Welcome to the next installment of An 80s Movie Sampler. Moving along alphabetically, we now come to the letter C. The letter C starts words like cool and crazy, and indeed, you'll find many movies that are cool, as well as a few that are crazy. Let's put it this way: This article will contain both a Best Picture Oscar winner and a winner of the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture.
We begin with Caddyshack, the classic 1980 snobs-versus-slobs comedy with a cast of comedic heavy-hitters, including Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight, serving as the backdrop for a young caddy (Michael O'Keefe) and his coming-of-age experiences at the Bushwood Country Club.
The late, great Harold Ramis famously spoke of the difficulties that directing and writing Caddyshack entailed, and to the end of his life, he still felt he could've done better with the movie, but it's a testament to Ramis' innate skills that Caddyshack has made the impact it has. More than four decades after its' release, Caddyshack is still picking up new fans and generating laughs in new generations.
My first exposure to Caddyshack came when I rented the movie during the video store deal my parents and I concocted in the fourth grade. I was too young to pick up on a lot of the verbal jokes, but I picked up on the slapstick energy of the visuals, from Bill Murray's Carl Spackler fantasizing about golf victories and gopher defeats to Rodney Dangerfield's Al Czervik and his caddies boogying their way across the greens at Bushwood. I would revisit Caddyshack in the summers between 11th and 12th grade, and I would find myself now picking up on more of the jokes and still laughing as hard.
Caddyshack is a stone classic of comedy, while the next movie on our list is a classic of a different kind, and that's camp. It's Can't Stop The Music, the 1980 pseudobiography of The Village People, and the aforementioned winner of the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture...The inaugural winner, in fact.
You're probably wondering, "Why on earth is Johnny Caps recommending a movie many consider to be one of the worst films of all time?". I'll tell you why. I've seen Can't Stop The Music, and while the movie certainly isn't an all-time great, I don't think it's an all-time dud, either. For me, The Village People and their music are the film's saving graces. I've always admired The Village People for the way they helped open people's minds to alternate ways of approaching love and life, and while Can't Stop The Music didn't necessarily do the best job of telling their story, the music is what carries it through.
I particularly like the title track, which closes the movie in an epic manner. Music is an unstoppable force. No matter what the genre, whether it's disco, rock, rap, country or classical, music has the power to make your life better, if only for the length of a song. Music can give you ideas or give you an emotional lift. Music can speak to your deepest emotions or your most shallow needs. While disco may be the music in question that can't be stopped in The Village People's song, it could really go for any music in general. That's how applicable the song is.
Moving along alphabetically, we come to 1988's Casual Sex?, a romantic comedy about the effort it takes to find true love in a time of crisis.
Stacy (Lea Thompson) and Melissa (Victoria Jackson) are two young singles who are having trouble finding romance in the 80s. They pay a visit to a health resort and end up finding love with two unlikely types. Melissa connects with a health club staffer named Jamie (Jerry Levine) while Stacy finds an unlikely, but true, connection with Vinny (Andrew Dice Clay), a macho guy who eventually discovers sensitivity and kindness.
Casual Sex? is an underrated 80s comedy, and one of the most unique things about the movie is how Clay's character, Vinny, is a deconstruction of Clay's Dice persona before the character of the Diceman achieved national fame. The Diceman, or here, The Vin Man, is shown to be a real pig of a guy at first, but he eventually talks to Stacy in a polite, realistic way, and that conversation leads him to change into a loving partner.
Similarly, Andrew Clay Silverstein has gone to great lengths to explain that the character of Dice is not reflective of his real beliefs. In one interview, he referred to the character as a "juvenile, macho moron". Silverstein is soft-spoken and open-minded. Dice is brash and close-minded. This movie is, in part, about how the Vin Man becomes Vinny, just like how Dice becomes Andrew Silverstein offstage.
If I could only figure out what Marshall Mathers' deal is, but that topic would be better served by a 90s nostalgia website. We're all about the 80s here, and they don't come more 80s than our next film, 1985's Certain Fury, a Defiant Ones-style saga about two young criminals, Scarlett (Tatum O'Neal), accused of murder, and Tracy (Irene Cara), arrested for drug possession, who end up accused of a courthouse massacre they were trying to escape from, leading them to go on the run.
Certain Fury is a great example of 80s Canuxploitation, or exploitation movies filmed in Canada. O'Neal and Cara, both of them Oscar winners, give enjoyable performances as, respectively, Scarlett and Tracy. From the moment they first meet, you can sense the anger they feel towards each other, yet you can sense that they'll develop a friendship out of it.
