MOVIE REVIEW : Amateurism Rife in ‘Purple People Eater’

Times Staff Writer

You’d have to be Scrooge to trash a picture that tries to instill in children the importance of imagination, determination and appreciation of the elderly. At the same time “Purple People Eater” (citywide) can’t safely be recommended to anyone over the age of 7, but it could conceivably be fun for second-graders or those younger.

Ned Beatty stars as a retiree who’s revitalized by his grandchildren (Neil Patrick Harris, Thora Birch) when they’re left in his charge by their vacationing parents (James Houghton, Peggy Lipton, one of the stars of “The Mod Squad” series). Harris’ 12-year-old Billy is a dreamy kid who, on playing his father’s old 45 of the ‘50s hit “Purple People Eater” is magically visited by the creature of the song’s title. Purple, as Billy calls him, looks like a giant sheep dog with dyed lavender hair, an eye in the center of his face and a horn protruding from his forehead. He can also fly--sort of. More important, Purple encourages Billy to form a rock band. (This keys a golden oldies sound track.)

Harris is a capable and appealing young actor, and Beatty and Shelley Winters are to be commended for their unyielding professionalism in circumstances that verge on the amateur. Beatty is a warm, believable grandfather, and Winters is one of his pensioner neighbors, a nice, kindly woman terrified of rising rents and the specter of eviction. There are cameos by Chubby Checker, in performance; Little Richard, as the town mayor and by Sheb Wooley, who wrote “Purple People Eater” 30 years ago, as an instructor of trapeze artists.


In her directorial debut, writer Linda Shayne shows a rapport with youngsters and keeps things moving, but “Purple People Eater” (rated PG, apparently for a mild expletive) lacks shape and style. The film’s most serious handicap is the Purple People Eater creature, who seems simply like a man in a dog suit.

In the post “E.T.” era, it’s possible that not even the youngest of children will be fooled or enchanted by what seems to be someone dressed up for Halloween.


A K.Tel International release of Motion Picture Corp. of America presentation. Producers Brad Kevoy, Steve Strabler. Writer-director Linda Shayne. Based on the song by Sheb Wooley. Camera Peter Deming. Production designer Stephen Greenberg. Creative consultant Jim Wynorski. Choreographer Ted Lin. 2nd unit director Jack Behr. 2nd unit camera Robert Duffin. Film editor Cari Ellen Coughlin. With Ned Beatty, Shelley Winters, Nel Patrick Harris, Peggy Lipton, Chubby Checker, Little Richard, James Houghton, Thora Birch, John Brumfield, Molly Cheek, Kimberly McCullough, Shonda Whipple.