Director: Scott Mansfield
Linda Blair, John Carradine, Marilyn Chambers, Sybil Danning, Fred Willard

Way back in the 1970s in the Great White North, the acclaimed (and later discredited and disgraced) Canadian filmmaker Claude Jutra (Mon Oncle Antoine) bemoaned to the Canadian newspaper Ottawa Citizen, "Not making films you should be making is awful, but making them and then not having them shown is worse." Obviously, he was complaining about Canadian films such as his not getting big enough (or even any) theatrical releases to Canadian theaters, a complaint that is expressed by many Canadian filmmakers several decades later. It may sound like a sad story, but actually what is sad is how ignorant these Canadian filmmakers are. These particular Canadian filmmakers apparently have no comprehension of the taste of the Canadian public - or the taste of the public anywhere else in the world. The Canadian public, and the rest of world, generally gravitate to movies that are entertaining to some significant kind of degree. But instead of recognizing it, these Canadian filmmakers hide behind a facade of "artist integrity", feeling that their arty and often downbeat dramas are what the public really craves. I'd like to ask them why Canadian movie distributors then choose to put so little marketing muscle behind these unmarketable movies while devoting their dollars instead to American product they distribute. The hard fact is that very difficult Canadian movies that are barely marketed makes them very unattractive to Canadian theater owners. Despite this obvious fact, their argument about it hurting that their movies are barely released (or not at all) can be applied to just about any filmmaker in the world. Making a movie takes so much time, takes so much work, that I can understand why if subsequently the movie gets little or no push by the right people, the anguish the particular filmmaker must feel. All that effort for nothing.

I'm sure that the majority of sane filmmakers, which can be found in just about every country (one exception being Canada), regardless of the subject matter that they deal with in their movies, try very hard to not make their movie so inaccessible that a film distributor won't even make some effort to get it delivered to the public. But all the same, despite this conscious decision, there are a lot of movies that either take an incredibly long time to get released, or not released at all. There are a number of reasons for this other than when the movie in question is simply not commercial enough. One of the more notorious examples of this is with the Jerry Lewis concentration camp movie The Day The Clown Cried. After the movie was filmed, the footage was promptly shelved, supposedly because the screenwriter who had the original idea for the movie had not given the full rights to Lewis, and she threatened a lawsuit if the movie were to be released. For the next decade or so, Lewis was still gung-ho about getting the movie to theaters ("One way or another, I'll get it done. The picture must be seen.") But then a curious thing started to happen. Lewis' enthusiasm slowly seemed to wane, and discussion with the movie with journalists would then spark a hostile and curt response from Lewis. Then in the last few years of his life, Lewis gave a brand new answer as to why the movie still hadn't been released after several decades. He answered that he felt that the movie wasn't very good, to put it mildly. He had made the movie during an extremely trying time in his life, and he reported that this stress resulted in him botching the potrayal of the sensitive subject matter in the movie. To save himself from embarrassment, he said he decided to keep the movie on the shelf.

Another movie that was long shelved was the 1959 Ed Wood movie Night Of The Ghouls. After it was completed, Wood delayed its release because he felt it needed additional editing to improve it. However, for unclear reasons, Wood never paid the film laboratory that Impsdeveloped the movie, and as a result, the lab held the rights to the movie, preventing its theatrical release. The movie stayed on the shelf for about twenty-five years before independent movie guru Wade Williams tracked down the movie, paid the laboratory its long requested fees, and finally got it to the public. But the long-shelved movie that I really want to talk about is the movie being reviewed here, Imps. My research on the movie didn't turn up much, but what I did find piqued my interest. It was made way back in 1983, but for reasons that I have not been able to verify, got shelved right after it was completed. It then stayed on the shelf for twenty-six years before a small DVD company picked up the rights and released it on disc. It was such a small and quiet release that even I didn't hear about the movie until recently when I accidentally stumbled upon it on the Tubi TV streaming channel. When I examined the movie, I was really surprised to find out that the movie had long been shelved despite having in its cast Linda Blair (The Exorcist), John Carradine (House Of The Long Shadows), porn star Marilyn Chambers, Sybil Danning (Howling II), basketball player Meadowlark Lemon, William Sanderson (Newhart), P. J. Soles (Our Winning Season), Jennifer Tilly (Let It Ride), Jimmie Walker (Good Times), Fred Willard (Cracking Up), and Keenan Wynn (Hyper Sapien) - among others!

Seeing all those notable people in the case of Imps, I had to wonder why the movie had been shelved for so long. Even if the movie turned out to be bad, the fact the movie had that eclectic cast should have made it at the very least somewhat marketable to some distributor, even if the distributor was a direct-to-video outfit. Imps, by the way, is a sketch comedy akin to movies such as Kentucky Fried Movie, Prime Time, and Cracking Up. (The title is an acronym for "[The] Immoral Minority Picture Show".) There was still some life in the sketch comedy movie format in the 1980s, so it couldn't have been its genre that prevented the movie from being released them. How about with its production values? It's here that we first see some lacking. There are many scenes either shot on location or on sets that have some of the worst lighting you'll ever have seen. These scenes are so dark that sometimes it's a bit confusing to tell what's happening in a particular scene. Couldn't the production have rented at least one spotlight in these scenes? Also, while some parts of the movie are shot on bona fide locations (offices, bars, etc.), the sketches filmed on soundstages more often than not suggest that the set dressers and the set constructors simply didn't give much of a darn. In fact, the movie is so threadbare at times that the background atmosphere seems absolutely sterile, which often makes it so viewers will have to make more of an effort than usual to latch on and relate to some angle as to what's going on in front of their eyes.

