Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Ken: Jim, you and I have watched many, many bad movies in our time here, but I submit to you that Cannon’s The Apple is without a doubt the most cringe-inducing, the most mortifying, the absolutely most embarrassing feature we’ve ever watched. I have, in our two-plus years writing this humble column, gone from a man who lives in a sad walk-up apartment to a guy who co-habitates with a girlfriend and children. I legitimately could not watch this while they were in the room.
Jim: And it’s not like the content is “risque,” or anything like that. It’s just so miscalculated that you feel profound embarrassment for everyone involved, including yourself while watching. This film has the power to induce embarrassment.
Ken: This is my doing, Jim. I asked you to seek out a musical, thinking that this is bad movie ground upon which we have not yet trod. I did not anticipate that seeing people commit 255% to horrible performances is somehow even worse when those performances are in song. Hilariously campy, groaningly bad song. How did you discover this dud?
The Apple is one of those movies I’ve probably been hearing references to for a decade or more, but I’ve never made time to watch it until now. It’s like … something I would read the Wikipedia entry on every few years, think “maybe I should screen this at a bad movie night sometime,” and then ultimately chicken out of doing so. I know now that this was the work of some guardian angel trying to keep me safe, but alas, he took this week off. I do get the sense, however, that this movie has a bit of a cult, somewhere.
Ken: I wonder if said guardian angel drives a white Cadillac through the sky, appearing randomly in the last five minutes of your day with no prior mention of him. Why don’t you describe the premise of this deeply weird film?
Jim: I’ll do my best. The year is 1980’s futuristic conception of 1994. The world has somehow been completely toppled by a megalithic record label named BIM (Boogalow International Music) that has near total power over police, government and the citizenry, although this isn’t really clear at first. The evil head of this label, Mr. Boogalow, makes or breaks any form of entertainment that exists in this dystopian disco future, while brutally suppressing anyone who attempts to make “genuine” music. Our protagonists, meanwhile, are a folk rock-singing duo named Alphie and Bibi, with fashion sensibilities deeply enmeshed in the 1970s. They are as doe-eyed and stupid as you already suspect them to be.
Ken: I’m glad you clarified it is “BIM” because I seriously wasn’t sure if it was that or VIM. And there are no subtitles on this. I am a guy who doesn’t give people crap for their accents in stuff, but the linguistic barriers are clearly tripping people up here. Where was this production based?
Jim: Apparently it was filmed in both the U.S. and Berlin? The guy who plays Mr. Boogalow, Vladek Sheybal, is most recognizable as the Russian chess expert who masterminds the plot against James Bond in From Russia with Love.
Ken: I did look him up because he immediately rang a bell. He’s probably the best part of this movie, and even he is badly, badly served by it. His big number is terrible. Jim, all the songs in this movie are godawful.
Jim: That’s really what elevates The Apple from merely “really bad” to “what the hell was anyone thinking?” There’s not a single song here that isn’t actively undermining your will to carry on, although at the same time they can be oddly transfixing. Later on, I think we should each be forced to pick a “best” and “worst” song. It will not be easy.
Ken: Man, I already am overwhelmed at the thought of that. I’ll really have to think about it.
Jim: The songs have this bizarre quality of badness where it’s extremely hard to even tell what is supposed to be “good” and “bad” within the universe of the film. Like, I’m pretty sure that Alphie and Bibi’s original music is supposed to read as “pure” and “heartfelt” and genuine, but it’s just as gratingly awful as the extremely overproduced disco rock opera BIM numbers.
Ken: We can’t stress enough how grindingly awful the music is, but what transfixes me about it is how thoroughly committed everybody is. They are really going for the crazy camp of Rocky Horror Picture Show, but it just doesn’t work.
Rocky Horror is almost the only parallel you can even attempt to draw to this. The costumes are outrageous; the music is always at 11 in terms of intensity and bombast. It’s so far beyond good taste and bad taste that it becomes totally unclassifiable. I know on some level that this is what they were going for, but if they were trying to replicate the phenomenon of Rocky Horror, you’d need at least ONE SONG that could be as catchy as “Time Warp” or whatever. The Apple feels both astoundingly overproduced and totally soulless, and everyone in it, with the possible exception of Sheybal, is totally unfit for the task.
