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  New Kids, The Blockheads
Year: 1985
Director: Sean S. Cunningham
Stars: Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin, James Spader, John Philbin, David H. MacDonald, Vince Grant, Theron Montgomery, Eddie Jones, Lucy Martin, Eric Stoltz, Paige Price, Court Miller, Tom Atkins, Jean De Baer, Robertson Carricart, Brad Sullivan
Genre: Horror, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Life was shaping up to be pretty rosy for brother and sister Loren (Shannon Presby) and Abby (Lori Loughlin) as they lived with their parents at a U.S. Army base, and their father (Tom Atkins) was about to be awarded a top medal for his role in talking down plane hijackers. But as he and his wife drove away, the teenagers did not realise it would be the last time they ever saw them alive, for on the way back from the ceremony their car crashed and they died. At the funeral, Loren and Abby are approached by their uncle Charlie (Eddie Jones) who makes them an offer: go with him to his amusement park in Florida and try to pick up their lives there. They've always liked their uncle, so off they go...

What could possibly go wrong? How about an already seasoned actor in the art of being a scumbag, a bleached blond James Spader making an appearance as they start their new school? When a movie starts with a training montage, before the opening credits have even finished, you know this is the eighties we were dealing with, and rest assured there was another training montage to follow later on, yet precisely what kind of story this was intended to be was rather unfocused. Director Sean S. Cunningham was best known then and now for his Friday the 13th slasher hit, and there were elements of that here in the creative methods characters were bumped off, but before you reached the carnage in the final half hour, there were other matters to counter.

Actually, for quite a lot of this The New Kids came across as an anti-bullying special, illustrating what you should do if someone starts intimidating you, which in this case seemed to be to approach the situation with politeness and calm, then if that doesn't work break into their home, hold them at knifepoint and tie them up, then steal a sum of money from them, which is irresponsible advice to say the least. Nevertheless, that's what Loren does when Spader's Dutra victimises him and Abby, thinking it will put him off, but naturally that develops into a tit for tat where Dutra and his gang of hicks amp up the menace so that every time the kids seem to attain the upper hand, they are beaten back down, literally at times.

Dutra and his right hand man Gideon (John Philbin) have made a bet that one of them will take Abby's viriginity whether she wants them to or not - she doesn't - which marks them out early as the lowest of the low, and part of that was the dialogue written for them by the legendary Southern author Harry Crews. Now, if they had gotten Crews to pen the entire screenplay Cunningham might have been onto something, but as it was there was something a little too conventional about the way this played out, never really capitalising on the potential for something really vivid in this setting. Mind you, what they did come up with has generated a small following down the years, possibly because it is a little too hard to categorise: coming of age? Vigilante thriller? Romance? What?

The romance part enters into it when Abby is courted by nice guy algebra nerd Eric Stoltz in an early role, apparently present to show not everyone is as bad as the gang, and Loren is attracted to Sheriff's daughter Paige Pryce who in turn is keen on him. These decent personalities are contrasted with just how vile Dutra and company can be, so when Abby adopts a cute flopsy bunny as a pet, you just know it's only a matter of time before the critter ends up with its throat cut to teach her a lesson - she's even confronted in the shower, for maximum vulnerability. Loren is reluctant to go to the cops about this, even when things get serious very quickly, preferring to take matters into his own hands, so to the strains of one of the worst scores Lalo Schifrin ever wrote (a rare misstep) events are brought to a head at the school dance. This is where the movie grows particularly lurid as Cunningham's roots in exploitation make themselves plain, and the funfair is used as a weapon in a number of absurd but amusing ways. Not great, but watchable through its decade-specific quirks.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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