Though digging up historical pop culture landmarks 30-some-odd years in the grave can, at times, be challenging if not in some critics eyes arbitrary, without a doubt one of the standout sensations of the 80s worth mentioning is the slasher film. In fact, if you were to ask any number of pop culture enthusiasts to name their top five defining trends of the decade, the slasher film would likely be noted on more than a handful of occasions. According to Peter Bracke’s Friday the 13th chronicle Crystal Lake Memories, in 1983 slasher films were responsible for 60% of all box-office earnings. For reasons argued up and down the annals of film academia, kids just loved going out in the 80s to watch their peers get chopped, stabbed, sliced, and generally mutilated by unstoppable psychotic killers.
For anyone new to the sub-genre, that last sentence pretty much sums up the slasher film. A more aggressive offspring of the classic monster movie, the slasher film almost always portrays a small group of people, usually comprised of teenagers, being targeted and viciously murdered by an overpowering, nearly invincible stalker. With a few notable exceptions (see below), these films typically eschewed plot and character depth in favor of graphic violence and inventive death scenes. In most films, the killer is (seemingly) destroyed in the end by a lone survivor of the group, usually a young woman.
Due to the horror genre’s popularity in the 80s, the list of films in the slasher catalog is dense and littered with obscurities and cheap knockoffs. But there are few better ways to spend Halloween than settled on the couch and sharing with that special someone… you’re favorite unstoppable serial killer! Presented in this seasonal Retrobacktive entry are all the basics you need to know – or re-known – about the slasher film.
See what I did there? Re-know is like Retrobac… ah, whatever; let’s get on with it.
Black Christmas – The first thing you need to know is that the slasher film sub-genre didn’t begin in the 80s; it began in 1974 with Black Christmas, a Canadian film directed by Bob Clark. Clark, most famous for the sophomoric Porky’s and lighthearted A Christmas Story, helped develop a screenplay by writer A. Roy Moore into what is widely considered the first true slasher film. The movie depicts a sorority house whose inhabitants are individually killed off by a killer whose identity is never revealed. Many of the techniques that would become staples within the genre were first executed by Clark here, including most famously camera shots from the perspective of the killer. Though the film was not a success upon its initial release, it has gained a cult following as the recognized progenitor of the genre.
Final Girl – The Final Girl, or Survivor Girl, is a routine characteristic of the slasher film in which the killer is finally confronted by the last survivor within his/her intended group of victims. The survivor is almost always a woman, and usually one that has shown virtuous or masculine traits throughout the movie, and is thus able to destroy the killer. The term was first used by Carol Clover in her book Men, Women & Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. It has since gone on to be embraced openly by several of the genre’s most important filmmakers.
Freddy Krueger – The primary antagonist from Wes Craven‘s A Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Krueger is readily identifiable by his clawed glove with four razors jutting from the fingertips, as well as his brown fedora and red-striped sweater. Unlike many of his slasher villain contemporaries, whose menace only hinted at the supernatural, Krueger’s abilities completely defy human convention and allow him to carry out previously inconceivable methods of violence. The character was most famously portrayed by Robert Englund.
Friday the 13th – Arguably the biggest franchise to develop out of the slasher film phenomenon. The Friday the 13th series is most widely known for introducing the character Jason Voorhees. Known universally as simply ‘Jason,’ the hockey-masked killer didn’t actually begin terrorizing Crystal Lake until Friday the 13th Part 2. While well know to genre aficionados, it wasn’t until Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) that laymen audiences learned the killer from the original Friday the 13th was Pamela Voorhees, Jason’s mother. Jason’s signature hockey mask was another later development within the series, first being used in Friday the 13th Part 3-D and in all subsequent films – which currently span nine sequels, a spinoff, and a 2009 reboot.
Halloween – Although Black Christmas is considered the original slasher film, Halloween is far and away the genre’s most lauded and seminal entry. Fulfilling the trope that would follow in virtually every slasher film made in the 80s, Halloween in recognized for not only perfecting many of the slasher staples established in Black Christmas – including eerie first-person camera perspectives from the villain’s point of view – but also creating the genre’s most indelible component: the masked killer. What makes Halloween unique and outstanding (aside from Michael Myers’ white William Shatner mask) is John Carpenter’s deft direction. Halloween contains very little gore, and the violence pales in comparison to the numerous sequels that would follow. Instead Carpenter relies on tone and immaculate pacing to create suspense. It works; as a horror film, this movie is virtually flawless. Extra points for the creepy soundtrack, composed by none other than John Carpenter.
Hellraiser – While not a traditional slasher film in the strictest sense, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser deserves mention given its legacy in the horror film canon, and for introducing Pinhead, one of the genre’s most popular villains. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser leans heavily towards the supernatural, but the gruesome visuals and deplorable characters align the film with other slasher classics. As a precursor to ‘torture porn,’ Hellraiser could be seen as the original, and the best.
Jason Voorhees – Jason Voorhees is the main antagonist (or antihero, depending on how you view the films) in the Friday the 13th series. Though his mother is revealed as the killer in the original movie, Jason takes the helm throughout the remainder of the sequels. As the son of Pamela Voorhees, Jason was a mongoloid who supposedly drowned in Crystal Lake, his cries for help unheard by camp counselors preoccupied with sex. Despite his mother’s attempts to avenge her dead child, Jason is shown to be alive in Friday the 13th Part 2, and launches an endless campaign of violence upon anyway who dares to reside near Crystal Lake. Jason’s acquisition of a goalie’s mask in Friday the 13th Part 3-D would elevate his pop culture status as arguably the most recognizable serial killer in film history.
John Carpenter – An Academy-award winning American filmmaker notable for producing, writing, editing, scoring, and directing several watershed films within the horror genre, John Carpenter is most well-known for creating the classic horror film Halloween. Carpenter released a string of horror films in the 80s and is consider by many to be the most influential horror filmmaker of the decade. Other notable movies in his catalog include The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing, Christine, Starman, Prince of Darkness, and They Live!.
Leatherface – As the chainsaw-wielding, skin-wearing, transvestite butcher from Tobe Hopper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface arguably defined the image of the homicidal stalker that would become prevalent in 80s slasher films. A silent, brutish figure devoid of personality, actor Gunnar Hansen studied the behavior of children with mental disabilities to develop the character’s creepy mannerisms.
Michael Myers – Michael Myers (aka ‘The Shape’) is the primary villain from the Halloween film series. A mysterious and relentless opponent, Myers is portrayed as the epitome of pure evil after he murders his sister as a young boy and escapes a mental institution 15 years later to stalk and murder a number of babysitters on Halloween night. The famous white mask Myers’ wears was actually a Captain Kirk Star Trek mask painted white by production designer Tommy Lee Wallace. The mask that launched a hundred horror flicks cost the film crew only $1.98. Ironic considering John Carpenter’s horror masterpiece is the closest thing the slasher film has to high art.
