Disco Fever (1978)

Holy shit, this movie.

This is a film that could have only been made in 1978, approved with a signature in blood and a mountain of sweet, sweet cocaine. This was the time when the music would never end, when the buttons couldn’t be unbuttoned any lower, when shag carpeting was everywhere and AIDS was years away. A magical time, lost to us forever, that for so many was only experienced on the silver screen through protagonists like Tony Manero and this movie’s hero, Desmond.

Desmond is played by Fabian, who at one point in the late 50’s and early 60’s was a huge deal as a singer for young girls. Plucked out of Philadelphia obscurity while in a hospital visiting his father — who had just had a heart attack — Fabian had a $30 week allowance while learning to sing after already becoming a chart-topper.

Fabian’s introduction was a marvel of early marketing, with ads that exclaimed “Fabian Is Coming”, then asked “Who is Fabian?” before letting the nation know that “Fabian is Here.” After a big run of successes — and testifying during the payola scandal that his voice was electronically altered — Fabian spent $65,000 (about $336,000 today) to get out of his contract. He felt like a puppet that wanted to be free.

The star also went into acting, appearing with Stuart Whitman in 1957’s Hound-Dog Man, as well as High Time with Bing Crosby and North to Alaska with John Wayne. Fabian felt that acting suited him much better than singing. While he spent most of the 1960’s making films for 20th Century Fox, the major failure of Cleopatra let to them letting many contracts expire. No matter. American-International Pictures soon came calling.

There, Fabian appeared in everything possible for the studio — car racing films opposite Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon (Fireball 500), as a schoolteacher battling marijuana (Maryjane), in a rip-off of The Dirty Dozen (The Dirty 8) and even taking over Avalon’s role as he battled Vincent Price under the direction of Mario Bava (yes, I could never make up Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs).

But by the late 60’s, he’d started drinking, posed naked on a motorcycle for Playgirl, was arrested for a public argument with his wife, then he started playing Vegas until he went bankrupt. Obviously, his life has been a wild ride up until this point. Fabian retired, only to suddenly return in the mid-70’s.

Oh yeah — he also was in a major car crash in a celebrity race at the famous Watkins Glen. And then he put on a cigarette on a plane flight after being asked to extinguish it. Except he put it out directly into the body of that passenger. And that passenger ended up being a district attorney. Whew! Fabian’s life got even crazier when his former manager was the consultant for 1980’s The Idolmaker, a thinly veiled story where a young and handsome singer named Caesare doesn’t deal well with his whirlwind success. After a lawsuit, Fabian and his wife received a personal apology and his manager’s 7.5% interest in the film.

Which brings us — in the most roundabout way possible — to Disco Fever.

Originally known as Jukebox, Fabian is pretty much playing himself, as a once-famous singer who only wants to sing his own songs. The trouble is, most of these songs aren’t all that great, with Fabian possessing a warbling voice that would have done well with some AutoTune, had it existed in 1978. He’s also covered his matinee idol looks up with a beard, looking a bit like Eddie Rabbit.

Even when he tries to unwind at Cybil’s disco, one of the girls there mentions seeing him on TV in Rio Bravo (he corrects her, it’s North to Alaska) as well as Beach Blanket Bingo (that’s not him, it’s Frankie Avalon). All he really wants to do is stay home and write new music while pining after the next too young girl who broke his heart.

However, his manager Brian Parker has different ideas. He’s played by Casey Kasem, which may seem bonkers to those who only knew Casey as the voice of America’s Top 40 and Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. But before all that, Casey was an actor, appearing in several biker films like The Glory StompersWild Wheels and The Cycle Savages. He’s also in The Incredible 2-Headed TransplantThe Dark and well as voices for Battle of the Planets and several of the Transformers like  Bluestreak and Cliffjumper before he left that show over its depictions of Arabic stereotypes.

None of this knowledge — nor knowing that his frozen corpse would spend over a year being shuffled all over the world in a battle between his children and his second wife — will prepare you for the sights of Casey Kasem begging women for sex and falling all over a carpet trying to do the blow that’s spilled all over it.

Parker wants Desmond to get signed by Cybil (Phoebe Dorrin, Antoinette from TV’s The Wild, Wild West), who is the biggest power going in disco, what with having her own club and now an airplane that she’s converted in a flying disco. Yes, really.

The goal is to use Desmond’s old name power but force him to use his old songs in a convoluted revenge scheme because he spurned her years ago. Her real goal is to push the new voice of disco — Tommy Aspen, played by Michael Blodgett, Lance Rocke from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls — who just likes to sneer and do coke.

There are plenty of music numbers where we simply watch people not involved in the story dance, which are still pretty fun. You can glimpse breakdancer Shabba-Doo as well as Elizabeth E.G. Daily as one of those dancers years before she was Dottie in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Also — did you know she was once married to Rick Salomon, the same man who was married to Pamela Anderson and Shannen Doherty, as well as appearing in a stolen sex tape with a young Paris Hilton. You think with luck like that, God would smite him somehow, but he won $2.84 million at last year’s World Series of Poker. Meanwhile, E.G. Daily won our hearts in roles in One Dark Night; Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains; Valley Girl; Better Off Dead and Bad Dreams, as well as providing Tommy Pickles voice on Rugrats.

This whole mess comes to us from the team behind Supervan: writer John Arnoldy and director Lamar Card. They’re joined by George Barris. Yes, the very same George Barris who made the Batmobile and Dragula for The Munsters. Yes, he was part of Supervan, but what that has to do with disco — and why he and his wife show up playing themselves at a tennis club — I can only chalk up to the 1970’s and some big flakes of Peruvian powder. In fact, I can only imagine that this movie was really just a reality movie shot of the lives of a briefly single Kasem, a down and out Fabian and the Barris family as they lived it up under the sun in ’78 before reality came crashing down.

This film isn’t on blu ray. It isn’t even on DVD. That needs fixed so that it can mess with the minds of others, too. I can’t even believe that it exists and wish that disco airplanes were still a thing, because only in 70’s exploitation film can such a magical thing occur.

1 thought on “Disco Fever (1978)”

  1. Rick Salomon is legend and he needs movie on his life.

    This is a really great review and a Fabian career retrospective. Fantastic job.

    Now I am thinking of Frankie Avalon in Blood Song (the flute movie!) and Fabs in Kiss Daddy Goobye. Nothing beats ’60s teen idol doing ’80s slasher films.

    Like

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