It's strange how friendships can come about. This movie certainly made me think of how I formed some of my strongest bonds. For example, I initially had issues with one manager at my retail job in my earlier years with the company, but even though there were a few times she had to act as an authority figure and not a friend, she would come to be one of my strongest allies at the store until she left the company. If you're looking for a movie to make you think about the origins of some of your own friendships, check out Certain Fury.
If Scarlett and Tracy had ended up in prison, though, they probably would've been in the same chaos that the protagnist of our next movie ends up in. That movie is 1983's Chained Heat.
Chained Heat tells the story of Carol (Linda Blair), who ends up with a prison sentence for an accidental murder, and finds herself plunged headlong into a world of corrupt wardens, police officer madams, and a race war between black-and-white prisoners. As with many battles in movies, the warring factions of black and white prisoners eventually team up to take on a mutual enemy, in this case this prison's cruel authority figures.
I've been a fan of Chained Heat ever since I purchased a VHS copy of it in the 00s. A purchase of the movie on DVD would allow me to see the movie uncut, and I liked what I saw. The women are sexy, the violence is bloody, and the story is satisfying. You'll be seeing several women-in-prison movies as this series of articles rolls along, but Chained Heat was the one that started it all for the 80s incarnation of the genre. There's just an indescribable sense of excitement to the movie, but if you're looking for a description of it from people who starred in the movie, here are links to two interviews I did for Pop Geeks last year with cast members from Chained Heat:
Greta Blackburn (Lulu): https://popgeeks.com/the-flashback-interview-greta-blackburn/
Marcia Karr (Twinks): https://popgeeks.com/the-flashback-interview-marcia-karr/
From exploitation to inspiration, we now come to the winner of the Best Picture Oscar for 1981, Chariots Of Fire, the tale of two different runners preparing to compete in the 1924 Olympics.
One runner, Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross), uses his running skills as a way to fight back against prejudice towards his Jewish faith. The other runner, Eric Liddell (Ian Charleson), uses his running skills as a way to both celebrate his Christian faith and spread his beliefs to the world. Chariots Of Fire details their unlikely friendship as they both work to achieve their goals on an international scale.
Movies about odd friendships were very big in the 80s. I think the reason why they were so popular was that the 80s was an unusual time in the world. The planet was teetering on destruction and governments were at odds not only with each other, but with their own people. Granted, the world has always had to deal with those matters, but they were truly pronounced in the 80s. In spite of those matters, though, there were plenty of people looking to bridge the divides of race, creed, and so forth in hopes of a more peaceful future. Movies like Chariots Of Fire are inspirational because they allow us to explore how we relate to others, and how we can hope to change those attitudes for the better. Is it working? I would like to think so.
Staying with movies set in Europe, but coming to a more comical style, we now arrive at 1983's Cheech and Chong: Still Smokin'.
The movie is half a fish-out-of-water tale, as Cheech and Chong are mistaken for Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton at an international film festival, and half-concert performance of some of their most notable bits. There are also some fantasy sketches as well, particularly an early spoof of E.T where Cheech plays Eddie Torres, the Extra-Testicle. Juvenile, to be sure, but who couldn't use a juvenile laugh once in a while?
One of the last movies the duo did before their breakup, Still Smokin' is not only a Cheech and Chong comedy, but also a deconstruction of the duo's styles. This is best evoked in a fantasy sequence where Cheech and Chong act in a Yuppie manner at a press conference. They're attired fancily and speak in a sophisticated manner about their work. Part of me thinks that fantasy sequence is the real Richard Marin and Thomas Chong making a cameo alongside their stoner characters, then again, I could be overthinking it, but when has that hurt anything?
When it comes to genre fare with tongue planted firmly in cheek, they don't get any wilder than the next movie on our list, 1986's Chopping Mall.
Directed by Jim Wynorski and starring Kelli Maroney, Tony O'Dell and many more, Chopping Mall is a horror-comedy about a mall utilizing robots to help with security matters and the like, only for a freak storm to turn them from robots into Killbots (the movie's original title). A group of young mall employees, initially staying in the mall all night to party, eventually find themselves in a battle for survival against the Killbots.
