April 1981 kicks off with one of the year's very best and one of the year's very worst
We've got Susan Sarandon, Kim Basinger and Jan-Michael Vincent, and Jerry Lewis
The premise is simple, but the task is not. Every single movie released in the United States during the 1980s, reviewed in chronological order, published month by month.
Buckle up, because this is The Last ‘80s Newsletter You’ll Ever Need…
The first confirmed diagnosis of a sexually transmitted disease causing Kaposi’s sarcoma was made by Dr. John Gullett in San Francisco.
The first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle Columbia, was launched from Cape Canaveral at 7:00 AM EST.
John Kennedy O’Toole won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his debut, the amazing, remarkable A Confederacy of Dunces a full 12 years after he killed himself because he was despondent that he couldn’t get the book published.
And the very first test drive of Bigfoot, the very first monster truck, took place in a field near St. Louis, Missouri. And, oh, yes, shit was crushed.
Do ratings mean anything to kids anymore?
I genuinely don’t know. My kids have a particular relationship with MPAA ratings because my wife made a very big deal about them in a way I disagreed with, and that disagreement often got quite heated. In my house growing up, my parents also often disagreed with one another, and I was not above exploiting their fundamental differences in what they thought was acceptable in order to see as many films as possible.
This was a landmark month for me. I had seen R-rated films a few times with my parents by this point. It wasn’t a regular thing, but it happened. Mainly, it happened when there was something they really wanted to see and it was cheaper and easier to take me than it was to get a babysitter. This month, though, was different. This month, I started winning my wars to see the things I wanted to see, and it was because I started playing divide and conquer.
For example, I figured my dad would have zero patience for Excalibur, but I knew I had at least a chance of getting my mom interested in it. Sure enough, when I started telling her about it, she seemed very curious. When I told her it was a King Arthur film from the person who made Deliverance, that did it. She took me to see it in the theater in Chattanooga, and I remember how shockingly adult it seemed. Part of that is because of the way John Boorman makes movies in general, and part of that was the nudity and the very frank violence.
Meanwhile, it was the exact opposite for Nighthawks. That one looked like it had my dad’s name written all over it and I got him to take me on a Sunday afternoon. I loved every single second of the experience, especially because of how wild it was. It felt like a harder, crazier version of the kind of thing we watched together on television, and I loved seeing Sylvester Stallone in a different role than Rocky. That was one of many films that my dad and I agreed not to discuss in front of my mom, something that made them feel special.
Both films expanded the envelope of what was considered acceptable. It wasn’t just about getting my parents to take me to see an R-rated movie. It was about talking to them afterward and making sure they didn’t see it as a mistake. There were still plenty of things I wanted to see that didn’t require a negotiation… or at least, not because of the rating. It took quite a bit of begging to get my mother to sit through Caveman, and in the end, she took a book and read the entire time it played. Same thing with Going Ape! Same thing with Hardly Working. I don’t blame her, frankly, looking back at all of them now, but it speaks to the way my parents had already started to lean into my mania.
I give them a lot of credit for indulging me. I know I saw more movies than any of the other kids I was friends with, and it left me frustrated a lot of the time, trying to find someone to talk to about these things. I had different friends for different kinds of movies, the only way I could work out all of the different feelings I had. One friend, in particular, had an older brother who was a maniac for horror films, and he was willing to help us make massive mistakes in judgment. One of those mistakes was either this month or in May when he took us to see The Howling in the theater. I could barely make it through the opening scene of the movie, and when we got to the big transformation scene in the middle of the film, I was so freaked out that I stood up and went and stood by the theater doors, ready to run. I found the experience haunting, and it was definitely because of the size of the imagery. There was no escaping it, none of the safety of watching something on TV with commercials to interrupt or an off switch if I was too scared.
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