Sleepy teens, animated mannequins and arm-wrestling truckers. VHS Revival brings you all the retro movie news from February ’87
February ’87 kicked off with a movie that you probably haven’t seen, though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Thanks to two of science fiction’s most memorable movie monsters, the 80s were rife with Alien and Predator rip-offs, the kind of irresistibly cheapskate productions that have found a place in bad movie lore. Ridley Scott was the unwitting influence behind such schlock-ridden derivatives as Contamination (1980), Inseminoid (1981), the Roger Corman-produced Galaxy of Terror (1981), Parasite (1982), Forbidden World (1982), Creature (1985) and Deep Star Six (1989). John McTiernan’s jungle-bound opus wasn’t quite as influential, but transparent imitations such as Star Hunter (1986), Watchers (1988) and 1988’s Robowar have to be seen to be believed — particularly the latter, which is so on the nose it’ll make your eyes water. 1987‘s Alien Predators managed to tap into both while being less similar thematically, but just imagine how many moviegoers succumbed to the movie’s crappy charms based on the title alone. It made me want to see it.
As you can probably imagine, the film’s plot is a very familiar patchwork. Thanks to a cut-and-shut prologue we discover that a space station named Skylab crashed down on Earth in 1979, though thanks to an unfortunate teen vacation four years later it soon comes to light that not everything perished during re-entry. In fact, some rather nasty and incredibly adaptable alien organisms managed to survive the wreckage and begin transforming human hosts into flesh-eating monsters in a manner reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing, completing a trifecta of cinematic plagiarism. Director Deran Sarafian, who would later give us 1990‘s Van Damme action vehicle Death Warrant and colossal Charlie Sheen flop Terminal Velocity, would manage to land himself a couple of notable faces in Fade to Black‘s Dennis Christopher and Lynn-Holly Johnson of For Your Eyes Only fame, but it was all in vain, the movie managing a total box office return of $2,554.
And no, that’s not a typo.
Later re-branded The Falling by MGM, the American-Spanish production was originally shot during the spring of 1984 but festered in the commercial quagmire for three whole years due to a laid-back crew who ran the movie over schedule and over budget. “Working on that film wasn’t a happy time, due mainly to the attitude of the American crew,” producer Carlos Aured would explain in Fangoria #189. “The director [Deran Sarafain] was a pal of the producer, the cameraman was a pal of the producer, they were all pals of the producer! Shooting with them was a disaster. They were just too laid back and I couldn’t get them to take a more professional approach, with the result that it went way over schedule—and they left me with a pile of unpaid debts. By the end of it, I just felt I’d had enough of movies; also I was going through a divorce at the time and had all sorts of personal problems, so I decided to call it a day.”
Is there any wonder?
February 6 would see The Breakfast Club‘s Judd Nelson turn to courtroom dramedy as he looked to establish himself as a Hollywood leading man, starring alongside Elizabeth Perkins in Black Christmas director Bob Clark’s 13th feature From the Hip. This would prove an unlucky number for both the filmmaker and the iconic Brat Packer, the former embarking on a series of commercial and creative flops that would culminate in 1990’s ludicrous family comedy Baby Geniuses, a movie that would bag an infamous Stinkers Award for Worst Sense of Direction. This, from an innovative filmmaker who had all-but invented the slasher genre the previous decade. Nelson would also experience a temporary downturn, relegated to TV movies until landing a support role in 1991‘s innovative ‘hood’ movie New Jack City. Only Perkins would survive the rot, landing arguably her biggest ever role as Tom Hanks’ unfortunate squeeze in growing pains comedy/fantasy Big the following year.
Made during the Wall Street 80s, From the Hip tells the story of Robin Weathers, a rookie lawyer tasked with defending John Hurt’s unconscionable university professor Douglas Benoit, a man accused of murdering a prostitute with the claw of a hammer. Eager to impress his employers any which way he can, our protagonist resorts to underhanded tactics until an inevitable pang of conscience leads him to reevaluate the nature of his goals. Hurt gives a towering performance in what is essentially a 20-minute cameo, though the movie’s excessively erratic tone and general implausibility would lead New York Times critic Walter Goodman to proclaim, “Hold them for contempt of audience”.
Released at a time when corporate ambition had laid waste to the Civil Rights victories of yesteryear, the movie attempts an unholy matrimony of goal-oriented capitalism and hippy culture values, our protagonist encompassing two sides of the social coin. Of the movie, Pulitzer Prize winning critic Roger Ebert would write, “I have a notion that a lot of moviegoers in Nelson’s generation will respond to his performance. There’s so much insecurity around right now, so much desperate competition for success, that the notion of a rebel inside corporate America is curiously attractive. If I am right and if our society is poised once again on the brink of a rerun of the 1960s, if Reagan is our Eisenhower, if the campuses are primed to revolt, then From the Hip is The Graduate of 1987.”
A lovely notion, but one at odds with a 21st century society hurtling towards climate change catastrophe.
Following blockbuster success as the incomparable Marty McFly in Back to the Future, and to a lesser degree high school loser-turned-basketball hero Scott Howard in coming-of-age comedy fantasy Teen Wolf, former Family Ties favourite Michael J. Fox would look to redefine himself in Paul Schrader’s independent musical drama Light of Day. Set in a working class suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, the movie tells the story of a warring family and the efforts of Fox’s budding rock star, Joe Rasnick, to ease the tensions between his devoutly Catholic mother and band member sister, Patti.
Principally shot in various parts of Illinois, the movie was an attempt by Fox to shed his clean as a whistle image, something the real-life chain smoker would do by appearing onscreen with a cigarette for the very first time. Real-life punk rocker and occasional actress Joan Jett would star as Joe’s rebellious sibling, and she wasn’t the only musical luminary involved with the project. Defunct Indie Production company Taft Entertainment Pictures would hire pop music icon Bruce Springsteen to write and compose the title song. Interestingly, Schrader’s original working title for the film was Born in the USA, one Springsteen would later use for arguably his most famous song.
In a 2015 interview, Schrader would explain, “Yeah. I had written [Light of Day], I was going to do it at Paramount, and we wanted to get Bruce to do it. I met with Bruce, he was flirting around with being in movies, then he decided he didn’t want to do it…When I came back to the U.S. and was trying to get the film going, Bruce called me up and said, “I really apologize.” We had dinner, and he said, “You know, I never read that script. But it was on my coffee table for almost three months, and every time I walked by it, it said “Born in the U.S.A.” And I couldn’t get that title out of my head! Look, if you want the song for your movie, take it. If you want a new song, I’ll write you a new song.” So he wrote “Light of Day”; that’s where the title came from.”
Despite such a serious digression, Fox would return to the realms of mainstream comedy later that year with Herbert Ross’ The Secret of My Success before returning to more serious roles in the late James Bridges’ American drama Bright Lights, Big City and Brian De Palma’s late-to-the-party Vietnam film Casualties of War.
If ever a movie belonged to the 1980s, it is Michael Gottlieb’s absurd romantic comedy Mannequin. The story of a Philadelphia artist who falls heads over heels with a come-to-life, department store dummy, the film starred 80s Brat Packer Andrew McCarthy and future Sex and the City alumni Kim Cattrall, and was that rare Hollywood romance that featured a lead actress who was older than her male co-star. The 30-year-old Cattrall would pose for a Santa Monica sculptor for an incredible 6 weeks in preparation for the role, from which a total of six dummies were produced, each with their own expressions. You just couldn’t write this shit.
The movie is infamous for being the brainchild of market research guru Joseph Farrel. Mannequin — Farrel’s first movie as producer — would utilise marketing principles designed to appeal to specific demographics. Farrel, who perfected the system of focus groups and test audiences used by studios to tweak movies and maximise their commercial potential, would bag himself a commercial hit this time around, the movie recouping a rather impressive $42,000,000 from a budget of $7,900,000, despite the kind of creative complacency that led Rita Kempley of The Washington Post to describe Mannequin as a film that was, “made by, for, and about dummies.” Is it any wonder that the movie turned out so formulaic?
