Horror On TV: Suspense 2.5 “Dr. Violet” (dir by Robert Stevens)


I think it’s fairly safe to say that wax museums are inherently creepy.

I mean, don’t get me wrong.  If I see a wax museum off of the side of the road, I’m definitely going to visit it, if just so I can find the Hall of Presidents and give the finger to FDR.  (It’s a long story.)  But that said, wax museums are definitely not some place where you would want to get accidentally locked in.

Well, in tonight’s episode of Suspense, that’s exactly what happens to one unfortunate college student.  AGCK!

This episode originally aired on October 4th, 1949 and it has a very impressive cast that will be familiar to anyone who has ever spent a few hours watching TCM: Anne Francis, Hume Cronyn, Ray Waltson, Evelyn Varden, and Mike Kellin are all featured.

Enjoy!

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Galaxy of Terror (dir by Bruce D. Clark)


galaxy_of_terror

Long before Event Horizon (but, perhaps more importantly, shortly after the original Alien), there was 1981’s Galaxy of Terror!

Produced by Roger Corman and featuring production design and second unit work from James Cameron, Galaxy of Terror tells the story of what happens when, in the future, the crew of the Quest are dispatched to a mysterious planet.  They’re on a rescue mission but what they don’t realize is that they’re heading into a trap!

The crew of the Quest is virtually a who’s who of cult actors.

The youngest member of the crew is Cos.  Cos is scared of everything and, from the minute you see him, you can tell that he’ll probably be the first to die.  Cos is played by Jack Blessing, who subsequently became a very in-demand voice over artist.  You may not recognize the name or the face but you’ve probably heard the voice.

Captain Trainor, who is still troubled by a disastrous mission in the past, is played by Grace Zabriskie, who is rumored to have inspired Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” and who subsequently became a regular member of David Lynch’s stock company.

The fearsome Quuhod is played by one of the patron saints of exploitation filmmaking, the one and only SID HAIG!  Quuhod doesn’t say much but Sid Haig doesn’t have to say much to make an impression.

Technical officer Dameia is played by Taaffe O’Connell.  She suffers through the film’s most infamous and distasteful scenes, in which she’s assaulted by a gigantic space worm.  That scene was apparently insisted upon by Roger Corman and it’s not easy to watch.  At the same time, since the film takes place on a planet that is ruled by pure evil, the scene somehow works.  It’s that scene that tells you that Galaxy of Terror is not going to be your typical B-movie.  That is the scene that says, “This movie is going to give you nightmares!”

Ranger is played by Robert Englund!  That’s right — the original Freddy Krueger himself.  It’s interesting to see Englund in this role because Ranger is actually one of the only likable characters in the film.  It’s strange to see the future Freddy Krueger being menaced by the same type of threats that he unleashed on Elm Street.  But Englund does a good job in the role.  In fact, he does so well that you wonder what would have happened in his career if he hadn’t been forever typecast as the man of your nightmares.

The arrogant and cocky Baelon is played by future director, Zalman King.  It says something about King’s acting career that Galaxy of Terror is not the strangest film that he ever appeared in.

Burned-out Commander Ilvar is played by Bernard Behrens, who is one of those character actors who has a very familiar face.  If you watch any movie from the 80s or 90s that features a weary homicide detective or an unsympathetic bureaucrat, it’s entirely possible that he was played by Bernard Behrens.

Kore, the ship’s cook, is played by Ray Waltson, who is another one of those very familiar character actors.  Over the course of his long career, Waltson appeared in everything from The Apartment to The Sting to Fast Times At Ridgemont High to a countless number of TV shows and TV movies.  Waltson was usually cast in comedic roles so it’s interesting to see him here, playing a role that is very much not comedic.

Alluma, an empath, is played by Erin Moran, who was best known for playing Ron Howard’s bratty sister on the somewhat terrible (but apparently popular and deathless) sitcom, Happy Days.  Moran’s explosive death scene is another reason why Galaxy of Terror has a cult following.

