“We wish this movie was about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll . . . but two out of three ain’t bad.”
— Wishing thinking from the Film Ventures International marketing department, because they don’t have the other “two,” either
My eyes widened with glee. My irises twinkled. I discovered VHS gold; for there sat two dusty copies of the elusive rock ‘n’ roll and radio flicks I long pined for my collection: Splitz and Zoo Radio. It’s amazing, in those youthful, analog years, how elated my crappy life could become by the mere spending of $4.00.
Then I injected the tapes into my VCR. And I wish I’d hit up the McDonald’s in the strip mall lot and got a Big Mac.
Instead of those VHS rock ditties that lent themselves to multiple viewings, such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Cannon’s whacked rock fable, The Apple, and Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, I ended up with another musical-snoozorama, à la Playing for Keeps, Scenes from the Goldmine, Suffering Bastards, and It’s a Complex World. And just as Zoo Radio did not prove to be another FM, Splitz would not prove to be another Times Square. Remember how Allan Moyle’s Pump Up the Volume was pirate radio gold and Ferd Sebastian’s On the Air Live with Captain Midnight (1979) was a dented, tarnished pewter ale stein crusted in barnacles?
Welcome to the celluloid ship(shit)wreck that is Splitz. Remember that iconic, two word review of Spinal Tap’s 1980 album, Shark Sandwich, you known, their big “comeback album” and their first with Polymer and their first release after the death of drummer Peter “James” Bond? Remember: Shit Sandwich?
Yeah, it’s like that. Only we don’t get a cool song like “Sex Farm” in the bargain to help us swallow this celluloid defecate.
When your film has four screenwriters and nine producers, it’s a foregone conclusion that the movie is going to have problems. And looking at the credits and seeing the names of producers Kelly Van Horn (who also scripts) and Joan Van Horn (then credited as Joan Speigel Feinstein), we are dealing with a future husband and wife production team coming up with a script for a film that started out as Phi Beta Rockers. It’s an Animal House-cum-Porky’s* T&A rock ‘n’ roll romp about an all-female rock band coming to the aid of a down-and-out sorority house of the Delta House variety about to be shut down by the faux-Faber College of the film (but here it’s, yuk-yuk ha-ha, Hooter College). And like both of this film’s raison d’etre — which was promoted as a “female Animal House” — the final cut of Phi Beta Rockers carried an R-rating.
But when you’re in business with director-producer Domonic Paris’s New Empire Features, the shingle that gave us (in more ways than one) the suck fest (well, another shit sandwich) that is Dracula’s Last Rites, aka Last Rites (1980), and then signed on the dotted line with Film Ventures International (who we oft mention in the pages of B&S) as your distributor . . . well, your film is . . . it’s a foregone conclusion that your movie will suffer a PG-13 chop shop edit and be ye dubbed Splitz . . . for the sole purpose of having a cheerleader on the theatrical one-sheets and VHS sleeves doing, well, a split, because comedy is supposed to be a sexy n’ smutty double entendre.
After wowing us in Times Square, our beloved Robin Johnson deserved so much more from Tinselville, U.S.A. No wonder the ex-Sleez Sister left the business to become a helicopter traffic reporter for KFWB/Los Angeles.
As with Matt Dillon, a non-thespian who left an indelible impressions in his feature film debut with Over the Edge (1979), Robin Johnson — an engaging hybrid best described as Joan Jett meets Jo Polniaczek (actress Nancy McKeon’s character on NBC-TV’s The Facts of Life) — was plucked off the street by a member of RSO Records/Films (Robert Stigwood Organization) for the starring role of Nicky Marotta.
