Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Stroll Down Memory Lane: "The Peanut Butter Solution" by Alex Snider

We all have murky memories from our childhood, memories we're not entirely sure aren't just dreams we've convinced ourselves happened, so weird and patchy that it could really go either way. Such was the case of The Peanut Butter Solution

I remember watching a bizarre movie, when I was about ten, about some potion made from peanut butter that when slathered on skin prompted untameable hair growth. It was spooky and unsettling and on Showcase. And while decidedly nightmarish, there were enough details that tethered it to reality: I saw it one Saturday morning after a sleepover at my best friend's house (a house which, in true '80's, early '90's suburban fashion, had a living room which no one ever used and a kitchen fully stocked with tubs of the unholy matrimony of marshmallow and peanut butter – needless to say I did not enjoy peanut butter for years after that Saturday – picked up on one of their many trips down to Fargo), I remember the dark cinematography and the one scene where hair grew out of one boy's pant-leg (he'd attempted to hurry along puberty. Nobody rushes puberty). But then for years after, years, every time I tried to get someone to commiserate on the brain-searing horror that was The Peanut Butter Solution, not a single person had seen it. I began doubting it's existence. 

Then I mentioned it, one last death rattle hope that I didn't dream up such a messed up premise, to my friend Ethan and he also knew of it! My faith in my mind was restored, while my faith in entertainment took another hit. 

It took another few years to look into it but today was the day (aided by this post on scarring movies at The Hairpin) that I realized that I have access to the internet and that the internet would probably have something to say about The Peanut Butter Solution. And, yikes, it is so much worse than I remember (from Wikipedia, where else?):

Michael Baskin is an average 11-year old boy. His father, Billy Baskin, is a struggling artist and temporary sole caregiver of the children while his wife attends to the needs of her recently deceased father in Australia. Upon hearing the news that an abandoned mansion has recently burned down, Michael and his friend Connie decide to explore the remains. Outside the mansion, Connie dares Michael to take a look inside, leading to a frightening encounter with the ghosts of its homeless inhabitants who had died in the fire. Michael does not know this yet, but his fearsome run in with the ghosts has given him a mysterious illness simply known as "The Fright". Michael wakes up the next morning to find out that "The Fright" has made him lose all of his hair. After a failed attempt with a wig (his wig was pulled off by an older boy during a fight in a soccer game), the ghosts visit Michael in his sleep and give him the recipe of a magical formula for hair growth, the main ingredient of which is peanut butter. Michael's first attempt to make the formula is thwarted when his father and sister think he is making something unwanted and dispose of it.
The ghosts return the following night, giving Michael a second chance to pay him back for giving his money to some homeless people, and also give Michael special instruction not to add too much peanut butter, as it will end in dreadful results. Michael successfully makes the formula this time, but ignores their instructions not to overdo the peanut butter, and wakes up the next morning to find that his new hair has already began to grow. After only a few minutes, Michael has grown a full head of hair. Suspicious of his fast growing follicles, Connie confronts Michael about his unusual ability. When Michael reveals to him his concoction, Connie decides to apply some of it to his nether region in an attempt to cheat puberty's timeline. Connie soon discovers that the joke is on him. Pretty soon, Michael and Connie's hair grows to such lengths that it has become a nuisance for the school and their classmates, resulting in their suspensions. While Michael frantically searches for a solution, Connie discovers that the hair will stop growing by yelling at it.
The art teacher at Michael's school, simply called the Signor, frightens children and forbids them from using their imagination. After getting fired from the school, the Signor finds out about Michael's condition and kidnaps him (and many other neighborhood children) to make magic paint brushes from Michael's ever-growing hair, in which he subdues Michael with a knockout drug. The kidnapped children are put to work under tough conditions. "We have to make 500 brushes a day, or we don't eat!" The paintbrushes are so powerful that they paint whatever their user imagines. Connie and Michael's sister, Susan, discover the Signor's magical paintbrush factory and try to rescue Michael. Connie tries to use force, but he is overpowered by Signor and his dog James. Instead, Connie tricks the Signor into painting a picture of the abandoned mansion. Connie then dares him to investigate inside, leading "The Fright" to be passed on from Michael to the Signor. Signor, now bald, escapes from the haunted house and chases the children, locking them up. Just as Connie is about to escape with Michael, Susan and their dad find the factory and the Signor is arrested by the local police. The film ends with the family reunited as the mother has returned home, and Michael's hair has stopped growing out of control.
Oh my god. There is so much going on in that plot I'm pretty sure that every writing teacher ever has a minor stroke every time someone says "the peanut butter solution" á la Tinker Bell. Ghosts? Child slavery? Bullying? What I can only assume is an allegory on the factory line nature of the Canadian education system? TOO MUCH. 

I have to say I lost my mind when I got to the part where the evil, creativity-crushing art teacher is only referred to as "Signor". I'm going to think of that every time I'm sad. Also, the dog's name is James. I hope James had the chance to bite Signor in the crotch. Classic '80's. 

Fun fact: Skippy peanut butter paid for product placement. Money well spent. 

Oh and Céline Dion sang five songs for the soundtrack. Amazing.

Here is the trailer. This paints a totally different picture from the terror that has lived in my living nightmares for eighteen years and the acid trip-inspired mess that is the plot. Plus, no mention of pubic hair.

I fear the jaunty music and promise that it's "heart-warming" belies the trauma that will be inflicted on all who watch it. 

Now, who's in for a movie night?!

1 comment:

  1. Wait a second -marshmallow and peanut butter, an "unholy matrimony"?!?!?!? Sacrilege!