Follying around

Movies from the 80s that are BETTER than we REMEMBER

It all depends on the age at which we watched a certain film, as well as the age at which we watch it again.

Odys Korczyński

2 May 2024

It all depends on the age at which we watched a particular film and the age at which we re-watch it, as well as the time that has passed since we first watched it. Our perception of any piece of art changes over time because we change. Usually, this works in favor of art, as with age, we become less critical and more sensitive to nostalgic sentiments. There are, of course, sharp exceptions, where over the years, certain individuals increasingly harshly critique films, aiming to elevate them into a separate realm of art accessible only to “experts.” However, does this make sense when we consider our cultural activities from the perspective of the entirety of culture? No. Given what we often forget, that our cultural life is subject to two main principles we overlook – the butt is always in the back and the only certain future is the change of state to something more suitable for fertilizer or fossils, certainly not conscious creativity. Keeping these two rules in mind, I have selected 10 films that have reached me (or impacted me) over the years, and now I consider them to completely satisfy my cinematic and entertainment taste.

“R.O.T.O.R.”, 1987, dir. Cullen Blaine

I hope that if I have another chance to write about androids, I won’t forget about R.O.T.O.R. This film by the almost anonymous director Cullen Blaine, released in 1987, employs the popular concepts of the Terminator and RoboCop series from that time but modifies them into something truly revolutionary, bringing philosophical reflections on the nature of humanity and the moral ambiguity of technological development to the forefront. And this discourse is conducted as cheaply as possible, with bizarre special effects and amateurish acting. I especially recommend the finale, where the police robot made of an ultra-durable metal alloy gets captured with three lassos, and interestingly, the cowboy method proves effective. What happens next should go down in the history of robotic cinema. Time changes the reception of art, as I mentioned at the beginning. Once, as a teenager, I couldn’t stand to watch this film because I had seen Terminator, but now that Terminator has become familiar, R.O.T.O.R. turns out to be an antidote to the standardized quality of robot stories, which always tend towards one thing – they want to be free. And this film shows that – the path to robot freedom, but in an unprecedented cinematic way.

“Shanghai Surprise”, 1986, dir. Jim Goddard

Better opium than a weapon. A weapon causes suffering, while opium relieves pain – an interesting, pacifist, somewhat hippie philosophy, maybe some would say harmfully leftist, but that’s in today’s context. Back then, such moralizing in films didn’t draw that much attention, but it’s better if the film itself draws attention to it. In the case of “Shanghai Surprise,” not only did the production receive low ratings, but it is also nearly forgotten today. Yet it’s very atmospheric, adventurous, and has a full plot intrigue much more intelligently written than even the popular Indiana Jones of that time. Here we even meet Paul Freeman in an antagonist role, similar to his role in Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, all of this wasn’t enough. The duo of Madonna and Sean Penn proved too exotic for viewers because neither Madonna nor Penn had experience in New Adventure cinema. They did pass the test, though, and years later, “Shanghai Surprise” still surprises positively, especially compared to the bloated productions like “Uncharted.” Additionally, the music, which is hard to find in today’s productions trying to emulate this genre.

“The Lost Warrior”, 1983, dir. David Worth, Fred Williamson

The title is beautiful in its poetic loftiness, not to say kitschiness. The first half of the 80s was fascinated by Mad Max, the impending demise of humanity, and attempts to revive civilization. “The Lost Warrior” may have wanted to refer to this stylistics, but it turned into a pastiche. Judging by the reviews, the film is already dead because it had neither aesthetic form worth appreciating nor a clever script. It was poorly received, although in sum, you can laugh at it rather than be shocked or amazed. There is no pathos in it either, but there is a motorcycle, a machine that emphasizes freedom, if it is to be accepted at all when most of the world has been leveled to the ground. I believe that if the film had better promotion, it would now be better known, perhaps not for quality, but for mediocrity, but that’s also fame that affects the number of views. And so sometimes I just watch it to remind myself how cool this entertainment function of cinema is, without pomp and without a break from the bluster.

“Mannequin”, 1987, dir. Michael Gottlieb

A strange world where stores compete with each other in the design of shop windows, where potential customers stop not to look at things but to admire the story told. I really remember such shop windows from childhood, and now in Poland, I encounter fewer and fewer, at least those made with ideas, where you can guess at some almost plot-like story. Over time, “Mannequin” may have become a warmer and better film for me because it reminded me of those windows and those impressions. But there’s more. In the world of romantic comedies, it shows how shallow today’s genre is, shot without an idea, in a formulaic way. “Mannequin” escapes all these clichés. There’s romance, adventure, a bit of fantasy, and some action elements. Perhaps viewers only remember it as another romantic comedy from the ’80s and don’t want to revisit or seek it out. There are too few such genre combinations to even realize that they are possible.

“Ticket to Hawaii”, 1987, dir. Andy Sidaris

You have to see this film if only for the scene where a radioactive snake enters it, which wanted to have its share in this crazy story about diamonds, drugs, and mafia justice. Additionally, one of the main roles is played by Ronn Moss, an actor known mainly to the Polish audience, perhaps only, for the role of Ridge Forrester in the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.” As it turns out, wasted talent, which should have been in action comedies, is even more apparent after years, when “The Bold and the Beautiful” is no longer so popular. “Ticket to Hawaii” is abundant in everything cheap. The gunshots look like cap guns, even those from handheld missile launchers. Magazines don’t run out, and scantily clad people parade literally everywhere: women and men. Everyone is beautiful, tanned, and doesn’t care about mundane life. And why does this film seem better to me after years – because it has no pathos, and I, like many viewers, am tired of the seriousness of stories told in films.

“Life Force”, 1985, dir. Tobe Hooper

Maybe “Life Force” is a cheap, forgotten film, but it presents a quite rational concept of encountering aliens, certainly more so than all those where UFO representatives are either oversized cockroaches or other slippery insects. There’s nothing groundbreaking in this film, yet you can’t tear yourself away from it. From

the very beginning, when the research team aboard the Churchill finds an unknown flying object, and on board, three hibernating entities eerily similar to humans, it’s clear that director Tobe Hooper will take the opportunity to shift the focus from science fiction to a typical horror film with elements of zombie movies. And that’s precisely the element that, in my case, decided that this film speaks to me better after years, and Mathilda May’s nudity takes a back seat. Besides, “Life Force” is an unusual blend of vampirism and the creation of revenants in cinema, with the revenants needing to suck the life force from humans every two hours, whatever that means scientifically.

“Jaws: The Revenge”, 1987, dir. Joseph Sargent

From what I remember, I even wrote once about a certain scene from this film characterized by a complete lack of logic. What does it matter, though, when years later, one discovers that it’s not so bad after all, and the atmosphere of Spielberg’s original “Jaws” is preserved. Maybe it’s derivative, but the level of entertainment is sufficient to relax with this production. I wonder what it would have been like if Roy Scheider hadn’t declined to return as Martin Brody. His absence was attempted to be compensated by Michael Caine, who unfortunately didn’t have a good opinion of the production: I have never seen it but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built and it is terrific.

“Xanadu”, 1980, dir. Robert Greenwald

At the end of the ’80s, I certainly couldn’t understand this film. I still don’t fully understand it, but I’m drawn to the look of the scenes. “Xanadu” is a child of its time, moreover, in an exaggerated form. I’m surprised that such a characteristic musical fantasy didn’t succeed, even as a guilty pleasure. Critics rated the film drastically poorly. Viewers probably didn’t understand this peculiar blend of fantasy with musicals. The film was probably too campy, with dazzling motifs in the art deco style and very artificial performances by actors. I’m far from labeling this production and genre cocktail as something bad. “Weird” fits better, almost to the point of goosebumps on your arms. Fans of cult classics may appreciate it, but for everyone else, it will be exceptionally indigestible. So what happened that I ended up liking it after years? Sometimes I need in cinema to experience simple, shiny, colorful impressions, and that’s all. And I’ve always liked Olivia Newton-John’s look.

“Savage Streets”, 1984, dir. Danny Steinmann

A strong, wild film without pretensions to great cinema, focusing on revenge. In the ’80s, exploitation cinema didn’t celebrate such triumphs as today, which makes it even more pleasant to watch this title again, especially since it stars the once-iconic actress from “The Exorcist.” Linda Blair found her way in this kind of cinema, which can be seen as an acting failure. It’s only us, the viewers, who over the years begin to love this kind of cinema for its otherness. “Savage Streets” is a thriller about a very bad girl. It smells of cheapness in almost every aspect. Linda Blair embodies Brenda, a tough gang leader from high school. When her deaf-mute sister Heather is brutally attacked and raped by members of a rival gang, and her friend Francine is murdered, Brenda sets out to seek revenge. Interestingly, besides a wide assortment of weapons, Linda loves to wear spandex outfits and regularly douse herself with hectoliters of hairspray. It’s worth adding that the rape scene is very bold and could arouse numerous controversies today.

“The Wizard”, 1989, dir. Todd Holland

I discovered this film only in adulthood because most of us in middle age, i.e., 40–50 years old, certainly weren’t able to fully understand the psychological depth of this production. Back then, some of us probably treated this film as a comedy with computer games in the background. However, “The Wizard” is a deep story about childhood loneliness and finding one’s way for the rest of life, which seems to make no sense according to adults, and a sentimental return to Nintendo games. Fred Savage plays the role of a stubborn, lost teenager who runs away from home with his younger brother affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (Luke Edwards). During their escape, he discovers that Jimmy has an incredible talent for video games. He’s a Nintendo wizard. From trauma to finding himself in the world of video games is just a small step.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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