VHS Revival parties hard with the Bride of Frankenweiner
Weird Science may not be as memorable as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, or as iconic as The Breakfast Club, but it is still one of filmmaker John Hughes’ finest.
Hughes has a knack for appealing to teenagers and seems to understand what makes them tick, a fact that is prevalent in the dialogue he writes, which is both crudely accurate and consistently hilarious. His teen movies may promote unlikely wish fulfilment, lacking the anarchic qualities that a stylised movie such as The Breakfast Club proclaims to have, but what he lacks in authenticity he more than makes up for in understanding. He understands the way kids think and feel, and, perhaps even more crucially, the ways and words they use to communicate, and the various pressures of a pre-adult existence.
You know Gary, for the first time in my life; I don’t feel like a total dick. – Wyatt Donnelly
Weird Science is the story of a couple of high school losers named Gary and Wyatt, who decide to make a girl on their computer after finally accepting the fact that no mortal female will look at them twice. They are skinny and awkward in an environment saturated with nubile beauty, and as their hormones drip from their brows they turn borderline perverse, resorting to wearing bras on their heads as they attempt to give birth to the woman of their dreams in a manner befitting the most depraved corners of Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.
When the smouldering Lisa (LeBrock) explodes onto the scene, poor old Gary and Wyatt get just a little more than they bargained for, however. Far from the woman they can do what they want with, Lisa’s ‘Mary Poppins with breasts’ is a mischievous party animal who plans to take full advantage of the fact that Wyatt’s parents are going away for the weekend, and it is through her magical powers and immediate popularity that the two boys are able to get their sweat socks through the door. But this is no free and easy ride to high school superstardom. After all, this is John Hughes we’re talking about, and you best believe that our unwilling heroes are going to earn the hearts of resident babes Deb and Hilly (Judie Aronson), the reluctant accessories of schoolyard alpha males Max and Ian, the latter of whom played by a young and cheeky Robert Downey Junior, whose real-life narcotic zest practically leaps off the screen.
Lisa sets about ousting the movie’s resident jocks, but when Lisa offers to shower with the boys only to find them too embarrassed to take off their jeans, our would-be-role model realises that she has her work cut out for her and decides to loosen them up by taking them to a local dive with their brand new fake IDs. This is the first of many scenes designed as a platform for Anthony Michael Hall’s considerable comedic talents, as he turns from drippy geek to stone cold gangster in the drunken snap of a finger.
Hall’s greatest roles came under the tutelage of Hughes, who had a knack for bringing the best out of young talent, of identifying their strengths and weaknesses and embellishing their real-life personas. Of all his roles working under Hughes, Hall admits that his time on the set of Weird Science was his favourite of all. Speaking at the Weird Science Reunion at the Denver Comic Con in 2015, Hall would say of his time with the director: “He was a great collaborator. He was such a cool guy. He was very down-to-earth…he would sit right underneath the camera and be right there with us. He was like our first audience. And I just have great memories of that. He was always laughing. And he was such a great writer, but the thing that, for me, was very cool about him, was that he really empowered us just to try things, to ad-lib and just have fun with it.”
Lisa: You guys created me, I didn’t come from anywhere. Before you started messing around with your computer, I didn’t even exist. By the way, you did an excellent job. Thank you.
In many ways, LeBrock would act as the catalyst for the rambunctious cast’s personalities, a sense of mischief that would translate to the screen. After bursting onto the scene as Vogue’s latest cover girl revelation, LeBrock would become quite the A-lister by the mid-1980s. Breaking into Hollywood as the eponymous ‘Woman in Red’ in Gene Wilder’s romantic comedy, she would become the chic pin-up of males the world over. Even a peak-of-his-powers Steven Seagal would take notice, the two of them wedding after a whirlwind romance that saw them have three kids together before splitting less-than-amicably in 1994.
Of course, unleashing LeBrock’s unthinkable beauty onto a set of wild adolescents was bound to create fireworks, and that was presumably the director’s intention. Hall and Downey Jr were particularly famous for their brat-pack shenanigans, and the on-set presence of the prepossessing model and actress was like baking soda and vinegar to a crudely constructed chemistry rocket. Unsurprisingly, the actress would get an immediate whiff of the hormone heavy fragrance that the story was built upon, saying of her initial days on the set: “That was horrendous for me. You guys [Hall and Smith] had been filming for three weeks and this was only my second film…and you guys were intense. I mean, it was like being in a college fraternity.”
