My first job out of high school was as an usher at the Hatboro Theater, where I worked for just over a year until it closed its doors on July 22nd, 1984. In short, they tore down the one-screen dream factory and replaced it with a fast-food joint. By that point in its 40-year history, I should mention, the movie house generally featured films a few months past their prime, flat-out duds and – over the holidays – family favorites. To give an example: on back-to-back weeks in late October 1983, WarGames (released on June 3rd) and Risky Business (released August 5th) fluttered from the projector.
Of those two films, I much preferred WarGames, which I first saw over the summer at a different theater. Though its plot of a teen hacker almost sparking a nuclear war is far-fetched, it’s less far-fetched than a privileged high-school senior turning his home into a brothel while his parents are away. I probably saw both at least a half-dozen times during those week-long engagements and, thanks to the wonders of cable TV, WarGames probably 10 more times in the decades since. As for Risky Business? Not once.
I share that because of this: Risky Business is one of the eight films (actually, seven and a half) featured in Obscurion Presents ‘80s Teen Flicks Festival Guide Book, written by Joseph Corey III to accompany a canceled 2020 film festival in Raleigh, NC, that I’ve seen. Although he likes the Tom Cruise movie more than me, he uses the essay as a springboard to explore the corporate embrace of contract employees. I.e., he often expands his focus to more than just the films themselves so, even if you haven’t seen them, the essays are still interesting.
As another example, I’ve only seen one and a half (probably more like one and a quarter) of the six John Hughes films (Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) he spotlights, yet found their entries enlightening all the same. For The Breakfast Club, which I’ve seen a ton, I was intrigued by the Carl the Janitor storyline left on the cutting-room floor. The subversive – some might say disturbing – themes that run through some of the others, which he delves into, helps alleviate me of the generational guilt I carry with me about never seeing them (nor wanting to). Of the half/quarter Hughes film that I saw, the lame Weird Science via a premium cable channel in the late ‘80s, he doesn’t explore the film itself, but uses it to riff on star Anthony Michael Hall’s career.
In total, there are entertaining essays about 33 teen movies, ranging from 1980’s Foxes to 1989’s Say Anything (but not, sadly, WarGames), as well as insightful recaps of their soundtracks. Plus, he throws in stand-alone pieces on such esoterica as R-rated films, the Brat Pack, John Hughes, The ABC Afterschool Special and Demi Moore. He places all into context.
My favorite essay is probably the one about Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which – in its opening sequence alone – comes the closest to encapsulating life circa the early and mid-1980s (in large part because it was adapted by Cameron Crowe’s from his 1981 even better book about his experiences undercover in high school).
Here’s a rundown of the featured films: