Top 100 Favorite Films of the 1980s

From time to time, my friends (several of the editors of this blog included) like to take on tasks, like assembling our top 100 favorite (or best, depending on the person) films of a certain decade list. This kicked off several years back when the aughts came to a close, and without the benefit of much hindsight, my list came together with relative ease, an occurrence that would become more and more impossible with each passing year. Time will forever be the ultimate judge of a movie’s worth, so I would be interested in revisiting that particular manifest at some point down the road.

From there we began to work our way backwards, tackling the 90s, a decade that proved more problematic since that 10 years was when my love for film really took off. As herculean as that task was, it didn’t come close to preparing me for the challenge I had in creating my 80s list. I foolishly thought this was going to be a cinch, an idiotic result of a thought process that would have been considered nebulous at best*. I had failed to think about three important factors that would influence my list of favorite 80s films:

1.       Most of my favorite films from childhood are from the decade because I came of age. While some of them aren’t what one would call a typical “kids” film, my family was cool enough to raise me right and get me started on the works of Carpenter and Hooper early on, so kudos to them.

2.       I love action films more than any other genre; they are criminally underrated and, generally speaking, not treated with the reverence they deserve by casual film fans and cineastes alike. I will resist the urge to rant and rave on this topic and just leave it alone, but suffice to say that the genre is well represented here.

3.       Over the past decade, I’ve become a considerable fan of horror, sci-fi, and, in a general sense, the low budget, totally insane films that could have only come out in the 80s. Just like the action genre, these genres hit a high water mark that, for my money, hasn’t been equaled sense.

In an effort to make an accurate list, I re-watched 80% (this guesstimate seems right, I suppose) of the movies that make an appearance below, plus a whole lot more that fell out of contention at one point or another during this highly scientific process. The last 5 cut from the list are always the hardest, so in the interest of full disclosure, I decided to list them here:

1.       Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

2.       After Hours

3.       Zelig

4.       This is Spinal Tap

5.       Unbearable Lightness of Being

Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or the willpower to write up something about each movie, so this humble preamble will have to do. I have written up full reviews of some of the films on this list for the blog, so those titles will offer a hyperlink to the previous post. If you’ve never heard of or seen any film on this list, I strongly urge you to track it down and enjoy a night in. As always, voicing one’s opinions and objections to my list is welcomed.

100. Year of the Dragon (1985)

99. Road Games (1981)

98. Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988)

97. Razorback (1984)

96. Breathless (1983)

95. Missing (1982)

94. The Hit (1985)

93. Night of the Comet (1984)

92. Mystery Train (1989)

91. Turkey Shoot (1983)

90. Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

89. Death Wish 3 (1985)

88. Akira (1988)

87. Say Anything… (1989)

86. Secret Honor (1985)

85. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

84. The Blob (1988)

83. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

82. Do the Right Thing (1989)

81. Evil Dead II (1987)

80. They Live (1988)

79. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

78. Police Story 2 (1988)

77. As Tears Go By (1988)

76. Re-Animator (1985)

75. The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

74. Big (1988)

73. Dead Ringers (1988)

72. Broadcast News (1987)

71. Mona Lisa (1986)

70. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

69. Fitzcarraldo (1982)

68. Near Dark (1987)

67. Police Story (1985)

66. The Mission (1986)

65. Something Wild (1986)

64. Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

63. Lost in America (1985)

62. Witness (1985)

61. Paris, Texas (1984)

60. Blue Velvet (1986)

59. Better off Dead… (1985)

58. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

57. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

56. The King of Comedy (1983)

55. Top Secret! (1984)

54. Body Heat (1981)

53. Thief (1981)

52. 48 Hrs. (1982)

51. Knightriders (1981)

50. Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

49. Gremlins (1984)

48. To Live and Die in L.A. (1985)

47. RoboCop (1987)

46. Commando (1985)

45. ¡Three Amigos! (1986)

44. The Fly (1986)

43. Platoon (1986)

42. Back to the Future (1985)

41. The Terminator (1984)

40. Blood Simple (1984)

39. Project A (1983)

38. Southern Comfort (1981)

37. Hopscotch (1980)

36. Pennies from Heaven (1981)

35. Prince of the City (1981)

34. Tampopo (1985)

33. Blade Runner (1982)

32. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

31. Bloodsport (1988)

30. Coming to America (1988)

29. Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

28. Used Cars (1980)

27. Videodrome (1983)

26. The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984)

25. Escape from New York (1981)

24. Repo Man ( 1984)

23. The Untouchables (1987)

22. Blow Out (1981)

21. Withnail & I (1987)

20. The Goonies (1985)

19. Aliens (1986)

18. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

17. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

16. Poltergeist (1982)

15. From Beyond (1986)

14. A Christmas Story (1983)

13. Road House (1989)

12. Beetlejuice (1988)

11. Clue (1985)

10. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

9. Die Hard (1988)

8. The Long Good Friday (1980)

7. Ghostbusters (1984)

6. Predator (1987)

5. Ran (1985)

4. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

3. Brazil (1985)

2. The Thing (1982)

1. Raging Bull (1980)

-David

*Just to put the difficultly of this is perspective, I was supposed to get my list out roughly two months back.

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Vernon, Florida (1981)

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I’ve been a bit of a “movie shark” recently, consistently moving from one new film to the next, knocking out both classics that have been on my must-see list for forever and a day and also consuming the cinema offered up to us in 2012 to finish off the best of list I posted last week. Hopefully, I will get out of this mode soon as there are piles of movies that I want to revisit and also show to people for the first time, which, incidentally, is one of my all-time favorite things to do. Since it is obviously impossible to watch a film again for the first time, the next best thing is showing a film you truly love to one of your friends or family for the first time, hopefully being able to live vicariously through them for an hour or so.

One of the plus sides of going through the “movie shark” phase like this is I get to see a lot of film in a short amount of time, and most of it is offbeat and picked up for extra cheap. Now that the DVD medium has become so damn inexpensive, I pick up most anything that catches my fancy if it’s under 5 bucks. If I don’t like it, I can trade it in at a couple of my regular movie-buying haunts for another movie, getting my wallet caught up in a particularly vicious cycle of commerce that only film buffs fully comprehend. Truly, it is a sickness; I know it, but I embrace it. One of my favorite places to pick up cheap flicks is Big Lots, where I can find long forgotten gems and an abundance of movies that I now wish I could forget. Luckily, Vernon, Florida, the second directorial effort by the legendary documentarian Errol Morris, turned out to be one of the best pickups I’ve made in quite sometime, and the fact that it was only $1.88 didn’t hurt either.

