Do you remember the last time you enjoyed a good fart? You have the house to yourself, you can feel the gas brewing and at the right moment you cock your right leg and let rip with gusto. Your bum cheeks rattle and even though the resulting smell is reminiscent of a week old turd the accompanying growl raises a welcome fit of giggles. It is a rare treat for many of us, an over-indulged display of self amusement for some slightly inconsiderate others. But make no mistake, no matter what your level of personal standing whether it be lowly pauper or lofty royal, everyone enjoys cutting one on the sly now and again. Explaining what exactly it is about this particular bodily emission that causes so much mirth is a quandary. But its comedic qualities remain nonetheless, like some preordained reaction programmed pre-birth by drunken, loutish chromosomes. Many a brave film maker has capitalised on these vulgar tastes in humour to clean up at the box office. It is a wonder any of these courageous directors managed to break even as there aren’t that many cinema patrons who would openly admit to enjoying the coarse slapstick and gasp-laugh combination of the movie sub-genre that has became known as the gross-out comedy. The fact that the genre was kick started by Pink Flamingos (1972)
doesn’t exactly help the cause, a movie from the flamboyant John Waters that told the story of an overweight transvestite’s battle to be crowned the filthiest person alive. The "high point” of this pioneering film is the moment when the character of Divine, as played by Divine, bends down behind a dog and eats a fresh slice of doggy-do right off of the pavement; the scene was not improvised and the steamy dog-log was real. Compared to that delightful little scene, the extensive library of gross-out comedies that followed in the early eighties and late nineties boom periods are positively saintly. Here are ten of the very best.
- NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978)
For those not in the know, National Lampoon was an American satirical humour magazine which ran from 1970 to 1998. In the mid seventies such was the popularity of the magazine the creative staff behind the publication decided to branch out into Hollywood. Their first script was National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) a story loosely based on a number of short stories from the magazine which told of various college campus mishaps and adventures. The original plan was to cast Saturday Night Live alumni in the movie, including Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Dan Akyroyd, but of those approached only John Belushi showed any interest. Taking the role of Bluto launched Belushi’s movie career, and with no other big names on screen the film was his to run away with. The eponymous Bluto is a member of the Delta Tau Chi House, a fraternity from the fictional Faber College and one that accommodates all the college "misfits” under one zany roof. The film follows the fraternity and its madcap members through various battles with neighbouring frat houses and the college authorities. Its depiction of the sort of university life most kids could only dream of led to a huge box office receipt and subsequently launched the college campus / high school comedy sub-genre that was so prevalent through the early eighties, with such films as Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1980) and Revenge of the Nerds (1984). The movie also took the raw, hard hitting comedy of Pink Flamingos that appealed to teens and turned it into a much more appetising treat for movie fans of all ages.
Tasty Morsel – The University of Oregon reluctantly allowed the production to utilise is campus for filming for a measly thirty days. The crew finally finished filming on the location with only two days to spare.
- PORKY'S (1982)
"One of those movies that makes you weep for the state of contemporary commercial cinema” was how the guardians of British morality at the saintly Daily Mail newspaper described this 1982 smash hit. Any film that manages to piss off the Daily Mail to quite this extent must be doing something right. As with the birth of the slasher movie craze in 1978 which saw subsequent slice and dice movies distend the genre’s clichés to ever more ludicrous highs, so all Animal House imitators took the college humour formula and made it cruder, ruder and more explosively funny. The setting this time around was more juvenile, a Florida high school, and the stories raison d’être a lot more risqué; five teenage lads bid to lose their virginity. All manner of lowbrow hi-jinks ensue, encompassing shower peep holes, prostitute baiting, and a trip to Porky’s Bar where the boys just know they will get some action. After being unceremoniously removed from the bar by its mean spirited owner the boys plot their revenge. The boy’s escapades were a combination of tales the film’s writer / director Bob Clark had gathered over a fifteen year period from his own experiences and those of his friends. The tales, exaggerated or not, made for one of the best comedies of the decade; you wonder what Clark got up to in the subsequent twenty five years before his death in 2007. If it’s anything like what we witnessed in Porky’s he must have been having a ball.
