Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: The Peanut Butter Solution
Genre: Fucked up kid’s movie
Tagline: A hair raising adventure!
Released by: New World Video
Director: Michael Rubbo
Plot: Eleven-year-old Michael loses all his hair when he receives a fright from two ghosts in an abandoned old house. They provide ingredients to a concoction to get his hair back, but too much peanut butter causes it to grow at an alarming rate of speed!
Thoughts: I have a friend named Kelly. One day we were talking about fucked up kid’s movies from the eighties. Labyrinth and Return to Oz came up and then I asked her casually, “Have you ever seen a movie called The Peanut Butter Solution before?” The expression on Kelly’s face shifted abruptly and her eyes bugged out of her head as if I had just mentioned some deep secret from her childhood that only she could have known about. She grabbed my forearm and dug her nails into my flesh, locking me dead in the eyes as she exclaimed, “You know about The Peanut Butter Solution!”
I had actually seen it for the first time a few years back at The Cinefamily here in L.A. They were doing a fucked up kid’s movie series and the head programmer, Hadrian Belove, told me I shouldn’t miss The Peanut Butter Solution if I had never seen it before. I hadn’t and I trust the man’s judgment, so I checked it out. I watched this film as an adult for the first time with an audience of fairly hip cinefiles and my reaction was really enthusiastic, but in that post-modern, ironic way. The movie’s very weird and totally a product of its time.
What I didn’t realize then was that there was an entire generation of people like my friend Kelly that saw this head-trip of a children’s flick when they were little kids and it really did a number on their fragile eggshell minds. It wrapped itself tightly around their cerebral cortexes like a mutant parasite that injects nightmarish flashbacks into their brains, as they recall seeing the film like they are all witnesses to a UFO landing and abduction. I found that almost everyone who saw it as a child thought they were either crazy or they had fabricated it in a dream. Many were plagued by nightmares caused by the film’s bizarre imagery for several years after seeing it, but didn’t understand why.
This film has only ever been available on VHS and all these kids saw it because their parents rented it for them. Kelly even vividly remembers that her Mom picked up the tape at a video stand inside a grocery store, as if she’s recalling a crime committed upon her. Well, they’re not crazy and I can completely understand why this movie fucked them all up so bad. It’s a creepy viewing as a full grown adult, so I couldn’t even imagine seeing something this weird under the age of eleven. The Peanut Butter Solution is like what you would get if David Lynch directed a kid’s movie. It’s surreal and spooky.
The plot is about an eleven-year-old boy named Michael (Mathew Mackay) and his sister Suzie (Alison Podbrey) who live with their eccentric artist of a Dad. We are told in Michael’s opening narration that Mom’s gone away. Michael has an awesome Asian friend named Connie (Siluck Saysanasy) who drops by before school to tell him about a fire in an abandoned building the previous night that killed two winos. They walk over to the burnt out building and Michael goes inside, while Connie stays back. Something inside the house scares Michael horribly and he’s literally thrown from it. He wakes up the next morning with no memory of the incident, but worst of all, he has no hair! He’s bald as a cue ball and with no explanation. When it doesn’t seem to be growing back, Michael starts to panic. His crazy Dad thinks it’s really cool and glues a wig to his head, but during a soccer game a bully rips it from him, humiliating Michael in front of all his peers.
Then one night the two old homeless ghosts that scared his hair off his head visit and they provide him with ingredients to a concoction that will make it grow back. The ingredients include: five dead flies, a rotten egg, two spoon fulls of dirt and a little peanut butter, but you must be careful not to use too much PB or your hair will grow out of control. Well, guess what? Michael loads up on the peanut butter and his hair starts growing at a freakish rate of speed. I don’t know how they did it, but every time they cut back to Michael his hair is longer and it’s really bizarre! He goes to school, but by lunch period he looks like a hair-metal guitarist for the band Winger and by dinnertime he resembles Cousin It. Yet, crazy Dad thinks it’s all fine and completely normal for some reason. Before long, Michael is forced to sleep sitting up while his continuously growing hair is tied up with a rope and hanging above him. His sister and Connie are constantly cutting his hair so that it doesn’t completely consume him. The situation is… hairy. Sorry.
I almost forgot about The Signor (Michel Maillot)! Ah, The Signor. I think this character is the main reason for all those nightmares because he’s a truly terrifying villain. The Signor is an art teacher at Michael’s school who teaches his pupils not to use their imaginations while they paint endless portraits of his dog. He is fired from the school for receiving too many complaints about his rather abusive teaching style. So, The Signor kidnaps Michael along with pretty much every single child in town with the use of lies, hypnosis and drugged ice cream. Shit, I just got the chills. He enslaves them all in a factory where they are forced to make magic paintbrushes out of Michael’s ever-growing hair. I’m not fucking making this shit up. The Signor uses the brushes to paint drawings that you can literally walk into and sells them to a sleazy art dealer. Wow, what a scam! Also, The Signor wears a fur coat that could possibly be made of Michael’s hair. Boom!
Eventually, Connie and Suzie finally figure out what’s going on. Unfortunately, Dad’s gone ape-shit crazy since Michael’s been missing and resigns to throwing full blown Blue Velvet-esque tantrums, while standing in front of a blood-curdling scary drawing of his bald son, as a freakish-looking mannequin sits menacingly in the background.
Through the use of a sugar trail and Connie’s natural charm, the kids are able to trick The Signor into drawing a painting of the abandoned building that started this whole mess. The Signor then walks into the painting and is frightened by the two wino ghosts. Before you can say, “Harem scarem!” The Signor is bald… and pissed. He goes after the kids, but crazy Dad gets his shit together at the last second and arrives with the cops. The Signor is arrested and Michael gets the ghosts to remove the spell and return his hair to normal. All is well and in the final scene, Michael and Suzie’s wayward Mom returns with absolutely no explanation as to where she was. The End.
I hope this dissection of the plot will help the many victims of The Peanut Butter Solution cope with their trauma and perhaps provide some closure for you all. It was real and you’re not all nuts. I’m pretty much convinced that the writers and director were on acid when they wrote this script and purposefully decided to fuck with some kiddie brains. Regardless, this movie has burned a scorching hole through the mind’s eye of many young adults out there and I hope this has been therapeutic for you all. You may now sleep a little easier. Kelly, it’s going to be okay. I promise.