1985 happened 30 years ago and so did I. Now I’m looking back at the films from the year of my birth. Join me, won’t you?
Release Date: January 18th, 1985
Cast: Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin, James Spader, John Philbin, Eric Stoltz, Tom Atkins
Writer(s): Stephen Gyllenhaal & Brian Taggert
Synopsis: After their parents die in a car accident, Loren (Presby) and Abby (Laughlin) move to Florida to live with their uncle at his recently purchased amusement park. Soon, they’re harassed by Dutra (Spader) and his gang of redneck thugs in a series of events that escalates in increasingly dangerous and deadly ways.
Review: The New Kids is a perfectly fine little thriller from Sean S. Cunningham, the man who gave us Friday the 13th a few years earlier and who reached immortality with Deep Star Six a few years after this. Just like Harry Potter, Loren (Presby) and Abby (Loughlin) are orphans living with their aunt and uncle. Only in this case, their uncle owns a failing Santa-themed amusement park and makes them sleep in a tool shed rather than under the stairs. Still, pretty close.
What works best about The New Kids is the nastiness of the villains and the trail of dead animals they leave in their wake. There are dead chickens, rabbits and cows here that look shockingly real, removing any kind of Fangoria-esque rooting for the villains and turning them into straight-up bastards. Spader is the leader, his eyebrows bleached into non-existence, chewing the scenery as a vile redneck who can’t show weakness in front of his boys. Second in command is Gideon (Philbin), teeth barely contained by a mouth that won’t shut, except maybe to spit on Abby’s microfiche when she rejects his invitation to a dog fight. They’re realistically white trash, but they’re also realistically kids. Most of the shit they get up to is petty and ugly, escalating gradually and out of a true enough sense of bruised ego. They’re not smearing cow blood on anyone’s panties or loading shotguns until the final act and by then, at least one of them has been threatened at knifepoint and robbed by our hero. I’m in no way justifying the insane places they go, but this is more of a Hatfiled’s and McCoy’s story than Tuff Turf.
Unfortunately, there are some big missed opportunities when it comes to the leads. They’re set up as army brats with a dad (Tom Atkins!) who trains them like grunts, capable of getting into it with anyone who might fuck with them. And that’s almost true of Loren, who kicks a fair amount of ass in the movie, but I really wanted to see Abby cut loose on some of these dudes. She wails on Spader for a bit with a hunk of wood, but that’s about it. It’s a shame, because between the two, Lori Loughlin is the far better actor. She’s not at Spader’s level by any means, but she’s cute and genuine on screen. Not to be gross, but you understand why this gang of kids would go so out of their minds after unsuccessfully trying to sleep with her. Presby on the other hand, stopped acting after this and is now a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles. He’s a blank at best and a creep at worst, like when he tells his sister that a girl he likes was “jiggling” towards him (in the toolshed/bedroom that they share).
There’s a lot of DNA shared with some of the Friday the 13th sequels of the time, especially in the look and feel of the cinematography. Actually, If the Friday series ever tried a one-off movie like Halloween III, this would actually fit in quite nicely. The big difference here is that Cunningham is able to fake at least a little scope by setting the finale in the theme park. It’s the same formula—using the central location for the eventual blood bath (someone literally gets some splashed in their face)—but despite the chintziness of the park, it’s nice to see the action taken outside of the woods for a change. Plus, someone gets their head crushed by a roller coaster, which may have been a first.
This isn’t a classic by any means, but it’s a nice change of pace from the slashers that were dominating the genre at the moment. And you get to see James Spader sleeping above the covers of his bed in a blue speedo, which is always nice. Oh, and this was written by Jake Gyllenhaal’s dad!
Better Off Dead or The Sure Thing?: The sure thing.
Next Up: That’s Dancing!