It cannot be expressed enough how special being a kid in the mid to late 1980’s (and even early ’90s) truly was. With literally out-of-this-world cartoons, toy lines, and video games geared at children in the form of Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, and Transformers (among many others), it felt like nearly anything and everything was possible.
But it wasn’t just the Saturday morning cartoon shows that caught on to marketing to younger audiences as far as television was concerned; prime time shows such as Growing Pains, Charles in Charge, and Head of the Class, were aiming more and more focus towards its younger viewers. And when ALF first premiered on NBC on September 22, 1986, network executives clearly scored a hit that was “out of this world.”
I remember watching it in New Jersey with my entire family that very same night (back when something as simple as a TV show’s premiere still felt like an event – something that sadly seems light years away these days), and being completely invested in it. I instantly feel in love, and, like many of the previously-mentioned franchises, ALF merchandise soon became sought-after items in our household.
The plot was simple enough in it’s own E.T.-type way; Gordan Shumway (a.k.a. “ALF”) crash-lands into the garage of a suburban California family, the Tanners, after his home planet Melmac is destroyed. Rather than report this to any authorities, the Tanners decide to keep him hidden, and ALF becomes a reluctant house guest, much to the jargon of the parents, Willie (Max Wright), and Kate (Anne Schedeen). All this was the creation of Tom Patchett and Paul Fusco (who also voiced ALF, as well as performed head puppeteer duties). An animated series also landed on Saturday mornings the following year, and ran until 1989.
Over the course of his four years on television, ALF managed to drive a Ferrari, make a music video (where he played all of the instruments, of course), blow up a kitchen, and get Willie detained by the FBI, all the while plotting to eat the family cat, Lucky (albeit never succeeding). This would go on until March 24, 1990 (my ninth birthday), when the series was unexpectedly given the axe and aired its last episode.
Dean Cameron, who had a recurring role as Lynn Tanner’s boyfriend Robert Sherwood in the show’s final season, painted a vivid behind the scenes picture of the show. (Cameron had corresponded with me several times via email; though a full interview never did transpire in time, he did send me a link to a piece he penned called “I Was on ALF” on his personal website.) “I received a sort of “rule sheet” with my script. The main one being, ‘Don’t refer to ALF as a puppet. ALF is ALF.’ Yep. When talking about ALF (a puppet), you don’t say, The Puppet, you say “ALF.” He also described a tense moment on set when Wright lost his cool and uttered one of the “greatest lines” he has ever heard, “PUT US ON STICKS!!! WE’RE THE PUPPETS! WE’RE THE PUPPETS!!!”
But things did not end there entirely for ALF. In 1996, a TV movie, Project: ALF, helped wrap up the character’s journey a little better than it’s original anti-climatic finale (though none of the Tanner family appeared). Sadly, Max Wright passed away in 2019 at the age of 75. Michu Meszaros, who also portrayed the costumed ALF in the none-puppet scenes, also passed away in 2016. But thirty-five years later, we’re still here talking about the show they helped make so memorable, and propel us all into another orbit. Not too shabby, guys.
Few fictional ‘rock’ flicks have ever perfectly captured the essence of sex, drugs, and rock and roll as well as 2001’s Rock Star. Tagged with the line “The story of the wanna be, who got to be,” its source inspiration was drawn from the real life fairy tale of Tim “Ripper” Owens, who landed the dream job as frontman for heavy metal legends Judas Priest after being discovered singing the band’s material in a cover band.
Directed by Stephen Herek, the film uses this idea to tell the story of Chris “Izzy” Cole (Mark Wahlberg), who goes from singer for a Steel Dragon cover act, to the real deal almost overnight. He instantly feels all of the highs and lows going from obscurity to the big leagues, with many of his personal relationships ultimately straining as a result, including his romance with girlfriend/manager Emily Poule (Jennifer Aniston).
Having previous experience as lead singer for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Wahlberg pulls off playing Cole like a pro. He’s surrounded by more ‘real life’ musicians throughout the film, with guitarist Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne/Black Label Society), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), and drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin) making up the rest of the lineup of the fictional Steel Dragon.
Outside of Steel Dragon, there’s use of many other notable musicians in the film; Slaughter drummer Blas Elias, Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy, and even one time L.A. Guns/future Steel Panther lead singer Ralph Saenz (a.k.a. Michael Star – see photo below) all pop up at one point or another. There’s even an homage of sorts to the 1984 classic This is Spinal Tap, when the band is seen photographed on the same rooftop featured in said film.
