"He took it down to hammer town" - Fleegle
So, who remembers The Banana Splits? That crazy, loveable zany group from the late sixties, comprising Fleegle, Bingo, Drooper and Snorky. The band that convinced us in the late sixties that Hanna – Barbera had finally succumbed to acid. Have you started humming the catchy earworm of a theme song yet? (If so, I apologise – I know from bitter experience it’ll be there for days.)
I would’ve been I guess around nine years old when the show debuted on the BBC here in the UK. It was unlike anything I’d seen before – two cartoons; The Arabian Knights and The Three Musketeers if I’m not mistaken, and a live action serial called the Mysterious Island which featured the late Jan-Michael Vincent almost a decade and a half before he became famous for Airwolf.
Those features were cushioned by the antics of a pop group which had a dog and a lion (Fleegle and Drooper) on guitars, a gorilla (Bingo) on drums and a hairy little elephant (Snorky) on keyboards. It was a mixture of comedy sketches and music. I saw it first in black and white on its first run. Later, when it was reshown on the Cartoon Network, I watched it with Steve when he was a toddler and found it overwhelmingly trippy when seen in colour.
As happens so often these days, I saw an announcement that yet ANOTHER vintage (i.e. old) TV show was being resurrected as a feature film. And it was The Banana Splits – clearly a kid’s TV show that never pretended to be anything BUT juvenile – and it was to be a horror film.
Sorry – what?
Yep. A horror film.
Not a kid-friendly Scooby Doo type horror film, filled with gentle scares either, but a proper horror film! Surely, it’d never work. They were cuddly, harmless men in furry costumes that looked like a live action cartoon from a series that was funny when you were nine, but just annoying as an adult. Nope – couldn’t be made and it was a fool’s errand to even try.
Well, the seemingly impossible happened and the film got made and released on home video. Steve bought me the disc, probably an act of revenge for traumatising him as a toddler with a marathon showing on TV during a public holiday – and having just watched it, I’m struggling hard to process what I just saw. Yes, it IS The Banana Splits. Yes, it IS a nasty little gorefest of a horror movie.
In a nutshell, The Splits have carried on appearing on TV since their original debut (in reality, the show lasted a year) but their show is suddenly cancelled without warning after all these years. The band members aren’t men in costumes here, they’re animatronic robots. (I was wondering how they’d address that little detail, hopefully not going down the KISS Meet the Phantom of the Park route, where the band were replaced by robots by a mad scientist. We almost go down that route but not quite).
Before the show starts, Drooper gets some kind of upgrade which I can only assume has some sort of virus in it and this somehow spreads to the others. Exactly what happens isn’t explained, but when the show is cancelled, the four turn on the members of the live audience who’ve stayed for a meet and greet and start to slaughter them. It’s as if Hanna-Barbera decided to make a Saw movie.
Nope, I’m not kidding. People are beheaded, sawn in half, dismembered, torn apart as the children in the audience who’ve been kept prisoner by the band are forced to watch some of these atrocities as part of a live show.
I honestly never really believed this film would be made, but here it is, in all its gory. I mean glory. It’s stunning to watch something innocuous that I watched as a child tear people apart, with those blank, never changing expressions that they had back then. Drooper becoming a blood splattered serial killer is honestly something I never thought I’d see, any more than I ever though I’d be typing these sentences.
I watched a special feature “making of” on the disc, where the director Danishka Esterhazy and some of the production team explained how un-nerving the costumes were when just placed on mannequins for storage and how threatening and scary they seemed. I guess I can see their reasoning there. There’s something about the perpetual grin that never changes on some of the characters, so they’re still grinning broadly when they’re killing you, and that expression never changes. Pretty much the same as a clown. I hadn’t thought of that before.
It’s going to be a cult film, like Killer Klowns from Outer Space did. One that becomes a late-night favourite at film festivals – IF it evades the fate I can see happening.
I think it’s a film that’s destined for notoriety. It’s likely that someone, somewhere is just going to see the Banana Splits on the cover and buys it for their kids to keep them quiet. When they see what the film contains, there’ll be hell to pay, it’ll hit the mainstream media who’ll champion the negligent idiot who bought it for their little darlings despite its 18 certificate and then it’ll either be banned or withdrawn from sale as a knee-jerk reaction.
My advice – if you’re going to buy it, buy it now. You might have a future collector’s item.
In the meantime, enjoy this shot of Drooper in action - as you've never seen him before.
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