Partying 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, and easily one of his funniest. Hughes had a knack for appealing to teenagers during his 80s pomp, with a profound understanding of what makes them tick, a fact prevalent in the dialogue he writes, which is crude, irreverent but wholly relatable, speaking to rambunctious adolescents on their level rather than patronising them with textbook wholesomeness. His films may promote unlikely wish fulfilment, but they more than make up for it in understanding. Hughes understood the way kids think and feel, and, perhaps more crucially, the ways and words they use to communicate and the various pressures of a pre-adult existence. He wrote as a kid for kids, something the cast of Weird Science would later attest to.
The film’s title was derived from the the EC Comics anthology series of the same name, which producer Joel Silver would acquire the rights to during the early 1980s. EC Comics was the same company that published “Creepshow”, “Tales from the Crypt” and “Mad Magazine”, the former adapted into a series of successful splash panel-inspired movies involving Stephen King and George A. Romero, which should give you some idea of the film’s fun and anarchic nature. “Tales from the Crypt” would also receive the movie treatment to a less notable degree, though it was also made into a hugely successful TV show that ran from June 10, 1989, to July 19, 1996 on HBO. The plot itself is loosely based on the story “Made of the Future” by Al Feldstein, published as part of issue 5 in January 1951.
Weird Science is the story of a couple of high school losers who decide to make a girl on their computer after finally accepting the fact that no mortal female will look at them twice. Gary and Wyatt are skinny and awkward in an environment saturated with burgeoning muscles and nubile beauty, and as their hormones drip from their brows they turn borderline perverse in their quest for female companionship, resorting to wearing bras on their heads while giving birth to the woman of their dreams in a manner befitting of the most depraved corners of Dr Frankenstein’s laboratory.
The woman in question, one of the most beautiful creatures to ever grace god’s green Earth, is more than just eye candy, both the character and the actress who plays her. Kelly LeBrock may have been a last-minute stand-in and glorified catwalk model, but she absolutely owns the part of feisty surrogate sister Lisa, embracing the role with an effortlessness you rarely see in model-come-actors. Asides from her obvious aesthetic qualities, LeBrock is a joy to behold in a film that has joy in its DNA, her character subverting convention in an industry built on beauty discrimination. The character would become something of a real-life icon too. The studded punk leather jacket she wears when wielding a Clint Eastwood-style revolver on Gary’s unsuspecting parents was later sold to Dina Collection, a pawn shop in Beverly Hills, California, for $25,000.
In Lisa, Gary and Wyatt set out to create the dream woman, but when their model of perfection becomes a flesh and blood reality, our imaginative pair get just a little more than they bargained for. Far from their subservient plaything, Lisa’s ‘Mary Poppins with breasts’ is a mischievous party animal who takes full advantage of the fact that Wyatt’s stuffy parents are 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. This is John Hughes, and you best believe our unwilling heroes are going to earn the hearts of resident babes Deb and Hilly, the reluctant accessories of schoolyard alpha males Max and Ian. Ian is played by a young and cheeky Robert Downey Junior, whose real-life narcotic zest practically leaps off the screen in a film that embraces the 80s party mantra, a whirlwind of hormone-induced chaos underscored by the kind of rebellious new wave soundtrack that would become Hughes’ trademark.
Wyatt Donnelly: You know Gary, for the first time in my life; I don’t feel like a total dick.
Le Brock’s onscreen character would have surely gotten to the bottom of such shenanigans. The bold and feisty Lisa aims to instil her creators with the confidence they need to realise that people will like them for who they are, not for what they can give them, but when she offers to shower with the boys, only to find they are 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 precocious comedic talents, Gary turning from drippy geek to stone cold gangster in the drunken snap of a finger. Hall had that certain je ne sais quoi back in the late 80s. He was the kind of cocky scamp you’d imagine loathing in reality, but up on screen he was irresistible, and never was he let off the leash quite like he was in Weird Science. His superfly transformation, one of many inspired Hall moments, shows exactly what the young actor was all about. The boy was a born star.
Hall’s greatest roles came under the tutelage of Hughes, who had a knack for bringing out the best in young talent, of identifying their strengths and weaknesses and embellishing their real-life personas, something he did with the notoriously depressive John Candy in Trains, Planes and Automobiles, arguably the late comedian’s finest role. Hughes first discovered Hall as screenwriter on National Lampoon’s Vacation (Hall would later turn down Amy Heckerling’s 1985 sequel National Lampoon’s European Vacation to reunite with Hughes for Weird Science). The movie, based on Hughes’ short story Vacation ’58, originally saw Hall’s Rusty take centre stage until the decision was made to tweak the script and have Chevy Chase’s inimitable patriarch Clark as the movie’s focal point, but in Hall, Hughes had stumbled upon someone quite special, a fact he would quickly look to exploit.
Of all his roles under Hughes, Hall admits that his time on the set of Weird Science was his favourite of all. If you want a peek at just how much fun the cast had shooting the movie, go back and watch the scene in which Bill Paxton’s Chet lines our young cast up for a fictional dressing-down. The entire gang are dying to burst out laughing, something Hughes chose to keep in the final cut.
Speaking at the Weird Science Reunion at the Denver Comic Con in 2015, Hall would say of his time with the director, “[Hughes] 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.”
Ironically, Hughes himself was rather displeased during filming, even if he did manage to keep it from the cast themselves. This was because Weird Science interfered with the production of another project that he cared about more dearly: The Breakfast Club. Hughes agreed to direct Weird Science after cutting a deal with Universal which allowed him to direct The Breakfast Club, which was still in pre-production. This resulted in a gruelling schedule that left him exhausted throughout the shoot, though judging from the cast’s recollections of working with him, you wouldn’t know it.
Lisa: 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 candle wax 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.
In many ways, LeBrock would act as the catalyst for our rambunctious cast’s exploding personalities, a sense of mischief that would translate to the screen. After bursting onto the scene as Vogue’s latest cover girl, LeBrock would break into Hollywood as the eponymous ‘Woman in Red’ in Gene Wilder’s romantic comedy of the same name, becoming the chic pin-up for hotblooded males the world over and wowing American audiences with her distinctly British elegance. Even a peak-of-his-powers Steven Seagal would succumb to her charms, the two wedding after a whirlwind romance that saw them have three kids together before splitting less-than-amicably in 1994.
Unleashing LeBrock’s unthinkable beauty onto a set of wild adolescents was bound to create fireworks, which was presumably the director’s intention. The scene where a positively smouldering LeBrock quite literally explodes onto the scene, emerging from the neon smoke in glorious spandex, left a generation of teenage boys tied in hormonal knots. Hughes knew he had a firecracker on his hands, and it wouldn’t take much to light the fuse. Hall and Downey Jr were particularly infamous for their Brat Pack shenanigans, and the on-set presence of the prepossessing model and actress was like baking soda and lemon juice to a crudely constructed chemistry rocket. Unsurprisingly, the actress would get an immediate whiff of the young cast’s burgeoning libidos, saying of her initial days on set: “That was horrendous for me. [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.”
LeBrock was certainly feeling the hormone-induced heat, but that sense of intimidation worked both ways, especially when it came to the much quieter Ian Mitchell-Smith. Having initially turned down the role of Lisa to go horse riding in France with pop musician Sting, LeBrock would replace Rod Stewart’s girlfriend Kelly Emberg three weeks into filming, and she would make quite the impression upon her arrival.
Of his first meeting with the sumptuous LeBrock, Smith would recall, “I remember when she 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.”
Gary Wallace: Ma, I never tossed off to anything!
Co-star Anthony Michael Hall was equally beguiled by LeBrock, his adolescent desire to impress no doubt contributing to the vivacity of his performance. Previously cast in nerdy supporting roles, the Gary character enabled Hall to cross certain boundaries, and his performance is one of precocious mastery. Nothing like the scrawny dweeb character he would become synonymous with, Hall was a notorious party animal and womaniser away from the screen, and Hughes was able to channel that charm and energy to dazzling effect. Though 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. It is right up there with John Candy’s Dell Griffith in terms of all-out belly laughs.
As wonderful as his performance was, a young Hall lacked the experience to carry an entire movie on his shoulders, so Hughes opened the stage to one more classic performance. As Wyatt’s douchebag older brother, Chet, the late Bill Paxton lent 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 based on screen time alone, and there is an argument that Chet’s character is too one-dimensional to be anything more than a sideshow, but with what he had to work with Paxton achieved miracles, every misdirected philosophy and moronic belch pure comedy gold.
Chet has only 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 seemed 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 from one of the most quotable supporting characters of the era. “You’re stewed, buttwad!”
Chet Donnelly: Here’s the bottom line, Wyatt. I’m telling mom and dad. I’m even considering making up some shit!
Thanks to its science fiction leanings, Weird Science is more than just your typical run-of-the-mill coming-of-age comedy, and Hughes takes full advantage of its surreal edge, packing the screenplay with the kind of quirky gimmicks and crowd-pleasing scenarios that are a joy to behold as a young movie fan. By the end of the film, Wyatt’s house has been raided by killer mutants, his party-pooping grandparents have been left catatonic in a closet, and the house itself has been skewered by a nuclear missile that proves a phallic obstacle in Max and Ian’s failed attempt to create another Lisa for their own personal enjoyment.
Downey Junior and hugely underrated 80s stalwart Robert Rusler are a hoot as the wholly self-serving Max and Ian, a pair of cutesy rapscallions who make the absolute most of their secondary roles, even managing to find their way into our good books by the film’s end; not through any kind of redemption, but through sheer magnetism and comic timing. Add to this your usual dose of teenage promiscuity and you have yourself a bona fide cult classic of the strictly adolescent persuasion.
Downey Jr. also managed to live up to his real-life reputation. For years there were rumours that the young troublemaker defecated in LeBrock’s trailer during filming, something he and Rusler, who were very much real-life friends raised on a diet of ‘brat pack’ decadence (Downey Jr. actually drove Rusler to audition for Freddy’s Revenge on the last day of the shoot), often joked about. The actor later denied the rumours during an interview with famous shock jock Howard Stern, though he did admit to defecating in another, unnamed female cast member’s trailer. Hughes would later quiz his young cast like a disappointed headmaster, Downey’s own reply to the accusation being, “No, but I sure wish it was me who did it.” Despite the incident, the actor claimed there was never any tension between him and Hughes, the pair sharing a mutual respect and friendship throughout. Le Brock never did identify the culprit.
Hughes invariably made the right decisions when handling an age group he managed to achieve an uncanny affinity with during his mid-80s pomp. His moral resolutions can be trite and impractical and often contrived, but he never condescends to his audience. He speaks to them using their own particular language, providing the kind of gilt-edged wish fulfilment 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 treads such dark territory, emphasising fun over teenage angst, but behind the cussing and frolics and the outright perversity, there is a moral message about how kids should treat one another if they are to win the respect they crave, and with the help of the free-spirited Lisa they are able to overcome the social structures that breed and develop and often oppress their way into our adult lives, dipshit siblings included.