Following in the footsteps of FilmsFilmsFilms Christmas movie extravaganza, our thirteenth movie marathon was another collaborative effort, each marathoner choosing their favourite film from a chosen genre. The category this time was cheesy eighties movies, something that stoked the excitement of every marathoner as they rummaged in the back of their closets for shoulder padded jackets, fingerless gloves, leg warmers and long forgotten VHS tapes.
Hollywood eighties output is fairly maligned, but unlike other time periods the movies from that era are more closely tied to their time than any other decade. The noughties, nineties, seventies, and sixties all produced tremendous cinema but the films from these decades are not as synonymous with the time they were made like films from the eighties are. New discoveries in consumer technology allowed for bold strides forward from 1980 onwards. In retrospect some of the resulting art, the fashion, the films, the music, hasn’t aged terribly well but there’s no denying their strength of identity; you know an eighties pop song when you hear it, you know an eighties movie when you see one.
As a result we were all spoilt for choice when it came to choosing our one movie for this excess fuelled marathon. We had no such limits when it came to our food and beverage choices though. There was a feast of food we could call upon to conjure up the decade; Sparkle ice-lollies, Pot Noodles, Wham Bars, Salt ‘n’ Shake crisps, Findus Crispy Pancakes, Nerds, Funny Feet ice cream, Um-Bongo, Capri Suns, Space Raiders, it was an endless menu. When we tried to think of the sort of food and drink that would accompany a seventies or nineties movie marathon we struggled to think of more than two or three items tops. Good taste was thin on the ground during the eighties, but it’s a ten year stretch that will be remembered long after other decades have been long forgotten.
80s vinyl Dorito bowls...they're the future!
A little after ten in the morning Ghostbusters (1984) kicked off our celebration. Many an eighties flick has been given a kicking by the harsh eye of history but Ivan Reitman’s classic action comedy isn’t one of them. Combining fond nostalgia with genuine scriptwriting and acting talent, Ghostbusters climbs ever higher up greatest-films-of-all-time lists, and rightly so. It was the one movie I use to watch to death as a kid, but even now I’m still discovering new delights. None more welcome is the inadvertent flash of Sigourney Weaver’s left boob when she is dragged armchair and all to her Gozer driven fate, pointed out to me by an eagle eyed fellow viewer. The toe tapping soundtrack has the marathoners searching Google to see of if it’s still available, while I try to recall where my cassette copy is and whether the sounds of Laura Brannigan, the Bus Boys and the Alessi Brothers are still salvageable. Through mouthfuls of roast beef Monster Munch we all wonder what the hell happened to Rick Moranis, while we end the movie with a raise of our Um-Bongo cartons in honour of the late Harold Ramis.
The Ghostbuster library ghost...can still turn your pants brown.
We up the cheese next with John G Avildsen’s The Karate Kid (1984). Remarkably there are a couple of marathoners who haven’t seen the film before and the puzzlement on their faces during the wax-on-wax-off scenes brings back fond memories, as does the nod of approval when Mr Miyagi finally shows Daniel-san that he wasn’t just after some cheap child labour after all. Ralph Macchio inspires yet more where are they now conversations, while none of us can actually believe that the stick thin actor was twenty-one years old when he shot the movie. A glowingly adolescent Elisabeth Shue seems to have a good five years on him, but was the younger of the pair when the cameras rolled thirty years ago. Joe Esposito’s “You’re The Best” prompts another Google soundtrack search and dodgy renditions from the more learned marathoners.
The best around...and nothing's ever gonna keep him down!