According to the Times Square backstory: Johnson signed with RSO (which oversaw the career of the Bee Gees, then stuck them in the bomb that was Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — and killed Peter Frampton’s career in the process) with a promise the studio would develop more projects for her in which to star. When Times Square flopped at the box office (as well as its double-LP soundtrack on the charts) and RSO’s excitement for Johnson (both as an actress and singer) cooled, she was left scrambling to find to find work. She ended up in this, well, a career killer that even Robert Stigwood couldn’t cook up. (Can you see Robin Johnson, instead of Joan Jett, alongside Michael J. Fox in Light of Day? I can; Robin would have killed it.)
Here, Johnson is Gina Napoliani: just another street wise Italian girl with musical aptitude and leader of the new wave trio, Splitz, alon with Joan (Patti Lee; co-starred with a down-and-out Aldo Ray in something called Drug Runners before vanishing from the business) and Susie (Barbara Bingham; Terror at London Bridge and Friday the 13th Part VIII). Of course, since Gina is a sassy Neapolitan, her father must be a cliché mobster (Raymond Serra of too many TV series to mention, but the film Wolfen and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise). And the band’s manager must be a clichéd, well-intentioned ne’er-do-well with zero talent always on the make for the easy buck.
And to keep that Animal House vibe alive — but without the budget to afford John Vernon — be sure to hire Shirley Stoler from The Honeymoon Killers (1970) as your faux-Dean Wormer, aka Dean Hunta, here. And for the “comedy” of it all: whenever her name is spoken, ye shall hear the claps of thunder and the shall lights flicker in fear. And to thread together what those four screenwriters cooked up: be sure there’s lots of narration by the band’s manager, you know, so the viewers don’t get lost, which is a sure sign you’re at the Suckville Diner outside of Hoboken ordering a Shit Sandwich with a side of Tap Fries. (To her credit, while the movie stinks, Stoler’s very good in the role.)
Of course, Dean Hunta is evil, and has a little side hustle to make way for a sewage treatment plant to be built next to the campus (hey, that’s the plot from Playing For Keeps!). So ol’ Hunny pits the Sigma Phi (run by the Dean’s pet, Lois Scagliani; played by Forbes Riley, aka Francine Forbes, who made her debut in Splatter University and turned up later in Megiddo: The Omega Code 2) and the Delta Phi houses against the Phi Betas — with the fix being in, so the Phi Betas, aka the female Delta House slobs, lose.
And here’s when the ol’ “ensues” come in: A jiggle n’ skimpy shorts soccer match, ensues; a lingerie wrestling match, ensues; and a strip-basketball match, yes, ensues. Also along the way, Dean Hunta’s horny husband is a lecherous dentist who falls to sorority blackmail and our evil school mistress is hypnotized into being a stripper (Shirley Stoler is a robust woman, so, you know, a large woman stripping is, well, “funny,” we think). And then the trope-ridden mobsters show up. And Splitz get a record deal. And, also along the way, ’80s comedian Don Irrera mugs for the cameras as a trope-laden gangster (and makes it clear why he never got his own sitcom . . . and makes you wish Lord God of the Camera Mugging, Joe Piscopo, was here to do his Sinatra bit as a mobster-gag, or something). And, believe it or not, the filmmakers managed to shoot Splitz inside of the world famous CBGBs (and if only the Ramones showed up . . . or the Tuff Darts . . . or Blondie).
Okay, so much for the film. Now let’s crack open the soundtrack (trivia) to pump up the word count and achieve B&S About Movies editorial policy oneness.
The R-rated theatrical print has never been issued to VHS, but the subsequent PG-13 VHS version, which also played on cable TV via HBO and Cinemax, as well as USA’s Night Flight and Up All Night overnight-weekend programming blocks, found its way — surprisingly, considering the usual music licensing snafus that plague most soundtrack-laden ’80s comedies — to DVD in 2003 and 2014; that later Code Red version features an interview with director Domonic Paris.
