Ah the ’80s. The ’80s are unique in that they have a very distinct signature through the music, which was much more processed with the advancement of synthesizers and drum machines, the fashions were loud and colorful, as were the graphics and fonts.
The movies were no different, but it does seem there were a lot of shit movies from that decade. The music by and large (except for the NWOBHM, which was amazing) shitty. You can almost always identify an ’80s movie just by the credits.
Here we are taking just a sampling I happened to download this week, centering on a 1980s Comedy and Crime/Thriller with some ’80s movie stars and ’70s holdovers.
Not necessarily great movies.
Mississippi Burning (1988) Whooee, this is a hot one. This movie took a lot of crap for having zero black characters with any agency all other than a fictitious black FBI guy who tortures a confession out of a racist mayor (they took a lot of crap about that too) and the black guy who was murdered.
If you don’t know the plot it was based on 3 civil rights workers, 2 white Jews and a black kid, who were murdered by racist thugs, including a deputy sheriff and with the knowledge of the high sheriff, the cover-up and the investigation by FBI agents Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman) and Alan Ward (a young Daniel Defoe). The script is pure Hollywood scriptwriting 101, with the arc: first they start the investigation and have no leads, then they have a breakthrough and it looks like they’ll crack the case, then things go cold and just when it looks like all is lost, success! and the bad guys lose and the good guys win. Gene Hackman is the veteran Southerner who doesn’t play by the rules to get things done and Defoe is the by the book straight arrow who has some things to learn. Conflict!
They actually get in a fistfight over tactics and Ward draws his gun and puts it to Anderson’s head, which must have thrilled real FBI agents who detest unprofessional portrayals but hey, this is Hollywood!
The supporting case is amazing, let by Brad Dourif as the racist deputy, Gaylord Sartain as the racist sherrif, Steven Tobolowsky as the racist KKK head and R. Lee Ermey as the racist mayor and Micheal Rooker and Tyler Pruitt Vance as misc. racist thugs. A young and pretty Frances McDormand plays the deputy’s wife and the only non-racist in town (believe me, they have faux “man on the street” testimonials by townsfolk and every single one is racist). Kevin Dunn as an FBI agent is his usual wonderful self, love that guy. Park Overall and Frankie Faison (Coming to America, Silence of the Lambs) are also featured. What a bunch of talent in this movie, great casting!
Turns out in the real story it was a Highway Patrolman wracked with guilt who spilled the beans, but they couldn’t have very well have had Gene Hackman fucking cooperation out of him, so they changed it to a slutwife. Under pressure, they reportedly removed all scenes of physical intimacy between them because I guess it would have besmirched her noble act, but the innuendo is still there.
Trevor Jones does a nice job with the soundtrack and the movie isn’t overly preachy and is good for young people to see so they can learn what REAL racism was like, these are not microaggressions or dog whistles, they beat black people with impunity and hung them from trees in their front yards in those days. Also, this is what federal hate crime legislation was written for, as these men would never have been found guilty by their peers. A stark contrast to today when graffiti is considered a hate crime and every word in the dictionary is considered a dog whistle as long as it is uttered by a conservative.
The main lesson they should take is Every. Single. One. Of. These. Racists. Is. A. Democrat. and without Republican solidarity the Civil Rights laws of the ’60s would never have passed. And spare me the much debunked Southern Strategy, the South didn’t become solid Republican for another 40 years after these events. The Democrats deserve all the blame and shame for these events and should have to face it and pay for it. Rating: it’s a classic, you can only give it a 4 and no less.
Penn and Teller Get Killed (1989) Starting from the extreme edge of the ’80s, an exploitation movie where you take someone from another entertainment genre and give them a move, and not just a movie, but totally dedicated to them and their personas.
Again, I love P&T but this movie is a sorry ’80s artifact. Instead of copying the formula of other pop and rock stars who made movies, like the Beatles, they only copied half the formula. Since the Beatles could barely act (the glorification of Ringo notwithstanding) they had them play an ersatz form of their actual personalities so it wouldn’t be a strain. P&T do this here, and since they do a stage act 200 nights a week this is not hard for them to play their P&T chars. However, the 2nd part of the secret is Hard Days Night gave the public what they really loved about the Beatles and something they did do well, which was not acting: it was playing their songs.
