VHS Revival brings you all the box office and rental news from April 1985
April 85 was a month stuffed with frat pack comedy during the sub-genre’s oversaturated peak, a time when ideas were running thin and studios were growing lazy in their unquenchable thirst for adolescence-fuelled theatres, but the box office would throw up some memorable sleeper hits as we approached the busy summer season to help curb the hormonal tide.
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’. Advertised as the movie’s main attraction in an era of Spielbergian ‘kids in peril’ magic, ‘The General’ would rely more on practical effects artistry than macabre satire, and was the only segment that was not directly adapted from a Stephen King short story.
The best of the King stories stars James Woods as a man persuaded to join the nefarious Quitters Inc. in his quest 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, including round the clock surveillance, kidnapping, violence and the threat of mutilation. Woods’ neurotic style has never been more apt.
The movie’s three segments are tied together by a roaming cat who moves from one location to the next, though a prologue explaining the feline’s motivations was cut against filmmaker Lewis Teague’s wishes, a decision that proved confusing to audiences wondering exactly what the connection was. Cat’s Eye was Jewel of the Nile director Teague’s second animal-led King adaptation off the back of 1983‘s rabid dog horror Cujo, one of several King characters/books referenced in the movie.
Also released on April 14 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 having been 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, Ladyhawke 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 as the aptly named ‘Mouse’. Mick Jagger was also considered for the part of Pope.
Director Richard Donner struggled to get the film financed for several years, twice coming close in England and the former Czechoslovakia before the project was finally picked up by major distributors Warner Brothers and Fox, who split the rights across the North American and International markets. The film’s soundtrack was composed by former Alan Parsons Project collaborator Andrew Powell after Donner stumbled upon their trippy, occasionally epic sound, with Parsons himself, a musician who had worked on classic albums such as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and Abbey Road by The Beatles, recruited as producer.
Though suffering from a few pacing issues, Ladyhawke‘s strong romance narrative and stellar cast elevated it above the majority of fantasy fare, resulting in a somewhat underappreciated 80s classic. Topping the box office charts for April, the movie would be nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing. Ladyhawke was one of two Warner Bros produced Richard Donner adventure movies released in 1985 along with cult 80s favourite The Goonies.
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 mesmerising 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 US box office, grossing $4,389,334 with an opening weekend of $2,234,776. This may have been in some part due to the fact that the movie was distributed under the Golan-Globus owned Cannon label, a maverick production company who specialised in low-end scripts. Known for their absurd niche movies and unabashed schlock, Cannon had earned a somewhat unsavoury reputation among the industry’s elite, who frowned upon a quantity over quality business model that saw them break the mainstream before crumbling under their own ambition.
As is often the case, the numbers failed to tell the whole story. Not only was The Company of Wolves critically well-received for its multi-Bafta nominated aesthetics, it would grab the attention of visionary director Stanley Kubrick, who was so impressed by the movie’s production design he would hire Anton Furst for his upcoming Vietnam epic Full Metal Jacket.
Exploring themes of sexual desire in a fairy tale setting, The Company of Wolves was adapted from Angela Carter’s short of the same name from her much lauded 1979 story collection The Bloody Chamber. Carter would adapt her short for the screen alongside director Neil Jordan based on an earlier radio adaptation. Following the film’s release, Jordan and Carter would look at adapting further works for the screen, a project that the Carter’s illness would sadly put an end to.
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! Unsurprisingly, Moving Violations would provide the only major lead role for actor John Murray of Scrooged and Caddyshack fame. It would also mark the first silver screen appearance for Don Cheadle, who would go on to be a rather notable Hollywood player, starring in such hits as Boogie Nights, Hotel Rwanda, while more recently making something of a name for himself in the Marvel cinematic universe as James “Rhodey” Rhodes aka War Machine.
The final week of April saw the release of a lesser-known, but infinitely more interesting teen comedy. Made in the same vein 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 in an attempt 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.
Just One of the Guys would also star Cobra Kai‘s William Zabka — ironic since Griffith’s Joyce is compared to The Karate Kid‘s Ralph Macchio while assuming her male guise, which, as you can see from the above picture, is rather hard to dispute.
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 to direct 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.”
Top VHS 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.