Aside from featuring many original songs by the likes of KISS, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard (among many others) throughout, it also contains a number of covers re-imagined as Steel Dragon originals, such as the Steelheart track “We All Die Young.” And while the other members of the fictional outfit perform on these songs, oddly, Wahlberg does not sing on them. Instead the vocal duties are handled by Steelheart vocalist Miljenko Matijevic, and one-time Journey singer Jeff Scott Soto.
Making under $20 million on a $50-plus million dollar budget, Rock Star fell short of making the impression filmmakers had hoped it would; this could likely be attributed to the fact it was released just days before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Still, the film has since maintained a life of its own among fans, and remains a go-to, rags-to-riches rock journey to this day.
It would make sense that after seeing Back to School in theaters thirty-five years ago, I would be re-visiting the movie today. It was one of my the earliest big-screen outings, where I can still hear Danny Elfman’s bombastic, dreamlike score reverberating through the aisles. I recognized similar musical queues from another movie my brother and I had seen the year prior called Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. In both cases, Danny Elfman was just starting what would become a long, illustrious career scoring films.
It was exciting to witness the rise of so many well-known artists back then. Their ascendancy attributed to the zeitgeist of popular culture, with one classic movie after another. In 1986, legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield scored big with a film that became the pinnacle of his career.
As kids, we forget how enormous movie screens looked. The dimming lights and flashing images from an unseen projector provided a surreal disruption of our adolescent sensibilities. I recall my bewildered shock of seeing “Large Marge’s” jarring, eye-popping reveal in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.The Claymation effects of her split-second transformation were courtesy of director Tim Burton, another rising star at the time.
I was equally enthralled with Rodney Dangerfield’s patented “Triple Lindy” dive, performed in succession from multiple diving boards and accompanied by Elfman’s music. My indiscriminating eyes saw no difference between Rodney and the obvious stunt double performing summersalts between closeups. To me, it was simple movie magic.
Rodney Dangerfield struggled for decades as a stand-up comedian. He worked odd jobs throughout the 1950’s to support his wife and family. His comedy act picked up steam in the 1970’s after what must have seemed a lifetime, and he soon became one of Johnny Carson’s favorite guests on the late-night circuit. Dangerfield’s working-class background was the perfect fit for Thornton Melon, self-made millionaire and owner of “Tall & Fat,” a plus-size clothing store.
In addition to multiple one-liners delivered by Dangerfield, Melon couldn’t have been closer to his own persona. The script’s four writers, Harold Ramis among them, decided somewhere along the line to make their main character rich, and it works to the movie’s advantage. Infinite wealth is an artifice effectively used with Batman and Mr. Burns, among others. We know these characters are capable of anything, but it takes good writing to make it interesting.
Thornton lives in the lap of luxury, heeding advice from his limo driver, bodyguard, and friend Lou (Burt Young). He soon discovers that his wife (Adrienne Barbeau) despises him and is fooling around. He promptly divorces her. With no one else to turn to, Thornton seeks out his college-aged son, Jason (Keith Gordon) and decides to enroll in college himself after learning about his son’s difficulties. Thornton means well but constantly irks and intrudes upon Jason’s goals. To Thornton, college is a means to an end. He didn’t need it to be successful, so why should his son? He buys his way onto campus and pays experts to do his homework, disregarding the point of higher education. This attitude pushes him further away from his son than he can understand.
Meanwhile, Jason develops a love interest in a girl named Valerie Demond (Terry Farrell) who happens to be seeing the lead diver on the diving team, Chas Osborne (William Zabka), the blond antagonist from The Karate Kid. Similarly, Thorton is smitten with his literature professor Dr. Diane Tuner (Sally Kellerman), who is seeing economics professor Dr. Phillip Barbay (Paxton Whithead). These parallels are subtly delivered in a movie that never slows down. Thorton and his son are two sides of the same coin. They’re equal protagonists, but Thorton ultimately steals the show by design.
Both Melons share moments of failing and subsequently redeem themselves by the third act. Thornton learns that money can’t buy everything, as his son learns to believe in himself, and Back to School is a movie that just works. I could compare it to a dozen other classics and equate its magic to no end. It was the movie Rodney Dangerfield had been working for his entire life. And to see him embrace the role of Thornton Melon and perform it so effortlessly is a pleasure to behold.
The movie’s enduring legacy also comes down to its casting. In addition to the actors mentioned, there’s Ned Beatty, Robert Downey Jr., Kurt Vonnegut (in a cameo appearance), and Danny Elfman himself, performing with his band Oingo Boingo at Thornton’s mega party. Sam Kinison, as the deranged Professor Terguson, undoubtedly delivers some of the movie’s most memorable comedic moments. He, like, Dangerfield, is at the top of his game. Kinison was one of the many comics Dangerfield promoted and featured on his early HBO standup specials. It would have been a dream to see them in more movies together.
The carefree academic environment portrayed in Back to School is obviously long dead. It’s not a movie that fits well with the times, but to that extent, nothing does. It remains a classic though in every sense, and that fills me with hope. I’ll never forget seeing it in theaters, fully taken with its wild-eyed protagonist and his incredibly entertaining journey.
The 1980’s no doubt saw an unprecedented surge of werewolf films; the original Howling starring Dee Wallace spawned a franchise full of endless sequels, while Stephen King’s Silver Bullet was adapted in to a feature film starring Corey Haim in 1984. And who can forget when Michael J. Fox became a Teen Wolf in 1985 (and when Jason Bateman followed in his paw prints for its sequel just two years after that?)? But out of all of these films, none of them reached the sheer surrealism (or weirdness) of 1981’s An American Werewolf inLondon, which just reached its fortieth birthday mark this past week.
Originally released on August 21 of that year, the plot found two best friends, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) attacked by a werewolf while backpacking through England together. Jack is killed mercilessly, while David survives the bloody ordeal, only to carry the curse of the lycanthropy with him until his eventual transformation.
In the meantime, David is taken in by the beautiful young nurse (Jenny Agutter) who befriended him while his stay in the hospital. Unbeknownst to her, David is not only suffering from terrifyingly vivid nightmares, he’s also being paid visits from a decaying Jack, warning David of his grim fate, and urging him to take his own life before it’s too late. When the inevitable finally happens and David turns, it causes for some of the most tense animal rampage moments ever captured on screen up until that time, eventually leading to its near tear-jerking climax.
The film was written and directed by John Landis, who was previously known primarily for such slapstick hits as National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980), which no doubt aided in the levels of dark comedy found within Werewolf. The award-winning makeup effects were handled by the legendary Rick Baker, whose resume not only includes such Hollywood blockbusters as Star Wars, but numerous other werewolf films as well, including not only the previously mentioned The Howling from the same year, but also Michael Jackson’s video for Thriller two years later (for which he and Landis were both handpicked by Jackson for their work on the film). But it was Baker’s revolutionary work on Werewolf that would forever help shape the face of the genre to come.
Even the music in the film stands out with its own sense of irony; not only are two different versions of the hit pop song “Blue Moon” featured, so is Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” (a band Rewind It Magazine was also there to cover live in 2019 – the “Revisited” version anyway). These songs (among others) are brilliantly inserted at prime moments throughout the movie.
Since it’s release, An American Werewolf in London has become somewhat of a cult classic, and was one of those films that seemed to always be on cable TV any given Saturday afternoon in the ’90s (I still even have the VHS copy of it that I picked up at a Kmart at some point in my teens). By the end of the decade, it even spawned it’s own stunningly predictable sequel, 1997’s An American Werewolf in Paris, starring Tom Everett Scott.
But it’s the original film that will no doubt be remembered for years to come. In 2007, I was lucky enough to meet the film’s star, David Naughton (see photo below). Even then, I asked him something along the lines of why he felt the film had such a lasting effect with audiences (my early journalistic instincts obviously kicking in), to which he said (and I’m completely paraphrasing here) something along the lines of; “I think it just struck a nerve because of how different and shocking it was at the time. People were not expecting what unfolded before them at all.” I couldn’t agree with you more, David.
In 1986, director Tobe Hooper released the last film in his three-picture deal with Cannon Films, a follow-up to his 1974 landmark horror tour de force, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Like many of our modern horror greats, the 1980s gave Hooper his most consistent and impressive output, unmatched in proceeding decades.
The success of Chainsaw launched Hooper from independent filmmaking to mainstream studio productions. He directed the well-received TV miniseries of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (1979), the atmospheric carnival slasher The Funhouse (1981), and the Steven Spielberg-produced supernatural horror classic Poltergeist (1982). Spielberg tapped Hooper to direct primarily from the visceral strength of Chainsaw, presenting Hooper with the challenge of directing a movie Spielberg had intended to make himself but couldn’t due to contractual obligations with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). Controversy over “who really directed the film” aside, Hooper proved to be undoubtedly the right choice for Poltergeist, and the evidence lies in his body of work.
Hooper’s deal with Cannon Films was something of a blessing for the former adolescent movie lover who spent his childhood in Austin theaters, absorbing everything he could. In two short years, he made three big budget movies with complete creative control. Unfortunately, Lifeforce (1985), his apocalyptic science-fiction epic, and Invaders from Mars (1986), a remake of the 1950s film of the same name, failed both critically and financially upon their release. This left Cannon with one last hope to cash in on the movie that had made their star director. They wanted a sequel every bit as harrowing and unsettling as the first one, and most importantly, just as successful. What they (and we) got was something completely different, a deranged sequel parody courtesy of Hooper and screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was a film Hooper initially only wanted to produce. Making a sequel more than a decade later to his most seminal work was a feat itself. He eventually took the helm and presented the cannibalistic Sawyer family in a modern setting. In the film, Leatherface & company have since moved underground thirteen years after the original massacre. But, as the opening title crawl tells us, “Reports of bizarre, grisly chainsaw mass-murders have persisted all across the state of Texas.” The story begins on a bizarrely satiric note that never lets up throughout the film’s all-out assault on unsuspecting viewers.
Hippies from the original have been replaced with obnoxious eighties yuppies, two jocks, on their way to see an Oklahoma-Texas (OU) football game. The blitzed yuppies shoot passing signs and scream and giggle hysterically as they call a local radio station with their bulky car phone to harass on air DJ Vanita “Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams). They soon reach a bleak end after playing “chicken” with the wrong pickup truck along a desolate Texas highway. Inexplicably unable to hang up, Stretch listens in horror as Leatherface (Bill Johnson) dispatches her two pesky callers with his massive chainsaw. General mayhem ensues with comic gore effects by the legendary Tom Savini and accompanying music by Oingo Biongo. Their song “No One Lives Forever” decidedly separates the sequel from any notion of being a straight horror film. Unbeknownst to the killers, Stretch records audio of the slaughter and keeps it as evidence.
The highway aftermath sees the arrival of Dennis Hopper, portraying Lieutenant Boude “Lefty” Enright, a former Texas Ranger. Lefty is obsessed with finding the Sawyer family and avenging the death of his wheelchair-bound nephew Francis (from the first film) and maiming of his niece Sally, the lone survivor. Hopper was the movie’s biggest star at the time and would solidify his comeback with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet later that year. Discovering the tape on hand, Lefty convinces Stretch to play the incriminating audio on air to “lure” the killers out of hiding. Meanwhile at the state-wide Chili Cookoff, Drayton Sawyer “The Cook” (Jim Siedow, the only returning cast member) has established an enterprising business from his family’s ritualistic killings and processing of human meat. Drayton later hears the recorded audio of the highway murders and sends Leatherface and “Chop Top” (Bill Moseley) to the radio station to eliminate the problem.
The tense confrontation between Caroline Williams and Bill Moseley is perhaps the movie’s most “nuanced” moment, followed by an ingenious jump scare that launches a chainsaw wielding Leatherface from the shadows and roaring into the room. Stretch screams, runs, and hides as her radio technician L.G. (Lou Perryman) is comically slaughtered by Chop Top. Leatherface then corners Stretch and uses his chainsaw in a perverse and overbearingly phallic manner. She survives their encounter by coaxing him into simulated chainsaw sex, and the rest is cinema history.
The movie screeches into its third act with Stretch making another inexplicable decision to follow the Sawyer family to their hideout. Lefty trails her and admits that she was used to discover where the Sawyer family is hiding. The two are separated as the movie plays out in the catacombs of Tobe Hooper’s twisted sensibilities. Lefty arms himself with multiple chainsaws and battles Leatherface in the only chainsaw duel of its kind.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 was not well-received when it first came out. It also had the misfortune of being released at a time of unadulterated MPAA tyranny, where slasher films were rubber-stamped with X ratings to no avail. Hooper chose to release the film unrated, similar to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985). In both cases, horror fans are fortunate to not have to track down uncut versions thirty years after the fact. Such a move took guts, and frankly, the movie is not that violent. There are maybe three on-screen deaths, some casual bloodletting, and a grotesque moment involving a skinless L.G., but it’s hardly worth the fuss. Call me desensitized, but there’s nothing in the film that warrants an “X.” The movie ends on the same chaotic note it began with, portraying Stretch manically dancing around with a giant chainsaw, having survived her own traumatic brush with death.
