Friday, May 4, 2012

Cult Classics Revisited: THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID (1979), plus bonus obscure sequel WHY DID YOU PICK ON ME? (1980)


Directed by Michele Lupo.  Written by Marcello Fondato and Francesco Scardamaglia.  Cast: Bud Spencer, Raimund Harmstorf, Cary Guffey, Joe Bugner, Gigi Bonos, Carlo Reali.  (Unrated, 89 mins).


Directed by Michele Lupo.  Written by Marcello Fondato and Francesco Scardamaglia.  Cast: Bud Spencer, Cary Guffey, Ferruccio Amendola, Robert Hundar, John Bartha, Carlo Reali.  (Unrated, 87 mins)

Have you ever been trying to describe something to someone and they don't know what you're talking about and look at you like you're insane?  This happens to me with an alarming degree of frequency.  It was worse back in the pre-Internet days.  At least now, when you're describing something you've seen or experienced and the only reaction you get is a blank stare back at you, you can Google it and have evidence of it in seconds.  Back in the early '90s, just as Crystal Pepsi was rolling out, I once spent the bulk of an evening trying to convince two people of the short-lived existence of the late '70s soft drink Pepsi Light, which was Pepsi with lemon flavor added.  They looked at me like I was crazy.  I even described the blue logo with a lemon on it.  "Are you making this shit up?" one guy asked.  Why would I make it up?  I later experienced a similar ordeal at a party when old-school arcade games came up in conversation, and I said "Hey, remember Baby Pac-Man?   The arcade game that was half-pinball machine?"  Blank stares all around.  Me: "Yeah, it had the screen and was a regular Pac-Man game, but when you steered Pac-Man to the bottom of the screen, he'd go off the game and a ball would pop out and you'd play the pinball part of the game."   This was not jogging any memories. "You're full of shit!" someone said.  "No, I'm not.  This thing existed.  I played it!  It wasn't there very long, but it was at the arcade at Northtowne Mall!"  I knew Pepsi Light was real, and I knew I played Baby Pac-Man, and nobody was going to convince me I didn't.  I wasn't imagining things, but I had no way to prove it.  So I ended up looking like a loon with my shitty lemon Pepsi and my made-up Pac-Man half-arcade/half-pinball machine.  But now, thanks to the Internet, vindication is mine!

See?  The blue logo?  Lemon?  SEE?!?!

YOU SEE?!?!?!

So what does any of this have to do with THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID?  For years, I thought I imagined this movie.  Not that it was particularly good, but it would periodically pop into my head and I could never remember the title.  Additionally, all attempts at describing it to people got me those same incredulous Pepsi Light and Baby Pac-Man stares that were equal parts confusion, disdain, and possibly pity.  All I could remember was that I saw it on TV when I was maybe 8 or 9, which would've been 1981-82, and it had this burly sheriff, his deputy who spoke in rhyme, a bunch of funny fight scenes scored to "wacky" music, and it involved a child alien played by the kid who got abducted in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977).  We take things like IMDb for granted, but prior to the ease and availability of almost literally everything on the Internet, these kinds of mysteries could haunt movie fans for years.  This film had evaporated from my mind until I was on one of those aimless, random tears through IMDb where you just start clicking on various titles and names, and I somehow ended up at spaghetti western star Bud Spencer, and eventually got to 1979's UNO SCERIFFO EXTRATERRESTRE - POCO EXTRA E MOLTO TERRESTRE.  I clicked on it.  Wait, what's this?  Alternate title THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID?  Wait a second.  Cary Guffey?  The kid from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS?!  Holy shit!  Hold on...this is THAT movie!

And then I promptly forgot about it and went on with my life.

That was many years ago, but it turns out a lot of people my age have fond memories of this badly-dubbed Italian obscurity.  I can't find any evidence of it ever getting a US theatrical release, so it must've gone straight to cable or network TV and was likely one of those things that got stumbled upon by kids stuck inside on rainy days, latchkey kids just getting home from school or really weird kids who might've been fans of THEY CALL ME TRINITY.  After watching it for the first time in what must be 30 years, it turns out there were still scenes that I vividly remembered. But why?  The movie's terrible.

Spencer stars as Sheriff Hall, whose small town of Newnan, GA (where most of this was filmed, about 40 miles from Atlanta) gets caught up in UFO fever when one is spotted hovering about.  Not coincidentally, a mysterious little boy (Guffey) turns up wandering around a nearby amusement park (actually the Six Flags in Atlanta). Calling himself H7-25, the boy says he's from another world, but of course, Hall doesn't believe him, despite massive evidence that supports H7-25's claims:  he exhibits "biomagnetic power," can power electronic devices just by being near them, heals the sciatica of Hall's elderly, constantly rhyming deputy (Gigi Bonos), can make a horse talk, has the ability to freeze and rewind time, and has a squad of military goons led by Briggs (Raimund Harmstorf) in hot pursuit.  Eventually, after finally being convinced, the Sheriff teams up with town troublemaker Brennan (Joe Bugner) to protect H7-25 and take on Briggs, which basically results in a lot of bad country music and one slapstick brawl after another.  One takes place in a supermarket, which has peculiarly-staged displays in the middle of aisles that seem to exist only for Spencer to toss people into them, since the store probably still had actual customers in it at the time.  The same goes for a car chase where boxes and other items are strategically placed in the middle of the road for him to plow through.

This is pretty childish fare for the most part, but some it is amusing, especially when H7-25 starts pulling a ONE FROGGY EVENING on the Sheriff when he tries to tell anyone that the kiddie alien has incredible powers.  I can see where the constant slapstick brawling would provide much entertainment for undiscriminating viewers under ten years of age, and Spencer seems to genuinely be having a good time working with young Guffey.  Seven-year-old Guffey, in his first film after CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, was from Georgia and even at this young age, never intended on acting as a full-time gig.  There's an interview with him on YouTube where he talks about how CLOSE ENCOUNTERS got him all this notoriety at a very young age, leading to him being offered the role as Danny in THE SHINING and his parents turned it down.  Clearly, they went with this Italian film simply because it was being filmed close to home and over the summer when Guffey was out of school.  Georgia saw a lot of Italian film activity during this period, with many films shot in Atlanta and Savannah from 1978-80 (THE VISITOR, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, and others), and numerous Atlanta landmarks are on display in SHERIFF:  the downtown area, with the Equitable building and Peachtree Plaza, and H7-25 is captured by Briggs outside the Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, the now-demolished former home of the Atlanta Braves.  And, as if the casting of Guffey wasn't a blatant enough nod to CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, H7-25's alien family has made arrangements to meet him at Stone Mountain, noted for its Confederate Memorial carving of Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis.

THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID appears to have gone straight to TV in the US, but was a big enough hit in Europe to bring Spencer back to Atlanta to reunite with Guffey and director Michele Lupo for a 1980 sequel, titled WHY DID YOU PICK ON ME?, aka EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME. It's largely more of the same, with H7-25 coming back to Earth to visit Sheriff Hall, who gets a job in another town, rechristening the boy "Charlie," and passing him off as his nephew. This time, H7-25 is being pursued by evil alien robots led by Robert Hundar, while Hall tries to deal with a predictably wacky motorcycle gang that seems like an annoying version of the Village People. Juvenile antics ensue, along with more downtown Atlanta sightseeing and a return trip to the Atlanta Six Flags, plus the unique sight of Bud Spencer drinking a can of Tab, visiting a Kentucky Fried Chicken, and, briefly near the end, doing what looked suspiciously like The Robot.  The first film was hardly a model of narrative cohesion, but the sequel is all over the place, with large portions of the running time devoted to Spencer dealing with the motorcycle gang (including a sequence in a Mexican restaurant where he goes undercover as a bartender) and he and Guffey are split up for a good chunk of the film, which may be an indication that the filmmakers didn't have as much access to the young actor the second time around, as he perhaps didn't want to waste a second summer vacation making another bad ripoff of a classic film in which he starred.  While both THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID and WHY DID YOU PICK ON ME? are available from bootleg DVD outfits, neither has officially been released on home video in the US.  I'm not even sure if WHY DID YOU PICK ON ME? was even granted the straight-to-television release in the US that its predecessor received.


  1. Judging from that WHY DID YOU PICK ON ME? trailer, the flying saucer shots came from the old UFO TV series. Didn't see this sequel, but yeah, THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID is awful.

  2. Can you imagine if Guffey *was* seriously pursuing acting at that point in his life? Your parents turn down THE SHINING and opt to do THE SHERIFF AND THE SATELLITE KID instead? That interview on YouTube is pretty interesting (it might come from the CE3K DVD or some TV special on child actors). He doesn't mention the Italian films by name, but some stills are shown behind him. He essentially says he lucked into the Spielberg classic and movies were a fun thing to do when he was on summer vacation, but his parents were (probably wisely) pretty adamant about "not going Hollywood" and THE SHINING seemed like too big of a commitment. Yeah...no shit.

    But as far as SHERIFF goes, people who caught it on TV in the early '80s as kids seem to have a soft spot for it. It's really juvenile and dumb, but I can totally see the eight-year-old version of me laughing at it. But it's the kind of movie that doesn't hold up by the time you're 11.

  3. I really like Bud Spencer, but most of his solo vehicles are painful. While hardly a guarantee of great art, Terence Hill's presence in a project seemed to promise a higher degree of quality control absent from things like this and BANANA JOE.