The Mongoose and the Ferret
In the tradition of Schmatty’s Millions, I direct your attention to another long-forgotten movie treasure. Ever since stumbling across a GoodTimes video release (which was once the video store equivalent of scrambled porn) of Joe McLuckett’s The Mongoose and the Ferret in a dollar bin at Video Paradise in my Massachusetts hometown, I knew one day I would have to write about it, pass the word on to fellow film-lovers who may eternally be in the dark. A strange hybrid of Southwestern dustbowl teen angst and gore-drenched slasher flick, this 1983 oddity might just have ushered in a new era of tawdry indie cinema, paving the way for Blood Simple (for its dingbat noir pastiche), Stranger than Paradise (for its groundbreaking aesthetics of removal), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (for its so-subtextual-it’s-just-textual homoeroticism), and Haute tension (for its “lesbians are evil, chainsaw-wielding, phallus-obsessed maniacs” modus operandi). A very young and button-nosed but still not so fresh-looking John C. Reilly stars as the socially maladjusted Percy Fieldmouse, a high school drop out in dead-end, po-dunk Knotting, AZ, who can find solace neither in his convenience-store job nor in the arms of his blowsy truck-stop girlfriend, Daisy (spot-on work by Kristy McNichol). When his parents (uncommonly serious work from Jonathan Winters, perfect as the barrel-chested foil to Reilly’s bird-framed Percy, and Paula Prentiss, rampaging through each scene like Hunter S. Thompson on a slip-n-slide) take away his driving privileges after an unfortunate locker-room mishap with his distinctly lascivious gym teacher (Tom Selleck, who seems a tad lost here, honestly—is he the film’s titular Ferret? It’s left up to the viewer), Percy exacts vengeance on all those that threaten to keep him all Bogdanoviched out in his tumbleweeded little burg. I’ve read all the griping over the years—everyone from Joe Bob Briggs to B. Ruby Rich—about the disparity between the first and second halves of the film. Yet in a shift even more radical than Tropical Malady‘s bifurcated, sub-Balzac narrative gambits, McLuckett, without warning, commits a stunning act of sabotage on his own film, transitioning from layered Matt Dillon-esque character study to full-on Anthony Perkins freakout. One wouldn’t dare give away the details (suffice to say that the dispatching of Tom Selleck by dull BBQ grill equipment has to be seen to be believed, McNichol’s progression into psychosis is blissfully irreverent, and the blink-and-miss-it cameo by a pre-incarceration Tim Allen is a rare treat). McLuckett’s sorry death at age 26 left a serious hole in the early independent film movement that has yet to be filled. Never released on DVD, I urge serious filmgoers to scour the shelves of their local mom-and-pop video stores until your eyeballs glaze over and your fingers bleed.