Catrall, who had recently starred as Kurt Russell’s main squeeze in John Carpenter’s cult fantasy hit Big Trouble in Little China, poured herself into the role physically, doing everything in her power to resemble the waif of plastic she would ultimately portray, though self-confessed introvert McCarthy was less than enthused. As the actor would explain, “I was like, ‘What? What am I doing? This is a movie about a guy who falls in love with a mannequin.’ I told [my agent], ‘I’ve got to get out of this movie.’ They’re like, ‘You read it. It starts on Monday. You’re not getting out of it.’
Unsurprisingly, the film would go on to spawn what many consider to be the worst sequel ever conceived in 1991’s Mannequin Two: On the Move, a film which starred McCarthy’s Pretty in Pink co-star Kristy Swanson. In 2010 there were rumblings of a Mannequin reboot involving a hologram but so far the concept has failed to materialise. Let’s hope it stays that way.
1987 would prove a fateful year for Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, whose blockbuster ambitions would reach their fleeting apotheosis with 1986’s vigilante flick Cobra, thanks to a brief and costly relationship with Hollywood superstar Sylvester Stallone. Though Cobra would prove to be Cannon Films’ most successful movie with a mouthwatering worldwide gross of $160,000,000 — unheard of returns for a production company built on a relentless factory of bottom-rung productions — Cannon would soon flounder in a flourish of misguided ambition, mainstream flops such as Masters of the Universe and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace all but sealing their fate.
Stallone’s second and last Cannon movie would not fare so well. Released in theatres on February 13th, 1987’s absurd road movie Over the Top would prove a financial disaster, recouping little more than half of its $25,000,000 budget, a hefty chunk of which going to the film’s reluctant star. Reflecting on his brief relationship with Cannon’s renegade leader, Sly would explain, “Menahem Golan kept offering me more and more money, until I finally thought, ‘What the hell — no one will see it!’”
Stallone stars as Lincoln Hawk, an arm wrestling trucker looking to form a relationship with his estranged son after the kid’s mother falls ill, something his grandfather, Robert Loggia’s Jason Cutler, is having none of. Taking its cue from the larger-than-life world of American pro wrestling, Cannon would promote a real-life arm wrestling tournament as a promotional vehicle, and would further bolster the film’s chances of success by hiring in-demand synth composer Giorgio Moroder, compiling a cult 80s soundtrack that included artists such as Sammy Hagar, Kenny Loggins and rock band Asia.
Unfortunately, Cannon’s star power splurge failed to pay dividends. In 1990, Golan would depart the company to become the head of the 21st Century Film Corporation, a venture that would last barely four years. It didn’t matter much. The legacy of Golan-Globus and Cannon Pictures, the kind of rebel production company that simply would not exist in the 21st Century, had already been established. The 80s simply wouldn’t have been the same without them.
Death Before Dishonour was one of those movies whose artwork drew me in as a young rental hound, though admittedly I never took the plunge. This is rather surprising since the late 80s, as well as fuelling my passion for the horror genre, introduced me to the likes of Cannon’s American Ninja, a film with similar press material that I watched ad nauseum as a kid, usually dressed as a plastic sword-wielding, counterfeit ninja, complete with oversized bathrobe and a belt tied around my head.
When researching this article, I figured that Death Before Dishonour, a movie about a one-man army starring former NFL defensive end Fred Dryer, was a direct-to-video affair, only to discover that it actually received a theatrical release, though an undisclosed budget means that I am unable to gauge just how successful a movie that made $4,546,244 actually was, though something tells me the film did much better in the home video market. A look at the trailer and several clips from the film tells me that Death Before Dishonour is a shameless amalgamation of popular action trends; a crude concoction of Dirty Harry and Rambo with shoddy, A-Team production values. And yes, I’m dying to see it, even if notable critics were less than impressed with stunt man Terry Leonard’s solitary directorial credit.
As Roger Ebert would write, “Is there anything at all to recommend this movie? Yeah, sort of. For one thing, this is the only movie I have ever seen where an Arab leader is played by an actor named Rockne Tarkington. For another, it sets a modern-day record for the Fruit Cart Rule. That’s the rule that says that whenever there is a chase scene in a Third World nation, a speeding car will sooner or later overturn a fruit cart, leaving melons and oranges rolling in its wake. The chase scene in this movie takes out two fruit stands and one fruit cart in less than two minutes.”
Completing a double whammy of mainstream crap in February 1987 was excruciating American comedy Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home, a movie so bad it was lumbered with the infamous Alan Smithee credit. For those who are unaware, Alan Smithee was the blanket credit given to movies that were disowned by their directors, usually due to production problems, studio interference, unscheduled rewrites and a plethora of other problems that tarnish a filmmaker’s original vision. The elusive Smithee has directed a total of 27 movies, including The Birds II: Land’s End, Maniac Cop III: Badge of Silence, Meet Joe Black and Hellraiser: Bloodline. Even the great David Lynch got in on the act, 1984’s Dune receiving the Alan Smithee treatment after the director refused to be associated with the movie. Quite the career Smithee’s had!
Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home is the kind of relatable story we can all get behind; you know, the kind that sees the oddball son of a Conservative senate return home from public school to prevent his disapproving father’s campaign from being sabotaged. Yet another in a slew of high jinks comedies to come out of the 1980s, the film would star future Two and a Half Men favourite John Cryer as mischievous, horror-loving protagonist Morgan. The Breakfast Club‘s petulant classroom scourge Paul Gleason would also star, playing the kind of heel he would become typecast as following John Hughes’ cult classic. The difference a poor screenplay can make to all involved is really quite amazing.
Also known as Home Front, Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home originally had director Terry Winsor at the helm, who would pass the reins over to Paul Aaron before taking a four years hiatus from filmmaking and being relegated to made-for-TV movies. Aaron, who would later produce hit comedy sequel Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, was so ashamed of the final product that he would walk away from the project, ditching the camera altogether by 1994 after a slew of second-rate, made-for-TV outings. Smithee would be more than happy to add the film to his legendary pile of eclectic claptrap.
Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home posted disastrous figures at the US box office, recouping a paltry $2,136,381 from a $7,000,000 outlay. Cryer would later rank among the 10 highest paid TV actors of all time, making $620,000 dollars per episode as Two and a Half Men‘s anxious single dad Alan Harper. Quite extraordinary.
After a brief second act dip, February 1987 would deliver the goods with two cult classics as the month drew to a close. First on the agenda was Chuck Russell’s franchise-prolonging sequel A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors, a movie which transformed antagonist Fred Krueger into a bona fide rock star. Striking the perfect commercial balance between teen-oriented horror and star-making one-liners, many feel that the franchise’s second sequel took Robert Englund’s fiendish child killer away from the darkness, later sequel’s reducing him to a glorified stand-up act and merchandising machine, but the movie returned to the dreamworld concept ditched by 1985’s Freddy’s Revenge with dazzling aplomb.
Ironically, an original version of the screenplay, written by Krueger creator Wes Craven and writing partner Bruce Wagner, was intended to be much darker — even more so than the original A Nightmare on Elm Street — until Russell and future Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont stepped in and committed the movie to a fantasy-driven rewrite that would alter the tone of the series irrevocably. As Russell would later explain, “The original script for ‘Elm Street 3’ was darker and actually profane. I think Wes was trying to take it more in an even more horrific place, and I was more interested in the imaginative elements of the piece.”
Reintroducing original final girl Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) as a grey-streaked intern therapist who specialises in dream behaviour (at least she made a career out of it), the film takes place at Westin Hills Psychiatric Hospital. There Nancy attempts to halt Krueger from offing the ‘last of the Elm Street children’ with a round of group hypnosis that allows a band of troubled juveniles to develop skills that lay waste to their real-life weaknesses. In an inspired touch, tough kid Kincaid, wheelchair wizard Will, struggling drug addict-turned-hard-ass punker rocker Taryn and lead protagonist Kristin Parker all band together to take on their dreamworld pursuer on his own turf, leading to an effects-heavy battle of monumental proportions.
