Those Effing Eighties

Man, the 80s were weird. The movies I grew up on were beyond strange, they verged on the distastefully surreal. What I mean by that is: inappropriate for children. Thing is, I never realized it as a kid. I watched these movies and ate them up (as did my VCR when we wore the tapes to shreds) and then proceeded to have endless series of nightmares about the Swamp of Sadness and Electro-shock therapy and detached heads.

Tonight we dwelled in those crazy messed up 80s with another Midnite for Maniacs: Return to Oz, Beetle Juice, and Meet the Feebles.

Return to Oz is one of those movies that I watched over and over again, torturing myself each time. I think this movie sort of shaped my love for all things campy and horror with the silly and over-the-top graphics and characters. Still, the Claymation created by Will Vinton stands up, in a California Raisons kind of way.

While moments of Return to Oz are still very affecting – and, frankly, terrifying. even as an adult – there are a lot of childish antics that don’t quite capture my attention these days. Which is why this movie is so bizarre to me. Why the mixture between genuinely frightening scenes such as a headless queen with a room full of detached heads to choose from and silly, Jar-Jar Binks-style humor? It seems to be a genre only the 80s employed. Kind of like Pixar’s middle-age-angst for kids these days. 

I’m not complaining. I think these millenium kids could do with a little toughening up. This coming from me after spending a summer teaching computer camp to 13 year-olds. Trust me, those little shits need some electro-shock, wheeler, tick-tock, tough love.

And then there’s the nostalgia trip that is Beetle Juice. It’s a miracle I was still straight after watching that movie as a kid. A tragic, tragic miracle. Winona Ryder is the most beautiful, hilarious, gothic 12-year-old I’ve ever seen. And those bangs! I wanted those bangs so badly!

In addition to Winona Ryder’s bangs, Catherine O’Hara performs in the best dance sequence recorded on film. Her face is fabulous. Sometimes she reminds of Lucille Ball or Guilietta Masena, sometimes she’s more Glenn Close, and I love her. But let’s not forget the tragedy that is the ending of Beetle Juice. Lydia is transformed into a dancing, fluffy banged silly.

What can I say about Meet the Feebles besides it’s completely ridiculous. The most ridiculous puppet movie I’ve ever seen, I’d say. And that’s including Muppet Treasure Island. At some point – right about the time the diseased rabbit pops one of his “rabbit pox” all over the mirror  – I had to just decide to go with it and soak in all the blood, and guts, and heroin that is the Feeble production. Gross. Disgusting. Strangely intriguing. When will Peter Jackson make a sequel?



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8 responses to “Those Effing Eighties

  1. This reminds me of some of stuff A.O. Scott talked about in his Enchanted review, when he talked about “just-right” movies – movies that are perfectly suited in every way for kids. When what kids really want is something just beyond what they can handle. I know I liked my share of just-right movies when I was kid, but the appeal of stuff like this was also endless.

    My main memory of this was Ghostbusters. A totally weird and surreal movie, with plenty of sex humor, that I just loved. It seems like kinda a silly (but great) movie now, but watching it when I was in elementary school blew my mind.

  2. But at least Ghostbusters wasn’t necessarily made for kids. There are movies like Brave Little Toaster or Never Ending Story that are fucked up in a lot of ways, but are actually made FOR children. I don’t know why they make those…what their motives are…but I LOVE them.

  3. Yeah, I meant to mention that in my comic, but I forgot to. I was gonna say, you can still get that weird-ass vibe for your kids if you do what A.O. Scott did and take them to Sweeney Todd, but they don’t make kids movies with that vibe anymore.

    When Thomas Disch died (who I had never heard of) I read his obit and it sounded like he was one bitter, misanthropic, messed-up motherfucker. And then it mentioned that he wrote The Brave Little Toaster, and all of a sudden lots of things made sense.

  4. I only caught the last two of these shows, but it was basically heaven. And I’m more in love with Lydia Deets now than ever before, I think. I’m glad Winona Ryder will always be remembered (by me) as either a hot goth girl or a hot robot.

  5. Love Beetlejuice, even today I can watch it, but Lydia’s a bit too young for me … when I was a kid, the original Wizard of Oz terrified me, but the Queen looking for her head … oy.

    Do you not think that part of maturing is learning what to be truly frightened of and what not to be? And that these categories are constantly confused — many times on purpose — by the powers that be? We sholdn’t be afraid of evil spirits, but the vice president or the Federal Reserve … now THAT should scare the bejesus out of us.

  6. Truly, Michael Clayton is the scariest film ever made.

  7. brian

    wizard of oz is a good example that kids movies — good kids movies — are usually kind of messed up. maybe i should rephrase that. movies i liked as a kid that, when i see now, are still awesome are usually messed up.

    but i do agree that they create the wrong kinds of fears. i mean, if ghosts are real, there’s little chance they’re anything like they’re portrayed in movies. they’re more likely just like people except without bodies.

  8. Maybe that’s why a movie like Beethoven is so good. Teaches kids to be afraid of animal cruelty! But I liked Beethoven’s 2nd way more. So many puppies.

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