Tasty Morsel – Two sequels followed, Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) and Porky’s Revenge (1985)
- BACHELOR PARTY (1984)
If your idea of a rollicking good party is a donkey in fancy dress sniffing drugs off of an expensive hotel room sideboard, surrounded by semi-naked, drunk revellers, you’ve come to the right film. There was a glorious abandon to much of the light hearted cinematic output of the nineteen eighties. Many of the comedies of the decade featured storylines of such implausibility you’d be forgiven for asking the theatre for a refund if it was not for the sublime hi-jinks that were often the result of such tall-tales. One of the thinnest story ideas from the period was this 1984 Neal Israel picture which centred around one man’s last night of freedom. Fortunately the man in question is Tom Hanks, and his effortlessly good natured jollying pulls the juvenile stag night antics well away from vulgar and squarely into the charming, wish-we-could-be-there territory. The movie lurches from one ludicrous scenario to the next, taking in hookers, old friends and dead donkeys, all wonderfully reminiscent of The Party (1968) but with more drugs and more boobs. Throw in the deliciously leggy Tawny Kitaen (the one time Mrs David Coverdale) and it makes for the greatest party you never went to. A straight-to-dvd sequel followed twenty four years later The Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation (2008). This time around though it’s the party you’re glad you never turned up for. The stag night remained conspicuous by its absence in Hollywood until director Todd Phillips updated it with the sublime The Hangover (2009).
Tasty Morsel – Kelly McGillis and Paul Reiser were originally cast as the two leads but were apparently replaced due to a lack of chemistry.
- EVIL DEAD II (1987)
Perhaps the main component of gross out comedy is, somewhat predictably, the presence of anything comically sickening, whether it be a cowpat to the face, death by falling piano, squeamish sexual fumblings or anything else designed to make you laugh and squirm in equal measure. In 1981 director Sam Raimi introduced himself to Hollywood with ferocious inventiveness making The Evil Dead (1981). As terrifying as the movie was it also had a streak of the blackest humour and monster duelling that bordered on slapstick. With a bigger budget Raimi mounted a loose remake of his original movie in 1987 and this time highlighted the humour and lessened the surreal scares. The result was a movie that challenges the fortitude of one’s stomach and the strength of their side stitching. The film once again is carried squarely on the shoulders of Bruce Campbell in the role of Ash, but his immense charisma is more than up to the task. Such is his presence and gift for this type of comedy it is a real puzzle as to why he never broke into mainstream Hollywood. Accompanying Campbell are buckets of gore, flung around with glorious abandon during some of the wildest horror action scenes ever seen. It really is gross out comedy with the emphasis on the gross, so much so that you’ll be smiling from ear to ear at the audacity of the happenings, before rolling up with laughter at Campbell’s witty retorts and exasperated exclamations. Try and keep your wits about you though as peppered throughout the movie are some wonderful in-jokes and hidden laughs, proving that gross out comedies can also be elusively sophisticated.
Tasty Morsel – Of the various horror film tributes littered throughout the movie, keep an eye open for Freddy Krueger’s razor fingered glove hanging in the toolshed.
- BRAINDEAD (1992)
Braindead (1992) is one of those films that have to be seen to be believed. Known as Dead Alive in the United States the movie is frequently cited as the goriest film ever made. We follow our hero Lionel’s exploits as he struggles with a spreading zombie plague, all sparked by the zombification of his mother after being bitten by the infamous Sumatran Rat Monkey on a visit to the zoo. The resulting messy voyage is the grand fromage of gore infused slapstick, the sort of visceral excess that is so over the top you’ll be laughing yourself silly in between trips to the loo for a puke. You’ll need more than a strong taste for black comedy for this movie. A cast-iron stomach would be pretty handy to start with, particularly as the film includes one nasty scene where Lionel’s mother blindly eats part of her own pus-ridden face when bits of it slip into her bowl of custard. It also holds the record for the most fake blood ever used in a movie, though one wonders just whose job it is to measure and keep track of these sorts of things. If you can pull your attention away from the sickening visuals, there’s a sharp script to savour as well, "That’s my mother you’re pissing on!”, "I kick ass for the lord”. And the director of all this sloppy fun? The man behind the prim and proper Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson. The New Zealander cut his directing teeth on what some might label unsavoury horror comedies, the pinnacle of which was this 1992 epic. Worth checking out also is Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987), very similar to Braindead but made on a minuscule budget.