Chainsaw 2 defines subjectivity. Critics hated it, fans were disappointed, and the movie failed to achieve the success Cannon was hoping for. They wanted a horror film and were given a black comedy evident by the movie poster’s parody of The Breakfast Club (1985). It’s a mad film, equally unsettling as the first, but with an entirely different tone. Roger Ebert called it a “geek show” in his one-star review. Other critics said that it only proved Hooper’s “contempt” for the original. Leonard Maltin gave the film a “Bomb,” saying, “Frenetic overacting and attempts at black humor sink this mess.” It’s a polarizing but no less memorable film. Hooper wanted to bring the comedy he felt existed in the first one to the forefront. In the process, he unleashed an insane commentary on modern times.
Hooper could have easily made the same movie again. Instead, he created something unique beyond the countless mind-numbing sequels, remakes, and reboots. It’s a film that embraces chaos, absurdity, and schlock to its lasting status as a cult favorite. Sadly, Hooper passed away in 2017, leaving us with one less pioneering auteur. We didn’t just lose a horror icon, we lost a talented filmmaker with an uncompromising vision, something rarely seen today.
As a kid growing up in the ’80s, there was nothing more enticing when visiting the video store than the horror section (well, except maybe when they would have one of those “back rooms” in the shop but that’s another story itself). And in those times when I would wander off into the area reserved for horror films, my eyes would usually hone in on those already established, well-known franchises that included the likes of single name villains such as Freddy, Leatherface, Chucky, and of course, Jason.
Each of these individual films had their own unique covers, and I of course had to see them for this reason alone. As stated in a previous interview with actress Deborah Voorhees, the first entry of the series I would ever see was the Jason-less Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. But I would eventually piece them all together slowly over time, with Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives quickly becoming my favorite of the franchise with it’s classic monster movie feel, campy jokes (starting with its James Bond-esque opening credits), and rocking soundtrack featuring then-new music from a revitalized Alice Cooper. When Jason Lives was originally released in theaters on August 1, 1986, it quickly became the first film since the 1980 original to rightfully receive some critical praise.
After the lukewarm reception the previous year from the new concept introduced in A New Beginning, it was clear that the series was in dire need of getting back to basics. Written and directed by Tom McLoughlin, it saw the return of the character Tommy Jarvis (this time portrayed by The Return of the Living Dead star Thom Mathews) from parts IV and V, who mistakenly resurrects Jason with a friend (played brilliantly by the late Ron Palillo of Welcome Back, Kotter fame) at the start of the film. Tommy does his best to warn the local community, but is railroaded every step of the way by the local sheriff (David Kagen). The sheriff’s daughter Megan (Jennifer Cooke) is the only one who believes Tommy, and teams up with him to stop Jason.
Actor Roger Rose, who played one of Jason’s many victims in the film, Steven Halavex, recently lent some behind-the-scenes insight to Rewind It Magazine; “The movie had already been shot, and the phone rings and it’s Paramount calling (Director) Tom McLoughlin, saying there weren’t enough deaths in the film and they needed more, so they were going to go back and kill two more people. Tommy hangs up the phone and says, ‘I always wanted to do this…kid, I want you in my movie!’ And that weekend we shot my scenes. I said to Tommy, “Man I’d love to die brutally on film, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do (Laughs)!”
He continued; “Originally Jason was going to shish kabob me and my date, and there was this whole big special effect thing going to happen, but there wasn’t any time left. But it was still a real, rusty old machete that Jason “killed” us with, so that was actual fear you see on our faces in that scene!”
Another thing that stands out about the film is the previously-mentioned music. Aside from one track by hard rock band Felony, the majority of the songs featured were from Alice Cooper’s 1986 album, Constrictor. Most notably remembered is the track “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask),” which served as the film’s theme song, and also featured a Jason Voorhees-themed music video to go along with it. I’ve been lucky enough to personally see Cooper in concert three times over the years (see attached photo below), but alas, his material from this particular period in his career has remained long since retired unfortunately.
Jason Lives went on to gross over $19 million at the box office on a $3 million dollar budget, and has since become a fan favorite. Since its release, there have been four more entries to the original Friday the 13th franchise, as well as the 2003 crossover film Freddy vs. Jason, and a 2009 remake. But few have matched the all around heights achieved with Jason Lives, which will likely remain one of the higher points in the series. So if you’re looking to go back to Camp Crystal Lake (or Forrest Green) this Friday the 13th, consider giving Jason Lives a try (and be sure to keep an eye out for our full interview with Rose, coming soon!).