Don’t go trolling Discogs or the online marketplace copies of the film’s soundtrack, because there ain’t one to be had — which includes several songs that have never been commercially available in other formats beyond the film itself. While the film features new wave tunes by the never-heard-of-and-never-were Arlene Gold, Jana Jillo, and Sarah Larson, as well as the bands the Clonetones and American Patrol, the film also features the more established sound of Blondie (“Heart of Glass” and “One Way or Another”), John Haitt (“Crash Your Party”), Rick Derringer (“Mistake Magnifique” and “When Love Attacks”), and a couple of old Del Shannon tunes (“Sue’s Gotta Be Mine” and “So Long Baby”).
Needless to say, the presence of Blondie’s music makes all of the faux-new wave caterwauling sound like the D-List cat screeches that they were destined to be; for not every ’80s comedy soundtrack can be as cool as The Last American Virgin and Valley Girl, which this ain’t — by a longshot . . . or split.
Another artist credited in the frames of Splitz is French singer Diane Scanlon, who recorded for Polydor and RCA Records in Europe, and doubles as Splitz. Scanlon has since stated she was unaware — for over thirty years — that her 1980 demo recording of “Suburban Nights” appeared in the U.S.-made film. And she claims she did not sing the other song in the film credited to her, “We’re a Miracle.”
Meanwhile, behind the lens: It turns out Kelly Van Horn’s meager beginnings with Dominic Paris on Last Rites and Splitz lead to bigger and better pictures, such as the Crocodile Dundee and City Slickers franchises, as well as Independence Day, Eight Legged Freaks, and Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow. Joan Van Horn also enjoyed a long career behind the cameras on the sets of TV’s Seinfeld and the long-running Castle, as well as several theatrical reboots of classic ’70s Disney films. And proving all actors have to start somewhere: Tom McCleister, who stars, here, in his acting debut as the neanderthal college dope Warwick, carved himself a nice TV career that lead to a recurring role as Ike, one of Al Bundy’s buddies on Married with Children, and as Kolos on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
And here is where the film trivia really goes weird: Ronnie Taylor, who serves as the cinematographer, here, won an Oscar for lensing Gandhi (1982) the same year Splitz was released. Taylor’s final two films, for you Dario Argento fans, were the maestro’s The Phantom of the Opera (1998) and Sleepless (2001), for whome he also shot Opera (1987). Oh, and Ronnie Taylor shot the Who’s Tommy (1975). No, really.
From an innocuous, ’80s T&A comedy to Dario Argento by the guy who lensed Tommy. Only in the digitized pages of B&S About Movies. Go figure.
You can stream Splitz for free on Tubi. We’ve found the VHS original trailer and the new, restored trailer on You Tube, as well. And we found the Acting Reel of actress Forbes Riley — from her official page — from the film to enjoy.
You can click on these links to listen to the songs from the film on You Tube.
- Busy Boy – Arlene Gold
- Hully Gully – The Olympics
- Heart of Glass – Blondie
- One Way or Another – Blondie
- Am I Asking Too Much? – Jana Jillio
- Mistake Magnifique – Rick Derringer
- Crash Your Party – John Hiatt
- Sue’s Gotta Be Mine – Del Shannon
- On Hold – The Clonetones
- So Long Baby – Del Shannon
- Give It All You Got – American Patrol
- The Prowler – American Patrol
- Suburban Nights – Diane Scanlon
- When Love Attacks – Rick Derringer with Bonnie Tyler
- Running in Space – Sarah Larson
- The Dean’s Song – Shirley Stoler
- We’re a Miracle – Diane Scanlon (well, maybe)
The uploads of the songs by American Patrol, Jana Jillio, and Diane Scanlon are courtesy of Phota You Tube. Thank you for your efforts in preserving these lost artists and making for a better film review.
* We dive deep into all of those Animal House and Porky’s knockoffs with our “Exploring: ’80s Comedies” featurette. And we dive deeper into the snobs vs. slobs genre of ’80s comedies with our “Drive-In Friday: Snobs vs. Slobs” feature. We also explore the history of Film Ventures International with a “Drive-In Friday” featurette dedicated to their films.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.