If P&T had focused on more magic the movie might have been more entertaining. In fact, what they should have done was a live concert film of their stage show instead of a total flop, which is what this was. The only interesting part of the movie is the upsidedown thing at the beginning (which I think I saw on SNL at the time). Come decent supporting characters would have been good as well. Rating: sorry guys, I love you, but 1. And something lame I forgot about the ’80s: the hair, specifically Penn’s.
Coldblooded (1985) I love this film. I remembered it and wanted to rewatch it but I couldn’t remember which young guy starred in it (I thought it was Michael Pitt and looked there first) and could have sworn Peter Reigart was in but it wasn’t listed on his filmography. Finally I found it.
Jason Priestly play Cosmo Reif, very flat and almost emotionlessly, and does a very good job. He’s promoted to hitman and put under the tutelage of Steve (Reigart) and turns out he’s a natural. He has a ‘girlfriend’ who’s a hooker (Janeanne Garafalo, I bet you didn’t know she was that old did you?). He becomes so good at his job he displaces Steve and you can guess the rest. The extra money lets him move up a bit in the world, get a nice Lincoln Town Car and a big apartment (shades of Heat!) and starts going to yoga class to relax after a long day’s murdering and meets Jasmain (Kimberly Williams, looking very cute!) and they get involved. The scene where he gets rid of her ex is especially good.
She is naturally uncomfortable about his job so he promises to quit, offs Steve on boss’ orders but figures out he has to kill the boss, Gordon, (Robert Loggia) and his bodyguard or they’ll never let him leave.
There’s a great scene where he breaks in on suburbanites who have gotten crossways with the mob somehow, Michael J. Fox and his wife and talks to them for a bit about relationships and how long they waited before they had sex, how to keep the love fresh and etc then he kills them both. Rating 4, really like this movie, Reigart is the best
Personal Services (1989) Thank God for Handmade films. Without George Harrison’s foray into indy films we wouldn’t have Life of Brian or Time Bandits or Shanghai Sur- er, some other Monty Python related films. George’s music career wassn’t doing so well at this time, and outside of the MP related films (and even some of them) his movie studio suffered the same problem as his music: he had totally lost touch with public tastes. Even when he thought he was grabbing the zeitgeist, like with Madonna and Sean Penn, it turned to shit.
This movie is one of those dry and understated British comedies (that is, a typical British comedy) with zero laughs and few smiles even. For a movie about sex workers, there’s precious little sex and what nudity there is, is mostly flabby middle aged men and women or worse, flabby British men standing around in bras and panties waiting to get their bot-bots spanked.
The movie is based on the Cynthia Payne story, where a landlord (Julie Walters, who is a gem) has to kick out a hooker who can’t pay rent, then the john shows up and she says wtf she could use a good shag and before she knows it she’s running a bordello, or more precisely a kinky fetish dungeon. Eventually she gets busted, as she must or we never would have heard the story (well maybe, I don’t think Xaviera Hollender ever got busted in a big way). Rating: 2 not very funny although good to see Julie working.
Sole Survivor (1984) Before Final Destination there was Sole Survivor, with the same plot! A woman, Denise (Anita Skinner?) narrowly escapes death in a plane crash where she’s the Sole Survivor (hence the name!) and feels like she should have died. Everyone think she just has survivor’s guilt. She meets up with a psychic, Carla (Caren Larkey), who predicted the crash but predicted everyone would die. Then it gets weird as she has visions, meets zombies and people around her start dying. This DVD has a great cover, btw, better than the movie deserves, as is often the case. Even the font is worth the price.
Denise confides in her best friend and neighbor Kristy (Robin Davidson), so you know Kristy is doomed, but they figure out she was supposed to die in the crash and Death is sending recently deceased people to haunt her until he can finish the job. Sure enough, Death sends a zombie to kill Kristy by mistake, then Kristy herself becomes a zombie, murders a taxi driver and the 2 team up to kill Denise. Talk about collateral damage, it would have been a lot less messy had he just killed her in the plane crash. What the hell happened there?
She goes to see Carla, who is acting really weird and don’t you know she’s become a zombie herself after committing suicide in guilt over her powers just before Denise came over. She shoots Denise and goes back to the bathroom to finish dying for good.
Denise is in the morgue with Carla, Kristy and various other cadavers from Death’s murderous rampage while a suspicious pathologist starts typing up a report of the weird goings-on when we see the corpses rise up behind him and presumably kill him to keep Death’s fuckups from becoming public knowledge.
