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DIRECTED BY: Michael Rubbo
FEATURING: Mathew Mackay, Siluck Saysanasy, Alison Podbrey, Michael Hogan, Michel Maillot
PLOT: After suffering a terrible fright while exploring a derelict house, young Michael’s hair falls out, leaving him completely bald; possible salvation arrives in the form of a strange cure proffered by a pair of ghosts, which involves smearing a bizarre concoction atop his head. When an impatient Michael adds too much peanut butter to the recipe, his hair commences to grow wildly out of control. Not only does Michael have a new set of challenges associated with his uncontrollable coif, but he becomes the target of a dubious art teacher who covets the boy’s locks for the manufacture of magical paintbrushes.
- Quebecois producer Rock Demers made his mark in the world of youth-oriented cinema with 1970’s The Christmas Martian, which was made to take advantage of Canadian tax breaks.
- The Peanut Butter Solution was the second of a planned dozen kids’ movies by Demers’ Les Production La Fete studio under the banner “Tales For All.” The success of the series earned the studio the moniker “Disney of the North.”
- The soundtrack includes two songs performed by future music titan Celine Dion. She was seventeen at the time, and these were her first English-language recordings.
- The script began as a bedtime story director/co-writer Rubbo would tell his 6-year-old son.
- Co-writer Vojtech Jasný, best known as director of The Cassandra Cat (1963), was a veteran of the
INDELIBLE IMAGE: There are many memorable shots of Michael’s ever-growing hair, but probably the most lasting is the contraption he is forced to devise to prevent the hyperactive follicles from killing him in his sleep, resulting in a ‘do that resembles one of St. Basil’s onion domes.
TWO WEIRD THINGS: Way too much hair down there; paintbrush sweatshop
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: What doesn’t? The film starts out with an unusual premise, surrounds it with a cast of characters who act in ways that bear no relationship to the way humans behave, and then sends the story in random directions that only magnify the craziness. You’ve heard the hype; the buzz is justified. It’s exactly as strange as you think it will be, and then some.
Original trailer for The Peanut Butter Solution
COMMENTS: I don’t remember how many years ago it was that my friend Brooke described seeing an utterly bizarre movie she once saw about a boy who went bald and grew his hair back by spreading peanut butter on his head. All of us listening were captivated by her description, and even the ability to plug the salient facts into a search engine and immediately identify the film in question did not diminish amazement at the existence of the thing. Such has been the remarkable afterlife of this curious film: a half-remembered fever dream that seems impossible but turns out to be shockingly authentic.
If anything, The Peanut Butter Solution manages to be significantly stranger than childhood memories serve. The titular substance represents but one twist in the winding and heightening plot, and completely elides such stage-setting elements as a distracted dad who exclusively paints his family (played with daffy optimism by, of all people, Battlestar Galactica’s gruff Colonel Tigh), an imagination-hating Franco-Italian art teacher who looks like Dalí but teaches grade school, a pair of vagrants-turned-ghosts, and a Teutonic doctor who identifies Michael’s ailment by its proper Latin name: hair-um scare-um. To repeat, this is all before we get so much as a dollop of peanut butter.
As a children’s film, The Peanut Butter Solution has learned lessons from some of the most successfully weird films ever aimed at a younger audience, such as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. The choices are big, dangerous, and unapologetic. Kidnapping of dozens of children? Killing off two people in a fire and then resurrecting them as guardian angels? The utterly inexplicable moment where Michael’s pal Connie decides to apply the concoction to his nether regions and the consequences that follow? It goes there, happily. It’s refreshing to be in the presence of a kids’ movie that hasn’t been anywhere near a focus group. The Peanut Butter Solution answers to no one but its own demented muse.
Of course, the flip side is that The Peanut Butter Solution is kind of terrible. The acting is wildly over the top. Plot points connect haphazardly at best. (Lucky break that the Signor, the dad’s art dealer, and the doctor are all connected.) Character development has to be taken on faith, such as the villainous Signor’s willingness to be tricked by Connie into calling him his son. The tone careens about like a demolition derby car, lurching from slapstick comedy to light-hearted heist to wrenching anguish to spirit-of-imagination gibberish and beyond. And let’s give those Celine Dion songs their due. Sample lyric: “A bing bang / A ding dang / And oops, your mind goes clang clang.” Like everything else in the movie, it’s hard to believe that’s real, but it is. The same spirit that informs the movie’s brashness and adventurousness must also be held responsible for its disjointedness and incompetence.
But the whole of The Peanut Butter Solution ends up being far more than the sum of its parts. To look at it in pieces is to recognize how ill-considered it all is, and viewed that way, it’s just a bad movie. It’s only when you really take the time to watch it top-to-bottom that you recognize it as a magical object. As the strange moments accumulate, the unexpected choices pile on, and odd plots are supplanted by even odder ones, The Peanut Butter Solution becomes a singular viewing experience. This is what my friend Brooke, and so many like her, found unforgettable to the point where they couldn’t believe their eyes and ears. That’s the real power of imagination.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“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… 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.”–Anthony Arrigo, Dread Central [Blu-ray]
IMDB LINK: The Peanut Butter Solution (1985)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
How Did This Get Made, Episode 243 – (Stitcher Premium subscription required) Hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas offer their baffled take on the movie
How Did This Get Made: A Conversation With The Producer Of ‘The Peanut Butter Solution‘ – Journalist Blake Harris interviews producer Rock Demers about the film and the “Tales For All” series
Michael’s Fright: The Strange True Story of The Peanut Butter Solution – Coda Gardner’s YouTube documentary seeks to understand the how and why of the movie
TV Tropes – The website catalogs the ways in which The Peanut Butter Solution is actually like other movies.
CAPSULE: THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION (1985) – Gregory J. Smalley’s original review.
HOME VIDEO INFO: Despite sticking in the memory of many traumatized children, for a long time, The Peanut Butter Solution could be found only on VHS and bootleg DVDs. That finally changed in 2019 when cult-film specialist Severin (who usually releases exploitation/horror movies) put it out on Blu-ray and DVD in 2019 as the first entry in their “Severin Kids” sub-label (buy). The Blu-ray includes two cuts, the US theatrical and an extended version; the commentary track is by producer Rock Demers and star Matthew MacKay, moderated by Ara Ball. The disc also includes interviews with Demers, Siluck Saysanasy (who played Connie), a reflection on the “Tales for All” series, and two trailers for the film.
(This movie was first nominated for review years ago by “James,” who said “I saw it as a child and was freaked out and I’ve seen it recently and it’s just as weird…check it out!” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)