Gather ’round children and I will tell you a tale. A tale of days gone by and of movies that at any other time in history would have been forgotten. This tale is of a device that magically reanimated mediocre, even bad films, such that everyone in my age group knows of these films and can even quote them.
What is this dark force, this twisted Istari that brings the trivial instead of wisdom?
Mid-80’s cable television. (cue bolt of lightning/crash of thunder)
You see, back before the world wide super tubeway net 2.0 service pack 4, before digital satellite and digital cable, before anyone making less than 200k a year had a cell phone, there were 57 channels. Usually divided between "A" cable and "B" cable. "A" cable contained all the stuff you wanted, like local channels, news channels, and movie channels. "B" cable contained public access, and C-SPAN. And for your 57 channels you were charged more or less what you are today for 500+ channels. And because of that you tended to watch whatever was on because paying for TV was still very new, so people felt compelled to watch it, even the crap because hey…already paid for it right?
The problem was HBO and Showtime and the various movie channels didn’t really have a huge library of movies to show. So they tended to take what they did have and play it in heavy rotation, such that a particular movie might get shown 80 or 90 times a month. Combine this with the idle time of School breaks for children in that era and you end up with this, the top ten bad/mediocre movies that I’ve seen more times than Citizen Kane.
As if this film’s support of the neutering of Jefferson Starship into the insufferable "Starship" wasn’t bad enough, it starred sexy hot young Kim Cattrall, which meant in my teenage years I was basically going to watch the entire movie for that alone. For some reason, I assume for stay-at-home housewives, this romantic "comedy" almost always played in the morning hours before 1pm. Which ensured I would idly end up watching it while eating some form of breakfast type meal.
A story about an egyptian goddess of some sort forever condemned to be a department store mannequin until she finds true love, this film is so gut wrenchingly bad I live in constant fear of developing intestinal cancer at some point due to my youthful repeated exposure to it.
#2: Police Academy 2
This movie featured a man eating cereal his cat had just pooped in. Later, he eats a half eaten thrown away chocolate bar that has ants on it. After that do I really need to go into how crass and juvenile the rest of the plot was? Why did I watch it? 50% because it was on, and 50% for Colleen Camp as officer Kirkland. This is another film I fear future cancer from youthful exposure. This time it’s brain cancer.
#3: Turk 182!
Ahhh back to another Kim Cattrall classic. This was a perfectly mediocre film, the story of a rebellious young graffitti artist who uses a "Kilroy was here" type persona to fight back against a city hall who unfairly denied benefits to his firefighter brother who was injured on the job. He finds clever and ever more expensive-to-clean ways to put "Turk 182" on various city landmarks. The movie makes no sense in the end as the city, desperate to find who the heck this Turk 182 person is, misses the fact he’s spraypainting his brother’s Firefighting helmet number, 182. This isn’t a movie I’m ashamed to have seen a million times, but it’s one of those films that would have faded forever into obscurity without endless replays on cable.
Hold on folks, I’m going to fold space in order to explain this to you. Most people think this is a cheap rip off of Indiana Jones, and they are right except that it’s a remake of movies and stories featuring Allan Quartermain going back to 1919. And all the film versions have as their source H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 story "King Solomon’s Mines." Lucas himself has cited the stories of Allan Quartermain as influences on Indiana Jones. So you have a cheap rip off that’s actually a remake of the very thing that inspired the thing being ripped off. This particular film is worth the price of admission for both a young Sharon Stone as well as a barbarian axe-wielding James Earl Jones as unintentional comic relief.
#5: Red Dawn
Now save your flame mail. I’m not here to say Red Dawn was a boatload of cheap 80’s bratpack starring Reagan-esque propaganda. I’m here to tell you that the greatest scene in any movie EVER is Powers Booth’s glum defeatist shot down pilot character, Col. Andy Tanner. Just chew, *chew*, on this exchange:
Col. Andy Tanner: …The Russians need to take us in one piece, and that’s why they’re here. That’s why they won’t use nukes anymore; and we won’t either, not on our own soil. The whole damn thing’s pretty conventional now. Who knows? Maybe next week will be swords.