Anyway, let’s get back on track. There’s very little actual plot to this film, but set the stage for what happens to Alphie and Bibi.
Ken: Well, we begin in the production room during BIM’s great musical competition, where one of Mr. Boogalow’s minions is excited that their headline act is generating really great numbers that we don’t really understand. Then, amazingly, Alphie and Bibi hit the stage with their Peter, Paul and Mary routine, a song fit for A Mighty Wind. And they start winning over the brainwashed crowd! Mr. Boogalow isn’t about to let that happen, so he starts sabotaging their act and then resolves to tempt them into his evil corporation’s clutches. Bibi is hooked and Alphie spends the rest of the movie trying to get her out.
We trust that you can imagine the earnest stupidity of these two without even hearing their song.
Jim: That’s the whole film, folks—the most obvious Adam and Eve parable in the world, wrapped in the worst disco soundtrack you’ve ever heard.
A few observations about that opening bit:
1. The “measuring the audience’s vitals” stuff is actually sort of prescient, when you think about it, to how personal information is collected and stolen in the internet era. That certainly feels familiar.
2. Why do they even need/want Alphie and Bibi specifically? It’s clear that BIM can very easily wreck any competition, or seemingly make anyone into a star. Never is it clear what this duo actually has that is valuable to Mr. Boogalow.
Ken: Their SOULS, Jim! We need our readers to know that this is not JUST an Adam and Eve parable. Boogalow, we learn, is legitimately Satan, or at least a Satan figure.
Jim: Also, it’s bizarre that the film introduces us to Mr. Boogalow and crew FIRST, and then we see the protagonists through HIS perspective, rather than vice versa.
I was also laughing at the idea of an America’s Got Talent-style music competition where the first band is a 100-piece electronic disco rock number with legions of backup dancers, and then two people with a single guitar come out to follow it up. Because yeah, that’s going to go over great.
Ken: Mr. Boogalow is a character I feel we need to focus on, if only for Sheybal’s performance. He’s shown leaving the competition and immediately conversing in four different languages. He has the whole world in his hand. He wears flamboyant clothing and buys and sells people, including the journalist who dares to ask him a confronting question in the first scene.
Jim: He drives a car that looks almost exactly like “The Homer” that Homer Simpson designs for his brother Herb in an early season Simpsons episode. Also, if he waxed his mustache he’d be the spitting image of Salvador Dali.
Ken: This movie, and Boogalow and his whole cadre in particular, remind me of a particular strain of anti-hippie weirdness that is just long out of popular culture now. Think Wild in the Streets from 1968, in which a teen pop band becomes Hitler, or the book The Wave about young people getting into a cult created by a teacher to make a point about Hitler. There’s some Logan’s Run or THX 1138 in here. But it’s also trying to be a silly, campy musical that is also a heavy-handed allegory. Sheydal is sort of right at the center of all of that tension, right down to his vague foreign-ness. There is so much in this movie that is kinda sorta going on, but none of it works at all. And the worst part is that you can just feel how earnest the creators must have been.
THIS guy is Satan? Get out of town!
Ken: And if we aren’t focusing on the plot, it’s because there’s hardly any of it, and there isn’t hardly any of it because this less-than-90-minute movie stops for a terrible musical number constantly. Some stretch on and on and on!
The flip side of how much time is spent on the music is that when things move in the plot, they move suddenly and with no logic whatsoever, Ken. This ended up being the thing I was most fascinated by in The Apple—the characters will just change suddenly, with no scripted impetus for doing so. It’s like they just left out a bunch of stuff from the story outline, and then try to justify why someone did what they just did within the context of the next song.
Ken: That’s certainly true, especially as we get near the end. The runtime was dragging, nothing of import was happening, and I was wondering how they would possibly resolve the plot so quickly.
Jim: Like, Alphie and Bibi arrive at a party thrown by Mr. Boogalow, and within literally 10 minutes of getting there Bibi is already taking pills from a stranger and making out with him. The entire conversation is like:
Bibi: “Wow, this is such a tall building!”
Boogalow accomplice: “I love you. Run away with me.”
Bibi: (Sings song about how she can’t say no to this man she just met)
Ken: Oh Jim, you missed a golden opportunity. Bibi literally says “I’ve never been this high before!” with total innocence.
Jim: I know, I know. Ay yi yi.
Alphie, meanwhile, has a real David Hasselhoffian thing going on. He instinctively distrusts “American contracts” and BIM’s lawyers, and refuses to sign on the label. The duo breaks up, Alphie hits the skids, and Bibi becomes an immediate, overnight megastar.
Ken: We need to describe some of what is going on in some of these musical numbers, just to illustrate how they defy credulity. The scene where Alphie Hasselhoff refuses to sign, in particular, is one of the most straight-facedly ridiculous things you and I have consumed for this project, I think you’ll agree.
Jim: He has like, an apocalyptic vision of doom, which in any other movie would be some character seeing the end of the world, rather being trapped in a bad record contract. It leads directly into the title track “The Apple,” wherein Bibi is tempted to bite the apple/sign the contract, and Alphie is horrified and refuses. Ken, the lyrics of this song. I wrote down my favorite one: “It’s a natural, natural, natural desire. Meet an actual, actual, actual vampire.” And then an “actual vampire” pops up for a second. If you can’t make it through the whole song below, I need you folks to actually SEE THIS VAMPIRE.
Ken: Yes! One of the lyricists, by the way, is named “George Clinton.” No, near as I can tell, he is not Bill Clinton’s brother. But he is a man who decided that “vampire” rhymed with “desire” and got the costume designers and choreographers to make it happen. That shows you the degree of restraint and nuance on display in The Apple.
Jim: We should note that they’re willing to rope in pretty much any music style at a moment’s notice. Mr. Boogalow’s big number, “How to Be a Master” can only be described as “reggae bop.”
Ken: As does one of the next musical numbers, in which Alphie and Bibi, separated by fate, sing of their sorrow and longing as PAs hose the windows from the outside of the set to make it rain. Because they are sad, so it is raining. They need to sing out the windows while getting rained on, to show that it is raining.
Jim: I have to note here: This is another case of The Apple’s script just completely skipping over the catalyst-type event you would expect to occur to bring things to this point. Bibi signs the contract, and she seems to love being a big star. And then, all of a sudden, she’s singing about how BIM is evil and how she wishes she was dead. Ken, NOTHING BAD HAPPENED TO HER. To that point, pretty much everything has been exactly as she wanted it to be. It’s like they left out a scene where she gets betrayed by the company or something. This keeps happening in this movie.
Ken: Alphie wanders around for a bit, refusing to put on his mandated “BIM Mark,” which is a triangular sticker everybody is mandated to have on their face. Is it criticizing us sheeple for liking popular culture? I don’t know. Eventually, unable to get Bibi out of there, he stumbles upon a kindly old hippie man and his colony of outsiders. Bibi learns of Alphie’s escape here, and is told to go hang out under a bridge to meet them. Which bridge? Where? She knows instinctively.
Some people would probably call the BIM Mark ostentatious, but not us.
Jim: And here again, a character who has appeared through the whole movie—the evil BIM employee woman named “Pandi,” who drugged and raped Alphie about 10 minute earlier in the film—suddenly has a face turn out of nowhere and helps Bibi to escape. Again, there’s nothing established to indicate why she suddenly changes from “bad person” into “good person.” It’s like the act of sexually taking advantage of Alphie just changes her alignment.
Ken: That truly came out of nowhere. But it’s nothing compared to the ending. I set us up, Jim, so I think you deserve the privilege of telling folks how this ridiculous thing ends.
Jim: Well first of all, we find out only through implication (and Alphie’s sudden beard growth) that more than a year has passed with a reunited Alphie and Bibi living in the hippie commune, in which time they’ve produced a child who looks to be about four years old. They’re living under the careful guidance of the whiskered hippie leader, who I dubbed “Wilderness Santa,” but they’re finally tracked down by Mr. Boogalow and BIM, who attempt to arrest all the hippies with a squadron of riot police. Alphie, however, says not to worry because a “Mr. Topps” is coming. We have no idea who he’s referring to. Bibi has no idea who he’s referring to. And that’s when a translucent, white Rolls Royce pulls up in the sky, with less than five minutes left in the film, and the embodiment of God himself strolls into the scene.
