I spent the majority of the 1980’s in movie theaters and any random video stores. I was either watching the biggest movies of the time, or low-end horror that always seemed to disappoint my dad. But there were a handful of films I’d always spot that, for some reason or another, flew under my radar. These are their stories. That seemed rather dramatic.
CHOPPING MALL (1986)
We’ll start with one I always saw on the shelf but never picked up. If someone had said “think Dawn of the Dead but with robots instead of zombies”, I’d have totally been on board. The local mall just started a new program involving armed robots for overnight security. But after a lightning storm (of course), their programming goes haywire and they try to kill anyone they come in contact with. Then add a group of dry-humping teenagers spending the night in said mall, and it’s a recipe for…I don’t know…disaster? I’d say they had it coming, what with leaving their bodily fluids all over the furniture store. Some things can’t be Scotchgarded away. Plus, there is a glorious head explosion courtesy of a laser blast from one of the guards. Not sure why you’d give a mall robot a laser cannon, but in Sherman Oaks, you can never be too careful.
This also had my number one mid-80’s crush, Kelly Maroney, fresh off Night of the Comet. Yet another movie that had scenes of her almost getting killed in a mall. Oh, the dangers of typecasting. Dick Miller shows up long enough to get killed. Poor guy. Even at 90, he died too soon.
Not sure how I missed this one growing up. A lot to unpack here. A doctor uses ventriloquism with his life-size, clear-skinned medical dummy named Pin to teach his kids, Leon and Ursula, about topics he’s not comfortable talking about face-to-face. (THAT old plot.) How that wouldn’t screw up any childhood is beyond me, but isn’t, as it surely does. Especially after his 11-year old son witnesses an act between Pin and a horny nurse that literally made me yell out “What the f**k am I watching?!?” fifteen minutes into the movie. I was ill-prepared for this.
Fast-forward to the kids in High School and the complete mental breakdown of 18-year old Leon. Now, HE uses ventriloquism to talk to Pin, filling in both sides of the conversation. Much like Corky and Fats in Magic. The doctor and his wife die in a car wreck trying to take Pin away, and Leon takes it up a notch by covering Pin with fake skin, hair, and steers him with a remote-controlled wheelchair. He also wants to kill Ursula’s boyfriend so she’ll stay in the house and use Pin as the fall guy for the crime. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, this is not a healthy environment.
I know I’m not really doing this movie justice. However, if you want to check it out (as I’m sure it’s not on any streaming service), the whole thing is on YouTube.
DIRTY DANCING (1987)
Never saw this as a teenager, as I had no girlfriend to drag me to it. But now I do, so off to the special screening we went. I’m sure most people are familiar with this movie. It stars Jennifer Grey, her midsection, and a pre-Ghost Patrick Swayze. But to be fair, aren’t all Patrick Swayze movies “pre-ghost”?
Grey plays Baby; a relatively nebbish teenagers whose family is headed to the Catskills for summer vacation. There she meets Swayze’s Johnny Castle; the dance teacher and perfect architype of what all bad boys with hearts of gold in the 1960’s named Johnny should be.
Johnny’s lady dance partner can’t perform due to a botched abortion, mentioned in code you could only understand if you’re not a virgin. Family Fun!! Johnny begrudgingly teaches Baby how to dance to fill the spot and the final performance is saved!
That’s about it, really. When my girlfriend worriedly asked afterwards what I thought, I said “It was a competent film with a beginning, middle and end. All parties involved got the outcome they deserved.” Not a glowing review in the eyes of most people, but coming from me it was the best she could’ve hoped for.
MISSING IN ACTION (1984)
If you’re reading this, you’re on Film Threat. And if you’re on Film Threat, you know who Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were; two Israeli producer cousins that made dollar store knockoffs of some of your favorite films. Since the 80’s were nostalgic for the Vietnam War, these guys decided to try and cash in.
Chuck Norris is James Braddock; a Vietnam vet and former prisoner of war. After a series of bonkers dream sequences and flashbacks, he agrees to go back on a diplomatic visit so the Vietnamese Government can deny the notion there are still POWs held up in camps. But his real motive soon becomes clear: find a camp and bring our boys home.
First, he makes quite the display at the press conference. That night, he breaks into the embassy, interrogates the Vietnamese General for the camp location, and whips a knife into his chest. Not a good look. After covering his tracks (poorly), he heads to Bangkok to track down his old Army buddy. It’s Jack Tucker, played by M. Emmet Walsh as Ernest Borgnine probably wasn’t available. Little known fact: “Wasn’t Available” was also part of the business model at Cannon Films. (Zing.)
They load up on munitions, avoid a series of attacks involving rocket launchers with high speed chases, and head back to find the camp. The fifty-plus killings were all worth it, though, as he tracks down the MIAs being moved and rescues all four of them. Wait…Four Guys?? That’s not even enough to start a reasonably-priced, high-end burger chain. They get picked up by a chopper that was set up in a throwaway line, fly to Saigon and crash another press conference to prove there were still prisoners of war all along. Kind of like the “Letters to Santa” scene in Miracle on 34th Street.
This moves along pretty quickly and has a lot of over-the-top action and explosions. There’s a whole Missing in Action trilogy, but I can’t see how someone could sit through a second one.
MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING (1985)
Alright. Ignore that last sentence, I guess. The sequel and the prequel were shot back-to-back, the producers thought the second part was better than the first part so they made the first part the second part. Hope you followed that.
Starting off in 1972, Chuck Norris is back as James Braddock. His chopper goes down on a rescue mission and his squad is declared “missing in action”. (Hey, like the title.) Years later, after some Reagan news footage, Braddock, other soldiers and local Vietnamese citizens are still being held in an inescapable prison camp. No one can leave until Braddock “confesses” to war crimes. Evil Colonel Yin tortures everyone with fake out executions, psychological trauma and naked humiliation from giggling prostitutes. Basically, any Rush Week from college.
Yin and a French chopper pilot are also running weapons and opium, so he’s working his side-hustle too. Then hope arrives in the form of…an Australian photographer. He drops a BS line about people knowing where he is and a made-up escape plan. The Frenchman blows his cover and he’s killed after about five minutes of screen time. Well, that was pointless.
After signing a confession to save a soldier and getting double-crossed, Braddock escapes and all hell breaks loose. Using flame throwers, grenades and whatever else he can find, Norris goes into signature “One Man Army” mode. He rallies the other prisoners and, I’ll admit, has a pretty good standoff battle at the end. After the smoke clears, Braddock and Yin have a one-on-one where Yin is defeated with, what appears to be, a high-impact titty twister. Then gets blown up for good measure.
This had some of my favorite Cannon trademarks: a few “Hey! That guy!” moments, scenes where everyone’s waiting for the director to call “Action!” and roman candles used as rockets and explosions. Dare I watch the third installment???
BRADDOCK: MISSING IN ACTION III (1988)
No. No I shall not.