In the summer of 2001, an ensemble cast of young comedians and actors unleashed the mother of all summer camp romps on an unsuspecting world, Wet Hot American Summer. Directed by David Wain, the film was given an extremely limited theatrical release after premiering in New York on July 27, 2001 (and six months before that at Sundance), and went largely unnoticed at first (I myself didn’t catch it personally until years after its release when I came across it on cable TV).
Set in the summer of 1981, it follows a group of counselers and kids (the majority purposely played by actors far too old for their parts) at Camp Firewood in Maine. Janeane Garofalo leads the group as Camp Director Beth, who does her best to hold together her group of misfits – each focused on wrapping up their own indivdual pursuits and/or love triangles – on the last day of camp, often with over-the-top results.
Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce plays a professor in a role seemingly tailored for him, while several members of the MTV show The State, including Ken Marino, Michael Ian Black, Joe Lo Truglio, and Michael Showalter, turn in some showstopping moments. Paul Rudd also plays one of the best/worst bad guys on screen to date, while a young Elizabeth Banks slinks across each and every scene as the stereotypical ‘loose’ girl.
But the most unforgettable performance has got to go to Law & Order‘s Christopher Meloni, who cranks out the crazy as a cook/Vietnam vet who talks to a can of mixed vegetables, and helps the kids with their ‘woes’ (the montage with him and Showalter is without a doubt the standout moment of the entire film). This was not the only time Meloni would let the guard to his more serious side down (having since appeared in two Haroldand Kumur films as well), but certainly one of his most memorable moments doing so.
Of course the music reflects the time it’s set in as well; tracks by Foreigner, Jefferson Starship, and Quarterflash make their way throughout the picture. Several of the bands featured I have since personally seen live, including KISS (the solo from “Beth” can be heard at one point), Rick Springfield (“Love is Alright Tonite”), and Loverboy, who have not one, but two tracks on the soundtrack with “Turn Me Loose” and “When It’s Over” (hearing the latter two songs used in the film may have actually been the moment I realized Loverboy wasn’t half bad, and might have even helped convince me to go see the band in concert with my wife in 2014, see attached flyer below). Unfortunately, I have very few usable photos of Loverboy, thanks to it being a last minute show, and our not having a SLR camera with us at the time (anyone out there with pics from the show, I would love to see them!).
The characters have since been brought back twice via two Neflix shows; First Day of Camp in 2015, and TenYears Later in 2017. But I digress; if you have never seen Wet Hot American Summer, now would surely be the perfect time to give it a chance. After all, you still have a few weeks left until the ‘last day of camp!’
The ’90s – especially the mid-to-late ’90s – were a unique time indeed for cinema when it comes to horror films; The Silence of the Lambs paved the waved for more ‘sophisticated’ thrillers in the beginning of the decade, while typical slasher franchises originally led by the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Chucky, were laid dormant to make way for the more realistic meta-horror of the Scream franchise and all its numerous copycats. As a fan of both horror films, and Michael J. Fox since his Back to the Future and Family Ties days, I was eager to see this new intriguing horror flick with him in it (something he had not yet attempted to do), and was at the theater to watch it with friends within its first couple of weeks of release (see original ticket stub photo attached below). What ensued was nearly two full hours of dark, brooding insanity, and big budget, zany chaos.
Before it there were also the more surreal horror flicks that bordered on equal parts fantasy, and silliness. Films such as Leprechaun (1993) and Brainscan (1994) stretched one’s imagination while taking liberties with reality as a whole. When Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners was released on July 19, 1996, it definitely ticked many of the same boxes as said previous films, yet in its own unique way. Author and Rewind It Magazine contributor Shawn McKee commented on the film; “The Frighteners is one of those films that has gotten a lot of reevaluation over time. It was both a precursor to (film director) Peter Jackson’s mainstream success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the rise of the Weta Digital and the Weta Workshop, the New Zealand (where the film was also filmed) special effects company co-founded by Jackson.”
He continued; “Upon its release in ’96, the scare trailers that followed made little mention of it as a Peter Jackson movie, who was still unknown at the time to most audiences. It was instead marketed as a supernatural comedy by Universal Pictures and Robert Zemeckis, the film’s executive producer. The trailers also struggled to explain what the movie was even about. This most likely led to its brief theatrical run, low box office performance, and eventual second chance on home video.”
The plot is fairly simple; Fox plays Frank Banister, an ex-architect turned ghost hunter who uses the help of a trio of spirits (played brilliantly by John Aston, Chi McBride, and Jim Fyfe) that only he can see to con locals into believing they have an actual haunting. Things start going awry once would-be client Ray Lynskey (Peter Dobson) mysteriously drops dead (among many others), and his widow Lucy (Trini Alvarado) immediately enlists Frank’s services to solve what happened. Further complicating things for Frank is an aggressive detective (Jeffery Combs) dead set on proving Frank had killed his own wife years before, a newspaper editor (Elizabeth Hawthrone) hell-bent on proving Frank’s a fake, and other spooks like Master Sargent Hiles (played by the late R. Lee Emery in a role which emulates his Full Metal Jacket performance from 1987) disgusted by Frank’s chosen methods.
It turns out that Frank is not the only one with the power to see those from beyond; local patient Patrica Bartlett (Dee Wallace) has been helping her long deceased lover Johnny (Jake Busey) continue his killing spree from beyond the grave for years, and along with a little help from his ghosts and Sheriff (Troy Evans) Frank and Lucy have to put an end to the twosome’s rampage once and for all. In an October 2020 interview, Wallace revealed to me what it was like to play a villain in place of her usual squeaky clean “mom” roles; “Oh God, I had so much fun doing that! I love exploring all of the different sides of me, and the psyche, and I just loved the arc of going from the little victim, to becoming the killer towards the end!”
The Frighteners was far from a runaway hit; grossing just under $30 million on a $26 million dollar budget, it received a lukewarm reception from moviegoers and critics at the time. Though it had the potential to become the Ghostbusters of the ’90s, it was too “out there” for the casual viewer to “get;” too dark for the family friendly crowd, and not gory enough for the usual horror fanatic. Still, a quarter of a century after its release, it remains a stepping stone in Jackson’s flimography, and worth a revisit, whether it’s your first time ever seeing it, or fifth.
In the summer of 1991, there was one film causing massive worldwide hype that seemed like everyone on the planet was buzzing over; the Arnold Schwarzenegger-driven blockbuster sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Once again directed by James Cameron and co-starring Linda Hamilton as Sarah Conner (with Earl Boen also briefly returning from the first film as Dr. Silberman) along with newcomer Edward Furlong as John Conner, T2 featured breakthrough technology in movie special effects, including computer graphic imaging unlike anything else that had been seen on the big screen up to that time.
When originally released on July 3, 1991 (after premiering in L.A. on July 1), I was still just a ten-year-old kid just as excited as anyone else about the film at the time. Having already seen the first film previously at a friend’s house on a rickety old blank VHS tape (which also included the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on it), I instantly fell in love with it’s mix of action and Sci Fi/borderline horror, and still regard it as my favorite film in the franchise (it might just be me, but I preferred Arnold much more as the ‘bad guy’). But alas, when it came time for T2, I could not find anyone willing to take me to see it in the theater, even though I had the NES game, trading cards, and numerous action figures from the film, many of which I still have to this day.
In the sequel, Schwarzenegger returns as the Model 101 Terminator sent back in time, only this time around he’s there to actually protect John Conner, rather than eliminate his existence like in the first film. Robert Patrick is brought on as the new, advanced terminator sent to kill John, the T-1000. After realizing he’s a target, John entrusts the help of the Model 101 to break his mother Sarah (Hamilton) out of the mental institution she has been incarcerated in since some time after the events of the first film. The result becomes one of the most enthralling and immersive cat-and-mouse chases ever captured in cinema history.
Also notable is the the appearance of the hit Guns N’ Roses track “You Could Be Mine” in the film from the band’s then-upcoming Use Your Illusion II album. Like the movie, the song was hard-hitting, and featured an explosive music video that also saw Arnold himself briefly appear. The video helped propel the song’s success, and my want to see the film even more, and I have long since attributed it as the catalyst to my eventual love of hard rock and heavy metal music.
Actor Danny Cooksey, who played John’s equally rebellious friend Tim in the film, offered Rewind It Magazine some insight on how the song ended up being included in the film in a 2019 phone interview; “When we were in the early stages of filming, I was given a cassette of the music that was going to be used in the scene. Originally it was going to be two songs, and I believe they were “Higher Ground” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones, which were, you know, both fine. But at some point I got handed another cassette, and it was an advanced copy of “You Could Be Mine,” in which case I thought I was just the coolest person on the planet since the record wasn’t even out yet!”
In the same interview, Cooksey went on to explain what it was like actually meeting Schwarzenegger on the set for the first time, in this previously-unpublished quote; “I remember somebody taking me to his trailer to meet him, and he was already dressed up in all his gear, so it was definitely a bit intimating. He was such a cool guy though, and it was such an awesome experience to be a part of it at that age.”
