April was a month packed with frat pack comedy, but the box office would throw up some memorable sleepers as we approached the busy summer season. One of those was tongue-in-cheek horror compendium Cat’s Eye. Based on short stories by a red hot Stephen King, the film would throw up a mixed bag backed by a plethora of notable stars including E.T.‘s Drew Barrymore as a cutesy infant confronting a troublesome demon in ‘The General’. Although advertised as the movie’s main attraction, this particular story would prove the weakest of the three, relying more on practical effects than genuine tension.
Perhaps the best of those stories stars James Woods as a man persuaded to join the nefarious Quitters Inc. as he aims to quit smoking. More satire than horror, the segment still offers some genuinely creepy moments as those responsible employ some rather questionable methods of persuasion. The movie is directed by The Jewel of the Nile‘s William Teague, the man also responsible for bringing King’s Cujo to the silver screen.
Also released on the 14th was Richard Donner‘s fantasy extravaganza Ladyhawke. Starring a young Matthew Broderick, the story involves a petty thief who escapes from the dungeons of Aquila with love interest Isabeau (Michelle Pfeiffer), the latter being placed under a spell that has her transform into a hawk during daylight. On their travels they meet the similarly afflicted Navarre (Rutger Hauer), the three of them banding together to overcome the malevolent Pope (John Wood).
The subject of many casting issues, the movie almost featured a different line-up entirely, with Kurt Russell originally cast in Hauer’s role until he pulled out during rehearsals, while an equally young Sean Penn was considered for Broderick’s role. Topping the box office charts for April, the movie would be nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
The third week of April would see the release of feminist fairytale The Company of Wolves. Based on Angela Carter’s short story of the same name, this variation on Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood has strong Gothic leanings, featuring a series of wonderful practical effects as a young girl (Sarah Patterson) slips into a fantasy world that helps her overcome the struggles of adolescence.
Highly stylised and beautifully staged, the movie stars Murder She Wrote‘s Angela Lansbury as the girl’s cherished grandmother, but would prove somewhat disappointing at the U.S. box office, grossing $4,389,334 with an opening weekend of $2,234,776. As is often the case, the numbers failed to tell the whole story, and the movie was critically well-received, particularly for its multi-Bafta nominated aesthetics.
Ironically, a film that fared considerably better at the box office in mid-April was Driver’s Ed comedy Moving Violations. Aping the kind of slapstick comedy associated with the Police Academy movies, it is the story of a group of traffic violators forced to take part in a driving course in order to get their licences back, resulting in the kind of lowbrow hi-jinks that includes racy S&M and human ten-pin bowling. A dog is also propelled off the bonnet of a car in a scene that succeeds only in making us further appreciate the puerile genius of the Naked Gun series.
Starring a young Jennifer Tilly, the movie features the kind of hit-and-miss oddball comedy you would expect from such a lamebrain endeavour, the kind you’ll probably struggle to stomach past the half hour mark. Boy, are these movies tiresome!
The final week of April saw the release of a lesser-known, but infinitely more interesting teen comedy. Made in the same vain as John Hughes comedies Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink, Just One of the Guys is the story of a popular high school girl (Joyce Hyser) who dresses up like a boy to combat sexism as she attempts to land a summer internship at the local newspaper.
The antithesis of the racy, male-led teen comedies of the time, the movie adopts a more family-friendly sensibility, taking the archetypal high school beauty and giving her a purpose beyond jock titillation. The film is a loose adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Knight, and was the third highest-grossing for the month of April.
Attempting to wipe the slate clean following his Razzie Award nomination for monumental flop City Heat, Burt Reynolds would persevere with the crime genre, turning to an adaptation of cult author Elmore Leonard’s Stick. Seeing this as the perfect part to mend his damaged reputation, Reynolds would say of the role, ‘”I wanted to make that movie as soon as I read the book. I respected Leonard’s work. I felt I knew that Florida way of life, having been raised in the state. And I was that guy!” So confident was Burt, he even went as far as directing the picture.
Unfortunately for Reynolds, his speculations proved something of a misfire. Perhaps owing to his previous outing alongside an unusually mediocre Clint Eastwood, the movie did terrible numbers, but it was also panned critically, most notably by the author himself. “I didn’t recognise my screenplay at all in that movie,” said Leonard. “. . . Burt had done Sharky’s Machine and Gator and I thought he would be good as Stick. But he needed a good director. Directing it himself he just played Burt Reynolds.”
US Box Office Charts for April
||Total Gross / Opening|
|3||Just One of the Guys||Colombia||$11,528,900||$3,307,171|
Top Video Rentals
The April VHS market was also rich in teen comedies, but Star Trek III: The Search for Spock spent the most weeks glued to the number 1 spot (2). The first instalment directed by Spock himself (Leonard Nimoy), the movie was a critical and commercial success, as Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew risk their lives to recover Spock’s body from restricted planet Genesis.
Nimoy wanted The Search for Spock to be “Operatic” in scope, featuring scenes that would have a significant impact on the movie’s characters, and continues The Wrath of Khan‘s exploration of biblical themes such as life, death, and rebirth. It was due to Nimoy’s lust for expansion that some critics would find the movie’s plot somewhat convoluted.