Evil That Men Do (1984) Well, let’s go out weak, with a formula Charles Bronson movie of the ’80s- he’s Holland, a former CIA assassin who lives a quiet life on a tropical island but is coaxed out of retirement by the murder of a colleague from the old days.
The villains are like the worst bad guys imaginable, a Josef Mengele type Clement Molloch (Joseph Maher) a scientist who researched the optimum torture techniques to sell to Central and South American dictators sp they can terrorize dissidents and intimidate political opponents so they can enrich themselves at the expense of starving peasants. In other words, the worst people since the Nazies, so Holland is totally covered here morally in killing everyone he can.
You can’t overstate how bad these guys are:
“They said my sister and her husband were running guns to the rebels. My sister was pregnant, they beat her many times on the belly, one day they took her away and I never saw her alive again. Her body was found in the street. When she was cut open her husband’s head (!!!) was found inside her.”
This is an actual “news report” from the movie. It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the over the top badness of these guys. How did they get the head in there? Did it go up her snootch? The mind boggles.
They made another woman eat her own shit and they drove nails through another guy’s testicles before castrating him. Another woman’s husband was cut open and his intestines pulled out, another burnt with acid. They forced a woman to eat ground glass. This guy was a dedicated researcher, I’ll say that for him.
But after all this Holland has all the lief he needs to kill any number of brown cannon fodder to get to the white scientist.
This movie is so bizarre it is laugh out loud funny. Holland poses with his deceased friend’s widow as husband and wife and pick up Randolph, a big black guy, Molloch’s security guy and baits him by pretending to be a willing cuckhold who enjoys seeing big black men fuck his pretty little wife. Randolph is down for anything so they go back to the hotel where just as Randolph says “how about a drink to get this party started?” Holland throws a knife into his throat aand watches him bleed out. The setup is fucking hilarious, as is most of this movie, but not intentionally. “Don’t come in here dear!” Holland says. She does anyway and slapfights him for being so violent with the torturing Nazies.
He sends her home and really gets down to business. He kidnaps the sadistic nurse/assistant sister of Molloch (Antoinette Bower), hangs her bodyguard from a fire hose 20 floors high in front of a busload of schoolkids. They oo and ah at the brave gringo.
He hides out at Rhiana’s (Theresa Saldana), another dissident’s widow. He forces Molloch’s sister to talk to Molloch on the phone and demands ransom for her, but it’s a ruse. Before Holland can spring the trap the good doctor and his goons figure out where Holland is and come a’runnin’. Holland escapes with Rianna and Molloch’s sister in the trunk but when they get out they find the baddies’ bullets have killed her. Luckily he got a tape of her crying to her brother for help! That just might come in handy later since he doesn’t know she’s dead.
Rianna takes Holland to her ancestral village to hide out and he witnesses the extreme poverty and nobility of the poor peasants. He arranges to meet Molloch’s goons to bargain for the ransom, Rianna walks in and surprises everyone and as they stand up Holland blasts them all dead with a shotgun. I mean, wtf? He gets back on the phone with Molloch and tells him his sister is not suffering, and insists he come himself this time at an old abandoned mine.
When Holland and Rianna arrive they find the mines are not abandoned at all, but worked by deformed victims of Molloch’s experiments who cannot find work anywhere else so they look for scraps at the played out mine. Holland warns them a dangerous man is coming and turns out they know Molloch and would be glad to see him again.
Turns out Molloch has captured Rianna’s young daughter and demands his sister or he will kill her.
“I regret what may seem excessively cruel, but I will do anything to get my sister back.” he says reasonably. “A fair exchange, the child for my sister! Where is she? Where is she? She isn’t here is she? IS SHE!?”
“She’s here,” Holland reassures him, playing the recording of her voice in the echoing canyon.
All Molloch’s legless, faceless, deformed and maimed victims come out of the mines to greet him and they are quite grim and serious. As they approach one kills Molloch’s last goon with a rock, freeing the child and the rest of them begin tearing Molloch’s car, in which he has retreated, to bits. They drag him out pound him to hamburger with their pickaxes. Lots of stage blood and guts.
Holland and friends frolic on an tropical beach under the credits. Rating 4, pure entertainment.