And finally, the “star” of the film is Edward Albert, who plays Cabren.  To return to my earlier comparison to Event Horizon, Edward Albert has the Laurence Fishburne role.

Anyway, our crew is sent on a rescue mission but, when they crash land on the planet Morganthus, they find themselves outside of a desolate pyramid.  They make the mistake of exploring the pyramid and end up being confronted by their greatest fears.  (They also eventually discover that one of their crewmates is a traitor.)  It’s pretty much a typical sci-fi slasher film but it makes an impression because, thematically, it’s just so dark.  The fears that attack the crew members are so ruthless and brutal that they will take even the most jaded of horror fans by surprise.  Galaxy of Terror is relentless and merciless in its effort to scare the audience.

What especially distinguishes Galaxy of Terror is that, despite the obviously low budget, the entire film feels sickeningly real.  A lot of credit for that has to go to James Cameron, who creates a lived-in future that actually feels a lot more plausible than anything to be found in Avatar.

So, if you have the chance, turn off the lights, watch the film in the dark, and prepare for a perfect Halloween nightmare!

Lisa Reviews an Oscar Winner: The Sting (dir by George Roy Hill)


Earlier tonight, as a part of their 31 Days of Oscar, TCM aired The Sting, the film that the Academy selected as being the best of 1973.  I just finished watching it and what can I say?  Based on what I’ve seen of the competition (and there were a lot of great films released in 1973), I would not necessarily have picked The Sting for best picture.  However, the movie is still fantastic fun.

The Sting reunited the director (George Roy Hill) and the stars (Robert Redford and Paul Newman) of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and told yet another story of likable criminals living in the past.  However, whereas Butch Cassidy largely satirized the conventions of the traditional Hollywood western, The Sting is feels like a loving homage to the films of 1930s, a combination of a gritty, low-budget gangster film and a big budget musical extravaganza.  The musical comparison may sound strange at first, especially considering that nobody in The Sting randomly breaks out into song.  However, the musical score (which is famously dominated by Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer) is ultimately as much of a character as the roles played by Redford, Newman, and Robert Shaw.  And, for that matter, the film’s “let-pull-off-a-con” plot feels like an illegal version of “let’s-put-on-a-show.”

The film takes place in the 1936 of the cultural imagination, a world dominated by flashy criminals and snappy dialogue.  When con artists Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and Luther Coleman (Robert Earl Jones) inadvertently steal money from a gangster named Lonnegan (Robert Shaw), Lonnegan has Luther murdered.  Fleeing for his life, Hooker goes to Chicago where he teams up with Luther’s former partner, veteran con man Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman).  Gondorff used to be one of the great con artists but he is now living in self-imposed obscurity, spending most of his time drinking and trying to avoid the FBI.  Hooker wants to get revenge on Lonnegan by pulling an elaborate con on him.  When Gondorff asks Hooker why, Hooker explains that he can either con Lonnegan or he can kill him and he doesn’t know enough about killing.

The rest of the film deals with Hooker and Gondorff’s plan to con Lonnegan out of a half million dollars.  It’s all very elaborate and complicated and a bit confusing if you don’t pay close enough attention and if you’re ADHD like me.  But it’s also a lot of fun and terrifically entertaining and that’s the important thing.  The Sting is one of those films that shows just how much you can accomplish through the smart use of movie star charisma.  Redford and Newman have such great chemistry and are so much fun to watch that it really doesn’t matter whether or not you always understand what they’re actually doing.

It also helps that, in the great 70s tradition, they’re taking down stuffy establishment types.  Lonnegan may be a gangster but he’s also a highly respected and very wealthy gangster.  When Newman interrupts a poker game, Lonnegan glares at him and tells him that he’ll have to put on a tie before he’s allowed to play.  Lonnegan may operate outside the law but, in many ways, he is the establishment and who doesn’t enjoy seeing the establishment taken down a notch?