Up until I purchased the film, I had never heard of Vernon, Florida. Even my girlfriend, who spent most of her life in that particular state, didn’t know the town existed. Suspicious. Since everyone who shows up in the film ranges somewhere between charming in a mentally challenged way to full-on wackadoodle, and just to make sure Morris wasn’t trying to pull one over on me (yes, me specifically, 20+ years after he released the film. Diabolical, isn’t it?) by creating an entirely fictional town, I consulted Wikipedia and, yes, Vernon, Florida, does exist. I will provide you with these maps as evidence:

Vernon_FL

700px-Washington_County_Florida_Incorporated_and_Unincorporated_areas_Vernon_Highlighted_svg

Vernon is still a tiny town, just like it was when Morris pointed his lens at it all those years ago. According to the 2004 census the population clocked in at 757, up just 14 people from the one performed in 2000. Clearly, nobody moves to Vernon, but it appears nobody leaves either; the town seemingly exists as some type of muggy, critter-infested Florida limbo for anyone (un)lucky enough to be born there. Then there is the small matter of limb dismemberment. In the 1950s and ‘60s, this quiet, unassuming hamlet rose to prominence in the national consciousness due to the improbably high percentage of citizens who placed insurance claims on lost limbs, causing speculation that residents of the town were, in fact, dismembering themselves to collect some extra cash at an insurance company’s expense. During this stretch of time, the residents of Vernon accounted for as much as two-thirds of lost limb claims nationally, which is quite an impressive feat when your population is somewhere between 500 and 800 folks at the time, thus earning the nickname “Nub City*.”

As you could imagine, the citizens are a colorful bunch, which helps in transforming Morris’s documentary feature into a strange and utterly captivating piece of work, chronicling their obsessions with a deadpan, slight-of-hand style that doesn’t get in the way of the film becoming an involved record of the town’s colorful characters. Vernon’s memorable residents include a wildly enthusiastic group of turkey (the smartest birds in America, he enthuses!) hunters, one of whom who can recall each of his hunting achievements in such detail that could only be described as epic; the solitary local cop who seems to have learned the ins and outs of his trade by viewing cop shows, who is equipped with outdated equipment including a two-way radio that, since he has no counterparts, is used only to talk with his wife; and an elderly couple whose prize possession is a jar of sand collected from White Sands, NM, that they insist, thanks to radiation, had begun to multiply.

As with the rest of his filmography, Morris takes the simple approach of placing his subjects in their environment and only listening to the stories they wish to regale him with. This allows the residents to talk of their dreams, philosophies, superstitions, and fantasies in a surprisingly candor-filled fashion. In one of the film’s best scenes, you see and hear an old man pontificate on what a turtle he keeps in his backyard must be thinking about, and begin to realize you just got the Cliff Notes version of his life’s philosophy. This probably goes without saying, but the movie is often very funny. The aforementioned cop uses a bewildering array of law-enforcement jargon that makes it impossible to tell if he is joking or not, and in my personal favorite scene, we get to see Sunday morning church service with the local preacher, a man who appears to be in over his head (but enthusiastically so), giving an entire sermon on the significance of the word “therefore.”

Upon its release, Vernon, Florida received a fair amount of criticism, including allegations of making fun of its subjects, a charge I don’t exactly agree with as the film seems to have too much in the way of affection for the residents for that. Instead, I think Morris saw them as true American originals that’ve let their enthusiasms for wild, rabies-infested animals, worm farming, idioms, and Jesus run away with them. In truth, all they are trying to find in their eccentric obsessions is a way to make sense of their lives and the universe they find themselves in. All they want is to find a pattern in life that makes their existence worthwhile and worth living. In that way, the residents of Vernon are no different from the rest of us, it’s just the system they chose is skewed from the norm.

-David

*This was the original title chosen by Morris until several death threats from the townsfolk changed his mind.

The Top Films of 2012

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to look at the exercise of compiling a year-end list in a different light. In younger days, I found it to be a monumentally important exercise, a grand opportunity to drop my cinematic knowledge on friends and family; to take up a “movie cause,” that one film that I loved unequivocally (often times casting a blind eye to its faults, no matter how numerous or egregious) and thought others should too, hoping that my prose would sway their opinions or lead them to discovering a movie they normally would have missed. It was a process that I loved and an undertaking that was not handled lightly.

Now, I find them somewhat painful. I agonize over placement, knowing that I will never get it right and that 10 years from now I will look back on it and quite possibly wonder what I was thinking at that particular time. These year-end lists do offer the benefit of allowing me to remember where I was in my life when I created a prior list; so in that way, it provides me with an interesting historical document of how my film tastes have evolved over time. Revisiting them is akin to participating in an archeological dig, but instead of the overwhelming feeling of awesomeness one must get when uncovering a fully preserved Pterodactyl, all I get is that self-conscious feeling associated with thoughts along the lines of: “Wait. I thought A Beautiful Mind was one of the best movies of the year?” Clearly, eating my weight in ham and cheese Hot Pockets and cheesy taco pizza rolls in college had an impact on not only my cholesterol levels but my brain matter as well.

Another problem with making a year-end list at this point in my life is that I don’t get to see the amount of film that I once was able. Working in movie theaters for the better part of the decade gave me the added benefit of seeing everything for free, so I was able to stay caught up on the year in film and provide this list in a timely manner; unlike now, when it comes out several months late with an apology (I’m sorry!) and a list of movies that I have yet to see but could end up making a hypothetical revised list that we both know will never come to pass:

  • Holy Motors
  • End of Watch
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Amour
  • Life of Pi
  • Deep Blue Sea
  • The Loneliest Planet
  • Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
  • The Sessions
  • The Hobbit

The corresponding “worst of the year” list has fallen by the way side as well since I no longer have the time to waste on that new Anaconda sequel or the new movie staring the grown-up little girl from Panic Room that I thought was a boy until the end credits of Fincher’s film clued me in on my blunder. Now it is limited to a 3 movie disappointments list:

  • The Man with the Iron Fists
  • Killing Them Softly
  • This is 40

You can read my thoughts on Fists and the unfortunate use of “shaky cam” here. I have heard that the director’s cut out on Blu Ray is better, so I plan on revisiting it in the future, hopefully with better results this time. Killing Them Softly could have been an entertaining, nasty little crime movie but got weighed down with social and political commentary as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, and This is 40 made me wish that Apatow would stop straddling the fence and just go ahead and make a drama already; I would love to see it as long as there wasn’t needless comedic riffing on the size of one’s vagina for 5 minutes. But enough with the grousing, let’s get on with the list.

The Top 15:

15. The Grey

Kicking off the list is Joe Carnahan’s latest film, a good ole’ fashioned kick-ass survivor flick. Despite carrying the dubious distinction of being mismarketed as a Liam Neeson versus a pack of wolves movie, The Grey delivered the goods, featuring the actor’s best and, at times, most painfully personal performance of his career, as he lays bear the grieving process one goes through after they loose their significant other, a topic he knows too much about, unfortunately. The Grey is a brutal, unflinching, gut-punch of a film; anchored by a director working at the top of his game and cast who vividly portray men who know death is knocking at their door, yet continue to find things worth fighting for, making their insurmountable goal of living all the more harrowing.

14. Universal Solider: Day of Reckoning

Do me a favor would you? Don’t see this entry and immediately laugh, thinking I went and lost my damn mind. Instead, take a second and play the red band trailer for the latest installment of the sci-fi action series and finish reading the list once you’re done.

As you can see from the images above, Hyams’ latest franchise installment is of a different breed. By combining the action genre with elements typically found in film noir and European horror, along with loving references to widely divergent cinematic influences including Apocalypse Now and Halloween, he has created a DTV effort that stays a couple of disorienting steps ahead of its audience. As an action buff, I love that Hyams has made a balls out actioneer that veers into the art house realm, turning in an effort that contains a highly subjective look at the issue of identity in a world where cloning exists while also wrestling with the theme of what really animates a person.

13. Compliance

Craig Zobel (The Great World of Sound) continues to show serious directing chops with his sophomore effort, filming a true story so certifiably insane that the viewer can’t help but wonder what ever happened to good old-fashioned common sense. Dramatizing a story of this nature is nothing short of a Herculean endeavor, and the performance he gets out of Ann Dowd as the fast food manager who places trust in others until they prove otherwise is one of the best of the year. It’s truly a shame this longstanding character actress didn’t get more attention in awards season for her work.

12. Bernie

Richard Linklater’s Bernie is a perfect staring role for its leading man, Jack Black. So good in it is Black, one has to wonder if he should act in movies for any other director. Maybe he should just ply his trade in films that have a strong music connection for his character to exploit? Either way, this hilarious fact-based docudrama gives the actor the best role of his career, one that allows him to (for the first time) completely disappear into a role and not rely on his arsenal of ticks and spasms that have long grown tired and stale.

11. Silver Linings Playbook

You know what I’m tired of? I’m tired of people always dropping the “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl” argument whenever I discuss Russell’s latest cinematic concoction, and in particular, Jennifer Lawrence’s wonderfully nuanced performance. This isn’t Natalie Portman in Garden State* here people. Lawrence brings nuance to a role a lesser actress couldn’t, transcending the material, which without her, could have turned into just another quirky rom-com. The film itself goes down smooth, and seeing Russell harnessing his considerable talents, pouring them into another fully focused movie, is a treat for any film fanatic.

10. Looper

Let’s all just agree on this up front and get it out of our systems. Time travel movies are nigh impossible to get right and by merely taking on the task, a screenwriter is opening themselves up for all types of criticism focusing on the mechanics of the whole endeavor. For my money, Rian Johnson’s script is dynamite—plot holes and all—and also gives Willis and Gordon-Levitt an amazing character arc to play with in their duel (see what I did there?) role as a Looper going through one heck of an internal struggle/awakening. Bradbury would have been proud.

9. The Master

With the The Master, Anderson has made the most intimate movie of his career without sacrificing the characterization and acting bravura his films have become known for. His latest isn’t so much a commentary on Scientology as a film that wants to explore our need as humans to find meaning in our seemingly meaningless existence. For a more in depth look at the most challenging movie of the year, see my full review here.

8. Frankenweenie

Over the past 10+ years, I’ve given Tim Burton tons of shit. When I was growing up, he was one of my favorite directors and I looked forward to each one of his new releases with a level of excitement that few directors had ever been able to unlock in me. Then he started down the remake chain (Planet of the Apes) and putting new spins on old, classic material (Alice in Wonderland) that was ugly, unneeded, and worst of all, indulgent to the point of self-parody. Frankenweenie is the first Burton film since Sleepy Hollow that I have loved unequivocally; it is a stunningly beautiful film that contains an emotionally satisfying ending as well as being a carefully crafted homage to the movies of his youth, chockfull of loving references to the characters and themes that inspired him to direct, and made him one of the top directors in the ’80s and ’90s.

7. Django Unchained

Part of me has to wonder if Tarantino has finally outgrown the film medium and would be better suited doing miniseries for HBO. He definitely has topics on his mind (rewriting the history books) that he feels deserves epic treatment, and for the most part, I agree with the type of approach he wishes to take with his latest material. The flip side of this is the pacing gets muddled in the last third when Django goes back to Candyland to exact his last measure of vengeance, and secondary characters that had been fleshed out in the script get lost in its translation to the screen (more Walton Goggins on the Blu Ray, please). The elegant editing that graced all of the master’s prior works is missing here, and I chalk most of this up to the absence of his longtime editor, Sally Menke. QT’s latest had me grappling with my thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics, certainly more than any other recent film has, and that is always a good thing. Seeing the film with a sold-out crowd that was racially split at about 50/50 made me wonder to myself if it was OK to laugh at Don Johnson’s wonderfully profane performance as Big Daddy or if I would just be seen as another white male laughing off the seriousness of slavery. And while it didn’t turn me off entirely like some people I’ve discussed the film with, the ending left me wondering if that much violence (which blasts past Corbucci levels of spray) was needed. One thing isn’t up for debate: Quentin has succeeded in making slavery into the disgusting, soul-crushing enterprise it was. After multiple viewings, I still have unresolved issues with the film that I need to iron out, but there is no doubt that Tarantino’s latest is built to stick with you.

