Hungry for Change

There’s a mall in ###### that is currently anchored by J.C. Penney’s, Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, and as of 2013, Bon-Ton. What the hell is a Bon-Ton, anyway? Sounds like something you order off a Thai food menu. Well, it’s not important. The Macy’s on the mall’s northwest wing is.

Macy’s popularity, much like there stock, has been falling in recent years. This doesn’t much separate them from any other major department store retailer, virtually all of who are hemorrhaging profit thanks to online businesses like Amazon. But Macy’s has a plan: bring back department store restaurants.

“Restaurants inside of large retailers – especially their flagships – is nothing new. It’s a practice that was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” says retail expert Warren Shoulberg in The Robin Report.

It’s actually not a tactic so far dated. Before 1996, the Macy’s at The ##### Mall was a Jordan Marsh. Founded in Boston in 1861 by Eben Dyer Jordan and Benjamin L. Marsh, Jordan Marsh was arguably the first department store in the United States – there’s some gray area here. The concept of the department store then, however, differed from its current antiquated notion. After the Industrial Revolution, consumers sought out shopping districts, often located in central urban environments, to acquire both daily and seasonal purchases. As forerunners for what would later become the shopping mall, department stores like Jordan Marsh would expand to take over whole city blocks accommodating all the needs of shoppers in one store; this was particularly beneficial in colder climates where outdoor traversing could be a shopping hindrance.

Shopping districts and lifestyle centers remained fairly commonplace until the 60s/70s when the shopping mall overtook them as the de rigeur consumer destination. Department stores like Jordan Marsh, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Nordstrom’s found continued success by “anchoring” regional shopping malls. In other words, they acted as the feature destination for shopping needs in suburban epicenters and attracted customers to the smaller specialty shops that comprised the majority of the mall.

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Note the distinct awnings that were omnipresent at all northeast Jordan Marsh’s in the 80s. (Credit: Michael Lisicky).

What does this have to do with anything? Retrobacktive exists for posterity. It’s not supposed to be one curmudgeon’s mournful report of an allegedly superior decade. Rather it’s a fond reexamination of personal history. This cathartic nostalgia is in old movies and yearbooks and recipes and letters and all the other tidbits we hang on to through the years. And sometimes you hear a story on the radio about Macy’s attempt to revitalize its market share by bringing back restaurants and you remember the hidden bakery cloistered on the second floor of Jordan Marsh, just behind the cookware. And then you remember adjacent to the bakery an entire restaurant brimming with tacky pastel walls and tasteless teal upholstery. It’s one of those places in memory that probably wouldn’t top anyone’s “must-try” list, but for some reason at one time it held great allure. Why? There’s the mystery component: who ate there? Did anyone I know ever eat there? What kind of food would they serve at Jordan Marsh? Then there’s the closed window: no matter how much curiosity drives you, you’ll never be able to go back and experience it in the present moment.

blueberry-muffin-jm-dt

The famous Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin. C’mon, who wouldn’t want to shop with pastry?

It’s the latter in particular that drives Retrobacktive. Once something is gone, it’s gone for good. For many, this is a non-issue; there is only the future, and the past is best left in the past. That’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for moving forward. But a lot of horrible things have happened throughout history thanks to unchecked progression. Corruption comes from every direction. So it may not hurt to keep a few cultural watchdogs around to blog about ninja movies, and GI Joe, and restaurants in defunct department stores.

Okay, so Retrobacktive is probably more toy-dog then watchdog. Well, what do you want? No one is getting paid around here to do this!

 

Already Gone

Glenn Frey was kind of a bad ass. He was rugged in the 80s when rugged, for a man, was fringe. You had your clean-cut, coke-sniffing suits on Wall Street, or your downtown scenesters laced in eyeliner. Not putting either down, but the coolest guys in the room are always the ones who don’t care. That was Don Johnson and Glenn Frey and everything Miami Vice related.

