Tag Archives: Adolescence/High School

Lord Love a Duck (1966)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She wants it all.

If you ever wondered where political correctness got its start it was probably southern California in the mid 60’s. Here everything is neutralized and modified so as to ‘keep up with the times’. There’s even a drive-in church where the minister proudly exclaims that the Lord answers every prayer because “whatever happens is the answer”.

Tuesday Weld plays teenager Barbara Ann Greene who can’t be happy unless she has it all. She meets fellow high-schooler Allan Musgrave (Roddy McDowell) who because of his super intelligence is able to figure out ways for her to get what she wants. Yet the more she gets it the more unhappy she becomes.

It’s a satire on our consumer driven society, but it is too restrained and soft. A supposedly cutting edge film looking at our modernized world should have been filmed in color and not black and white. It also should have been faster paced with a heavier emphasis on the zany and outrageous. Instead we only get hints of this with a lot of slow segments and even some clumsy drama. The funny offbeat bits are spread out to thin and do not make up for the other parts that are boring and contrived.

There are some technical problems too including a lot of ‘outdoor’ shots that were really filmed indoors on a soundstage. They fortunately don’t do this anymore, but when they did it looked tacky. There is also a boom mike that is very obvious to see in several shots.

McDowell is not eccentric, nor unique enough for such an offbeat character. Although perpetually boyish looking he was way, way too old to be playing a high school student as he was 37 when this was filmed. Out of all the performers Harvey Korman comes off as the most amusing playing the overtly congenial school principal.

This film does feature an attractive cast. Of course Weld is always alluring, but she has competition from Jo Collins who was Playboy Playmate of 1965. There is also Lynn Carey daughter of the late actor MacDonald Carey from ‘Days of Our Lives’ fame. She is exceptionally good looking and watching here gyrate in a bikini to the latest dance craze is damn near pornographic. For her age Lola Albright, who plays Weld’s mother, is an absolute knockout and she can officially be crowned as a ‘milf’.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: February 21, 1966

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated: NR (Not Rated)

Director: George Axelrod

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: This birthday isn’t happy.

            Virignia Wainwright (Melissa Sue Anderson) attends a private school where she is a part of a snotty clique whose members start getting killed off just before her 18th birthday. Due to a freak accident suffered years before she has blackouts causing suspicions that she may be the culprit. With the help of her psychiatrist Dr. David Faraday (Glenn Ford) they try to come up with some answers.

Despite being listed as a slasher film and having gained a loyal cult following I found the gore factor to be disappointing. The killings are quite brief and the camera quickly cuts away before much blood, or anything else is shown. The famous shish kebab murder that is captured on the film’s poster is poorly executed. Apparently there was more footage of the killings, but in order to get an R-rating director J. Lee Thompson was forced to cut a lot of it out. However, it would be nice to get a director’s cut version as I am sure today’s horror fans may feel cheated otherwise. The grossest sequence for me wasn’t the killings at all, but instead the scene where Virginia undergoes brain surgery and her skull is vividly cut open and one can see the brain pulsating and expanding inside. The deaths really didn’t seem all that creative and clever despite the film’s reputation and if anything my favorite death scene didn’t involve one of the killings but instead was the part where Virginia and her mother are riding in a car that goes off a bridge and then fills up with water, which is surprisingly intense.

I also had some major issues with the film’s opening murder that features a young girl getting strangled while inside her car. For one thing the killer’s hands didn’t seem to be all that tight around her neck and when the girl manages to escape there are no marks around her neck even though realistically there should be. Also, when she escapes she runs for only a few feet and then stops behind a nearby parked car and acts like she is now ‘safe’ even though most people would run several blocks and probably wouldn’t stop until they found someone else that could help, or the police. The victim also speaks, but if someone has been strangled as severely as she has her voice would have to be effected by it and she might not be able to say anything, or at least speak in a very raspy tone, which is not the case here.

For the most part I found the film to be boring and predictable. I never once got scared, or even all that intrigued. The movie is jammed with every cheesy 80’s horror movie cliché that you can think of. Normally film’s from this genre run no more than 90 minutes and sometimes even less. Going 110 minutes as this one does is much too long for a plot that is paper-thin.  However, the very macabre ending is excellent and almost makes up for it. The surprise twist isn’t bad either although a bit implausible.

