And a wasted, sex-crazed bozo shall lead them….
Nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, punks, preppies, principals, pranks, proms, food fights, beer blasts, pot puffs, peepers, flashers, mooning, swooning, boobs, butts, boners, and barf.
Such is the iconography of the 1980s teen sex comedy, the era’s preeminent sexploitation genre made for and about audiences who were actually enduring puberty at the time. To call such films “porno movies for 13-year-olds” is accurate and, unfortunately, dangerous in today’s literal-minded moment of foolishness.
What I mean by that term is that studios mass-manufactured the likes of The Last American Virgin (1982), Joysticks (1983), and Hardbodies (1984), et al, to cash in on audience too young to easily access actual pornography (yes, 20 million years before the Internet), but whose hormones were ignited to nuclear heights as a result of both normal biology and the unprecedented hyper-sexualization of late-1970s’ commercial, popular, and even high art cultures, much of which specifically targeted adolescents as objects of eroticism; e.g.—the entire pre-Princeton career of Brooke Shields, from early childhood art nudes to Louise Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978) to The Blue Lagoon (1980) to saturation TV spots where nothing came (a lot) between 15-year-old Brooke and her Calvins.
Thus, in this atmosphere, neighborhood theaters and shopping mall multiplexes pulstaed each weekend with new R-rated high-school carnality farces and the video rental shops blossoming everywhere teemed with flesh-baring adolescent romps ranging from recent releases to drive-in fare dating back a decade-and-a-half or so.
In the course of this epoch, all the proper figures emerged—heroes, villains, goddesses, titans, and big, fat party animals. As with the Rome itself, the very inspiration for all those ’80s toga parties both on-screen and off, the teen sex comedy’s rule burned bright, conquered the known world, and then collapsed hard. The hangover, as should be expected, has been a beast. And it’s lasted forever.
Let’s put this in Biblical terms. In the teen sex comedy genre of the VHS era, American Graffiti serves as the Book of Genesis. It’s the origin story from which the whole megillah parties forward.
From there, three key figures emerged who both defined and informed every aspect of the movement: John “Bluto” Blutarski (John Belushi) of Animal House, Pee Wee (Dan Monahan of Porky’s, and Jeff Spicoli of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Think of them as Moses, John the Baptist, and Christ Jesus.
Really. Make this leap of faith. Come and see.
Bluto the Lawgiver
National Lampoon’s Animal House came down from the mountaintop in summer 1978 loaded with connections to the Old Testament. Consider the following.
Agreeable “wimp” Pinto (Tom Hulce) and flub-prone “blimp” Flounder (Stephen Furst) take on the campus establishment in the manner of David-versus-Goliath. Robert Hoover (James Widdoes), president of Faber College’s chapter of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity, oversees the madness of the day with the even-headed wisdom of King Solomon. Suave ladykiller Otter (Tim Matheson) and happily henpecked Boone (Peter Riegert) endure trials and enlightenment in the manner of Abraham and Job. Righteous biker Daniel Simpson Day, aka D-Day, comes off as the saga’s own Sampson, substituting the jaw of an ass for the Deathmobile and bringing down the Faber homecoming parade with the same fury Judeo-Christianity’s original mighty hero reduced the temple of hypocrites to rubble.
Above all, though, there is the Deliverer, the Father of the Tribe, God’s man at Faber College. That’s John “Bluto” Blutarsky. Inflamed by absolutely righteousness—along with countless emptied beer kegs, entire bottles of Jack Daniels, a jar of mustard, green Jell-O, and a pirate costume—Bluto liberates his people from the school’s ruthless, iron-fisted pharaoh, Dean Wormer (John Vernon).
What’s more, by the time of Animal House’s apocalyptic the future Senator Blutarsky sets a code in place that is no less than the 10 Commandments of Teen Sex Comedies.
1. Thou Shalt Par-Tay
How better to judge a teen sex comedy than by the quality of its big, blowout party scene? If somebody’s rec-room isn’t getting absolutely decimated by all kinds of messed up revelers that the guy’s mom and dad would never let in their house if they weren’t away on vacation, you may as well be suffering through some Wes Anderson abortion.
Although orgiastic bacchanals existed in movies before, the opening Delta bash in which naked mannequins fly, D-Day ascends a staircase astride his chopper, and Bluto unwittingly power-pees on potential pledges established a new industry standard.
2. Thou Shalt Dishonor, Defuse, and Defile Any and All Authority
Okay, yeah, sure—in real life, the collegiate fraternity system is an elitist monolith of establishment power and merciless status-quo-keeping, but in Animal House, it flattens the campus war machine, drives academia to madness, fucks the dean’s wife, impregnates the mayor’s 13-year-old daughter, ridicules university professors as pretentious con artists, and, overall, set the next decade of marching orders for and every film focused on anarchic adolescent antics.
3. Thou Shalt Render Impossible Pranks Plausible
“In ’57,” fumes Dean Wormer, “who threw a ‘surprise pajama party and held 37 coeds captive for an entire night? The next year, who mailed the statue of Emil Faber to Kruschev? Who dropped a truckload of Fizzies in the swim meet? Who delivered medical cadavers to the alumni dinner? Every Halloween, the trees are full of underwear… every spring, the toilets explode.”
4. Thou Shalt Complicate “Race Relations”
Upon release, Animal House got labeled a “shock comedy.” The term has never not applied since, even in the nihilistic ’90s where the movie continued to jolt first-time viewers with its grotesque decadence, Otter’s surprise dildo, a chainsaw getting fired up to de-limb a dead horse, a sudden revelation of a sorority girls hard-working rubber gloves, and other highpoints of impact that define every notion of what is now deemed (vomit on me for writing this, vomit on all of us for making it necessary) “politically incorrect.”
Nowhere is this more uncomfortably bombastic than during the Animal House road trip sequence in which four of our heroes abandoned their terrified dates to, presumably, definitely be raped and perhaps likely murdered by huge, malicious African-American gentlemen. It also peaks in the middle with a savage gag punctuated by a homophonic evocation of the term “Mau-Mau.”
Audiences squirmed over this material in 1978—but they laughed, too. At press time, humanity continues to muddle through the Age the Laughter Died. Thus, it’s probable that Animal House could not even be conceived today over any number of transgressions, but most especially its racial humor.
At the time, though, teen sex comedies in general just went with it. Consider the Mexican characters in Losin’ It and Hot Chili, the fraternity of color in The Party Animal, or anybody a shade tawnier than rice milk in a John Hughes movie.
5. Thou Shalt Attempt Romantic Subplots
Anytime bra-poppin’, suds-chuggin’, food-fightin’ teen opus slows down for love mush, blame courtship of brother Boone and plucky, bare-assed-Donald-Sutherland-fucking Katie (Karen Allen). Animal House pulls this relationship element off well and The Last American Virgin converts it into soul-obliterating horror; almost every other movie attempt is a swan dive to Boresville.
6. Thou Shalt Sing the Dirty Parts to “Louie Louie”
The irony, of course, is that the Kingsmen’s archetypal take on the garage rock perennial “Louie Louie” doesn’t actually have any “dirty parts.” The lesson is loud and commandingly clear, though: raunch is everywhere—sometimes you just have to make it.
7. Thou Shalt Team Lovable Nerd With Funny Fat Guy
Pinto. Flounder. From Spaz and Fink in Meatballs to Spade and Farley in Tommy Boy: ‘nuff said.
8. Thou Shalt Show
When Brother Bluto climbs a ladder to peep in on topless, pillow-fighting Pi Pi Pi sorority lovelies, we’re right there with him. He even turns and looks at us, eyebrows arched, and smiles. The camera does not cut away. No bars block anyone’s view. It’s all just nipples, nail polish, fancy underpants, beehive hairdos, and mischievous applications of bedding.
After a spell, Bluto hops, ladder and all, over to the window of campus pom-pom queen Mandy Pepperidge (Mary Louise Weller). She’s topless and wistful, with a couple of fingers finding their way toward what must be a spectacularly voluminous 1962 nether-mound of red hair. Bluto, stupefied, falls backward. Again, we’re right there with him.
Following Animal House, nudity in teen sex comedies, at least until the 1984-spawned cancer of the PG-13 rating, perhaps more than any other component, is what defined a movie as a teen sex comedy in the first (and secondary sex characteristics) place.
9. Thou Shalt Destroy Property
When other purpose could possibly be served by untrustworthily smiling papier-mache figures the size of King Kong?
10. Thou Shalt Uplift the Teenager
Even though its set in college and populated by performers obviously past their peak benzoyl peroxide years, Animal House’s inherent message is vital to surviving puberty: “Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.”
The movie’s annihilation of law and order, the dethroning and debasement of parental-natured authority figures, the puerile approach to prurience, and the idealization of nonstop id-unhinged indulgence is the ultimate power fantasy. Animal House incandescently nails it to celluloid wholesale. Everyone else had to just try to keep up from there.
Pee Wee the Baptist
After four years, two theatrical re-releases, multiple cable and network TV airings, and a failed at a sitcom adaptation, Animal House had at last made the world ready. Porky’s and its offshoots were coming—and, to paraphrase the movie’s own ad campaign, it made everybody glad they came.
