There are certain movies you see as a child that leave indelible marks on your mind, usually because they manage to artfully scare you shitless while simultaneously tapping into some deep-seated, previously-unrecognized childhood psychological terror.
For me the movies that best dredged up these fears tended to contain the following:
- Witches who kidnap and kill children
- Big metal cages (to keep kidnapped children in)
- Dungeons/cellars (any dark setting below ground)
- Demented toy makers who kidnap children – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, anyone?
- Escape-from-evil attempts gone horribly awry
Now, the extra special films were the ones that managed to take one of these fear/themes and really expand on it, take it to the next level of creepiness. One such movie is The Peanut Butter Solution. When casually mentioned in conversation, the only people who have ever known what I was talking about were my boyfriend (who apparently still owns his VHS copy) and recently, a fellow coworker. Even my sisters, who were all definitely present for viewings, have no memory. Ahh, ignorance is truly bliss. Here I am attempting to describe the plot to the unknowing:
“Ok so there is this kid whos hair won’t stop growing, and he gets kidnapped by this old man who straps him to a weaving loom or something…because the guy is making paintbrushes out of his hair, like harvesting the hair as it’s growing directly into this giant loom…and they’re special paintbrushes, they’re magical.”
Yeahhhhh. Nuts. So I finally decided after all these years to really ‘research’ the movie. Originally released in 1985, The Peanut Butter Solution is the story of a young boy Michael who wanders into a long abandoned, recently burned-down mansion and stumbles upon the ghosts of its homeless former inhabitants. Totally spooked, he passes out, sleeps through the night and wakes up the next morning completely bald – the result of his extreme fright. The hair doesn’t grow back, Michael becomes depressed, kids pull off the wig he tries to wear, etc, etc. Eventually one of the ghosts returns to tell Michael the secret to growing his hair back: a peanut butter solution!
Here is young Michael applying the mixture. He doesn’t heed the ghost’s warning though, uses too much peanut butter and over the course of a day or two is transformed into Cousin It. Eventually Michael is suspended from school for becoming a class distraction:
What follows next is inexplicable and twisted, as the best/worst childhood film plots usually are. An art teacher at Michael’s school, “The Signor” – recently fired for being a TOTAL old man creep and not allowing children to use their imaginations – kidnaps Michael, along with fifty other children, dresses them all in pink scrubs and sets up what is essentially a giant paintbrush-making concentration camp, with Michael’s head as the source of the brush hairs. You see, Mike’s locks have become magical from the special powers of the mysterious peanut butter solution, and when placed on the end of a brush, they allow the holders to paint whatever is held in their imaginations. Whaaaa? Yeah, welcome to crazytown.
Here’s Michael, in an all-yogurt-diet-induced-perma-coma (I kid you not), with his head in the hair sorter.
The child slaves:
Eventually Michael’s crackerjack older sister Suzy (a dead-ringer for Chunk from the Goonies) and friend Connie (who puts some of the solution on his private area in a botched attempt to grow pubes) crack the case and rescue Michael from a future of paintbrush manufacturing enslavement.
Genius. Scenes of the Signor and his freaky little child factory were by far the most disturbing (and lasting) images for me. There were coats made of hair and slave hammocks and who the heck knows what else. Bottom-line – creepfest.
In my YouTube search today I managed to find several versions of the original 1985 trailer. One is from Canada, where the movie was filmed and which actually hints at the film’s underlying disturbia. The other US version is all playful and family-friendly, which is no doubt why were allowed to watch it in the first place. Check them out for a walk down memory lane and a peek into my childhood nightmares.
Canadian Version – link only, those Canadians don’t like embedding I guess: