February 21st, 2014 | by JAY HORTON Movies & Television | Posted In: Grimm

Folk(lore) Buddies: Early Efforts From The Men Who Would Make Grimm

The first five films of Grimm's David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf

grimm1Grime fighting - NBC

To help loyal Grimm viewers wait out the interminable mid-season delay caused by some network spectacle dubbed the Winter Olympics, fantasy correspondent Jay Horton dug back through the first tales told by Grimm show-runners David Greenwalt and Jim Kouf when they were screenwriters struggling through the cursed kingdom of 1980s Hollywood.


Twenty years before partnering on NBC's signature fairy tale Grimm, Greenwalt & Kouf jointly collaborated on the scripts of five feature films. All are readily viewable, after a fashion, and at least feel somewhat familiar, thanks in large part to the staggering array of soon-to-be-dimming stars and titles redolent of discontinued lipgloss or foreign porn. 

While, alas, none could be considered direct forerunners of the wide world of wesen, some trails of bread crumbs are their own reward.


Wacko (1982)

Presumable Pitch:

Prom Night meets Airplane!

Eighties Icons Vainly Awaiting Sequel:

Joe Don Baker, George Kennedy, Julia Duffy, Andrew Dice Clay

Grimm Trope Foretold:

Injected with performance-enhancing drugs prior to kickoff, the high school's football team transforms into disparate manimals before storming onto the gridiron. The sequence lasts less than a minute, the players and coach (one Dr. Moreau) are never again mentioned, and, arriving midway through a wearying blizzard of tangentially-connected skits tossed off by a handful of screenwriters, the proto-wesen menagerie's probably just inevitable consequence of an infinite number of gags randomly spitballed by an infinite number of, so to speak, monkeys.

Still, why so many different creatures? Whether trying to field a competitive squad or just finish off a slipshod production on the cheap, would you really spent the time and effort to manufacture a poodle hybrid?

Availability:

Surprisingly healthy, considering the film's never been officially released on DVD for our region. While digitized copies of suspicious provenance are hawked on Amazon and Ebay, we rented a cassette from Movie Madness' cult aisle.

Watchability:

Wacko belongs to a very specific moment in the twilight of grindhouse, when the ascendant formula (deadpan non-sequiturs + serrated titilation) actively encouraged the traditional failings of schlock cinema (disjointed editing, inchoate narrative, unvarnished pandering), and just about every fleabit studio with a spare weekend and rubber carving knife hacked out a slasher parody as drive-in fodder.

Have no illusions, Wacko isn't a good movie. It couldn't be. That potential exists outside design parameters. Somehow, though, it's funny, which seems even more remarkable. Hurtling through the tired pastiche of a horror plot – sole survivor of grisly murder spree now grown to prom queen awaits the return of pumpkin-headed Lawnmower Killer – they stick to the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker playbook, but there's a determinedly dark sensibility looming behind the scattershot corn. Humor that manages to still offend subsequent generations feels doubly shocking, and, oddly enough, molestation gags age quite well.

Overall, though, let's credit the providential confluence of miscast leads straining to overcome throwaway dialogue and awful direction while wholly avoiding any trace of the smug woodenness (the Neilsen method) soon to become synonymous with spoofery following Naked Gun. Packed into tight shots at odd angles of uncomfortable length, mugging as fast as they can under hot lights, Joe Don Baker and George Kennedy and the Diceman invest every reading with a ... moistened urgency. Genius comedy might just be ninety nine percent perspiration plus time.


Utilities (1983)

Eighties Icons Vainly Awaiting Sequel:

Robert Hays, Brooke Adams

Presumable Pitch:

C-SPAN meets Airplane II!

Grimm Trope Foretold:

A featureless, dimly determined public functionary forced by circumstances toward extra-legal maneuvers with tacit approval of the local police … Nick “Grimm” Burkhardt would recognize our hero.

Availability:

Scant. While slasher gag reels engender an archival community to shame civil war buffs, this story of a civil servant driven to harmless pranks as protest for electricity bill hikes has been unaccountably ignored. You could always pick through the mildewed stock of shuttered Video Marts from faraway places dutifully catalogued for sale—this is the internet, after all—but contact their openly-contemptuous former owners at your peril.