Early afternoon and we reach our third film, a tribute to the wealth of awesome cartoons and toylines that dominated so many of our childhoods, Transformers: The Animated Movie (1986). There’s quite a bit to dissuade film fans in Nelson Shin’s movie. The plot pacing only knows one speed, kicking off at a million miles an hour and maintaining its full throttle approach right up to the end credits. The soundtrack, which while pleasing to hair metal fans, is borderline inappropriate through most of the film, particularly the choice of an upbeat rock tune played over the Megatron / Optimus battle which threatens to suck all of the drama out of the death of the Autobot leader. These niggles aside though the film is a blast, looking even more stunning on updated blu-ray. The endless robot carnage would have Hollywood studios shitting a brick these days, as would the barmy voice cast which pulled in a bizarre collection of performers including Eric Idle, Leonard Nimoy, Judd Nelson and Orson Welles. These also some laughs along the way, though most of them are inadvertent, none more so than the wacky dance scene when Hot Rot, the Dinobots and the Junkions boogie on down for reasons none of us can fathom.
Optimus, about to become mechanical worm food to a strangely uplifting soundtrack.
No eighties marathon would be complete without an explosive slice of police action, and one of the best sequels of the decade, Beverly Hills Cop II (1987) is next up to provide the goods. For added authenticity, and for the first time in FilmsFilmsFilms movie marathon history, we blow the dust off of our old video player, adjust the tracking and slot in a VHS cassette. None of us have a clue as to whether it will run on a 55” HD television, but the Scart connection does us proud and we revel in the long forgotten joy of fast-forwarding through the intro trailers to get to Axel Foley’s second trip to California. Though far from blu-ray standard, the picture isn’t that bad. Any grainy flicker is lost amongst the frantic pace, cheeky laughs, guns, explosions, naked strippers, car chases, swearing and general eighties mayhem that made up so many of the decades hit movies. It’s the cinematic equivalent of gorging on candy floss, cheap, bad for you, but undeniably pleasurable.
"Less Axel Foley, more Freddie Mercury" declares one marathoner
Moving on to a less obvious path to movie joy, our fourth film, Beetlejuice (1988) is the definition of a Marmite picture. A comedic take on Carnival of Lost Souls (1962) dead-but-not-dead plot, director Tim Burton ensured his film was the embodiment of off-kilter. Whether off-kilter is your thing or whether you prefer more linear, grounded storytelling will make or break the movie. Burton’s titular star and headline actor, Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice, doesn’t even appear until over halfway through, by which time we’re already confounded by the strangely off-world setting that dead couple Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis occupy. You never find out where their chocolate-box village is, and any connections to the greater outside world are equally oddball, summed up by the Deetzes family and their strange companions and business associates. It’s a weird movie, entertainingly so, and undoubtedly one that could only have been made during a decade where the studios really didn’t give much of a toss about content providing a film was turning over a profit.
Entering our fifth and final movie, film fatigue isn’t an issue due in part to the monster amount of calories we’ve consumed but also due to the ease at which an eighties classic passes by. Our last hoorah is The Naked Gun: From The Files of Police Squad! (1988). The comedy writing/producing/directing trio of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker had already had some success during the decade with Airplane! (1980), but the failure of Top Secret! (1984) and Ruthless People (1986) left them in need of a hit. Returning to their cancelled Police Squad! television show they rejoined with the incomparable dead-pan talents of Leslie Nielsen and delivered one of the finest comedies of all time. Less a story and more a collection of some of the greatest comedy moments of the decade, we’re never more than a minute or two away from a cinematic gag that has entered Hollywood folklore. The films brand of near-to-the-mark, gross-out comedy was one of the few eighties genres to make inroads into subsequent decades, taken forward by the Farrelly Brothers, Seth Rogen, Ben Stiller and many others.
We reach the end of our marathon at just before ten in the evening and the resounding chorus over the Naked Gun end credits is “when are we doing the next eighties marathon?”. Despite having a range of ages amongst the marathoners, including a number who weren’t even born until after the decade was in the history books, everyone loves the unapologetic nature of eighties movies. They appeal to the most basic entertainment needs in all of us, and while it’s enjoyable to dine on the filet mignon of Citizen Kane (1941), now and again you just have to stuff your face with a Big Mac; and that’s an itch only an eighties movie can scratch. Calendars are consulted and another endless list of eighties classics are debated over as we try and decide when our next eighties movie revival is going to take place. Mark my words, it won’t be long.