Vintage Cable Box: Boarding School, 1978

“You look like a strong boy.  Do you think you could help me with my luggage when we arrive?”

Boarding School, 1978 (Nastassja Kinski), Atlantic Releasing 

The first image of 1978’s Boarding School (renamed from the more snooty The Passion Flower Hotel for smutty U.S. audiences) shows a young woman’s flaccid, flat nipple slowly becoming erect when exposed to a poster of Marlon Brando as he appeared in his iconic The Wild One.  The other girls count off how long it takes before the fleshy pearls become rigid – like a contest?  It’s an unusual qualification for entry into womanhood, or at the very least hetero-normative womanhood.  What if Brando doesn’t rock your world?  What if you’re a Bogart girl?  Saint Clara’s School for Girls, 1956 is a hotbed of libidinous tarts; as in Barbarella, it becomes a vehicle for feminine empowerment, but is ultimately nothing more than dirty old men ogling jail-bait.

We join American girl Deborah Collins (Nastassja Kinski) en route to Saint Clara’s in a train occupied by clergy.  Who was Saint Clara?  Patron saint of hot and horny young women?  Actually, no.  There doesn’t seem to be a Saint Clara, but there was a Saint Clare.  Canonized two years after her death, Clare was the patron Saint of among many other things, eye disease, laundry, and television.  Huh?  Anyway, Deborah arrives and, almost immediately, starts influencing the girls in the ways of love and sex (although she was originally assigned by the headmistress to keep the girls in check).  Tall and imposing, but with a look not dissimilar to Ingrid Bergman, Kinski’s gum-chewing strumpet quickly sizes up her authority figures, and we are left to wonder if Europeans presume “Americans” to be nothing more than sex-obsessed misfits.

I’m not sure what to make of the girls in Boarding School, except to say upon entering high school, I knew not one girl who behaved in this way.  They were neither oversexed nor undersexed.  They existed as entities with breasts with suspicious, darting eyes and long hair.  Some girls were more developed than others (as with boys) but none of them looked like Nastassja Kinski!  If I must get intellectual on your collective ass, I would say the repression of the parochial authoritarian as represented by the headmistress, her staff, and the various members of the clergy wandering about in juxtaposition to the “latest American craze”, the rock and/or roll music the kids love creates an intriguing sociological groundswell.  In other words, if the kids like to dance, they’ll also enjoy screwing.

In a minor departure from the source material, the best-selling book, The Passion Flower Hotel by Rosalind Erskine (a revelatory pseudonym for Roger Erskine Longrigg), the girls plot to lose their virginity to the boys in the private school across the lake.  In the book, however, the story becomes an exercise in capitalism as the girls sell their services to the boys.  They have a product, and it’s a seller’s market, if you know what I mean!  While the idea of prostitution is debated, the fulfillment of their sexual needs is paramount.  I love the idea of the girls working out a “tier” system of services and specific pricing.  This movie is proof-positive women belong in the workplace.  Sorry.  At least in management and production.

I wonder if there is a place in the world of film today for a movie like Boarding School.  I think the trivialization of such a hot-button issue as underage sex and willful prostitution would trigger (hate to use that word) massive protests and outrage.  If a movie like this were being made today, the material would have to be handled with sensitivity and sympathy, which would drain all the life out of it.  Think of Boarding School as a reverse-gender variation on Screwballs, except, you know, good.  In fact, the only issue I have with the film is the hideous dubbing on the American version.  I would love to see a cleaned-up European version of the movie.  Erotic movies of this nature received endless play on cable television, specifically The Movie Channel, but because of their pedigree being produced and distributed overseas, they often attained higher notoriety than domestic fare.

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: Sixteen Candles, 1984

“You grabbed my nuts.”

Sixteen Candles, 1984 (Molly Ringwald), MCA/Universal

If ever there was a filmmaker so attuned to the yearnings, the vulnerabilities, and the desires of young people (specifically teenagers) in the 1980s, it had to be John Hughes. Initially a Chicago-based freelance writer and advertising copywriter, Hughes dived into assignments for the Harvard and National Lampoon, indirectly transitioning to screenwriting and then to directing with his remarkably self-assured debut, 1984’s Sixteen Candles. Hughes would have a corner on the market of teen angst for roughly the next five years before transitioning to films about children, starting with Home Alone. He would disappear almost completely from the public eye by 1998.

Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) has just turned “sweet sixteen”, but because of the chaos surrounding her older sister Ginny’s (Blanche Baker) upcoming wedding to the “oily variety beau-hunk“, Rudy (Hughes regular John Kapelos), her parents and visiting grandparents have forgotten. At school, she lets it slip that she has a crush on hottie Jake Ryan (Matt Dillon lookalike Michael Schoeffling), which arouses geek Farmer Ted’s (Anthony Michael Hall) curiosity and Jake’s interest. While fending off Ted’s unnervingly amorous and oddly confident advances, Jack’s annoying perfect girlfriend, Caroline (Haviland Morris) throws an after-dance party at Jake’s house. Jake corners Farmer Ted to get more information about Samantha.

