Vintage Cable Box: “Midnight Madness, 1980”

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“See you at the finish line… wherever that may be.”

midnight madness

Midnight Madness, 1980 (David Naughton), Buena Vista

Midnight Madness is a movie I remember watching a hundred times on cable television, and I recall the three major disparate element that make up what is essentially the fun of a truly entertaining movie.  The first element is David (“Makin’ It“) Naughton, the dancing Dr. Pepper spokesperson (he is actually seen drinking a Dr. Pepper late in the movie!), who would eventually transform into a werewolf and woo Jenny Agutter in An American Werewolf In London.  The second element is the scavenger hunt; an all-night Amazing Race wherein the contestants retrieve items and search for clues in an effort to get the grand prize.  The third element is a young Michael J. Fox, portraying David’s annoying little brother, Scott, pleading for attention in every scene he is featured.  Family Ties had been on the air for a year-and-a-half before I first saw this movie on cable, so I identified him immediately.

We start off with some hot roller-babes delivering invitations to all the prospective entrants, as (what I can only assume) the movie’s upbeat, disco-tinged theme song plays during the credits.  Naughton, along with Stephen “Flounder” Furst, and Eddie Deezen have to assemble teams for the “Great All-Nighter” organized by huge-brained Leon (whom will one day create Microsoft, I’m sure).  We have typical college archetypes: the nerds, the jocks (led by Dirk Blocker), the feminists, the idiots apparently like a high-concept Animal House or Revenge of the Nerds.  It would be cute to think this was the college Naughton’s character was attending before he became a werewolf, but probably not, and also kind-of sad.

Meanwhile, Michael J. Fox has a chip on his shoulder.  Naughton spots him at a bus station running away from home.  Laura pressures him to be supportive of his younger brother.  She’ll make a great wife some day!  Scott’s a bit of a hellion, trying to score beer, and being otherwise unpleasant and obstinate.  He reminds me of myself as an angry young Canadian television actor.  It’s surprising to me, given the nearly two-hour running time, so little effort is put into his character.  All we tend to see are scenes of him angry, pissed-off, and rebellious yelling at David Naughton or  whining to Laura.  Apparently big brother forgot his little brother’s birthday.  Get over it, kid!  And comb your hair while you’re at it!

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With a discreet clean-up of some of the more off-color concepts, this movie could easily play as a made-for-tv movie.  It has a television sensibility, and it’s utterly harmless, innocent fun that teaches “life lessons” along the way.  What those lessons are escape me, except that you listen to your snotty younger brother, and you should always make a move on a pretty girl who likes you.  I really enjoyed this movie revisiting it after some odd thirty years, even with all the lip gloss and the hot pants, and the roller-skates.  Recently transferred to high definition, the photography is quite good, and the editing keeps up a very nice pace.  Sometimes the character development gets in the way of the action, or is it the other way around?  Either way, this movie was a welcome respite from They Call Me Bruce? and The Lonely Lady.  Look for a pre-Pee Wee Herman Paul Reubens in the arcade scene, dressed up as a cowboy to boot!  This movie puts me in the mood for similarly-themed titles, such as The Cannonball Run and Tag: The Assassination Game.

Check out a cool podcast discussion of this movie during the “Summer of Deezen” (or #deezenpalooza) at VHS Rewind!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “The Rosebud Beach Hotel, 1984”

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“Booze is alright for the younger generation. But when you arrive at the twilight of life, there’s nothing like a hit from some good shit to mellow you out!”

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The Rosebud Beach Hotel, 1984 (Peter Scolari), Almi Pictures

I can’t help but feel for Peter Scolari, a gifted actor and spokesman, a natural comedian and entertainer. Scolari was the other half of the Bosom Buddies, a television sitcom that ran for two seasons on ABC, between 1982 and 1984. The show was obstensibly about two guys, best friends, who dress up as woman so they can afford the cheap rent in an apartment exclusively tailored for women. Kip (Tom Hanks) is uh … crazy about the blonde, and Henry, the writer of the duo, thinks this experience will make a great book. I loved the show, but more importantly I loved the chemistry of the two leads. We all know what happened to Mr. Hanks, but Scolari’s career took a different turn.

Scolari continued to work in television, as Michael on the popular Newhart from 1984 to 1990. During that time, he appeared in the occasional movie; The Rosebud Beach Hotel among them. Here he plays Elliot, the uptight fiancé to Colleen Camp’s prim Tracy. Camp’s father, played for roughly five minutes, by Christopher Lee, gives Elliot a managerial position at a hotel he owns in Florida, but he has a plan up his sleeve to destroy the hotel and collect the insurance money. There seems to be no reason for Lee’s action, other than that his business is failing, however when we first see the hotel, it is brimming with activity and clientele. The screenplay takes one too many shortcuts when it comes to explaining character motivation, and the whole thing plays like an extended episode of Three’s Company.

Next comes a subplot where, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, Camp suspects Scolari of having an affair with Playboy model Monique Gabrielle. Meanwhile Camp is being seduced into having an affair of her own. Mix in a lot of gratuitous nudity, the Currie sisters – Marie and Cherie, and their rock music tendencies, and you’ve got something that makes even less sense than when it started. I feel like the movie was shot in a couple of hours. The producers promised a party and turned on their cameras when everybody arrived. The photography is terrible. I’ve never seen a beach photographed so unattractively. This movie makes me want to stay home.

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Colleen Camp is usually a dependable actress, but in this movie, she is absolutely terrible. Her “acting” consists of feigning surprise, lots of eye-rolling, and a ridiculously affected accent. I wondered if it was her fault or that of the director, Harry Hurwitz. She was much better in Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3. This is another example of a movie that I enjoyed as a kid, but now look at and believe to be terrible. I believe that’s three so far, if you’re keeping track. The movie had four writers, for crying out loud, but the script plays like a 14-page coloring book (with nudity)!

The cast includes Fran Drescher (Doctor Detroit), Eddie Deezen (every nerd/geek from every eighties movie ever made, including WarGames), Chuck McCann (They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way – another personal favorite of mine), and Hamilton Camp (Twice Upon a Time). Unbelievable to have a cast of all these funny, talented people and I didn’t laugh once. Not once.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.