As entertaining as The Sting may be and as influential as it undoubtedly is (Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean films may be a lot more pretentious — which makes sense considering that Soderbergh is one of the most pretentious directors in film history — but they all owe a clear debt to The Sting), it still feels like an unlikely best picture winner.  Consider, for instance, that The Sting not only defeated American Graffiti and The Exorcist but Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers as well.  On top of that, when you consider some of the films that were released in 1973 and not nominated — Mean Streets, Badlands, The Candy Snatchers, Day of the Jackal, Don’t Look Now, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Long Goodbye — it’s debatable whether The Sting should have been nominated at all.  That’s not a criticism of The Sting as much as it’s an acknowledgement that 1973 was a very good year in film.

So, maybe The Sting didn’t deserve its Oscar.  But it’s still a wonderfully entertaining film.  And just try to get that music out of your head!

Insomnia File No. 8: From the Hip (dir by Bob Clark)


What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

From_the_Hip_(film)

Last night, if you discovered that you couldn’t get any sleep around two in the morning, you could have turned to Showtime and watched the 1987 film, From The Hip.

In From the Hip, Judd Nelson plays a character named Robin Weathers.  Of course, his nickname is Stormy.  Robin has just graduated from law school and is working at a prestigious law firm.  He’s ambitious, he’s outspoken, and he’s totally frustrated.  As his co-workers (played, quite well, by David Alan Grier and Dan Monahan) continually remind him, nobody gets to try a case during their first year out of law school.  They advise him to be patient and to wait his turn.

However, a man who is capable of being patient would not be nicknamed Stormy.  It just wouldn’t make any sense.  So, Stormy Weathers schemes his way into the courtroom.  One morning, he intentionally withholds information from the senior partners, going out of his way to keep them from realizing that a trial is scheduled to begin that afternoon.  When senior partner Craig Duncan (Darren McGavin) discovers what Stormy has done, he fires him and makes sure that he never get hired at another law firm … oh wait.  No, he doesn’t because that would make too much sense.  Instead, he allows Stormy to try the case because, at this point, Stormy is the only one who knows anything about it.

The case is a simple assault case that involves two bankers and should be resolved easily but Stormy manages to drag it out for several days and his flamboyant style catches the attention of the media.  The other partners in the law firm — who are all old and boring — want to fire Stormy but Stormy’s client says that, if Stormy is fired, he’ll take his business and his money elsewhere.  Stormy becomes a minor celebrity but — in a rather clever little twist — it turns out that he and the prosecuting attorney are old friends from law school and they conspired to make each other look good.

Anyway, Stormy is now so famous that he gets assigned to defend a college professor, named Benoit (John Hurt), who has been accused of murder.  When it quickly becomes obvious that Benoit is not only guilty but will probably murder again, Stormy is forced to choose between ambition and morality…

When my friend Evelyn and I first started to watch From the Hip last night, I really thought I was going to hate it.  The hot pink neon credits screamed, “Bad 80s movie!” and, because I happen to know quite a few lawyers, I tend to be a 100 times more critical of movies about lawyers than I am when it comes to movies about, say, homicidal fishermen.

And, honestly, From The Hip is a heavily flawed film.  Judd Nelson is miscast and the scenes with his politically conscious girlfriend (Elizabeth Perkins) are painfully shallow and reek of limousine liberalism.  But, if you can get through the weak opening, the film itself is watchable and enjoyable in a dumb sort of way.  John Hurt does a great job as a sociopath and, miscast as he may be, it’s still fun to watch Nelson go insane in court.

From The Hip is not a great film but, in its way, it’s an enjoyable little time capsule.  Believe it or not, there was a time when Judd Nelson starred in a movies that were actually released in theaters.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game

 

Lisa Watches The Oscar Winners: The Apartment (dir by Billy Wilder)


Apartment_60

After the Nun’s StoryI continued to experience TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar by watching the 1960 best picture winner, The Apartment.  The Apartment is unique among Oscar winners in that it’s one of the few comedies to win best picture.  (Though, in all honesty, it would probably be more appropriate to call The Apartment a dramedy.)  It was also, until the victory of The Artist, the last completely black-and-white film to win best picture.

(And, as long as we’re sharing trivia, it was also the first best picture winner to feature a character watching a previous best picture winner.  At the start of the film, Jack Lemmon deals with insomnia by watching Grand Hotel.)

The Apartment tells the story of C.C. “Bud” Baxter (Jack Lemmon), an anonymous officer worker who is determined to climb the corporate ladder despite not being very good at his job.  However, Baxter does have one advantage over his co-workers.  He’s single and therefore, his apartment has become the place to go for corporate executives who need a place where they can safely cheat on their wives.  Bud spends his day trying to coordinate who is going to be in his apartment and when.  Meanwhile, he spends his nights exiled from his own home and wandering around New York.  In fact, the only beneficial thing about this arrangement is that all of Bud’s supervisors have been giving him good evaluations in return for using his apartment.  (Well, that and Bud’s neighbor, played by Jack Kruschen, is convinced, based on the thinness of the apartment walls, that Bud must be a great lover.)

When Bud finally does get his promotion, it’s only because the personnel director, Jeff D. Sheldrake (an amazingly sleazy Fred MacMurray), wants to use Bud’s apartment.  Bud celebrates his promotion by finally working up the courage to ask out Fran (Shirley MacClaine), an elevator operator who works in the office.  What Bud doesn’t realize is that Fran is also the woman who Sheldrake wants to bring to the apartment….

Fran is convinced that Sheldrake is going to leave his wife for her.  What she doesn’t realize — and what Fred MacMurray’s performance makes disturbingly clear — is that Jeff Sheldrake is basically just a guy having a midlife crisis.  He’s the type of middle-aged guy that every woman has had to deal with at some point, the guy who pulls up next to you in a red convertible and stares at you from behind his sunglasses, attempting his best to entice you into helping him relive the youth that he never had.  When Fran eventually learns the truth about Sheldrake, it leads both to near tragedy and to Bud having to decide whether he wants to be a decent human being or if he wants to keep climbing the corporate ladder.

When one looks over a chronological list of all of the best picture winners, it’s a bit strange to see The Apartment listed in between Ben-Hur and West Side Story.  As opposed to those two grandly produced and vibrantly colorful films, The Apartment is a rather low-key film, one that devotes far more time to characterization than to spectacle.  And while both Ben-Hur and West Side Story are ultimately very idealistic films, The Apartment is about as cynical as a film can get.  The Apartment may be a comedy but the laughs come from a place of profound sadness.

Because it’s more interested in people than in spectacle, The Apartment holds up better than many past best picture winners.  We’ve all known someone like Bud.  We’ve all had to deal with men like Sheldrake.  And, in one way or another, we all know what it’s like to be someone like Fran.  The Apartment remains a truly poignant and relevant film.

Shattered Politics #40: The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington (dir by William A. Levey)


happy-hooker-470-x-647

“God bless you, Ms. Hollander!  You have saved us from recession!”

— Dialogue from The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington (1977)

Le sigh.

The things that I do for this site!

If I wasn’t currently in the process of watching and reviewing 94 films about politicians and politics, I can guarantee that I would never have watched The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington.  However, while I was looking for films to review for this series, I went over to Netflix and did a search on “Washington.”

Guess which film came up first?

If you guessed The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington, you would be correct!  And you know what?  I watched this movie with an open mind.  As anyone who has read this site knows, I have never been shy about my love of old exploitation films.  The fact of the matter is that some of the most imaginative films ever made were low-budget grindhouse movies.  Nothing angers me more than elitist film bloggers who dismiss a film just because it originally played in grindhouse cinema.

But, honestly, The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington is just bad.  It’s boring.  The acting is terrible.  The jokes fall flat.  The attempts at political satire are about as clever as what you’d find on any site trying to read like the Onion without actually being the Onion.

