by Patrick Bromley
So many of the movies released in 1984 seemed designed to find live on VHS and endless reruns on cable, and not only because this is how I saw the majority of them. The films listed here aren't my favorite movies released that year -- far from it -- but they do help round out what makes it such a singular year in film history. There were genres and subgenres that were huge in '84 and then never again. It was, in many ways, the beginning and the end of an era.
Streets of Fire, Ghostbusters and Gremlins. The sixth movie? Beat Street, one of several breakdancing movies released that year and a film that can be credited with introducing rap and hip hop music to a wider audience. Grittier and more authentic than its Cannon Films counterparts, Beat Street isn't much of a movie from a story/character perspective, but there's a ton of great music and dancing and a production design that appears to have influenced the entire Yo! MTV Raps culture and aesthetic in the late '80s.
Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, released the same year. The least well known among them is probably Body Rock, starring future Snake Eater Lorenzo Lamas as Chilly, a breakdancer from the streets of New York looking to make it big. Where Beat Street feels authentic, everything about Body Rock is comically overproduced movie nonsense. If you're someone who enjoys watching bad movies ironically, you'll love Body Rock.
Permanent Record and even '84's own Revenge of the Nerds.
Troma as we know it was born with The Toxic Avenger. Though the indie studio had already been around for a decade at the time that its flagship film was released, they were known more for sex comedies like Squeeze Play and The First Turn On. With The Toxic Avenger, Troma found their sweet spot, mixing gory horror, raunchy comedy, leftist politics and a cartoonish comic book sensibility. This is the movie that would define Troma over the next 30+ years, with Toxie himself become the face of the company and later inspiring three sequels as well as his own cartoon series, action figures and Marvel comic series. It's the movie that hooked me on Troma for life.
Cannon Films. The movie, in which Norris goes back to Vietnam to rescue POWs, was rushed into production to beat Rambo to theaters (and avoid a lawsuit in the process). It was originally meant to be the second movie in the Missing in Action franchise; Missing in Action 2 was shot concurrently and actually takes place during the Vietnam war, making it a prequel in its released form. Once the Cannon brass saw how much better Missing in Action was than what would become Missing in Action 2, they opted to put it out first. Of course it's better. It's directed by the underrated Joseph Zito, a guy who knows how to make excellent low-budget genre trash. This same year he also directed Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, still my favorite of all the Friday films. Joseph Zito is the man.
The Exterminator in which Robert Ginty once again plays a vigilante single-handedly cleaning up the streets of New York, this time going up against Mario Van Peebles as bare-chested gang leader X. The movie went through two directors, is largely shot (re-shot, actually) in Los Angeles and star Ginty wears a welder's mask through most of the movie so that he could be played by a stunt double, as he was off shooting another movie. What I guess I'm saying is that aside from Van Peebles' batshit over-the-top performance, The Exterminator 2 isn't up to the high standards set by The Exterminator.
non-KISS starring role. Now here's a movie that could only have been made in 1984: it's got fears of conspiracy, technological anxiety, Selleck cashing in on his Magnum P.I. fame and a musician trying to cross over into film (remember this is the year that saw Sting in Dune and Prince in Purple Rain and Rick Springfield in Hard to Hold, so it makes sense that Gene Simmons would want to get in on the act as well). It's goofy, it's sometimes campy and it's got The Demon being attacked by robot spiders.
And with that, we very nearly wrap up 1984 week. Don't forget to join us for F This Movie Fest 5 this Saturday at Noon CST for five more of 1984's finest!