6. Queen of Versailles

Lauren Greenfield’s documentary follows the Siegal clan in their quest to build the largest, most expensive single-family home in the United States, a replica of the Palace of Versailles. As you may have gathered, the time-share magnate’s family hubris is in equal turns jaw-dropping and infuriating. When the recession and the corresponding amount of titanic financial woes hit the Siegals, the construction of their dream home grinds to a halt, and the smug, arrogant nature of breadwinner David falls away, only to be replaced with Hughesain levels of isolation, leaving his seemingly vacuous trophy wife alone to hold the family together. While Greenfield’s work here scores some big laughs out of its subjects’ disconnect from reality (the renting of a car at a Hertz airport kiosk is a standout) and unchecked egos, it’s ultimately less interested in making them look like buffoons than making an attempt to understand them. The end result makes their struggles eminently relatable to anyone who has ever had to make do with less than they had imagined possible.

5. Skyfall

Who would have thought Sam Medes had such action chops, and on top of that, would manage to create the best Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? The continued evolution of Bond is fleshed out and after 3 films, we now have Daniel Craig’s version of 007 back to a place where audiences know the character best, a cold-blooded killer with a twisted sense of humor, flanked by Money Penny, Q, and, in my opinion, a new M that, if you’ll pardon my Anglophile expression, is “the tits.” All this plus fantastic cinematography from Roger Deakins, a killer Straw Dogs homage, a credit sequence that has some relevance to the events of the film, and the best use of an Animals track (Boom Boom, a cover of a John Lee Hooker song) in film since Scorsese used House of the Rising Sun in Casino. The next installment in the Bond franchise can’t get here quick enough.

4. The Raid: Redemption

If I could equate one film-going experience in 2012 to getting a shot of adrenaline, it would be Garth Evans’ sophomore effort. Gone are the pacing issues of Merentau, only to be replaced by bone-crushing martial arts sequences that take the genre to a whole new level. This is what I wanted out of every Tony Jaa film post Ong-bak and never got, and the fact that it was done by a Welsh-born, white-boy director makes it even more kick-ass. Based on what is on display here, Iko Uwais could easily become the next big action star and Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog) should be cast as a villain in every martial arts/action film from now to the end of time. The show-stopping brawl between those two is the Final Boss fight that dreams are made of.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson makes movies for dreamers. Movies that tell cynicism to screw off. Movies where characters and situations never feel like they are based in reality as some small something is always slightly skewed for the better. If this makes you feel that his movies are too precious, that’s your problem and your loss. I love the residents of New Penzance and will enjoy revisiting their quaint town again and again. For a more in depth look at Anderson’s masterful piece, here is my original review.

2. Cabin in the Woods

Between this and The Avengers, 2012 turned out to be the year of Joss Whedon, and until recently, this was my pick for film of the year, as it is the most original work in the horror genre for quite some time. Most of all, Cabin in the Woods gives me hope that in a genre bogged down by the act of regurgitation and where a lion’s share of the output are relegated to sequels and remakes, that originality will always endure. I hope that it will inspire future generations of horror directors to put their own stamp on a style of film I hold dear, and continue to find the darkest of humor in full-bore nihilism. For a more in-depth look at the brilliance of Cabin and Richard Jenkins, here is my original review.

1. Killer Joe

While making the rounds promoting Django Unchained, Tarantino mentioned that he couldn’t see himself directing into old age, as the films at the tail end of a director’s career often lack the bite of those at the beginning. While this is true for the most part, one has to look no further than William Friedkin—who turned 78 this year—and his latest effort, Killer Joe, for a counterargument. In his second consecutive effort with playwright Tracy Letts, Friedkin offers up a deep-fried, darker than a bull’s tookus on a moonless prairie night comedy that presents itself as the bastard child of Jim Thompson’s and Tennessee William’s literary legacies. Matthew McConaghey finally delivers on all the promise his early career contained as Joe, a corrupt police officer who is hired to do some dirty work for the sickest family to ever grace the silver screen. As the clueless, white trash patriarch, Thomas Haden Church gives the comedic performance of the year, and Gina Gershon proves to be more than game as the slutty, up to no good wife, also managing to get one of the more memorable entrances into a film since John Wayne cocked his rifle in Stagecoach. (Joking, of course. Kind of.) No punches are pulled and the NC-17 rating is earned several times over, which of course put it behind the eight ball, killing its chances of ever reaching a mass audience. Although it’s not for everyone, Killer Joe exhibits a staggering vitality and the urgency of a modern master who still has a lot of skin left in the game.

-David

*And while I’m at it, I would like for people to stop treating Portman’s performance in Garden State as the origin of this character type. The credit clearly belongs to Ruth Gordon for her role as Maude in Hal Ashby’s comedy classic, Harold and Maude.

The Thing (1982)

In the film nerd world, the best year in film history is a hotly debated topic that has no clear-cut answer. Some of us prefer 1939. Others prefer 1999. Myself? I prefer to stick with 1974, a year that championed the auteur theory as legendary directors (both foreign and domestic) released one film after another, all of them with their cinematic voice in peak form. It was also a wonderful year for movies that sought only to entertain via suspense and action and several boundary-pushing comedies made the audience laugh to beat the band. Since I happen to love lists, here is a quick sampling of 1974 films that have stood the test of time:

  • The Parallax View
  • Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Young Frankenstein
  • The Godfather Part 2
  • The Conversation
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
  • A Woman Under the Influence
  • Chinatown
  • Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
  • Amarcord
  • The Phantom of Liberty
  • The Enigma of Kasper Hauser
  • Lenny
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • The Towering Inferno

While 1974 is the entire year I tend to rep in this particular conversation, I back 1982—the popular opinion, I know, but sometimes the popular opinion is correct—as the best summer of all time. This is partially due to me being a child of the ’80s, but since the Alamo Drafthouse programmed an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movies released that particular summer—continuing to show why they alone are the go-to theater chain in the States, consistently making me wish I lived in Austin—I will assume I’m correct. In fact Alamo takes movies so seriously that they actually enforce movie theater rules and regulations, like no talking or texting, which led to this little incident that, in a perfect world, should have increased their stock by 231.7%:

But back to 1982 and another list (yeah, lists!) to help illustrate why a plethora of fans are on record as backing this summer as the best ever:

  • Poltergeist
  • The Road Warrior
  • Rocky III
  • E.T.
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Tron
  • The Wall
  • Class of 1984
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Blade Runner
  • The Secret of Nimh
  • The Thing

Between the trailer, poster, and title of this post, I’m sure you are able to deduce that I’m going to talk about John Carpenter’s The Thing, and since I’ve burnt through roughly 400 words and 2 lists without even mentioning the genius of the film, I suppose at this point we should get right to it.

When it was announced that Carpenter, a life-long fan of Howard Hawks and his production of The Thing from Another Planet, intended to remake the film that had become a staple for monster-movie enthusiasts of his generation, the reaction was akin to anger. How the director of Dark Star and Escape from New York could presume a remake was needed in the first place was sacrilege, ignoring the fact that Carpenter’s decision wasn’t exactly surprising. He habitually mentioned Hawks’s work as a template, one that would shape and inform the now prodigious director’s career: Assault of Precinct 13 was a loving riff on Rio Bravo, and for one segment in Halloween, Carpenter would use a scene from the original Thing on Laurie Strode’s television set. Initially, fans of the classic got the last laugh as Carpenter’s film bombed at the box office. It seemed that audiences weren’t quite prepared for a film as bleak as this, especially two weeks after the release of E.T., a film that was much more optimistic about visiting extraterrestrial life, featuring none of the gore effects, disturbing imagery, and paranoia and distrust that made The Thing such as powerful cinematic concoction, a true masterpiece of suspense and horror.

Wisely, Carpenter elected to go back to source material, John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There?, the novella the original was based upon, and by extension, made the smart decision of ditching the Frankenstein’s Monster from space special effects, turning the alien back into a shape-shifting body snatcher that can imitate and replace any living organism it encounters and consumes. When the being is unearthed at the ass end of the earth, it encounters a group of men—each one as mysterious to the audience as the alien—allowing the director to explore their relationships in an understated fashion that also serves to ratchet up the suspense to, at times, seemingly unbearable levels. In this manner, Bill Lancaster’s script (son of Burt, who also penned the original Bad News Bears) is a masterwork, giving the audience lots of thoughts and ideas to chew on if they choose to look closely enough. Lancaster makes the correct decision to not flush out the backstory of a single character, dispensing with the common need of having to describe their motivation at every turn, making the movie stronger. The only common thread of the men’s past lives is that they are distrustful of people. You don’t end up in an Antarctic research station unless you are at the bottom of the company totem pole or unless you severely pissed off enough people in your line of work that they decided to send you there, ridding themselves of your existence.

Even the hero of the story, R. J. “Mac” MacReady (Kurt Russell in a signature performance) is fairly unlikable and, from the first time we meet him, it becomes readily apparent that he has no good will stored up toward the human race. The one thing that this helicopter pilot and loner seems to hate more than people is losing, establishing early on that he has no problem with ripping things down to their foundations in an effort to level the playing field when he pours a glass of liquor into the hard drive of a computer after it “cheats” to win in a chess match. Soon enough, he will be engaged in his own chess match with The Thing, and you can be damn sure he won’t let it win on its own terms, just like the unfortunate chess program finds out in the character’s introduction.

Stationed along with Mac, who becomes their de facto leader in the remote station, is a motley crew of individuals: Blair (Wilford Brimley), the first to detect the grave threat to the camp; Childs (Keith David, never better), one mean fucker who I would imagine pushed too many of the wrong buttons back in the real world, making this the only job he could procure, and as a result having to suffer around all these stupid-ass white folks; Palmer (David Clennon), the pot-head mechanic and chronic whiner; Clark (Richard Masur), a loner who feels more at home around animals than people; and Garry (Donald Moffat), the dependable but in-over-his-head security chief. Without the normal amount of exposition, Lancaster’s script opts for telling bits of action to let the audience in on who these people are, in turn allowing the actors to open it up a bit and bring their own sensibilities to the roles. When coupled with the lean script, the acting choices ensure that the audience has to pay attention to keep up—every mystery isn’t explained away, which some viewers seem to have a problem with. I happen to adore these traits, as they make repeat viewings a must, as there is always something new and interesting to discover, be it a turn of phrase or minor character beat. I’ve seen this movie upward of 20 times and I still have no idea “who gets to the blood” or when the monster gets to Blair or Norris, infecting them. For these reasons, The Thing becomes a film that one takes home with them, allowing the viewer to continue to play with the events of the movie in his or her head or leading to a group of friends sitting down with each other to discuss how they think events really went down.

This helps to ratchet up that aforementioned tension and paranoia, prominently displayed in the first of the film’s two signature scenes. MacReady comes up with an “identity test” designed to find out which of them has been infected. The test itself is simple enough, a blood sample is taken from each remaining member of the camp, and then a hot wire is pulled through it, burning the cells. Since it was deduced earlier that each cell of the organism is capable of acting dependently, if any of the samples truly contains the blood of “The Thing,” it will try and save itself and reveal who isn’t who they seem to be. It’s an incredibly effective scene, soaked in dread as each man waits his turn to be cleared.

If you’ve seen the film, you know the second signature scene is the last one, and it’s also the one that lifts the film into classic territory. Having dispatched the monster and set the compound on fire, MacReady sits down in the harsh storm that is currently pounding the Antarctic. Resigned to his fate, he suddenly notices Childs walking up out of the storm, seemingly the only other survivor. They sit together watching each other closely, full of mistrust and doubt, knowing that as the temperature drops, they will, without fail, freeze to death. The ending is one that has been dissected and speculated on ad nauseam, and due to the ambiguity in which it is shot, the main question on everyone’s mind will forever remain:

Is Childs a Thing?

Not in my opinion, no, he’s human. And instead of deciding to slowly freeze, MacReady and Childs could do something to save themselves or the people who will come to the research site, looking for answers as to what happened there. Only their mistrust and suspicion of one another hold them back, making a partnership impossible. It’s a nihilistic ending, one that fits the tone of the film perfectly as The Thing is chock full of characters whose Achilles heel is the fact that they can’t trust one another, which, fortunately for the alien, is exactly what it needs to not only survive but thrive in its new surroundings. In the end, the humans bring themselves down, stare destruction in the face, and lose. The real horror of Carpenter’s masterwork is not the monster, capable of mimicry so real it becomes nigh impossible to tell who’s real anymore, but in humanity’s failure to relate and trust in one another. The Thing’s screenwriter and director don’t seem to be too optimistic about our chances, but its message remains clear: as humans, we need each other to survive. A simple message we as a society still need to take to heart 30 years later, spun into a landmark creature feature by a master of the medium.

-David

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

Don’t you hate it when a movie or some other piece of pop culture you have been waiting for—in some cases the wait feels like an eternity—finally comes out, only to leave you disappointed and dejected, barely able to (slowly) walk to your car from the theater in the dark, left only with your thoughts as they swirl about one’s brain matter in a frantic effort to deduce just what went wrong?

I sure as hell do. Those experiences suck.

