Monday, April 1, 2024

Heckling, The (1987) [short]

... aka: Heckling: An Exorcist Parody, The

Directed by:
Bryan Michael Stoller

I've spoken so many times in so many reviews about what a global phenomenon The Exorcist was upon release that I feel like a skipping record at this late stage still talking about it... and yet I'm still going to. It's almost impossible to go into this particular review (or a lot of other reviews for adjacent films and copies) and NOT discuss it, so we'll just do our due diligence here and at least dish out all the basics. First, it needs to be pointed out that The Exorcist remains the most financially successful horror film of all time. Nothing has managed to top it over the past 50+ years and chances are nothing ever will top it. When I was researching this I found all kinds of misleading charts floating around out there, but this stuff really needs to be called out as we see it. So allow me to do just that. I don't care how much of a fanboy you are of a certain big budget Stephen King remake from a few years back...

You πŸ‘ Need πŸ‘ To πŸ‘ Adjust πŸ‘ Figures πŸ‘ For πŸ‘ Inflation

And if you choose not to, your chart is as useless as rubber lips on a woodpecker. Just imagine thinking 1973 grosses should be stacked right up against ones from 40 or 50 years later, especially with ticket prices being anywhere from 5 to 8 times more expensive. C'mon now. In case you want an example of just what I'm talking about, here's a meme I've seen being passed around on a bunch of different websites.

After getting a chuckle from that (and how the fuck did The Nun make that much money?!), I consulted numerous websites to get the real figures and found Marcus Lu's article at Visual Capitalist especially helpful. Adjusted for inflation at the end of 2022, The Exorcist's global haul of over 428 million dollars translates to over 2.8 billion in today's dollars. That not only makes it the highest grossing horror film of all time but also the highest grossing R rated film of all time and one of the Top 20 highest grossing films of any genre of all time. Period. Jaws is the only other genre film even remotely in the same league, which bests The Exorcist in a few ways (domestic adjusted revenue, overall ticket sales) but still falls short of the adjusted global gross. So there you have it folks. The Exorcist and Jaws. #1 and #2 when it comes to box office horror royalty. Both sold well in excess of 100 million tickets apiece just domestically; over twice as many as the nearest competitor. Nothing else is even close and that's unlikely to ever change.

Now that we've confirmed just how huge The Exorcist was yet again, that leads us to the fallout. We're talkin' all of the official sequels of varying quality (including the critically panned, financially under-performing and multi-Razzie nominated The Exorcist: Believer from just last year), endless blatant copies, films heavily influenced by it, unrelated films re-titled to cash in on it and, like with anything else that's extremely popular, parodies out the wazoo. It was regularly mocked on sketch comedy shows like Mad TV, Saturday Night Live (one featuring Richard Pryor) and (in the UK) French and Saunders, animated shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, in print (most memorably in Mad Magazine) and in films like Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, Scary Movie 2This Is the End and this 9 minute short, which predates most of the others. I'm not sure exactly where this one ever played. Was it shown on TV? Was it used as a bumper? Was it shown as a support feature in theaters, or at horror conventions, or at film festivals? I have no clue. I actually wasn't even aware it even existed until somewhat recently.

From the beginning, you know you're at least in knowing hands when this reuses Mike Oldfield's classic "Tubular Bells" piece and emulates exact shots from its inspiration, right down to the shadow of the clergyman standing before the home prior to doing battle with the demon. Instead of Father Merrin, here we get Rabbi Herring ("Exorcism? I thought you said circumcision!"). He meets up with defeated mother Mrs. Taylor and a regular priest who's already at the home. The mom is played by a grown-up Linda Blair, whose presence here is probably the main reason anyone is going to want to watch this. Interestingly, one gets the impression that the makers of the later feature-length Exorcist parody Repossessed (1990), which also stars Blair, must have somehow seen this. In that later film, the star gets to play both the mom and the possessed, and does the exact same here.

The real question is: Is any of this actually funny? While I know humor can be subjective, all this did for me was annoy me and make me cringe. The evil spirit that inhabits the daughter (also Blair) is basically a terrible comedian so desperate to get a laugh it will "try anything; puns, insults, prop humor, even fat jokes." We're then hit with a barrage of awful jokes (which are supposed to be awful, but still...) Everything from knock knock jokes, your [fill in the blank] is so ugly jokes, lousy imitations of famous comedians who were popular at the time like George Burns, Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers and Steve Martin and, yes, fat jokes. Also throw in some Pee Wee Herman, Woody Woodpecker and belching. While that's going on, there are the expected Exorcist nods (the tongue, bodily fluids, floating in bed, a teddy bear's head spinning...) while the exorcists chant things like "Cast out his one liners!"

This also includes rubber chickens, a guy turning into a clown, a laugh track, a squirting flower, cymbal clashes, watermelons (probably a nod to Gallagher) and some scenes of another terrible (non-possessed) stand up comic doing a routine in a club and getting heckled. Blair and the actors playing the priest and rabbi (whose identities aren't known since this doesn't have credits) are actually pretty good but there's absolutely nothing they can do to make terrible jokes, especially intentionally terrible ones, land as anything other than what they are.

Stoller, who hails from Canada, had previously directed an episode of Tales from the Darkside ("The Bitterest Pill") and another short (2 minute) horror spoof called A Canadian Werewolf in Hollywood. His later work includes the feature-length spoof Miss Cast Away and the Island Girls (2004), which is notable for featuring a bizarre cameo from Michael Jackson (!!) and a bunch of family friendly dog-themed stuff like The Amazing Wizard of Paws (2015) and Santa Stole Our Dog: A Merry Doggone Christmas! (2017). If you want to torture yourself for 10 minutes, this is on Youtube.

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