VHS Revival ranks the iconic quips that defined Hollywood’s most unlikely megastar.
When it comes iconic figures, there are none more recognisable than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Born to stringent communist parents in a small town with a population of 2,000, Arnie would burst to fame in bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron. With his docile accent, he hardly seemed like a superstar in the making, but next to his musclebound co-stars the cocksure kid from Thal shone brightest. Arnold was frank, confident, quick-witted and erudite – all of the qualities required to succeed as a likeable mainstream presence.
James Cameron was one of the first to see Schwarzenegger’s potential, casting him as relentless cyborg assassin The Terminator, and by the end of the 1980’s he had become a sci-fi icon, landing starring roles in money-spinning blockbusters such as Predator, The Running Man and Total Recall.
In spite of his artistic shortcomings, Arnold would exhibit an almost intangible charisma, one punctuated by the kind of cheap puns that would become his trademark. In the first of a two part series, VHS Revival gives you 10 of his very best.
Character: U.S. Marshall John ‘The Eraser’ Kruger
Movie: Eraser (1996)
After a series of family-orientated roles designed to further endear him to the American public, Arnie laid the groundwork for a political career by going back to his roots and reminding everyone that he could still kick ass with the best of them. This time he would play a government assassin whose job it was to protect his country and ensure that U.S. citizens could sleep well at night.
Coincidence? I think not!
Helped by a typically magnetic James Caan as a long-time friend-turned-traitor, Eraser was something akin to the action thrill rides of old, and while almost fifty, Arnie’s ageing physique was still more impressive than most movie stars flexing their pecs on planet Hollywood.
Perhaps the most memorable – although severely dated – set-piece occurs in a CGI laden national zoo, where a gun-toting Kruger finds himself face to face with a crocodile. Disposing of the giant reptile, Arnie once again saves the girl, and although dead and unable to understand language, our hero and his writers felt that a trademark Arnie pun was required as a lament for our deceased croc. Certainly not his best line, but one indicative of the fact that our perennial hero can get away with spouting any old garbage and still raise a smile.
Well, that hit the spot!
Character: Ben Richards
Movie: The Running Man (1987)
In my opinion, no movie sums up the VHS era quite like The Running Man. A loose adaptation of Stephen King‘s dystopian allegory, this far future adventure is very much entrenched in the clunky glitz of the 1980’s. Unlike the hard-hitting novel which shares its title, the movie is closer to a Nintendo video game of the same era, while its characters are steroid-pumped gimmicks reminiscent of the spandex-garbed warriors of American Pro Wrestling.
While being a typical Arnie Action vehicle, the movie does maintain some of its source material’s dissident charm, and although lines like ‘He had to split,’ and ‘Give you a lift?’ dominate much of its running time, our chosen quip works as a droll attack on the insidious nature of corporate advertising, and the negative impact it has on the story’s society as a whole. Unlike some of the gags on this list, it is actually pretty smart – at least in relative terms.
After escaping the clutches of The Running Man’s stalkers and the network propaganda that tried to finish him, Richards fulfils the promise he made to TV slimeball Killian by returning to the set and locking him in the mach speed roller coaster used to send contestants to their doom. Unfortunately for him, this time there is no safety net awaiting the subject’s arrival, and Killian is sent crashing through a billboard to his death, one which features the very coca-cola ad his image adorns. At the risk of becoming an Arnie clone, you could say that this particular pun adds some extra fizz.
I’m all woman!
Character: Dr. Alex Hesse
Movie: Junior (1994)
Perhaps the very pinnacle of Arnie’s silly period, Junior is the story of Alex Hesse, an innovative doctor who decides to become the first man to bear a child. Not only is the idea preposterous, it is also downright weird, and although it reunites Arnie with Twins co-star and comic icon Danny DeVito, the film is an often saccharine affair of vomit-inducing sentimentality.
Okay, so the movie has its moments, and the sight of Arnie walking around in a dowdy pink dress is a sight to behold, as is a scene in which our father-to-be gets maternal lessons at a woman’s retreat while mawkish pop music plays with our heartstrings. Incredibly, we are supposed to take this seriously, triggering the kind of accidental charm that only Arnie’s frame can muster. Oh, and who can forget that rather disturbing moment when his face is superimposed onto the head of a newborn.
Arnie is a bumbling goofball at the best of times, and in a movie with such a humourless screenplay, his presence is the one saving grace, turning the most predictable line imaginable into pure Arnie gold.
What Killed the Dinosaurs? The Ice Age!
Character: Mr Freeze
Movie: Batman and Robin (1997)
Is Joel Schumacher‘s franchise-killing Batman and Robin as bad as folklore suggests? In retrospect I would have to say No – it is much worse. Batman Forever set the campy tone, but the fourth instalment in the original series fell down the rabbit hole and crash- landed in a whole other dimension, one of Disney on Ice style set-pieces, flaccid cornball jokes and George Clooney. When you compare Mr Schumacher’s version of Bane to the one portrayed by Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, you realise just how misjudged his vision was.
In all fairness, Schwarzenegger was inspired casting for a movie with such a silly formula, and his star turn as the larger-than-life ‘Freeze’ is perhaps the one shining light in a muddled mess of a movie. Even with the master of inane one-liners at their disposal, the dialogue smacks of overkill, and Arnie’s overabundance of trademark material mars what could have been a role for the ages.
If lines such as ‘cool party!’ were mildly funny, then others like ‘Stay cool, bird boy’ most certainly were not, while the lazy and contemptible ‘Let’s kick some ice!’ barely made any sense. And that pun about the dinosaurs? I’m not exactly sure how I feel about it, but our favourite buffoon looked funny saying it, and for sheer silliness it makes our list at number 7.
Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last? I lied!
Character: John Matrix
Movie: Commando (1985)
To be honest, I could quite easily have complied a list of the Top 10 Commando quips, and in the end I had to restrain myself, finally settling on two entries in the spirit of fairness. Commando sums up our subject’s inane charm more than any other Arnie vehicle, featuring the kind of haphazard editing and fails in continuity that complement his accidental talents quite wonderfully. It’s safe to say that Commando and Schwarzenegger go hand in docile hand.
It always amazed me how a man of such ignorance could rise to the very top of the United States army, particularly with the kind of distinctive Eastern drawl that screams ‘Commie’. His decision to rob a weapons store, jump two hundred feet into a puddle, and fly a hostage in a stolen plane across a no-fly zone are also rather dubious considering his daughter’s life is at stake.
One character who sees the more serious side of Matrix is Bennett cohort Sully, a cute little shit who charms Matrix to such a degree that he promises to kill him last. However, after some grossly inept stealth skills and an improbable battle with a platoon of mall cops who were presumably attending a nearby security seminar, Matrix quickly reneges on his promise, dropping his enemy over a cliff and even taking a moment to peer over and watch his demise.
“Remember, Sully, when I promised to kill you last?”
“That’s right, Matrix. You did!”
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut