Movies That Defined My Youth, Part 1

Each of us has strong ties to movies, shows or music from our youth. All it takes is one scene or one chord to send you back to the days when life seemed simpler and shelves were higher. Growing up in New Jersey, many of these movies were seen in regular rotation on WPIX Channel 11 (before it became one of those crappy WB/UPN/CW networks). Because of this, it was years before I saw the unedited versions of these films. Having also seen most of these movies as an adult, I can verify that some have definitely aged better than others.

Weird Science (1985) – Director/writer John Hughes dialed down the angst a bit, and traded it in for an abundance of cheap laughs – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Michael Anthony Hall (Gary) was on a serious roll by the time this was released, having recently appeared in Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and The Breakfast Club. After this, he moved to Saturday Night Live in what is now regarded as one of the series’ low-water marks. Co-star Ilan Mitchell Smith (Wyatt) was…well let’s just say this was pretty much the high point of his rather brief career. Of course the whole point of the movie is to let teen and pre-teen boys gawk over Kelly LeBrock, and I was only too happy to oblige. But the real star of Weird Science was Bill Paxton as Wyatt’s older brother Chet (“You’re stewed, buttwad!”).

I’m not sure when WPIX started airing this, but I swear I watched it at least 10 times in the mid-to-late 1980s. I’ve watched it a handful of times since, and although it is rather dated it does hold up pretty well – as does most of John Hughes’ work from that period.

Flash Gordon (1980) – I loved this movie then, and I love it now. This was another WPIX staple, and is probably one of the great cult movies of all-time. It flopped upon its release, which I suppose is understandable since it paled in comparison to another fantasy picture released the same year – The Empire Strikes Back. But I really dug the outlandish worlds on display here, especially the ominous cloudscapes. Sure, pretty much the entire cast spends the entire time chewing scenery, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. And the Queen soundtrack is just the icing on the cake.

In yet another sign of the disrespect this movie is treated to, it was released on DVD briefly in the U.S., only to have the title go out of print. Luckily I managed to snag a copy for myself, and like to watch it once a year or so.

Cloak and Dagger (1984) – I remember very little about this movie, other than it co-starred Dabney Coleman and I liked it enough to tape it off HBO and keep it for a few years. At some point I probably realized it wasn’t all that good and threw the tape away.

WarGames (1983) – “Shall we play a game?” This cracked my Top 10 list as a kid, and it’s been there ever since. I didn’t really care about the whole hacker angle, as I was never that into computers. But just the idea of breaking into The Man’s computer and screwing up his day was very appealing. I also really loved the soundtrack, with its swirling vintage 1980s synthesizers. I enjoyed the whole Joshua/Professor Falken storyline, enough that I have used the Falken handle on a number of sites and message boards.

Best parts: Matthew Broderick hot wires a pay phone with a soda can pull tab…dot matrix printers and giant floppy disks galore…Professor Falken’s odd dinosaur home movies…the launch code sequence in the War Room…the skeevy Air Force dude hitting on the secretary…and many more. Oh yeah, Dabney Coleman is here too. And so is Ally Sheedy, one of my first crushes. Best line? Easy – “Goddamit I’d piss on a spark plug if I thought it’d do any good!”

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) – After a series of increasingly pointless sequels killed this promising horror franchise, it’s easy to forget how great the original was. I was never all that scared by it, but got a charge just the same. And before he became nothing more than a burnt Catskills comedian, Freddy Krueger was a legitimately awesome villain. And hey, what’s not to love about a movie that shows Johnny Depp getting swallowed by his bed, only to be replaced by a jet of blood shooting toward the ceiling???

I know some prefer the original Halloween or Friday the 13th, but I think Nightmare is the best of the Big 3 of ’70s/’80s horror movies. It was certainly the best of the dozens of horror movies I watched as a kid. And here’s a bit of trivia for you – the doctor at the sleep clinic Nancy’s mom takes her to was played by Charles Fleischer, better known as the voice of Roger Rabbit. Pppppppppplease Freddy!

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