Starring Mathew Mackay, Siluck Saysanasy, Alison Darcy, Michael Hogan
Directed by Michael Rubbo
Distributed by Severin Films
Way back in the dark ages – read: a time before instantaneous internet searches – stumbling upon a great film on TV often meant having to do some legwork to figure out just what it is you were watching. There wasn’t an on-screen guide, there usually wasn’t an announcer, and unless you knew to stick around through the end credits (which all kids just love to watch) you’d likely miss the title. There are films I have vague memories of watching on cable eons ago that I still have yet to identify, assuming my adolescent memory isn’t playing tricks on me (for instance, if anyone can identify a horror movie with a killer clown who lives in a cave near the beach feel free to comment below). Most I have managed to classify but a handful of unknowns continue to exist… though every once in a great while some company specializing in obscure films will release a title on home video and suddenly my memory gets a good jogging.
That is exactly what happened when Severin Films – under the rubric of their newly launched Severin Kids line-up – announced The Peanut Butter Solution (1985). This hard-to-classify kids film is a Canadian production that is part of the Tales for All (Contes Pour Tous) series of children’s fantasy movies that includes 22 entries, spanning from 1984 until 2004; this was the second. Although this is the only film I have seen in the series if any are half as psychedelic as this they may be worth seeking out. The Peanut Butter Solution is fantastical, capturing childlike imagination with a commendable representation on screen – and it is also frightening… if you are a child. I can remember scenes shocking me during that inaugural viewing that now had no impact whatsoever, but I think that speaks volumes to how the filmmakers were able to visualize things that could scare a person at the right age.
Eleven-year-old Michael (Mathew Mackay) and his best friend, Conrad (oddly called “Connie” by everyone, played by Siluck Saysanasy) decide to explore a burned-out mansion in a nearby neighborhood after hearing homeless people squatting within perished during the blaze. Michael walks up a wayward plank and peers into an open window… where he is instantly frightened from seeing the rumored ghosts, falling out of the window and losing consciousness. When he awakens the next morning all of his hair is gone. Understandably panicked, Michael glues on a wig and heads to school where a bully promptly rips it off his head, humiliating the boy in front of his peers. That night the sympathetic ghosts who gave him “The Fright” appear in his dreams with an olive branch: a literal solution to his follicle folly. The formula is given to the boy with one word of warning: don’t use too much of the magic ingredient, peanut butter, or else the results will be dreadful.
Care to guess what happens next? Michael uses far too much peanut butter and soon his hair is growing… far too fast. Like, an inch per hour (or more) fast. Connie, who doesn’t quite believe Michael’s peanut butter solution is real, applies some of the formula to his pubic hair – and he quickly learns Michael wasn’t telling any lies. But, unlike Michael Connie yells at his hair to stop growing and, shockingly, it does. The kids’ art teacher, The Signor (Michel Maillot), a cruel man, loses his job at the school and decides the next best employment opportunity would be to kidnap Michael along with dozens of his classmates and put them all to work in a factory. Michael, drugged, is kept atop a large conveyor belt while the children harvest his hair to make paintbrushes that can create whatever the artist imagines, even going so far as to allow one to enter the painting when complete.
Needless to say this movie is a wild trip. What I appreciated all these years later is the movie isn’t terribly interested in telling a cohesive story than it is presenting weird scenes populated with eccentric characters and odd visuals that are striking and memorable. The filmmakers seem to have honed in on the fact most kids watching the film don’t care about (or notice) depth of story or characters; they want to see the fantastic and strange. As an adult I was occasionally bored by the lack of good scripting but the weirdness of the story did keep me invested in seeing how this bizarre ride was going to end. So, while the categorization is probably closer to fantasy than horror there are moments in here that will undoubtedly frighten children. This is an ideal feature for retro-loving parents to watch with their kids and I am eager to see what else Severin has in store for their latest endeavor.
There isn’t any provenance information about the 1.78:1 1080p image, which is mostly in very good shape. The print used is fairly clean, with only some minor flecks and instances of dirt popping up sporadically. The image does look slightly faded, though, with colors lacking rich saturation. Film grain is evident and abundant, occasionally spiking and looking awfully thick but I’ll take that over getting a smeared digitally-manipulated picture any day. Fans of Severin will find this to be in-line with the bulk of their transfer work.
Audio comes in the form of an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track, the highlight of which is the songs performed by Celine Dion. Yes, that one. This was some of her earliest work, years before stardom hit, and if she hadn’t made it big I don’t think anyone would be crowing over her appearance here. The songs are a bit catchy and well performed; nothing incredible. Dialogue is balanced well along with sound effects and composer Lewis Furey’s classically-tinged score. Subtitles are available in English.
- Extended U.S. Theatrical Release Version
- NEW Commentary with Producer Rock Demers and Actor Matthew MacKay, Moderated by Filmmaker Ara Ball
- Human Beings Are The Same All Over: An Interview with Producer Rock Demers
- Conrad’s Peanut Butter Solution: An Interview with Siluck Saysanasy
- Tales for All: Paul Corupe on Rock Demers and the Canadian Kids Film
- Alternate U.S. Theatrical Release Version
- Canadian Trailer
- Original U.S. Trailer
It sounds cliche but they really don’t make’em like this anymore. Weirdness abounds in this trippy Canuck kids film that left a helluva impression on me after a single haphazard viewing. Have fun scaring and scarring your own kids (or someone else’s) with Severin Kids’ debut title; the first of hopefully many in this promising new line.