In many ways, 1985 was a very transitional year for me as a movie fan. That’s only appropriate since I turned 16 that year and that’s an extremely transitional age. My tastes in movies were evolving, seemingly on a weekly basis. When I saw The Goonies in June, I thought it was one of the greatest things I’d ever seen in my life. By the time I dragged my cousin to see it about a month later, I was already a little embarrassed by my enthusiasm for it.
I’m not even sure what the word “underrated” means in this day and age. It seems pretty easy to find somebody who’s a rabid fan of just about any movie that’s ever been released. These half-dozen titles may or may not be underrated. Let’s just call ‘em movies I enjoy that I very rarely see or hear mentioned by others.
Dreamchild (1985; Gavin Millar) – Dennis Potter is one of my favorite writers of all time in any medium. This is one of his rare non-TV works and arguably one of his lesser scripts, although a merely adequate Potter script is still about a zillion times better than a lot of writers’ best efforts. Coral Browne gives a moving performance as Alice Hargreaves, the inspiration for Alice In Wonderland, attending an event in New York City celebrating the 100thbirthday of Lewis Carroll, a man she knew better as the Reverend Charles Dodgson (extremely well-played by Ian Holm). Punctuated by elaborate fantasy sequences featuring stunning puppets designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Dreamchild has never received any respect in the US. It’s currently only available as a DVD-R from MGM’s Limited Edition series (also known as the Better Than Nothing series). That’s a real shame. A movie this good doesn’t deserve to be so obscure.
The Man With One Red Shoe (1985; Stan Dragoti) – This is a remake of The Tall Blond Man With One Black Shoe, a French comedy I’ve never seen. Admittedly, I haven’t made much of an effort. I find most French comedies of the 70s and 80s to be pretty dire. But I’m an unapologetic Tom Hanks fan from back when he was a TV star. I almost included his other ’85 effort, Volunteers, on this list but I haven’t seen it in a very long time and I kind of suspect it doesn’t hold up. But this one is still lots of fun with Hanks in full-on flummoxed everyman mode and a killer supporting cast including Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Lori Singer (somehow finding another role that spotlights her talent as a cellist), Carrie Fisher, Edward Herrmann, Tom Noonan, Irving Metzman, David L. Lander and Gerrit Graham. Even Jim Belushi is funny in this as Carrie Fisher’s jealous and frequently unconscious husband. I used to include this in discussions of remakes that don’t suck, until I realized that lots of people think this sucks pretty badly. Oh, well. More cherries for me.
O.C. And Stiggs (1985; Robert Altman) – This one’s a real head-scratcher. What on earth was anybody thinking when MGM hired iconoclast Altman at one of the lowest points of his up-and-down career to make a teen sex comedy based on a National Lampoon story? Instead of getting the next Porky’s or Revenge Of The Nerds, they got a very Altman-esque twist on a genre the director clearly held in contempt. I’m always hesitant to recommend this to people, especially if I don’t know where they stand on Altman. I completely understand why some folks might not like this but personally, I think it’s a hoot, especially the performances by Jane Curtin, Martin Mull and Dennis Hopper.
The Quiet Earth (1985; Geoff Murphy) – With last-man-on-Earth narratives making a comeback, I’m surprised that this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama from New Zealand hasn’t been rediscovered. Bruno Lawrence stars as a scientist who played a role in an experimental energy project that’s seemingly wiped out everybody on the planet. He eventually finds a couple more survivors and their shared bond is just one of many surprises in store. A moody and atmospheric gem, this is unfortunately out of print in the US and ripe for a re-release.
Return To Oz (1985; Walter Murch) – The only feature directorial credit for legendary sound designer/editor Walter Murch is this dark, utterly bizarre take on the L. Frank Baum stories. It’s hard to believe a movie this creepy came out of the Walt Disney Studios. Characters like the Wheelers, the Nome King and especially Mombi, with her gallery of interchangeable, detachable heads are never to be forgotten once seen, much to the horror of a generation of children. It’s hardly a surprise that this tanked during its initial release and even less of a surprise that it’s developed a cult following.
The Stuff (1985; Larry Cohen) – Larry Cohen is one of the quintessential cult filmmakers and The Stuff is one of his sharpest and most entertaining movies. A deliciously addictive goo marketed as The Stuff becomes America’s newest dessert craze. Unfortunately, The Stuff turns out to be a parasitic organism that devours its host from the inside out. Surprisingly, this is not a documentary. Cohen regular Michael Moriarty is joined by Garrett Morris as a Famous Amos-like junk food mogul, Paul Sorvino and a handful of choice cameos shilling The Stuff. Another one that seems even more relevant today than it did thirty years ago.