As I write this on a Thursday evening, my neighbors are having a wingding. A very loud one at that. Based on my knowledge of 1980s coming-of-age films, I can only assume that everyone is chugging beers, dancing to Buckner & Garcia’s “Pac-Man Fever,” grabbing their joysticks, holding burp-n-fart contests, and maybe indulging in random pointless consensual nudity. Good for them. Anyway, the ’80s.
Ah, the ’80s. It was a magical time. Ya drank a lot of fruit coolers, did a lot of coke, and voted for Ronald Reagan. Well, if you were an adult you may have done that. If you were a teen who was too young to take part in those activities you probably asked your parents to drop you and your friend off at a place like the Citadel Mall so you could do such splendorous things as visit Spencer’s Gifts to buy fake dog poo and gawk at posters of hot chicks sprawled across Porsches.
That hefty day of activity would probably conclude with a visit to National Home Video to rent a movie or three. Every once in a while, when you could get away with it, you’d rent films with such subtle titles as Screwballs, Oddballs, Meatballs, Beachballs Joysticks, Lemon Popsicle (and its remake, The Last American Virgin). Those films were filled with all the things a hormonal ’80s male would want.
[image-1] Like many ’80s escapees, I rented a lot of these films. Thanks to streaming services, I’ll sometimes revisit these films for a nostalgic trip that ultimately turns into a cringe fest. For example, recently I rewatched the 1979 disasterpiece King Frat.
If you rearrange the word “frat,” you get the word “fart”. And that’s what this film is: one massive fart. A good chunk of the Animal House rip-off involves a $500 fart contest in the midst of all the drinking, puking, burping, laughing, and random nudity. Those factors aside, King Frat and films of its ilk were little more than porno movies watered-down for 13-year-olds.
A similar description opens Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s book, Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped! — the reason I am writing this article.
The book looks at coming-of-age comedies from the 1925 classic, The Freshman to the American Pie franchise. The crux of the book is focused on the oh-so-smutty ’80s and an appreciation for the boner comedies’ Mad magazine-style raunchiness. Lamentations of the more problematic stuff (racial stereotypes, homophobia, and general shitty treatment of women) that were prevalent in the genre are also peppered throughout.
With a handful of exceptions like Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Pretty In Pink, any attempts at character development were usually reserved for white guys and “harmless” acts of mischief like peeping in Porky’s and using telekinetic powers to rip a woman’s blouse open in Zapped!
[image-2] Thirty-plus years later, it’s pretty easy to see how fucked up movies, like Revenge Of The Nerds, could be. Even an excellent film like John Hughes’ Sixteen Candles involved one cool guy harmlessly “giving” his shit-faced girlfriend to a horny dork and Gedde Watanabe’s notorious performance as Long Duk Dong.
Speaking of John Hughes, one standout of McPadden’s reviews would be his take on the ever hallowed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. As much as I, and many others, love and admire the film and the protagonist’s coasting through life, I equally love and admire McPadden’s takedown of a film he views as “poisonous garbage” that was a 180 of the anarchic spirit Hughes’ once demonstrated when he wrote for National Lampoon.
And that is only one of over 350 (!) films spotlighted by the author and I have yet to mention the multiple essays that sandwich the films highlighted. Essays like Katie Rife’s “Modern Girls,” a piece devoted to the 21st century female directors, Kier-La Janisse’s breakdown on student-teacher relations in “Hot For Teachers” and Kat Ellinger’s “The Ellinger Code: Teen Sex Comedies in the Age of #MeToo and for All Eternity” were my personal favorites.
Not to hang onto the raunchiness but what makes Teen Movie Hell a lively work is that outside of being an enthusiastic ride through a mostly ’80s dominated genre, it also makes a good book to read while on the can. Working as a reference guide, you could just turn to any page in the book and read either a breezy breakdown/review of any film or a thoughtful essay on the cringe-tastic genre itself.
While I’m probably the target demo, I believe that this book could still be an engrossing read for those with a passing interest. I hope this doesn’t come out the wrong way, like American Pie‘s Finch after a laxative poisoning, but Mr. McPadden, your book makes for great bathroom reading.