Anderson, best known as Mary Ingals from the long running TV-show ‘Little House on the Prairie’, isn’t bad. A shot of her at the end where she is carrying a birthday cake and looks up and smiles is both chilling and sexy and quite possibly the film’s pinnacle. There is no nudity although director Thompson teases the viewer by having her undress to get into the shower, but the camera never gets past her bra and panties.

Hollywood icon Ford is wasted and his tired appearance is almost sad. His wardrobe features him wearing an open shirt showing his bare chest and it looks ridiculous for a man his age. There is another scene where the police dig up a skull on the school’s grounds and the Ford character asks to take a look at it and the police promptly hand it over to him, which I found to be equally ridiculous as that is a crucial piece of evidence that would only be handled by a forensic expert.

If anything Sharon Acker as Virginia’s alcoholic mother Estelle gives the best performance.  Her overwrought slightly hammy scene near the end gives the film some much needed energy.

There were a few other loopholes and inconsistencies that irritated me enough to be mentioned here. One is that years earlier Virginia had a birthday party and all her friend’s snubbed her and didn’t show up, so they could instead go to a party held by a girl who was more wealthy and popular, which made me wonder why then would Virginia want to remain friends with them like she did.  Another part involves a member of their clique named Alfred (Jack Blum) who the girls initially think is storing the severed head of one of their murdered friends. They later realize that this was simply a realistic looking plastic mold that he had made to resemble her, which makes them feel ‘relieved’ enough to continue to socialize with him. However, anyone who makes plastic molds of heads from someone they know that has just been killed seems just as creepy to me and enough to make most normal people concerned, which the characters here are not. There is also no explanation at the end for how the killer, whose identity I will not divulge, was able to come up with such an elaborate and realistic disguise. The gory effects are also not convincing and could have used Tom Savini’s help

Like I said I found the film’s ending to be pretty cool and enough for me to suggest this film to horror fans, but only if they are willing to stick around for it.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 15, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R (Violence, Language, Adult Theme)

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: Columbia

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Johnny Be Good (1988)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: College recruiters are sleazy.

            Johnny Walker (Anthony Michael Hall) is a star high school quarterback who finds that during his senior year he is being bombarded by college recruiters who try any means, legal, or otherwise, to get him to come to their school. Johnny enjoys taking advantage of it, which consists of going to their campuses and being lavished with parties, women, money, and other gifts. His girlfriend Georgia (Uma Thurman) doesn’t approve as she is afraid he may be tempted to cheat on her.

In some ways this is an interesting idea as the topic of college recruiting and some of the corruption that goes along with it has not been presented in any detailed fashion in too many other films, so it seems fresh. The film starts out as very farcical and humorous showing all these middle-aged men dressed like Herb Tarlek from WKRP in Cincinnati  slobbering over Johnny wherever he goes and promising him just about anything. The film though switches gears awkwardly. The majority of it is crude and adolescent, but then turns into a serious and preachy morality tale at the end. This uneven approach doesn’t work as the goofy comedy is so over-the-top that any attempt at seriousness is lost. It would have worked better and been more riveting had it been presented as a drama.

The comedy isn’t all that hilarious either. There are some amusing bits here and there, but most of it falls flat. Even the film’s best comic moment gets botched. It entails Johnny being lead onto a platform on the field’s fifty yard line by a recruiter’s attractive, sexy wife who tries to get him to have sex with her.  Some of the other people at the party follow them and project their antics onto the stadium’s scoreboard. Unfortunately Johnny resists and ends up running away even though I thought it would have been a lot funnier seeing them actually having sex. I suppose the filmmakers feared that audiences would not want their hero cheating on his girlfriend, but if you spend time setting up a wild scenario then you need to go for the gusto.

This also brings up another problem with the movie, which is that all the nudity, at least in the theatrical 84 minute version I saw, is cut out. Apparently there is an R-rated version available with more nudity intact, but why cut it out to begin with? This film’s sophistication level is extremely low and typically when the script consists of nothing more than crude comedy the nudity at least helps.

The third problem with the film is that the adults are portrayed as being so stupid that they seem almost inhuman. I know it became trendy during the teen movies of the 80’s to show adults and other authority figures as being clueless, unhip, and basically just plain out-of-it, but this film goes too far with it. Georgia’s parents are particularly irritating. The casting of Marshall Bell as Georgia’s overly authoritative father was a mistake as he looks and behaves too much like Paul Gleason, who plays the coach.

