What to make of director Bob Clark's career? His filmography is all over the map. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974), the story of a serial killer living in a sorority house during Christmas break is a good little horror film. MURDER BY DECREE (1979) is one of the best Sherlock Holmes movies ever made. Christopher Plummer plays Holmes and James Mason is Dr. Watson in a case involving the true identity of the infamous Jack the Ripper
Clark's most famous (and endlessly lucrative film) is far and away A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) which runs 24/7 on multiple cable channels every December. I'm surprised there isn't an A CHRISTMAS STORY channel permanently devoted to running the film year round. Here's a bit of heresy: I've never seen A CHRISTMAS STORY. Oh, I suffered through a truly wretched stage production of the material at Round Rock's Sam Bass Community Theatre (was that a rat that ran across my feet?) several years ago but I've never seen the film, despite that fact that it's everywhere on television every December. I doubt I'll ever see it. And on the off chance that I ever do, I'm sure I'll be profoundly disappointed. The cult of this film, the hype surrounding it, the sheer mythic status of it is sure to outweigh any of the inherent qualities of the film. When you come to a beloved "classic" like A CHRISTMAS STORY this late in the game, the film can't possibly live up to it's reputation. It's a bandwagon you had to have jumped on years ago. Late comers are welcome, but no refunds will be provided for any who are disappointed.
And then there's PORKY'S (1981), Clark's randy, raucous and rowdy teenage sex comedy that was, believe it or not, the fifth highest grossing film of 1982. In fact, PORKY'S was so successful that it spawned three sequels: PORKY'S II: THE NEXT DAY (1983), PORKY'S REVENGE! (1985) and PIMPIN' PEE WEE (2009). I saw the film on first release at the old Capitol Plaza Cinema. It was one of the last films I can remember going to see with my brother. Just the two of us out for some cheap laughs on a Friday night. We got them in spades that night but when I watched PORKY'S again a few weeks back for the first time in over thirty years, it wasn't nearly as funny as I remembered it.
Of course a lot of those original laughs were dependent on two factors. One, seeing a low brow comedy like PORKY'S with a full audience is a completely different experience than watching the film alone. Communal laughter can be infectious. The other factor was that I was a lot closer to being a sex obsessed teenager myself in 1981 (I was 25 at the time) than I am now.
PORKY'S is the kind of movie that has characters named Meat and Pee Wee. Guess what those names refer to? It takes place in Florida in the 1950s but although the cars are vintage, all of the girls wear very short shorts and they all sport 1980s hairdos. The high school where much of the action takes place doesn't appear to offer any classes other than gym as we never see any students in classrooms. There's a lot of scenes in the gymnasium of basketball practice but we never see a game actually played. Few teachers appear and almost no parents. It's a universe in which the teens are infinitely smarter and more resourceful than the adults and they have plenty of free time on their hands in which to pursue carnal pleasures.
Chief among those pleasures can be found at Porky's, a roadhouse/whorehouse in an adjacent county. Its run by a corpulent and corrupt tub of guts who delights in antagonizing the boys. The boys eventually take their revenge in the film's climax, an intricately planned and executed assault on Porky's ramshackle structure which results in a spectacular display of property damage.
Along the way, there's a couple of "serious" sub-plots about anti-Semitism and one boy's struggle to escape from his abusive father but they don't take up much narrative space and they certainly don't get in the way of the abundance of dick jokes that run rampant through the film.
Alex Karras and Susan Clark are the only name players in the cast. Karras is a crooked sheriff while Clark is wasted in her short appearance as a hooker who's in on a cruel practical joke. Future star Kim Cattrall is a horny gym teacher who is turned on by the smell of locker rooms.
PORKY'S is crass, vulgar and stupid. But it does have it's moments. Not many, granted, but I did laugh a few times while watching it the other day.
Not as much as I did back in 1981 though.