vt The Silence of the Hams
Italy, US / 78 minutes / color / Thirtieth Century Wolf, Silvio Berlusconi Communications Dir & Scr: Ezio Greggio Pr: Ezio Greggio, Julie Corman Cine: Jacques Haitkin Cast: Ezio Greggio, Dom DeLuise, Billy Zane, Joanna Pacula, Charlene Tilton, Martin Balsam, Stuart Pankin, John Astin, Phyllis Diller, Bubba Smith, Larry Storch, Rip Taylor, Shelley Winters, Nedra Volz, Rosey Brown, Tony Cox.
In the, er, grand tradition of Airplane! (1980) and The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), one of those slapstick parodies that operates on the principle of throwing as many jokes at the wall as possible and hoping that at least a couple of them stick. In this case, about half a dozen did, which—for this curmudgeonly watcher—is above par for the genre. Most of the rest is about as funny as a botched vasectomy. Perhaps if I’d had a few beers first . . .
The principal target of the parody is PSYCHO (1960), and the one convincing part of the script is the final identification of the person who murdered the writer/director of this mess, Ezio Greggio, in the shower. Another main target, although secondary to Psycho, is—as one might expect from the title—The SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991). There are also copious references to other noirish and/or horror movies; I’m rotten at spotting these things, but I noticed BASIC INSTINCT (1992), DRESSED TO KILL (1980), MISERY (1990), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), The Addams Family (the 1964–6 TV series, not the later movies), Night of the Living Dead (1968), Star Wars (1977), The TERMINATOR (1984) and even Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983).
Cornelia Johnsson as Sharon Bone.
The plot is of course ramshackle. FBI rookie Jo Dee Fostar (Zane) is assigned by boss Pete Putrid (Pankin) to the case of the Psycho Killer, who has already claimed some 120 victims. Jo Dee’s girlfriend Jane Wine (Tilton) wants them to marry, but he makes excuses about money. So, when her realtor boss Mr. Laurel (Taylor) gives her $400,000 in cash to put in the bank, she makes a run for it, ending up on a rainy, lightning-flecked night at the Cemetery Motel, where the creepy Antonio Motel (Greggio) holds shouting matches with his mysterious mother, who dwells in the sinister old mansion overlooking the motel . . .
Jane Wine (Charlene Tilton), all dressed to kill for Dressed to Kill (1980).
By this time Jo Dee, a shallow fellow, has become more interested in Jane’s sister Lily (Pacula) but, having heard from the wittily named Detective Martin Balsam (Balsam) that Jane took $400,000 with her, is instantly intent on tracking her down. He understands (somehow!) that the two cases are related, and this is confirmed by Dr. Animal Cannibal Pizza (DeLuise), the imprisoned serial-killing psychiatrist whom he has been consulting in his attempts to track down the Psycho Killer.
The prison guard (Tony Cox) escorts Jo Dee Fostar (Billy Zane) en route to see Animal.
Dr. Animal (Dom DeLuise), complete with idiosyncratically placed bathroom fixture. Try using that after a night at the pub.
The latter stages of the quest are aided by The Ranger (Astin) and The Ranger’s wife (Volz).
The supporting cast is stuffed with familiar faces. Several movie directors have bit parts, most noticeably Mel Brooks as a departing client of the Jack the Ripper Motor Court but also Joe Dante, John Carpenter and John Landis; the first of these has directed some far better parodies than this one, while the last directed one of the movies parodied here, the video short Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Making more substantial contributions are:
- Phyllis Diller, as Laurel’s elderly, befuddled secretary,
- Larry Storch, as Putrid’s regulations-obsessed, accident-prone sergeant,
- Bubba Smith, as Olaf, whose $400,000 that really is,
- Tony Cox, as the guard in the prison wing where Dr. Animal is held,
- Rosey Brown, as a massive yet fey-speaking motorcycle cop who pursues the fleeing Jane for miles before fortuitously being struck by lightning, and
- Shelley Winters, as Antonio Motel’s mother—no, not the one created by his clumsy taxidermy but his real, live, kickin’, cussin’ and stabbin’ ol’ mom.
John Astin as Gomez Addams as The Ranger.
In addition there are some (usually very good) mimicries of real-life figures: John Roarke as George H.W. Bush, Pat Rick as Bill Clinton, Kenneth Davitian as Luciano Pavarotti, Lynn Shirey as Hillary Clinton and Cornelia Johnsson as Sharon Bone. The Pavarotti impersonation is really the only one that’s put to good humorous use. As Putrid and Jo Dee visit the scene of the Psycho Killer’s latest outrage, Jo Dee muses aloud, viewing the body parts, “You sure there’s only one victim? There’s enough stuff there for twins.” Moments later the body parts are joining back together, and then Pavarotti stands up and breaks into an aria. As the voiceover narration (done by Greggio) informs us, “Yes, it was Pavarotti, who had eaten a cow and farted himself to pieces”—a line so extraordinarily unsubtle that it somehow breaks through a barrier to achieve intellectual shine, à la François Rabelais.
Ezio Greggio mugs as Antonio Motel.
There are some other brief moments of actual wit in the screenplay. At one point Dr. Animal tells Jo Dee: “I’ve been cooped up in this place for eight years. Of all the things I’ve lost, I think I miss my mind the most.” And there’s this exchange:
Dr. Animal: What are you most afraid of?
Jo Dee: Anchovies.
Dr. Animal: Good answer.
Perhaps the line most likely to evoke laughter is one from Balsam, who famously played the detective in Hitchcock’s Psycho. “I feel,” he says as he enters the house behind the motel, “like I’ve done this before.”
Jo Dee (Billy Zane) and Lily (Joanna Pacula) search for Jane.
Fart, poop and penis jokes are fairly preponderant: early on, Jane discovers that Jo Dee really does have a gun in his pocket—or his pants, anyway. And don’t let me forget the vibrator joke, much as I might wish to. The main moments of comedy, though, come in the scenes with Dom DeLuise’s Dr. Animal, a psycho hugely confident in his own intellectual and even paranormal ability yet who really is the pizza to Anthony Hopkins’s gourmet-standard Hannibal Lecter in the original movie. Really, the only other performance of note—despite Zane being competent and Astin expertly recreating his Gomez Addams role—comes from Pacula, who has obviously been told to scorch the celluloid and does exactly that, but very amusingly.
What you can get stabbed by if you’re careless.
This noirish parody does at least have the merit of being funnier than WRONGFULLY ACCUSED (1998), the Leslie Nielsen vehicle that came along a few years later. But that’s not a high hurdle to negotiate.
Martin Balsam, with that famous House as the backdrop.
On Amazon.com: Silence of the Hams [VHS]