Of course, it also matters if the material in the sketches in Imps is by itself funny. In fact, it's probably the biggest deciding manner as to whether the movie deserves a recommendation or not. The best way to illustrate the movie's humor is to list some of its sketches, which I will do now:

  • The opening of the movie has this text on the screen: "The Surgeon General has determined that sex in tests with laboratory animals can be harmful." Then it adds, "The Surgeon General recommends that you stop having sex with laboratory animals." Kind of thoughtful of Imps to take the time to give a stiff, sober, and serious message to certain audience members... oh, wait - was that supposed to be an attempt at humor?
  • At an office, a secretary answers the phone and states to the caller, "Mr. Jarvis is tied up right now." Cut to Mr. Jarvis' room, where he is tied up in bondage gear. Well, I suppose someone somewhere in the world hasn't come across that gag before.
  • A sexy woman in lingerie is lying on a bed looking seductively while the camera studies her closely. A narrator then says "Marlene is looking for a few good men." End of sketch.
  • A commercial for a new sitcom called Three Mile Island People, where the husband comes home from work at the local nuclear plant glowing and spreading his glow to his wife and children, one of which just has half a body. As I said two sketches ago...
  • Did you know porn star Marilyn Chambers has an American Express-type card with her to identify her? That's the joke.
  • John Carradine is sitting in a comfy chair in a study with a fire blazing in a fireplace. He tells the viewer that he's introducing, "Great moments in Polish history". Pause. A voice off camera whispers to Carradine, "Mr. Carradine, there's nothing here!" End of sketch.
  • An advertisement for a television soap opera, which promises to be full of adultery, incest, betrayal, evil scheming, identical twins, rape, virginity, and a lot more sordid stuff. That's the joke.
  • A commercial that recommends a new pharmaceutical product for parents who have unruly children - "Quaaludes for Kids". Somehow, the idea of kids being on drugs is even unfunnier these days than back in the 1980s.
  • A parody of Miller Lite commercials, which pretty much plays exactly like a real one, except blood is substituted for beer, and the pitchman is a vampire. News to writer/director Scott Mansfield: Simply substituting something with another thing is seldom instantly funny. You still have to take it up a few more notches. See my review of Flicks for another example of lazy substituting.
  • There's an awfully long parody slasher film trailer that has a first half that goes on and on like a straight scene from a typical slasher, then the movie's title is announced - The Hanukah Horror, a supposed Jewish-themed slasher. Though oddly in the second half, the movie showcased in the trailer suddenly becomes a parody of classic detective movies, with a trenchcoated private eye who narrates on the soundtrack.
  • There's an advertisement for a record from a singer who has (I think) Tourette's syndrome.
  • The pretty much only two African-American characters to be found in the movie are in a sketch depicting the first African-American to land on the moon. The astronaut brings a basketball and a ghetto blaster with him.
  • Near the end, there is an advertisement for a product called "Nasty Glue" (though it's written as "Nazi Glue" in the close captions provided by Tubi TV.) The glue is so strong, that people who use it end up getting their hands terribly stuck on nearby surfaces! As I said twice earlier in this list of selected sketches...

By now you should have some idea of the kind of humor to be found in Imps, not only that it attempts to be quite politically incorrect, but also that it is unbelievably unfunny. There is not one laugh to be found in this sketch comedy movie, which by itself can drag it down to almost the rock bottom level of sludge like Cracking Up and Outtakes. But it ensures its near rock bottom level with how the humor is executed. The aforementioned sterile backdrop certainly doesn't help things; in fact, it seems to make most of the movie play out in a really slow and sluggish style, when more successful sketch comedy movies play out much quicker and snappier in style. There's one sketch in Imps involving Nazi interrogators (played by David L. Lander and Michael McKean of Laverne & Shirley fame) that is virtually unbearable to sit through because it's so slow and long. Oddly, there are also some sketches like one involving a Hispanic maid that, for no apparent reason, suddenly stop in midstream before they are even close to tying up everything. Abrupt endings like that will frustrate viewers and subsequently make it difficult for them to rebuild hope that Imps will later make them laugh. There is also the problem that much of the movie almost forty years since completion has really badly dated. Although I understood references to commercials such as for Calvin Klein jeans and a certain brand of dishwashing soap, and movies such as La Cage Aux Folles and Don't Go In The House, younger viewers will most likely be scratching their heads at these references. For that matter, I think many viewers my age would have forgotten those references too and be equally confused. Even if you are a die-hard fan of the sketch comedy film genre, understand the references brought up in the movie, and are intrigued by all those aforementioned actors being in the same film, I am still completely confident you still won't find anything about watching Imps worth your time. If for some reason there's still a part of you curious about the movie, I'll end this review with an opinion of one of its actors. Linda Blair years later said that this movie was the worst decision of her career, even more so than The Exorcist II: The Heretic. Yes, Imps manages to be even worse than that film.

(Posted December 5, 2021)

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See also: Cracking Up, Prime Time, Viewer Discretion Advised