T2 went on to gross well over $500 million before it’s run in theaters was over, and helped define the summer ‘blockbuster’ from then on out. It would not be until 2003 before I would finally see Arnold on the big screen for the first time as the Model 101, when Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released almost twelve years later to the date after it’s predecessor. Three more films and a short-lived TV series would also follow, all with varying results. But nothing that has come since has been remotely able to match the undeniable juggernaut that was T2. In the immortal words of Arnold himself, “Hasta la vista, baby!”
Growing up a kid in the ’80s, I completely devoured everything the decade had to offer a kid my age. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, and of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were my world, and the films spawned by the latter of course became a monumental event for just about any kid around at the time.
Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the ‘heroes in a half-shell’ first came to life when their first comic book was published via Mirage Studios in 1984. But like many kids at the time, they didn’t appear on my radar until the animated TV series appeared a few years later in 1987, after which they became a household name, and a full-on worldwide phenomenon. From then on, every kid in America was clamoring for the action figures and having Ninja Party-themed birthday parties, where each kid wanted to be their personal favorite turtle (which most of the time was Michelangelo).
By 1990 the franchise was at it’s peak, and we were finally treated with a feature length film. It was an event that every young boy just had to take a part of at the time, and we all thought we were in on something ‘cool’ that our parents were just not hip to (in some cases movie goers were even given small promotional posters upon arrival to the theater, something I wish I had held on to til this day). Then just one short year later, we were given a second film when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, was released upon our young minds on March 22, 1991. Again I was right there in the theater watching the sequel with one of my older sisters, not knowing at the time it would ultimately be the beginning of the end of my Ninja Turtles craze.
Directed by Michael Pressman, the second Ninja Turtles film was much lighter in tone in comparison to it’s predecessor. And while many of the actors from the first film returned for the sequel, there were some changes to the cast, most noticeably Paige Turco taking over for Judith Hoag as April O’ Neil, and Adam Carl stepping in for Corey Feldman as the voice of Donatello. The turtles also befriend a new alley in the form of Keno (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) in a role similar to Casey Jones (who is strangely absent without any explanation). Another difference those with a keen eye might spot is the limited use of the turtles’ weapons. This was done purposely by filmmakers in an effort to reduce the violence in the movie.
In this entry, the turtles discover that The Shredder (Francois Chau) survived their final battle at the end of the first film, and still has a few remaining loyalists of the Foot Clan in his corner. They also learn their own origins when their master, Splinter (Kevin Clash) explains their mutation was the result of direct contact with a radioactive substance (i.e. the ‘ooze’) manufactured by a company called TGRI. The Shredder of course learns of this, and creates two mutants of his own, Tokka and Rahzar, in an attempt to combat the turtles (for whatever reason, these characters were used in place of Bebop and Rocksteady from the cartoon). The inevitable conclusion finds the turtles facing off and defeating The Shredder and the new mutants in a club where rapper Vanilla Ice (in his film debut) happens to be performing, and conveniently introduces the song “Ninja Rap.’
The Secret of the Ooze grossed over $78 million at the box office domestically, and was followed by TeenageMutant Ninja Turtles III two years later in 1993, which was panned by critics and signaled a decline in NinjaTurtles popularity. This was further cemented when a live action TV series, Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (which introduced the first female turtle, Venus de Milo), came and went briefly in 1997-98.
The franchise laid dormant for several years until 2003, when a new animated series produced by Fox appeared. This helped lead to another feature film, the animated TMNT, in 2007. The series lasted until 2010, and was followed by yet another animated show, this time produced by Nickelodeon, from 2012-17, as well as a reboot film in 2014 starring Megan Fox and produced by Michael Bay, which in turn had it’s own sequel, Out of theShadows, in 2016 (audiences finally saw the appearance of Bebop and Rocksteady on the big screen for the first time with the latter).
Today, the franchise is still in the hands of Nickelodeon, with Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles being the latest incarnation as of 2018, and the Ninja Turtles are more popular now more than ever. This was evidenced when just this month, Vanilla Ice threw a Secret of the Ooze 30th anniversary show in Cocoa Beach, complete with appearances by both Michelangelo and Donatello on stage (see attached photos) that my family and I were in attendance for. It was a reminder of both a brief moment of time that those of us who were there ‘back in the day’ experienced together, and validation that that moment was truly something special to be a part of.