The Money Pit

The Money Pit. U-Drive Productions 1986.

Before watching the movie:

So a young couple makes a real estate investment to live their dream, and then everything that could possibly go wrong with that choice does. That sounds a lot like The Long, Long Trailer to me. Only this time it’s Tom Hanks and Shelley Long, and the house doesn’t roll. (Probably.)

Unlike that movie, a lot of the problems turn out to be disastrous unexpected costs, rather than just ruining their marriage, which probably happens too, because money is the top reason couples fight.

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The Wraith

The Wraith. Alliance Entertainment 1986.

Before watching the movie:

So what I’m seeing described here is a techno ghost chasing down the drag racing gang that killed him in a magic racing car. I’m trying to come up with a crazier movie synopsis and, okay, Ghost Rider probably counts. And a whole lot of other contemporary horror stories, I guess. I withdraw the question.

I’m not clear right now on who the protagonist is. The summary I saw framed it as the dead guy’s story, the poster looks like it’s about a group of people who may be the drag racing gang that got him killed, but I don’t think the heroes of a horror story would be as culpable as the summary I saw made out.

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Innerspace

Innerspace. Amblin Entertainment 1987.

Before watching the movie:

I don’t recall at the moment if this started as a direct remake/sequel to Fantastic Voyage, was merely inspired by it openly, or just has a similar concept, but I do know that I was first made aware of the existence of Innerspace when researching Voyage. I have dim recollections that it might be a “suggested by” treatment of the novel sequel to Voyage?

Anyway, I also just discovered it has Martin Short as the hapless fellow who doesn’t realize he’s got a tiny explorer inside him, which ramps up my interest in it. Also, the idea of cutting back to comedy sequences outside caused by what’s going on inside reminds me of Osmosis Jones, only with live action/VFX instead of cartoon animation.

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Max Dugan Returns

Max Dugan Returns. 20th Century Fox 1983.

Before watching the movie:

This seems strongly positioned as a guardian angel/Mary Poppins kind of movie, but I think that’s just metaphorical, and hopefully tongue in cheek. The movie I would really like this to be is Max Dugan dropping into his daughter’s life expecting to fix everything and be instantly forgiven and failing miserably on both accounts, then working to earn his way back into her family and in the process making things better. That’s the plot vibe I’m getting from this movie, and I hope the magical trappings are just because it’s the kind of art Neil Simon brings to a project, because if it’s as straightforward as it looks, that would easily become too simple and saccharine.

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Police Academy

Police Academy. The Ladd Company 1984.

Before watching the movie:

Police Academy grew into a franchise of irreverent comedy, which I kind of have the same impression of as of Carry On, only with at least a cohesive theme. I think the third movie is the most popular, but this is where it started. If this one hadn’t done well, there wouldn’t be a III. As far as I know, there are still “Police Academy” movies being made, in the kind of sad way cheap movies get the “National Lampoon” name put on them.

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Batteries Not Included

Batteries Not Included. Amblin Entertainment 1987.

Before watching the movie:

The log line for the movie I’m expecting this to be is something like “the elves and the shoemaker, but with extraterrestrial robots”. That’s how I’m interpreting “desperate people get help from tiny robotic aliens”. The title seems more like a topical joke than anything particularly related to that story.

What particularly interests me is that Brad Bird has a writing credit. Spielberg’s name got this movie made, but I wonder if I can spot the early Brad Bird in the story.

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Gremlins

Gremlins. Amblin Entertainment 1984.

Before watching the movie:

So, here’s one of those 80s classics I missed. I know the rules of the gremlins, I’ve heard an argument that the change the gremlins undergo is a metaphor for puberty, but I really don’t know all that much about what’s actually in the movie.

Apparently it’s one of the things Spielberg was involved in at least to the point of having his name on it opened doors, but the fact that it’s written by Chris Columbus probably tells me a lot about what to expect.

After watching the movie:

Randall Peltzer, an inventor trying to sell his comically disappointing inventions, visits an antique shop in Chinatown to try to sell something or at least get his son a Christmas present. Finding an adorable furry creature the shopkeeper calls a “Mogwai”, Randall insists on buying it and is refused on the grounds that one is too much responsibility, but the shopkeeper’s grandson secretly sells it to him with the instructions to keep him away from bright light, never get him wet, and never feed him after midnight. Randall takes “Gizmo” home to his son Billy, who cares for him well, until a friend spills a glass of water on him and five new, more mischievous Mogwai spawn off Gizmo’s back. Not long after, the younger Mogwai trick Billy into feeding them late by stopping his clock, and they metamorphose into vicious monsters bent on killing anyone they see, wrecking the town, and generally having a lot of fun.

I never realized Billy would be so old. I expected a child protagonist, and Billy is in his late teens or early 20s, and moreover the principal breadwinner for his family through his job as a low-level peon at the bank thanks to his father being a full-time crackpot inventrepreneur. He is in fact, old enough to have a love interest subplot with his principal companion for the final act, though the nature of his relationship with Kate doesn’t really add much.

What’s really odd though is the inclusion Billy’s dog Barney. Barney is in a position to be a major player in the plot and he’s just kind of there, except for the large chunks of the movie when he’s not even present. I’d say Barney mainly exists for Mrs. Deagle to be awful about, but that doesn’t really go anywhere either. She complains about and makes threats toward Barney until she exits the movie as a casualty of the gremlins’ mayhem. I guess they wanted to show the gremlins kill someone, but really wanted it to be okay for that person to get killed. But it’s not even a kind of poetic justice, so establishing her as being vile enough to deserve to die could’ve been done in much less time.

Orientalism is never a value add, but it’s a fact of older movies. So I’m not exceptionally bothered by the way “they’re from China” explains these fantastical creatures or the stereotypes depicted in the shopkeeper Gizmo came from. What bothers me more is the guy in town who goes on rants about how “foreigners” started putting literal gremlins in our equipment as sabotage in WWII (a superstition that was probably mostly in jest) and are still doing it… for reasons. Which could just be giving voice to prejudice for the sake of local color and setting up another unlikeable victim, except the ending narration lends credence to the rants by specifically tying the Mogwai to those foreigner sabotage gremlins. Sure, the movie calls them gremlins by title and by dialogue, but without that narration, they could just be “mischievous creatures wrecking everything” without any connection to malice from foreign enemies.

A lot of horror movies have comic relief, and aside from the prop comedy of the failed inventions, the humor here is very low-key. It’s called a horror-comedy, but to me it’s just a horror with cute fuzzies. It seems a little confused throughout, but it’s probably just me not getting it.

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