Ken: I’m just checking Jim, because though I swear I was paying as close attention to this as I could while still maintaining a grip on reality, it is fully possible and even likely I missed finer details somewhere. Am I correct that Mr. Topps is never mentioned before this point? Not even once?
Jim: Not in any way, shape or form. Like I said, even Bibi, who has been living with this commune for more than a year, seems to have no idea what Alphie is talking about.
Ken: Glad we cleared that up! Jim, in some countries, “machina” is a word for car. So Mr. Topps arrives in a literal deus ex machina.
Jim: It feels like an emergency “make the movie end now” button was repeatedly mashed by someone’s sweaty palm.
Ken: Mr. Topps invites these flower children to come with him, translucently marching gaily into the sky, where he’ll start life somewhere else on a planet without Mr. Boogalow, who we now see is literally the fucking devil. I know trying to read too much into this is a fool’s errand, but Mr. Topps is a WASP in an all-white get-up and Mr. Boogalow and his whole crew are coded as strange, foreign and gay as hell the whole movie. Make of that whatever you will. Jim, we were remiss in not including this film in our list of the best film Satans, now I come to think of it. Sheydal surely ranks SOMEWHERE.
Jim: I recognized the Mr. Topps actor from somewhere and had to look him up, by the way. Turns out he’s Joss Ackland, who played Emilio Estevez’s mentor/father figure “Hans” in The Mighty Ducks. I assume both you and our readers will be very mildly interested in knowing this.
Ken: You are correct: I am interested in it, and only mildly. Well, we’ve had this time to ruminate on the fuckdiculousness on display here. The moment of truth has arrived. Time for your Best/Worst songs.
Jim: Best: “BIM’s On the Way,” which is the song that plays while the “National BIM Hour” happens, and all the citizens are compelled by law to drop whatever they’re doing to dance and exercise. This was by far my favorite part of the film, with all the firefighters dropping their hoses and doctors dropping their scalpels to dance while buildings burn and patients die.
Ken: I laughed out loud.
Jim: Certainly the best visualization of their pop-rock-disco musical dystopia.
Worst: Bibi’s first big musical number after joining BIM, which is called “Speed.” That one broke me, Ken. She just won’t stop going “SPEEEEEEEEEEEEED!!!”
Jim: It’s utterly relentless.
Ken: My “best” has got to be “How to Be a Master,” which is Sheydal’s big number. It’s unbelievably stupid, but you’re seeing an actor who in his younger days must have aspired to be the next Peter Lorre really putting himself into it. That’s the thing about this picture: It fails SOLELY on its hilariously bad songwriting and batshit premise, almost. Everybody involved does not necessarily lack skill.
My worst is unquestionably “Coming.” Jim, what the fuck? This is a “look how temptingly sexy and depraved fame is” song, but it’s undone by how relentlessly on the nose the lyrics are. Naughtiness is about INNUENDO.
Ken: It’s a bunch of scantily clad people simulating sex to groovy music, and the song goes on FOREVER, even compared to other interminable numbers. There’s a part where you think it’s stopped and then the lyrics come back in! It NEVER ENDS!!!
Jim: This is all happening while “Pandi” is performing what looks like a sexual pommel horse routine on Alphie after drugging him.
Ken: This film, we should note, was rated PG, and that PG-13 was not yet part of the MPAA’s vaunted history. Anything else to add, Jim? I want you to know I do not forgive you for inflicting this upon me, even though I asked for it.
Jim: This is a movie I very much look forward to not watching again, Ken. Whereas some of these films become like old friends you can turn to for a reliable laugh, The Apple is something I would absolutely elect to wipe from my memory if I could.
Ken: Let’s start over on another planet, Jim. One without bad movies. Until next time.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, and you can follow him on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste, and you can read more of his writing at his blog.