Nightmare on Elm Street – Director Wes Craven followed the burgeoning success he’d grown with low-budget cult films such as The Hills Have Eyes and Swamp Thing with 1984′s A Nightmare on Elm Street. The film introduces audiences to Freddy Krueger, whose wit and supernatural abilities set him apart from the traditional, silent slasher film villains of the day. Like Halloween and Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street spawned a number of sequels, spinoffs, and a recent remake. Most, however, lacked the artistic input of Craven, but the original is a highly innovative entry into the slasher film canon thanks to its incorporation of reality-bending concepts.
Phantasm – A little-known American horror film from 1979, Phantasm earns a place in this overview as it contains many of the traditional elements found in slasher films of the era, primarily a young teenage protagonist engaged in battle with a larger, brooding antagonist. In the case of Phantasm, the antagonist is large enough to be colloquially dubbed “The Tall Man.” As The Tall Man, Angus Scrimm plays a mortician who controls a brood of dwarf zombies that fulfill his murderous desires. Though not as popular as contemporary films such as Halloween or Alien, Phantasm gained a strong cult following, and three sequels were eventually released.
Pinhead – As the leader of the Cenobites, a order of extra-dimensional sadomasochistic beings from the Hellraiser series, Pinhead distinguishes himself from several contemporary horror film antagonists by demonstrating erudite mannerisms as opposed to belligerent aggression. He is, nonetheless, an imposing figure identifiable by an encompassing grid of pins impaled into his skull. Hellraiser director Clive Barker hired actor Doug Bradley to play the role; when Bradley asked Barker how he ought to interpret the character, Barker instructed Bradley to consider him a cross between an administrator and a surgeon. Bradley’s chilling clinical portrayal is spot on.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Released the same year as Black Christmas, Texas Chainsaw Massacre predates the rise of the slasher film. A groundbreaking work of horror, Tobe Hooper created a visually disturbing movie about a group of young travelers terrorized by a psychotic family of cannibals in rural Texas with a shoestring budget and cast of unknown actors. The grainy, broken camerawork and anonymity of the actors, however, gives the film a stark, documentary feel, which adds to the suspense and terror. Followed by two sequels, a remake, prequel, and one “almost-sequel” that references the earlier films but is essentially a shot-for-shot remake, the original TCM is relatively light on gore, but still stands as one of the most controversial movies in horror film.
Wes Craven – As a director, writer, and producer, Wes Craven has created several of the most indelible films in horror. His 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street launched one of the most popular slasher series of the 80s. Craven followed this success in 1996 with another horror mega-franchise, Scream, which unabashedly parodies several staples of the slasher film. Other notable films directed by Craven include Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and The Serpent and the Rainbow.
Notable Mentions - Since this blog serves only as an introduction to the slasher film sub-genre, it would be impossible to cover every milestone within its sphere. Below are a list of films and directors who have bore some influence within the genre, or are simply worth further investigation. They might not all be slasher films, per se, but they deliver the same startles and chills as those mentioned above.
Alien, An American Werewolf in London, The Burning, Child’s Play, David Cronenberg, Sean S. Cunningham, House, The Howling, John Landis, Maniac Cop, My Bloody Valentine, Predator, The Prowler, Silent Night Deadly Night, Sleepaway Camp, Terror Train.
And not what you’ve all been waiting for… my favorite Jason kill scene!
Of all the Friday the 13th death scenes, this one is unbeatable. There’s so much wrong with it! For those who haven’t seen the movie, the character Julius is an amateur boxer, yet here he’s completely winded after about a minute! How do you go 15 rounds in the ring with somebody actually fighting back, but can’t handle 60 seconds of what is essentially shadow boxing? And why would you try to punch someone already wearing hardened facial protection?! If there’s a least effective way to battle Jason, this is it. That’s what makes this death scene so rewarding; Julius tells Jason to take his best shot. He does. And it is awesome. It’s so over the top, but you can’t help feel like this idiot deserved it.
In the decade that nurtured the birth of Reaganomics there was perhaps no greater right-wing evangelist, or icon of conservative ambition, than young Ohioan Alex P. Keaton. He rejected those notions of the previous counterculture generation – including those of his own parents – and openly held the ideals of Milton Friedman, William Buckley, Jr., and Richard Nixon in the highest regard. He worked tirelessly to not just put himself within position of economic benefit, but to participate in its very direction. He eventually broke free from the confinement of Columbus to engage first-hand in the financial world of Wall Street before following his idols’ footsteps into the political arena, ultimately serving as a United States Senator.
Alex Keaton was undeniably charming in his emphatic, if not buffoonish, devotion to conservatism. As he should have been given that Alex Keaton was never a real person, but the indelible protagonist played by Michael J. Fox on the hit NBC sitcom Family Ties.
Airing from 1982 to 1989, Family Ties chronicled the lives of the Keatons, a middle-class suburban family comprised of liberal parents at constant odds with their conservative children. Though mother Elyse (Meredith Baxter) and father Steven (Michael Gross) were to be the focal characters of the program, Fox quickly became the breakout star. He continually defined the tenor of the sociopolitical era with his earnest albeit self-absorbed portrayal, which would go on to earn the him three Emmy awards and the number 17 spot in TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time” list.
(Michael J. Fox, second-from-left. Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
Although it would be the role that would launch Fox into stardom, NBC hadn’t originally intended to cast the 21-year-old Canadian actor. Even after first-choice Matthew Broderick turned down the opportunity to play Keaton, producer Brandon Tartikoff lobbied to have Fox removed from the show, doubting the actor’s ability to connect with an audience. At its peak, Family Ties’ viewership represented one-third of American households. But even as Fox’s nimble charisma continued to put naysayers to silence, there were few who could have anticipated just how giant the actor’s future would be.
A 1.21 Gigawatt Role
By now, even the most novice cinephile knows that when principal shooting for Back to the Future began in 1984, Eric Stoltz was cast in the lead role of Marty McFly. Many, however, believe that Stoltz was director Robert Zemeckis‘ first choice for the part. But this is something of an inaccuracy. Though Zemeckis was impressed with Stoltz’ performance in Mask, Michael J. Fox was his first choice for the lead. Conflict, however, with filming for Family Ties initially kept Fox from accepting the role.
As Fox had become the centerpiece of the show, producer Gary David Goldberg feared with Meredith Baxter absent on maternity leave, losing their two biggest stars would be a ratings disaster for Family Ties. Production of Back to the Future moved forward with Stoltz, but five weeks into filming, Zemeckis came to an unsettling conclusion: Stoltz was miscast. Convinced Stoltz could not deliver the whimsical disbelief essential to the role, Zemeckis scrapped five weeks of filming to start anew. It was an expensive decision that cost production $3 million and pushed the release date back from May to July. But by now Baxter had returned to Family Ties, and the producers of Back to the Future were able to negotiate a deal with Goldberg that allowed Fox to work on the film after shooting dailies for his show.
The process was arduous but fruitful. Fox’s everyman charm and on-screen chemistry with co-star Christopher Lloyd made Back to the Future a runaway success. The film grossed over $380 million and became the most successful movie of 1985. It propelled Fox into Hollywood superstardom. The fervor of Back to the Future was followed up not two months later with the release of Teen Wolf. Along with a hit TV show, Michael J. Fox had almost overnight become a bonafide movie star.
