Earlier this week, it was put forth on this site by Ryan Lambie that 1982 was a great year to be a geek at the movies. While it’s hard to disagree with this, it’s my contention that the 84 vintage was even more refined.
Need nostalgic refreshment? Take a sip of these…
Somewhere between the original Conan and this film, Ah-Nuld became a bona fide mega-star (see Conan The Destroyer below). With this first instalment in the Terminator franchise, James Cameron showed that he knew how to craft a movie that’s basically one extended chase sequence wrapped around a highbrow concept lifted from some Harlan Ellison-penned episodes of The Outer Limits. Relentless, cut so tightly you could bounce coins off it, and with Schwarzenegger at his emotionless best, it’s the kind of action movie that ain’t just for geeks. Too bad Cameron has forgotten that films don’t need to be swimming in money to be successful.
Conan The Destroyer
If the John Milius original is an attempt to make something artful and mythic out of the Conan saga, this endearing PG-rated sequel understands that Conan is also aimed at ten-year-olds. That means less cinematic poetry, less blood (although the sequence of Schwarzenegger ripping out the horn from the newborn Daggoth is pretty nasty), more weird monsters, a whiny Olivia d’Abo, and badass Grace Jones. The lobby poster also features more exposition than the opening text crawl of a Star Wars movie.
The mainstream breakout hit about a trio of geeks (Ernie Hudson doesn’t count since he only joined up for the “steady paycheque”). Ghost Busters features quite possibly one of cinema’s greatest geek performances in Rick Moranis’s take on Louis Tully, aka the Keymaster – who gets to make out with a possessed Sigourney Weaver. It’s also bolstered by one of the most infectiously nerdy title songs in movies (sorry Shaft), although it wasn’t so geeky when Ray Parker Jr. and Huey Lewis & The News got into a legal battle over which came first, the guitar riff from Ghost Busters, or the guitar riff from I Want A New Drug.
Terror In The Aisles
Few things in this world are geekier than a compilation. (Don’t believe me? Have you clicked on the List of Lists button at the top of the screen?) Largely forgotten, this was a chance for Universal to prove to the world it was the ultimate horror film distributor, in this cheesily entertaining collection of ‘best of” horror movie clips presented by Nancy Allen and Donald Pleasence. For at least one List of List writer, Aisles proved to be a spoiler-y gateway into the genre. Even the poster is yet another list, although superimposed over a cool picture of a skull.
Streets Of Fire
1984’s Purple Rain had the more lasting soundtrack album, but pound for celluloid pound, Walter Hill’s weird mashup of the 50s rockabilly aesthetic and the neon glitz of the 1980s proves to be an enduring cult item. Billed as “a rock and roll fable”, it’s the individual elements that shine: a slick rock score with great cuts from Ry Cooder and Jim Steinman, an OTT performance from Willem Dafoe, and Andrew Laszlow’s gorgeous rain-soaked cinematography.
The Last Starfighter
Although it sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of 84’s other family-themed fare like Karate Kid and Gremlins, The Last Starfighter is the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy for the generation of video game children being reared by Atari, Coleco, and Intellivision. Alex Rogan (Lance Guest) is so good at the Starfighter arcade game he gets recruited to be the real deal in outer space. Like Tron, Starfighter featured pioneering use of CGI during some of the interstellar battle sequences. Like Conan 2, the lobby poster eschewed a brief tagline in favour of lengthy copy, proving that just because kids play video games doesn’t mean they ain’t gonna read good.
This Is Spinal Tap
Rob Reiner’s groundbreaking “rockumentary” doesn’t seem to have aged one bit, especially now as more and more middle-aged heavy metal stars are succumbing to the throes of reality television (Gene Simmons Family Jewels, The Osbournes, Tommy Lee Goes To College, etc.). The movie sends up the glam metal performers and industry, but with the kind of affectionate detail that makes the characters (and movie) irresistible to fall in love with, such as the amplifier that turns up to 11, and a back catalogue of albums that includes “Shark Sandwich”. So enduringly awesome that the fake rock band became a real one.
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
Sure, Khan made it to the 1982 list, but if we’re going to compare apples to apples, Spock trumps it as the geekier of the two – less of a mainstream hit and more of a treat for Trekkies who couldn’t get over the fact that their favourite character bit the bullet (a fact Doctor Who fans never need worry about). Plus, it’s got Christopher Lloyd and John Larroquette as Klingons.
Revenge Of The Nerds
It doesn’t get more blatant than this, the blueprint for raunchy fraternity comedies which later begat Old School and its ilk (no, Animal House, if you don’t have metaphorical and literal pies, you lose your raunch points). Here, the nerds get their rightful vengeance, and drugs, and sex, and yes, they get to rock out, too. And they don’t appear to attend any actual classes at university, unless those scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Greatest nerd? Curtis Armstrong’s Booger, purveyor of “wonder joints” and hands-down victor in the belching contest.
The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension
The ultimate in geek chic? Anyone who’s anyone got to be in this bizarre cult item courtesy of writer Earl Mac Rauch and director W.D. Richter. Peter Weller plays the lead, a neurosurgeon/experimental race car driver/rock star/presidential scientific advisor who inadvertently hatches the plans of alien Lectroids exiled on Earth to escape back to Planet 10 (in the 8th dimension, of course), and who has to team up with his team of hipster science/rock star friends, the Hong Kong Cavaliers, to save the day. The entire cast is easily upstaged by John Lithgow at his manic best as the evil John Whorfin, who gets endlessly quotable lines. The end credits are a literal fashion show, the theme is a catchy whistled tune. And remember, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
“Weird Al” Yankovic In 3-D
Not a movie, but the year that übernerd “Weird Al” made his breakthrough via MTV with his note-perfect parody Eat It. The album balances some great song parodies (I Lost On Jeopardy, The Rye Or The Kaiser) with solid originals like Nature Trail To Hell.
And While We’re At It…
1984 also featured: Miyazaki’s Valley Of The Wind, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Dune, Romancing The Stone, Supergirl, Starman, The Toxic Avenger, The Company Of Wolves, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Repo Man, Stranger Than Paradise, The Brother From Another Planet, and Raymond Burr in yet another Godzilla movie. Oh, and let’s not forget: 1984.
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