Stranger than fiction

    Even if you’re not familiar with the name “Purple Mafia,” you’ve probably heard of its members. Northwestern alumni including director Garry Marshall, The Gersh Agency co-president David Gersh, former Paramount Pictures chairman Sherry Lansing and actors-turned-directors David Schwimmer and Zach Braff all rep the ‘Cats out in Hollywood.

    But for every Oscar-winning, Emmy-nominated School of Communication alum, there are handfuls more who go on to make films that are less Shawshank, more Sharknado. Here’s a look at some of the oddest Wildcat-produced flicks.

    Wacko (1982)

    (Speech ‘80)

    The tagline for Wacko reads, “At last! A motion picture made by, for, and about people ... just like you!” Of course, that only applies if you’re a clown-costumed police officer, a serial killer whose weapon of choice is a lawnmower or a polyester-clad high schooler. Character relatability aside, Wacko is Sharknado-esque in weirdness but not in quality. As a precursor to horror spoofs like the Scary Movie series or the Cornetto trilogy, which comprises Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, Wacko has attracted a sizable cult following.

    Whale Music (1994)

    (Speech ‘83)

    If you judged Whale Music exclusively by its title, you’d probably expect it to be a bit bizarre. However, the film and its original book have won Genie awards and the Governor General’s Award, the Canadian equivalents of the Oscar and the Pulitzer Prize, respectively. That said, there’s still a degree of strangeness to a story about a washed-up rockstar who becomes obsessed with writing music for whales.

    Tornado! (1996)

    (Speech ‘83)

    Screenwriter John Logan, a 1983 graduate, is best known for writing blockbusters like Gladiator and The Aviator, but his first foray into screenwriting came in the form of Tornado!, a made-for-TV movie that’s pretty much Sharknado minus the sharks plus an exclamation mark. It features meteorologically inaccurate twisters, stilted chemistry between its two leads and the cheesy tagline, “Hell has no fury like a twister.”

    Bats (1999)

    (Speech ‘83)

    Maybe Bats was a money job or maybe Logan had a knack for penning man-vs.-wild B-movies in the late ‘90s. Either way, his sophomore script, Bats , was just as cringeworthy as Tornado!. As if a government operation involving mutated bats turning carnivorous on a Texas town isn’t awful enough, Logan also threw in a no-nonsense bat specialist and her assistant, who tries to show off his film knowledge by saying, “Houston, we have a problem.” Unlike Apollo 13 , though, Bats isn’t taking flight.

    James K. Polk Was @#?!ing Awesome (2009)

    (SoC ‘05)

    The production company associated with James K. Polk Was @#?!ing Awesome is called Guy in his Basement Productions. This name seems fitting, considering creator Bertocci had both hands on deck in the making of this short film. A self-proclaimed educational short, James K. Polk Was @#?!ing Awesome mixes historical facts with a strange brand of profanity. No word on whether Bertocci took any American history courses at Northwestern.


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