Fox credited much of his acclaim as Marty McFly with how easily relatable he found the character. Like McFly, Fox was both an avid skateboarder and guitar player. It was a genuine kinship that translated with the audience. Back to the Future spawned a franchise the included two sequels, Back to the Future II (1989) and Back to the Future III (1990), an animated television series, and a theme-park ride at Universal Studios Theme Park.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive reception, Fox was briefly in a precarious position. He’d found success in playing off-beat yet engaging teenagers. The pitfalls of typecasting were abundant during the mid-80s as many of the child stars of the 70s attempted to reinvent themselves for a more adult audience.
Fox countered, however, with a string of movies that relayed his calculated wit in increasingly adult roles. He finished two films in 1987. In Light of Day he played, Joe Rasnick, the guitar playing brother of Joan Jett’s character, Patti Rasnick. While not a hit, the film received critical praise and was an unequivocal departure from Fox’s previous light-hearted fare.
The Secret of My Success brought Fox back to his comedic origins, but this time in the more sophisticated setting of the boardroom. Fox played financial wiz Brantley Foster, who moves to New York for a lofty job only to find himself living a double life in order to scale the walls of corporate success. It is arguably Fox’s bawdiest role, pitting him against corporate megalomania (in an ironic twist as Fox was still portraying Alex Keaton on Family Ties) while screwball sexual farce ensues.
It was not, however, until 1988 that Fox was given the opportunity to truly break out of the hapless-come-charming youth persona he’d set the bar for with his earlier work. In Bright Lights, Big City - a screen adaptation of Jay McInerney’s second-person examination of urban decadence – Fox starred as Jamie Conway, an aspiring writer who numbs his emotional turmoil with drugs, alcohol, and the endless solace of big city anonymity. The performance is uniquely Fox, filled with rattled wittiness faintly a hair above tragic isolation. While critics stood polarized on Fox’s selection as the lead, Bright Lights, Big City would be the door that would lead Fox through his ultimate acting arc.
By 1989, Family Ties had come to an end, but Fox’s movie career was in full swing. He’d followed up his smash success as Marty McFly with Back to the Future Part II, simultaneously filming the second sequel, Back to the Future Part III, and having them released only six months apart. But it was a lesser-known film by Brian De Palma that showcased Fox’s most reaching role. In Casualties of War, Fox plays Max Eriksson, a troubled Vietnam vet who recalls the horrific rape and murder of a young Vietnamese woman by his fellow squad members. The film is graphic in its recount of the Incident on Hill 192, with Fox playing the sole center of morality, defying orders and threats in an ultimately vain effort to save the teenage girl. The film is purely morose, absent even the smallest shred of Fox’s frenetic giddiness. Casualties of War failed to resonate with audiences, but it remains Fox’s most desperate characterization to date and cemented his breadth within cinema.
Despite demonstrating his ability to contend with “dramatic” actors such as Sean Penn and Keifer Sutherland, Fox returned to his comedic roots by wrapping up the Back to the Future series in 1990, and releasing Doc Hollywood in 1991. A string of lighthearted fare followed, including Life With Mikey and For Love or For Money in 1993, and Greedy in 1994, until Fox’s last major film role in 1996′s The Frighteners.
Rise of the Incurable Optimist
Unlike the seminal roles he’d created during the 80s, Fox’s 90s character canon – with the exception of Doc Hollywood – is mostly forgettable. Fox, however, remained indefatigable, reclaiming his infectious small-screen charisma as Deputy Mayor Mike Flaherty in ABC’s Spin City (1996-2002). As the ringleader of a social misfit New York City municipal administration, Fox captured audiences virtually overnight by engaging over 15 years’ worth of practiced coyness, restrained disbelief, and righteous mockery, and amalgamating it into the relentlessly kinetic Mike Flaherty. It remains his most definitive character.
Sadly the kinesis that drove Fox’s performance was a symptom of the real-life disease he had been suffering from in private since 1991. It was on the set of Doc Hollywood that Fox began showing symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. He filmed three seasons of Spin City before revealing he had Parkinson’s and that the fourth season would be his last as the show’s star. He accumulated three Golden Globes, an Emmy and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award during his run as lead actor on the series, after which he continued in Emmy-winning guest appearances on television shows such as Rescue Me, Boston Legal, and Scrubs.
Since his diagnosis, Fox has most commonly been seen in the public eye as a crusader in the fight for stem cell and degenerative disease research. He has published three autobiographies, and will return to television on September 26, 2013 in The Michael J. Fox Show. Outside of his role as a public advocate for medical research, Fox has continuously delivered open, honest, and at times self-mocking candor in both acting and personal demonstration. The actor has received two honorary doctorates of law, one honorary doctorate of medicine, and was lauded by Time Magazine in 2007 “to be celebrated for his work, his kindness, his humor under duress, and for a noble heart.”
While his accomplishments as an actor can often be overlooked in relation to his highly publicized battle with Parkinson’s Disease, there is no denying that Fox’s versatility, timing, and natural aplomb make him the irrefutable cornerstone of the last 30 years of North American film and television. Thus, Michael J. Fox earns the title of Retrobacktive’s Definitive Eighties: Actor.
Holy cow, look at that coat!
Since the 1950s, television has sat atop the telecommunications media throne as the purveyor of all whims societal. Sure, the internet has gained impressive footing with its ability to deliver terse (Ha! Not around here), multimedia news in real time, but let’s be honest: we have machines whose whole purpose is to capture what’s on our televisions when we’re too busy to watch them. Whatever you’re opinion, there’s no denying that T.V. is a powerful medium.
Yet you may have noticed a lack of television references on Retrobacktive. It may seem odd, given television may qualify as the most capricious of all entertainment sources, and certainly the Eighties was a decade of sleek-if-not-transient fashion. But it’s important to take into consideration the nature of television programming 25 years ago. Unlike today’s epic sagas demanding devout adherence to developing plot lines and intricate themes, television was formerly the medium of the short sighted. Everything on television had to be neatly summed up in an hour. Audiences didn’t want cliffhangers or lead-ups; they wanted well defined beginnings, middles, and ends. There was Wang Chung-ing to be done at the clubs, after all.
So while most television shows came with less emotional purchase than the average blockbuster film or landmark album, there were a few watershed moments that helped define the era by way of the small screen.
Those won’t be discussed here today, at least not in detail. There’s a more pressing component of 80s television to ruminate upon, perhaps the most enduring of all: the theme music.
It may seem archaic today, but there was a time when opening credits were part-and-parcel for television. And of course, in order to grip your audiences, every show needed a captivating theme. Fortunately, in effort to exploit the multimedia wonders of this particular medium (the Blog!), there will be no long-winded lament over television theme music of the 80s. Simply, here are the music and opening television segments that defined a generation, and likely stayed stuck in your head throughout the years.
