CAPSULE: THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION (1985)

DIRECTED BY: Michael Rubbo

FEATURING: Mathew Mackay, Michel Maillot, Siluck Saysanasy, Alison Darcy, Michael Hogan

PLOT: A boy loses his hair from a fright, but some grateful ghosts give him a secret recipe for regrowing it; complications ensure when he doesn’t follow the formula exactly.

Still from The Peanut Butter Solution

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s weird—scarringly weird—to kids, but this follicular fairy tale is unlikely to have the same effect on grown-ups.

COMMENTS: The most noteworthy thing about The Peanut Butter Solution isn’t any of the weird stuff that happens onscreen; it’s the amazingly consistent reflections of adults who recall seeing it as a child. Anytime this movie is mentioned anywhere on the Net, you will see some variation of the same response: “I saw this as a kid!  I tried describing the plot to someone who hadn’t seen it and they thought I was making it up! I was beginning to think I dreamed it!”

Almost uniformly, these adult survivors of The Peanut Butter Solution mention that the movie gave them nightmares. I don’t think many adults will find this film that creepy when seeing it for the first time, but it’s easy to see why it freaked out so many kids. Leaving the weird and the scary moments to one side, just consider the number of childhood anxieties this film touches on: fear of being made fun of by other kids for being different. First encounters with death. A scary neighborhood house (where a couple of local winos burnt to death). An absent parent. Fear of oncoming puberty. The suspicion that authority figures aren’t just criticizing you for your own good; they really do have it out for you. Abduction. Even the Brothers Grimm were never this macabre. (There is a real modern fairy tale quality to the story, which we’re reminded of when the resourceful kids try to use a trail of sugar to track down the bad guys.)

A movie that dealt with these themes in a straightforward way would likely upset tykes, but Peanut Butter Solution adds nightmarish imagery: a kid who’s gone totally bald (particularly frightening to a youngster who’s vaguely aware of childhood leukemia and chemotherapy). A nameless horror in an attic of an old house. Hobo ghosts. A boy smearing a mixture of peanut butter, rotten eggs and dead flies on his head. Hair that grows so fast it gets snagged in trees as he walks to school. Fur flowing out of a kid’s pants leg. A child imprisoned in an elevated box with his hair hooked up to a loom. Paintings that you can walk into.

All of these strange sights are delivered with the matter-of-factness of a dream. When young Micheal’s hair starts growing centimeters per minute, his father and sister are amazed, but not alarmed by this violation of the laws of nature. Despite the fact that his tresses lengthen visibly as he sits in class, a teacher implies Michael’s lying: hair only grows a half an inch per month, it’s a scientific fact. When Michael and dozens of schoolmates are abducted, the boy’s family is concerned, but not terrified or bereaved. Even children have to realize that there’s something off and unnatural about people’s reactions in the movie; young Micheal is terrified and depressed by the fact that his body is in revolt against him, but none of his adult protectors share his alarm or identify with his sadness.

Kids won’t pick up on the pedestrian acting and the flubbed attempts at comedy, though these factors will likely annoy adults. But even for a grown-up, the script is interesting and unpredictable enough to overcome the workmanlike thesping (and even to make you overlook the vapid, oh-so-80s synth-pop score). With its deep imagination and grasp of childhood psychology, I could imagine The Peanut Butter Solution working more effectively as a picture book than as a movie; the Signor would be a far scarier villain in the mind’s eye than he is onscreen, and the surreal situations would make illustrators salivate.

Despite the legions of adults who remember The Peanut Butter Solution from their youth, the film has never been available on DVD. (VHS copies are not hard to come by). I have a theory as to why this is: a pre-fame Celine Dion sings two (frankly lame) songs on the soundtrack, and I suspect her camp is unwilling to clear their rights without a hefty down payment first. Whenever a film is unavailable due to rights squabbles, it’s a tragedy, but there may be a silver lining here: at least the movie won’t give a whole new generation of kids nightmares.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Imagine a weird low-budget variant on The Boy with Green Hair (1948) and the Dr Seuss film The 5000 Fingers of Dr T (1953)… some people have strange memories of The Peanut Butter Solution from growing up in the 1980s but the film sounds much more wacky in description than the pedestrian way it is directed on screen.”–Richard Scheib, Moria: The Science-Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Review (video)

(This movie was nominated for review 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.)

14 thoughts on “CAPSULE: THE PEANUT BUTTER SOLUTION (1985)”

  1. Wow, I hadn’t heard of this one before. It sounds pretty crazy! It’s funny how some things can be so terrifying to a kid but just fall flat to an adult viewer. I’m sure this would have scared me when I was young!

  2. I remember this movie I seen it a few times as a kid it always freaked me out but I liked it I have been wanting to see again but its not on DVD guess I will have to break out the VHS

    1. yes i have recall watching it when i was young.. Tried to explain this movie to my kids and now they are interested seeing it. so I’m hoping to get it on DVD (ausralian )

  3. This really scared me badly as a kid. I don’t even remember how old I was (maybe 8?) but it did not sit well with me. Nightmares for months afterwards. I still get a creepy feeling when I hear the title of the film. Thanks for the write-up though. At least I can see that I wasn’t crazy for the reaction I had to the movie.

  4. I’ve been looking for this movie for awhile, and it’s on [sorry, no links to copyrighted material allowed – admin.]

    Going to watch it later tonight to see if I still like it.

  5. So weird!!! I’m 25 and always think of this movie! I’m not sure how old I was when I watched it but I had nightmares for years!! When I got older I told people about it and would ask for it at movie stores… No one ever heard of it. My mom remembers it, but said it wasn’t a scary movie just weird. So I just googled “nightmares about the Peanut Butter Solutions” and this came up! Glad to know I’m not the only victim of this movie!!

  6. This is the ONE movie that caused me horrible nightmares as a kid. I remember watching it at a sleepover and being messed up for months afterwards. I’m glad I’m not the only one! I’d love to watch it today and see if it really is as scary as I remember.

  7. I watched this movie (more than once) as a kid. And yes, it was scary, yet it had a strange appeal to it. Few years back I googled ‘Peanut Butter Solution’ and surprisingly could not find any references on wiki, IMDB or any film review/critic websites. But finally I’m glad to know there are others who watched the movie and still remember it. I would like to watch it again just to recall some childhood memories, hope the DVDs come out soon.

  8. This thing psyched my mind. I asked my husband if he ever a movie about paintbrushes made of kid’s hair, and he looked at me like I was nutzo. The part that scared me most what when he was drugged up, lying with his head in a box, begging for more yogurt…”Signor! Signor!” WHAT THE FUUUUU-

    I hate everyone involved with this movie.

  9. I’m 30 now but was probably about 8 when I saw this. After like a million years I was in a smoke circle of all places and brought up this movie and found a fellow survivor!!! It’s not imagined! It exists! Gaaah!

  10. I remember this movie and have been looking for it for a long time. I thought it was called the Peanut Butter ‘Trick’ and finally found in on google.com. Thank You Google! I must find it on dvd. This is definitely a must-see for my kids. They would freaking crap up laughing and my boys would probably have nightmares about monstrous pubes! Need it now

    1. Sadly,there is no official DVD release. The Peanut Butter Solution is currently only available on used VHS tapes. My wild guess for its absence on DVD is that they have had trouble acquiring the rights to a pre-fame Celine Dion song used in the movie. Someday I may try to contact the rights-holders and get a definitive answer on this. In the meantime if it ever comes out on DVD, believe me, we will announce it here.

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