Tag Archives: Michael Rubbo

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.)