THE EIGHTIES BEGIN WITH TIME TRAVEL, HISTORY, AND THE BIRTH OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL FILM FRANCHISE IN HISTORY
1980, the fateful year I received my first Dungeons and Dragons set. The year was loaded with low budget sci fi and horror as the decade of excess started, and Supermodels led the charge. Saturn 3 starred Farrah Fawcett, Galaxina had the last appearance of Playboy Bunny superstar Dorothy Stratten.And who can forget the controversy surrounding teen model Brooke Shield’s nude bodysuit in The Blue Lagoon. And speaking of sex, Richard Gere turned on the bedroom eyes with American Giglo, and gave us one of Blondies’ best songs, Call Me!
Did someone say songs? Who can forget… FLASH! AHHHH AHHH! the campiest of camp, Flash Gordon and Queen’s iconic soundtrack? Speaking of soundtracks, John Travolta’s Urban Cowboy did the same thing for Mickey Gilley and Johnny Lee that Saturday Night Fever did for the Bee Gees. Sissy Spacek told us about The Coal Miner’s Daughter, Dolly Parton and company worked 9-5, Fame gave Irene Cara another hit. And how about the musical fantasy of Xanadu? You have to believe it is magic… even though it killed the musical genre on screen for a decade or so. Heaven’s Gate did the same for westerns through most of the 80’s.
Comedies reigned. Airplane mocked the disaster movies of the 70’s, the Blues Brothers went on mission from God, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor went Stir Crazy, and Clint Eastwood wanted to get things done Any Which You Can. Caddyshack told us I’m Alright, and gave us another comedy franchise.
John Carpenter followed up Halloween with The Fog. Friday the 13th carried on the Slasher genre started by Carpenter. Halloween scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis went to Prom Night. Art House directors went horror when Stanley Kubrick infamously adapted Stephen King’s The Shining and Brian De Palma followed up Carrie with Dressed To Kill. George C. Scott gave us chills in The Changeling. We also had Humanoids from the Deep, Mother’s Day, and down in South America we got a Cannibal Holocaust. The weird and horrific tried to go mainstream. A decades long meme was created with David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (“I am not an animal! I am a human being!”). The imagination of Richard Matheson still enthralled the public with Time After Time, and though Christopher Reeve showed his romantic chops in the movie, he again showed the world a man could fly and kick ass in Superman II.
Action movies were starting to take hold when Chuck Norris went to The Octagon to fight Ninjas. As opposed to John Carpenter’s undead, Peter Benchly gave us living anachronistic pirates in The Island, Richard Jordan’s Dirk Pitt tried to Raise The Titanic, and Mark Hammil joined the First Infantry Division in The Big Red One. But my 3 most favorite films to crawl out of 1980 shouldn’t surprise any of you.
3 The Final Countdown – What would happen if a Nuclear powered aircraft carrier went back in time to the days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor? The USS Nimitz gets to answer that question. I love this movie. The cast is stellar. Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farantino, Charles Durning, and a still sexy as hell Katherine Ross. And to make it better? Lloyd Kaufman produced it.
2 Walter Hill’s The Long Riders is a bloody, gun toting spectacle. The premise was novel, take real life acting siblings and cast them as the James-Younger Gang and tell the story of Jesse James and Cole Younger. They enlisted the Carradine brothers (David, Keith, and Robert) to play the Youngers, and Stacy and James Keech to play Frank and Jess, respectively. I watch this movie yearly. It’s one of my most favorite westerns of all time. It portrays the Civil War veterans as real people, with real problems, from their time as guerilla fighters, to their failed daytime bank robbery and Jesse’s assassination.
1 …and still the best film of the Skywalker Star Wars Saga, The Empire Strikes Back. What more can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said? How about some trivia. In the 80s there was no such thing as “spoilers” or outrage over the same. You see, a month before the film hit the multiplexes of the shopping malls, Donald F. Glut’s novelization was released, a fantastic adaptation of the movie’s screenplay, it flushed out more of Luke’s training, and filled us all in on a little secret. You see, going into The Empire Strikes, all the die hard fans who read the book already knew Darth Vader was Luke’s… father. But it didn’t make it any less exciting of a reveal – the actors, especially Mark, made it work. The editing and pacing, something that has always been a saving grace of this film series, made it work. Oh, and we were relieved Yoda didn’t look like the Marvel Comics purple elf.