Subtitled “A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!,” Mike “McBeardo” McPadden’s new book Teen Movie Hell does for teen films what his Heavy Metal Movies did for, well, heavy metal movies. I’ve long been an admirer of Mike’s writing and was super excited when he agreed to do an interview as part of our teen comedy week, which was totally inspired by his book!
B&S ABOUT MOVIES: In the postscript to the book, you wrote that you’ve been working on this off and on for a long time. Did today’s environment play into why you put this out now?
MIKE “MCBEARDO” MCPADDEN: The short answer is no. The longer answer is this book would have come out at any point since I started working on it in 1994 had a publisher agreed to make it happen. That TMH finally emerged now in the era of “cancel culture” et al was just happenstance.
On the surface, it seems like the exact wrong moment, but the challenge of our present culture directed the project into something better than it would have been in the past.
It was kind of like the limitation of haiku. Consideration of potential missteps with language inspired me to come up with clever means of expressing what I wanted to express and, more importantly, to open the book up to contributors who could experience these movies in ways I could simply could not.
B&S: Last year’s Blockers did a fun job of subverting the teen movie cliches. But honestly, is there any way 90% of the movies in your book could be released now?
MCBEARDO: No, but I think that’s true of all movies from the past. I get what you’re asking though, in terms of content and humor that is now deemed not just unacceptable but demanding of punishment. And that answer is very much a “no”—and that’s fine. It’s right even.
Any attempt to make something today as outrageous, say King Frat or Screwballs would come off like those christawful “neo-grindhouse” movies on the order of Machete or Hobo With a Shotgun or, worst of all, Mandy.
Those things are the lowest of the low to me—technically upscale Troma, cutesy shock charades imitating nostalgia for somebody else’s nostalgia, like living, stinking pages of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Misappropriating Legitimate Cult Cinema.”
Of course, those neo-grindhouse movies are allowable in the current cultural environment because they focus on violence. No one would dare attempt to translate that to the vintage teen comedies because sex—as it once was and perhaps will forever now again be— stands out as the ultimate “don’t go there” taboo.
B&S: Porky’s is often thought of first when it comes to these films. What would you say — outside of the beach movies of the 60’s — is the real progenitor? And if you had to pick 2-3 of these films for someone that had never seen them to give them an overall flavor of the genre, which would they be?
MCBEARDO: All previous teen comedies lead to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and all subsequent teen comedies have proceeded forth from it. So there’s that one.
Revenge of the Nerds really exemplifies the genre, overall. For good and ill.
In terms of utter insanity and to choose something off-Hollywood, I’d say Surf II. It’s the best made of the completely off-the-wall examples such King Frat, H.O.T.S., Screwballs, Oddballs, and Hamburger: The Motion Picture. There’s a film festival for you.
A near-legendary film, so to speak…
B&S: One of the most impressive parts of the book was that you had no issue printing a dissenting opinion if someone didn’t agree. The Valley Girl review really stands out. How did that come up?
MCBEARDO: Christina Ward, who hates Valley Girl, is a great writer and she has brilliantly taken over the reigns of Feral House publishing in the wake of founder Adam Parfrey’s death. I’m always interested in reading terrifically constructed words, regardless of whether I agree with the ideas being expressed or not.
On top of that, I’m also a fan of extremely well expressed hothead outbursts. Christina pulled that off, tone-wise, while also eloquently illustrating what she doesn’t like and why she doesn’t like it.
B&S: It’s a pleasant surprise to see a celebrity you don’t expect to show up in a teen sex comedy, like Kurt Vonnegut in Back to School or Charles Bukowski in Supervan. What would people who haven’t read your book be surprised by?
MCBEARDO: Crispin Glover comes to mind. He’s existed in the popular consciousness for a long time as offbeat cinema’s supreme King Weirdo, but he started out as just another young actor eager for gigs. As a result, he plays one of the leads in My Tutor, Teachers, and the 1983 NBC TV-movie High School USA.
Crispin also acts as the sort of host of The Best of Times, a 1981 narrative musical-variety series about “today’s youth” that ABC aired once and which, at age 12, I managed to watch. It’s really jaw-dropping.
In between sketches and dance numbers that are set to, like, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” there are dramatic monologues wherein a youthful cast member just addresses the camera. Nicolas Cage delivers a true stunner about being afraid to register for the draft. You can watch it on YouTube. Which means you should be watching it right now.
B&S: I’m always struck by the old Hollywood types that show up in these films. It reminds me of how old comedians and Boris Karloff would show up in beach pictures. Why do you think that happens so much?
MCBEARDO: From the actor’s point of view, a job’s a job. Especially when you’re old. From a studio’s point of view, a famous name is a famous name—and all the better when you can match it to a genre. That’s why John Carradine was still being “featured” in shitty Z-level horror movies into the ’80s and, I’m sure, even after he died.
So if you can get Huntz Hall and Joe E. Ross to do a few hours work in Gas Pump Girls, for example, you get them!
B&S: Who would be your dream teen movie cast?
MCBEARDO: It’s an interesting question, because, outside of the John Hughes casts, these movies really aren’t star driven.
When it comes to a core group of goofy dudes, Michael Zorek is a great party-hearty fat guy in Private School and Hot Moves. Eddie Deezen, of course, is the nerdo-di-tutti-nerdi. Dana Olsen, who plays a fast-talking preppie con man in Making the Grade, should have starred in more movies. He didn’t, opting instead to focus on screenwriting. He went on to write The ‘Burbs.
In terms of actresses, I am an enormous fan of Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, who ruled ’70s teensploitation in The Swinging Cheerleaders, The Pom-Pom Girls, Slumber Party ’57, and Revenge of the Cheerleaders. She first mesmerized me when I was 13 and caught Lemora the Lady Dracula on TV.
When it comes to ’80s, it’s always great when Corinne Bohrer shows up, as she does in Zapped!, Joysticks, Surf II, and Stewardess School.
The best female lead performance in the genre comes from Joyce Hyser in Just One of the Guys. The funniest female performance belongs to Katt Shea in Preppies.
B&S: Seriously, will any single scene change as many lives as Phoebe Cates in Fast Times?
MCBEARDO: No. That kind of shared cultural experience is as much a part of the past as the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. We don’t live that way any more.
The exact moment nearly every American teen in 1982 hit puberty.
B&S: I really liked the overall tone of the book, as it’s not leering but not prudish. You struck a real balance while keeping things fun. Was that a challenge?
MCBEARDO: Obviously—I hope—I’m a free speech advocate and that calls for defending offensive, ugly, and unpopular speech. Still, there can be odd value in imposing censorship on one’s self.
I recall the fearless and flamboyant writer Quentin Crisp once bemoaning the new cinematic freedom of after the 1970s, particularly in regard to sex. Now, bear in mind, Quentin got arrested for being gay in the 1940s and announced in a London courtroom, “I am a self-evident, self-possessed, effeminate homosexual for all the world to see!”
But in terms of sex on screen, Quentin thought the ability to just show it prevented filmmakers from having to use their imaginations and he asked, in effect, “Are movies in general better now because we can see the actors naked?”
I would agree with his implication that, no, after the New Hollywood explosion, movies have only always gotten dumber and duller and worse—which doesn’t mean I haven’t also enjoyed a bunch of nude scenes.
So to turn that back around to the book: I think writing it while thinking about larger implications resulted in a richer, funnier, and more meaningful project than it would have been had I just loaded it up with dick-and-tit jokes.
B&S: At numerous junctures, you call out John Hughes. Is that something you felt in your teen years or something you grew to feel? For me, it’s the scene in Breakfast Club where Ally Sheedy is only seen as attractive once she conforms. I wanted to shut the movie off and I was just in my teens!
MCBEARDO: Sixteen Candles came out the year I turned 16. I reviewed it in my high school newspaper and expressed disgust over the ham-fisted obviousness of underscoring the family running around like idiots at the sisters wedding by playing David Bowie’s “Young Americans” on the soundtrack.
The bitch of that was that when the movie came out on video, they couldn’t get the rights to the song, so it’s no longer there. Anyway, Hughes annoyed me from the get-go.
The Breakfast Club opened while I was still 16 and a high-school fuck-up intimately familiar with detention sessions and I loathed Judd Nelson’s character being portrayed as this “noble savage.” And I let people know.
I always liked Pretty in Pink, though. Harry Dean Stanton as the alcoholic dad, Annie Potts as a glimmer of hip hope for the future, and especially the ending felt true to me.
Ferris Bueller gave me a fucking brain aneurysm on immediate contact, though. It was perhaps the only film that legitimately “offended” me.
I write in the book about that experience, but I’ll reiterate here—I was 17 years old. My heroes were Howard Stern, Sam Kinison, Don Rickles, and Johnny Rotten. Musically, I was obsessed with the Butthole Surfers, the Mentors, and S.O.D. I was actively attempting to consume every Nazisploitation and Italian cannibal film ever made. Into that exact milieu arrived Ferris Bueller and I was completely, frothing-at-the-head-holes outraged and infuriated and saddened for all humanity by it and by him.
Naturally, it annoys me now that the rest of the world seems to have “caught up” with me circa June 1986.
Mark Twain nailed a policy I think is proper: “When you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to check your position.” I checked and, to be sure, I remain where I always have regarding Ferris Bueller.
The real enemy.
B&S: Porky’s was another movie that made me feel similarly. Between that and Revenge of the Nerds, why does each oppressed group in those films only reply back with more oppression?
MCBEARDO: Sorry to go all Oprah on you, but, really, “Hurt people hurt people.”
In Porky’s, the jocks who suffered bruised egos literally destroy the livelihood of the guy they blame for it, along with all the people he employs. Today, Porky would taken down via doxxing or SWAT-ing.
In Revenge, the ugly and unloved nerds humiliate women they feel humiliated by simply for existing. In modern parlance, we’d call those guys “incels,” and we’re all too horribly aware of what they’ve been capable of doing.
B&S: Finally, it’s awesome that people are talking about The Last American Virgin. Were you warned to the ending or did you get punched in the balls like I did?
MCBEARDO: I saw The Last American Virgin at the Nostrand theater when I was 14 with a big, raucous group of dudes. The one guy among us who was 17 bought all the tickets. We snuck in an entire pizza and hooted and laughed through the whole movie, right up to that sudden pitch-black drop off a cliff.
Afterward, we all walked out in a thick, heavy silence. It was only broken a half-a-block away when that one 17-year-old said with genuine earnestness, “I felt bad for that asshole.” He spoke for all of us.
Don’t be fooled by this happy poster. This film crushes souls.
Thanks Mike for taking the time to do this. Look for our review of Teen Movie Hell later this week, but this is one book that all movie fans should pick up. You can get it now from Bazillion Points.