Samantha goes home, dejected, only to be woken by her guilt-ridden father (Paul Dooley) so he can clear his conscience and apologize to her for forgetting her special day.  She confesses her crush on Jake.  He tells her, “If it’s any consolation, I love you. And if this guy can’t see in you all the beautiful and wonderful things that I see, then he’s got the problem.”  It’s a beautiful father-daughter moment and rings so true, for me, in the complex and frustrating relationships children can have with their parents even if their years create gaps in their understanding of each other.  Sixteen Candles stands apart from similar teen epics by analyzing Hughes’ sympathy for his characters, including Farmer Ted, Jake, even Ginny and Caroline.  Indeed Hughes’ themes extend to other works such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, Mr. Mom, The Breakfast Club, and Uncle Buck.

Populated with vividly written supporting characters, Sixteen Candles stands in strict defiance of the overused chick-flick designation.  This may be a movie about a young woman trying to learn and master the cues and clues of teenage anxiety, but it has a message that plays for boys and young men as well.  It speaks the ever-evolving language of youth and occasional rebellion, and it never insults the film’s demographic or the viewer’s intelligence, even with some easy throwaway gags.  This movie and the following year’s The Breakfast Club showcased Hughes’ propensity and talent for mixing moments of high hilarity with heart-wrenching drama and, in my opinion, he would never achieve that level of success with his work again.

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.

Vintage Cable Box: My Bodyguard, 1980

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“It’s not the gum that’s the worst.  It’s the boogers that scare me.”

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My Bodyguard, 1980 (Chris Makepeace), 20th Century Fox

Chris Makepeace is the epitome of what is now being called, the “beta” male; sinewy, bony, full of emotional mush, eternally trapped in the wonder years, and always praying for thicker muscle tone. He’s a small young man with soft features, expressive eyebrows and an unruly mass of hair on the top of his head. Besieged by his eccentric relatives, he (perhaps) involuntarily takes a back-seat to his hotel manager Dad, Martin Mull and libidinous grandmother, Ruth Gordon. They all live in the hotel Mull manages. It’s possible one could look at Makepeace and decide he is privileged, but Mull’s job indicates the upper-tier of a desperate working class.

First day of school at Lake View High in Chicago, Makepeace can’t find a seat in his classroom.  Enter Moody (slicked-back sleaze Matt Dillon) who presents the teacher with an apple while young Joan Cusack makes eyes at him.  Makepeace runs afoul of Dillon by first taking his seat, and second by joking about his name, Big Moody or “B.M.” for short.  This is rather brave for a sensitive soul like Makepeace’s Clifford Peache, whose mouth-breathing fast friend informs him Moody takes “protection money” from the students in exchange for, I would guess, his service in keeping the smaller kids safe from hulking school outcast, Ricky (Adam Baldwin).  It isn’t long before Dillon and his toadies harass Makepeace and shake him down for lunch money.  They figure because Clifford transferred from a private academy, he must be rich.  He swears he isn’t.  What’s the big deal here?  I went to a “private academy” a long time ago on a scholarship.  I also had a number of bullies.

Even after Moody is busted for extortion, the befuddled Dean lets him off with a week’s detention.  This spells trouble for Clifford because it compels Moody to make it his mission in life to terrorize the young man.  Bullies don’t understand or care for logic, and if they feel they are not sufficiently feared, they step up their respective games.  If there’s anybody the kids fear more than Moody, it’s got to be Ricky.  What confuses me is the physical characteristics of these sophomores.  A lot of them look like they’re 10 years old, and some of them look like they’re pushing 30, Baldwin included.  Moody’s campaign of harassment continues unabated, and Clifford is forced to consider other options.  He reaches out to Ricky for protection, but Ricky isn’t initially interested.  What, obstensibly, starts as a teenage nightmare becomes an interesting character study.  Clifford decides to make Ricky his project, and the two bond.

Baldwin strikes an imposing figure compared to Makepeace (and even Dillon), but he has a soft-spoken and gruff way about him, and he saves this coming-of-age tome of self-discovery from mediocrity.  Makepeace helps him find the correct cylinders for a motorcycle he has been rebuilding and then they take to the road in triumph.  The narrative beats are very similar to a love story, but this is about the beginnings of a true friendship.  Unfortunately the story gets bogged down under the weight of ancillary characters Mull, Gordon, and a surprise turn by John Houseman.  We understand that Makepeace’s family is composed of unusual and often, batty people, but it feels out of place here, as if director Tony Bill had envisioned a more epic and episodic story about a few weeks in the life of a kid he obviously adores but felt didn’t have the strength to completely carry the story.

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Despite my issues, I still enjoy this movie, and I feel the sting (a personal feeling) of all my bullies of younger years.  I was a bony, skinny young man, and then I had a growth spurt at 18.  After that, the kids stopped messing with me, but I’ll always remember a beloved Timex wristwatch stolen right off my arm, by a kid half my size.  When I confronted him, I could tell he smelled my fear.  He got right up in my shit while his friends stood behind me, probably waiting for me to make the first move.  I didn’t make a move.  I was frightened.  I was crippled with my fear, and I was ashamed.  Bullies aren’t always about superior height or muscle power.  It’s an attitude.  An attitude I could never successfully emulate.

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.

Vintage Cable Box: The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982

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“All of you are very pretty. I love you. It takes a lot of love for a person to…  do this. You know you want it. You’ll like it.”

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The Slumber Party Massacre, 1982 (Michele Michaels), New World Pictures

I’m going to have to get analytical now.  I knew this day would come, where I would have to do a write-up of Slumber Party Massacre, taking into account the effect of slasher films on the market and then how this movie impacted slasher films moving forward.  If you read descriptions of the movie on other pages, they will, more often than not, point to Amy Jones, the director, and Rita Mae Brown, the writer as they attempted to deconstruct the subgenre and provide a parody of the material in it’s place.  While the movie succeeds in aping the formula, a very thick tongue is planted firmly in-cheek, but only for those who can appreciate it.

We start with the bold red titles, and the sound of organs not out-of-place in a Vincent Price movie.  Mom and Dad are off on a vacation, or something, leaving Trish (Michele Michaels) in charge of the house, so she decides to throw a party (or a “slumber” party, as the case may be – according to my research, slumber parties usually involve pizza and lesbian experimentation, but I can’t be sure).  Meanwhile, a lunatic (who uses a power drill) is on the loose, killing women everywhere he goes.  I wonder what brand of drill he uses.  We get fleeting glimpses of the horrible man as he watches Trish and her friends.  He seriously looks like a sex offender.  He has the glazed-over look of a man who recently had a vasectomy.

After basketball, there is an extended shower sequence with all the girls, and Jones spends an impressive amount of time lingering on naked female flesh (more than in any other slasher movie I’ve seen).  I suspect Jones and Brown set out to indict the male-dominated industry of slasher movies, or possibly call our attention to the amount of violence perpetrated against women in most movies.  Poor Brinke Stevens (Haunting Fear), who won’t be going to the party, gets locked inside the school and has to run from our driller-killer while her friends remain blissfully ignorant and on their way to the coolest slumber party ever!  I’m kidding, of course.  It’s really kind of boring.

Par for the course, we have a couple of fake-out gags, where the purpose seems to be to frighten young women with ridiculous situations.  A hand comes out of nowhere to frighten a female pedestrian.  A drill breaks through a front door because another young lady is installing a peep-hole (come on!).  A shadowy figure walks slowly down stairs and frightens another young woman.  All of these gags occur within minutes.  What’s the point of that?  To show that women are easily horrified?  I get it.  As a matter of fact, I’m easily horrified.  In fact, I’m horrified right now writing this.  Aaagh!  I will say Jones has a great photographer’s eye.  The compositions and colors of interior shots are deep, dark, and rich with atmospheric lighting, but when accompanied by the Vincent Price organ, the whole thing seems incredibly silly.

First order of business is weed.  The girls smoke up and talk about sex, and who the sluttiest girl is, and how to get to first base, and how their menstrual cycles line up, or something like that.  Honestly, I wasn’t paying attention in between fake-out gags (we’re up to two hundred by this point in the running time).  It’s weird that I like the idea of the movie more than the actual movie.  We have extremely dark night shots (I’ve always preferred that realistic lighting to this new-fangled modern lighting where you can see everything in any given exterior shot), sounds of dogs barking in the background, some heavy breathing and POV shots.  The Slumber Party Massacre has all the trappings of a great slasher film (great photography, great editing), but Brown’s premise is lost in the thick, choking fog of social commentary, not unlike many movies produced today.  We need more entertainment, less moralizing!

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Poor Brinke!

Second order of business is pizza (no anchovies!).  The pizza guy shows up, in the midst of all the female confessionals and make-overs, but he has bloody holes in his eyes so I’m guessing he won’t be getting a tip.  My favorite bit in the movie has one of the girls eating the pizza while they try to figure out their next move.  A particularly telling scene has a girl collapse to the garage floor and the killer brandishes his extra-long drill bit between his legs.  Brian De Palma would imitate this shot two years later in Body Double, but to much better effect.  The killer cuts the phone line, and off we go!  We’re more than halfway through the movie before these dim-wits get a clue.  I can’t blame the girls, though.  Rita Mae Brown is the true killer of this promising story.  In the end, one of our heroines uses a machete to chop the end off of the killer’s drill-bit, effectively castrating him.  There are some very interesting ideas at play here, but Brown and Jones are more interested in making a bold political statement than in entertaining or scaring their audience, and that’s unfortunate.

Next time, we take a look at the (allegedly) final chapter in the Friday the 13th franchise.  As we know, it doesn’t really work out that way.  Thank you, Corey Feldman!

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.