Of course, this kind of intimidation worked both ways, particularly in regards to the much quieter Ian Mitchell-Smith. Having initially turned down the role of Lisa to go horse riding in France with Sting, Le Brock would replace Rod Stewart’s girlfriend Kelly Emberg three weeks into filming, and would make quite the impression upon her arrival. Smith would say of his first meeting with LeBrock: “I remember when [LeBrock] first showed up by a big sliding door, and you came in a black luxury car. I wanna say it was like a Rolls Royce. This is how I’m remembering it, right. And you got out with your British accent and your beauty and your body and your…black high riding boots?! And a doberman named Jack, and as much as you felt intimidated, I still can’t get over that image. I was like, holy cow! I think she’s gonna kill me, and I think I’m gonna like it.”
Ma, I never tossed off to anything! – Gary Wallace
Co-star Anthony Michael Hall was equally beguiled by LeBrock, and his adolescent desire to impress no doubt contributed to the vivacity of his performance. Previously cast in nerdy supporting roles, the Gary character enables Hall to cross certain boundaries, and his performance is one of precocious mastery. Far from the the scrawny dweeb he was to become synonymous with, this boyish Brat Pack member was a notorious party animal and womaniser away from the screen, and Hughes is able to channel that charm and energy to dazzling effect. Although Weird Science lacks some of the refinement of Hughes’ more recognised features, Hall’s performance as the cheeky, oppressed Gary is one of the finest the director ever inspired, and is right up there with John Candy’s Dell Griffith in terms of belly laughs.
As wonderful as his performance was, a young Hall lacked the experience to carry an entire movie on his shoulders, and so Hughes opened the stage for one more classic performance. As Wyatt’s douchebag older brother, Chet, writer and director Bill Paxton lends his moronic touch to a supporting role that threatens to eclipse the entire movie. Chet is the oppressive sibling from hell, a helplessly ignorant, chauvinistic jock with a brainless buzz cut and penchant for unabashed extortion. Hall’s is the superior performance due to a comparatively small amount of screen time, and there is an argument that Chet’s character is too one- dimensional to go any further than Hughes allows it to, but with what he has to work with Paxton achieves miracles, and every misdirected philosophy and moronic belch is transformed into pure comedy gold.
Here’s the bottom line, Wyatt. I’m telling mom and dad everything. I’m even considering making up some shit! – Chet Donnelly
Chet only has a handful of lines in the movie, but each is immortalised in turn. Paxton would go on to much more serious roles and would eventually prove himself a writer and director of considerable talent, but this is hands-down his most memorable contribution to the silver screen, a fact that was all but confirmed when he was quizzed by a British newspaper on the part people seem to most remember him for. The answer was categorically Chet, and right up to his premature passing in 2017, fans still approached him in the street asking him to repeat specific lines of one of the most quotable supporting characters of the era.
Thanks to its science fiction leanings, Weird Science is more than just your typical run-of-the-mill coming-of-age comedy, and the director takes full advantage of its surreal edge, packing the screenplay with the kind of quirky gimmicks and idealistic scenarios that appeal to its target audience. By the end of the movie, the house has been raided by killer mutants and Wyatt’s party-pooping grandparents have been left catatonic in a closet, while the house itself has been skewered by a nuclear missile which proves a phallic obstacle in Max and Ian’s failed attempt to create another Lisa. Add to that your usual dose of teenage promiscuity and you have yourself a bona fide cult classic of the strictly adolescent persuasion.
You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candlewax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no. Just a couple of hundred kids running around in their underwear, acting like complete animals. – Lisa
Hughes is a director of great craft and care, and he invariably makes the right decisions in regards to an age group that he manages to achieve an uncanny affinity with. His messages are trite and impractical and often contrived, but he never condescends to his audience. He speaks to them using their particular language, and provides the kind of gilt-edged wish fulfilment that teenagers crave as they attempt to come to terms with their adolescence and the very real and unforgiving prospect of adulthood.
With perhaps his most cherished film The Breakfast Club, he explored teenage alienation and the destructive expectations of both parents and peers alike. Weird Science never attempts to tread such dark social grounds, but behind the cussing and the sexism and the outright perversity, there is a moral message about how kids should treat one another if they are ever to truly win the respect they invariably crave, and in the sumptuous Lisa they are able to overcome the insidious social structures which breed and develop and often oppress their way into our adult lives.