IT CAME FROM BACKLOT X: ‘RAT PFINK A BOO-BOO’ (1966)
The Geek League of America is proud to announce a new column dedicated to celebrating the weirdest, wildest, rarest, cheesiest, and most obscure films in the Sci-Fi, fantasy, horror, and superhero genres. In IT CAME FROM BACKLOT X, we comb used record stores, Netflix archives, and the dusty shelves of our own collections to bring you the hidden gems, schlock classics, and other cinematic oddities overshadowed by their better known Hollywood brethren. Welcome to…IT CAME FROM BACKLOT X!
So, you want a mid-‘60s superhero flick so impoverished of budget that when the title credits were sent back misspelled, the producers couldn’t even afford to have them corrected, forcing them to go with what they had? Then I give you Ray Dennis Steckler’s cheerfully cheap and giddily strange Rat Pfink A Boo Boo (to be found on DVD under the correct and less charming title The Adventures of Rat Pfink And BooBoo.) This no-budget nonsense isn’t The Avengers – it’s a whacked-out mélange of badly costumed crime fighters, beach party rock and roll shenanigans and the kind of anti-cinema shoestring filmmaking only the ‘60s could muster.
Following up his cult weirdo zombie-musical The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, and his better received exploitation film The Thrill Killers, Steckler (also known as an actor under the pseudonym Cash Flagg), decided to helm a straight crime drama about a group of delinquents known as the Chain Gang who harass and mug women. They set their sights on Cee Bee Beaumont (Carolyn Brandt), the girlfriend of rock star Lonnie Lord (Ron Haydock, under the name of Vin Saxon.) They follow her, repeatedly call her at home (the raspy-voiced query “Are you Cee Bee Beaumont?” is asked so often you could make a drinking game out of it) and eventually kidnap her, knocking her mentally-challenged gardener Titus Twimbly (Titus Moede) out in the process. That’s when Lonnie and Titus enter a closet and re-emerge as…
Rat Pfink and Boo Boo — superheroes in ragtag pajama and ski mask costumes who set out to save Cee Bee from giggling thugs with their…uhh…crime fighting… “skills.”
Steckler had shot about forty minutes of an (attempted) straight thriller before deciding to suddenly switch gears and make his film into a parody of the then-popular Batman TV series. However, with no money to reshoot, he simply kept the footage he had as is, and decided to make the transition with no questions asked (or answered.) Rat Pfink begins in moody, monochromatic noir mode (in fact, the film seems to be shot in three colors, with scenes tinted completely either in blue, pink or sepia) with the Chain Gang harassing a woman in a back alley, nearly choking her to death with a chain before fleeing with her purse.
We then cut to Lonnie being “mobbed” by “throngs” of fans (all two of them) and to Cee Bee receiving the first of her many crank calls. It’s probably a good twenty minutes before any semblance of a plot or character relationships emerge; by then we’ve been treated to plenty of Lonnie’s admittedly catchy Frankie Avalon-esque rock music — including a song about a cheating woman sung lovingly to Cee Bee in what is meant to be a romantic interlude. (The discrepancy between Brandt’s cheerfully grinning expression and the lyrics Haydock sings is amusingly jarring.)
It has to be said that these first 40 minutes fall on the wrong side of boring. Cheap, poorly made and schlocky, they don’t have enough moments of “so-bad-their-good” giddiness to support a camp classic. The movie just simply feels bizarre and made by talentless hacks with only the briefest respite into absurdity. But then Rat Pfink and BooBoo arrive to save the day, literally and figuratively. After a delightfully mockable scene in which Lonnie calmly discusses Cee Bee’s kidnapping with Titus while taking the time to completely play a song on his guitar, the men enter the closet – with much whacky dialogue and sound effects – and re-enter as our costumed pair. Lonnie even adopts a new voice that sounds like Yogi Bear to further disguise himself. (Christian Bale, eat your heart out.)
From there on out, the film becomes even MORE padded than before, but has turned the corner into batshit crazy entertaining badness. The second half is filled with endless shots of our caped crusaders tooling around town on a motorcycle, with Rat Pfink standing (yes, standing) in the side car, pointing forward like Washington crossing the Delaware.) These sequences are too numerous to count, yet don’t lose their impact with repetition. In fact, they only get more hilarious each time they appear. Rat Pfink and Boo Boo eventually have something resembling a knockdown, drag out fight in what appears to be Steckler’s backyard with the thugs, wherein they save Cee Bee and afterward have a parade thrown in their honor.
Oh yeah, they also have to save Cee Bee from the clutches of the love-struck gorilla Kogar (legendary suit-designer Bob Burns) at one point in the proceedings. Kogar only has one scene and has nothing to do with the film as a whole. But he’s there. He is there. Yep.
Steckler was one of a handful of zero-budget schlock titans; people like Al Adamson, Andy Mulligan and Ted V. Mikels, who seemed to crawl out of the woodwork in the 60’s and 70’s, as if Ed Wood was really the most influential filmmaker of the 50’s and not, say, Howard Hawkes or John Ford. Rat Pfink A Boo Boo has more innocence than what the rest of these filmmakers churned out — coming off like a rubbishy but loving homage to the superhero serials of the 30s. It’s hardly any good, and half of it isn’t really all that entertaining, but the other half is so intoxicatingly bad that any fan of cinematic cheese needs to put this on their must list. After all, this may very well be The Room of superhero flicks.
(Note on that title: Steckler denies that the title was a result of a mix-up, and claims that it was intentional, as his daughter couldn’t pronounce “and”. But, really, what story would you rather believe? Truthfully Rat Pfink is so threadbare I’m inclined to believe the more apocryphal legend than the director…)