Production came to a temporary halt thanks to a fire which wiped out a then 60-year-old Paramount set known as New York Street as the movie’s cast prepared for interior shooting. Described by studio officials as “irreplaceable”, the set had featured in such seminal classics as Roman Polanski’s neo-noir thriller Chinatown and Francis Ford Coppolla’s The Godfather. William Shatner would assist in suppressing the blaze and would even rescue a crew member before the fire services arrived. Playing down his heroics, the actor would later explain that his motivations were entirely work-related, the fire threatening to impeach on his work schedule and duties for cult cop show T.J. Hooker.
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 rest, as they say, is history.
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 1980s, and is looked upon as one of the key rite-of-passage comedies of its time. Interestingly, a then unheard of Jim Carrey was actually considered for Hanks’ role, while Seinfeld‘s Julia Louis-Dreyfus was originally considered for the role of Debbie, which eventually went to Tawny Kitaen. Based on how their careers evolved beyond 1984, it’s probably safe to say that Dreyfus dodged a particularly large bullet on that occasion. Bachelor Party 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 tells the story of a group of bullied nerds who decide to turn the tables on their aggressors. The movie is an even starker representation of the male-dominated ’80s, 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.
When interviewed by producers as potential director on the picture, Jeff Kanew was asked what kind of movie he imagined making given the material. His response? “One I would be embarrassed to have my name on.” It should come as no surprise then that they hired him on the spot. Permission from the University of Arizona to film on their premises was revoked after officials got wind of the movie’s lowbrow nature. Their initial fears were later realised having restored that permission, a number of students appearing as extras and partying with cast members after hours during a shoot that was described as having a “fraternity atmosphere”.
Also riding high in the rental charts for April was Hugh Wilson’s Police Academy. A variation on the Animal House frat comedy flooding the mid-80s, the movie tells the story of a bunch of occupational misfits struggling to graduate from cadet training thanks to a level of idiocy that is beneath anyone under the age of 12. 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.
Police Academy was one of those rare movies given the zero star treatment by legendary film critic Roger Ebert. Even rarer are the reasons why it was banished to the realms of cinematic ignominy. Sensitive to unnecessary or immoral violence, Ebert typically reserved his no star rating for movies that were considered exploitative without justification — Death Wish II and The Hitcher just two examples of films that were subjected to the critic’s influential wrath. On this occasion no such personal fires were stoked, Police Academy proving such a bad movie that it qualified through sheer ineptitude.
In his review of the movie, Ebert would write, “It’s really something. It’s so bad, maybe you should pool your money and draw straws and send one of the guys off to rent it so that in the future, whenever you think you’re sitting through a bad comedy, he could shake his head, and chuckle tolerantly, and explain that you don’t know what bad is.” As if that wasn’t damning enough, he would later add, “If there’s anything worse than a punch line that doesn’t work, it’s a movie that doesn’t even bother to put the punch lines in.”
Harsh but fair.
Also making waves was John Milius’ brat pack-laden war film Red Dawn. Set during the dawn of a fictional 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 US with a PG-13 rating and would even make the Guinness Book of Records for most acts of violence with one hundred thirty-four violent acts per hour, or 2.23 per minute.
A ridiculous, high-concept and deeply paranoid romp that could only belong to the 1980s, the movie retains a kitsch charm, featuring a ‘Brat Pack’ cast that will likely please anyone who views the decade through rose-tinted spectacles. In spite of its silliness, writer/director John Milius took the picture very seriously, subjecting his Hollywood-pretty cast to an intensive eight-week military training course, and would have them film in conditions that led to a pretty serious case of frostbite for future Road House hard man Patrick Swayze, the effects of which could still be felt up until his death in 2009.
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. The tale of a menopausal man smitten with a younger woman, the movie is a remake of Yves Robert’s racy French comedy Pardon Mon Affaire, a movie which proved only marginally more amusing.
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, which would feature colossal performances from the likes of Robert De Niro, James Woods and Joe Pesci, 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 for 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 odd, sewer-dwelling creatures that begin targeting 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, the Golan-Globus production team would turn to the flamethrower as ruthless vigilante John Eastland returned to wreak vengeance on the no-good punks condemned for committing lesser crimes than he does. This time he becomes the target of a familiar, paper-thin gang after slaying the leader’s younger brother (Mario Van Peebles), which leads to the kind of ultra-violent mayhem that would land Golan-Globus the kind of cult following that is still going strong today.
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.
Thanks to the usual clichés and a wardrobe right out of a late ’80s side-scrolling beat em’ up, the sequel is much sillier and less cynical than its sobering predecessor The Exterminator, a pre-certificate exploitation vehicle that would evade video nasty damnation, but which had all the prerequisites to qualify.
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 home video rental days!