Regretfully, this is how I felt last night after viewing RZA’s directorial debut, a film that has been in some level of development since the ‘90s when he created Bobby Digital and the album of the same moniker, which originally intended to be used as the soundtrack. RZA has been floating around Hollywood for sometime now, showing up in different capacities; sometimes as actor for Ridley Scott’s American Gangster or bringing the funny for Judd Apatow in Funny People. The lyrical legend has also left his stamp on the film industry as a composer with serious chops, as his score for Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is nothing short of sweet, sweet candy for one’s eardrums. To any film fanatic (or causal fan of music who happens to love RZA and follow his career closely), it was becoming readily apparent that he was biding his time, soaking up cinematic knowledge from the masters of the medium he associated with (Jarmusch, Tarantino, etc.) in preparation for the time a studio would be good enough to entrust him with a film production of his own.

And for those who know anything about him or the Wu should have had no doubt in their minds as to what genre he would take on. Of course, I speak of Kung Fu—Grindhouse style.

RZA plays a freed slave named Thaddeus Smith, now a blacksmith in Jungle Village, China, after the ship he stowed away on encounters a brutal storm that washes him ashore, beaten but not broken, lying unconscious amid the vessel’s remnants. His love interest goes by the handle of Lady Silk (Jamie Chung), a prostitute by trade–employed at the Pink Blossom brothel–and as soon as they save enough funds, they plan to run away together. Of course, as it often does, fate has other plans and Thaddeus gets caught up in some serious Chinese shit when he helps out an injured Chinese warrior named Zen-Yi the X-Blade (Rick Yune, the black hole of charisma), who’s trying to get revenge on Silver Lion for sending his father, Golden Lion (Chen Kuan-tai, Iron Monkey), to an early grave as well as prevent him from stealing a shipment of gold. Also arriving in town is Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), a stranger with mysterious intentions, except when it comes to libations and ladies (hint: he REALLY likes both). The battle for the gold and, more important, the power that comes along with it, threatens to rip apart the town. Hopefully, Thaddeus and his new found allies can put a stop to it before too much mayhem and property damage ensues.

If you know me and my film tastes, you should know that the synopsis outlined above appeals to me greatly. If a movie has characters going by the handle of Angry Hippo or Brass Body, features wire work by the legendary Cory Yuen, and pays homage to the cinematic output of the Shaw Brothers (man, RZA nails the shaky opening credits and old-school freeze frame of the end title card) and the movies found down on 42nd Street in its hayday, that’s fine by me, just tell me when and where to be and I’ll be the first to line up. That being said, for all the things that he gets right in his directorial debut, the things RZA botches loom large.

The number one reason this genre is so popular is the fight sequences. Fans don’t necessarily come to these films for the story or acting (but if both are good, it’s always a bonus), we come to see the stunning physicality that is on display, the lighting fast kicks and punches, the often-times vicious stunt work of the extras, and, most important, to take part in those moments when the audience screams out loud or jumps out of their seats together, barely able to comprehend the badassary they just saw. RZA’s camera placement and cinematography prevent this. Much like the rest of modern action films, The Man with the Iron Fists is shot much too close in, and when accompanied with the frantic editing, it becomes hard to follow the action. If he made the decision to pull the camera back a bit, the problem would be rectified and the scenes would be more enjoyable. Even more curious is his choice to keep the camera locked in too closely and using an abudence of medium shots in dialogue scenes, which wastes what looks to be wonderfully detailed period sets, perfect for wide shots that could allow the viewer a sense of the scope I’m sure he had in mind for the film. Framing is also an issue, with some expository scenes having the actors cut off on the sides of the screen, which, in my opinion, is very irritating.

Further exasperating matters is the odd choice of short fights. Who in the world ever goes to a Kung Fu movie, sits in the dark for an hour and thirty minutes, and then comes out saying:

“You know, that was a pretty kick ass movie, but the martial arts sequences should have been shorter!”

That’s like saying you don’t go to musicals to view the show-stopping set pieces. You’re supposed to show off, that’s what brings the fans in! Remember back to the House of Blue Leaves sequence at the end of Kill Bill Vol. 1. I don’t recall anyone (haters excluded, remember, I’m talking about lovers of this genre) mentioning that sequence and including the thought that it was too long. These fights should be exhilarating, with the goal of taking the audience’s breath away. Hell, they may even want to applaud if you do it correctly. The fights here are best described as fun, but the issues above made it hard for me to fully invest in the film.

All that said, RZA’s personality shines through. It becomes readily apparent that he loves the world he created and that he was full of enough cool ideas that he could have made the movie 3 hours long and would still have had come choice bits left over. He took the approach of “everything including the kitchen sink” here, populating his newly created world and its characters with quirky beats and clothing choices that aren’t period specific but allow his cinematic voice to come out and play, fully uninhibited. This allows his characters to wear sunglasses because it looks cool. It allows the use of Wu Tang’s “Shame on a Nigga” to be played at just the right moment. And most important, it allows the actors freedom to really embrace the type of movie they have found themselves in, especially Crowe. As Jack Knife, the Oscar-winning thespian looks to be having the time of his life, even showing up to principle photography looking like he was in the process of playing Brando, The Island of Dr. Moreau style. I admire the actor for taking on a role that requires him to smoke a boatload of opium and ply three ladies of the night with only his beads, dildos, and devil-may-care smile. What I REALLY hope is that 5 years from now, this performance isn’t the one we pinpoint as the exact moment the actor’s career went from prestige pictures to headlining efforts more in the vein of what Cuba Gooding Jr. and Val Kilmer have been up to for the past 10 years.

This all adds up to a rather schizophrenic viewing experience, as I went from loving the film one moment to wanting to pull my hair out the next. I do hope that RZA gets another shot as a director because I do believe he can work these kinks out and deliver a Kung Fu movie that represents all the love and knowledge he posses for the genre. Sadly, The Man with the Iron Fists falls short as it ultimately becomes weighed down by the learning process of a first-time director. Hopefully, The Return of the Man with the Iron Fists will set the record straight and trumpet the arrival of a fully formed cinematic voice.

-David

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

As far as the horror genre goes, you would be hard pressed to find a director who has had a larger impact on the medium than that of Wes Craven. It’s hard for any director to remain relevant over a 40-year career, especially one that has long been associated with horror, a type of film looked down on by a vast majority of the movie-going public and critics alike, who cite it as a grotesque carnival of horrors, exploitation of the worst possible kind that highlights the worst aspects humanity has to offer. Of course, this is a short-sighted and often ignorant claim, as the best in the horror cannon serve up great amounts of satire while rooting into our subconscious, tapping into our most primal of fears. Since he unleashed The Last House on the Left way back in 1972, Craven has proven himself not only to be a unique voice in film but also a talent capable of reinventing himself and the entire landscape of the macabre. His directorial debut ushered in an angry, assaultive, and realistic style of horror that would become commonplace in the ’70s, a decade reeling from Vietnam and its fallout, the implications of the Watergate scandal, a flagging economy, and the hangover of the demonstration culture of the ’60s. The seminal film would help pave the way for Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), each of which would have a mammoth impact on future directors of the medium as well.

By the time the ’80s rolled around, Craven was looking for a new way to scare audiences, to keep them up late at night, long after the projector stopped flickering; to invade their dreams, turning them into nightmares. Thus, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was born, a low-budget film from an independent named New Line looking to break into the big time. Gone was the brutal, dingy look of his freshman offering, replacing it with a surreal tone, the filmmaker even going so far as to draft a mission statement emphasizing the horror needed to not just be “about fighting the monster, but about the framework of reality itself.” Thus, he built the blurring of reality and dreams into the fabric of his story, much like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion did in 1965, or, more recently, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan in 2010. The device that made the original Nightmare so chilling is used less effectively in the third offering of the franchise, Dream Warriors, but due mainly to Craven’s return (missing entirely from the second) to screenwriting duties, the film lives up to its billing as the best and most popular of the Elm Street sequels.

Directed by Chuck Russell (Eraser), the sequel picks up 6 years after the events of the first film. As it opens, we are introduced to Kristen Parker (Patricia Arquette, in her film debut), a caffeine-infused teen who seems to be tired of run-ins with Kruger, as he limits her capability for a good night’s sleep. Soon she finds herself committed to Westin Hills, a psychiatric hospital, after her mother finds her in the midst of an apparent suicide attempt, of which Freddy is responsible. There, she makes nice with the other teen patients, all victims of the same malady, recurring dreams of torment and despair, spiked with a heavy dose of Kruger attacks, all of which are misinterpreted as mental illness. The group is being treated by a skeptical Dr. Neil Gordon (Craig Wasson, professional actor and Bill Maher body double) and a new staff research scientist, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp*) who also happens to be the only teen survivor of the first installment in the series and who immediately recognizes the situation for what it is. Throughout the course of Kristen’s therapy, Nancy finds out she has the uncommon power of pulling others into her dreams, a trait they can use to combine their talents in an effort to take down Freddy once and for all.

While it isn’t a perfect sequel, Dream Warriors contains several clever scenes and the effects are cool, even though some are too obvious to be taken seriously. One of the best dreams has Kristen being tormented by a giant penis-like snake complete with Freddy head that tries its hardest to swallow her whole. It’s a scarier sequence than most as it uses the weirdness of one’s own subconscious more vividly than the other sequences of the movie (which often rely on exploiting the one key characteristic that the secondary characters are saddled with against them), as the encounter makes more sense on a deeper, psychological level, mining a teenage girl’s fears related to male anatomy and the act of sex. This isn’t to say that all the other killings aren’t always unimaginative. One of the patients, an artist and sculptor named Phil, gets eliminated when Freddy, using his tendons like a puppeteer uses marionette strings, guides him to the top of the hospital, then cuts him loose, causing Phil to fall several stories to his death. The sequence is creepy fun and fairly intense, keeping Freddy in the realm of an out-and-out scary villain.

The film falters a bit when it begins to lay the groundwork for where the series and Robert Englund’s performance would go over the remainder of the decade. From here on out the cheeky mix of elaborate set pieces, visual gags, and one liners would help to distance the audience from the onscreen carnage, and by extension, Freddy gets less and less interesting. Both of these issues would be rectified when Craven took back the reinsand director’s chair for New Nightmare, giving Freddy his second wind,,, by infusing the film with a statement on how he saw the state of horror in the early ’90s, creating a wonderfully entertaining meta-slasher. Another main reason for the decline of the character can be traced to Dream Warriors: when they decide to explain Freddy’s origin (he’s the son of 100 maniacs, a biological impossibility unless I missed something in middle school). Horror movie 101 clearly states that the monster or killer is a scarier entity when the audience knows less. Why? Because the more they know, the more they can relate and having his mother raped a ridiculous amount of times certainly brings about pity from the viewer. I mean, come on, that would obviously suck, all but eliminating the chance for a normal upbringing.

A shift in the focus of the character to make the crowd laugh instead of cower in fear also starts to occur in Russell’s film. The sometimes dopey wordplay and relentless catch-phrases that would come to dog the series start here, paving the way for the commercialization of horror by making the killer easy to like. By the time the rock album Freddy’s Greatest Hits was released in 1987, featuring the song “Do the Freddy,” complete with guest vocals from Englund, the character had officially jumped the shark in terms of making one’s blood run cold. In his defense, Craven never wished to have his movie turned into a long-running horror series and his ending in the third effort stresses this, but the film’s success made that impossible. His original vision of “the ultimate bad father”,, his named derived from Last House on the Left’s rapist Krug, had become commercialized, converting him into the Jay Leno of the boogey man, serial killer circuit, and, in my opinion, making Dream Warriors the last hoorah for the horror icon until Craven’s return to the director’s chair.

-David

*Langenkamp’s performance here is egregiously bad, making her consternation in her Entertainment Weekly profile piece from several years ago about how her career went nowhere outside of the Nightmare series laughable. Her acting is impossibly wooden, and at times, one can seemingly see her actively trying to remember lines. The rest of the cast is solid for the most part and features several actors and actresses that would become big names in the coming decade. In fact, this might be the best overall cast in the history of the series. Plus John Saxton comes back, which is bad-ass.

The Monster Squad (1987)

Nostalgia has gotten out of control in the past couple of years, particularly when it relates to pop culture born in the ’80s and, to a lesser extent, the early portion of the ’90s. The worst part of it all is that I know it’s my generation’s fault*, so I would like to offer up an apology to society on behalf of all of us. What us twenty and thirty somethings need to take pause and remember is that just because we as children voraciously consumed a television show like Full House or a movie like Megaforce or because we got a Howard the Duck toy in our happy meals** on the weekly family jaunt to McDonalds doesn’t mean these entertainments are worthy of the “underrated” tag or the heaps of praise lavished on them online. Before you freak out, let me put my money where my mouth is by offering up a personal example.

