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The Lost World of Valkenvania: Celebrating Dan Aykroyd’s ‘Nothing but Trouble’

Don't keep the Judge waiting

By MovieBabblePublished 3 years ago 3 min read
Warner Bros.

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The 15th of February marked the 30th anniversary of Nothing but Trouble, which to date, is Dan Aykroyd’s only directorial feature. Hailed as both a critical and commercial flop at the time, I do have a feeling it’s starting to accumulate a tiny cult following. Looking back on it, I strongly believe this film deserves a reappraisal.

It’s certainly not some misunderstood masterpiece, but it’s a film that continually fascinates me. It’s also one of those films that was compromised mightily by the studio after poor test screenings. But even in its compromised form, the film remains a fascinatingly wacky and slightly macabre comedy that to this day, still hasn’t received a proper Blu-ray release.

One wishes that this film would one day receive the exclusive Blu-ray treatment from a company like Shout Factory. The disc would be filled with extras, interviews from the surviving cast and crew — though it’s highly unlikely Chevy Chase would make himself available for this. Naturally, there would also be a commentary track by Aykroyd himself.

Even better, the original cut would be restored in HD form. We would see Aykroyd’s vision as it was meant to be. It probably will never happen, but even so, even a barebones release would be nice.

So join me, as I celebrate the 30th anniversary of this fascinatingly bizarre, insanely creative, funhouse horror-comedy, Nothing but Trouble.

The Origins of Valkenvania

If you have never seen the film, or have forgotten it completely, here is a short synopsis for some context: Chris Thorne (Chevy Chase), a financial publisher, is asked by a high-priced lawyer, Diane (Demi Moore) to drive her to meet some clients in Atlantic City. Two rich Brazilian siblings, Fausto (Taylor Negron) and Miss Purdah (Valri Bromfield) join them on the way. These four yuppies drive into a strange, little town called Valkenvania.

After being pulled over for speeding by a local cop, Dennis (John Candy), the four are forced to stand trial in the mansion of the local Justice of the Peace. Once they arrive there, they meet the film’s decrepit antagonist, the 106-year old Judge Alvin Valkenheiser (Dan Aykroyd), who wields his own brand of macabre justice. It soon becomes clear that leaving Valkenvania is no easy task, especially when the Judge takes a particular interest in Chris.

The story of Nothing but Trouble (a generic title apparently chosen by studio executives) was concocted by Peter Aykroyd with the script written by brother Dan. The initial inspiration came from an incident in 1977, when Aykroyd was pulled over for speeding in a small town in Upstate New York. Instead of paying for the ticket and moving along, he was brought to the local Justice of the Peace, where he received a fine for speeding. Afterward, he spent the afternoon drinking tea with the Judge. As you can see, this became the genesis of the NBT’s plot.

Aykroyd wanted to make a horror-comedy, in the style of Beetlejuice and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Surface-wise, the plot does resemble a horror film, with a group of people stuck in a nightmarish mansion hosted by a murderous judge. But in Aykroyd’s hands, you get something far, far weirder.

It’s not scary, but it’s memorably grotesque. If you’ve never seen this film, you’ve likely seen glimpses of the infamous hotdog scene. The original cut was darker, reportedly even more graphic. It would have given this film an R rating and it would have likely steered the film a little closer to horror.

The overall film is closer to an absurdist comedy. It’s a film that bombards you with so much weirdness. There’s Mr. Bonestripper, a rollercoaster/means of capital punishment, where the unfortunate souls who ride the rollercoaster to the end will have their flesh stripped from their bones (notice the haughty laughter by the Bonestripper after it has ripped the flesh of its victims). There’s Bobo and L’il Debbull — gigantic mutant manbabies who like to play cards; the fun rap-fueled interlude (which includes the film debut of Tupac Shakur); there’s John Candy in drag; there’s Dan Aykroyd with a penis for a nose. All this weirdness came straight from Aykroyd’s insane creativity — and the freedom he gave the crew to create the unforgettable world of Valkenvania.

The Wonderful Character of Dan Aykroyd

Nothing but Trouble came in $5 million over budget. The reason for this is because Dan gave his crew free rein to design whatever was on their mind. Since the malicious Judge Valkenheiser had a mechanical engineering degree, the crew filled his mansion with gadgets and props. From the design of the Bonestripper to the train set carrying the phone condiments, all of this was permitted by Aykroyd.

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