1.) MacGyver (1985 – 1992)
2.) Knight Rider (1982 – 1986)
3.) Miami Vice (1984 – 1989)
4.) Quantum Leap (1989 – 1993)
5.) Magnum P.I. (1980 – 1988)
And why not a sixth, since these lists always seem to culminate in five…
Images are like mental footprints; they tend to last a little longer than the ephemeral whisper or incidental sensation. It makes one wonder if society’s entire perception of days gone by is only a mural of movements and zeitgeists that equals less than the sum of its cultural parts. Philosophical waxing aside – though it’s an appropriate topic for such – see if you remember this one…
In 1979, former medial doctor-turned-director George Miller, along with filmmaker Byron Kennedy, and screenwriter James McClausland, made a movie for 400,000 dollar-y-doos (Australian for “dollars”) called Mad Max. This movie did three significant things. It launched the arrival of Australian New Wave cinema, a notable film force of the 80s and 90s in its own right. It catapulted the career of then-unknown lead actor Mel Gibson. But most importantly (for the purposes of this article), it heralded the exorbitantly popular early-80s trend of post-apocalyptic sci-fi films.
It should come as little surprise that the post-apocalyptic sub-genre found such universal appeal in the 80s. Aside from the fact the Mad Max was an astounding success (it went on to gross over $100,000,000 worldwide, earning one of the highest budget-to-profit ratios in film history) and duplicates were sure to follow, the emotional climate was set for this onslaught of moribund movie tales of deserted highways and broken societies. While the idea of desolate wastelands ruled by dehumanized marauders may seem absurd in today’s cyber-saturated culture, it was not so far from reality at a time when the world’s foremost superpowers perennially brandished the threat of nuclear annihilation. Regardless of which corner of the planted you dwelt in, it was on your mind.
Thus the boom began in earnest. Three countries lead the way: Australia – if with nothing else to offer than the pinnacle Mad Max trilogy, usual standby North America, and Italy, the latter of which made a number of low-budget post-apocalyptic flicks based in dystopian New York City. Although the criteria for what makes a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film is rather self-explanatory (first, there needs to have been an apocalypse…), there is often much dispute over classic films that seem to reside on a gray line of inclusion. So, for the sake of a list, here is a brief overview of the most noteworthy entries in the post-apocalyptic film canon (with Retrobacktive’s obligatory two-cents).
5.) Warrior of the Lost World – On the surface, it’s an obvious rip-off of Mad Max, only now our good guy is on the motorcycle and the bad guys drive the trucks. Upon closer examination, WLW is fairly ambitious, layered with an evolving storyline and twist ending. The problem is you need to examine the film more closely… which is pretty painful because it is not that good. An “ambitious” film is not always a good film, especially when it’s a low-budget Italian bandwagon piece. It nonetheless warrants inclusion on this list as it’s become a cult staple within the genre. Probably for no other reason than it is often laughably bad. Admittedly, this is for fans of the genre only, but even on those terms, you’ll get a bigger kick out of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 season 5 episode which features the film.
4.) 1990: The Bronx Warriors - Despite the deluge of cheap knockoffs, the Italians made at least one decent contribution to the dystopian dustland category. Though laughable by today’s standards, the action is plentiful in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. The plot veers away from anything overly cerebral, as well. It’s a story laced in heavy machismo; a young girl runs away from her rich-but-scrupulous family and finds herself lost in the no man’s land of the Bronx, which is now ruled by vicious gangs. She is fortunately protected by the tough-as-nails bike leader, Trash. That is until Daddy sends a psychotic mercenary after his daughter, and all hell brakes loose. There’s a heavy helping of cheese here, but 1990: The Bronx Warriors still tops the list of Italian post-apocalyptic movies based in New York (a bigger genre than you’d think). Chalk it up to authenticity; they brought real Hell’s Angels in as extras.
3.) The Running Man – Surprisingly, this isn’t a film that gets tossed around the post-apocalyptic movie discussion table that often. It does, however, meet all the requirements. In the future, the United States economy has collapsed. A military state controls people, and things are bleak for the majority of a marginalized class. The only source of entertainment – and means for ensuring complacency – is a sadistic television where prisoners are forced to survive for 24 hours while evading a band of ruthless “stalkers.” The film is based on a short story by Stephen King, and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his action-hero era. Possibly why it misses inclusion in other post-apocalyptic lists is the presence of at least one demographic continuing to exist in affluence. But considering the sequence of events takes place after a clearly noted global catastrophe, there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of room for argument. And it’s another Schwarzenegger/Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura mash up; just enjoy.
2.) Escape From New York - No one seemed to appreciate this concept more than the Italians, who made about 800 similar films based around the idea. But credit director John Carpenter who really made a statement with his dismal, futuristic look at the Big Apple. After the crime rate in America increases 400 percent, Manhattan island is turned into the country’s only maximum security prison. But instead of cell blocks and guards, convicts are merely thrown onto the island to fend for themselves. Any attempt to escape is thwarted by a police unit that patrols the bridges and walls surrounding Manhattan. When Air Force One is hijacked by domestic terrorists, the President’s escape pod lands on the island. The only person who can save him is Snake Plissken, a former war hero turned rogue criminal who barters his way out of incarceration by agreeing to save the President and return him before an important summit meeting between the world’s power nations. One could certainly make the argument this film ought to be omitted based on the fact there is no truly apocalyptic event to speak of. It does, though, bring up an aforementioned point of relevance. The plot is based on a 400 percent increase in crime, which isn’t necessarily apocalyptic but does reflect the majority of people’s sentiment towards New York City in 1981. At the time, New York was a dangerous, crime-ridden, and arguably decaying metropolis that seemed on the verge of implosion. As a social commentary, Escape From New York is an insular response to growing dissolution that mirrors the global interpretation exhibited in other dystopian movies. And it’s got a cool synth soundtrack.
1.) Mad Max 2 (aka The Road Warrior) – Let’s get something clear: the entire Mad Max trilogy owns the number one spot on any post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie list. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Mad Max own the number three and two spots, respectively. But in the interest of variety and comprehension, the decision was made to include only one film from the franchise here, that being the film most representative of the genre’s legacy and the trilogy’s influence. This is the movie that established it all. Barren, desolate wastelands. Mohawked nomads clad in leather armor. The “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla” mercilessly encroaching upon the last remnant of humanity clinging to life in an isolated outpost. Enter Max Rockatansky. Having spent a long-but-unspecified amount time on the road in the wake of events that conspired in the first movie, little now separates Max from the marauding gangs he swore revenge against. When a chance meeting with a “Gyro Captain” leads Max to a refinery nearly overrun by the Lord Humungous, a battle ensues to finally drive away the looters and salvage whatever oil can be saved.
If this whole topic has been as foreign to you as cream cheese on pancakes, you’ll want to start here, at least before George Miller’s re-boot of the series hits theaters next year. Mad Max 2 works on a number of levels, but its two most enticing components are 1.) Max’s lack of redemption – there’s no sentimentality or self-discovery here. Max agrees to help the members of the outpost for no other reason than his own sense of general revenge. This lent the film its dark, realistic tone. And 2.) the chase at the end with the truck and armored convoy… words cannot do it justice. If you don’t enjoy it, you don’t like action cinema. Case closed.
So there’s your basic introduction to the world of post-apocalyptic cinema. If you’re already a fan, I’ve probably told you nothing new. But for those of you novice to the genre, you’ll now be well prepared for Mad Max: Fury Road… whenever it finally digs itself out of development hell (rumor has it this time next year).
And now what we’ve all been waiting for: more pics of the V8 Pursuit Special Interceptor!
To have been a child in the 80s meant you were the imbiber of many a cultural phenomenon. And depending on your personality you may have gravitated to certain zeitgeists more fervently – well, somebody had to wear all those safari hats.
I had a natural affinity for movies that began at an age where I can remember virtually nothing save the Friday night videos my father and I watched. Even my fourth-grade teacher noted during a collective icebreaker for a new student that I was an accomplished “movie buff.” But this is hardly unusual given my impressionable presence during one of the biggest and most influential media revolutions of the 20th century: the rise of the home video and the video rental store. Give a child the opportunity to view and review the same movie over and over (and over) again, and trust me, he will internalize every component of that film down to the last frame. And with so many brilliant and endurable titles popping out at the time, it was impossible not to want to take them all in. Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Rambo, Spaceballs, Back to the Future, Lethal Weapon, Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Friday the 13th, Batman, Police Academy - it’s amazing to think there were moments of my childhood when I actually saw the light of day (the natural event, not the Michael J. Fox-Joan Jett film, though I saw that, too).
My favorite movies were monster movies. Not necessarily the ones from the 80s, which admittedly were a bit too intense for a child (although I often watched them anyway). Despite the runaway craze of serial killer flicks in the 80s, I maintained a fascination for the old Universal monsters of the 30s and 40s. So much so, I cultivated a friendship with a kid in the second-grade for the sole purpose of accessing his parents’ classic monster movie collection. When my mother threw me a birthday party I invited him over under the condition he bring King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I watched in its entirety while he and all the other kids played party games in the backyard.
Indeed, it was hardly “cool” or “bitchin’” to spend a good deal of your free time watching movies your grandparents were once too young to go see, but I got lucky with one particular gem from 1987 (that’s not true, as again I can hardly remember anyone else liking this move at the time). The Monster Squad was a cinematic exercise in duality: a film by intent meant to invoke that which nightmares are made of, and yet sate the dreams of every horror movie cinephile. Here we have a modern movie, in all its advanced costume and special effects glory, featuring the five most recognizable monsters in movie history.
The story is simple and sweet; a group of archetypal youths – fearless leader Sean, loyal sidekick Patrick, chubby-but-kind Horace, rebel Rudy, and nerdy Eugene – comprise The Monster Squad. They’re avid fans of classic monster films (enter relatability) and operate a social club out of Sean’s inexplicably elaborate and spacious treehouse. After coming upon a centuries-old book written by Abraham Van Helsing, the boys discover, via translation provided by ‘Old Scary German Guy,’ that Dracula is alive and attempting to capture an amulet in their hometown that controls the balance between good and evil. If he succeeds, he will use the amulet to plunge the world into darkness. In order to secure his objective, the Count recruits the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Gill-man, and Frankenstein’s Monster to aid his mission.
Recognizing the imminent danger – that is of course dismissed by every adult outside of the old German guy – The Monster Squad set out to find the amulet first and then have a female virgin read an incantation from the book that will open a portal sending all the monsters into Limbo.
Although the squad runs into constant opposition from the monsters, they are aided by the help of Frankenstein’s Monster, who is a gentle creature touched by Sean’s sister Phoebe’s kindness. A final battle breaks out near midnight in front of the local church, and only with the help of Phoebe, who was always desperate to join Sean’s club, is The Monster Squad able to banish the monsters back to Limbo and save the world.
As mentioned, a simple story, but much of the merriment comes from the humor (apparently you can kick a werewolf in the nards should you ever be attacked by one), the genuine sentiment of pubescent boyhood, and the opportunity to see new, detailed interpretations of classic monster characters. The film was co-written by Shane Black, famous for penning the first two Lethal Weapon screenplays. Black’s quick-witted humor is present throughout the script, but what he really excels at is recreating an authentic youth experience. The protagonists’ dialogue never feels forced or unnatural; it precisely mirrors what any 11-year-old boy would say, think, or do in the same situation. Credit Black and director Fred Dekker in developing a sense of immediacy and dread in the cast that is altogether genuine for its intended demographic. And that’s another great element to The Monster Squad, that while there are some intense moments (the Wolfman’s transition from human to wolf form is one of the best ever captured on camera thanks to late makeup master Stan Winston), the movie is kid-friendly.
Lionsgate released a 20th Anniversary Edition of The Monster Squad on DVD in 2007. Until this time the movie had only scene distribution via VHS. It wasn’t until over year after a special screening with a cast reunion at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas that had lines formed around the street that the copyright owners decide to do a digital release. Two years later, Lionsgate released the film on Blu-ray.
I’ve seen neither DVD release thus far. Scenes from the film often replay in the recesses of my conscious, but as a fan, I’m sorry to say I am the most superficial. Perhaps it is only because I watched it so often as a boy, I fear reacquainting myself may be disappointing. A number of my favorite flicks from childhood have suffered this fate. What held up for an eight-year-old, or 1989, often won’t in today’s aggressive film arena.
But there are ways to combat any potential antiquity, namely a screening with an unfamiliar party. I see it actually working wonders for a blossoming romance. Nothing says endearing as much as reminiscent romp through some adolescent innocence… even if the Wolfman does get blown up with a stick of dynamite (note: of course he’s not dead, and I trust you’ve come to the obvious conclusion at to why not).
“[It's] smoother, uh, uh, rounder yet, uh, bolder… a more harmonious flavor.”
So were the words of Robert Goizueta at a press conference held at Lincoln Center in New York City nearly 28 years ago. At the time, Goizueta was the Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. Formerly a flavor chemist with the world’s most famous soda producer, Goizueta knew what he was talking about.
Or at least he sure should have.
Goizueta was describing the flavor of the newly reformulated Coca-Cola, or “New Coke” as it would become more commonly referred to. On April 23, 1985, Coca-Cola did what by any measure today would appear to be pure brand suicide – it took its flagship product, arguably the most beloved soft drink on the planet, and completely revamped it.
To put this into context, imagine… well, herein lies the ludicrous scale of this maneuver: when imagining an indelible brand seemingly beyond the scope of compromise, the mind of even a novice marketer instinctively wants to turn to Coca-Cola. The brand is as much legacy as it is institution, since it’s creation by John Pemberton as a medicinal elixir in 1886 to its rise as the second most recognizable term in the world (“OK” is number one). Coca-Cola is as synonymous with 20th Century, new world tradition as baseball, hot dogs, and television. To change the formula would be like arguing a pantsuit for Lady Liberty.
Well, maybe not.
