ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Joe Zaso is a NewYork-based actor, filmmaker, model and cookbook author, Joe Zaso is a performer on the stage and screen. He’s also the director of some awesome shot on video movies from his teenage years, such as Screambook
and It’s Only a Movie.
Bryan Norton has an M.F.A. degree in Film Production from New York University’s Tisch School of The Arts Graduate Film Program, and a B.A. in Cinema Studies from Sarah Lawrence College. As a professor and lecturer of film, Bryan has taught film directing and screenwriting throughout the United States since 2001 and served as the chairperson of The New York Film Academy. He also has consulted on several documentaries, books and articles relating to the history and analysis of the horror genre, including Going To Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel and Fangoria Magazine.
I’m so excited that they offered this article to the site. Enjoy!
Is it any surprise that two of 1980’s highest grossers spawned their own hybrid-subgenre that fizzled out before it even started? They were the disaster spoof Airplane! (ranking at #4) and the slasher classic Friday the 13th (ranking at #17*) which were both from Paramount coincidently. A perfectly capital idea to take these two genres and blend them together had studios racing against the clock to get their horror spoofs into theaters. The result? A bizarre wave of mostly independent (some admittedly under-produced) releases rushed into production all hoping for a piece of the profitable parody pie. The 1981-82 roster included Student Bodies, Saturday the 14th, Wacko and National Lampoon’s Class Reunion. MGM was the studio behind this coup known as Pandemonium and what might have seemed ideal in every way didn’t exactly have the desired end result. In fact, what would have had a wide theatrical release (promotional materials, posters, lobby cards and all were all printed and ready to go) ended up relegated to a tiny limited theatrical release on April 2, 1982. Most of us discovered this peculiar seemingly unheard of gem when it hightailed it to HBO and home video.
Originally titled, Thursday the 12th, Pandemonium is a rather ambitious production considering its silly nature. Produced by the team of Doug Chapin and Barry Krost who unnerved the world with When a Stranger Calls (1979), this wacko extravaganza was directed by the late great Alfred Sole (Alice, Sweet, Alice and Tanya’s Island) who passed away not long before this article was written. Not since The Sentinel (1976) has such a bizarre studio movie had such an impressive cast of classic stars, has-beens, currently hot and soon-to-be-famous stars which include Carol Kane, Tommy Smothers, Candice Azzara, Judge Reinhold, Debralee Scott, Eve Arden, Donald O’Connor, Kaye Ballard, Marc McClure, Phil Hartman, an uncredited Eileen Brenann, David L. Lander, Paul (Pee Wee Herman) Ruebens, Sidney Lassick, Miles Chapin, Tab Hunter, Edie McClurg, Warhol vet Pat Ast, and dozens of other familiar character actors.
Like Friday the 13th and several other holiday-themed slashers, Pandemonium begins many years before at the scene of the hideous massacre of a cheerleader team which is impaled with a javelin and transformed into a virtual shish-ke-bob. Who’s the guilty party? Perhaps the jilted Brooklyn-accented wannabe cheerleader, Bambi (Candy Azzara) or someone with a twisted agenda all his/her own. The massacre causes the famed school to shut down for 20 years (seems to be the favoured time lapse for all slasher movies) with Bambi now returning to re-open the school as her own cheerleading camp. Despite the many warnings of the locals, Bambi perseveres and soon a hapless fresh-faced gang of perky and horny cheerleaders move in for the summer. However, a stranger with open-fingered gloves seemed determined to terminate the camp through any homicidal method necessary including a killer electric toothbrush, megaphone impalings, pom-pom suffocation, exploding trampolines that sends one character into a jumbo jet full of camera-snapping Asians, and most diabolical of all – a drowning in a tub of cookies and milk.
We were able to catch up with three of the film’s stars who all seem genuinely amazed and touched that the world still fondly remembers this oddball gem after 40 years.
Starring as Candy the Carrie White-inspired good girl, Carol Kane gives a beaming and delicious performance. Now residing in NYC’s Upper West Side, Carol reminisced…
CAROL KANE: I think I was told about the movie by my friend Bud Cort, and I knew producer Doug Chapin. We did When a Stranger Calls together a couple of years before. I grew up loving the Smothers Brothers. So funny and talented. I was thrilled to work with Tommy. I had no idea that Pandemonium had a cult following and people still enjoy it today. Isn’t that wonderful! That’s the best thing for an actor to hear. When one of my movies is mentioned, when I look back and remember, it’s more of the experience that I attach to it. I’ll always cherish that movie because that’s where I met Pee Wee Herman. He’s one of my favorite people. We’ve been friends ever since. After talking to you about Pandemonium, now I want to see it again!
Another up-and-coming familiar face, Miles Chapin played Andy, one of the sex-starved cheerleaders who was smitten with Candy.
MILES CHAPIN: It was great because honestly our director Alfred Sole didn’t have a great sense of humor on his own. He wasn’t a comedy director. He was a horror director. So basically he said, “If any of you guys have any ideas, please throw them up. Let’s hear them.” He was surrounded by people who knew and loved comedy, so that was why we were able to get away with everything. He had the producers on his side, but he was out of his element because it was a comedy. He had a great visual sense.
Last, but not least, the divine Candy Azzara gives a charming performance as Bambi, the hard-working, but ill-fated camp owner who clearly believed if you can’t cheer, teach. To this day, her Esther Williams-inspired death scene is an absolute guilty pleasure that still ignites chuckles galore to this day.
CANDY AZZARA: The milk bath (laughs)!! That was the hardest thing in the world! Because I had to eat those chocolate cookies and I saw bits of dirt and hair in the bathtub! (laughs) It took about a day to shoot that scene. And then the milk went up nose! They used real milk and they just left it there I said, “Am I desperate or what!” (laughs) I always thought of my father. I did my father [inspiration for her cookie-eating style]. The yum sounds. He always used to go like that. I loved the production. I just get such a kick out of acting. I love acting. Any part I do is like the most important part in the world. I don’t care how big or what. Pandemonium wasn’t a hit like Airplane!, but now it’s becoming a cult thing.
It’s clear that Alfred Sole’s strong production design sense is felt throughout the movie as every corner of the screen is laden with details galore. This forte along with his seeming displeasure with directing led to him spending the remainder of his career as a production designer of many features and TV shows including the new McGyver, Castle, Moonlight and Melrose Place.
Pandemonium is still a favorite amongst those who remember it well and while it may not resonate with today’s audiences, it certainly can’t be faulted for being unabashedly just-let-go-mind-go-blank. Or perhaps it’s simply the ideal party movie for those who just can resist groaning and eyeball-rolling.