KENNY AND CO. (1976)
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At this point you know I am a fan of Don Coscarelli and his Phantasm is one of my all-time favorite horror flicks. And as a fan, I am almost ashamed that it has taken me this long to catch up with his first film, the 1976 Kenny And Co. It is also very amusing that the man who brought us the classic Phantasm horror series, the cult classics Beastmaster and Bubba Ho-Tep and the delightfully weird book adaptation John Dies At The End was responsible for a PG rated kids movie as his first film... but, it is a very down to earth and sometimes brutally honest kids movie, as Kenny (Dan McCann) and his friends Doug (Phantasm‘s A. Michael Baldwin) and Sherman (Jeff Roth) face issues such as bullying, death and the start of finding girls to be…well, girls. While the film was not overly exciting or funny, I did find it very nostalgic and it did strike a chord, as I was the same age as hero Kenny in 1976 and can certainly identify with what it was like to come of age in that era.
The film takes place over a four day period centering around Halloween which Kenny and Doug are very excited for. There really is not much of a plot as it almost a character study of life for a typical tween at this time and centers on the things that make up or shake up their world. Kenny deals with issues that the average kid at his age deals with, such as the concept of death, when facing the passing of the family dog, the first tug of the heartstrings, when he starts to like a girl (Terrie Kalbus) in class, making as much mischief as possible and dealing with the large and mean neighborhood bully, Johnny (Willy Masterson). Just a slice of the life of a 12 year old kid in Southern California. Plain and simple.
For those expecting the over the top characters and adventures of a film like The Goonies, or the heavy helpings of sentimentality like Stand By Me, will be very disappointed. Instead Coscarelli’s small film simply presents a look at an average kid’s life over the course of a few days. There is some fun to be had as Kenny and Doug are typical mischievous boys and there is the showdown with bully Johnny Hoffman, but other then that, Kenny comes from an average family and lives a fairly normal life of school, skateboarding and sneaking peaks at dad’s nudie magazines. And that is what makes it endearing. This is no Hollywood, Spielbergized view of kids who meet aliens, thwart crooks and find buried treasure. These kids build go-carts, shoot pellet guns and play pranks and deal with problems that are only important to a 12 year old. Of course this does mean the film is a bit slow paced and to a degree uneventful, but it a far more realistic view of the life of kids at that time, than any of the before mentioned Hollywood blockbusters. Coscarelli and his script approaches subjects head on as Kenny tries to deal with his first real experience with death and of budding sexuality as he and his buds start to notice girls as more then classmates, but never gets too mired in them or overly melodramatic. As with real kids, Kenny copes quickly and is back to lighting fireworks under garbage cans in no time. And I could identify with a lot of it. I remember my first crush and dealing with my grandfather’s death. Those were heavy emotions for a 12 year old. As for the lighter elements, like Kenny, when I was a kid, we were never home except for dinner. You came home from school, disappeared with friends, stopped home for dinner and went right back out and were gone till sundown. Parents didn’t have to fear where their kids were and we hated being stuck in the house. To coin a contemporary phrase, “When I was a kid , we used to play outside!”…and this film captures that spirit well. There were no high tech toys, you used your imaginations and built go-carts and club houses, not ordered them on Amazon.
As for the cast, they are all predominately amateurs and they are actually appropriately realistic for a movie that is supposed to be a ‘slice of life’ movie. McCann, Baldwin and Roth come across as real kids not actors. Aside from the young cast members, the film also stars Coscarelli regular Reggie Bannister as hip school teacher Mr. Donovan and actors Ralph Richmond (Big Doug) and Ken Jones (Mr. Soupy) who both had small roles in Phantasm as a bartender and ill-fated funeral home caretaker, respectively. Except for the few that went on to populate Coscarelli’s Phantasm series, none seem to have gone much further as actors. It gives the film a more real feeling that most are still unknowns and that works in it’s favor.
While not an exciting film, Coscarelli captures this era in a very realistic, almost documentary style view, that all these years later is filled with nostalgia for those that can enjoy it and identify with it. Sure the film is silly at times, doesn’t have much of a story and is very low budget, but when viewed now, it is a bit of a time capsule of an era and way of life long gone. Today’s audiences born after this time in history may find it dull and uninteresting, but for someone who was a kid the same time as Kenny, this is a nostalgic flashback that brings back a lot of memories. A film that may not have been groundbreaking or attention-getting in it’s day, now made a bit special by the nostalgia attached to it. The film’s score is by Fred Myrow who would compose Phantasm‘s creepy and iconic score 3 years later along with Michael Seagrave.
Rated 3 (out of 4) skateboards.
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