Teen Movie Hell
by Mike “McBeardo” McPadden
Generation X has long been searching for its cultural relevance. The thing we would be remembered for. The Baby Boomers got television and rock n roll. Gen X? Maybe we get to lay claim to VHS and cable TV, and the thing we watched and bonded over even more that slasher movies in our basements, family rooms, and bedrooms were teen sex comedies. Horror films were omnipresent, but not as universally consumed. Not every girl could sit through My Bloody Valentine, but Private Lessons? Sure. Although initially these movies were viewed in mall multiplexes or the final vestiges of drive-ins most made their way into our homes and hearts via repeated viewings on cable, partially scrambled cable or VHS tape. Risky Business, Private Lessons, Valley Girl and Porky’s became the stuff of legend in the hallways, locker rooms, and study halls of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Film and pop culture writer, and contributor to Gilbert Gottfried Amazing Colossal Podcast, Mike “McBeardo” McPadden has followed up his 2014 cult film bible Heavy Metal Movies with a look at the steamy side of 1980s adolescence subtly titled Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!. This is one of those books you will find yourself reading with a notepad or your Amazon app open to make note of titles you need to watch or rewatch. Did you know there were four Meatballs movies? Before long you will start to realize how many Teen Movie Hell titles are not readily available to watch on streaming or disc with some fetching kingly prices for ancient VHS tapes on eBay.
McBeardo gets the author’s credit but there are also great guest contributors to both film reviews and framing essays from genre critics Kat Ellinger, Samm Deighan, Kier-La Janisse, and even a memoir of being a teen movie nerd from the king of the movie nerds Eddie Deezen (Eugene from Grease & Grease 2, Wargames).
McPadden through his many capsule reviews in the book strikes some notable through lines that keep the book from becoming more than simply encyclopedic plot synopsis. One theme he keeps hitting is the dividing line in the style of these films that was created by the wealthy suburban oeuvre of John Hughes’ teen series. The films, especially The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, get a surprising and deserved smackdown. “…reinvent teen cinema in his own over privileged, suburban, conceited adolescent image” McPadden even envisions Ferris Bueller and the tagline cum mission statement “Leisure Rules” to the the mind controlling aliens in John Carpenter’s They Live and their message “Obey” Pre-Breakfast Club these movies were generally about the misfits, post-Breakfast Club teen movies focused more and more on the cool kids. Like if Animal House made the Omegas the the heroes. The 16 point take down of Sixteen Candles is in itself a work of art and that alone makes this book worthy of purchase. Another through line is how many of these films were oddly out of touch with their intended audience judged by the square music on the soundtracks and the sheer volume of nostalgic settings of the ’50s and ’60s. For a genre so rooted in the new wave ’80s the films are populated by staggering number of poodle skirts and pompadour not to mention the plots recycled from the movies.of that era to the point some of the films are Frankie and Annette beach party movies…with boobs. This trope was at its most obvious low water mark with a remake of the 1960 George Hamilton & Connie Francis spring break snoozer Where the Boys Are in 1984. It is also theorized that the vintage settings were an attempt to sanitize some of the sexual mores of the 1980s. Basically teachers having sex with students or rape as a prank was more palatable with a period setting and doo wop on the soundtrack. McPadden also deftly addresses the specter of today’s sensibilities when addressing the less than proud treatment of women in some of the titles presented. He does so without finger wagging and is able to put the films and attitudes expressed into proper historical and cultural context and praises the films that manage to have female characters full of sex appeal and agency.
The volume is not without controversy. Many will be taken aback by the criticism of John Hughes and there is also a shocking, considering its reputation, take down of Valley Girl by Christina Ward that views the film from the perspective that Randy twists his nice guy status (as opposed to Tommy’s terrible guy) into scorned jerk you stalks Julie, culminating in violence against her boyfriend in an attempt to win her back. McPadden shows great love for his subject matter even forcing re-evaluations of Little Darlings, Preppies and The Last American Virgin. The once legendary and nearly forgotten Jodie Foster girl pack flick Foxes gets some much deserved love. One missed opportunity is failing to recognize that the Tom Matheson-led dud Up the Creek is basically a raunchy college age remake of 1977’s Race for Your Life Charlie Brown.
McPadden and company manage to avoid some major pitfalls with Teen Movie Hell. The tone of the book is neither too fanish or too scholarly. The book never looks down on the films covered but treats them with the respect they deserve without resorting to lowest common denominator gimmicks like a babe meter or a rating system for each film (2.5 kegs for Hot Dog: The Movie). Never afraid to call out a bad film and willing to praise those that deserve a second look. Although everyone has a film that could have been added, there are no glaring omissions, nor is it padded with dubious titles. Teen Movie Hell is an obvious labor of love and deserves a well-thumbed place on the bookcase or back of the toilet of any self respecting fan of boobs and beer movies of the ’80s.