New York Yuppie Chris goes on a trip to Atlantic City with some of his high-society acquaintances (“brazillionaires”). They take a detour off the highway to stop for a picnic, and end up in the deserted town of Valkenvania. After committing some traffic violations, they’re arrested and brought to the creepy mansion of the very old psychotic judge Alvin Valkenheiser to stand trial. Awaiting their sentence, they’re forced to join a bizarre family dinner, but this turns out to be the smallest of the problems they are facing.
For Nothing But Trouble, Dan Aykroyd was in full creative control as writer (together with his brother Peter), director and main actor. So it may be fair to say it may be the best embodiment of what humor means to Dan Aykroyd, and I can already tell you it’s a very special type. The movie shows us what happens when a bunch of arrogant Yuppies clash with a group of slightly deranged rural folks on their own turf. It starts out harmless enough with Chevy Chase in one of his typical roles in a typical setting for a romantic slapstick comedy. Shortly after, things take a turn toward the absurd and uncanny, and the movie partially gets an ambiance that is not too far away from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Describing it simply as a horror comedy does not do it justice, though.
I don’t want to interpret too much into it, but the psychological concept of cognitive dissonance, the simultaneous perception or presentation of two ideas that are not consistent with each other, is utilized very cleverly in Nothing But Trouble. Even though there is never anything really frightening going on, the movie has a persistently discomforting vibe. It may have been easy to resolve this tension by adding some jump scares or silly jokes, but Aykroyd manages to avoid this for the most part.
The comedy dream team of Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and John Candy came together for this production. Their weight is magnified by having Aykroyd and Candy play two different characters each. Dan Akroyd is transformed for his role as cruel and twisted judge Valkenhauser in a way that makes him look more terrifying than the cellar demon from the Evil Dead. Even though his character is central to the movie, his fellow actors manage to keep up. Chevy Chase is playing his usual role, as a charming and overconfident, but slightly clueless guy.
John Candy’s performance is the most grounded of the bunch, and even though his characters all belong to the bad guy camp of sorts, they all come across as quite charming. The movie features stunning set pieces with an incredible attention to detail. The junkyard in front of the Valkenheiser mansion was built from an incredibl amount of items, and looks like it took forever to assemble. Same goes for the mansion which is a maze filled with traps and ugly antiques.
If you end up scratching your head after finishing the movie not sure what to make of it, you’re probably not alone. Nothing But Trouble sits in its very own sweet spot of humor, horror and disgust, and needs to be applauded for messing with viewers’ expectations in a unique way. In any case, you’ll never look at a hot dog the same way after seeing Judge Valkenheiser suck on it.