Here’s why this much loathed early 90s dark comedy curio, in all its twisted glory, is worth standing by.

Scarlett Johansson has been temporarily out on bail from Marvel jail long enough to shoot and release the comedy Rough Night. Opening this Friday, the outrageous comedy sees Johansson as a bride-to-be who gets into a sticky situation when the stripper her friends have hired for her bachelorette party accidentally dies.

While the movie sounds a bit throwaway, it features a rare appearance of Demi Moore in a big-screen comedy. Moore seldom works in studio projects these days, let alone comedic ones. It was therefore the perfect time for me to write my long-gestating tribute to one of my favorite dark comedies (which actually features Moore), that also happens to be one of the most reviled films of the 90s; Dan Aykroyd’s Nothing But Trouble.

Written and directed by Aykroyd, and featuring an all-star cast including Chevy Chase, John Candy, Moore and Aykroyd himself as a decrepit backwards judge, Nothing But Trouble stars Chase and Moore as Chris Thorne and Diane Lightson; two trendy New Yorkers on their way to Atlantic City for business. In an effort to save time, Chris and Diane decide to take a detour through the small town of Valkenvania where they are stopped by the town’s mysterious Police Chief named Dennis (Candy) who is forced to bring them in after failing to stop at a stop sign. When they arrive at the sprawling compound of the Justice of the Peace, Alvin Valkenheiser (Aykroyd), they discover that the judge’s “way of getting things done” means they won’t be leaving anytime soon.”

I believe one of the main reasons people didn’t take to Nothing But Trouble was because of the film’s slightly dark twistedness. After all, the whole plot is centered around a judge (and his offspring) who captures people and holds them prisoner in his dilapidated mansion full of trap doors, secret passageways, rotating beds and endless series of mazes. Not only does he capture them, but oftentimes, he kills them as evident by the moment when an ongoing slide sends Chris pummeling head first into a large pile of human bones. However the judge doesn’t pick just anybody to capture; his specialty is prominent citizens (such as Jimmy Hoffa) whose I.D.’s, and newspaper clippings detailing their disappearances, collectively wallpaper an upstairs attic. This is the central theme to Nothing But Trouble; a macabre tale of a maniacal family and their patriarch living in a house of madness and executing their own brand of justice mixed with demented glee. It would be nothing to laugh at normally, except that…it is.

The reason the film’s concept is only mildly disturbing can be chalked up to Aykroyd’s brand of humor and how it fits perfectly with the morbidness of the film. Though a bit unsettling on paper, Aykroyd makes light of Judge Alvin’s method of sentencing two drug dealing couples by dropping them via conveyor belt onto a rickety, yet fast-moving roller coaster which then dumps them onto a larger conveyor belt leading into a large dark tunnel called the Bonestripper which tears away at their flesh and spits their bones onto a large bull’s eye. At other moments, Aykroyd wonderfully inserts the most absurd lines which are purposely inappropriate for the situation at hand, yet garner perfect laughs as a result. One such moment is the instance when Alvin has sentenced Diane to death and intends to execute her by dropping a trio of large blades onto her while she lies down on what looks like a huge cutting board. Yet before he has her strapped in, he looks over at Diane and asks: “Ya, want a mint candy?” As if there weren’t enough wonderful dark randomness already, Nothing But Trouble pauses temporarily for two musical numbers from Digital Underground, who (cameoing as themselves) are stopped for speeding, allowing them to contribute greatly to the wonderful absurdity of it all.

The performances in Nothing But Trouble are exactly what you’d expect them to be. With over-the-top make-up and an exaggerated accent, Aykroyd goes for broke and steals every scene he’s in as the century-old Judge Alvin. Candy meanwhile pulls double duty as Police Chief Dennis and his twin sister Eldona who has eyes for Chris (yes, Candy does drag). While he doesn’t have much to do with the former character, he elicits strong laughs as the latter without even having to say a word. Chase’s role may not be as flashy as Candy’s or Aykroyd’s, yet it’s usually funny when comic actors are placed in frightening situations, and here, Chase reminds you why. As the only non-comedic name in the cast, Moore has little to do but react to the madness around her; but she does so in true, great straight man fashion through a series of “I can’t believe this” looks which earn their own share of laughs.

It’s totally unsurprising that Nothing But Trouble was a huge flop upon release. Critics found the movie’s humor tasteless and unfunny while audiences couldn’t warm up to the film’s darkness and overall offbeat tone. In the end, the film made mere pennies when compared to what certain expectations might have been given the pedigree of those involved at the time. I’m proud to say however that a small handful of the film’s meager profits came from my then-9-year-old self who saw Nothing But Trouble multiple times at my local movie theater and enjoyed it more and more with each viewing.

Aykroyd’s film couldn’t have had worse treatment from the studio which released it. To begin with, the powers that be changed the title from the unique-sounding Valkenvania (suggesting the director’s original vision overall was severely compromised) to the easily-forgotten Nothing But Trouble. A release date in the barren month of February didn’t help matters, nor did the marketing materials which included a poster concept that was an exact copy of the studio’s other big bomb, The Bonfire of the Vanities, released two months earlier. While none of this worked in the film’s favor, blaming the studio only goes so far. The fact is that a film like Nothing But Trouble was clearly ahead of its time. Pre-dating Rob Zombie’s similarly-themed House of 1000 Corpses by more than a decade, most audiences in the early 90s couldn’t believe a film such as this could have ever been made. Today, there is a small, yet loyal collection of movie lovers (such as myself) who hold it up as a cinematic unicorn; the kind of film which teeters between near-parody and black comedy beautifully. Nothing But Trouble DEFINITELY doesn’t cater to the majority of tastes out there, but that only makes it all the more worthwhile for the ones it does.

Previous post Twilight Time’s Blu-Ray Release of HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS is a Triumph
Next post Even Oprah Wouldn’t Read THE BOOK OF HENRY