The Apple

Color, 1980, 88 mins. 6 secs.
Directed by Menahem Golan
Starring Catherine Mary Stewart, George Gilmour, Grace Kennedy, Alan Love, Vladek Sheybal, Ray Shell, Joss Ackland
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

The AppleThe AppleNothing in this world or the next can possibly prepare you for this glittering, gonzo sci-fi musical, one of the first big productions from Cannon Films once it was acquired by the legendary duo of Menahem Golam and Yoram Globus. Already a director with several films under his belt including the popular Israeli musical Kazablan, Golam took the reins for this Berlin-shot extravaganza that arrived just as disco and glam rock had become declared passé, with other cinematic casualties at the time like Xanadu and Can't Stop the Music looking relatively restrained in comparison. The film received a very hostile audience reception and was quickly consigned to oblivion for many years apart from a handful of VHS releases, but its eventual rediscovery as a midnight movie (starting off with a surprising sold-out screening at the Nuart in Los Angeles) earned it an appreciative new audience for what is easily one of the looniest and most sinfully entertaining pop musicals you'll ever see.

In the far-flung year of 1994, musical taste is dictated by sinister and manipulative entertainment producer Mr. Boogalow (From Russia with Love's Sheybal). His most recent innovation introduced at his annual music contest: "BIM," a rock anthem and fashion manifesto performed by two of his musical darling, Dandi (Love) and Pandi (Kennedy). However, the duo are The Applenearly overshadowed by their follow-up act, cheerful The Appleacoustic singers Bibi (Night of the Comet's Stewart) and Alphie (Gilmour), a pair of wide-eyed kids from Moosejaw, Canada. Booglaow decides to take out the competition by signing Bibi to a contract and making her a star under his control, a deal in which Alphie refuses to participate. Phantasmagoric visions, a disco orgy, dramatic tears, and a peculiar hippie guru (A Zed and Two Noughts' Ackland) who might hold the key to our heroes' salvation.

Originally conceived as a biblical stage musical by writers Coby and Iris Recht before being completely overhauled into the futuristic pop nightmare we have before us now, The Apple was a sincere bid at cult musical stardom a la Tommy or Rocky Horror but somehow got everything so cockeyed that it turned out unlike anything ever witnessed by mankind before or since. The charismatic Stewart (who also went on to The Last Starfighter and many, many other films) made her debut here and is actually a lot of fun lip synching to the bombastic, uncredited vocals by Mary Hylan, with future Austin Powers and Wild Things composer George S. Clinton brought in to do arrangements and even appear in a couple of The Applescenes as ill-fated reporter Joe Pittman "of the Daily The ApplePost." However, there's no getting around the fact that the songs, as catchy and gleefully amusing as they are, still feel like they were written by someone only partially familiar with the English language; Sheybal's mind-blowing two big numbers, "How To Be a Master" and "Showbizness," are especially alien in both lyrics and delivery, the latter performed as a sequin-overloaded dance number in what looks like an airport departure lounge.

The highlights here are too many to list here, but for starters, Kennedy gets one of the dirtiest disco epics ever with the trippy "Coming," Stewart freaks out with a gang of leather boys and girls on motorcycles in "Speed" (including a young Finola Hughes before her much more high profile musical bust, Staying Alive), and the title song... well, there are no adequate words except that it involves an actual, actual, actual vampire, with a lot of other monsters dancing around in Hell courtesy of Sheybal as the devil. Interestingly, a sequence was shot for that same sequence just before the song starts in which Gilmour imagines a trip to the Garden of Eden with himself and Bibi as Adam and Eve (plentiful photos still exist), but it was cut before the final editing stage; you can easily tell where it would have slipped in, just after the first earthquake The Applein Boogalow's office. On a similar note, a slightly longer "preview cut" of the film (probably the one shown at Cannes) popped up a few years ago and was screened at The Cinefamiy in L.A., with a couple of other appearances afterwards; running just under 90 minutes, this version has a couple of scene extensions in the last two reels, at the end of "Coming" (with two more surreal moments of The AppleAlphie crashing in on Bibi with other characters, making it much more clear that her sleeping around is all a hallucination), and a longer, more coherent passage of time during the "Child of Love" song showing the couple turning into hippies inside the cave and having a baby. (You can hear this extended version on the soundtrack LP, should you be so inclined.) The finale was also a bit different, with a... well, to avoid spoilers, a certain automotive special effect replaced by a big glowing ball of light instead. Unfortunately this alternate version was swiped from MGM by an unethical exhibitor who booked the print and replaced it with reels of the theatrical cut instead before sending it back, which means that unless the guilty party ever fesses up, it may be gone forever.

After its first VHS release in America by Paragon (who had the early Cannon titles for a while) and some international tapes around the same time, The Apple stayed out of commission on home video until sudden midnight movie following earned a DVD release from MGM in 2004. Thankfully the DVD (which includes the theatrical trailer as its sole bonus) reinstated the film's Dolby Stereo track, which was left off of the general release theatrical prints in favor of a flat mono mix instead. The DVD looked quite good for the time, but the passage of time meant that a Blu-ray just had to come along at some point. Thankfully that came to pass in 2017 with separate Blu-ray and DVD editions from Kino Lorber produced by Scorpion Releasing, sporting a fresh HD scan The Applefrom MGM that's an absolutely garish beauty from start to finish. The DTS-HD MA English stereo track is a big The Appleimprovement as well, adding much more dynamic range to the mix and bringing out some weird textures in the music that didn't quite come through on the DVD (especially the crazy ear-tickling electronic effects on "Speed"). In addition to the trailer, Stewart is present in two extras on the disc, an audio commentary (which in full disclosure is moderated by yours truly so no assessment of it here) and a lengthy video interview (47m7s) in which she cheerfully talks about her dancer background, being discovered by Golam (who successfully talked her into changing her name), shooting the deleted Eden sequence and getting doused in filthy leaves, visiting East Germany with Ackland, Golan's suicidal thoughts after a disastrous Montreal Film Festival screening (which he thankfully suppressed and went on to direct Enter the Ninja the next year), her joy at checking out a midnight screening of the film in New York, and a handful of her other projects ranging from World Gone Wild to Weekend at Bernie's. No adhesive BIM mark is included, but you can easily make your own at home.

Reviewed on June 16, 2017.