Watchability:

With online footage of Utilities limited to the climactic rate-stabilization hearing – this IS the Internet, after all – rendering an opinion upon the film as a whole wouldn't be fair, but a few observations warrant mention.

It's sort of like a Canadian precursor to Turk 182, with boozy, inchoate, blue collar aggression replaced by evenhanded ruminations on civic responsibility. This may be the most Canadian film ever made, come to think, and, however odd the choice of projects for an actor fresh from headlining the comic blockbuster of his era, Robert Hays does embody the resigned weariness and vague disgust of a besieged social worker. (He was always the most Canadian of movie stars.) 

Hays' beseeching testimony has aged considerably better than the motley urban denizens wandering before the public forum to ramble madly about corporate greed. Their successive claims to be “The Finger” – some sort of prankster for social justice – seem less Spartacus-inspired solidarity than actual confusion among the filmmakers.

The fifteen minute clip ends abruptly, before we learn whether or not collective citizen resolve leads the commission to extend municipal oversight or, more to the point, whether or not Brooke Adams actually appears. It's been viewed 270 times nonetheless.

Please stop, Mr Hays. All dreams die.


Class (1983)

Eighties Icons Vainly Awaiting Sequel:

Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Jacqueline Bisset

Presumable Pitch:
Private School meets statutory rape!

Grimm Trope Foretold:

A shadowy character of ineffable purpose and daunting gymnastic abilities …. Kelly Burkhardt would recognize our hero's mother.

Availability:
Tout le brat pack monde at play midst cougar fantasy straight outta Penthouse Forums? It's probably on cable right now.

Watchability:

The first two scenes of this film, unfurling without any hint of explanation beyond visual sweep of the surrounding prep academy, tell us all we need to know about the lead characters and the film itself: scion of privilege Rob Lowe plays a prank upon scholarship-case/new roomie Andrew McCarthy (by dressing as a woman and coaxing the prole to join him in drag) who retaliates with a hoax of his own (by pretending to hang himself). The two boys are in love, and they have no sense of humor.

Laughs aren't really the point through a weirdly thoughtful picture. There's little sense railing against teen sex comedies for failing to deliver upon all their posters advertise, but shouldn't at least a little sniggering tastelessness be included? Rare among the genre, Class actually attempts some semblance of erotic tension as McCarthy trembles between the subtextual-but-c'mon entreaties of damaged gamine Lowe and the earthier demands of mother Bisset. Since McCarthy's never asked to do anything more than symbolize a dopey midwestern purity, since Lowe and Bisset are so clearly of Elvish blood, this actually succeeds to some extent. If the underlying sentiment equates carnality with morbid desperation, isn't that a failing of the breed?

Nothing about the film unfolds quite like you'd suspect, but, also, nothing much happens. In any event, the questions of whether or not an aching seriousness is deserved shall be left to future generations less swayed by the panoply of famous faces idly photobombing each scene in a casting triumph of cosmic prescience. Leaving aside former Oscar (Cliff Robertson) and Emmy (Stuart Margolin) winners, the rolling backdrop of nascent stardom – John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Casey Siemaszko, Virginia Madsen, Alan Ruck, Lolita Davidovich – renders every scene guessing game or fever dream. Certain distractions interrupt the fiercest efforts to engage a film as only a film, and a doughy Lloyd Dobler chatting up pubescent Cameron would've stolen our attentions even if the pair weren't inexplicably costumed as gorilla and alligator.


American Dreamer (1984)

Eighties ... Character Icons, Shall We Say:
This was their spring – the Scottish theater vet fresh from arthouse smash Reuben, Reuben; the beloved ensemble player borne aloft from a string of memorable supporting turns (The Big Chill, The Day After, Poltergeist) – but, still and all, how many actual movie stars need demure before Tom Conti and JoBeth Williams headline a major studio release? Did the whole of Warner Brothers come down with mono?

Presumable Pitch
Romancing The Stone meets ugly people!

Grimm Trope Foretold:
One woman's curse is another's blessing. The second season subplot that blanked faithful gf Juliette's memories of her loving Grimm finds a less-sorcerous (though no more believable) precursor in the head injury that renders American Dreamer's vacationing housewife blissfully unaware of the family abandoned back home once she adopts the identity of a favored literary detective.