Tasty Morsel – In Sweden the rental version of the movie came with complimentary sick bags.
- DUMB AND DUMBER (1994)
By the early nineties the gross out comedy was by and large dead in the water. Thanks to the new "caring nineties” appealing to the lowest common denominator was no longer an accepted way for a movie director or screenwriter to earn a buck. Thank god for the Farrelly brothers then who, with their debut feature film, bucked the popular trends of the time and did their utmost to find said lowest denominator and then sink even lower still. Hot off the success of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) and The Mask (1994) Jim Carrey joins Jeff Daniels as Lloyd and Harry, two friends who attempt to return a suitcase full of lost money to Lauren Holly’s beautiful Mary. As the title suggests, being two of the most brainless men ever to step onto a cinema screen all manner of gross stupidity trails in the duo’s wake along their road trip, from severe tongue frostings to world’s worst case of explosive diarrhoea. Some might say that the movie was merely a launch pad for the rubbery faced talent of Carrey and a stall-setting-out exercise for the Farrellys, but when their comedic performance and writing skills are that good who cares? Let this trio show off for ninety odd minutes and comedy gold will nearly always ensue. Daniels also deserves credit for surprising audiences with a comedic turn out of sorts with his trademark straight performances. That the Farrellys supplied the duo with such a witty script ensures that upon repeat viewings the rib-tickling dialogue and one liners out last the obvious slapstick, "I’m shaving!”, "Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie”.
Tasty Morsel – The role of Lloyd was turned down by Steve Martin and Martin Short, among others.
- THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY (1998)
No matter how much praise is heaped upon this Farrelly brothers picture it will always be known as that film where Cameron Diaz styles her hair with a generous handful of Ben Stiller’s man juice. It's an unfortunate retrospective appraisal as, despite the brilliance of that particular scene, the movie has a lot more to offer, utmost of which is the all round water tight ensemble performance offered by a cast that looks hungry to act the lead pairing off of the screen. Matt Dillon is tremendous as the devious Healy and Lee Evans, wonky American accent aside, is a scene stealing extraordinaire as he finally finds a role worthy of his world class clowning skills. Further top notch support is provided by Lin Shaye, Keith David, Sarah Silverman and Chris Elliott, all wrapped up in some of the best set pieces the Farrelly brothers have thus far written. The penis-caught-in-zipper gag is a work of comedic art and structured to perfection by two comedy directors who both know and love their craft. There’s Something About Mary (1998) was the smash hit that the directors were sorely in need of. A Dumb and Dumber (1994) follow up was much anticipated but despite bowling comedy Kingpin (1996) being an excellent film in its own right, viewers stayed away. Cinema patrons voted with their feet when Mary was released though and box office numbers were suitable solid. And rightly so; unlike many gross out comedies the film’s story line is not jettisoned by the wayside for the sake of more outrageous slapstick, and Mary will leave you dodging plot twists right up until Brett Favre’s awkward cameo.
Tasty Morsel – Mary’s secret love was originally meant to be played by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young. Young declined the role however, allowing Favre to make his feature film debut.
- AMERICAN PIE (1999)
Hot on the heels of Scream’s (1996) reinvention of the early eighties slasher flick came a resurgence of the early eighties teen comedy sub-genre, all thanks to the monster success of this Weitz brothers movie. It has entered into film folklore that screenwriter Adam Herz originally titled his script "Untitled Teenage Sex Comedy That Can Be Made For Under $10 Million That Most Readers Will Probably Hate But I Think You Will Love"; ironically it turned out to be a most apt summation of the final movie. Filmed for a reasonable budget, beloved by audiences but dismissed by critics, the movie’s box office performance launched a teen comedy boom and turned American Pie (1999) into a franchise juggernaut. In lesser hands the movie would perhaps not have been such a hit but, like Scream before it, the Weitz brothers were able to gather a tremendous cast of young actors all on the verge of their big breaks. The combined talents of, at the time such unknowns as Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Alyson Hannigan, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Mena Suvari and Sean William Scott (stealing the movie in his feature film debut as the wonderfully crazed Stifler) make what could be an unlikeable bunch of kids into a heart-warmingly loveable band of teen companions. And all without compromising the side splitting and cringe inducing set pieces, calamities that are seamlessly slotted into a loose re-run of the Porkys’ plotline, a group of lads seeking to lose their virginity before the High School prom. Throw in the hilarious emergence of Eugene Levy and the spawning of new modern day vernacular, "Milf”, and you end up with a film even Don Mclean would be proud to call his own. A small cottage industry of sequels and spin-offs followed, mostly of diminishing quality.
Tasty Morsel – As well as featuring on the film’s soundtrack Californian band Blink 182 appear as some of the viewers of Jim’s impromptu webcam striptease.
- SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER AND UNCUT (1999)
This movie was meant to be my first date with my eventual wife. Due to a mishap in our pre-cinema pub arrangements my future beau did not make the screening. Just as well for me. If she had witnessed my choice of first-date movie viewing the affair may have come to a shuddering halt before I even had a chance to reach first base. Not that South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (1999) is a poor film, but the barrage of bad taste that it unleashes may have been too much for a burgeoning romance to take. Written by the series creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the film utilised the big screen setting to unleash the sort of lewdness that small screen censors would not allow. The films manic storyline stems around an unlikely war between the United States and Canada that somehow stemmed from the central boy quartet’s reaction to the latest Terrence and Phillip movie. The jokes come thick and fast, and encompass the most razor-sharp sophisticated humour to the lowest grade of gross out comedy ever seen in the genre. Throw in some of the finest comedic musical moments in Hollywood history and the result was a movie that bewildered critics who had their attack dogs all lined and ready to bite. The pairings next cinematic outing was the equally outrageous Team America: World Police (2004) a filthy tribute to the classic television series Thunderbirds. The film went down like a lead fart in America but the rest of the world revelled in its US foreign policy piss taking, and of course Matt Damon’s finest performance to date.
Tasty Morsel – Though the film’s stand out song "Uncle Fucker” was absent at award ceremonies, the track "Blame Canada” was Oscar nominated. Predictably the Academy kept Stone and Parker away from the Oscar stage when they gave the award to some Phil Collins drivel from Tarzan (1999).
- PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (2008)
You might have worked out by now that the basis of a good gross out comedy is often a storyline which ambles along like an inebriated clown. With each passing year however Hollywood seems to feel the need to tighten up its movie production values in order to eliminate such freewheeling comedic vehicles. The gross out comedy has thus hit another lull. Thankfully there remain a few plucky writers and directors who are willing to carry the torch of low-brow humour. In 2008 David Gordon Green directed this tale of a weed loving court clerk and his stoned out dealer’s unlikely involvement in a cannabis turf war. The pair in question are played by Seth Rogen and James Franco, the former mailing in another lovingly crafted performance and the latter astonishing in a role totally against type. The pair’s chemistry is essential to the film’s success and it doesn’t disappoint as they celebrate a life of laid back fuck-uppery with unsuppressed nonchalance. Despite the seriousness of the pair’s situation the weed induced japery that follows embraces the viewer like a battered but oh-so comfortable dressing gown. As such the mayhem of the various fights and gun battles that are the outcome of this zany plot are humorous in the extreme. You may wish to supplement your usual movie viewing fare of popcorn and cola with something a little more "herbal” to get the very best out of this picture.
Tasty Morsel – If you’re wondering why the final diner breakfast scene makes little sense conversationally it’s because Rogen, Franco and Danny McBride improvised the entire thing, allegedly with some assistance from their own herbal cigs.