Rooster Revue #10 • The Best Worst Movie Musicals
Don't bite "The Apple"... or do.
Guest columnist Sean Pollock takes us on a journey through his favorite B-movie musicals, deep-diving through his all-time
least favorite, The Apple.
Sean Pollock (he/they) is an NYC based multidisciplinary writer, director, creative producer, designer, teaching artist and sometimes performer from Mountain Lakes, New Jersey living in Manhattan. He curates an instagram for lost and Forgotten Musicals.
• Hollywood is betting big on musicals despite In the Heights' disappointment. This could also be called “Four Reasons Why The Barn Makes Low Budget Musicals.” [IndieWire]
• Sunita Mani joins Apple’s ‘Christmas Carol’ movie musical Spirited starring Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynold and Octavia Spencer. [Deadline]
• Rachel Zegler, the star of the upcoming West Side Story, will play Snow White in the upcoming Disney live-action film. [Deadline]
• Schmigadoon!, the new musical series from Cinco Paul, and starring Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, has finally dropped a trailer ahead of its release on AppleTV+ on July 16. [YouTube]
• New trailer for the new Camila Cabello Cinderella movie musical, featuring cover songs and some originals by Cabello herself. Also starring Billy Porter and featuring Idina Menzel. Coming to Prime Video in September. [YouTube]
• Sparks, an enigma of a band whose career has lasted more than 50 years, continue to confuse the world in the new documentary The Sparks Brothers from Edgar Wright. No, it’s not a musical but they’re insane and wonderful and have been trying to make a musical movie since the seventies, almost with Jaques Tati in 1974, and almost with Tim Burton in the 80’s. They finally have a musical coming out in August called Annette. [NY Times]
• ICYMI Here’s the trailer for Annette, coming to Prime Video. The trailer doesn't make it look like much of a musical, but from what we've read, it's almost entirely sung through. [YouTube]
A short list of Sean's best worst movie musicals.
Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008) [Tubi]
From the director of Saw 2, Saw 3, and Saw 4 comes this gory, disturbing, and awful musical that has an army of devoted fans who re-enact it live every Halloween. In a world where body parts are considered property and can be repossessed…
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) [Rent/Buy]
Sean didn’t put it on his list, but we’re adding it, cause it’s the OG Cult Classic.
Shock Treatment (1981) [Low Quality on YouTube]
"It's not a sequel... it's not a prequel... it's an equal!" Let’s call it a follow-up to Rocky Horror. Brad and Janet Majors are in it, though they’ve been recast.
The Pirate Movie (1982) [Low quality on YouTube]
In the 80s, we got two film adaptations of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. One was a large Hollywood production featuring Kevin Kline, the other was this. Winner of three Razzies for Worst Director, Worst Original Song, and Worst Musical Score.
Cats (2019) [Cinemax]
It’s one of those rare fever dream movies that can’t be justified in any meaningful way, where you fluctuate between joy and horror, and come out the other end indefinitely changed, for better or worse.
Xanadu (1980) [Cinemax]
A movie that makes no sense, despite a very charming Gene Kelly and some unbelievable roller skating. Supposedly the movie that inspired John J.B. Wilson to create the Golden Raspberry Awards.
The Apple (1980) - Young singers Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart) have big musical dreams when they leave Canada to compete in the Worldvision Song Festival.
Written and Directed by Menahem Golan
Lyrics by Iris Recht and George Clinton
Music by Coby Recht
Review by Sean Pollock
I love musicals. I love horror. I love science fiction. I believe that musicals and genre work can work well together, despite what others may think. However, sometimes it can go horribly, horribly, wrong. Menahem Golan’s abominable musical film, The Apple (1980) is a prime example of how not to blend science fiction and the musical genre. And yet...I love it, in all of its awful, terrible, disco, coke-fueled nightmare glory.
Though admittedly, I love it because of the “so-bad-it’s-good” formula—The Apple is a cult musical in the truest of forms—Rocky Horror’s worst moments in comparison to the best moments of The Apple look as sophisticated as Sondheim. But the camp of The Apple lies in the fact that it is a film that takes itself very, very, seriously and is legitimately horribly bad.
Every time I try to describe the insanity that is The Apple, I find myself not being able to properly articulate the plot. It is truly a movie that defies description. In ripping a page from Rick and Morty’s book, I am confident that there is a parallel universe where every film is as chaotic, nonsensical, and down right insane as The Apple is a la Interdimensional Cable. However, Before I attempt (and this will be at best, an attempt) to describe the plot of The Apple, it’s important to know some context.
Menahem Golan was a notoriously slimy and artistically untalented director and producer. While the Netflix documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films describes the phenomenon of Golan’s production company, Cannon Films, in better detail than I will—what’s important to know here is that Golan famously would mock up poster boards and designs for movies that were in development in hopes of luring foreign investors. These vision boards would often misrepresent films almost entirely, and investors often felt duped. In addition to this, Golan desperately wanted to understand American culture and sensibilities—but couldn’t seem to really capture it. The first few high school movies Golan attempted such as The Last American Virgin (1971) and Lemon Popsicle (1978) were essentially soft-core porns with youthful looking adults, but failed to follow through with any character development or plot. But by numerous reports, he was certain he was a genius that was misunderstood. He certainly was known to have felt this way when The Apple flopped, and allegedly tried to commit suicide after its disastorous premiere at The Montreal Film Festival in 1980 where audience members chucked LP soundtracks they were given at the movie screen after. Golan is quoted as saying: “It's impossible that I'm so wrong about it. I cannot be that wrong about the movie. They just don't understand what I was trying to do.”
So now into the meat of the potatoes of the plot of the film: it is set in a dystopian future in the far-out year of 1994 (originally it was supposed to be 1984, but by the time they filmed it in 1979, it felt too soon, so naturally they changed it). The entire world is controlled by a music conglomerate called BIM (also known as Boogalow International Music) where everyone is forced to wear triangles on their face (idk) and it is controlled by a one-horned Satanic figure named Mr. Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal, who is actually very entertaining).
Among other programming on television, BIM runs a Eurovision-style reality TV show competition called “The Worldvision Sound Festival”. The opening number to the TV show-within-the-movie is called “BIM”, and 90% of this song is just people singing “Hey, hey, hey / BIM’s on it’s way” in slutty Starlight Express-inspired futuristic costumes. It’s also implied that “BIM” is also a national anthem, as later on in the film, everyone stops what they’re doing and breaks out into song in an Orwellian-style act of patriotism. While the song is mostly just the chorus over and over again along with some extremely forgettable verses, it is really catchy. It’s also absolutely ridiculous.
Anyway, back to “The Worldvision Sound Festival.” Two wholesome Canadian singers, Alphi (played by George Gilmour in his only film role) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), sing a wholesome love song to the crowd, which divides the audience into a mixture of anger and overwhelming approval. While they don’t win the competition, they win the attention of Mr. Boogalow and his assistant, Snake (Ray Shell), and Mr. Boogalow offers both of them a record contract.
However, right before Alphi and Bibi are to sign their record deal over at Boogalow’s mansion, all of a sudden, Alphi begins to hallucinate a fever dream musical sequence where the musical number gets its name, “The Apple.” He is mysteriously transported to the underworld that has a strong biblical vibe, where he has a vision of Boogalow’s son, Dandi (Allan Love) and daughter, Pandi (Grace Kennedy) trying to seduce Bibi with a gigantic apple. This incredibly subtle number serves as an allegory for Adam and Eve/the Garden of Eden, and of course, Bibi—that silly broad—gives into temptation and takes the apple, signifying to Alphi that the worst is to come. And sure enough, she is right. But roughly an hour and a half and a slew of incoherent musical numbers later, all ends well, and Boogalow is defeated.
Sometimes I find that in the wheelhouse of “so bad it’s good” cult films such as The Apple, after repeated viewings, it’s hard to know if any of the songs are any good, or if I just have Stockholm Syndrome with them. A general note that no matter how good or how bad any of the songs are, they are all incredibly orchestrated. According to the composers, there were about 200 people altogether from vocalists to musicians who worked on the cast album.
While some of the numbers are downright horrible and borderline unwatchable such as “Showbizness”, “How To Be A Master”, and “Coming”, there are a few songs that have really grown on me. Even Bibi and Alphi’s tawdry 80’s love power ballad “I Found Me” has a nostalgic charm, despite it being ridiculously overblown and melodramatic. And even the title number, however, absurd, has a memorable tune.
However, Bibi’s number “Speed” is just as fabulous as it is patently absurd. How Catherine Mary Stewart kept a straight face while performing it (with back up biker dancers that look like they’re extras from a vintage Bear Films magazine), I’ll never know. However, “Speed” does feature some really funny satirical lyrics that reflect the author’s attitudes towards American greed and consumerism, with such lyrics as:
America, your reds, whites and blues
Are in our blood, we're strung out on you
There's just one thing we're all living for
Hmm...I wonder how the writers really felt about capitalism! It’s hard to tell.
Speaking of being beaten over the head with metaphor, I learned after a few watches and deep dives online that there was supposed to be an epic uncut two-song prologue of the film named "Paradise Day” where Mr. Topps (this is the name of the “God” character played by Joss Ackland. Why he is named Mr. Topps instead of God, I couldn’t tell you) created heaven and hell and carved the first human, Alphie, out of a rock, and sent him to Earth to meet Bibi—even furthering hammering home the creation story.
Apparently the sequence (which was partially filmed and cost 1 million dollars to make) featured a live tiger and elephant, at least fifteen actors in dinosaur costumes (apparently one of them who was wearing a brontosaurus costume got overheated and collapsed) along with a moving set that made it near impossible for people to dance on and cameras to move around. Apparently there was also a dueling tap dance sequence between Boogalow and Mr. Topps (alluding to a “God vs. Satan” dance off), but it was scrapped in its entirety for weighing down production costs. I’ve heard rumors that some of that footage does still exist somewhere, but I’ve yet to find it.
All and all, The Apple utterly fails as both a musical and a film, which is pretty impressive. But it is truly so absurd, convoluted, horribly written, acted, designed, and directed, that I believe it circles all the way back to brilliance. It is the Citizen Kane of bad musical movies. I truly cannot recommend it enough.
Sean Pollock has been curating the best forgotten stage musicals, giving them the attention they deserve. Follow @forgottenmusicals
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"Rooster Revue" is edited by Matt Andrews and Jeffrey Simon with contributions from the entire team at The Barn. Read past issues in the archive.