Greetings from the Great White North! Welcome to another edition of Meanwhile in Canada. In previous editions, I’ve talked about comic books and television shows that hail from my native country. Today we’re going to talk about a well-known film up here that American readers might not be familiar with. It’s Weird Watch, Canadian style!
If you were pressed to think of movies that were made in Canada, a lot of you are probably hard up to give some answers. Sure you could probably name a few David Cronenberg films, and some of you might even remember that Hobo with a Shotgun was Canadian. Maybe you were aware of the controversy behind Young People F—ing. That’s probably the end of the list for a lot of you. Fair enough! I live in Canada, and I can barely name five movies myself. That’s because most Canadian films don’t tend to generate a lot of press.
That’s why I’d like to tell you about a little movie called the Peanut Butter Solution. Made in 1985, it was a children’s movie that was part of Les Productions Fete‘s Tales for All series. It was made during the heyday of Canuxploitation cinema. In the late 1970s and early 80s, Canada sought to attract film production in the country and became a tax shelter for such productions. As a result, a lot of b-grade films came out of Canada during this period. Particularly a lot of well-known horror films such as Black Christmas, Terror Train, My Bloody Valentine, and Prom Night, to name few.
Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow
The Peanut Butter Solution follows the story of Michael Baskin an 11-year-old boy. His mom is in Australia because a family member died, leaving him in the care of his annoying sister Susan and his father Billy, a tortured artist. Michael’s best friend is a boy named Connie who is a smart talking kid who tells wild stories. At school, their art class is run by “The Senior”, who forces his students to do true life sketches and detests the use of imagination.
One day, Michael and Connie decide to check out a nearby haunted house that had recently caught fire. Inside, Michael sees something that scares him so bad that his hair falls out. When pressed to talk about what he saw, Michael can’t remember what it was that frightened him so badly.
Michael reacts to his sudden baldness as you’d expect, throwing temper tantrums and crying. His family tries to help him through this period but nothing works.
Warning: Contains Nuts
One night Michael is visited by a homeless couple whom he once gave change to. As it turns out they are now ghosts as they died in the fire. They give Michael a special solution that will help him grow his hair back. Among dead flies and rotten eggs, the key ingredient is peanut butter.
Miraculously the formula works, but Michael’s hair won’t stop growing and it eventually gets him kicked out of school. He is later kidnapped by the Senior, who got fired from his job for being an overall a-hole to his students. Somehow the Senior discovered that Michael’s hair could be turned into paint brushes that create vivid and life-like paintings that you can walk into. He then begins kidnapping children to build brushes that he, in turn, sells to art supply shops all over town.
I hate to spoil a little known Canadian movie that was released over 30 years ago, but it has a happy ending. Connie and Susan do some detective work to track down where the Senior has taken the kids and stage a daring rescue attempt. Connie convinces the Senior to be his father (!?) and the nut job even softens up a bit. This is all a ruse to trick him into painting the burned out house and taking a peek inside. This causes the Senior to be frightened and lose all his hair, it’s at about this point that Susan arrives with the police and save the day. Oh, and you know what frightened Michael so bad? The ghosts of the homeless people. During the big reveal the ghost, in typical Canadian fashion, apologize for all the trouble.
Peanut Butter Confusion
Children’s movies aren’t exactly supposed to be high art, but this movie tends to make a lot of departures in logic that will make you head spin. Usually there is a logical chain of events that guide the viewer through the story, however, this film suffers from some massive plot holes and logical missteps.
The biggest one is trying to tie in the character Michael with the dead homeless people. In the beginning of the movie when Connie mentions “winos” there is a sudden smash cut. It’s a flashback to Michael giving his change to the homeless man who later dies in the house fire and comes back as a ghost. While crucial to the plot of the film, it’s insertion is abrupt. Michael mentions this moment as an aside, but suddenly goes from “cheerful kid” to somber and reflective before going back to being cheerful again.
Also, can we talk about these homeless people for a moment? This kid gives them change whenever everyone else on the street was turning a blind eye to him. So how do they repay the boy for his act of kindness? They die in a house fire and their ghost scare him so badly he goes bald. Talk about being ungrateful.
Sure, they give him the solution to help him grow hair back, but the old woman taunts him with the cure before handing it over. They also force themselves into this kid’s house and root through his kitchen cabinets. Ghosts don’t need to eat!
I think their whole plan was to cause this kid to need expensive therapy.
Also, can someone explain this to me?
This movie also leaves a lot of questions to be asked….
First off, let’s talk about the Senior, who claims he doesn’t have a name. Despite the fact that he is regularly cruel to children and had been fired by many past employers, the school still hires him. The lack of oversight here is almost as bad as the daycare that hired Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake.
How did he ace the interview?
“Let see here, Mr. Senior of no fixed address, I see your hobbies include giving children nightmares through art and quashing creativity. What else can you bring to our organization?”
“I come with a dog.”
“Perfect! Just what we’re looking for!”
Eventually, people come to their senses and the senior is fired after one of his students has nightmares of a drawing he was forced to take home. This leads to the Senior kidnapping Michael and using him for his paint-brush scheme.
However, the movie doesn’t bother to tell us how the Senior makes the transition from unemployed lunatic to sweatshop owner. Let’s not also forget how he also, somehow, knows that this kid’s hair is magical enough to make real life paintings that you can walk into.
Also, how terrible are the police in this movie? Over 20 children, from the same school, and attended the same insane art class, and nobody investigates this guy? The cops aren’t even called in until someone finds a trail of sugar leading to the Senior’s black market paint brush operation. The movie also has a lot of nonsensical cuts that at times it’s hard to keep track of things that are going on.
Stockholm Syndrome: For Kids!
I suppose the truly disturbing thing about this movie is the fact that these kids are kidnapped and forced to make 500 brushes a day, or they won’t get fed. These kids outnumber this dope and his tiny dog 20 to 1, yet they all compliantly do his bidding. You know there is a lot of junk laying around this warehouse and not one kid thought to amass an army and bludgeon the guy to death.
However, instead of that, they all comply with his orders until Connie is kidnapped and expresses his desire to be the Senior’s son. This Canadian Josef Fritzl suddenly has a Grinch moment where he decides to lighten up a little. But instead of setting his prisoners free, he instead decides to paint them a picture. The whole time he’s painting he’s goofing off and playing around and the children are laughing. These kids would have probably had a blast in Jonestown.
However, the kids get over their warm fuzzies for the Senior after he is scared out of his own hair and begins chasing them. These kids soon find themselves easily rounded up in a simple fishing net because their natural instinct was to flee in a clot. The most depressing thing about these kids is that they’re not in their late thirties and early forties now and are probably running things.
Recipe for Disaster
The Peanut Butter Solution is a movie where suspension of disbelief is necessary. It plays out like one of those dreams where you’re trying to get somewhere but you get sidetracked by a constant bombardment of insane distractions.
The icing on the cake is that this movie features some of the first English songs sung by Celine Dion. Just listen to the lyrics to “Listen to the Magic Man“. If you can’t be bothered to watch the video here’s a sampling:
The magic man
Got a trick
That’s so slick
Disappears just quick as a lick
The magic man
A bing bong
A ping pong
And you are off to Hong Kong
Whoever taught Celine Dion how to speak English was clearly insane.
Well, I piqued your interest in this bit of Canadian cinematic insanity, at the time of this writing the movie can be found on YouTube. Take advantage of that while you can.
That concludes this edition of Meanwhile in Canada, I’ve got some more truly Canadian in store for you all in the future. Our next edition will feature a giant, a giraffe, and a chicken in a bag. Be there won’t you?
Meanwhile in Canada is an ongoing series of articles that feature Canadian fandom that is otherwise unknown to people in general. Check out more articles from this series here.