Top 5 Weird '80s Movies
Original version published on starburstmagazine.com January 2022. Uncut for the first time, as it features the controversial Soul Man!
The 1980s- everyones favourite nostalgia playground, from bright colours and mullets to iconic films that continue to thrill, well into the 21st century. Let’s not forget though that this period also brought us a host of questionable creative choices, which could be scary, unpleasant or just plain racist. Please find below the top 5 films that should be left, well and truly, in the decade of decadence…
Howard the Duck (Dir. Willard Huyck 1986)
Probably the most famous of the ‘80s oddities, this George Lucas produced film, based on the Marvel comics character, was a huge flop. It is suitably goofy and matches the feel of the period but failed to appeal to anybody. Howard (voiced by Chip Zien but played by multiple small actors and children) is dragged to Earth from Duck World by a laser beam (he smashes through a neighbouring apartment where we are treated to duck breasts, a family picture?), he then teams up with rock singer Beverly (Lea Thompson) they mingle and even get in bed together, all of which takes up half of the film. Eventually our antagonist arrives in the form of the Lord of the Universe, who inhabits the body of scientist Walter Jennings (Jeffrey Jones), all ending with a rock concert because, well, it was 1986. It was a strange idea to adapt such an obscure character, who is housed in a slightly unnerving looking costume. Some of the early jokes and situations are not suitable for children (the burgeoning romance between human and duck is just weird) however much of the film is too wacky for adults. On the DVD commentary George Lucas said that in 20 years the film will be seen as a masterpiece, give it another 20 George.
Uninvited (Dir. Greydon Clark 1987)
This odd horror film gained some popularity on YouTube and compilation TV shows, for its use of a cat puppet and poor broken glass sound effects. Unfortunately, the film itself can’t live up to the initial laughs at such a ridiculous looking antagonist. The cat in question has been infected by a deadly virus, escapes the lab where it is being held and ends up on the yacht of shady businessman Alex Cord (Walter Graham), who has invited some trendy young boys and gals along for the ride, with sinister intentions. It isn’t clear what the virus has done to the poor feline, it appears that a cat puppet escapes its mouth and then is thrown onto the actor in question, who then slowly die from the wound. Naturally the budget is low, so we spend far too much time on the boat with Alex Cord, who turns on his trendy young things in various yawn inducing scenes. What looks fun in snippets, is ultimately boring with a creature that makes no sense. A film that will not be invited into the modern day.
'A by-the-numbers ‘80s comedy, crushed by the weight of unabashed racism.'
Soul Man (Dir. Steve Miner 1986)
It is hard to believe that this story line would have ever been acceptable, except in the hands of D.W. Griffiths. C Thomas Howell plays pampered teen Mark, whose Dad refuses to pay for his Harvard Law degree - clearly his only option is to pose as an African-American, to gain a free scholarship. Yes, that’s right, he ‘blacks up’ and must maintain the illusion with stuffy Dean, Professor Banks (James Earl Jones) and love interest Sarah (Rae Dawn Chong). The film is flimsy on how Mark achieves this look, merely stating he used tanning pills. In reality, he sports a black afro wig, brown make-up and black contact lenses. Outside of the hideously racist main plot, Soul Man hits familiar beats - struggling to keep the deception alive, eventually being exposed and then trying to apologise to those affected. Sarah and Professor Banks are annoyed at the deception but not the racial appropriation Mark displays. On a side note, Howell and Dawn Chong married after filming, clearly, she forgave him for such a lack of moral oversight, or maybe not, as they divorced shortly after. A by-the-numbers ‘80s comedy, crushed by the weight of unabashed racism.
The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (Dir. Rod Amateau 1987)
The fondly remembered sticker trading cards, were popular enough for a feature film to be made, and even though the film is horrifying, probably not in the way the filmmakers intended. Dodger (Mackenzie Austin) is being viciously bullied by older teenagers (in fact they look like adults, who are tormenting a young boy, including pouring sewage on him. What is wrong with these guys!). He is saved by the Garbage Pail Kids, who appear to have come to Earth in a trash can spaceship and hang out in the antique store where Dodger works. The Kids are played by Little People with animatronic masks, however unlike the great work used on the 1990 Turtles film, only 3 years later, their faces hardly move, which makes for a terrifying experience. The actors look like they are desperately trying to break out of these death masks. Much of the film consists of the Kids singing terrible songs and sewing clothes, to help Dodger impress sympathetic member of the gang, Tangerine (Katie Barberi), who turns out to be nasty anyway. The whole thing leaves you feeling unclean and revolted.
Mac and Me (Dir. Stewart Raffill 1988)
This E.T. knock off is mainly remembered for being an excuse to advertise McDonald’s and Coca Cola, representing everything that is wrong about the 1980s. When a group of aliens on a desert planet are accidentally sucked into a probe and returned to earth, the youngest alien hides out in a family’s minivan, coming to the attention of wheelchair bound Eric (first time actor Jade Calegory). The rest plays out like the Spielberg classic, with Eric naming him Mac (short for Mysterious Alien Creature) and agents on their trail, keen to exploit any powers Mac might have. The difference is that the aliens look awful, like life size Boglins, most of the film is spent at a McDonald’s party, complete with extended Ronald McDonald cameo and, most egregiously, the alien family are brought back to life with the power of Coca-Cola. Of course, many of the most successful cartoons of this period, including Transformers and GI Joe, were merely created to sell toys- the difference being that creativity was prioritised when imagining the worlds of Cybertron and Cobra-La. Mac and Me ended up, like so many Happy Meals, half eaten and thrown in the bin.
WARRIORS TWO (1978) / THE PRODIGAL SON (1981) Blu-ray review
04/02/2022 on starburstmagazine.com
Sammo Hung’s double love letter to Wing Chun Kung Fu, features in the latest release from Eureka. The films and accompanying extras are a must-have for fans of the genre, however, if you already own the Hong Kong Legends versions, there is little extra to enjoy here.
Both films are 2K restorations and feature the real-life character of Leung Jan - Warriors Two (1978), features an older version of the character, who agrees to teach the fantastically named Casanova Wong (a Korean super-kicker) the art of Wing Chun, which he must utilise, with the help of his fellow student Fei Chun (the loveable Sammo), to defeat an evil crime boss who has taken over the town. The choreography and stunt work emanating from this troupe of actors is some of the finest of the genre. The Prodigal Son (1981) is a starring vehicle for Sammo’s regular stunt man and opera alumni Yuen Biao. Yuen plays a younger version of the character, pampered by his family, who pay opponents to lose to him. When an opera performer and Wing Chun master, played by the great Lam Ching-ying, won’t take the bait, Leung Jan tries to become his student, as they clash with a Kung Fu master with royal connections (Frankie Chan). Sammo directs but only features in an extended cameo, but the brutal choreography, splashes of humour and opera setting are permeated with his DNA.
Warriors Two features two commentaries - the Cantonese original version has Frank Djeng and actor Bobby Samuels, while the English dub has Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. The latter talks less about the scenes in the film but displays a fantastic knowledge of Hong Kong cinema and its weird and wacky components. It also has a making-of feature, which is the same as the Hong Kong Legends version. The Prodigal Son has the same characters on commentary and features archival interviews from Sammo, Yuen and Wing Chun advisor - Guy Lai. Yuen Biao’s interview is especially interesting as he details how they went to study martial arts in Korea. Again, many of these interviews have previously been used on other releases. Finally, the disc contains a fun feature with Wing Chun teacher Alex Richter, in which he discusses the art and gives some demonstrations. A solid release, but if you already own these films there’s no major reason to upgrade, but if you don’t, buy this package immediately!