The Film: The New Kids
The Principles: Lori Loughlin, James Spader, Shannon Presby, Eric Stoltz and Tom Atkins. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham.
The Premise: Abby (Lori Loughlin) and Loren McWilliams (Shannon Presby) are teenagers who have just lost their parents in a horrible car accident. Their Uncle Charlie and Aunt Fay, who own and operate a gas station and amusement park in a small town in South Florida, take them in. The two immediately fit into their new surroundings and start making friends, but things turn horrifying when Abby attracts the attention of the psychotic Eddie Dutra (James Spader). Eddie’s a drug dealing, white trash hellion who controls a gang of redneck thugs. When Abby refuses his invitation to the school dance, it sparks off a firestorm of harassment for the two siblings that escalate into graphic violence and a shit-load of property damage!
Is it good: Well, if you like your 80’s thrillers a little cheesy, then this is one gooey classic that’ll definitely hit the spot. It opens with none other than Tom “Mother-Fucking” Atkins in essentially a cameo, where he plays the army Colonel dad of two incredibly normal and attractive teenage kids. He wakes up his son Loren and daughter Abby bright and early for an opening credits training montage in which he makes them endure a grueling military workout. The character is like Robert Duvall’s in The Great Santini, except Tom Atkins plays the Colonel in his typically likable manner and comes off as strict, but really sweet and adoring to his kids. He just wants them to be strong. This is good, because right after Atkins receives a medal from the President to honor his bravery while disarming a group of terrorists on an airplane flight, he and his wife are killed in a car crash, leaving the kids parentless.
Luckily, old Uncle Charlie shows up at the funeral and offers the kids a place to stay with him and their Aunt Fay in sunny Florida. The kids take the bus down to the golden state where they discover Uncle Charlie owns an amazing cherry-red ’60 Cadillac convertible, as well as a Christmas themed filling station/amusement park/petting zoo called Santa’s Fun Land. The two ex-army brats fit in comfortably with their new environment and before long, Loren attracts the attention of the hot blonde daughter of the local Sherriff, while Abby starts a friendship with a nice boy named Mark (a fresh-faced Eric Stoltz).
Abby and Loren also attract the attention of Eddie Dutra – a slimy bleached blonde James Spader who’s basically doing a blend of his characters from Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero, only with a slightly affected southern drawl and a pimptacular wardrobe. Spader owns this movie, like he owns every movie from this era where he plays the heavy. His unblinking menace is palpable in every scene he’s in. When Abby refutes his advances, Spader immediately turns on the crazy and continues to amp up the voltage!
Before long, every manner of harassment ensues; the amusement park and the Caddie are vandalized; a petting zoo bunny is killed and tossed by Spader into the shower with Loughlin; her brother Loren is jumped and beaten badly by the gang; and all of this happens in about a week.
Abby goes to the big school dance with Mark, accompanied by her brother and his date, but Spader and his heavily armed crew kidnap her and take her back to Santa’s Funland for the final showdown, which is completely over-the-top in typically 80’s fashion. Loren comes to the rescue and dispatches each thug by using his wits against their blasting shotguns. He takes them out one-by-one with various methods that include: a neck-breaking fall from a Ferris wheel, a bumper car electrocution, a rollercoaster decapitation, and finally a fitting end for Spader in the form of a gas pump flamethrower.
Is it worth a look: Of course! Anything Sean S. Cunningham directed in the eighties is worth a look! The man who gave us Friday the 13th, Spring Break and DeepStar Six has never been more on point with his B-movie badassedness. He offers subtle nods here and there from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to Orson Welles’ Lady From Shanghai, and keeps the tension kettle boiling at all times. Lalo Schifrin provides an interesting musical score that schizoids back and forth from bright and sunny to dark and scary. Come to think of it, the whole film shifts back and forth tonally to such an extent, you really don’t know what to expect next… and therein lies this movie’s strength.
This is my absolute favorite James Spader performance ever! It’s worth seeing for him alone, but it also features one of my all-time biggest teenage crushes in the form of the gorgeous Lori Loughlin from TV’s Full House, as well as the awesome 80’s classics Rad and Back to the Beach. I’ll always have a soft spot for anything she does. Dig this scorching clip from the movie with these two:
Overall, this is a Kentucky fried treat of pure eighties exploitation awesomeness that’s best served with a few ice-cold beers amongst the company of good friends. Enjoy!
Random anecdotes: This film is part of the James Spader 80’s bad guy quadrilogy, that also includes Pretty in Pink, Less Than Zero and Mannequin.
Cinematic soul mates: Straw Dogs, Footloose, Tuff Turf, Pretty in Pink, Fear