Nothing But Trouble
Director: Dan Aykroyd
Dan Aykroyd is an actor and comedian with a writer's spirit. The dude loves to build up elaborate mythologies around his creation. This is the same guy who originally envisioned “Ghostbusters” as an epic full of time-travel, alternate dimensions, and giant monsters. His commitment to the on-going lore of the Blues Brothers is such that he refuses to let that series die peacefully. His real-life belief in spiritualism, UFOs, and conspiracy theories – which extends to him hosting a cheesy “X-Files” rip-off in the late nineties or hocking vodka in skull-shaped bottles – represents a self-made mythology around himself. So it's odd that Aykroyd has never tried directing a movie... Except that one time he did.
Inspired by personal experiences and his dreams, and a jovial screening of “Hellraiser,” Dan Akyroyd wrote a horror/comedy. After John Hughes, John Landis, and Ivan Reitman declined, Akyroyd decided to direct himself. Old friends Chevy Chase and John Candy, despite neither liking the script, agreed to star. Filming was amicable but went wildly over budget. Negative test screenings saw the movie re-titled from “Valkenvania,” Aykroyd's preferred title, to the far more generic “Nothing But Trouble.” In hopes of attracting a larger audience, graphic gore was cut from the film, taking it from an R to a PG-13 rating. It didn't work. “Nothing But Trouble” flopped hard at the box office, grossing only eight million against a forty million dollar budget. More extreme were the reviews, many of which named the film the worst of the year. Roger Ebert hated it so much, he refuse to write a traditional review. This infamy only made me more curious. Surely, I wondered as I popped in the DVD, it can't be that bad?
Looking at “Nothing But Trouble,” one can see familiar outlines. The movie belongs to a long horror tradition of a road trip going awry, of one wrong turn thrusting people into a nightmarish scenario. Most prominently, its story of a group of yuppies having car trouble and ending up in a creepy house with a weird family recalls “The Old Dark House” and modern descendants like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” There are elements of gothic horror, with the sprawling manner full of secret passageways, an incestuous brood, and a small town with a dark secret. The backwoods weirdos and house full of bones also brings “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” to mind. Akyroyd was clearly drawing from real life legends as well. Valkenvania is slowly being consumed by an undying coal fire burning underneath the town, an obvious reference to Centralia, Pennsylvania. Setting this story of inbred psychoses in the New Jersey backwoods, instead of the traditional Southern setting for such stories, was probably a reference to the Kallikak family.
adult babies that enter late into the film. They blabber like fools, their fat bodies jiggling. There’s a lot of farting, screaming, occasional burping, and groddy substances in “Nothing but Trouble.”
None of it’s scary, just gross. “Nothing but Trouble” fails on the comedy side of the horror/comedy equation as well. This is a startlingly laughless movie. There are attempts at jokes. Fausto and his sister are obnoxiously petty Brazilians, a stereotype I was previously unfamiliar with. The aggravation they cause Chris is obviously meant to be humorous. So is a series of events that conclude with Chris getting married to Eldona, a huge mute woman played by John Candy in drag. The movie clearly confuses loud with funny, such as a random moment where Judge Valkenheiser jumps up from the bench and starts shouting nonsense.
their musical number injects some energy.
It’s apparent that Aykroyd’s strength as a writer is his incredible imagination. However, expansive collection of ideas usually needs someone else to pare it down into a coherent, manageable whole. It’s very apparent no one filled that position on “Nothing But Trouble.” In fact, the writing is pretty sloppy here. For every semi-effective moment, like Chris and Diane stumbling upon a room full of newspaper stories related to the various murders, there’s another that barely contributes to the story at all. Like John Candy’s patrol cop, Dennis, pulling over a group of coked-up nuts that end up in the Bonestripper. (The leader of which is played by an Diceman-like Daniel Baldwin.) Sometimes, things happen in the story with barely any explanation. Dennis, Fausto, and Renalda disappear half-way through the film and are never mentioned again, save for a minor scene at the very end. Chris is saved from the Bonestripper when the machine fails for no apparent reason. After the heroes escape and bring the military to Valkenheiser, there’s a big twist that probably should’ve come much sooner. Narratively, “Nothing but Trouble” is a mess.
The cast seems made up of people who have little-to-no investment in the material and those that had way too much. Aykroyd originally wanted to play Chris but the studio insisted on Chevy Chase instead. Chase was supposedly combative throughout filming. This disinterest is evident in his performance, which seems bored and irritated. The only time Chase’s acting is effective is when Chris shows his self-loathing side. Read into that what you will. John Candy also doesn’t seem that interested in being here. He plays Dennis the cop as a stiff guy that is slightly unhinged but generally reasonable. It’s a boring performance. As Eldona, Dennis’ twin sister, he doesn’t speak but makes a series of easily read – if uninteresting – facial expressions.
“Nothing but Trouble” is unquestionably a bad movie, for reasons that are readily apparent. Yet it is an interesting bad movie. Ultimately, Aykroyd’s film is too aggressively weird to be boring. In fact, the freaks in this freak show are so convincingly created that you can’t help but be kind of intrigued by them. A good movie – probably a good horror movie, probably not a good comedy – could have easily been made from these parts. I’m not surprised the movie has found some defenders. You can easily imagine this one as an influence on Rob Zombie. Why Aykroyd never directed again is easy to guess. Directing while playing two roles in heavy make-up was a tall order and then, of course, the movie bombed hard. Yet “Nothing but Trouble” is a absorbing failure not totally without value. [6/10]