In the Happy Hooker Goes To Washington, Joey Heatherton plays Xaviera Hollander, a former madam who is now a businesswoman, magazine publisher, and sex advise columnist.  She is apparently the world’s leading authority on sex.  We know this because, when she first appears, she’s surrounded by reporters.  “When sex is news, you’re news!” one of them tells her.

Xaviera has been called to testify in front of the Senate Committee To Investigate Sexual Excess In America.  And goddamn, this movie is stupid.  But anyway, Xaviera goes to Washington to stand up for sexual freedom.  Accompanying her is an attorney named Ward Thompson (George Hamilton) and, quicker than you can say “Fifth place on Dancing With The Stars,” Ward is explaining to Xaviera why her testimony is so important.

“We’re heading right into the teeth of a new puritanism,” he tells her.  “Under the new puritanism, there won’t be any happy hookers!”

Anyway, Xaviera testifies in front of the committee and we get a few flashbacks to some of Xaviera’s past accomplishments.  And then she gets recruited by a dwarf (Billy Barty) and is sent to seduce an Middle Eastern ruler and … well, it just keep going and going.  This is one of the longest 84-minute films ever released.

Anyway, this movie sucks.  (And so does Xaviera!  That’s the level of humor that you can expect when you watch The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington.)  It’s still lurking around Netflix.  Avoid it at all costs.

Back to School #29: Private School (dir by Noel Black)


ps-title

In my previous two Back To School reviews, I took a look at two classic teen comedies.  Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Risky Business both used and manipulated the standard teen comedy trappings to tell unusually nuanced stories about growing up.  These are films that used the audience’s familiarity with the genre to tell stories that ultimately challenged the viewer’s preconceived notions and expectations.  Having considered those two films, let us now consider Private School, a film that used all of the standard teen comedy clichés to make a very standard teen comedy.

According to the film’s trivia page on the IMDB (how’s that for an authoritative source!?), Private School was “”was supposedly market researched from stem to stern in order to ensure mass teen appeal”.  And it’s true because there’s literally nothing in Private School that you couldn’t find in almost every other teen comedy released in the 1980s.  In fact, Private School often feels like a compilation of clips from other teen comedies.

For instance, the film tells the story of two groups of three.  There’s the three girls who attend Cherryvale Academy: good girl Christine (Phoebe Cates), bad (and rich) girl Jordan (Betsy Russell), and vaguely asexual tomboy Betsy (Kathleen Wilhoite).  And then there’s three guys who attend Freemount Academy.  There’s a fat guy named Bubba (Michael Zorek), a short guy named Roy (Jonathan Prince) and a nice guy named Jim (Matthew Modine).  Bubba is dating Betsy.  Christine is dating Jim.  Jordan is dating no one because she’s too busy trying to steal Christine’s boyfriend.  Roy is also single, largely because adding a fourth girl would throw off the film’s group-of-three dichotomy.

There’s also a lot of boobs, largely because Private School was made to appeal to teenage boys and you really have to wonder how many of them left the theater thinking that all they had to do to get a girl to disrobe was spill some fruit juice on her dress and then suggest that she take it off.  There’s even a scene where Jordan rides a horse naked because — well, why not?

And then there’s an extended sequence where each of the three boys puts on a wig, a red dress, way too much lipstick and then sneak into the girl’s dormitory because cross-dressing is always good for a few easy laughs. Despite their best attempts to speak in falsetto voices,  Jim, Bubba, and Roy make for three of the least convincing women that I’ve ever seen but, to the film’s credit, that’s kind of the point.  It’s a stupid plan that leads to stupid results.

privschool_l

Of course, the film is also full of terrible adult authority figures.  And why not?  It’s not like anyone over the age of 18 was ever going to watch the film.  So, of course, Jordan’s father is going to be lecherous old perv with a trophy wife.  And, of course, all of Cherryvale’s teachers are going to be a collection of spinsters and alcoholics.  In the end, the only adult who isn’t a raging hypocrite is the friendly town pharmacist (played by Martin Mull) who, of course, is mostly present so he can make Jim feel nervous about buying condoms.