Whatever you’re opinion of The Dream Warriors and the effect it had on the series going forward, the numbers don’t lie, the movie grossing an incredible $44,800,000 from a meagre $5,000,000 outlay. A year later, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master — a film that quickly laid waste to Part 3’s remaining conquerors in favour of a paper thin cast and a protagonist replaced by a different actress entirely — raked in an astonishing $49,000,000, cementing Krueger as the unmatched king of the horror genre. The Dream Master would remain the most successful instalment of the franchise until the long-mooted Freddy vs Jason in 2003.
February 27th also saw the release of Howard Deutch’s romantic drama Some Kind of Wonderful, a brat pack heavy outing in the John Hughes vein (Hughes would write and produce the movie). The role of protagonist Amanda Jones was initially written for Hughes go-to actress Molly Ringwald. Ringwald, who snubbed the film in favour of more adult roles for fear of being typecast, would effectively end her relationship with Hughes after the filmmaker took her rejection personally. It didn’t help that Deutch and Hughes had fallen out while filming their previous years’ collaboration Pretty in Pink, also starring Ringwald, due to poor test audiences and re-jigged character resolutions that didn’t sit right with Hughes.
In a 2018 essay for the New York Times entitled “What About the Breakfast Club?” Revisiting the Movies of my Youth in the Age of #MeToo, the eloquent Ringwald would examine Hughes’ movies from a politically correct perspective. “I made three movies with John Hughes,’ she would write. “When they were released, they made enough of a cultural impact to land me on the cover of Time magazine and to get Hughes hailed as a genius. His critical reputation has only grown since he died, in 2009, at the age of fifty-nine. Hughes’s films play constantly on television and are even taught in schools. There is still so much that I love in them, but lately I have felt the need to examine the role that these movies have played in our cultural life: where they came from, and what they might mean now.”
Ringwald would continue, “In Sixteen Candles,” a character alternately called the Geek and Farmer Ted makes a bet with friends that he can score with my character, Samantha; by way of proof, he says, he will secure her underwear…it originally ended with the father asking, ‘Sam, what the hell happened to your underpants?’ My mom objected. ‘Why would a father know what happened to his daughter’s underwear?’ she asked. John squirmed uncomfortably. He didn’t mean it that way, he said—it was just a joke, a punch line. ‘But it’s not funny,’ my mother said. ‘It’s creepy.’…My mom also spoke up during the filming of that scene in “The Breakfast Club,” when they hired an adult woman for the shot of Claire’s underwear. They couldn’t even ask me to do it—I don’t think it was permitted by law to ask a minor—but even having another person pretend to be me was embarrassing to me and upsetting to my mother, and she said so.”
Also starring Pulp Fiction‘s Eric Stoltz and Mary Stuart Masterson, Some Kind of Wonderful is basically a revamped retelling of Pretty in Pink that switches genders, building to the same ‘should the character get the girl’ concept as its predecessor. Though received fairly well critically, Janet Maslin of The New York Times calling it a “much-improved, recycled version of the Pretty in Pink story”, Hughes and Deutchs’ latest collaboration didn’t fair quite so well at the box office, its $18,500,000 return a fraction of Pretty in Pink‘s $40,400,000.
Despite Some Kind of Wonderful‘s production-related tribulations, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Ringwald’s replacement, Back to the Future‘s apple pie sweetheart Lea Thompson, would marry Deutch two years after falling in love with the director on set, and the two are still together more than three decades later ― quite the feat in the fickle realms of Hollywood celebrity. Of their time shooting together, Thompson would say, “Howie had a really big crush on me, and I was engaged to Dennis Quaid at the time. This painting [of Ringwald in the movie] was such a big reveal, and Howie just couldn’t get anybody to paint the painting right, so he had 12 paintings painted of me. They’re still lurking somewhere. They’re still in the Paramount warehouse somewhere.” Deutch would add, “We still have one of [those paintings of Lea], and it’s still hanging in our house.” A fairy tale romance if ever there was one. Though I’m sure Dennis Quaid sees things rather differently.