Frey, the de facto leader of the Eagles, joined a somber list of notable artists who have passed away less than three weeks into 2016 on Monday, January 18th. He was 67 years old.

Though most famous for his longstanding tenure with the Eagles, Frey had a successful solo career in the 80s highlighted by two No. 2 Billboard hits, “The Heat is On,” and “You Belong to the City.”

The song and video for “You Belong to the City” deserve their own post. They sum up the magnetism of ‘bright lights, big city’ 80s culture to absolute perfection. It is at once grimy but alluring; dangerous but seductive; heartbreaking but undeniable. It may appear trivial to the uninitiated, but it was this song/video combination that planted the kernel of urban wanderlust in one Retrobacktive creator’s head. And despite the 20-year separation, New York City lived up to all the dirty glamour suggested in Frey’s 1985 hit song.

So thanks, Glenn. If you have to have a song stuck in your head for 30 years, this ain’t a bad one.

Who Made Who?

Okay, just so you know, this post is not about AC/DC. Though it should be; they might be the greatest rock and roll band of all time. Nonetheless, alternative matters are pressing.

Retrobacktive serves to chronicle anecdotal components inherent to the decade; small milestones that accumulate to a grander legacy than the sum of a generation’s parts. But what, or who, exactly is that generation? When does one generation end and another begin? And what does it mean when it all comes together? Retrobacktive dives into a little self-examination.

What It Means To Be Generation X

Literally it means anyone born between 1961 and 1981. Though that’s only one study’s suggested age range. There are hundreds of them by different historians, demographers, and journalists and no one can agree on exact dates, but generally early 60s to early 80s.

Figuratively it gets even more complicated.

Four years ago the University of Michigan’s Longitudinal Study of American Youth released a report based on annual surveys that described Gen Xers as happy and balanced, with strong educational backgrounds and active lifestyles.

This hardly echoed the general sentiment of a generation raised in Reagonomics and the first Bush patriarchy, which at the time represented the epitome of disenfranchisement. Perhaps it was the threat of nuclear annihilation. Perhaps it was being two generations removed from The Greatest Generation, a culture so steeped in heroism they named it The Greatest Generation. Yes, they earned it, but you’ll forgive the rest of us if it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of room left for self-aggrandizement.

It’s true. In the 80s there was threat of war, but no real war – and it was really more a threat of nuclear holocaust which isn’t the kind of conflict that lends itself well to heroics. The Baby Boomers had Vietnam. Generation X is one of the few generations that can’t define itself by a war (Desert Storm? The Gettysburg movie had a longer running time than Desert Storm).

Okay, so there was no war. That ought to be a good thing. Who cares about the Russkies? They are literally on the other side of the world. And if the world is going to end, might as well enjoy life to the fullest, right? After all,  the Baby Boomers withstood mounting global tension and were still able to embrace a level of decadence seldom seen since Sodom & Gomorrah.

Turns out they might have embraced things a little too much. Generation X arrived in the 80s to face a battlefront with a new enemy called AIDS. While understanding of AIDS may be taken for granted now, 25 years ago it was still somewhat shrouded in mystery, grossly misinterpreted by the public, and much swifter in its shocking mortality. Quick deduction showed the two most common forms of transmission were sex and intravenous drug use. So fun, basically. Fun could kill you in the 80s.

A recession in the early half of the decade, growing incidents of global terrorism, rising crime rates – all readily available for viewership thanks to continued advances in consumer technology; there was plenty of reason to be disenfranchised. Or at least to appear that way. An overarching sense of discordance permeated the youthful fabric of society in the late 80s and early 90s. No one ought to deny that. But Generation X was not a spiritless monolith mired in defeat. It was a victim of circumstance that needed a creative outlet.

Perception is Reality

What would you think if you survived the worst economic depression in American history, the most violent war in world history, then found your grandchildren despondent over a lack of enticing video games? At best you probably would have at least a couple moments of questioning some life decisions. You can’t really blame earlier generations for looking down upon those that follow. The human condition is adroit at fixating perceived notions upon others. And to The Greatest Generation and the Boomers, Gen X was the other. It was lazy, impatient, and irresponsible.  Of course if you ask a Gen Xer if any of those terms are self-applicable, you probably won’t get an enthusiastic response. Ask the same Gen Xer to trade spots with a Millenial and you’ll likely get just as listless a reaction. “Millenials? They don’t know how good they have it (grumbles something under breath)!”

Defining a generation boils down to two problems: One, it’s defined by the preceding generation; two, that generation always forgets about a thing called evolution.

The whole point of human suffering is to evolve and improve upon existence by providing a better world for future generations. So why are past generations so quick to judge the next? Maybe it’s a fear of growing obsolete. Whoever said “youth is wasted on the young” was probably no spring chicken. Vitriol can buy you a lot of emotional assurance. Despite the flagrant hypocrisy it is a time-honored event to be looked down upon by your elder statesmen. Generation X had the misfortune of following a particularly brash generation; the Boomers are alternatively known as the Me Generation. So the odds were never in Xers’ favor.

Where Do We Go Now?

Gen X found a way to respond. Grunge rock gave an ironic limp middle finger to the establishment that said “you think we’re indifferent…and we don’t care enough to fight you.” Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith made hit movies that aptly captured trademark Gen X nihilism, but they did it with tongue firmly in cheek.

But the highlight of Generation X is without a doubt the technology. It wasn’t just the devotion to new fields formerly the exclusive arena of “eggheads” and “college boys.” It was that the stuff all worked!  Who doesn’t have a cell phone today? Who doesn’t use the Internet? Who doesn’t listen to music on an MP3 player? Turns out Generation X was good for something more than sitting around watching MTV.

And another interesting thing the Longitudinal Study found was Gen X’s focus on family. Apparently at some point the disenfranchised youth got enfranchised and decided to create junior ambivalent assholes. Some of these people are called Millenials; others are going to fall into a yet unnamed generation under the working title Generation Z. Whoever they become they’ll inherent a world likely easier but far scarier than any before. That’s progress’s perennial catch, the stake’s always get higher. Yes, the human race moves forward but with every step we widen the margin for error. Sadly the Millenial Generation is a reminder of that having returned to form the distinction of owning not one but two major armed conflicts. Yet hidden at the bottom of Pandora’s Box lies hope, and it seems to be the light every generation crawls to. If there’s one thing that binds all cohorts together it’s the drive to surpass the last generation and improve the next. Reality is we’re all parents whether we like it or not.

So maybe we should just call everyone the Human Generation.

The Human Generation: a Generation of People.

 

 

 

 

 

…and CUT! Retrobacktive’s Halloween Special: The Slasher Film 101

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.

Halloween, while not the first slasher film, w...

Halloween, while not the first slasher film, was the first major box office success in the genre. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Jamie Lee Curtis, in her feature film debut, p...

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween is often credited as the first “final girl.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Englund as Freddy Krueger

Englund as Freddy Krueger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Kirzinger as Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs. Jason.

Ken Kirzinger as Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs. Jason. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Get Ready to Whistle… A Lot!

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…

Happy humming!

It’s the End of the World As We Know It

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 medical 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.

Mad Max

Mad Max (Photo credit: MacQ)

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.

Mad Max

Mad Max (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 five years 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!

English: Replica edition of Mad Max's Pursuit ...

English: Replica edition of Mad Max’s Pursuit Special Interceptor, a Ford XB Falcon Hardtop. This is made to Mad Max 1 spec so has no 44 gallon fuel tanks blocking the rear view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mad Max Car

Mad Max Car (Photo credit: HeatherW)

Do you believe in miracles?

U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A.!

How many times have your heard this chant roused by a conglomerate of beer-in-hand compatriots settled into your local watering hole, awaiting imminent, televised crowning of red, white and blue champions of some fill-in-the-blank international tournament? Probably more so lately if you’re a woman, as American female national teams continue to expand their global dominance outside of basketball – although we’re still pretty good at that, too.

Regardless, that truest of blue sports cries, if you’re wondering,  is the offspring of the Top Sports Moment of the 20th Century (as declared by Sports Illustrated in 1999, in case my authority is insufficient). And what better time to bring up this monumental topic? It’s February. The NHL lockout is over. Play has resumed. And for those embittered sports (and culture) fans who have forgotten, or have never been inclined to engage hockey (lockouts are as common in hockey as steroids in… well, pretty much everything else, and the perennial player/owner rivalries have dropped hockey to the bottom of the “big four”), this month marks the 33rd anniversary and perfect time to fall in love with the “Miracle on Ice.”

Great sports moments are all about peculiarities coming together. Curt Schilling pitching through a bloody ankle to lead Boston’s stunning comeback in the 2004 ALCS. Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope” win over George Foreman at the Rumble in the Jungle. It only takes one unpredictable yet serendipitous step for the underdog to secure an immortal victory. But for the 1980 U.S.A. Olympic hockey team, all the pieces could not have been better placed.

For those unfamiliar with the Miracle on Ice, here’s what you need to know: there’s is absolutely no way the United States of America should have beaten the Soviet national hockey team. No way. In truth, the United States should barely have beaten anybody in the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. Back then, the Olympics were for amateur competitors. Professionals weren’t supposed to compete. That said, communist countries technically did not have “professional” players. What they did have, at least in the case of the Soviet Union, were state-of-the-art training programs and facilities, highly sophisticated national leagues, and several players of active military duty… whose only job in the Red Army was to play hockey. Coming into the Lake Placid games, the Soviets had an undefeated record and gold medals from the last four Olympics. As noted by sports commentator, Jim Lampley, hockey was to the Soviet Union then what Basketball is to the United States now. It was their sport.

In comparison, the United States National Hockey Team was a bunch of kids.  Team U.S.A. Coach, Herb Brooks, put together a rag-tag team of mostly collegiate players from the University of Minnesota, Boston University, and a few outlying amateur leagues. They lacked the speed, discipline, and cohesiveness that Soviet head coach Viktor Tikhonov had had years to develop – if not mercilessly pummel – into his team. So underwhelming were the Americans, the Soviet team took them of virtually no consequence.

Leading up to the Lake Placid games, the U.S.S.R. displayed their dominance for all the world to see. In late 1979, The Soviets beat the NHL All-Star team in the three-game Challenger Cup series. They later crushed Team U.S.A. 10-3 in an exhibition game at Madison Square Garden on February 9, just two weeks before the Olympics. A demoralizing loss, it echoed the tone of a nation and its frustration at the height of the Cold War.

Threats of a U.S. boycott of the impending Moscow summer games had already been levied in response to the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, increasing tension between the two superpowers. Additional disillusionment in the wake of the Iran hostage crisis put American spirits at an all time low. A beacon of hope was in desperate need, but given the Soviet’s might, it seemed no where to be found.

Enter Herb Brooks, a national team hockey player whose career prior to the 1980 Olympics would best be described at respectable, if not blase. Brooks set a record by playing on eight US National and Olympic teams between 1960 and 1970, but he missed his opportunity at glory after being cut from the 1960 U.S. gold medal Olympic hockey team. He later went on to lead his alma mater, the University of Minnesota, to three NCAA championships as head coach. Looking for something beyond just good, Brooks saw hope in the 1980 Olympic team he was tasked to assemble, and he cultivated that hope with brutal, tactical training. From the moment they were put on ice, Brook’s players received no quarter. In order to match the cohesion of the Soviets, Brooks taunted and bullied his players, driving them to solidarity through a mutual enmity. Immediately after the embarrassing loss to the Soviet club in their exhibition game, Brooks threw his team back on the ice, forcing them to do drills even as the lights were shut off inside MSG.