And, ultimately, Private School is one of those films that wants to be racy and dirty (in order to appeal to teenage boys) while also being sweet and romantic (in order to appeal to teenage girls).  The main plot revolves around Jim and Christine’s plans to go away for a weekend so that they can have sex for the first time and the film actually handles this pretty well.  Matthew Modine and Phoebe Cates both have a really sweet chemistry.  They’re a really cute couple and you hope the best for them.  But there’s just so many complications, the majority of which could have been avoided by Jim not being an idiot.  It never seems to occur to Jim that maybe he’d finally be getting laid if he wasn’t always doing things like dressing up in drag and trying to sneak into the girl’s dormitory.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Private School is a terrible film.  As far as boob-obsessed teen sex comedies go, Private School is actually pretty well-done and watchable.  The cast is likable and director Noel Black keeps the action moving.  Even the film’s nominal villain is likable, with Betsy Russell playing Jordan as being more mischievous than spiteful.  But, ultimately, what makes Private School memorable is the fact that it is so predictable, that it does literally contain every single cliché that one would expect to find in a teen comedy.  This is a film so determined to not bring anything new to the genre that it becomes an oddly fascinated study in how to maintain a status quo.

In fact, perhaps the most innovative thing about Private School is the song that plays over the opening credits.  The song — which is called You’re Breakin’ My Heart and is performed by Harry Nilsson — starts with: “You’re breaking my heart/you’re tearing it apart/so fuck you…”

That’s about as close to being subversive as Private School ever gets.

4119046

Back to School #27: Fast Times At Ridgemont High (dir by Amy Heckerling)


Mike Damone

Mike Damone

Mike Damone, you little prick.

I’ve watched the 1982 high school dramedy Fast Times At Ridgemont High a handful of times.  I’ve reached the point where, every time I watch it, I know exactly what’s going to happen.  I know when stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) is going to order pizza.  I know that Charles Jefferson (Forest Whitaker) is going to go crazy during the big game against Lincoln High.  I know that when Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) kisses the sweet but shy Mark Ratner (Brian Backer), he’s going to end up panicking and scrambling for an excuse to go home.  I know that Brad (Judge Reinhold) is going to get caught masturbating.  I even know when Anthony Edwards, Nicolas Cage, and Eric Stoltz are all going to appear in early performances.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

Nicolas Cage, 30 years before he would agree to star in a remake of Left Behind.

In other words, I know exactly what’s going to happen.

But, Mike Damone (played, very well, by Robert Romanus, who is only an actor and shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of a fictional character) — every time, I find myself hoping you’ll do the right thing and every time, you let me down.

Oh sure.  I know that you tried to raise the money to help pay for Stacy’s abortion.  I saw the scene of you on the phone in your bedroom, begging people to finally pay for the tickets that you’d sold them.  I know that you tried but when you couldn’t get the money, where were you?  When Stacy had to ask her older brother, Brad, for a ride to the clinic, where were you?  After Stacy left the clinic, she found Brad waiting for her.  Brad agreed not to ask Stacy who had gotten her pregnant.  He agreed not to tell their parents.  Brad was there for his sister.  Where were you, Mike Damone?

What really upsets me is that, up until you abandoned Stacy, you were one of the more likable characters in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.  I mean, sure — you didn’t get to deliver any classic lines like Spicoli did.  And you weren’t adorably shy like Mark.  But, Mike Damone — I believed in you!  We all believed in you!  (Imagine me doing my best Tyra Banks imitation here.)  You were a cocky guy who spent all of your time selling concert tickets at the mall but you know what?  We all assumed that, underneath all of the attitude, there secretly lurked a good guy.  I mean, we could tell that you sincerely cared about your friend Mark and, because we’re all fools apparently, we even thought that maybe Stacy could bring out the real you.  When Stacy sat there writing “Mrs. Stacy Damone” on her test paper in history class, we understood.  Because, after all, we’ve all had a Mike Damone in our life.

