Once upon an ’80s VHS time . . . there was a Canadian exploitation tax shelter film franchise known as “Screwballs” that was created to cash-in on Porky’s and the Police Academy series. Courtesy of your HBO subscription back in the ’80s, the Screwballs films were oft-run T&A favorites on that early pay-cable service, as well as perfect programming fodder for the USA Network’s “Up All Night” weekend programming blocks.
It all began with Screwballs (1983). Then along came Loose Screws, which aka’d on HBO and the USA Network as Screwball Academy, and home video as Screwballs II (1985/1986). Then there’s this third and final entry — sometimes appended with a “3” in home video quarters — which has less to do with the first film as the second film has to do with the first film. The overall gist of the first Screwball film isn’t so much Police Academy as it is Porky’s, courtesy of the resident screwballs as a gaggle of horny, 1960s high school students trying to get laid.
The only real through line between the first and second films (well, there is one more connection, for all three films, but we will get to that, later) is that Rafal Zeilinski directed both screenplays written by actress/director Linda Shayne (she wrote her own directing debut Purple People Eater; Screwballs served as her screenwriting debut). The original plan for what became best known as Screwball Academy to the cable television masses was to bring back the four leads from the first film; instead, all new actors were cast in a re-write of the original story. Only now, our horny students covet their new, sexy French teacher at . . . Cockswell Academy (yes, that’s the level of comedy you’re getting); the original lads attended Taft and Adams High School and coveted the school’s “hottest, pure girl,” Purity Bush (again, comedy . . . you gotta love it).
So that’s the Screwball-back story . . . and brings us up to speed — somewhat — for Screwball Hotel, a film whose only connection to the “franchise” is that Rafal Zielinski directed all three films. And you know what: while each have their detractors, each also has their fans: ones who fondly recall either watching them on cable TV via HBO or The USA Network or as a $.49 cent Friday Night rental (I fall in that grey area-between the two of not loving but not hating them. But as you get older . . . nah, nostalgia wins, again).
Yeah, it’s the same ‘ol song and song and dance in the pants as horny ne’er-do-wells kicked out of a military academy take jobs at a dying Miami Beach hotel (while a Canadian production, this shot in Miami). To save the hotel, our lustful lads organize the “Miss Purity Pageant” — with the hotel’s prudish female guests (boilerplate-reminding of Purity Bush from the first Screwballs) as contestants. Of course, as with the first film, and despite the material’s intent, there’s no nudity or sex scenes to trip the triggers; just lots of T&A innuendos, but no actual nudity or sex. Pour Porky’s, Police Academy and the teen-flick cycle of John Hughes into your National Lampoon logo-tumbler and serve up a film that’s . . . not so much of a plot, but SNL-styled vignettes and sight-gags that run from the outrageous to the raunchy to the ugh-enduring stupid.
The character boilerplating continues with . . . remember the tubby, food-loving Larry “Fink” Finkelstein from Meatballs (1979)? Well, Screwball Hotel has a Finkelstein. Remember the “Spanish Fly in the food” scene in Screwballs? Well, we have one of those — only with cocaine. Then there’s offensive Arab stereotypes, a dominatrix trope shows up, a Australian guest into sheep-bestiality appears, along with women’s oil wrestling, more nympho women, more horny men, and hot-but-ditzy women everywhere.
If this sounds a lot like Johnny Depp’s marquee-leading man debut in Private Resort (1985), then it probably is. Adding to the six degrees of celluloid separation is the fact that actor Michael Bendetti, who replaced Johnny Depp’s replacement of Richard Grieco on FOX-TV’s 21 Jump Street, as Anthony “Mac” McCann in that series’ fifth and final season, makes his feature film debut, here (his dual acting and leading man debut), as Mike, the ne’er-do-well leader of the hospitality shenanigans. The only other actor worth mentioning is two-time Penthouse “Pet of the Month” and “Pet of the Year” Corrine Alphen Wahl, who we’ve enjoyed in BrainWaves (1982), Spring Break (1983), and Equalizer 2000 (1987). (Wait, there’s another Penthouse Pet, here, more on that later.)