To be fair, when Goizueta took over as CEO in 1980, there was a lot for Coca-Cola to be worried about. The Cola Wars were in full swing, and PepsiCo had gained the upper hand. Halfway through the 20th Century, Coca-Cola had held the lion’s share of the soft drink market, but by 1983, it commanded less than a quarter. The younger demographic had migrated to Pepsi, with its sweeter flavor and lifestyle marketing campaigns (Pepsi rarely focused its advertising on its products, instead showcasing who drank them; this was a marketing first and major boon for PepsiCo). Goizueta, an aggressive tactician who abhorred sacred cows, well knew Coca-Cola had to embrace Pepsi as a viable usurper to its throne and meet this challenge head on with a drastic strategy.
Goizueta enlisted the support of Coca-Cola President, Donald Keough, as well as marketing vice-president Sergio Zyman and Coca-Cola USA President, Brian Dyson. An assertive marketing research campaign was launched involving taste-testings, focus groups, and surveys. And overwhelmingly what the results of the campaign showed were that people liked the taste of Coke’s new formula over both Pepsi and original Coca-Cola. Additionally, surveys showed people, for the most part, were open to the idea of drinking the new beverage, even if it were labeled “Coke.” The focus groups, on the other hand, weren’t as unilateral in conclusiveness. A small minority scoffed at the idea of altering Coca-Cola, which sparked peer-pressure resonance within the group dynamic. This, however, was widely ignored. Coca-Cola brass was confident in the taste test results and moved forward with release of “the new taste of Coca-Cola.”
Upon its initial release, New Coke did very well. Sales had risen from the same time the previous year, and surveys continued to show a substantial majority favor for New Coke. Of course, these were major metropolitan demographic results… not the South.
Coca-Cola was born in the Southeast, in the wake of defeat at the hands of the Union. Coca-Cola held a virtually unparalleled reverence throughout the region, and its perversion was considered sacrilege. That vocal minority from the focus groups had found its spawning ground, and from this nest it bred like wildfire. Disapproving letters and phone calls came pouring in. Critics began lambasting Coca-Cola executives for their carelessness in underestimating their customer-base’s loyalty. Pepsi fired back with its own advertising campaign questioning Coca-Cola’s motives. And even internal murmurs of dissatisfaction with the reformulation began to surface, prompting the question of a possible reintroduction of the old formula not even two months after New Coke’s release.
But perhaps no bigger component pressured Coca-Cola’s reversal decision than its own bottlers. Long entangled in a pricing feud – that at the time included litigation – Coke’s bottlers had become increasingly frustrated with the public’s alienation from the company. While Coca-Cola Company made the concentrate for Coke, the individual bottlers still had to produce, distribute, and merchandise Coca-Cola within their respective regions. In the South, this had become a challenge with so many consumers staunchly refusing to buy Coke – if not dump it on the ground in a show of defiance. Facing a major boycott from its bottlers, Coca-Cola had to concede defeat… to itself. The original formula would return to market.
On July 10, less than three months after the introduction of New Coke, Coca-Cola announced the heralded return of original Coke, dubbed Coca-Cola Classic. To say this merely stalled irrevocable damage would be a vast understatement. The return of Coca-Cola Classic rocketed company sales past Pepsi and reestablished Coca-Cola as the dominant force in the soft drink market. This quickly led to speculation that New Coke’s introduction and swift dismissal was an elaborate marketing ploy to reaffirm Coke’s value within the public arena. An amazing conspiracy, if it weren’t for the fact that New Coke wasn’t so readily dismissed.
While multiple product lines has become de rigueur in today’s diversified market, positioning two high-calorie soft drink beverages in a field recently divided by the advent of diet soda was a formidable task in 1985. But Goizueta and his team stood by their new product. It retained only a North American presence, but production continued until 2002 (New Coke was renamed Coke II in 1992). The beverage, however, was largely ignored by both consumers and corporate marketing. The soft drink that had found unanimous acceptance during its test phase died a slow and caustic death.
Despite what was seen as a monumental blunder by one of the most lauded corporations in the world, no blame was cast upon any one individual at the Coca-Cola Company. Simply, there was no one to blame. Marketing researchers have puzzled for years over one of the greatest missteps in free market history – how could a company as infallible as Coca-Cola make such a colossal mistake as tampering with their star product? Well, how did the stock market – with all its fancy, new computer hardware and mathematician brokers – crash only two years later? The Invisible Hand of economics revealed itself as the emotional unpredictability of consumerism during the height of the Cola Wars. If people loved Coca-Cola so much, why were sales down at the start of the decade? No one asked. The epic failure of New Coke was also the sweeping revitalization of Coca-Cola Classic. The power elite at Coca-Cola were happy enough to wipe the sweat off their brows and forget the whole thing ever happened.
Although that’s not entirely true, either. Its universal scorn notwithstanding, New Coke did maintain at least one loyal drinker for twelve years. Robert Goizueta continued to drink New Coke until his death in 1997.
“The moment avoiding failure becomes your motivation, you’re down the path of inactivity. You stumble only if you’re moving.”
When most people attempt to align the idea of war with the 80s, the first thing that comes to mind is usually The Cold War. And although the United States and Soviet Union’s near-cataclysmic rivalry warranted and earned the study and recognition it has received throughout history, the consumerist – reminiscing upon that golden age of consumption – might argue another armless conflict synonymous with 80s: The Videotape Format War.
Format wars are as old as industry. Ever since businesses have attempted to exploit mutually incompatible formats within two-sided markets, there have been “wars” to establish dominant technical standards. Basically that’s two or more companies saying to each other, “screw you; our stuff is better, and we’re not going to make it work with yours.” The consumers, of course, are the ones who primarily suffer, being left with coordination problems where they have to either buy multiple products, or choose one and accept any number of variable limitations. This social dilemma, however, typically forces the format war and ultimate resolution. And no such battle has been more highly influential than the Videotape Format War of the 80s: VHS versus Betamax.In order to understand the importance the Videotape Format War, you have to understand what was at stake. Before videocassette recorders (VCRs), your television viewing was at the mercy of station programmers. Got a favorite show? Better be home on time. Big game playing at the same time as 60 Minutes? Flip a coin. Want to curl up and watch Casablanca with your spouse? Better hope one of the networks is playing it. Sure, there were reel-to-reel video tape recorders, but these machines were cumbersome, faulty, and expensive. Essentially, you had a T.V., and what was on it was what you got.
In 1971, Sony released the U-Matic. This was the first commercial video cassette format. It was intended, however, for broadcast television stations, and could only play back up to 60 minutes. While a striking success in businesses, schools, and news stations, the U-Matic’s impracticality and hefty price tag made it unappealing for home use. Enter Philips’ N1500 and Avco’s Cartrivision in 1972. These were smaller, and by comparison, cheaper VCRs that looked more like the traditional machines that would become prevalent in the Eighties. Neither product went on to dominate the market, but they were instrumental in instigating the VCR boom of 1975. Suddenly the aspect being able to watch a beloved show or movie at any time took over the hearts and minds of average household viewers, and every electronics manufacturer wanted in on the craze. Matsushita, JVC, and Sony emerged as the industry leaders, developing the more sophisticated and advanced machines.
Sony struck first in 1975 with the Betamax, quickly grabbing 100% of the market share. But JVC soon followed with its own mutually incompatible format, VHS. Sony petitioned the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry to encourage a single format for “the good of all (read: Sony),” but both companies refused to compromise on the development of their products, thus launching the format war. Opposing stances were quickly established: Betamax, with higher horizontal line resolution, lower video noise, and less crosstalk, espoused quality, while VHS’ 120-minute playback offered longer recording time.
As in any war, there were, of course, other players. Philips attempted to enter the market with its own format, Video 2000, or Video Compact Cassette (VCC). The Video 2000 was an attempt to capitalize on the success of the audio compact cassette, which had grown in favor over the 8-track at the time. Much like an audio cassette, VCCs could be turned over to double their playing time. Another regarded feature of the Video 2000 was Dynamic Track Following. Anyone who owned a VCR in the 80s can tell you about having to get up and manually adjust tracking when a video’s image became distorted. The Video 2000 attempted to alleviate this problem, but the feature remained standard on only the priciest models. Entering the market in 1979, Philips couldn’t compete with the already established Sony and JVC brands, and the Video 2000 quickly disappeared.
Another key player in the format war was RCA. In the mid-Seventies, the American electronics company attempted to develop their own home video format called “Selectavision.” The idea was abandoned when RCA learned about Sony’s development of Betamax, and the corporation originally intended to align itself with Sony. RCA, however, had a handle on something Sony overlooked. The quality Betamax provided over VHS was infinitesimal, but its limited playback time was a significant deterrent. Why? Although both Sony and JVC competed to create longer playing times, RCA realized North American success would come down to whoever could produce a tape with four hours of playback, or enough time to record an average NFL football game.
Neither company wanted to yield to RCA’s request, both fully aware such a feature would severely diminish video quality, but JVC’s parent company, Matsushita, agreed, and RCA began developing VCRs for the American market that complied with the VHS format.
Ultimately, RCA was right. Consumers were more interested in quantity over quality. The VCR boom of the late-Seventies gave rise to one of the most indelible cornerstones of Eighties and Nineties strip malls and supermarkets: the video rental store. Originally, Betamax cassettes had only 60 minutes of play time, which was the standard play time Sony had incorporated in their successful U-matic system. What Sony failed to consider was that the U-matic was primarily used in network newsrooms under constant surveillance. Tapes were readily switched out in this setting, but home viewers wishing to watch feature length films 90 to 120 minutes in length found switching tapes more obtrusive than the perceived quality was worth. Hollywood studios quickly came to adopt VHS at their preferred standard giving JVC a significant edge.
Although the length of play was a pivotal role in the battle for industry domination, brand loyalty proved a milestone component, as well. JVC made a tactically sound decision to license its technology to major electronics corporations. Soon VHS-compatible VCRs were being made and sold by companies such as RCA, Zenith, Panasonic, and Magnavox. If you’d grown up watching The Wizard of Oz telecasts on your Zenith 40-inch T.V., it was only natural you’d want to watch a videotape of it on your new Zenith VCR. And since Zenith was directly competing with every other major electronic brand, it was cheaper than Betamax’s sole unit supplier, Sony.
Sony fought valiantly, but by 1981, was reduced to only a quarter of the U.S. market share. This decline proved a longer battle in the U.K., where expensive VCR machines were more readily rented from electronics rental companies than purchased outright. Thanks to VHS’ expansive licensure – JVC owned a good deal of the rental stores in England – Betamax sales slowly dwindled across the pond as well. Despite Betamax’s fair standing in Japan, by 1988, the epic Videocassette Format War was over. VHS emerged the victor. JVC continued to dominate the video cassette market for another ten years before being supplanted by DVD (in a similar format war, Sony’s Blu-Ray would go on to beat Toshiba’s HD DVD in the high-definition digital video battle).
Sony made a number of strategic errors in judging the then-burgeoning home video market, yet regardless of its loss, Betamax is still remembered fondly by many Gen Xers who recall the wonderment of growing up in an era where movies and T.V. shows were only a PLAY>> button away. Betamax and VHS are both obsolete now, but their fleeting fight for survival still echoes in media history.
With the impending premier of NBC’s latest thriller adaptation, Hannibal, fast approaching, it felt apropos to take a look back upon the cultural rise of Thomas Harris‘ most lauded creation: Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
Than I realized this is an 80s blog, and most of the world’s association with Hannibal the Cannibal came after 1991.
But this is no cause for alarm as it still leaves the finest Harris film adaptation on the table to dissect (seemed the appropriate word). Sadly, far fewer moviegoers are as familiar with Michael Mann’s Manhunter (1986) as they are with 2002′s Red Dragon starring Anthony Hopkins. It is unfortunate because Manhunter is the superior film. But before getting into why, some quick confusion to clear:
Both Manhunter and Red Dragon are based on Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon, the first book in the Hannibal Lecter series. For reasons that included disassociation with the Kung Fu craze of the 80s (see Ninjas!) and Michael Cimino’s box-office bomb, Year of the Dragon (1985), production renamed the film. It does, however, follow the same source material – if not more closely – as Red Dragon.
Regarding Manhunter and its lack of popularity as compared to The Silence of the Lambs and its sequels, the biggest detractor that initially held the original film back was seemingly the art direction. Complimentary of Mann’s highly-stylized mid-80s aesthetics (as any fan of Miami Vice knows), the film is a sensory tour de force of white-washed backdrops, art deco design, and tinted lighting. It was an attempt to elicit specific moods from the audience, but many viewers found the heavy-handed colors jarring, particularly when coupled with an early entry in the forensic detective film genre. In recent years, as Mann’s style has found deeper appreciation, the film’s visual tone has become more celebrated.
Outside of the art direction, what really helps Manhunter stand apart from the later Lecter films are the characters, and moreover the actors who play them. William Petersen plays Will Graham, an FBI profiler brought out of retirement to track down a vicious serial killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy,” played by Tom Noonan. Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes played these roles, respectively, in the 2002 version, and though commendable portrayals, they pale in comparison to the originals. Unlike Norton’s stoic Graham, Petersen is much more unhinged. His character’s proficiency in profiling is a result of his ability to enter and replicate the minds of killers; Petersen’s internal struggle with his own duality is much more pronounced and compelling in Manhunter. Noonan, on the other hand, is a much more detached Tooth Fairy than Fiennes, and subsequently more menacing. The audience does not get to enter the psyche of the character as deeply as in Red Dragon, but this removes any chance of sympathetic attachment and leaves a more monstrous villain.
The remaining supporting cast of Kim Greist, Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, and Stephen Lang all shine in their nuanced roles, but it’s Greist who offers the film’s most evocative segues. Unlike Red Dragon, Manhunter focuses heavily on Graham’s psychological balance between good and evil, and Greist, as Graham’s wife, Molly, represents the protagonist’s primary anchor in humanity. She is at once sensitive to Graham’s needs, but also the stronger character – it’s a vastly under-appreciated performance.
