A review requested by Robert K, with thanks for contributing to the Second Quinquennial Antagony & Ecstasy ACS Fundraiser.

I'm greatly pleased that, when the time inevitably came for me to write about The Apple, it would be in the context of a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. There's a deep connection between this film and my own period of sickness back in 2005. It was at that year's B-Fest in Evanston, IL that I first saw The Apple, where it stood out for especially personal reasons - of course, it pretty obviously stood out for everybody in that auditorium. But I knew that I was going to get a call on that Saturday from my oncologist, telling me whether my cancer had metastasised or not. I was barely able to focus on the parade of bad movies in front of me; only The Apple was so manic and stupefyingly incomprehensible that I was truly distracted from my health worries. As I started receiving chemotherapy the next month, I had a portable DVD player to while away the five-hour days stuck in a room, tethered to machines; the "get well soon" present I request from my parents was a copy of The Apple, and it became the first movie I watched during treatment.* Many years later, I've seen The Apple more times than is decent, and I always hear just the slightest echo of those bleak days, in its clamorous musical numbers. It is and will always be my cancer movie.

It's also so toxic in its badness that I wouldn't be surprised at all to know that watching it causes brain tumors. So that's the other reason it's a good fit for this fundraiser.

The 1980 film takes place in the far-flung world of 1994, where a record label impresario named Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal) plans to use a hybrid pop-disco sound to establish a musical dictatorship over at least North America, if not the whole world. At which point I should confess that a plot recap of The Apple is doomed to failure: it is simply not possible to express using the clumsy, limited matrix of English to communicate how fucked up this movie is. No, not even when the Devil wants to use disco to take over the world in 1994. Oh, right, because I skipped over that bit: Boogalow is symbolically equated with Satan, right up until he turns out to actually be the actual Satan. So let's skip back to the 1994 Worldvision Song Contest, which is like the Eurovision Song Contest only trashier. Here, Boogalow and his lackey Shake (Ray Shell) sit in the show's control room and gleefully cackle with triumph as Boogalow's top act, the duo Pandi (Grace Kennedy) and Dandi (Alan Love) hit record-setting levels on the biometric scanners they're all using to test audience response to the duo's new single, "BIM". Which stands for "Boogalow International Music", and will eventually be, more or less, the name of the future one-world government. Which makes it even more threatening when the singers lead the crowd in the chant "Hey! Hey! Hey! BIM's on the way!" As if it wasn't already threatening enough when they start off by reciting that in the world of BIM, "There ain't no good / There ain't no bad / There ain't no happiness / There ain't no tears". And you have to hand it to George S. Clinton, adapting the lyrics from Iris Recht's Hebrew originals (Iris and husband Coby, who composes all the music had originally planned a Hebrew-language stage musical before meeting the film's producers... but we'll get to the producers): it takes some truly, relentlessly appalling songwriting when you can legitimately declare that "There ain't no sad" would have been a much better line than the one they went with.

Pandi and Dandi are followed by Alphie (George Gilmour) and Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart), a folk duo from Moose Jaw. They immediately launch into a syrupy love ballad that manages to sound even worse than "BIM", but somehow, this tribute to the most essential of human emotions - BIM, we find, has been hellbent on eradicating love songs - gets the audience so worked up that there biometrics go all the way up to 151. Whereas Pandi and Dandi topped out at 150. I mean, they're a whole 1 better!!! Boogalow knows a threat when he sees one, so he immediately invites Alphie and Bibi to BIM headquarters the following day to sign a contract. Alphie is far more untrusting than his partner and girlfriend, and when the contract is presented to him, he has a vision of thunder and storms. It gets even worse when Boogalow and his crew try to force Alphie to sign - from out of nowhere, he suddenly finds himself inside a smoke-filled cavern, with Boogalow suddenly dressed in long black cloak with a tiny gold horn on his left temple, and the rest of BIM's hangers-on dressed (or undressed) as trolls, snakes, zombies, and all number of hell denizens. And an oiled-up Dandi urges Alphie and Bibi, dressed in the chaste fig leaves of Adam and Eve, to taste the BIM apple, and seal their fate. Bibi doesn't see this vision, and signs herself over to Boogalow the Devil, but Alphie flees, and spends the next period of time hiding out and trying to avoid BIM's takeover of all society, identifying the BIM faithful with the metallic triangular stickers all citizens are required to show - the mark of BIM.