Kelli Maroney does an excellent job as the movie's heroine, Alison Parks, and I'm not saying that because I've been friends with her for over a decade. I'm saying that because, by any definition, Kelli is the definition of the strong woman in cinema. Whether it's Chopping Mall, Night Of The Comet or The Zero Boys, the latter two of which will be covered in future 80s Movie Samplers, Kelli Maroney is excellent at playing characters who take charge of bad situations, utilize their knowledge and experiences, and help turn the tide for a better tomorrow. That describes not only Kelli's characters, but Kelli as a person.
For more stories from Kelli's career, check out this interview I did with her for Pop Geeks in 2017: https://popgeeks.com/the-flashback-interview-kelli-maroney/
For more about Chopping Mall, check out my interview with Oscar winner Robert Short, who designed the Killbots: https://popgeeks.com/the-flashback-interview-robert-short/
We now arrive at one of the best Stpehen King adaptations of the 1980s. That would be Christine, the tale of a Plymouth Fury that possesses otherworldly and violent powers, impacting the lives and deaths of the people around it.
I first saw Christine in the dead of night in the mid-00s on one of the Encore multiplex channels. I thought the movie was an amazing example of 80s horror. Christine was incapable of being destroyed. You could smash her or set her aflame, and she would keep coming back. That's easily one of the scariest concepts out there: The monster who can never die. John Carpenter does a magnificent job of capturing what such a creature would be capable of, and to me, yes, a car can be a creature if it has such otherworldly powers as this movie entails.
A funny story: I saw a music video set to Brian DePalma movie clips on Facebook about a decade ago, and I had suggested using a clip of Christine's ending as a button to the video. Someone then said, "Brian DePalma didn't direct Christine". I knew that, but it slipped my mind at the time. To try and save face, I then recall adding the suggestion of a text that said, "And what does John Carpenter think of this?", but I think it was a little too late. To my own defense, I was temporarily confused because both Carpenter and DePalma have directed adaptations of Stephen King novels.
One thing I'm not confused about is the next movie on the list, 1985's Clue, the comedic mystery based on the popular board game.
I had seen some clips of Clue on Comedy Central in the mid-90s, but I wouldn't see the movie in full until I purchased the DVD in the mid-00s. When I saw the whole thing, I thought it was an amazing comedy. The wordplay was fast and furious, with all sorts of puns and innuendos, while the performances were amazing. Every player, from the main stars to the supporting characters to the one-scene wonders, shows a full commitment to turning a board game, an unusual idea for a movie, into a quotable, rewatchable, hilarious experience.
There have been movies based on games and toys, many of them from the 80s, but what many of these movies lack, whether they're the Transformers films or Jem And The Holograms, is a sense of fun. They take whimsical concepts and give them deadly serious translations to the big screen, often stripping them of the sense of joy they originally had. Clue adapts a toy right by having a lot of fun from the first frame to the last. We need more of that in movies adapted from toys and games.
For more stories from the set of Clue, check out the interview I did for Pop Geeks in 2014 with Lesley Ann Warren, who played Miss Scarlet: https://popgeeks.com/pop-geeks-flashback-interview-lesley-ann-warren/
Jumping ahead a year to 1986, we now come to Cobra, one of Sylvester Stallone's most noted 80s projects.
Beverly Hills Cop, discussed in the previous 80s Movie Sampler, was originally written for Sylvester Stallone, but he left the movie and took a lot of his ideas for it with him. He then transplanted those ideas into Cobra, the tale of renegade cop Marion Cobretti (Stallone), who fights a one-man battle against an organization of criminals known as The New World. Basically, Cobra is what Beverly Hills Cop would have been had Stallone stayed with the movie.
I first saw Cobra when I rented it from the local video store, and I liked what I saw. The movie has some fantastic action sequences. For me, the highlight would have to be a car chase where Cobra and the woman he's protecting, a model named Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen), are both pursuing, and being pursued by, members of The New World. The high-speed intensity of the chase is fantastic with crashes, smashes and jumps galore. As good as it is, though, there's another California crime movie with an even more thrilling chase coming up in the series when we get to the letter T. Still, Cobra is a blast of bone-breaking action.
Jumping back to 1985, we now come to the classic fantasy film Cocoon, a tale about how unknowing extraterrestrial contact helps a group of senior citizens in a Florida retirement home achieve immortality.
Cocoon speaks to the concept that older people still have vitality, spirit and hope to them. It's a concept I think we all need to be reminded of. We all get older by numbers every day, but our spirits don't have to age with us. Speaking for myself, I'm 38 as of this writing, but I still have a youthful spirit to me. I still watch cartoons. I still go out for evening walks of an hour-and-a-half each weeknight. I've even been mistaken for being a decade younger by some of the customers I help at my retail job.