Low-budget and more lowbrow than it wants to be, Porky’s whips up a wild, tumultuous, near-pornographic take on the furious hormone seizures and hurt feelings that fuel fantasies of epic revenge that define so much of male adolescence.
Set in 1954 in the fictional Florida hamlet Angel Beach, the episodic comedy packs in one selling point after another, including insane pranks, sadistic rednecks, bottomless Kim Cattrall as a howlingly enthusiastic nymphomaniac teacher, the sylvan abundance of visible pubic hair in the girls’ group shower scene, mass slapstick faux sex assault with an inflated six-foot condom, and the genuinely unprecedented on-camera comeuppance a perv who pokes his pecker through a hole in that shower wall and visibly gets it yanked damn near off by a hulking gym matron.
Prior to Porky’s, writer-director Bob Clark came from avant-garde live theater (yes), and made three noteworthy horror films, the schlocky but mildly ambitious Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972), the super-heavy ’Nam vet Monkey’s Paw variation, Deathdream (1974), and the harrowing, monumentally influential holiday-themed slasher opus, Black Christmas (1974). All the while, Porky’s percolated as Clark’s passion project: he longed to make an answer film to the vice-scrubbed nostalgia of Happy Days on TV and Grease at the movies, one that would depict the era as he experienced it—loaded with fucking, fighting, and the raising of hell. Given the opportunity, Clark delivered mightily.
Dollar-for-dollar in its initial year of release, Porky’s earned a higher profit than any film other than E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Culturally, it enflamed the youth market like no film had in recent memory, but still… Porky’s was not The One. As somebody who turned fourteen a few months into the movie’s run at the time—and who, to be sure, repeatedly attempted (and failed at) the movie’s “Anybody seen Mike Hunt?” prank phone call—the ’82 swelter season absolutely felt like the Summer of Porky’s and that the teenage T&A triumph would keep on barreling forward forever into infinity. In retrospect, just as disciples of John the Baptist discovered once his Big Show cousin waded into the Jordan after him, Porky’s’ was just the warm-up—the opening act that rolled out a long, comfortable walkway for the Real One that September: Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Jesus H. Spicoli
Like Christ Jesus, Fast Times at Ridgemont High at first attracted only a select cadre of fired-up devotees. Critics hated the movie, audiences avoided it in theaters, and the whole thing failed to live up to what seemed to be a few months of healthy pre-released hype. Then, like the aforementioned Redeemer, Fast Times at Ridgemont High rose again.
The resurrection took a bit longer than three days, but once the movie hit home video shortly after that newfangled VCR device cropped up every Christmas tree in America, Fast Times hit huge. Upon making it to cable, the movie’s surge kept happening and, in short order, director Amy Heckerling and writer Cameron Crowe’s masterwork went from almost abandoned box office boondoggle to cult sensation to era-defining mainstream monolith.
Looking back, it seems a long time coming, what with Fast Times’ flawless melding of madcap hilarity with heartfelt emotion, perfectly performed by the film’s once-in-a-generation cast of acting powerhouses just on the brink of breaking through. Appropriately, the movie’s single most iconic element—Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli, Ridgemont High’s supreme surf dog in residence who’s been “stoned since the third grade”—is a colossus whose cultural time had come like few others ever have.
DNA-wise, Spicoli marries the SoCal seaside lore and lunacy of the 1960s’ Frankie-and-Annette Beach Party movies to the gnarly ganja-zonked absurdism of Cheech and Chong’s then-peaking cannabis comedies, but even then Penn turns him into more than just an original creation. Spicoli is nothing less than the Alpha and the Omega (to paraphrase the other Fellow) of the teen movie party animal who isn’t the fat guy. More than just a stock character type, “Spicoli” is an adjective, a genre unto itself, and a bit of shorthand understood instantly the world over. Sound familiar?
Now consider that the names Jesus Christ and Jeff Spicoli consist of eleven letters apiece. And how about that each of these oracles landed as misunderstood philosophers spreading their viewpoints among palm trees in warm climates? The similarities do not stop there.
JESUS & SPICOLI
• Both have long hair
• Both wear flip flops
• Walks on water/Surfs on water
• Feeds 5,000 with two fish and a loaf of bread/Feeds whole history class with one pizza
*Turns water into wine/Turns brain into mush
•Forgives his executioners/Makes peace with Mr. Hand
•Apostles go on to lifetime careers proselytizing/Toke-up buds Anthony Edwards and Eric Stoltz go on to lifetime careers in Hollywood
•Remembered with rosary beads/Remembered with puka shells
•Holy Man/Righteous Dude
These scriptures require no further interpretation. Go now in peace… to party on.