You guys, I think The Apple might be a religious allegory.

The film was made by producers Menahem Golan (who also wrote and directed) and Yoram Globus, Israeli cousins and masterminds behind Cannon Films. Now, this was early in Cannon's existence, so it's probably not fair to be as baffled by its place in the company as we must be: for Golan and Globus were the most savagely, mercilessly market-driven filmmakers of the 1980s. And The Apple is not remotely market-driven. It's a disco musical made at the ass end of the disco era whose message is that disco is the literal devil's music; it is a stunningly incoherent spiritual odyssey that ends with God showing up in a gilded Rolls Royce to Rapture up all the hippies who'd been able to hide out from BIM. It's a work of futurism that attempts to show a modestly dystopian world by throwing some banners up around concrete hyper-modern West German buildings and putting fins on cars. It has some of the most shitty original songs in the history of movie musicals. It feels for all the world like a mad auteur's highly personal vision gone wildly far off the rails, not like an attempt by two savvy producers to make a popular disco cash-in. But that's absolutely what it was, the last of 1980's three Hail Mary attempts to keep disco alive long enough for one more hit movie, following Can't Stop the Music and Xanadu. All three tanked and all three are awful, though The Apple is surely the most thoroughly demented and incompetent, and I am quite inclined to suggest that it's by far the most entertaining for those reasons. But not the kind of entertaining that Golan and Globus would have preferred.

No indeed, this is the entertainment that comes of pure unbridled madness. It's easy enough to latch onto the songs, and talk with baffled amazement about the inane lyrics which don't rhyme, don't scan, and don't make even the slightest narrative sense. Like, to name a conspicuous example, the film's most notorious line, "It's a natural, natural, natural desire / To meet an actual, actual, actual vampire", upon which a vampire (Francesca Poston) does indeed pop up and then just stand there, doing the gaping mouth "vampire snarl" face for, like, 15 seconds. It's not worth going through all of the dizzyingly horrible lines - the review is long enough already. Anyway, the deficiencies of the songwriting has nothing on the savage insanity of Golan's staging of the songs, all of them drifting headlong into big group numbers with virtually identical choreography, and inexplicable choices like the one where the bad guys ride on exercise bikes while Boogalow talks about how great it is to be a manipulative creep, right in front of of the woman he's manipulating, or the one with all the clowns and then the people twirling batons with streamers on the ends. Or the number I have fondly referred to, since 2005, as the Quaalude Tango (the actual name is "Made for Me", and it's a romantic ballad sung by a date rapist), which in addition to its comatose dancers features the most deadeningly literal editing, crisply bouncing around precisely on the beats of the music and always showing us exactly what the lyrics are referring. Though painful lyrical literalism is pretty much found in every moment of every song. I mean, there's that vampire moment.

But focusing entirely on the songs, however tempting and easy to do, means missing out on much of the joy The Apple has in supply. It could be totally absent any songs at all, and be no meaningfully better, though it would be a hell of a lot shorter, and that could only help. But the godawful production design and erratic acting - Sheybal is the only person who comes even close to giving a functional performance; even Miriam Margolyes, who I generally love, is out-of-control terrible as oy gevalt, the most outrageous kind of Jewish landlady - and dogged commitment to its opportunistically New Agey message of how everybody but the hippies is in the grip of pure evil, and the totally incomprehensible closing moments with the gaudiest deus ex machina on record, all of this would make The Apple a transcendent bad movie experience even without the unclear satire of the "America loves drugs" song "Speed", the unacceptability of a song that tries to set the words "Life is nothing but show business in 1994" to music, or the outlandishly smutty double-entendres in a song whose subtlest touch is that its title is "Coming".

Put it all together, and it's a completely unadulterated bundle of the worst of cinema all spun up into one ball of madness. It cannot be described, and it can barely be experienced; I assume that this is what a bad acid trip feels like, right down to the chintzy rendition of Hell. With all the sincerity I can muster, this is one of my very favorite bad movies, and not even with the "I kind of think I like it unironically" relationship I have with Xanadu. The Apple is utter, irredeemable trash, and it is a privilege to be part of the same species that could cook up something so totally imaginative and divorced from anything resembling rules, logic, good taste, or basic decency.