Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '86 - David J. Moore ""

Monday, May 23, 2016

Underrated '86 - David J. Moore

david j. moore is the author of The Good, the Tough, and the Deadly: Action Movies and Stars and World Gone Wild: A Survivor's Guide to Post-Apocalyptic Movies. He has written articles for magazines and websites around the world and works as a freelance film journalist.

Where the River Runs Black - 1986 (MGM DVD)
Father Mahoney (Peter Horton) falls in love with the native peoples of the Amazon, and he entreats Rome to help him fund the building of a church right in the heart of the Amazon, and his colleague Father O'Reilly (Charles Durning) comes to visit him every six months to gauge his progress. After a meaningful and productive visit, O'Reilly leaves and Mahoney takes a trip down "where the river runs black" by himself in a small boat and he meets a mysterious beautiful native woman who lives by herself in a hut, and they make love, but on his way back, Mahoney is killed and drowned by an anaconda, never to be seen or heard from again. Some time later, O'Reilly comes to visit him, only to be told that he disappeared and that he was last seen with a woman with supernatural powers, and that she bore Mahoney's son, who is protected by dolphins. Curious, he goes searching for the boy and his mother, but finds nothing. As the boy (played by one-time only actor Alessandro Rabelo) grows up into an adept hunter in the jungle with his mother, a developer/politico comes into the Amazon, and slaughters the boy's mother in his quest to find gold. The man leaves the boy for dead, but the child is rescued by dolphins, and later he's found by some locals and out of superstition he is to be killed, but Father O'Reilly saves his life and takes him to civilization and names him Lazaro. He tries teaching the boy the ways of the world (like drinking out of cups and eating like a civilized person, for example), and then he enrolls him in a Catholic school where he's taught English and Bible verses. Lazaro grows into quite an interesting person as he makes a friend named Segundo (Ajay Naidu), and when he learns that a local politician is the same man who killed his mother, he plans a simple, but poetic revenge.
A fascinating coming of age fable in the tradition of any number of Tarzans or fish out of water stories where a wild child is thrust into the modern world, Where the River Runs Black has a profound sense of wonder and almost magical realism hardly ever found in motion pictures. Director Christopher Cain and screenwriters Peter Silverman and Neal Jimenez are able to imbue substance and spirituality in moments when nothing is ever said on screen, and James Horner's interesting score really give the film a depth and dimension another composer would not have given it. For fans of Werner Herzog, Vincent Ward, and Terrence Malik, Where the River Runs Black is a beautiful, underrated film. Based on a novel by David Kendall.

Dead End Drive-In - 1986 (Anchor Bay DVD)
“What? You reckon we all just sit around playing happy families, do ya? Everything in this place, men down the gents’drinking beer, girls and the ladies getting their hair done … people can’t have a life in here. All they can have is a heap of shit movies and a gut-full of poisonous hamburger! I’ll tell you where bloody life is … out there.”

One of the most unique and relevant films to bear the post-apocalypse banner, Dead End Drive-In has a lot of subtext. In a world reminiscent of the first Mad Max, where economic collapse, pollution, overcrowding, and crime waves are prevalent, the world government takes control over its desperate and lawless people. This takes place in Australia, and its hero, Jimmy, is the younger brother of a tow-truck driver, one of the most dangerous professions there is. Karboys (scavengers) roam the streets in search of car parts and wrecked automobiles, and tow truck drivers are a lot like cops in that they are allowed to do whatever they have to to protect the streets and the cars which ride on them. Jimmy takes a pretty girl named Carmen (get it?) to a drive-in theater to have sex, and it is there where he discovers the horrible reality of the world and the government’s control over its people. The police come in while they’re watching a movie (which happens to be Escape 2000) and steal two of his Chevy’s tires, leaving them stranded within the Drive-In parking lot (which is revealed to stretch on into infinity). He and Carmen soon understand that there is no way out of the Drive-In, that indeed, it is a prison designed to ensnare and trap the world’s troublesome youth and undesirable minorities, who are periodically shipped in on busses. Within the Drive-In’sparameters, the white population congregate to fight the Asians or other racial groups, which is the government’s plan to lower the population and weed out certain demographical sects. Jimmy spends the next months trying to devise a plan of escape, and in the process looses his girlfriend to the racial prejudices so strongly found at the Dead End Drive-In, where the same movies play every night.

This is an impressive little gem, which is often ignored or forgotten. It is from Brian Trenchard-Smith, who also made the great dystopian film Escape 2000 (a.k.a. Turkey Shoot). Novelist Peter Carey co-wrote the script. Ned Manning plays Jimmy, Natalie McCurry is Carmen, and the rest of the cast is great too. The drive-in sets are absolutely perfect, and they are some of the more memorable post-apocalyptic movie sets I’ve seen.

Rad - 1986 (Embassy VHS)
"It's gonna take a radical miracle to beat this guy!"