The senior citizens of Cocoon end up gaining vitality and pleasure back in their lives, and that's best exhibited by the character of Art Selwyn, played by Don Ameche in a role that would win him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Once he makes contact with these aliens, although he doesn't initially know they are that, he gains a real spring in his step, even achieving some nifty dance moves for a man his age. Granted, we know he has a double for the dancing, but Ameche's able to make you believe he has those moves. It's a testament to his great skill as an actor.
Going to 1986 again, we come to The Color Of Money, the movie that picks up the story of The Hustler 25 years later. "Fast" Eddie Felson (again played by Paul Newman in the role that would win him the Best Actor Oscar), now on the skids, discovers a young pool shark named Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise), and takes him under his wing before they end up competing against each other.
I first saw this movie when I recorded it off Turner Classic Movies during a dead-of-night screening in the mid-00s. I thought it was a good movie with a fantastic soundtrack. I'll speak more about the soundtrack in a moment, but I want to address how a lot of critics expressed disappointment in the movie, including Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. They were both fans of Martin Scorsese, the director of the film, but this is the only film of his they gave two thumbs down to.
Although I think Roger and Gene were fantastic and witty movie critics, it always puzzled me why they had problems with endings that may not necessarily have been happy, but had a sense of possibility to them. Do I think The Color Of Money would've been better if Vince took Eddie down for the count? Perhaps it might have been more realistic, but Felson, for all of his faults, is a character you root for, and if you're rooting for a character, you don't want to see them take a fall. Scorsese's movies, and there will be several in this series, are about characters who take falls and have a hard time getting up, if they're even able to at all. The Color Of Money doesn't have an ending like that, and maybe that's why critics we disappointed in it. I liked it very much, though.
As to the soundtrack, The Color Of Money has some awesome music. Robbie Robertson's The Main Theme, with a blues singer wordlessly vocaling to sliding brass, bass and synthesizers, is a wonderful piece of chillout music. Robert Palmer chimes in with two enjoyable tracks, and the king of all the songs on the soundtracks is Eric Clapton's It's In The Way That You Use It, a song that expresses the ideas of the movie in a catchy way. I hope to do a karaoke version of it soon.
We go back to 1985 for The Color Purple, Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the Alice Walker novel about Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), the young woman in early 20th century Georgia who faces racism and many others isms, growing into confidence, self-love and pride.
I also rented this movie from a video store in the 90s. It was an unlikely choice for a suburban white kid, but I was also a big Steven Spielberg fan, and I wanted to see as many of his movies as I could. I rented The Color Purple, and found myself intrigued by Celie's journey. I would revisit the movie again as an adult, and I would love it even more. Although my troubles were nowhere near what Celie's were, I, too, had to deal with being underestimated and abused by people who were supposed to love and support me. Celie was able to make peace with her past, though, while that's still something of an uphill climb for me in spite of all the progress I've made over the course of the past ten years. I'll get there, though.
I think what helped me to enjoy the movie was the music. One of the movie's subplots involves juke joint singer Shug (Margaret Avery) and her abandonment by her reverend father. One of Shug's family members leads the congregation in singing a gospel song called "Maybe God's Trying To Tell You Something", and that song leads to a reconciliation between father and daughter. Again, music has the power to do that, and "Maybe God's Trying To Tell You Something" is a song that, when you see it in this movie, can move you even if you're an atheist.
We've been ping-ponging between 1985 and 1986 for these last few movies, but for the next one, we're jumping ahead to 1988 for Coming To America, the movie that gave Eddie Murphy the chance to play a romantic lead, as well as several other characters.
In Coming To America, Murphy plays Prince Akeem of Zamunda, who is being forced into a marriage he doesn't want. Alonsgside his aide Semmi (Arsenio Hall), Akeem decides to disguise his past in order to find someone who will love him for who he is as a person, and not for his title or his riches. A spin of the globe takes him to Queens, New York, and he seeks out love while adjusting to American life and trying to keep his princely identity a secret.
Eddie Murphy is very charming in Coming To America. In his previous 80s roles, he played brash and aggressive. Here, Eddie is soft-spoken, humble and conflicted about his worth. We've all had to deal with these emotions, but Eddie shows real depth as Prince Akeem. His quest to reconcile love and his identity has a happy denouement...Or at least it seems that way.