As a child, I fucking loved He-Man. I had all the action figures my parents would allow in our modest home, and at one point, they even went on an odyssey to find Merman, who, for some reason, was the hardest action figure to find in the history of action figures. I had Castle Greyskull. I had assorted vehicles and Battle Cat and Panthor. The show and character are now 100% responsible for my unwavering loyalty to Dolph Lundgren. There is no way around it, facts are facts, I was pretty much obsessed with the show, watching it on a daily basis. But holy hell does that show suck now, a fact that was cruelly learned when I got a boxset containing the first season of the show a couple of years back. I got through around 7 episodes—which was a feat of nostalgic strength, I assure you—before I had to throw in the towel, realizing that the animation was elementary (if I had to see He-Man deep squat and toss a boulder at bad guys one more time, my mind may have snapped) and the stories rudimentary in the worst possible way.

Even worse is when I allow myself to be tricked into watching a film that a friend holds dear due to viewing it in his or her formative years, that for some reason (being grounded, the tape was always rented, rock slides, etc.), I missed as I was growing up. This never works out for either party. My reaction to the film falls into the range of ambivalence to outright violent dismissal 99% of the time, leading to awkward conversations once they pose the inevitable “Did you watch {insert film title here}?, Isn’t it awesome?”, questions that I then have to answer honestly because I’m that type of guy, unwilling to lie about not liking an arbitrary piece of pop culture. This happened to me when I caught The Wizard a couple of years back at the behest of several friends, all of whom have above-board taste in film, by the way. While the Fred Savage opus isn’t the worst offense ever put to celluloid, it’s rather bad, essentially a 90 minute ad for the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Mario 3, quite possibly the most hyped video game ever up until that point in time. I was bored to tears but at least my friends recognized my response to be rational, some even admitting that they hadn’t seen it in a long time, and with hindsight being 20/20, they may even feel the same way if they were to screen it now. For these reasons, I put off watching Monster Squad for a long time, a decision I have come to regret as it truly is an effort worthy of the cult status it attained after it bombed so spectacularly upon its release. Fred Dekker’s film is a blend of genre types, including action-adventure, horror, and comedy, making it a solid title that also makes viewers that grew up in the era responsible for Reganomics appropriately nostalgic.

The story follows a young lad by the name of Sean (Andre Gower) who, along with his friends, have formed a club based around their shared love of old-school horror films and their respective icons, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein’s Monster to name a few. They take science fiction and horror seriously; their rooms are decorated to the nines with vintage movie posters (Vampire Circus!) and action figures of the characters they hold dear. To enter their exclusive coalition, one must pass a pop quiz featuring a smattering of questions designed to make sure the potential member has the same burning passions they possess. The group is rounded out by Patrick, Sean’s best bud; the unfortunately nicknamed Fat Kid, otherwise known by his equally unfortunate Christian name, Horace; and Rudy, the cool-as-shit middle school kid that seems to have timed traveled back with Marty via his DeLorean, given his choice in wardrobe, bike style, and the fact that he likes to hang out at diners that carry with them a sensibility found in the ’50s, offering their customers malts via a park and order from your car service. Noticing the warning signs throughout their sleepy town, the grade-school fright fans come to discover that their favorite baddies have arrived in town, looking to take over the world by obtaining an amulet that would give Dracula the ultimate power he craves, and make the decision to take matters in their own hands, recognizing that this is the battle they have been unwittingly training for their entire lives.

The Monster Squad represents a solid entry in one of my favorite genres, The Team-Up Film***. The crux of this story concept is fairly simple: it brings together a disparate group of people with a common cause, goal, or enemy together, and sees if they can overcome their differences to use their exclusive talents to overcome the odds. Other examples of the Team-Up Film include this year’s The Avengers, Ocean’s 11, and The Seven Samurai. This little cinematic gem fits squarely within the Kids Team-Up subgenre, featuring classics like The Goonies and The Sandlot or in the underrated, forgotten (by most) film, BMX Bandits. These genre efforts tend to at least be interesting, and when you have a script writer that is on a roll, as Shane Black (Lethal Weapon) was at the time, and a director who brings an obvious love for old school horror to the table, you get a pretty damn fine kids flick, filled with bad-ass one-liners and moments that allow each member to get their place in the sun.

While its true that the film is more than a bit silly, propelled by several insane coincidences, Black’s script has a definite sense of fun and action, never taking itself too seriously, which helps to balance the menace of the monsters with the enthusiasm of the children. In a refreshing subtle fashion, his work also takes the B plot sincerely, one that doesn’t pop up frequently in movies of this nature, the marital woes of Sean’s parents, helping to make The Monster Squad unique. One of the biggest things going for Dekker’s film is the fact that movies like this don’t get made anymore. Child actors smoke, the fat kid goes by Fat Kid, the words homo and faggot are thrown around liberally, and Patrick’s older sister’s (an early high school student, at best) virginity is consistently called into question. I’m not one to use this type of language or to discriminate against others due to weight or sexual orientation, but it is refreshing in how un-PC it is while managing to become an accurate representation of how it was to grow up in the time of Hypercolor shirts and Jams, ultimately imbuing the film with a sense of reality that help to counteract aspects that date the film. In the clip below, both Fat Kid and Rudy (wicked entrance) are introduced along with the bully of the picture–played by the go to prepubescent/teen asshole of the ‘80s, Jason Hervey–giving everyone a good taste of the tone employed in the next hour and a half.

It’s a crime that both The Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps failed at the box office, as Dekker was a unique directorial voice, something we need more of in cinema, and specifically in the horror genre. Between these two efforts and his script work on another, mostly forgotten genre offering in House, I think it was obvious that he was one of the more talented horror auteurs at that time, deftly blending horror and comedy troupes together for maximum effect. He would only go on to direct one other film, bottoming out with 1993’s odious Robocop 3. Hopefully, he can take solace in the fact that both have gone on to find generous followings, an audience who appreciates his talents, and film lovers who are on his wavelength. More importantly, he managed to get this film buff to move past his rants and raves to deeply enjoy a film that transcends the trappings of nostalgia.

-David

*And VH1 for those horrendous I-Love-Whatever –Decade-Is-In-Vogue-This-Week show staring D-list celebrities making truly God-awful jokes about New Coke and Dana Plato.

**Don’t get overly excited, to my knowledge, this never happened.

***I may have just coined this phrase, as Google doesn’t really provide me with solid hits on the phrase “team up movies”. If so, I will begin charging $10 per use of this phrase to those who wish to use it.