ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mike Justice is the only illegitimate offspring born of a short-lived union between a frustrated English horror movie star and an American film festival groupie. His legacy, therefore, is to obsessively pursue a litany of ill-defined ambitions in the industry (editor, director, actor) while also falling hard and fast for anything with an accent and/or mutton chops. Fortunately, he’s pretty good at distilling his various fizzles, faux pas, and let-downs into uproariously absurd, snarky tales filled with wit, wisdom, and (sometimes) redemption.
Mike is also one of my favorite people and his top ten lists on Facebook deserve to be preserved as much as this digital website can preserve his words. I am so happy that he has allowed them to be reprinted here. You can follow Mike on Facebook.
One of my mom’s favorite flicks (not ironically) is The Hollywood Knights (1980)—and my dad had a relationship with What’s New, Pussycat? (1965) that bordered on obsession. So, I’d like to present MY TOP 10 FAVORITE 80’s FLOP COMEDIES. These are Reagan-era misfires that came-and-went in theaters, but made a big impression on my sugar-addled adolescent self when they hit home video and cable. Some are underrated, some deserved to bomb—but, nevertheless, they’re all favorites of mine.
10. National Lampoon’s Class Reunion (1982): You wouldn’t think following up Animal House (1978) with a slasher movie spoof/Exorcist parody written by John Hughes and directed by the guy who helmed the awesome Chuck Norris sci-fi action thriller Silent Rage (1982) would be a bad business decision, but apparently it was. This is one of the reasons I could never be successful in the film industry; I can’t predict the trends. I love this movie. I have it memorized. I can recite it in the shower.
9. Club Paradise (1986): Or as I call it, SCTV: The Movie. SCTV was the Canadian Saturday Night Live where stars like John Candy, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short got their start. But while these distinguished SCTV alums were off making blockbusters with Mel Brooks, John Hughes and Tim Burton—the rest of the gang made this thing with Harold Ramis. Now, Ramis had previously directed Caddyshack (1980) and National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), so nobody predicted this Robin Williams-starrer would tank. But it did. Hard. Williams plays an injured Chicago fireman who uses his settlement to purchase a dilapidated shithole in the Caribbean. His hyperactive, eternally optimistic snake oil salesman of a resort owner is what Williams does best—but hilarity really ensues when the ridiculous tourists show up. SCTV goddess Andrea Martin is a pissed-off housewife who gets attacked by a shower, and later a boa constrictor. Rick Moranis and Eugene Levy (the dad of that gay dude on Schitt’s Creek who everyone’s always drooling over) are a pair of clueless greaseballs (both named “Barry”) striking out with every chick on the beach. And then there’s Peter O’Toole, Joanna Cassidy and Twiggy. Ramis wouldn’t have a hit again until Groundhog Day (1993) and most people remember this movie as a hot fucking mess. But I love it.
8. Hello, Again (1987): A charming, PG-rated romantic fantasy from the director of Mommie Dearest (1981) that stars Shelley Long as a klutzy but lovable housewife named Lucy who chokes to death. Yes, really. A year after her passing, Lucy’s witchy sister (Judith Ivey) brings her back—as awkward and good-natured as ever. Except now she can’t figure out why everything looks different, or why her furry husband (Corbin Bernsen) has “moved on” so fast with her cunty, shoulder pads-obsessed best friend (Sela Ward). Naturally, Lucy becomes an overnight celebrity (“Life after death isn’t exactly an overworked area of medical research,” she quips). However, there was one caveat in her sister’s incantation: the newly resurrected person must find true love within 30 days (preferably with a handsome doctor like Gabriel Byrne), or she’ll die again. Hilarity ensues. Hello, Again was produced and directed by Katy Perry’s uncle, the late, great, Oscar-nominated director Frank Perry (Diary of a Mad Housewife) and—unfortunately—it was something of a critical and financial disappointment for Touchstone Pictures. It was also Perry’s last movie before he died of prostate cancer (and didn’t come back).