I do have to say that Coming 2 America, the soon-to-be-released on Amazon Prime sequel, doesn't look promising, and that's not just because it's rated PG-13 as compared to the first film's R rating. Coming 2 America does that trick that so many distant follow-ups to 80s properties does, and that's give the hero flaws and feet of clay, in this case giving Prince Akeem an illegitimate son and a troubled relationship with his daughter. Why do they always do this to beloved characters? Is it because they feel a need to inject reality into the proceedings? We watch movies to escape and see our idealized selves, not the flawed and weak people we all really can be.
That's why, when I get to the K titles, you won't see me talking about any of the Karate Kid movies. Especially with the advent of Cobra Kai, many people now look at the original Karate Kid trilogy through jaded eyes. Even people who saw the movies in the 80s now view Daniel (Ralph Macchio) as the villain and Johnny (William Zabka) as the hero, and that's why it would be impossible for me to speak about the movies. How can you defend a character when nobody else, not even the actor who played him in the original movies and continues to do so in the spin-off, is willing to do so?
We won't be at the K titles for a long while, though. We're still in the Cs, and that leads us to 1981's Continental Divide, which has some similarities to Coming To America.
Continental Divide tells the story of investigative Chicago journalist Ernie Souchak (John Belushi) as he's sent out of town due to a report putting his life at risk. He ends up in the Rockies, first attempting to interview nature expert Dr. Nell Porter (Blair Brown), and then falling in love with her. As with Coming To America, Continental Divide takes an SNL alumni known for playing edgy and abrasive, John Belushi, in this case, and gives him the chance to play a sweet and gentle romantic lead, and it works.
John Belushi was an amazing actor. Capable of over-the-top hysterics, he was also amazing at playing quieter, more subdued roles. Souchak is the opposite of Bluto, the character Belushi played in National Lampoon's Animal House. Souchak is a tough reporter who has a heart of gold, and while there are scenes where Souchak gets rowdy, there's an overall sense of decency and kindness to the character that was a reflection of the real John Belushi's spirit. May John Belushi rest in peace.
From the mid-west in 1981, we go to California in 1984 for Crimes Of Passion, the deliriously over-the-top thriller directed by Ken Russell.
Crimes Of Passion tells the story of fashion designer Joanna Crane (Kathleen Turner), who is discovered by an electronics store owner and part-time surveillance expert named Bobby Grady (John Laughlin) to be a hooker under the name China Blue. Crane/Blue is having trouble dealing with a perverted preacher named Peter Shayne (Anthony Perkins). Grady, who is in an unhappy relationship, falls in love with Joanna, but has to deal with psychological hang-ups on his end, her end and Peter's end.
As part of my early-00s fascination with Kathleen Turner, I sought out Crimes Of Passion, and I found it to be riveting, erotic and possessing a twisted sense of humor. Unfortunately, I can't share any of the bawdy passages of dialogue or details of the sex scenes as this is a family-friendly site, but if you're over 18, do yourself a favor, buy the Arrow Video edition Blu-Ray of Crimes Of Passion, put the kids to bed and get ready for a delightfully depraved journey into darkness.
Wrapping up the article, we go back to New York in 1988 for another romantic comedy. This time out, the movie is Crossing Delancey.
Crossing Delancey tells the tale of Isabelle "Izzy" Grossman (Amy Irving), a young Jewish woman with one foot in the world of her heritage and the other in the world of literature. For years, she's been admired from afar by pickle vendor Sam Posner (Peter Riegert), but although a matchmaker puts them together, and there is some interest on Izzy's part, she also finds herself interested in author Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe), who seems to promise a different world to her.
As I said to Peter Riegert when I met him at the Chiller Theatre convention in April of 2018 (he was there as part of an Animal House reunion), I loved Crossing Delancey because it has a theme we can all relate to. We all seek something different in the perception that it might also be something better. Sometimes, though, what we already have can help us and support us. We just need to look closer. Crossing Delancey is a great example of how we all search for something better, yet that something could be nearer than we thought.
I also must give credit to the Roches, with one member of the group, Suzzy Roche, playing a supporting role in Crossing Delancey, for contributing some memorable songs to the soundtrack, including a cover of the classic song "Come Softly To Me" and a lovely ballad called "Lucky" that defines the characters in song form. It should've been nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar.
As always, I thank all of you for taking the time to read this article. If there are any 80s titles beginning with the letter C that you feel should've been included in this article, drop a comment below and let me know. If you have thoughts on any of the movies listed, feel free to share those as well. Thank you as always for your time.