The spooky season is upon us and at this time of year, even the most innocuous of things seem to have an otherworldly hue about them. This insipid nature is where Almost Horror lives. We find horror in the most unlikely of places. In the past, we have discovered that the Cohen Brother’s classic crime drama Fargo (1996) is secretly a slasher flick while the historical war adventure film U-571 (2000) is really a monster movie below the surface, so it goes to show you that horror can easily hide in plain sight.
This month, since it’s The Sound of Screams month at Nightmare on Film Street, we’re focusing on a film set against the backdrop of everyone’s favorite holiday, Halloween. It tells the coming of age story of Kenny, an average twelve-year-old as he navigates the rough waters of pre-teendom. From fending off bullies to discovering new feelings about girls, Kenny, played by Dan McCann in his only film appearance, and his best friend Doug, played by A. Michael Baldwin (Phantasm, 1979) deal with it all in the few days leading up Halloween night. Sounds innocent enough, doesn’t it? But looking beyond the fray of adolescence and angst, Kenny & Company (1976) houses a much more sinister story with far more screams than one would imagine.
A NIGHTMARE ON JOHNNY HOFFMAN’S STREET
There is a monster in Kenny’s life. It’s big, it’s hideous, and it lies in wait for him at every turn. The kids at Kenny’s school call it Johnny Hoffman. Johnny, played by Willy Masterson in his only film appearance, is a giant among the kids at school. Clear held back a couple of years, this dolt thrives off of instilling fear on the smaller and weaker among the pack. A product of the times, Hoffman is the horrific result of a country that raised the generation before to believe they can have everything they want simply by taking it and that is exactly what Hoffman does. He is the epitome of a greedy society that allows monsters like him to exist with impunity.
Much like the villans in actual horror movies, the parents of the neighborhood don’t seem to give many credos to the beast’s existence. Kenny is met with next to no guidance from either of his parents as well. Dad says to just sock him in the mouth the next time he attacks and mom gives perhaps the vaguest advice of anyone stating that Kenny will know what to do when the time comes. The teachers at school even turn a blind eye to Hoffman’s rampages, including the one cool teacher at the school, Mr. Donovan played by Reggie Bannister (Bubba Ho-Tep, 2002). Out on the recess field, he can clearly be seen shoving some poor kid’s face in the dirt and not one teacher or monitor is around to stop him. It’s up to Kenny and his pals to put a stop to Hoffman’s reign of terror.
THE LEGEND OF MISS. WALKER
There’s a house on a lonely street where the shadowed visage of old lady Walker sits vigil at her bedroom window. No one knows what’s she’s waiting for or who she’s watching from behind those old dirty drapes, but the local kids have deemed it the house to stay away from. Awful things happen in there. Legend has it, according to Peter Palmer, that she keeps a shotgun by her bed and anyone caught snooping around her property leaves with a butt full of rock salt.
But come Halloween night, adventure seekers Kenny, Doug, and the annoying kid from across the street Sherman played by Jeff Roth in his only film appearance, all decide to break into Mrs. Walker’s house just for the cred it will gain them at school. It’s a harrowing experience, to say the least. The old dilapidated house is home to creepy dress mannequins, dark corners with shadows that play games with your mind and you never know what corner old lady Walker could be lurking around. In fact, the place is so terrifying on the inside, Kenny & Company use their Halloween night experience, complete with a rock salt blast from Mrs. Walker’s shotgun, to give the Johnny Hoffman monster a terrifying taste of his own medicine.
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Kenny & Company has every harrowing horror trope you can think of, including an abduction. While warming up for Halloween, Kenny and Doug devise a plan to create a dummy out of old clothes and a rubber Halloween mask, dubbing him Otis. Otis’ sole purpose is to lay in the street and scare oncoming drivers and for the first little while, he does a bang-up job. Kenny and Doug are quite pleased with his job performance and the laughs he’s providing them, but when a mysterious car stops and two people throw Otis into their trunk, things get a little weird.
Kenny and Doug run after the car, which in today’s society would never happen but hey, it was the ’70s, and soon track it down to a dark house where the car has been parked in a dark garage. The boys sneak into the garage only to be surprised by the couple. Fearing abduction themselves, Doug and Kenny book it out of there only to end up back there on Halloween night. It’s there that the kidnappers have created a haunted house in the very same garage the boys last saw Otis.
As they traverse the maze, complete with creepy sound f/x, mood lighting, and a ton of spooky images, they happen upon Otis, hanging from a noose in a dark corner of the maze. The boys seize the opportunity and pull Otis down but not before the man of the house shows up in a frightening alien costume and chases them down the street. His pursuit is so relentless that the only thing that stops him is getting hit by a car.
THE SPIRIT OF HALLOWEEN
Aside from the nostalgic feels of old school Halloween decorations, homemade costumes, and the timeless pranks played on Halloween night, Kenny & Company offers something in the way of a change in course for horror as a genre. In some ways, it serves as a changing of the guard bridging the insipid appeal of the Universal Monster days of the ’50s and the extremely realistic and graphic days of Exploitation and Splatter films the ’60s.
Kenny & Company reflects a post-World War II era where the moralistic 1950s begrudgingly gives way to a post-civil rights, post-Vietnam age of dissension towards the government, disenfranchised youth, and an anti-establishment mentality that reflects deeply with the films of the time. The inherent cruelty in this film, while horrific, if a shining example of this sentiment and is exactly where it draws its horror inspiration from. It’s 1970s horror painted with a 1950s brush.
BEWARE! MARCY, EATER OF BOYS
If Kenny is anything in Kenny & Company, he’s a monster slayer. Not only does he face off against the Johnny Hoffman monster, but he also locks horns with Marcy the Eater of Boys… played by Terrie Kalbus (Women of Phantasm: The Documentary With Balls, 2020). You see, Kenny has all of these weird new feelings towards Marcy and he toils over revealing his affections for her for most of the film, but when he finally does and Marcy reciprocates, well, Kenny is on cloud nine!
That’s when Marcy strikes. Just when Kenny is getting up the nerve to hold her hand, right when he is seconds from making his move, precisley when his guard is down, she attacks. He spots her holding hands with the school jerk, Pudwell played David Newton (Grizzly, 1976), leaving Kenny gutted and heartbroken. She even throws Kenny a cold and calculated smile as she parades by him holding stupid Pudwell’s stupid hand. Marcy the Eater of Boys: 1, Kenny: 0.
BIRTH OF THE TALL MAN
Kenny and Company is only director Coscarelli’s second film, his first being Jim the World’s Greatest (1975) which also starred Reggie Bannister and the late Angus Scrimm (Chopping Mall, 1986). Despite being made four years before Coscarelli’s most notable film, Phantasm (1979), the director pulled a ton of the Phantasm story from Kenny & Company, specifically, the garage made into a haunted house on Halloween night scene.
When Coscarelli watched the film with audiences in theaters, he noted that the jump scare he threw in got a great reaction time and time again. He soon found himself wondering if he could make a movie full of these jump scares and at that moment, Phantasm was born. The director even wrote characters of the 1979 horror classic specifically for the actors he worked with in Kenny & Company. Mike was tailor-made for A. Michael Baldwin after the director lauded his Kenny & Co. performance and Reggie was handcrafted for none other than Reggie Bannister, who had been with Coscarelli for both of his first two films. Both actors, along with Scrimm, went on the star in the four subsequent sequels.
THIS IS THE END
As Halloween comes and Kenny with pals Doug and Sherman go out for a trick or treat they won’t soon forget, Kenny & Company bows out on a poignant note. Life is full of monsters, some obvious, some not, and as the clock ticks away on one’s innocence, the slaughter of it doesn’t have to be the gruesome crime scene some would lead us to believe. Finding our way in the dark can be a simple as trusting one’s own light and Kenny figures that out in the nick of time.
There you have it, fellow fiends, our take on Kenny & Company. What do you think? Does Kenny & Company deserve induction into horror’s hallowed halls or is it really just a sappy coming of age comedy? Let us know on our Nightmare on Film Street Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. . Until next time, my pretties… Stay creepy!