As for the elephant in the room: Brian Cox played the first and best Hannibal Lecter. Not to say that Hopkins’ signature role is anything less than spellbinding, but study Cox’ portrayal closely and you’ll find a much more formidable opponent. Unlike Hopkins’ slow and deliberate Lecter, Cox is fast and eerily engaging; he comes off like a tricky used-car salesman. Whereas Hopkins is like an aggressive wolverine, Cox is like a spider, trapping you in a web before casually eating you. The latter’s performance is void of all humanity and preys upon the universal fear of duplicity. What it suffers from mostly in Manhunter is lack of screen time. Red Dragon was amended to give Hopkins more time in his hallmark role. Had the same been done for Cox, his portrayal would likely better stand in colleague, if not outshine, Hopkins’.
Manhunter is a must for any fan of the Harris novels, Michael Mann, or forensic thriller movies. Of all the Hannibal Lecter adaptations – and yes, that includes The Silence of the Lambs – Manhunter is the finest. Credit this to Mann, whose razor-sharp 80s stylization matched the vapid psychopathy of the movie’s primary characters perfectly. If you’ve never seen it, do so. And for those who have seen both, weigh in: what’s your favorite Hannibal Lecter film?
Few childhood experiences are as indelible and comforting as Saturday morning cartoons. Virtually every generation offsprung* from the Baby Boomers forward was partially raised by the nurturing hand of Saturday morning cartoons. They held the all-important sway of the bombastic child’s mind during the waking hours of the weekend, and the promise of 48 more hours of scholastic-free bliss to come.
The late 80s, however, initiated the decline of the Saturday morning cartoon. A wide array of reasons lent the cause: first run syndication programs like G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero and Transformers usurped weekly programming’s popularity, live-action shows such as Saved By the Bell became more commonplace, and edgier cartoons like The Simpsons found their own place on prime-time TV. But like any transitory landscape, the genre’s redefinition would leave a cultural footprint firmly etched in the psyche of youth for time everlasting. The footprint for those children of the 80s was the sound of Lorenzo Music.
The name may not be household, but the character his voice will forever be linked to is. From 1988 to 1994, CBS aired one of the longest-running cartoon programs in Saturday morning history, Garfield and Friends. And the sleepy, listless voice of the world’s favorite overweight tabby: Lorenzo Music.
Born Gerald David Music in Brooklyn, NY in 1937, Music entered show business as a writer and performer for late 60s variety programs such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. He went on to co-create The Bob Newhart Show and continued writing for the Mary Tyler Moore spinoff series, Rhoda (where he also provide the disembodied voice of Carlton the Doorman). In 1982, Music was cast as the lead for the first of what would be more than a dozen Garfield specials. Although his voice would become synonomous with the fat feline, it would not be the actor’s only vocal claim to fame.
Capitalizing on the success of 1984′s mega-smash, Ghostbusters, DiC Enterprises launched The Real Ghostbusters (not to be confused with Filmations The Ghostbusters; there were no ghost busting apes in the Real Ghotsbusters), which aired on ABC beginning in 1986. If Dr. Peter Venkman’s voice from the first two seasons sounds strangely more than reminiscent, fear not; it is, indeed, Lorenzo Music. Ironically, some 20 years later, Bill Murray, who portrays Dr. Venkman in the Ghostbuster film franchise, would go on to provide the voice of Garfield for two live-action films.
If both of these aforementioned cartoons proved too sardonic for your parents’ liking, you might have been free to watch Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears. Music provided the voice of Tummi Gummi, an overweight and lethargic Gummi Bear who enjoyed above all things eating. Must have been a stretch for the vocal thespian.
And barring any complete denial of animated television programing from the 80s, you may remember Larry the Crash Test Dummy, whose gangly bodied suffered every malady a doll being slammed in to wall at 40 mph could. That was Lorenzo Music.
Sadly, none of these charming and iconic cartoon characters can be brought back to life today; Lorenzo Music lost his in 2004 from complications with lung and bone cancer. Of all the actors so closely associated with the decade – Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy – Music likely appears on few lists. But considering his far-reaching and instantly recognizable timbre, Retrobacktive wishes to salute a true gem within the annals of the 80s: Mr. Lorenzo Music.
Memory is a funny thing. With no intent to wax psychologically, it doesn’t take a Carl Jung to figure out humans do a better job of storing those memories that are satisfying and euphoric, rather than those that are upsetting or painful. And one thing that never failed to paint a promising picture of childhood jubilation was toys. Awesome toys. Monster truck toys!
It wasn’t only Bigfoot that reigned in the minds of impressionable young males in the 80s. Trucks as toys came in an endless array of shapes, sizes, styles, and functions. Before radio-controlled Hot Wheels became the rage, battery-powered vehicles dominated the toy truck market. Of course, they had to offer something other than simply ‘moving forward.’ A number of manufacturing companies offered variations, but Lewis Galoob Toys, Inc. was the toy maker to beat.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s most likely due to the success of the Micro Machines toy line (a typical product of the 90s; small and unassuming). In the 80s, however, Galoob spurred more holiday-centric gift wishes with their Power Machines toy line than Bigfoot had burned-out station wagons to crush. These were big, aggressive, in-your-face toys that knew how to capture the attention and ingenuity (read: destructiveness) of little boys’ minds. One of the more inventive creations was “The Animal.”
A monster truck with tiger claws. Genius. If this product hasn’t been studied and dissected across collegiate marketing programs in every higher learning institution in the U.S., then I weep for the entertainment of modern youth. It is amazing how a truck with claws could enhance so much for a child with little else but a free day and a stack of sofa cushions to play with. But if that wasn’t enough there was always this mind-boggling gem of the Power Machines line:
A truck with a built-in bridge. This was one of those toys that sadly made too many kids worry over what they might be missing from life’s great puzzle. Surely if there was a toy with the ability to cross over impeding land gaps with its own supplemental bridge, why don’t real trucks, traversing through real situations, employ this same technique? Perhaps the “Cross Boss” ended up in too many storm drains while navigating street corners.
A number of other Power Machines enriched the Galoob toy truck line, including “The Flex” and the “Giant Command.” All truck toys that seemed to do the impossible: navigate immovable objects, negotiate land and water terrains, and even climb walls (okay, Giant Command couldn’t actually climb walls, but the commercials made it look like 90-degree treks were par for the course). But they’re were a few other toy producers out there that set their own bars with the youthful wonderment of trucks.
One of the most coveted trucks during the 80s was “Rhino” from Kenner‘s M.A.S.K. toy line.
M.A.S.K. filled a void between Transformers and Go-Bots. The vehicles changed, but they were still “man-powered.” Thus, the alien concept was eliminated and a human element lent a sense of credibility. Though I’ve yet to see a Camaro with functional wings, much to my chagrin.
And if all this is a bit too obscure for you, there’s always the ultimate 80s toy truck standby:
Wow; what is up with snarling kid halfway through the commercial? Lighten up; it is just a cartoon series.