Hall is okay in the lead, but the part where he is sitting in his room playing on his drums even though his drumsticks never makes contact with any of them while looking at football highlights on the TV is annoying. For one thing the look on his face makes it appear that he is in some sort of trance and the scene goes on too long and then gets shown again during the end credits.

Although the part is not very demanding it is still fun to see Thurman in an early role as the girlfriend. Robert Downey Jr. is also amusing in an early role as Johnny’s best friend although he looks pudgy and out-of-shape and not in condition for playing football. His father Robert Downey Sr. appears as an investigator.

By far and away the best part in the film is Paul Gleason as the high strung coach Hisler. He plays an extension of the part that he did in The Breakfast Club   and is even more hyped-up. He steals every scene he is in and is the most memorable thing about the film and helps save it from being a complete disaster.

Legendary sports announcer Howard Cosell appears as himself in a couple of amusing cameos, which is fun, but his hand shakes so much as it is holding the telephone receiver that he is talking into that it becomes distracting. Former Chicago Bears quarterback also appears as himself, but most young football fans today probably won’t even know who he is.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: March 25, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 31Minutes (R version) 1Hour 24Minutes (PG-13 version)

Director: Bud S. Smith

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Netflix streaming

Rock ‘N’ Roll High School (1979)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: They like The Ramones.

Vapid, schlocky nonsense about high school students rebelling from an oppressive new principal named Miss Togar (Mary Woronov) with the help of the punk rock band The Ramones.

The film was produced by Roger Corman, who was known to be quite stingy with his budget, and it shows. As a joke the crew put in birds in the background to chirp ‘cheap, cheap’ over the credits.

There really is no storyline here. It is just a rapid-fire parade of one corny, lame gag after another that gets progressively worse as it goes along. Despite being labeled a teen comedy the humor is embarrassingly kiddie with the expected sex jokes and innuendos at a minimum. Normally, even in the worst of comedies, I can usually find a few lines, or scenes, to be funny, but here I found nothing that was amusing, or even halfway clever.

What is worse is the fact that there is no nudity! What kind of self-respecting teen comedy doesn’t have nudity? Not that a few fleeting naked bodies would have saved it, but at least it would have helped.

P.J. Soles won a cult following for her rambunctious performance as the student leading the rebellion, but her acting is very hammy. Vincent Van Patten, son of actor Dick Van Patten, is cast against type as the good-looking blonde All-American, who seemingly can’t get laid. Unfortunately, he has always had a very blank, ‘deer-in-headlights’ stare and I find his acting follows in the same suit.

Woronov is ineffective as the heavy. She is just not mean, or repressive enough and stupidly falls for all the dumb tricks that the students play on her. Her character should have been played-up more and her evilness more accentuated, which would have, even on a minor level, allowed for more tension and made the film seem less one-dimensional.

If I liked anybody here it would be Dey Young, who is the younger sister of actress Leigh-Taylor Young and the two look a lot alike. She is real cute, but in a nice natural way that is not overdone. She seems to be having a good time throughout and I enjoyed her spontaneity. Male viewers may also like her revealing gym outfit.

The punk band The Ramones appear as themselves. Initially the producers had wanted singer Todd Rundgren, who would’ve been better, but he refused. They then tried to get Van Halen, but backed down when they heard they were wild and too hard to control. For a while they even considered bringing in a disco band and calling it ‘Disco High School’.  For what it was worth I was not into their music, or at least from what I heard here, as their songs sounded too much alike with no harmony, or melody, and a beat that was too repetitive. Also, their vocals sounded more like shouting than singing. They showed no screen presence and reportedly their acting was so bad that the majority of their lines were cut. For the record though their lead singer Joey looks almost exactly like radio personality Howard Stern.

Sometimes, if done right, teen comedies can be fun because they allow one to harken back to their own high school years and bring back fond memories like John Hughes’s Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club do. However, those films at least had some shred of reality to them while here the characters and situations are too cartoonish and over-the-top. Nothing is relatable and even for satire it goes overboard. It’s a ‘bomb’ in every respect.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: August 24, 1979

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Allan Arkush

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray