’80s Movie Night
RoboCop, Flowers in the Attic, & Jake Speed
As we live in a time of seemingly endless streaming entertainment options, there are few experiences that cause mass cultural nostalgia like a trip to the video store. Be it a mom & pop outfit or the big blue behemoth Blockbuster everyone of a certain age found classics, trash, and hidden treasure while roaming the aisles of garish VHS cover art in search of the weekend’s entertainment. Arrow Video has three separate new releases that hearken back to the golden days of VHS rentals with RoboCop (1987), Flowers in the Attic (1987), and Jake Speed (1986)
Flowers in the Attic
As a teenager in the 1980s reading V.C. Andrew’s Flowers in the Attic was a rite of passage. The tale of gothic horror, child abuse, and incest was hidden behind a striking but non-salacious book cover and the legend of the book and its sequels grew in the halls of junior and senior high schools though the Reagan administration. V.C. Andrews was the queen of modern gothic before her untimely death and her name becoming a brand ghost-written for decades by prolific junk novelist Andrew Neiderman. In 1987 the inevitable film adaptation was unleashed and was met with a mix of indifference and outrage. Now decades, and seemingly endless ghost written V.C. Andrews novels later, Arrow Video is giving the film a chance for a fresh evaluation.
The film suffers from a middle of the road approach that just doesn’t satisfy. The movie needs to either be a gorgeous prestige film or better lean in on the sleaze and just make the whole affair as bonkers as V.C. Andrews’ book really is.
Diabolique Magazine editor Kat Ellinger provides a commentary track tracing the film and book’s roots through the tradition of American Gothic literature, the troubled production including a false start that would have been directed by Wes Craven and starred Dana Plato. Given a chance to not only explore a much maligned motion picture but also deep dive on gothic tropes and themes, Ellinger has a blast on her commentary track with an infectious enthusiasm.
Although marketed as a mixture of Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone, Jake Speed is in actuality a parody of pulpy action heroes like Mack Bolan: The Executioner and Doc Savage. The conceit of the film is the action heroes are real and the novels are true accounts of their exploits. The premise is sound but the post-Roger Corman New World Pictures spared all expense on this threadbare production that needed a bit more punch up to the script. It is an odd film that only makes some kind of sense once you realize it is meant to be funny. The gags aren’t broad enough so too many of the references just fall flat without a good working knowledge of the action novel tropes the film is poking at. Jake Speed also has the distinction of being shot on location in Zimbabwe and the revolution sub-plot feels like it has more verisimilitude than is comfortable. Dennis Christopher (Fade to Black) plays Desmond Floyd, Jake Speed’s right hand man/chronicler, who is easily the most engaging character in the film and John Hurt maniacally over-acts as the film’s white slaver are really the saving graces of the film, that nonetheless has enjoyed modest cult status for decades.
The Blu-Ray has good picture and sound with a pair of interviews with writer/producer/director Andrew Lane and producer William Fay.
Although a sizeable hit when released to cinemas in July of 1987 it would home video and cable television that would turn Paul Verhoven’s RoboCop into the beloved classic it is today. The film spawned two sequels, a remake, two live action TV series, two animated TV series, comic books, video games, and more. The tone and style of the film would influence action and sci-fi for decades.
In Detroit of the near future corporate conglomerate Omni Consumer Products owns the city’s hospitals, prisons, and most importantly the police department. OCP want to gentrify a large section of the city, but needs to get crime under control in order to make it profitable. They have a prototype of a police robot, ED-209, they hope will not only eradicate crime on the streets of Detroit, but also open up the military marketplace. At its unveiling the ED-209 brutally murders a junior executive sending the ED-209 to the back burner and opening the way for the fall-back RoboCop program.
When policeman Alex Murphy (Peter Weller, Leviathan) is ambushed and murdered by a gang of bank robbers, his body is selected to be robotically enhanced and programmed into RoboCop. Murphy is treated as a machine by his OCP handlers but with the aid of his partner, Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen, Blow Out) he regains his memories and humanity before embarking on revenge against the gang that murdered him and the corporation that turned him into RoboCop.
Paul Vehoven’s film has been in constant circulation on all home video formats and television providers since 1988, but this Arrow Video set easily trumps them all both in terms of quality of the film’s presentation and the wealth of extra content available.
If you’ve ever experienced the Mandela Effect watching RoboCop, it may have to do with the many different edits of the film. The theatrical version, TV edits, and the “uncut” or director’s cut have all found their ways into the world’s living rooms over the years. This release contains the theatrical cut, director’s cut, and a television edit. There are side by side compilations of scenes comparing the theatrical cut to the director’s cut and the theatrical cut to the TV edit, which is particularly interesting as this compilation also shows what is lost visually in the pan & scan process used to reformat the film for television. There are four audio commentaries, and more than a dozen featurettes on the creation of this enduring touchstone of pop culture.