Monday, June 4, 2018

10 "Raunchy" '80s Comedies I Can Watch Any Time

by Patrick Bromley
If there are snobs and there are slobs, I'm probably there.

There was a certain type of comedy that became hugely popular in the first half of the '80s, more than likely a response to the success first of Animal House and, later, Porky's. These movies are celebrations of bad behavior: partying, doing drugs, having random sex, trashing property, whatever. These "raunchy" comedies -- often referred to as "sex comedies" -- depict attitudes and behavior that is completely opposite my own, so it's weird that I find them as comforting as I do. Like with slashers, I could watch just about any one of them at any given time. They are rarely funny and never sexy, but that's something about their boneheaded pursuit of fun that wins me over. Here are 10 I'm never able to skip past on TV.

Note: movies like Trading Places and Fast Times at Ridgemont High are often grouped in with this genre. I'm not including them here because, as far as I'm concerned, they're a different class of movie.

1. Bachelor Party (1984, dir. Neal Israel)
Of all the movies on this list, Bachelor Party is the one I feel least guilty about loving. Yes, it traffics in too much early '80s "party comedy" nonsense and occasional ugliness like racism and transphobia, but there is a sweetness to the central relationship between Tom Hanks (on his way to movie stardom) and Tawny Kitaen (on her way to the hood of a Jaguar). He's a goofball and a smartass in the early '80s Bill Murray tradition, but you never once get the sense he's interesting in anything but having fun with his friends and marrying the love of his life. Adrian Zmed makes a good Number 2, while Real Genius' Robert Prescott makes a great rich white collar villain. This is one of those comedies in which the big gags and set pieces are pretty lame, but all the banter and coloring going on in the margins is very funny. I have a hard time rationally defending how much I enjoy Bachelor Party, but if I'm being honest with myself it's probably one of my favorite comedies of the '80s.

2. Doctor Detroit (1983, dir. Michael Pressman)
A recent episode of "'80s All Over" tore this one up pretty bad, but I can't deny how much I enjoy watching it even if it never makes me laugh. This was Dan Aykroyd's first attempt at a big-screen leading man vehicle, and though he would do his uptight WASP-y snob to greater effect in Trading Places, I like what he does here as Clifford Skridlow; the actual Doctor Detroit character is less successful. So many of these early '80s comedies are so singularly focused on sex and drugs and illegal behavior that it has to be a reaction to a type of repression ushered in with the decade. Doctor Detroit is basically addressing that concept head on. I love the cast, too, which also includes Howard Hesseman (a staple of these kinds of movies), T.K. Carter, Donna Dixon (one of my earliest childhood crushes), and a young Fran Drescher, who I'm positive we never correctly appreciated.

3. Hardbodies (1984, dir. Mark Griffiths)
I'll admit that a big reason I find Hardbodies so watchable is because I'm fascinated by its demented grossness. Grant Cramer (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) plays a surfer who agrees to teach three older men how to pick up young women at the beach, so it's kind of like the Uncle Carl subplot of The Beach Girls stretched out to feature length. It's creepily entertaining. (- Patrick Bromley, F This Movie!) Part of the fun is the collection of familiar '80s faces that show up, including Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4), Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn), and Darcy DeMoss (Friday the 13th Part VI). I think I just need to come to terms with the fact that if it's from the '80s and there's a beach involved, I'm probably going to watch it.

4. Joysticks (1983, dir. Greydon Clark)
Bless Greydon Clark, a man who is not a very good director but who never made a movie I don't enjoy. This one, a comedy designed to cash in on the early '80s arcade craze, is one of his best/weirdest efforts. It's a video game movie that makes you wonder if anyone involved has ever played a video game or seen a movie. Or talked to human beings. From it's amazing title song to its ridiculous conclusion, I love every minute of it.

5. The Beach Girls (1982, dir. Bud Townsend)
Arguably my favorite among the many, many films put out by Crown International Pictures, The Beach Girls takes a simple and old-fashioned premise -- three girls stay at one of their uncle's beach house for the weekend -- and adds in a bunch of '80s nudity and stupidity. (If I ever write a book on these movies, I'm going to call it Nudity and Stupidity: A History of 1980s Sex Comedies.) What I like about The Beach Girls is that the performances are really charming and that there are a lot of jokes. Most movies like this seem to think that a boy seeing boobs is enough to be funny, but this one is packed with actual jokes -- they're dopey and their corny most of the time, but I appreciate the effort. As with all my favorites in this genre, there's also a sweetness at the center of the whole thing that prevents it from feeling gross or sleazy. Everyone is just having fun.

