11 Frosty Facts About Strange Brew

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Sit back, relax, throw on your favorite tuque and a parka, and knock back a couple of your favorite beers in the Great White North. The cult comedy classic Strange Brew is turning 35 years old. In honor of Bob and Doug McKenzie’s Canadian adventures, here are some facts about Strange Brew—you hoser!

1. BOB AND DOUG MCKENZIE STARTED OUT AS A FLUKE.

Comedians Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas created the characters of the excessively Canadian brothers Bob and Doug for the third season of the influential Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, which debuted in 1976 and moved to the CBC network in 1980. CBC’s executives stipulated that two minutes of each show needed to be dedicated to Canada-centric topics, so as a joke Moranis and Thomas used the allotted time to completely improvise a sketch where they played two bumbling, overly Canadian men talking exclusively about farcical Canadian culture. The joke caught on, and the brothers made the leap to American television in 1981 when NBC ordered new seasons of SCTV to be shown in the States, and specifically requested the McKenzie brothers be part of it.

2. STRANGE BREW WAS MADE BECAUSE OF THE SUCCESS OF THE BOB AND DOUG COMEDY ALBUM.

Moranis and Thomas released an album of sketches and songs as Bob and Doug called The Great White North in 1981 because of the success of the characters on North American television. The album went on to sell more than one million copies in North America, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. The album’s broad success and appeal of the characters prompted Moranis and Thomas to quit SCTV in 1982 in order to write a script for a Bob and Doug movie.

The album is hinted at in Strange Brew itself, when an audience member watching the movie within the movie criticizes Bob and Doug’s stereotypical intro saying, “They did this on the album, too!”   

3. THE MOVIE WAS ALSO MADE BECAUSE OF JOHN CANDY.

John Candy was also a member of SCTV in the early 1980s with Moranis and Thomas, though he stayed with the show until its final episode in 1984. But Moranis and Thomas got the idea to leave SCTV to make a Bob and Doug movie after Candy was offered the lead role in a comedy for Universal Pictures called Going Berserk, about a chauffeur moonlighting as a musician who gets into a series of madcap adventures in the lead-up to his wedding day. The movie also starred SCTV cast members Eugene Levy and Joe Flaherty, as well as Paul Dooley, who would go on to appear as the devious Uncle Claude in Strange Brew.

4. THE PLOT TO THE MOVIE IS LOOSELY BASED ON HAMLET.

Dave Thomas studied English Literature in college, and thought it would be funny to class up Bob and Doug’s big-screen debut by modeling the pair after Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, two minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Pam (Lynne Griffin), who takes over her recently deceased father’s brewery in the movie, is also modeled after Hamlet, who in the play returns to Denmark after the murder of his father. English lit fans will also note that Elsinore Brewery is named after Hamlet’s royal castle of the same name.  

5. THEY MAY HAVE COINED THEIR ICONIC CATCHPHRASE.

How about this, eh? You better take off, you hoser! In between swilling Molson beer, Bob and Doug repeatedly use clichéd Canadian language, and in particular that wonderful term of Canadian endearment, “hoser.” Despite a rich colloquial history that may have started out as a turn of phrase to describe the person hosing down ice to maintain a hockey rink, the first written record of the word “hoser” is allegedly from a 1981 article in the Toronto Star describing Moranis and Thomas’ characters.

6. BOB AND DOUG LOVED STAR WARS, BUT THEY MISSED SOMETHING IN PLAIN SIGHT.

At the beginning of the hockey game scene where Bob and Doug find themselves in the middle of Brewmeister Smith (Max von Sydow) and his minion controlling the minds of the asylum patients via random notes on a keyboard, the brothers make a joke referencing Star Wars.

“I am your father, Luke. Give in to the dark side of the force, you knob,” Doug says, decked out in hockey pads that resemble Stormtroopers from the galaxy far, far away. “He saw Jedi 17 times, eh,” Bob says to Elsinore Brewery employee Jean "Rosie" LeRose, who also takes part in the game.

What Bob and Doug don’t know is that Angus MacInnes, the actor who plays Rosie, played Gold Leader, one of the Rebel Alliance Y-Wing pilots who died during the attack on the Death Star in the original Star Wars.    

7. BOB AND DOUG’S DAD IS BUGS BUNNY.

Cartoon fans should recognize the voice of Bob and Doug’s TV-obsessed father, who continually yells at the pair to get him a beer. It’s the voice of actor Mel Blanc, better known as the man behind Bugs Bunny and dozens of other iconic Looney Tunes characters including Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, and Yosemite Sam.

Moranis and Thomas, who co-directed Strange Brew, inserted Blanc’s voice as the dad during post-production on the movie. The voice actor, who was then 75 years old, earned $10,000 for an hour’s worth of work on Strange Brew.

8. MAX VON SYDOW AGREED TO PLAY BREWMEISTER SMITH BECAUSE HIS SON WAS A FAN OF BOB AND DOUG MCKENZIE.

The role of Brewmeister Smith was actually written with von Sydow in mind. But Moranis and Thomas thought actually enlisting the normally solemn actor, who was perhaps best known for appearing in Ingmar Bergman films like The Seventh Seal, to be in their Canada-centric farce would be impossible. It turns out that Freddie Fields, then-president of MGM—the studio that made Strange Brew—had just produced a movie called Escape to Victory, which starred von Sydow. So he sent the esteemed actor the Strange Brew script. Instead of hashing it out with Fields, von Sydow ran it by his son, who was a huge SCTV fan and encouraged his father to take the role.   

9. A BEER BOTTLE-SHAPED PAPERBACK BOOK WAS RELEASED TO PROMOTE THE FILM.

While not a direct novelization, a book shaped like Bob and Doug’s ubiquitous beer bottles was published as a promotional tie-in for the movie. The book touted its “ingredients” as “A mellow blend of choice cartoon tidbits and the finest photo-snippets aged in goatskin bags.” It also featured a fake library card insert with the signatures of famous Canadians who had allegedly checked the book out, including hockey player Bobby Hull and author Margaret Atwood.

The book is currently out of print, but you can find copies on Amazon for as much as $500. That's a lot of beer money.

10. A SEQUEL TO STRANGE BREW, TITLED HOME BREW, WAS SCHEDULED TO BE RELEASED IN 1999.

Strange Brew was a modest hit when it was released in 1983, pulling in just over $8.5 million at the box office against a $4 million budget, and allowed Moranis and Thomas to have continued careers in comedy throughout the 1980s. Moranis eventually took a hiatus from acting in the late 1990s, but emerged when Bob and Doug returned in a Molson beer ad campaign around the same time.

The success of the campaign prompted Moranis and Thomas to write a script with SCTV writer Paul Flaherty in 1999, and the sequel received funding from comic book writer and entrepreneur Todd McFarlane before being fast-tracked to pre-production. Moranis agreed to come out of semi-retirement to reprise his role, but the funding for the movie fell through, causing Home Brew to stall completely.  

11. EVEN THOUGH THE SEQUEL WASN’T MADE, BOB AND DOUG LIVED ON IN CARTOON FORM.

The McKenzies eventually returned in animated cartoon form in a series developed by Fox in 2008. Initially titled The Animated Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie, the show, eventually retitled Bob & Doug, ran for a 10-episode first season and a five-episode second season on Canada’s Global Television Network. Moranis and Thomas created and executive produced the show, but only Thomas returned to voice Doug, while Canadian actor Dave Coulier provided the voice of Bob.   

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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