Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.

Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like my buddy Michael Monterastelli, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a glorious showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. His passion for VHS is such that I thought it would be fun to talk him into sharing his vast collection with us. My only rule for him? The movies can’t be available on DVD.

Take it away, Mike!

Title: The Wild Life
Genre: T & A Sex Comedy
Year: 1984
Tagline: From the creators of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” – something even faster!
Released by: MCA Home Video
Director: Art Linson
Writer: Cameron Crowe

click to embiggen

Plot: A teen romp about a group of friends making the difficult transition into adulthood. Recent high school grad, Bill (Eric Stoltz) thinks his new bachelor pad’s going to make his life a lot more exciting. His ex-girlfriend Anita (Lea Thompson) is having an affair with a much older cop while she works at the donut shop. Bill’s younger brother Jim (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) is going through a rebellious phase. He’s so obsessed with the Vietnam War, his best friend is a grisly vet named Charlie (Randy Quaid). And then there’s the anarchistic party maniac, Tom (Chris Penn) who moves into Bill’s place to share the rent, but ends up doing more damage then anyone could have imagined. I guess that’s why they call it THE WILD LIFE!

Thoughts: I grew up in the 80’s and let me tell ya, there was no other decade quite like it. The music, the fashion and most of all the FILMS were just unlike any other thing before or since. The teen movie genre exploded during this time and they ran the gamut from cheesy, over-the-top Animal House rip-offs to really well crafted, more honesty driven comedy/dramas, like most of John Hughes’ films, Risky Business, The Last American Virgin and the superb Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which just so happened to be written by a very young Cameron Crowe – the writer of the completely underrated and criminally neglected, The Wild Life. In some ways The Wild Life feels like a follow up to Fast Times because the tone is almost identical.

The Wild Life came out in ’84 and I saw it at the Golf Mill theatre in the suburbs of Chicago with one of my best friends when we were in high school. I remember thinking then how real this film felt and looked in relation to the time I was living in. Upon my recent revisit I must say, it really does capture that era perfectly. Both this film and Fast Times took place in a world I could easily relate to. The kids in both of these movies had regular jobs and real problems. The minimum wage world of retail and food service was where we all reluctantly slaved away to the Man for peanuts, just so we had some extra cash to buy the latest Billy Idol cassette or a new Swatch. We were the rise of the consumer mall generation, but we still had that irreverent fuck-the-system-from-the-inside mentality that is very much evident in The Wild Life.

The movie is an episodic look at the lives of four teenagers during a summer in the San Fernando Valley. Eric Stoltz is likable per usual as Bill, a recent high school grad and bowling alley worker who moves into a swinging bachelor pad to experience the freedom of adulthood, only to discover that responsibility isn’t everything it’s all cracked up to be.

Ultra-hot Leah Thompson is his ex-girlfriend Anita, a high school senior working part time in a donut shop. She’s caught up in a steamy, illegal sexual relationship with an older, married police officer (that’s played by Hart Bochner, who you may remember as the douche bag Ellis from Die Hard). This movie is probably the absolute sexiest Leah Thompson has ever looked on film, which is really saying something. Yes, sexier than Howard the Duck.

Ilan Mitchell-Smith (Weird Science, The Chocolate War) plays Jim, the ‘Nam obsessed, chain-smoking, and pipe bomb making fifteen-year-old brother of Bill. His best friend is an actual vet played by Randy Quaid, who in one single brilliantly acted scene explains to the kid just how wrong he is for glorifying the war. I new some teens like the Jim character when I was that age. The kind of kids who only dressed in camouflage, hung out at the bowling alley, listened to nothing but late 60’s, early 70’s rock and watched Apocalypse Now on cable eleven times without realizing it was an antiwar film. This is a very interesting look at how alienated youth can glorify things like this, while not fully understanding all the pain and grief that’s involved with it. Luckily, Jim’s story arc ends with him beating up the bully who torments him and winning his dream girl’s heart, rather than enlisting to become a marine.

Finally, you have the late Chris Penn in a very funny, energetic performance as the bleached blonde stoner-jock Tom Drake, who works at the same bowling alley that Bill does and ends up moving in with him to share the rent. Bad idea, because the parties begin raging non-stop and Tom’s wrestling team buddies love to drink and head butt everything in sight. They even throw a party so immense that they physically ram themselves through a wall into the next apartment to make more room to dance. Chris Penn became known in this movie for his catchphrase, “It’s casual.” I remember using it for a bit after seeing the film, before going back to my trademark, “That’s awesome.”

This is a quintessential eighties movie that is very well written, quite humorous, a little bittersweet (just like real life) and it features an incredible cast that includes (in addition to the actors I already mentioned): Rick Moranis (SCTV, Ghostbusters) as a sleazy mall clothing store manager who sports a huge hairdo and some brilliantly obnoxious eighties fashions; Jenny Wright (Near Dark) plays Penn’s frustrated on-again-off-again new waver girlfriend; a baby faced Michael Bowen (Night of the Comet, Kill Bill Vol. I) is a wrestling team buddy; a super young Sherilyn Fenn plays a pretty partier in danger of losing her top; punk icon Dick Rude is a bully and Lee Ving, the front man for the hardcore band Fear, is a cable guy. Oh, and a pre-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off Ben Stein plays a disreputable army surplus owner. WTF?!

Also, this movie features a musical score created by guitar god Edward Van Halen, who shreds his ass off on the soundtrack. Why he never did the music for another movie is beyond me. Those from my generation will remember that THIS was a very big deal at the time considering that the band Van Halen was at their peak of success. I remember the theater I first saw it at was filled with metal fans that were all there primarily for Eddie’s music and banged their heads wildly during his many interludes.

In my opinion, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Wild Life and Say Anything are all equal parts of Cameron Crowe’s eighties teen dramedy trilogy and each film compliments the other in style. Why The Wild Life (which is owned by Universal) has never been released on anything other than VHS is beyond me. If you can find a copy and you’re nostalgic for that time, pop it in because it’s a pretty awesome little time capsule of eighties clothes and tunes, in addition to being a very well written and performed movie. Oh yeah, there’s quite a bit of nudity as well, which was always a staple of a good teen sex comedy from back then. The soundtrack includes: Huey Lewis and the News, Bananarama, Human League and Eddie Van Halen’s amazing guitar work. Until next week remember, it’s casual.

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