6. Up the Creek (1984, dir. Robert Butler)
If you're going to rip off Animal House, you might as well go all in and steal Tim Matheson and Stephen Furst (their co-star, Dan Monahan, played Pee-Wee in Porky's, making this some kind of raunchy comedy supergroup). They're part of a college rafting competition racing against the snobs from Ivy University, so you know how that's gonna go. I think I begged my mom to see this when I was very young because Jennifer Runyon is in it and she was another of my earliest childhood crushes, based exclusively on her brief appearance at the beginning of Ghostbusters. My mom wisely refused. The Cheap Trick theme song for this movie is pretty sweet.

7. Revenge of the Nerds (1984, dir. Jeff Kanew)
It's too bad there's so much grossness built into Revenge of the Nerds, because it makes it difficult to enjoy what is otherwise a really fun and, once again, sweet comedy that tweaks the 'snobs v. slobs' model just a little. Dudley "Booger" Dawson is one of my favorite characters in any movie, and I'm almost positive this was the first nudity I ever saw in a movie when I watched it a friend's sleepover without my parents' knowledge or permission. Sorry, Mom.

8. The Last American Virgin (1982, dir. Boaz Davidson)
This is a weird one, because half of it plays like a martian's attempt to make a sex comedy and half of it is as gut-wrengingly real as a Degrassi marathon. The combination is what makes it special, though, and if I happen to stumble across it at any point, I have to see it through to the depressing end. This Cannon production -- an American adaptation of the popular Israeli Lemon Popsicle series -- hits all the usual beats of one of these sex comedies, but the "laughs" are meant to come not from the sexual situations, but from the consequences, be it the humiliation of publicly losing a dick measuring contest or the nightmare of contracting an STD after trying to lose your virginity to a prostitute. For a sex comedy, it's pretty dark.

9. Jekyll and Hyde...Together Again (1982, dir. Jerry Belson)
Comic retelling of Robert Louis Stevenson's story stars Mark Blankfield (who, for me, will always be the waiter at The Max that Zack Morris hired to pose as his father that one time), a mild-mannered surgeon engaged to Bess Armstrong who discovers the wonders of cocaine and transforms into spiky-haired party animal Mr. Hyde. This is the kind of comedy that I find gloriously stupid, willing to take a chance on pretty much any joke and hitting the mark enough times to make it fun. Even though it was made fairly early in the cycle of these kinds of movies, no other film comments as directly on the gulf between repression and hedonism that inspired this whole subgenre. That's attributable more to Stevenson than Jekyll and Hyde...Together Again, but the point still stands. Besides, there are so few cocaine comedies that we have to celebrate the few we do get.

10. Joy of Sex (1984, dir. Martha Coolidge)
Every movie on this list is available on Blu-ray except for this one, which hasn't had a home video release since VHS. Martha Coolidge directs an in-name-only adaptation of the famous sex manual by Alex Comfort, starring Michelle Meyrink as a girl who mistakenly believes she has only six weeks to live and tries desperately to lose her virginity. The finished movie is a huge mess for a number of reasons, including the firing of director Coolidge (who removed much of the nudity) and the removal of the National Lampoon brand -- this was meant to be National Lampoon's Joy of Sex until Matty Simmons sued to have the name taken off the movie. But there's enough of a charming movie left over that I enjoy the film whenever I'm lucky enough to stumble across it, mostly thanks to Michelle Meyrink, a fixture in early '80s comedies and often the best part of them. Plus, Coolidge is attempting to make a sex comedy from the female perspective, and while she's not totally successful (not through any fault of her own), it does set Joy of Sex apart from the rest of the genre.

Happy '80s Comedy day and Happy Junesploitation.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for this list! I'm always amazed by what an absolute free-for-all the 80s were, with parents (well, mine anyway) allowing us to just watch whatever we wanted. I probably saw over half of these before the 80s ended, which means I saw them before I was ten. What a magical time it was!

    Bachelor Party was always a favorite. I still really love when they're in an elevator in the hotel and a man yells at them and declares that he's the hotel manager, and they break into spontaneous, straight-faced applause. For years my brother and I would do this whenever anyone even mildly tooted their own horn.

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  2. When I think of 1980s comedy, these are the kind of films that come into my head first. Porky's over Blues Brothers? I guess it is just me. The amoral raunchiness of the period is what makes the films unique.

    I completely understand your feelings about Hardbodies, Patrick. The attitude towards women is very unsettling (that photography scene is very uncomfortable), yet the fun of the film overcame any negative feelings in that regard.

    Up The Creek... I have not watched that is three decades. I do not think I was even ten when I saw that with my father.

    The Last American Virgin is one I will get around to watching someday.

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  3. I saw The Last American Virgin many, many times before I saw Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. So when "Gary" showed up acting like a confident, experienced, obnoxious teenager, it was soooo strange. I kept thinking "Gary, why are you acting like that? You're better than this!"

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