Most genre fans know Don Coscarelli for his work in horror (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) and fantasy (Beastmaster), but his first solo-directed and written feature was a completely non-fantastical film called Kenny & Company.
Independently produced by a young 20-something Coscarelli and Paul Pepperman, this 1976 film was given the short-shrift stateside, but was a huge hit in Japan (actually, the fine-featured 12 year old boys in the movie do look rather Manga-like, with their long, full hair and big eyes).
The story follows the kids in a typical suburban neighborhood for a few eventful days in their lives, all of which lead up to Halloween night (in fact, in the extras on the DVD, Coscarelli says that the “jump scares” he got from Kenny & Company’s haunted house sequences inspired him to write the script for Phantasm).
Kenny (Dan McCann) and his pal Doug (A. Michael Baldwin) are typical kids — pulling pranks at every opportunity, riding skateboards, chowing down on junk food, and dealing with others in their orbit (mainly parents, teachers, the pretty girl at school, the big bully, and a shrimpy, barely tolerable tag-a-long).
Kenny & Company is well directed, well photographed, and mostly well-written (just a few hard-to-shallow things, noted later in the review). The acting is somewhat dodgy (except for Reggie Bannister, who’s spot-on), but the likeability of the characters overrides that nitpick by far. The only thing I really didn’t like was the kitschy so-70s generic soundtrack (no period songs — instead the original score is full of sappy singers in unison going, “La, la, la. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hey, hey, hey,” over and over).
Kenny & Company offers an interesting cinematic trip back to more innocent times. I know that’s kind of funny, my referring to the swinging 70s, cocaine-sniffing, rock star ravishing, disco drugs, Watergate, me-generation era as “innocent” but I still remember it (I’m just a few years behind the main characters) and as I watched the kids pulling their pranks I was thinking about how much the world has changed. Kenny and his pals do the famous “bag-o-flaming dog shit on the doorstep” trick… Nowadays, they’d be arrested by the FBI for creating a biohazard. There’s a big, bad bully… Nowadays, the kids could get a restraining order against him. The kids plaster classmates with spitwads… Nowadays, they’d be suspended for assault. They love to make crank calls… Nowadays, caller ID has put the kibosh on that. Kenny and company blow stuff up with cherry bombs and shoot their nemesis with a BB-gun… Nowadays, they’d just go Columbine on everyone.
While I do appreciate the naturalistic look and feel of the film (it doesn’t really scream “1975!”), some things don’t ring quite true. I know it’s 30 years ago, but even then 12 year olds knew where babies come from, and what it means to put a dog “to sleep”. I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the movie was actually aimed at an even younger audience.
Overall, Kenny & Company is sweet, poignant film that effectively shows just how character-building our everyday childhood experiences really are. It’s not about the major events that characterize a major “coming of age” film (such as Stand By Me, or The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys) — its subtly is its charm. Kenny & Company also gives horror aficionados a sneak-peek at the then-growing filmmaker we’ve all come to admire so much in his later work, so it’s definitely worth a look for a variety of reasons.
The additional release material on the DVD is just enough. The 2005 making-of feature is the best — it has all-new interviews with Coscarelli, his producing partner Paul Pepperman, and actors Reggie Bannister and A. Michael Baldwin (both of whom would go on to star in the Phantasm films). Conspicuously missing is “Kenny” (Dan McCann); his IMDb resume shows that Kenny & Company was his one and only film, but I think a “Where is he now?” was definitely in order for the DVD. There are also a couple of TV spots, showing just how inaccurately the film was marketed at the time and illustrating the point that is was virtually unknown in the US.
But thanks to DVD, here is your chance to check out this once-hidden indie gem.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson