Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!
by Mike “Beardo” McPadden
Readers of a certain age probably still recall the illicit thrill of tuning in HBO or Showtime and gorging on a feast of teen sex comedies after the adults were finally asleep. Whether set in a college, military academy, beach rental, or anywhere else teenagers might gather, all producers needed were some uptight authority figures, some 20-something actors willing to portray teens, and a plethora of actresses willing to take their tops off.
These movies were wildly profitable, and for better or worse taught a generation of teens and pre-teens how to interact with the opposite sex, deal with the trials of growing up, and how to stage a totally humiliating prank.
These vital life lessons are available again in Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped, a book celebrating the teen movie genre that flourished from the late ’70s to the late ’80s. Of course, times have changed and what once seemed subversive and edgy can now seem creepy and sexist. So how does author Mike “Beardo” McPadden handle a book about teen sex comedies in the age of #Me Too and wokeness? Surprisingly well, actually. While it would have been easy to take a “I just want to look at naked ladies but the PC police won’t let me have any fun” approach, McPadden is surprisingly nuanced and thoughtful, taking into account the changing of mores and outlooks that have occurred in the intervening years.
McPadden and his contributors deal with problematic elements in films like Blame It On Rio or Revenge of the Nerds without falling back on lame “those were different times” excuses, and call out bad behavior when they see it, like in McPadden’s line in a thoughtful and incisive review of Revenge of the Nerds, stating “…The film’s misogyny is not misunderstood by modern viewers â€” it’s just misogyny.”
However, this is a book on teen sex comedies, so each movie review contains headers alerting the discerning viewer to essential aspects of the film, including items like Jocks, Japanese Businessmen, Big Fat Party Animals, and Bikini Snatching Dogs.
Teen Movie Hell deftly balances an appreciation of these films with a critical eye, and it helps that McPadden can turn a memorable phrase such as his comment “I hope every character in Getting Wasted was drafted and died in the invasion of Grenada” or commenting on Tim Robbins’ “relentless shirtlessness.” McPadden is firmly on the slobs side in the eternal “snobs vs slobs” conflict that fuels many of these films, leading him to decry many of John Hughes’ characters as snobs in waiting, and pointing out that the heroes in Porkys are actually in the wrong. He also has a soft spot for the “bombastic, glorious bad taste” exemplified in shoestring exploitation flicks like the amazing King Frat or Joysticks.
Complete with essays on crafting the ultimate teen movie mix tape, defenses of dance-offs, the historical roots of the teen sex comedy, and thoughts by uber-nerd Eddie Deezen, Teen Movie Hell is the ultimate guide to ’80s teen comedies, and a valuable resource for viewers that desperately need to find a movie with a nerd, a big fat party animal, and a wet T-shirt contest.