Rat and Mike

Rat and Mike

But then, what happened?  Well, first, you had sex with Stacy despite the fact that you knew Mark liked her.  Of course, for all your bluster and talk, it turned out that sex with Mike Damone amounted to 2 minutes of squirming followed by that classic line, “I think I came.”  And then you left, saying those words that every girl dreams of hearing from someone she’s just been with: “I’ll see you around.”  (Or maybe you said, “I’ll give you a call,” or “I’ve got to go now.”  Either way, it was a pretty shitty thing to say, Damone.)

fast-times-at-ridgemont-high.19729

As you may have guessed, Fast Times At Ridgemont High is not your typical teen comedy.  In fact, over three decades since it was first released, it remains one of the best and most perceptive films about teenagers ever made.  Over on the A.V. Club, Keith Phipps refers to Fast Times as being “a Trojan horse of a teen comedy that balanced lowbrow gags with subtle humor, genuine insight .. and pathos,” and that’s such a perfect description that I’m not at all ashamed to repeat it word-for-word here.

Don’t get me wrong.  Though Fast Times At Ridgemont High has a lot more drama than you would expect from a film with the words “Fast Times” in the title, it’s also an undeniably funny film.  It’s just that, unlike so many other teen comedies, the comedy comes from a very real place.  This is one of those rare films where the characters are funnier than the situations that they find themselves in.  You laugh because you relate to the characters.  (Admitedly, you might also laugh at what some of them are wearing.  Mike Damone’s keyboard print scarf comes to mind…)

Hey I Know That Guy

Spicoli and Hand

Like many classic teen films — American Graffiti, Fame and Dazed and Confused, to cite just three obvious examples — Fast Times At Ridgemont High is an ensemble piece that follows several different students as they survive a year at Ridgemont High.  Sean Penn’s Jeff Spicoli is the character that everyone always mentions as a favorite and indeed, he does get the best lines and his battles with Mr. Hand (Ray Waltson) are definitely a highlight of the film.  People also always mention Linda (Pheobe Cates), who has a boyfriend in college and who walks in on Brad while he’s fantasizing about her.  And yes, Linda is a memorable character and not just because she bares her breasts during Brad’s fantasy.  She’s also Stacy’s best friend and I think we’ve all had a friend like Linda, someone who we looked up to and assumed had all the answers.  For that matter, Brad is also an interesting character and there’s something undeniably fascinating about watching as he goes from being a carefree, popular teen to being a guy working behind the counter at 7-11.

(If only Brad had not gotten Arnold that job at All-American Burger…)

Agck!

Agck!

However, for me, the film will always be about Stacy, if just because she’s the character to which I relate.  I know when I was 15, I felt a lot like Stacy and, every time I watch Fast Times, I feel like some of Stacy’s experiences could have been taken straight out of my diary.  I had the same combination of confidence and insecurity and the same questions about why boys could talk like men but never act like them.  Stacy, of course, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who gives a remarkably brave and vulnerable performance in this film.  Off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the Oscar for best supporting actress of 1982 but it doesn’t matter.  Jennifer Jason Leigh should have won it.

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Jennifer Jason Leigh in Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Fast Times is often referred to as being a Cameron Crowe film, largely because Crowe famously went undercover at an actual high school while writing the book that served as the basis for his script.  And yes, Fast Times is filled with scenes and characters that feel undeniably Cameron Crowe-like.  However, Fast Times was directed by Amy Heckerling and thank God for that.  Heckerling brings a sensitive touch to material that a male director would be tempted to play solely for exploitation.  Cameron Crowe may have written the script but it’s definitely an Amy Heckerling film.

And, sorry, Mike Damone — you’re still a little prick.

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick

Mike Damone, a.k.a. Little Prick