long out of print, murky fullscreen Image DVD from 2001.

...But it might be a different story in Germany.  There, in 2004, Marketing Film released it on DVD as Ein Sprung in der Schüssel, which Google translates to A Crack In the Bowl.  According to online listings, this is an anamorphic widescreen, English-friendly edition, which even includes deleted scenes and other extras!  That sounds a little too good to be true, but I couldn't live without knowing, so I tracked down a copy.  And, uh, it is and it isn't.
This is a movie written by and starring The Hudson Brothers.  You may know the name these days for celebrity drama, as one of them is Goldie Hawn's ex who publicly disowned daughter/ star Kate Hudson.  But they started out as a band, who had some success, and even briefly hosted a very weird children's variety show called The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show (and a later UK version called Bonkers!).  I've seen them described as teen idols, but this was definitely a show for younger kids.  Anyway, this is a film I'd liken to the Valentina movie in the sense that it's better if you just stumble into it without being familiar with the previous work.  Once you discover that it's of a piece with some inferior television work, it loses some of the shine.  Because taken on its own, it's so wild and weird.
You'd never guess anyone considered this goofball trio to be teen idols  or credible musicians based on this movie.  They're hammy, but not unappealing Dad Joke guys emulating a lot of classic Vaudeville-style film comics.  You'll catch some Abbott and Costello for sure (there's practically a full-on Lou Costello "t-t-t-the-the monster is right behind you" impression at one point), maybe a little Wheeler and Woolsey, but by and large they're presenting themselves as modern day Marx Brothers.  Mark is Chico, Brett is Harpo and Bill is Gummo.  That's right, they've chosen to do three Marx Brothers without a Groucho (although Bill does do a bit with greasepaint eyebrows that's a clear homage), which should tell you all you need to know about how offbeat and possibly misguided this movie is.
zombies getting coffee long before Jim Jarmusch touched a camera.
Bill plays a big city author who visits the small town of Hellview to get away from it all and work on his first serious novel.  He's our romantic lead (again, Gummo) who accidentally awakens the local lighthouse ghost, Catwoman herself Julie Newmar.  She, in turn, awakens the corpse of her ex lover (Richard Kiel, a.k.a. Jaws from James Bond) to do her murderous bidding.  The mayor from Jaws, Murray Hamilton, plays... the mayor from Jaws, who consults with the local mortician (Bud Cort) and sheriff (Clint Walker) to bring in expert help, which turns out to be two lunatic adventurers: Mark and Brett.  Of course, they're not much help, and soon everybody Kiel murders returns as a zombie, recognizable by their pale faces, turtleneck sweaters and the repeated phrase "what difference does it make?"
Everybody is somebody in this.  Robert Donner plays Ralph, the town crazy who warns everybody that they're doomed... a direct emulation of Crazy Ralph from Friday the 13th 1 and 2Franklyn Ajaye is the local librarian who intones "the library is closed; all white people must leave," John Larroquette is a stoner tour guide and Charlie Callas is, of course, Dracula.  Honestly, it's cast like an episode of Hollywood Squares, and that's kind of the tone, but funneled into a horror framework and packed with low effort parodies of movies like Taxi Driver, Indiana Jones and The Exorcist.  If you've ever wanted to see a Marx Brothers version of Night Of the Living Dead - and my god, how could you not? - they made that movie in 1982, and it's called Hysterical!

So how is this German DVD?  Is it really anamorphic widescreen like they say?  Does it truly look better than the American disc?
2001 US Image DVD top; 2004 DE Marketing DVD bottom.
Yes!  Okay, granted, it's a question of properly framing an open matte 1.29:1 transfer to 1.73:1, not revealing a whole ton of picture on the sides (though there's a little more on the left).  But just look at that - it's such an improvement.  The colors are natural, the brightness is accurate, as opposed to the murky blues and blacks of Image's transfer (which, based on that cigarette burn we saw earlier, was presumably based on a print), where you often can't even tell what you're looking at during night scenes.  It fixes the interlacing!  You can actually make out smaller detail, like the smaller "TERRIFIC READING!" sign above the reporter's head.  It literally looks like night and day.

But uh-oh, wait.  Why can't I get the English audio to play?  It lets me switch between a German 2.0 dub and, incredibly, a German 5.1 remix.  But no English?  There's not even any subtitles...  Listings said this was English friendly!  What's going on?!
2004 DE Marketing DVD, "Original-Fassung (Englisch)."
Well, dig around the Zusatzmaterial menu, and at the bottom you'll find the "Original-Fassung (Englisch)."  And that's... a straight rip of the Image DVD!  Even the interlacing and NTSC runtime is back.  It's a bit of a puzzler why they did it like that at first, but I figured it out when I really sat down and dug through everything on this disc.

The reason this DVD has deleted scenes is that the German version is missing scenes.  It seems like they mostly cut drug and alcohol references to make it more family friendly.  They also cut out the big "Zomboogie" musical number out of the last act, presumably because the German voice actors couldn't remake the full song in German.  So the only way to watch the full uncut version is to watch the Original English version, which looks like blue mud.  On the plus side, whoever put this DVD together really seemed to care, because not only did they include both versions, the deleted scenes are carefully laid out with the surrounding context and widescreen versions sans sound, then repeated with the murky English version.
Speaking of extras, Image only had the trailer.  Marketing has that trailer, plus two alternate ones (I told ya someone cared).  There are also two stills galleries, one of promo photos and one of various home video release covers.  And there's a 9-minute promo video, sadly unsubtitled, where some German marketing guy in the 80s talks up this film's VHS release.

So, could you... rip both versions, sync the uncut English audio to the widescreen version of the film, cutting the silent widescreen deleted scenes back?  Yes!  Although you'd have to adjust the speed to match the NTSC audio to the PAL video, slightly complicated by the fact that the German version opens with an extra MGM logo throwing off the timing.  But yeah, completely hypothetically speaking, you could make yourself a vastly superior, widescreen, English-friendly, uncut Hysterical with this DVD if you were dedicated enough.
Either way, I guess Marketing's disc is the best version of the film available.  Even if you say the German stuff is worthless because it's not English-friendly, you do get everything from the Image DVD plus a couple extra trailers and galleries.  Obviously, the ideal solution would be for somebody like Scream Factory or Vinegar Syndrome to save our beloved film from this quagmire (it's enough to put a crack in your bowl!) with a fancy HD restoration.  But I don't know what the rights issue is like.  In the meantime, these are our choices.  I'd say it's probably not worth importing for most film fans, except the Image DVD is so OOP it goes for close to $100 these days.  So the German DVD is probably the way to go after all.  But lordy, I'd jump on a blu-ray!

1 comment:

  1. I remember this; one of the first movies rented from a local video store. Found it hilarious at the time, though likely dated if I saw it today.