Availability:
After 21 years’ blithe inattention from studio and public alike, American Dreamer finally emerged as a DVD … just ahead of prospective comic blockbuster American Dreamz theatrical release.

Watchability:

A romantic comedy of foreign intrigue unconcerned with laughs, thrills, or affaires de coeur betraying recognizable human sentiment, American Dreamer fails even to properly exploit its Parisian shoot – the City of Lights reduced to an overcast Ontario suburb. Adapting a story from the woman who’d later write Primal Fear for a director between Halloween installments, Greenwalt and Kouf really can’t be held responsible for the thudding tone or exceedingly old-fashioned high concept misplayed by emblems of lumpen modernity.

Once deus ex amnesia sets plot in motion, Williams gamely tries to follow along, but it’s a brittle, unnerving, American-shaver-plugged-into-Euro-outlet sort of motion. Conti, this brief brush with widescreen palatability, actively blends into the background even when hung upside down, and the string of Gallic martinets pressed into service for thrice-removed Pink Panther set-pieces seem genuinely enraged by their treatment.

The film hearkens back to an unlamented 80s micro-genre – best remembered through television series like Remington Steele and Scarecrow & Mrs King – that attempted to paper over the troubling sexual politics of the Charade archetype (in which circumstances force dashing spy to beg assistance from bored hausfrau midst deadly mission to safeguard global security) without employing the enlightened framework of today's cinema (in which spy, hausfrau, and terrorist threat are all supermodels).  In theory, subverting traditional plotlines by investing all agency with the female lead should redress power imbalance. In practice, this leads to labyrinthine narratives and drab pantsuits.


Secret Admirer (1985)

Eighties Icons Vainly Awaiting Sequel:

C. Thomas Howell, Lori Loughlin, Fred Ward, Kelly Preston, the estate of Corey Haim

Presumable Pitch

The Letters Of Abelard And Heloise with tits!

Grimm Episode Foretold:

The participants gaze upon each piece of correspondence with the engorged thrall of mortals holding the Coins of Zakynthos, though they may just be sounding out the words.

Availability:

Abundant, though a collector market's developed around a soundtrack (Klymaxx, Kim Wilde, Nik Kershaw) unaccountably still kept to vinyl.

Watchability:

From the start, it's almost arrogantly a film of its day – score by Jan Hammer and credits awash in those vibrant pastels seemingly disappeared from the cultural pallette alongside cigarettes on airlines – and, for a while, the reliance upon past fashions carries attention well enough. The blonde mallbunny object of our hero's affections speaks at  length on the subject while his friends cavort about in mismatched costumes (the skinny-tied crap New Wave suit, the funky fresh Guardian Angel wear) like a Reagan-era legion of newsboy superheroes. Still, there’s only so much that even the daftest ensembles could do with characters so lifeless, and, to be kind, the clothes wear them.

The final script of Greenwalt & Kouf AND Greenwalt's directorial debut, one would've hoped for some sort of definitive statement, but the litany of pointless hurdles forced upon the massed personae effectively throttle any insights to be gleaned from an altogether shitheaded premise. Even for this decade, even for these stars – C. Thomas Howell would next don blackface for affirmative action lampoon Soul Man – blending the genres of epistolatory romance and teen sex comedy seems a poor idea, and the characters appear visibly frustrated by a torturous pace.

Easy to say in retrospect that film wasn't the screenwriters' natural medium, perhaps, but their scripts struggle so mightily to maintain momentum or impart some sense of purpose. The only scenes that credibly work are the least meaningful. There's a breezy interplay between the leads brimming with affection and wit and unexpected rhythms somehow deftly underplayed even as the surrounding dialogue hammers home talking points with thudding crescendos.

For a show whose saving grace has been the odd coupling of a Grimm and his pet lycanthrope (or said big bad wolf and his vixen), it's not too much of a leap to divine the origins of that relationship in the prickly banter 'tween Howell and Loughlin or Class' mismatched roommates – the only remotely watchable moments of American Dreamer arrives toward the ending's blissful domesticity – and, with lived-in dialogue their only notable gift, it's not hard to see why the former screenwriters would wish their partnership to endure. However high the concept or low the humor, Greenwalt & Kouf's leads make strangely dull bedfellows, but there's never any doubt they'll live happily ever after.

 
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