Paperboy Cru (Bill Allen) is all about BMX trick racing, and the whole town is in love with him for being a solid high school student and an upstanding citizen. His mom (Talia Shire, who produced the film) wants him to go to college, but the kid just wants to succeed as a BMX racer with sponsors and fame. When an entrepreneur comes to Cru's small town and sets up an incredible bike race for the whole world to see, Cru sees it as destiny and decides to enter the race, going up against some of the best BMX bikers in the world, namely the #1 racer in the world, Bart Taylor (Bart Connor), who has oodles of charisma and sponsorship (not to mention two hot blondes at his side). But when the entrepreneur sees that the local paperboy might have an edge over his own sponsored racer (that would be Bart, of course), he sets an impossible entry fee for all racers: 50K. The whole town rallies behind Cru, and with full support from the local businesses and townspeople, he enters the race ... and wins. Totally rad.

A VHS staple in the heyday of video rentals (it was my first VHS rental ever), Rad is a stunt-filled teen movie with just a sliver of a story to keep the bikes in motion. It has a little romance in it too: paperboy Cru falls for a cute pro biker named Christian (Lori Laughlin from Secret Admirer), and they have several bike riding montages that are fairly hilarious when you realize that Loughlin was doubled by a dude in a wig. It should also be mentioned that all of the high school kids are played by actors who were pushing 30. All negatives aside, this movie has a kick ass rock soundtrack and enough nostalgia surrounding it to keep it in regular VCR rotation forever. An homage sequel / rip off was made some 30 years later with Bill Allen called Heroes of Dirt. Allen also wrote a book about his experiences on Rad called My Rad Career. This was directed by famed stuntman Hal Needham.

Flight of the Navigator - 1986 (Disney DVD)
David (Joey Cramer) is just a regular kid living his life in Lauderdale with his parents (played by Veronica Cartwright and Cliff De Young) and his little brother Jeff when his whole world is turned upside down. He falls down a ditch in the woods one evening and when he wakes up after being knocked unconscious he goes home to find that strange people are living in his house. After the strange couple calls the police, David is taken to the police station where he finds out that eight years have passed seemingly overnight and he was presumed dead after being missing all that time. His parents (who have noticeably aged) and his grown up brother (who is now older than he is) are overjoyed to see him, but since he hasn't aged a day and is still wearing the clothes he had on the night he disappeared, there is clearly something amiss. In the meantime, an extraterrestrial aircraft (it looks like a giant silver Nerf football from the 90's) has been found nearby in Florida and somehow David is connected to it via his subconscious. Tests are run on him, and it seems that he has an uncharted map to the cosmos in his mind, but all he wants is for everything to return to normal. The only way for that to happen is for him to get inside the spacecraft and become its navigator and go back in time to fix the error in time ...

One of the perennial kid movies that made a lasting impression on me as a youth, Flight of the Navigator has an ominously strange, but still adventurous tone throughout. David's journey in the film is unique and more-or-less relatable, and the sense of loss and danger is prevalent. The science fiction element is interesting and engrossing, and paired with something like Joe Dante's Explorers it makes for a supreme entertainment. Paul Reubens provides the voice of the space ship, and Sarah Jessica Parker has a small roll as a cute intern where David is experimented on. As a treatise on growing up and the loss of precious years, Flight of the Navigator is a fascinating allegory for child abduction and reclaiming innocence. Written by Michael Burton and Matt MacManus and directed by Randal Kleiser.

The Killing Edge - 1986 (Seagull’s Video VHS)
“There’s no heroes left, kid. They just die in pain, and usually for nothing, anyway.”

Steve, the “hero” in this small film, is just a regular guy. He’s walking home some months after the apocalypse, and the landscape is cold and snowy. It’s a nuclear winter and he’s bundled up and huddles close to a fire. A young man comes closer to his fire and Steve offers to share his meal. The young man, whom we know is a killer (from a previous scene) draws his murdering blade on him and they have a stand-off. The young man goes away, leaving Steve to ponder what has become of the world. He meets several other people: a hopeful lad, a pretty, but destitute woman, and a dying sick man, and just as Steve develops trust and hope for them, they are killed or they ask him to leave so that they can die alone. We are shown how Steve (played by Bill French) learns to accept his fate. We understand that Steve is going home to die, but his choice develops into something more. He does become a hero, but not in the way we might expect him to. He carries his dead son’s teddy bear with him, and he talks to it.

This is one post-apocalyptic hero I had not seen the likes of again until the father character in The Road. The conflict comes in the way of what are referred to as “Terminators” in the film, and they are bad men turned marauders who roam the lands in search of survivors. They abduct (and usually murder) them or send them to labor camps to grow food. The main villain is truly despicable. The final confrontation between him and Steve is classic. This film took me by surprise. It has a BBC feel to it, with British actors and locations. The synthesized rock score spruces the tempo up a great deal, and the whole movie has a stark reality vibe. This is a hard picture to find, but I recommend seeking it out. Directed by Lindsay Craig Shonteff.

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