CANADIAN CLASSICKS: PORKY’S (1982)

Canadian Classicks: Porky’s [1982]
Director: Bob Clark
Writer: Bob Clark
Starring: Dan Monahan, Mark Herrier, Wyatt Knight, Roger Wilson, Cyril O’Reily, Tony Ganios, Kaki Hunter, Kim Catrall, Nancy Parsons, Scott Colomby, Boyd Gains, Doug McGrath, Alex Karras, Eric Christmas, Chuck Mitchell, Art Hindle, Nancy Parsons, Susan Clark

Benjamin “Bob” Clark was born on August 5, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana. In the 1950′s he and his mother moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he later got started into filmmaking with a satirical horror film called “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.” The film was picked up for distribution by Canadian company Quadrant and a couple of years later he made another horror film with them, “Death Dream” (a.k.a. “Dead of Night”), this time a three-way co-production between the US, UK, and Canada. Having been forced by his contract to complete post-production for the film in Canada, Clark quickly developed an attachment to the country and wrote, shot, and edited his next film, “Black Christmas,” in and around Toronto. 

Often referred to as a Canadian director, Clark was technically only ever a “naturalized” Canadian, but continued to maintain a residence and make films in the country right up until his tragic death in 2007. And yet, he is probably the most successful (financially, anyways) director to come of age during the tax shelter era. “Black Christmas” grossed about $4 million US in its initial theatrical run and this week’s Classick, “Porky’s,” is technically still the highest grossing Canadian film of all time, with a theatrical gross of over $100 million US. In 2006 it was reported to have lost that title to bilingual action film “Bon Cop, Bad Cop.” However, according to Wikipedia, if you adjusted the grosses for inflation, “Porky’s” still made double what “Bon Cop” did.

Set in 1954 in the fictional town of Angel Beach, Florida, “Porky’s” is, much like Clark’s other most beloved film “A Christmas Story,” a nostalgia piece; based largely on Clark’s own teen-aged remembrances. The film was filmed on location in Fort Lauderdale with a combination of American and Canadian funding and a combination of American and Canadian actors, notably Doug McGrath and Art Hindle, both of whom had worked with Clark on “Black Christmas,” as well as a very young Kim Catrall as Miss Honeywell. It is also worth mentioning that Hindle had also starred in Cronenberg’s “The Brood,” as well as appearing on “Dallas.”

Considered outrageous at the time, the film is often compared to “Animal House” as they are both bawdy period comedies centered around a school. However, where “Animal House” is an exaggeration of the college experience, “Porky’s” is actually a much grimier look at high school with strong themes of racial tolerance and a freewheeling plot more reminiscent of films like “American Graffiti.” It is also credited with sparking the “teen sex comedy” trend of the 1980′s, despite not actually featuring all that much sex.

“Porky’s” centers around the misadventures of a group of high school friends: the deeply annoying and chronically horny Pee Wee (Dan Monahan); bad boy Tommy (Wyatt Knight) and reasonable Billy (Mark Herrier), the quasi-leaders of the group; as well as loose cannon Mickey (Roger Wilson); legendarily endowed Meat (Tony Ganios); and unfortunate bigot Tim (Cyril O’Reily), whose father is a motorbike-riding, teenager-dating redneck ex-con. Honorary members of the group include the sassy Wendy (Kaki Hunter) and Brian, the only Jewish kid in the whole school (Scott Colomby).

Determined to lose their virginity, the boys decide to listen to Mickey when he claims that one county over there’s a club called Porky’s that will fix you up with a date for the evening if you slip the owner enough cash. Although initially either skeptical or scared, the boys finally get desperate enough to put a plan into action. Not surprisingly, the club’s portly owner, Porky (Chuck Mitchell), is not too impressed by a bunch of rich high school kids trying to get laid and he humiliates them in front of the clientele before violently kicking them out with some help from his brother the Sheriff (Alex Karras).

For some reason Mickey takes particular offense to this slight and over the course of the film returns to Porky’s multiple times vowing to get revenge, but coming back more battered and bloodied each time. While they are concerned for their friend, the boys are also distracted by things like peeping in the girl’s shower, Tim getting kicked off the basketball team then reinstated at Brian’s urging, and listening to Coach Brackett (Boyd Gaines) get it on with Miss Honeywell (Catrall), a.k.a. “Lassie.” Eventually, Mickey shows up so broken that they finally decide something has to be done, so Brian hatches a sure-fire plan and Mickey’s older brother, Sheriff Ted (Hindle), and Coach Brackett, vow to lend their support.

Although the film is rather tame by today’s standards, the fact that it portrayed teenagers as horny, single-minded slobs was still pretty shocking in 1982. However, as was typical with many of the early films in the “teen sex comedy” genre, there is probably more male nudity for much of the film than there is female nudity. Also, it’s always refreshing to see pubic hair in a film that is meant to be sexy.

But despite being accused of being racist and misogynistic, “Porky’s” is anchored by a moral conscience one wouldn’t expect from a film that opens with a close-up of morning wood. The idea of racial tolerance in the South and the deliberately heroic depiction of a Jewish character were obviously things that Clark felt very strongly about and used to elevate “Porky’s” above the title of “dirty little Canadian movie that could” that many critics, particularly on this side of the border, seem to have saddled it with. Sure the meandering plot can be hard to follow at times and the pacing could definitely use some tightening, but it is nostalgic, earnest, honest and, most of all, full of heart, much like Bob Clark himself.

“Porky’s” was successful enough to warrant two sequels, the first directed and written again by Clark, the other directed by TV director James Komack, with zero involvement from Clark. And not surprisingly, much like Clark’s other great Canadian Classick, “Black Christmas,” “Porky’s” is due for remake treatment. Howard Stern bought the rights to remake the film in 2002 and the project has been passed between a half dozen writers since, most recently Savage Steve Holland of “Better Off Dead” fame. There is currently no director attached to the film, but IMDb still lists it as slated for a 2011 release. 

In the 70′s and 80′s, the Canadian government introduced new tax laws in an effort to boost domestic film production, which at that point was virtually non existent. The results were, sadly, not exactly what the politicos had intended, but instead a steady stream of cheap and often tawdry exploitation pics came rushing forth from “Hollywood North”. Canadian Classicks is a look at some of the gems and turds from the so called “tax shelter period”, as well as a place to celebrate (or shame) contemporary contributors to the Canadian exploitation legacy.




Posted on June 22, 2009 in Features by
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