The ’80s comedy déjà vu caveats: Don’t confuse any of this Cannuck tax shelter tomfoolery with Oddballs (1984), which Miklos Lente, the cinematographer of Screwballs, directed . . . and it’s pretty much a rip of Meatballs, which, if you haven’t figured out, is ripped ‘n’ pinched by Screwballs, natch. Of course, Golfballs! (1999) — which is no way connected to the Screwball franchise — is as much like Oddballs as Oddballs is like Meatballs, which is, in turn, is like Caddyshack. And the beat, well, ball, bounces on . . . to Daniel “Paco Querak” Green, who made his big screen acting debut in the same ol’ “dying hotel on Miami Beach” plot in Rosebud Beach Hotel (1988).
So, this time, in lieu of Linda Shayne, we get the pen of Charles Wiener. After his writing and directing debut with a Canadian TV movie slasher ripoff, known as Blue Murder (1985; Starring Britney Spear’s dad? Nah. Uh, maybe?), he wrote a Canadian not-Police Academy ripoff, known as Recruits (1986), as well as writing and directing the-Police Academy-set-inside-a-fire station-ripoff, Fireballs (1989) — which was shot back-to-back with Screwball Hotel. If you’re a martial arts completionist and need a Canadian not-starring Jean-Claude Van Damme rip, there’s Wiener’s third and final directing effort, Dragon Hunt (1990), for your shelf.
Rafal Zeilinski made his directing debut with Screwballs; his fifth directing effort, Valet Girls (1987), copies the template of the Screwball movies and Recruits — but changes it up with an all-female valet car service; it’s a film as blatant in its copying Deborah Foreman’s better-remembered My Chauffeur (1986) as it is Porky’s. And Zeilinski repeated the Screwball Hotel premise one more time in Last Resort (1994), which was backed by National Lampoon and starred the “Two Coreys” Feldman and Haim (another Corey two-fer is Dream a Little Dream) . . . but don’t confuse that film with the better (but not by much) Charles Grodin-starrer Last Resort (1986). And let’s not forget Zeilinski remade it all over again with State Park (1988), which ditches the schools, academies, and hotels for, well, a state park.
We had this penciled in for our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week III” review series at the end of August (and we master listed Screwball Hotel in our round up of that week), but we bumped it back to our one of our “free range” weeks, when we just review anything that tickles the fancy. Just because.
So, Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival nominee and China’s Changchun Film Festival winner, songwriter and composer Nathan Wang made his soundtrack debut with the songs “Check In, Check It Out,” “Making Money,” and “Punk Song” on Screwball Hotel, which he also scored. You may also have heard his tune “You Are the One” in Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx. He’s since scored over 160 international films and TV series. The songs on Screwball Hotel were sung by Terrea Oster, who provides the vocals for our ersatz rocker chick of the film — portrayed by Penthouse Pet Lisa Bradford-Aiton, in her only mainstream film role. The fruitful career of Oster’s son, Canadian Douglas Smith, led to roles in Terminator Genisys (2015), as well as starring in the Bill Paxton-fronted HBO series, Big Love.
Terrea Oster, who acted under the name Foster, as well, appears in the aforementioned, original Screwballs (1983), Oddballs (1984), and Screwball Academy. In addition to providing her singing voice to their soundtracks, she also worked in both disciplines on Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders. Her husband, British producer Maurice Smith, has a resume that goes all the way back to classic counterculture biker romps The Glory Stompers (1967), The Cycle Savages (1969), and Scream Free!, aka Free Grass (1969). Yep, in addition to backing Flesh Gordon, he gave us Linda Blair’s Grotesque (1988) — and ALL of the Screwball/Oddballs films.
So, there’s the final through line we teased earlier, as well as the music portion (and Penthouse connection) of the film — for what that’s worth in your wanting to watch Screwball Hotel. Hey, sometimes you just gotta — even if you’re not a smarmy online film critic navigating the Three Rivers of cinematic fate in Steeltown.
You can check out more snobs vs. slobs comedies with our “Drive-In Friday: Slobs vs. Snobs Comedy Night” featurette.
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.