Okay, okay, I'll admit that some of the movies on my list may not be as obscure as a lot of the titles featured in this series thus far. Some, actually, have a little bit of a following. Too little, if you ask me. Besides, I ended up approaching this write-up from a different angle than originally intended. Currently on a retreat at my folks' house, being asked to come up with a list of underrated films from 1985 afforded me the opportunity to raid the family's old VHS collection to revisit films me and my younger brothers enjoyed immensely as wee lads, some of which I haven't watched in at least 20 years. Since I didn't get to go back and watch a few little-seen pictures I wanted to share (Some of our tapes are M.I.A.), I decided to give you five family favorites from '85 that I feel still need higher profiles. An additional shout-out goes to my brother, Tony, for lending me his out-of-print copies of two of the films below.
You'd think a movie directed by Sam Raimi and co-written by the Coen brothers would have a longer shelf life among fans, but Crimewave remains a film known mostly as the one Raimi disowned. Pity, because Crimewavekills. The oddball visual style displayed in the ultimate experience in grueling terror, The Evil Dead, ends up translating to comedy without skipping a beat. Blending a dark slapstick sensibility with Old Hollywood screwball comedies, the plot involves a nerdy security guard (Reed Birney), the girl of his dreams (Sheree J. Wilson), his boss (producer Edward R. Pressman), and two bizarre "exterminators" hired by the boss to dispose of his business partner. This diabolical cartoon of a movie doesn't simply hint of the visual lunacy Raimi later brought to big-budget classics like Army of Darkness and Spider-Man. Crimewave belongs alongside them.
Billie Jean Davy (Helen Slater) and her brother Binx (Christian Slater in his debut, and no relation) are two care-free kids in Corpus Christi, TX whose lives are turned upside down when Binx's scooter is stolen and trashed by a leering admirer of Billie Jean's. When she tries to collect the bill from the dude's father, Billie Jean finds out he's much scuzzier than his son. Binx accidentally shoots the dad, and the teens are on the run with their friends (played by Martha Gehman and a pre-Lisa Simpson Yeardly Smith) in tow. Feeling her and her friends are unjustly vilified because of their age- and inspired by watching the 1957 film, Saint Joan- Billie Jean becomes a spiky-haired outlaw hero for the youth of the nation. The Legend of Billie Jean didn't set the world on fire during its run in theaters. Looking at it now, it's shocking this film didn't spend the last three decades as a girl power classic. It's an anthem of a movie, thanks to the energetic direction of Matthew Robbins, a memorable cast, and a soundtrack featuring the likes of The Divinyls, Wendy O. Williams, and Pat Benatar.
Police Academy and Bachelor Partyare two staples of 80s comedy, but another film by the creative forces behind those classics deserves a mention, and that's Moving Violations. John Murray (brother of Bill) leads a motley crew of motor misfits who have to complete a traffic school course to get their licenses and cars back. Standing in the way is the instructor, a disgruntled motorcycle cop played by James Keach (brother of Stacy). In cahoots with a seductive, corrupt judge (Sally Kellerman), he plans to fail the whole class to collect the auction money on their autos. Some might find this movie a little tamer than its more famous brethren, but Moving Violations has enough irreverent humor to actually earns its PG-13 rating. However, what really makes it a winner is a hysterical cast. Behind the wheel, Murray puts his own spin on his brother's smart-ass persona. Riding shotgun, Keach is a great foil. Along for the ride: Jennifer Tilly (Bride of Chucky) as a rocket scientist, Fred Willard (Modern Family) as an auto doc, Wendi Jo Sperber (Bachelor Party) as a hypochondriac, Brian Backer (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as a puppeteer, and Ned Eisenberg (Law & Orderfranchise) as a blood-and-guts nut. Speaking of blood and guts, horror films fans will recognize both Eisenberg and Backer from the 1981 summer camp slasher, The Burning.
Released the same week as the similarly-themed Real Genius, the Disney-produced My Science Project concerns gearhead, Mike (John Stockwell). He desperately needs to pass his science class to graduate, and stumbles on a device stored in an old military base. Turns out that this device (alien in origin) has the power to alter time and space. When the fabric of the continuum begins to collapse, it's up to Mike, his best friend Vinny (Fisher Stevens), and a nerdy reporter (Danielle Von Zerneck) to save the universe within the halls of their high school. Real Genius may be the more well-known of the two, but I find My Science Project the more entertaining. The first two-thirds are typical, harmless 80s fun, but it's punched up by a stand-out performance by Stevens as the Brooklyn-born cool couch potato, Vinny, and an appearance by Dennis Hopper as the hippie science teacher. The payoff comes when, out of nowhere, the movie explodes in a frenzied final act that evokes a few b-movies genres of the 80s. It's a wild ride not to be missed.
Based on the novel series, The Destroyer, Remo Williams- The Adventure Begins... stars Fred Ward as an ordinary cop recruited ("You call dumping me in a river and reshuffling my face recruitment?") by a secret government agency headed by Wilford Brimley. Given the title name, he's paired up with a mystical martial-arts master called Chuin (Joel Grey) who teaches him to become the ultimate assassin. This is a movie wayahead of its time. Back in those days, a film had to be successful to warrant a sequel. Orion Pictures had the balls to go into this project with the intention of establishing a franchise (In this case, an American answer to James Bond). The movie's emphasis on character and mythology-building makes it resemble more like today's superhero origin movies than the popular shoot-em-ups of time. It's even in the title: The Adventure Begins... Unfortunately, the adventure ended here. Remo Williams failed at the box office. That's a damn shame, because Guy Hamilton, who directed four Bond pictures, delivers a really solid actioner peppered with plenty of humor. Ward proves a more human action hero than the more muscle-bound stars of the era, predating even Bruce Willis's John McClane. His work with Joel Grey- who's years on the stage and physical presence offers a uniquely otherworldly essence to the role of Chuin- results in one of the best on-screen duos ever.
Missing in action: Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend, Brewster's Millions, Enemy Mine, Gotcha!, The Man with One Red Shoe, Rustler's Rhapsody, Santa Claus: The Movie, Turk 182!