But if Brooks’ ambition to etch a name for himself in the annals of hockey was harsh, it was not without its benefits. Team U.S.A. entered the first round of Olympic play with a 2-2 tie against Sweden, followed by an upset win over Czechoslovakia – the only team considered a viable rival to the Soviets. Wins over Norway, Romania and finally West Germany put the U.S. team into the medal round against the U.S.S.R. Little did anyone know, the outcome of this game was already being set into motion.

Dismissing Team U.S.A. entirely, Tikhonov chose to rest his players prior to the medal round, while Brooks increased pressure, attempting not to lose the momentum of victory the U.S. had built. As a result, a much more physical and strategic Team U.S.A. skated onto the ice on Friday, February 22. Although they dropped early to 1-0 by a goal off LW Vladimir Krutov at 9:12, U.S.A. answered less than five minutes later with a goal by Buzz Schneider. Sergei Makarov struck back with a goal at 17:34, putting the Soviet’s up 2-1. As the final seconds of the first period wore down, the Soviet’s made a second crucial mistake: waiting for the buzzer to sound and leave them with a one-goal lead going into the second period, the Soviet defensemen neglected a deflected shot by Dave Christian that bounced off goalie Valdislav Tretiak and was rebounded by Mark Johnson, who shot right between the two defenders to score with a second left in the period. The game was now tied 2-2.

Following one gaffe with another, Tikhonov executed arguably the worst decision possible. Perhaps it was spite, perhaps anger; the world may never know. Tretiak, at the time, was widely considered the greatest goaltender in the world, but evidently for Tikhonov, two goals was two too many, and so he replaced Tretiak with second-stringer Vladimir Myshkin. Myshkin shutout the Americans for the second period, and although they outshot the U.S. 12-2, the Soviets were held to one goal in the second period.

With the Soviets up 3-2 in the third period, Mark Johnson scored his second goal of the game on a power play at 48:39. One minute and 21 seconds later, team captain Mike Eruzione fired from the high slot off a pass from Mark Pavelich that went past Myshkin and gave the United State a 4-3 lead. It was their first lead of the game, and a definitive turning point in the history of sports. All Team U.S.A. had to do now was hold the Soviets down for ten minutes.

In a game where players can travel in excess of 20 mph, firing pucks at over 100 mph, ten minutes provides a lifetime’s worth of scoring opportunities. But instead of retracting into a defensive mode, Brooks kept his players on the offensive. The pressure wore on the Soviets, who filled the remaining time with uneven, uncharacteristically sloppy play. Having never used a sixth attacker, Tikhonov kept his goalie in the game during the final minute of play, eliminating any chance of a comeback. As the last seconds on the clock ticked away, sportscaster Al Michaels – along with the attending crowd and presumably anyone able to catch the game on local T.V. (it was pre-recorded for a later national broadcast) – counted down the final seconds and delivered his famous call, “11 seconds, you’ve got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles?! YES!

Team U.S.A. met each other in embrace on the ice. Herb Brooks returned to the locker room to sob. The mighty Soviets had fallen. And America had a new team of heroes to believe in.

The gold, however, wasn’t secure. Bear in mind, this was a round-robin tournament, and thanks to their earlier draw to Sweden, U.S.A. still had to beat Finland to take the gold – which they did with a 4-2 victory, two days after their impossible win over Team U.S.S.R.

Weeks after their win against the Soviets, Team U.S.A. was highlighted on a cover of Sports Illustrated that featured only the jubilation of their inconceivable triumph, and not a word of explanation. None was needed; the Miracle on Ice was a triumph for every American, and every sports fan searching for that ultimate home team win. The Miracle on Ice demonstrated for a country, if not the world, the value of determination and what it means to never succumb to doubt. If you can find a better sports story, in any decade,  I’m all ears.

Sports_Illustrated_Miracle_on_Ice_cover

And besides, it gave us this two years later.

superchexx

Bubble hockey: if that’s not worthy of the Greatest Sports Moment of the 20th Century, I don’t know what is.