Darryl Bates: What started it?
Col. Andy Tanner: I don’t know. Two toughest kids on the block, I guess. Sooner or later, they’re gonna fight.
Jed Eckert: That simple, is it?
Col. Andy Tanner: Or maybe somebody just forget what it was like.
Jed Eckert: …Well, who *is* on our side?
Col. Andy Tanner: Six hundred million screaming Chinamen.
Darryl Bates: Last I heard, there were a billion screaming Chinamen.
Col. Andy Tanner: There *were*.
[he throws whiskey on the fire; it ignites violently, suggesting a nuclear explosion]
If you grew up in a world without early 80’s Reagan sword rattling, or The Day After, Amerika, or Red Dawn, you missed out on some classic us vs. them fear mongering. You think the current government is good at fear mongering? Kids in the early to mid eighties worried about nuclear war before they went to bed.
This is the masterpiece that inspired a generation to immediately refer to any sequel with the ":Electric Boogaloo" moniker. It’s a story of how breakin’ through stereo types and breakin’ in general helps save a community center from the evil company that wants to turn it into a strip mall. This movie also taught anyone with a modicum of muscle control how to do "The Robot," a tactic that I intend to use during the coming zombie apocolypse to fool them into thinking my brains are circuit boards and thus escape.
The first Nightmare on Elm Street holds up ok as a horror film. It’s got crazy over the top blood effects, a decent hook, and the requisite amounts of female nudity/skimpy clothing. The second one, which Wes Craven actually refused to work on, is ultimate campy stupid crap. Although it does contain my favorite Freddy line, "We’ve got work to do you and me, you’ve got the body…and I’ve got the brains" where then Freddy peels back his skull to expose his brain. Most of the worst of the Freddy quotes that people like to quote actually come from this movie. Even though most people agree it’s really not very good. Personally it gave me nightmares and the entire Freddy aspect in this movie seemed to me to be the most evil, while still managing to be really campy and silly.
I confess right now I’ve never been all that impressed with Clive Barker’s horror. Hell, the tagline for Hellraiser was "Sadomasochists from beyond the grave!" That doesn’t sound like it’s destined for the front part of the rental store. But any movie that can inspire almost an entire generation to quote "Jesus Wept" in the same tortured/sensual tone as the movie has got to be ok in my book. It also forever conditioned me to be creeped out by chattering teeth.
This simple morality tale is one of the few examples where a relatively mediocre movie actually benefitted from the exposure and one of the few on the list I can watch today and enjoy and get a good feeling from. The story of Monty Brewster as played by Richard Pryor and his attempt to spend 30 million dollars without attaining a single asset in order to inherit 300 million dollars is both serious and silly. From his minor league team’s exhibition game against the New York Yankees to his running as "None of the Above" for mayor, this is a showcase example of how truly gifted Richard Pryor was and how deft he was with picking a safe script (The Toy, Superman 3) for every concert movie he did that made the white folk laugh nervously (All of them). I watch this movie and just really really miss his comedy.
#10: Night of the Comet
Comet passes by Earth, anyone outside turns to dust. Anyone partially outside becomes a cannibal zombie. Anyone in a cave or metal container survives. Ironically, this is the same comet that, when it passed by 65 million years ago, did the same thing to the dinosaurs. I used to watch this movie and think, has anyone ever made a dinosaur zombie movie? because *that* would be fucking awesome. Instead, we get treated to a bizarre sequence in the middle of the movie where the two lead girls in the film get bored and go on a shopping spree to a Cyndee Lauper tune. It’s bad folks. It’s real bad.
There’s so many more movies I could have put in the list. The Manhattan Project. Howard the Duck. Explorers. Buckaroo Bonzai. D.A.R.Y.L. But I’d be here all night. I think that was a unique time period because very little else competed for our time in those days. Today you have a hundred fold increase in the exposure something can get, but with that comes the darwinian process of not bothering with anything that is even marginally entertaining because there is so much better stuff out there. So I think mid 80’s cable stands out as a place where the audience felt more compelled to watch crap, and the crap became more pervasive.
And I wouldn’t change that for the world.