Memories of the 80s

In which we present a nostalgic and slightly emotional post, reminiscing over some of the lesser lights of 80s cinema.

A silver top-loader VCR. Lest we forget.

Sure, we all remember Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the FutureThe Lost Boys et al, but silver top-loader VCRs across the nation also whirred, clicked and chewed their way through a whole host of movies that have since become lost in the mists of time. Until now. Here’s ten to get those nostalgic juices flowing. Some are good, some are bad, some should have been strangled at birth, but all took root in my fertile little mind and set me on the road to movie fandom. 

The Boy Who Could Fly (1986) After her dad commits suicide, a teenage girl moves to a new neighbourhood and finds herself drawn towards the orphaned, mute, autistic boy next door, who harbours an amazing secret (can you guess what it is?) and inspires her to embrace life once more. Corny and whimsical, but I liked it, even though it was sad at the end. And how I wished I could live next door to a girl like that, but sadly I wasn’t orphaned, mute or retarded enough. Plus it had Fred Savage in it as her bratty kid brother and yer man Fred Gwynne from the Munsters. Solid 80s fare!

The Chocolate War (1988)
One of the first 'proper' books I read, after moving on from Enid Blyton and The Hardy Boys, was Robert Cormier's The Chocolate War, an unsettling teen novel about power, corruption and mob rule set in a private high school. Keith Gordon's film adaptation is a similarly bleak, 'feel-bad' coming of age movie, with terrific performances all round. However, the ending of the book was changed for a more audience-friendly one in the movie, turning the story into a still-satisfying revenge tale, but missing the overall pessimistic intent of the novel. So, it left me slightly puzzled - are filmmakers actually allowed to do that? Ah, the naivety of youth.....

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1987)
In a post-apocalyptic world ruled by amphibians, Sam Hell (Rowdy Roddy Piper - who else?) is needed to rescue fertile women from a city of frog-people and impregnate them to save the human race. Should he refuse this onerous task, his nads will be blown off by the bomb strapped to his cock. Utter balls, and yet, strangely, utter genius and should be required viewing for every teenage boy who's ever dreamt of wooing women and killing mutant frogs (and who hasn't?). Although, to my eternal shame, I never did catch up with the tantalising sounding sequel The Toad Warrior.

Man, I wished I was even half this cool when I was young. One of the films that launched a thousand Brat Packers is a moving slice of teen drama, given extra gravitas by the guiding hand of Francis Ford Coppola behind the camera. These characters may have been a million miles away from my ordered, middle-class upbringing (demonstrated best by the shocking exhibition of teen delinquency in which Emilio Estevez sits down to watch cartoons in the middle of the day whilst drinking beer and eating a cake. A whole cake!), but along with 3 other SE Hinton novels/film adaptations (Rumble Fish; Tex; That Was Then, This is Now), it showed that teen angst was the same the world over, regardless of time, place or class. And it even made poetry sound cool. Impressive indeed. Stay gold, Ponyboy, stay gold

"So, do you like
gladiator movies?"
Lamb (1986) So, a story about a young priest who kidnaps an epileptic child from a boarding school and forms a special bond with him as they flee the country? You wouldn’t get away with it these days! But viewed in a more innocent time, this was powerful stuff, with moving performances from Liam Neeson and Hugh O’Conor (who also excelled as the young Christy Brown in My Left Foot) as the story leads to a tragic conclusion – it’ll make you cry like a big girl. This sort of bleak Irish drama has been done before to varying degrees of success, but this is one of the worthier efforts.

Slipstream (1989)                   A sobering lesson in the power of marketing and hype. On the ads, the gravel-voiced man made this sound like the biggest, bestest, excitingest movie ever made, ever. And it starred Luke Skywalker! And so, with a trembling hand, I inserted the video into the VCR with feverish anticipation, only to experience a complete balls of a movie, devoid of thrills, spills or logic. I can't even print a summary of the plot because if the film-makers couldn't be bothered with one, then why should I? The first film that genuinely disappointed me, although sadly not the last.

Blood Beach (1980) Sadly the tagline is the only inspired thing about this abysmal Jaws rip-off in which people are sucked to their death by something under the sand. Make no mistake, this is a big steaming shitpile of a horror movie, which even the legend Burt Young can't salvage. But it earns its place here because it was the first film I remember seeing that had a 'back from the dead' ending, which left me a little shaken, in spite of all the bollocks that had preceded it. Still not worth seeing though - watch Tremors instead.

The Go Kids (1986) When the delectable Bronwyn first appeared in Aussie soap Neighbours, my first thought was "Holy crap, that's the girl from The Go Kids!”. My second thought was "My, she has blossomed…”. Yes, even though I rented The Go Kids because Eliott from ET was in it, it was the young Bronwyn that made it memorable and that schoolboy crush was happily extended during her time in Erinsborough (Still can't believe she cheated on Henry with Mike). From the misleading video cover (a lightsabre?), you might expect a Goonies type of adventure from this film, but instead it's a sort of low-key, coming-of-age, semi-mystical tale, featuring BMXs, a bit of teen angst and a monster at the bottom of a lake that turns out to be a JCB. Confusingly, it also goes under the names of Frog Dreaming and The Quest – maybe the director Brian Trenchard-Smith wanted to make it look like he'd made more films that he did because, sadly, he never scaled these heights again, progressing to make stuff like Leprechaun 4: Leprechaun in Space. Still, he can rest easy in the knowledge that at least one of his films is remembered fondly. As for Bronwyn, she went on to marry cricketer Stuart McGill. The cow.

Paperhouse (1988) A sick girl finds her drawings come to life during her fevered dreams, but all manner of problems arise when she attempts to erase some of her drawing. This scared me silly when i was younger; the weird visuals (that house!) and the creepy soundscape proving extremely unsettling and tapping effectively into childhood fears. Especially the fear of being chased by a bloke with a hammer screaming "Is that you? I'm BLIND!!". Scary stuff.

Mask (1985) Ok, so it's the Elephant Man for kids. But it's still great and come the end you'll once more find me complaining loudly about an irritating mote in my eye. It was good for all involved - director Peter Bogdanovich proved there was life after The Last Picture Show. Cher proved she could act. Eric Stoltz proved red hair was not an obstacle to acting, so long as you were prepared to play ugly characters. And Laura Dern proved she was once pretty, before she got kinda hard looking. The kind of film that makes you feel sad and happy at the same time.

So concludes our wander down the less-travelled roads of yesteryear - that's what it was like back in my day, kids. Course, in my day, they didn't even have days, just a man with a bell who went around telling people when to sleep. And it was a proper bell, not like the ones they have these days...

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