Sharing the top rental spot for the remaining weeks of April were racy teen comedies Bachelor Party and Revenge of the Nerds. Bachelor Party was Tom Hanks‘ second smash hit after director Ron Howard had cast him in romantic comedy Splash that same year, a movie still riding high in the rental charts having spent an incredible 31 weeks there by the end of April. Howard would spot Hanks after an appearance in popular TV sitcom Happy Days.
The story of a bachelor party and the groom-to-be’s battle to remain faithful, the movie would go on to achieve cult status among the misogynistic male population of the 1980’s, and is looked upon as one of the key rite-of-passage comedies of the time. The movie would also star American Ninja‘s Michael Dudikoff as blue-eyed stud Ryko.
Revenge of the Nerds would prove a cult picture in its own right. An entry in the ‘slobs vs snobs’ sub-genre, it is the story of a group of bullied nerds who decide to turn the tables on their agressors. The movie is an even starker representation of the male-dominated ’80’s, and has since been criticised for a its infamous ‘rape by deception’ scene. In spite of this ― or perhaps because of it ― the film would prove so popular among college campuses that its fictional Lmbada Lmbada Lmbada fraternity has since become a reality, establishing its headquarters in Storrs, Connecticut.
Also riding high in the rental charts for April was Police Academy. A variation on the Animal House frat comedy, the movie tells the story of a bunch of misfits struggling to graduate from cadet training. Starring Steve Guttenberg as protagonist Mahoney, the movie is probably best remembered for human beatbox Larvell Jones (Michael Winslow), as well as a series of increasingly puerile sequels which somehow maintained their box office appeal long after the commercial rot set in.
Also making waves was John Milius’ brat pack-laden war film Red Dawn. Set during the dawn of World War III, it is the story of a group of teenagers who team-up to keep the Cold War commies out of their quiet Mid-Western town. Starring Patrick Swayze, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey, the movie is notable for being the first released in the U.S. with a PG-13 rating.
Several other notable entries would make their presence felt at the turn of Spring. Funnyman Gene Wilder would write, direct and star in romantic comedy The Woman in Red, and was smart enough to green-light the impossibly beautiful Kelly Lebrock as his love interest. Also making an appearance in the top 20 was Sergio Leoni‘s 269 minute gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America, a movie the director was forced to cut to 229 minutes due to pressure from distributors, the same who would later trim the movie by a further 90 minutes against Leoni’s wishes. A decades-long tale with the scope of a Dickensian novel, the movie more than deserves an accompanying picture, but sometimes you have to make decisions that may not please everyone.
Lower down the scale saw chart positions for cult schlock fests C.H.U.D and Exterminator 2, both reaching highs of 20 in the month of April. An acronym of Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller, C.H.U.D is a science-fiction horror starring Home Alone‘s Daniel Stern and John Heard, with an early appearance from The Big Lebowski‘s John Goodman. It is the story of a photographer who stumbles across a species of sewer-dwelling creatures who begin to target New York’s homeless community. The movie was given a limited theatrical release by New World Pictures, but has since gone on to achieve cult status among bad movie connoisseurs, and would even spawn a sequel in 1989‘s tenuous follow-up C.H.U.D II: Bud the Chud.
You can always rely on The Cannon Group for sleazy vigilante action, and having bought the rights to the increasingly exploitative Death Wish series (Death Wish 2 anyone?) the Golan-Globus production team would turn to the flamethrower as ruthless vigilante John Eastland returned to wreak vengeance on the no-good punks committing lesser crimes than he does. This time he becomes the target of a gang after slaying the leader’s younger brother (Mario Van Peebles). I mean, who is the bad guy here?
Naturally, the movie suffered from production problems related to censorship in the same year the BBFC would pass the Video Recordings Act. It also had budget problems which saw production move from New York to Los Angeles, and large portions were re-shot at the request of Cannon, with film doctor William Sachs replacing director Mark Buntzman.
Also making a late entry in the video charts in April was James Cameron‘s sci-fi classic The Terminator. It’s amazing to think that such an iconic movie would chart at a lowly 35, particularly since it came out of nowhere to do so well at the box office a year prior.
I suppose the competition was simply much stronger back then (boy, do I miss those rental days!).
Video Rental Charts Week Ending April 6th
|1||Star Trek III||Paramount||1984||PG|
|2||Revenge of the Nerds||CBS Fox||1984||R|
|3||Bachelor Party||CBS Fox||1984||R|
Video Rental Charts Week Ending April 13th
|1||Star Trek III||Paramount||1984||PG|
|2||Revenge of the Nerds||CBS Fox||1984||R|
|3||Bachelor Party||CBS Fox||1984||R|
|5||Gone With the Wind||MGM/UA||1939||G|
Video Rental Charts Week Ending April 2oth
|1||Bachelor Party||CBS Fox||1984||R|
|2||Star Trek III||Paramount||1984||PG|
|4||Revenge of the Nerds||CBS Fox||1984||R|
Video Rental Charts Week Ending April 27th
|1||Revenge of the Nerds||CBS Fox||1984||R|
|2||Bachelor Party||CBS Fox||1984||R|
|3||Star Trek III||Paramount||1984||PG|
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