by Courtney Sell
So here's the thing. The main ingredients (pun very much intended) in this specific "family" film are seemingly harmless, high-fructose free and most likely would have been Andy Rooney-approved in the later years of his delusional senility. Yet, below the tasty, gooey surface, a harrowing nightmare exists chock-ful of imagery depicting child slavery, torment, humiliation, ghostly phenomenon, and subtle incestuous overtones. If this is beginning to read like a description of a Pasolini film, you wouldn't be wrong in believing so. However, it is not. Instead of clogging the arteries of children across the globe with sugary breakfast cereals, Twinkies and Girl Scout Cookies, a film touted by the Disney Channel in the late 80's and early 90's as being "fun for the whole family" decided to go another route in child abuse. In my best Rod Sterling impersonation I give you "The curious tale of...The Peanut Butter Solution."
Just mentioning said title to a person my age can send shivers down their spine like scraping your dirty fingernails down a chalkboard. In fact, just the sound of the anthem track Listen to the Magic Man sung by a young up and coming not-yet-known Celine Dion, has the ability to make me freeze in my tracks, wet my pants, and seize up as if I was going through the DT's once again. In my mind, everybody, including the Director, Cast, Crew, Producers and even the Distributors (New World) should be locked away, jailed without any chance of bail and left to rot in a dank, dark cell until the end of time. Harsh? Perhaps. Yet probably not nearly as brutal and horrific as some of the nightmares this group of sadistic child-abusers gave myself and my entire generation alike throughout the course of our childhood. Now, as an underground filmmaker whose off-the-wall humor, ideas and approach in my own work are rather unconventional, I understand the Artists' "vision" in the creation of a horror show as much as the next wanna-be transgressive schmuck. However, it's hard to give pardon when such a vicious piece of hellfire in Canadian celluloid is promoted as a "children's movie." Boy, I'm starting to sound like a cracked out Tipper Gore looking to jail Jello Biafra for his art! But hell, I love things that offend! Tiny Tim is my hero! GG Allin clips are a perfect Sunday Morning viewing for me! I sat through the entirety of Lilian The Perverted Virgin chuckling in glee as the others in the theater either rushed out in disgust or jerked off while the characters worked hard to shove a gigantic dildo into our Heroine, shot in extreme close-up! I watched Cannibal Holocaust and the entire Guinea Pig series in one night! So what the fuck could be the problem here? I'm clearly hard to offend!
Well I promise you this, dear readers, this is not just any work of art. This is not just a movie, or an offensive song lyric, or hardcore pornography. No my friends, this is the real deal. Something so dangerous, so void of humanity, so absent of the sympathy of others that it seems safe enough to show to your Grandparents! Would you play I Kill Everything I Fuck for Granny? Probably not. Would you watch Sasha Grey being triple teamed by old men in clown costumes with your Grandpa? I would hope not! But would you change the channel if they walked into the room while this film was playing on syndication on the Disney Channel in fear that they would give you a good lashing for your sins? I doubt it. So there's the catch! I never thought I could relive the pain and agony, re-open the long healed scars which my Therapist worked so hard to heal, but I tell you my dear readers, I am doing it for you! It's all for you! A first class round trip exploration throughout the sticky bowels of Satan's asshole, or what I like to call "The Eisner Generation" and the messy chunky secretion that dribbled out of its womb called The Peanut Butter Solution. (Cue drum roll!)
Let us take a step back in time now. And I certainly don't blame you if you stop reading, for I understand how traumatizing reliving this experience can be. Due to my inability to even get through the title sequence without shitting my pants when I tried to re-watch this lost unofficial childhood video nasty, I have decided to take it upon myself to reflect upon why this film is so damaging just via memory, in hopes to bring exposure to such a dark issue. Irresponsible Journalism? Maybe. But hopefully, if all works out, this article will become a collective for others ruined by The Peanut Butter Solution, a place to share their experiences and speak openly in a venue void of judgment, shame and hostility. An online therapy session if you will, for all the empty souls wandering through life like ghosts in purgatory because of a film about a boy who...well, let's stop there. (Editor's note: sometime during this moment, the author went into shock due to severe flashbacks and began vomiting upon his lap. When he came to, he decided to bravely finish the article).
Brief history lesson, thanks to Wikipedia. Directed by Michael Rubbo, who interestingly enough has made a series of critically acclaimed documentaries, was at the helm of this project, which during production was known as Michael's Fright. Fair enough. Yet why he felt the need to jump on board a project that would molest the minds of thousands is beyond me. Skippy Peanut Butter paid for product placement. Equally fair, though I am deathly "allergic" to peanut butter now, yet I have no peanut allergy?! Coincidence? Probably not. Now here's where it gets murky - the plot outline. FUCK! I'll make this brief. Young Michael lives with his father and little sister. One day, he decides to explore a decrepit mansion with his idiot friends and inside, comes across ghosts of homeless squatters. Yadda Yadda Yadda, this scares the hair right off of his head. Literally. I'll stop there, because other than that, it becomes a series of vignettes which I like to only play out in my mind when I am trying to remember what real fear feels like. That's right; while some may try to imagine being locked in Gacy's basement to understand real fear, I simply refer back to The Peanut Butter Solution.
What you get are ghosts giving him a recipe for peanut butter Rogaine instant hair growth and a father and little daughter who seem to have more than a normal "Father-Daughter" relationship. How come I always felt more like I was watching Serge and Charlotte sing Lemon Incest? We also have a kidnapper who runs a sweatshop where the children abducted are forced to make "magic paint brushes" from our protagonists' hair, and more godforsaken insanity that is far from "fun for the whole family," I assure you. When Michael turns into a Cousin It look-a-like, things became as horrible as my last acid trip. The "pubic hair" jokes are expected and delivered. Now, please don't read this as a negative critique on the film itself, but simply against EVERYONE and EVERYTHING behind it!
At the time of release, 1985, the film from what I can tell was picked up by the Eisner group and placed in syndication on the Disney Channel. At the time, and from my own remembrance, the channel itself had an obscure and questionable track record for "children's entertainment" including harrowing flicks such as The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, (in which, strangely enough, an old lady also reveals her bald skeletal head) Snow White in which Diana Rigg masterfully plays many roles in order to trick and try to kill our beloved title character; Mr. Boogedy and Fuzzbucket, a strange tale of a boy and his adventures with a seemingly-demonic imaginary friend which resembles the Goddess Bunny in a fuzzy sweater. Do I dare mention The Care Bears Movie? Or anything brought to Eisner's desk from Cannon Pictures? It seemed to be that the station was under the idea that children deserved to be hit over the head with obscure imagery and evil subtlety, even more so than the soul-less creatures it totes as its icons! Now I don't dislike all films included in the earliest Eisner line-up and even believe The Watcher in the Woods and Something Wicked this Way Comes to be among two of the finer "supernatural" classics, but the more obscure titles that sneaked their way through had an otherworldly quality that is hard to pin-point. Disjointed themes? Horrible Direction? Bad Special Effects? Maybe all three!
The Peanut Butter Solution is an odd duck in the sense of cinema. Since it was an early 80's Canadian production, the film quality itself is hard to put a finger on. As if it was run through a soft filter and then re-touched up. I love tracking issues, but this always seemed to be smooth and strangely lit. Something that you may see on a TV in the Doctor's Office waiting room at 3:00 in the afternoon while you have the flu. The film itself does actually have the ability to give headaches! Much like watching The Jetsons or Saved By The Bell in the late afternoon in the winter. Depression thrives here folks! The atmosphere is disturbing due to the fact it wants to play like a Storybook fantasy, so reads the script, but the Director plays it more like an After-school special telling kids that if you see ghosts, your hair will fall out, your peers will make fun of you and you will then be whisked away into a demented otherworld where Celine Dion sings a horribly catchy track and children beg for their lives. I recall always feeling as if the main character, Michael, had been stricken with a severe form of cancer and had gone bald. In my five year old mind, I seemed to have more sense than the whole lot of rat bastards behind this shit-show. I even became unable to wear striped jersey shirts to school because Michael sported one in the film and I felt almost definite that I would soon see a similar fate if I continued to mock his costume design. When I noticed one of my pals wearing such garb at church one Sunday, I prayed to God to forgive him, for he had clearly not seen The Peanut Butter Solution. If we went to the local video store, I was sure to steer clear of the section where I knew that video was located. The box art, featuring a flying cow, a window to the dark underworld and a bald head was like looking directly into the eyes of Satan.
When my dear mother would try to figure out why I would cry myself awake every night, explaining to me that "bald people" aren't scary and that even my Grandfather was bald, it wouldn't calm my fears. So what was it? At first believing I was just an idiosyncratic whack-job who was scared of peanut butter and bald people, I soon discovered the "Peanut Butter shivers" in which one would get when asked if they had ever seen the film before. Personally, I have been witness to nearly ten individuals in one month where, upon mentioning the films title, their eyes go wide, their skin pale and their responses not much short of "What the fuck was the deal with that movie?" This phenomenon interested me a great deal, as if someone bad had done something terrible to us all as kids and we were now beginning to put the pieces together. I decided to do the unthinkable and re-watch The Peanut Butter Solution for the first time in years. I dressed myself in adult diapers in order to do so.
When you think about something which disturbed you as a child, it is always greatly embellished in your mind. No matter how innocent the experience could have been at the moment, upon thinking back, it seems much more dramatic, terrifying, and obscure. So perhaps, we, all remembering The Peanut Butter Solution were simply undergoing similar phenomenon, as none of us had seen the movie in decades. However, upon the opening credits, as stated before, my body froze in terror. Feces released from my bowels. I rushed up from the sofa and ran to the bathroom to splash my face with cold water and clean up. Could it really be happening again? Is it the music? Is it the font the credits are written in? What the fuck kind of alchemy did Mr. Rubbo create when making this piece of pure evil? Was it a sick joke to prey on the innocent minds of children across the globe? Did Mr. Rubbo decide making a film like this would have been easier than driving around my suburb dressed as a clown in a window-less rape van offering us candy and puppies? Was Skippy really that hard struck for a buck that they teamed up with Satan to create a motion picture that would crush imagination and restful sleep forever? Was the sweatshop depicted in the film actually a metaphor for a Factory of Nightmares? Was the entire film funded by landlords not wanting dumb kids to play around in their abandoned factories? Maybe no adult female actress would dare play the lead of the mother so the only other choice was to cast a child to act like an adult! Were the writers sadistic child slave owners? On crack? Was Eisner simply allowing anything that claimed to be "fun for the whole family" to pass on to Disney without taking a second look, thinking a second thought about what he was watching, what the message was, and trying to understand that the subtlety of such a tale is more damaging to the growing human mind than observing some grotesque imagery for a few seconds such as in an actual genre horror film? Was it the reason I became addicted to Ambien? Or, simply, were they all just really fucking stupid? To me, it will never be fully understood and as curious as it may all be, I'm good with letting it just go back to the dark space in my mind where I can forget about the years of torment, the strain on my sleep, and the nightmares I get when I see a jar of Skippy Extra Crunchy in the grocery store. I'm letting my hair grow out.
The author's upcoming short documentary The Fright, regarding the traumatized youth of The Peanut Butter Solution will be released early June but guess what? You can watch it here.