Punk rockers have had it rough on screen. Either they’re playing a gang that needs to be taken care of by the law or they’re ruining neighborhoods or they’re just plain dumb. Very few films take the sheer unbridled joy on punk and shove it in your face in an enjoyable way.
This week, we invite you to crank up your speaker as loud as it goes, spit at the screen and declare that there really is no future with these four films.
MOVIE 1: La Venganza de Los Punks (Damian Acosta Esparza, 1987): As if the first installment Intrepidos Punks, this movie begins with main villain — or hero — Tarzan getting out of jail and wiping out every man, woman and child related to his cop nemesis before jumping on a giant tricycle and leading a gang of mohawked and bedazzled punkers to the caves, where they will scream “Long live death, cocaine, marijuana and alcohol!” in the midst of a blood, drug and Satan filled orgy. This movie is everything your parents worried punk would bring to your life and everything that you hoped that it would.
MOVIE 2: Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains (Lou Adler, 1982): Punk promised leaving the steel town of my childhood behind, just as it does for Corinne Burns. Somehow, despite being made 38 years ago, this movie knows the score. A band that skirts sexuality while doing all it can to make it ugly and not putting out, the only thing that ruins the perfection of this film is the insipid MTV tacked-on close.
MOVIE 3: Return of the Living Dead (Dan O’Bannon, 1985): What was the best allure of punk in this film? The fact that The Cramps, The Damned and 45 Grave blared out of the speakers in your mainstream multiplex? Or was it the fact that Linnea Quigley, as Trash, pretty much is the most attractive vamp you’ve never seen in the pit? Perhaps. But to me, the real punk rock soul of this movie is that it doesn’t trust anyone. Not the government, not the kids to save us and hell, not even movies. “You mean the movie lied?” Yes, Freddy. Even George Romero, the king of social commentary being hidden by horror, lied to you.
MOVIE 4: Rock ‘n Roll High School (Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, 1979): Despite the people wearing crisp new Hot Topic Ramones t-shirts, they never really meant much to mainstream America after they were gone. And it was better that way. The Ramones were destined to make it huge, but they really weren’t, and we never had to worry if they’d sell out, because no one outside of the geeks wanted what they had to sell. Except in this movie, which seemingly takes place in an alternate world where a woman of PJ Soles’ caliber could fall so hard for Joey, where a snarling principal (“Do your parents know you’re Ramones?”) could see her school blown up real good and where all Dee Dee has to say is, “Hey, pizza! It’s great! Let’s dig in!” The scene with “I Want You Around” in it never fails to make me cry, as it’s the best distillation of the joys of having your life in front of you and having no idea what to do with it that I’ve ever seen on screen. When I started my first ad job, I listened to “Ramones Mania” non-stop to ensure that even though I was surrounded by capitalism, I’d never forget that I’d said “Gabba gabba hey” to a world where money didn’t matter.
What are your punk rock movies? Let us know. Want to do a drive-in week of your own? We’ve got space for you.