7. She-Devil (1989): A black comedy from the director of Desperately Seeking Susan (1985) that has the distinction of being the only film on my list to be hated by Brits on principle because it isn’t miserable enough. Roseanne Barr stars as a dumpy, clumsy suburban mom with a giant mole on her face who loses her shit when her husband (Ed Begley Jr) dumps her for a hilariously self-centered romance novelist (Meryl Streep)—so she stages a methodical, years-long revenge scheme against them. Brits hate She-Devil because it’s a loose reworking of the late English author and feminist Fay Weldon’s beloved 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, which had previously been adapted into a terrific, award-winning, and very, VERY dark BBC miniseries that stands as probably one of the best made-for-television projects ever. If you want to see a Brit flip out, mention She-Devil. “Piss off, you daft chuffer!” they’ll cry. “Your yank bullshit adaptation is a grievous insult to the book AND to our uncompromisingly dykey BBC miniseries! Where is the cruelty and tragedy and irony of the source material?!” Up your bum. Go sit in the rain and eat mushy peas and marmite, we like our silly, endlessly quotable, PG-13-rated She-Devil the way she is! Repeat after me: “There can be TWO versions of She-Devil in existence.” “The one with Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep does not negate the original.” Say it. SAY IT, you mingebags!
6. Earth Girls Are Easy (1988): A musical rom-com directed by a guy who got famous shooting home movies with the Sex Pistols. It stars Geena Davis as a sexually frustrated Valley Girl whose ho-hum suburban life improves when three horny aliens—Damon Wayans, Jim Carrey, and Jeff Goldblum—crash-land in her pool. Naturally, the first thing she and her fun-loving BFF Julie Brown do is give the aliens makeovers and take them out. Hijinks ensue. Equal parts retro sci-fi spoof, 60’s beach movie throwback, and intermittently witty satire of then-contemporary LA culture, Eatth Girls enjoyed a heavy cross-promotion with MTV and actually got somewhat positive reviews. Unfortunately, it had a troubled history (director problems, re-shoots, and then not one, but two of its production companies went bankrupt). These days it tends to get overshadowed by that other Geena Davis/Jeff Goldblum 80’s starrer about a fly—not to mention some other wacky, idiosyncratic comedy starring Davis that came out the same year about a bio-exorcist named Betelgeuse. Earth Girls isn’t perfect (it tends to run out of steam by the end) but it’s a must for fans of the Davis/Goldblum dynamic, singer/songwriter Julie Brown, fish-out-of-water farces in the vein of Splash and Mannequin, and that daft depiction of Los Angeles that only exists in 80’s comedies where everyone’s arguably well-meaning but ludicrously superficial.
5. Amazon Women On the Moon (1987): A satirical sketch comedy flick parodying the experience of watching late-night television—and starring every single working actor in 1980’s Hollywood. Ten years earlier, Director John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) had a hit with his independently produced, similarly-formatted Kentucky Fried Movie (1977). Critics called that one “smart,” “profane,” “violent,” “hilarious,” and “occasionally quite sexually explicit”—all of which helped to make it a huge success on the midnight movie circuit. Unfortunately, a decade later, Amazon Women wasn’t able to recapture the magic with critics or audiences (although it would later find enthusiastic support on cable and video). Some say it’s because zany lampoons of consumer culture and mass media didn’t fly in the conservative Reagan era. Others counter that perhaps if cable and home video had been around when Kentucky Fried Movie came out, then that wouldn’t have made a dent in theaters, either. Then there are those who claim Amazon Women just isn’t as funny. Whatever. All I know is, I can’t not love something with Michelle Pheiffer, Henry Silva, Carrie Fisher, Steve Guttenberg, Sybil Danning, Arsenio Hall, Griffin Dunne, Rosanna Arquette, Rip Taylor, Ed Begley Jr. and Andrew Dice Clay under one roof.
4. Elvira Mistress of the Dark (1988): A raunchy horror spoof about a monster movie- and heavy metal-loving goth chick with a giant rack who inherits a rundown mansion in a fundamentalist Christian town and proceeds to scandalize the hell out of everyone. The snarky Elvira has never met an innuendo she didn’t like, but underneath the boobs and the double entendres she really is just a good-hearted girl who dreams of romance and a gig as a Vegas headliner. Naturally, the town’s bored teenagers adore her, which makes the local hypocrites label her an outcast. Unfortunately for them, Elvira inherited some black magic to go along with that mansion, and shit turns into Harper Valley PTA meets Carrie really quick. Directed by James Signorelli (Easy Money) and co-written by John Paragon (Pee-Wee’s Playhouse), Elvira Mistress of the Dark was regrettably dismissed in its original theatrical run as nothing more than a steady stream of hit-or-miss sex jokes and sight gags tied together by a formulaic screenplay typical of the era wherein a misunderstood nonconformist challenges the conservative status quo. Luckily, time has been very kind to what has proven to be an enduring classic.
3. Who’s That Girl (1987): Featuring bad-movie superstar Madonna as a demented sociopath with no regard for personal boundaries who spends 24 hours violently shaking up Griffin Dunne’s life. Four years earlier, she was framed for her boyfriend’s murder—so now she’s pissed off and wants to clear her name. She also wants to shoplift jewelry, buy stolen guns, destroy Rolls Royces, steal wedding shower presents, kill a pimp (Coati Mundi of “Kid Creole and the Coconuts” fame), take an endangered Puma as her pet, hijack a Greyhound bus, gate-crash a wedding, and basically act like the most embarrassing, infantile pain-in-the-ass ever. It’s sort of a PG-rated Bringing Up Baby meets Something Wild where murder, kidnapping, grand theft, and arms trafficking are played for laughs. Who’s That Girl was an epic flop for Warner Brothers. I think the problem was, it was marketed as a sexy starring vehicle for Madonna to show off her uninhibited comedic side—when it should’ve just been sold as a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon with Madonna as Bugs Bunny. She plays tricks, destroys shit and cracks wise with a cartoonish East Coast accent. She basically does everything but blow people up by placing her index finger in the barrel of their gun. Who’s That Girl isn’t significantly worse than a lot of other ridiculous-but-likable 80’s comedies like Mannequin or Weekend at Bernie’s, but it stars Madonna (aka “the female Lon Chaney”) as Bugs Bunny. How can you resist?
2. Maid to Order (1987): A warm-hearted, reverse-Cinderella story from the director of The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) about a Beverly Hills brat (Ally Sheedy) whose fairy godmother (Beverly D’Angelo) transforms her into a homeless maid so she’ll learn the value of a dollar and stop being such a bitch. At first, it’s all riches-to-rags, fish-out-of-water antics as the clueless Sheedy pisses everyone off with her petulance and incompetence. But heartfelt life lessons abound—so soon enough, redemption, and sobering messages about loyalty and personal accountability ensue. Not to mention romance with some hunky chauffeur played by Michael Ontkean (Sheriff Harry S. Truman from “Twin Peaks”). For not entirely unfair reasons, PG-rated fantasy comedies without big stars did absolutely no business in the 1980’s. So unfortunately, the independently produced Maid to Order is mostly forgotten these days (its long out-of-print, full-frame, culled-from-a-VHS-master DVD relegated to bargain bins alongside Date With an Angel and Mannequin 2: On the Move). But if you’re able to find it, it’s a legitimately charming sleeper that compares favorably to the other, infinitely more successful Touchstone comedies of the era. It also boasts not one, but five obligatory music-video sequences/montages and Valerie Perrine dressed as a drag brunch waitress. Put this out on blu ray or I will burn myself alive! Again.
1. Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986): Number one on my list is what might be Hollywood’s first mainstream cyber-thriller: Penny Marshall’s directorial debut, Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), starring Whoopi Goldberg as a computer geek/English rock aficionado with severe impulse-control issues who works in online banking. One day, she chats IRC-style with a secret agent trapped behind the Iron Curtain, and soon she’s embroiled in a ridiculous plot to rescue him. I’m not a huge fan of civilian spy flicks, but I’m a fan of Goldberg—and the “plot” (as it were) is basically an excuse for her to furiously improvise a nonstop cavalcade of her particular brand of crazy. SEE Whoopi thwack a cab driver on the head with a frying pan! WATCH as she ludicrously impersonates Diana Ross at a British consulate ball! CRINGE as she breaks into Elizabeth Arden’s while smacked out on Sodium Pentothal and beats up some rich lady’s mink hat! As a kid, I idolized Whoopi’s character. I told my mom, “I’m gonna be just like that when I grow up! I’m gonna get in people’s faces, and tell motherfuckers off, and rip the toupee off my boss’s head and threaten to shove it up his ass!” My mom sighed. “Michael, that kind of behavior just isn’t as endearing when a white man does it.” Like hell it isn’t. Watch me. Oh, and before anyone cries that this wasn’t a “flop,” it was also no A League of Their Own or Sister Act.