Like most of us, my new hobby is watching Stranger Things repeatedly until my eyes bleed. Among other things, the show has made me realize that the 1980’s is somewhat of a blind spot in my pop cultural education. Sure, I know the hits, but I want to delve deeper into the weird corners, both good and bad. Luckily, Netflix has no shortage of fodder for my investigation. I shall be rating these in terms of watchability and 80’s-ness for your movie night decision-making benefit.
The Burbs, 1989
Young Tom Hanks is a high-strung suburb-dweller spending his vacation from work snooping on his neighbors in what is essentially a goofy, late 80’s version of Rear Window. Hanks, Bruce Dern, and Rick Ducommun attempt to prove that their creepy neighbors are in a murder-cult while Carrie Fisher rolls her eyes. A teenaged Corey Feldman sits on his porch and comments on the action like a vaguely punk greek chorus.
This is the earliest Tom Hanks movie I’ve seen, and I’m really digging this era of his work. Highlights include Tom Hanks writhing furiously on the ground having been stung by a swarm of bees, Tom Hanks slowly chewing and swallowing a slimy sardine, and Tom Hanks sneezing uncontrollably for no apparent reason. If you are interested in seeing Tom Hanks do any of these things, this film is for you.
Watchability: 3/5 80’s-ness Rating: 4/5
The takeaway: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean everyone isn’t out to get you.
Harry and the Hendersons, 1987
Like many #millenials, my first introduction to Harry and the Hendersons came in the form of the 30 Rock episode Goodbye, My Friend. Jack Donaghy views the film with the TGS writers and takes its message to heart, declaring to Liz Lemon: “That film has layers”.
Does it actually have layers? Kind of, just not terribly entertaining ones. Canonical 80’s Movie Dad John Lithgow plays George Henderson, a trigger-happy rifle enthusiast who has dragged his family on a camping trip, only to hit a large, ape-like creature with their station wagon multiple times on the way back. Presuming its death, the Hendersons tote the beast back to their suburban home, hoping to gain some cash off of the discovery. The animal is in fact very much alive. The rest of the plot is essentially E.T.
In a way, this movie is quite prescient. I think that at the time it was supposed to be about environmentalism, but small town Americans frantically buying guns to defend themselves from a strange, foreign, presumably dangerous something feels very 2016.
Not to be pedantic, but since Harry was willing to eat a fish sandwich and not a cheeseburger he’s actually a pescatarian, not a vegetarian.
Watch out for a Ronald Reagan cameo during the obligatory 80’s weird-creature-is-fascinated-by-television sequence.
Watchability: 2/5 80’s-ness: 3/5
The takeaway: I know what America needs to solve its gun problem: Bigfoot.