When you're ten years old, movies are the most magical place in the world. Anything can happen when those lights go down, and what now seems like a fleeting hour and a half seemed like an eternity at that age. It's also the age when your parents start dropping you off at the movies by yourself, as long as you went with a friend or a trusted family member. In my case, the first time that happened I was 11 and my older cousin took me and my little brother to see Tron ... and then skipped out on us to see The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas next door.
For this former ten-year-old, the movies were a seething pit of sex, action, adventure, laughter, and tears in the summer of 1981. These were the days that I used to buy those big one-shot movie magazines that were filled with photos and glib information. I read the one for Superman II until it fell apart in tatters at summer camp. Sadly, the magazine was much better than the movie. However, 1981 was also one of the greatest movie summers ever. Read on after the jump to find out why.
May 1: The summer kicked off not with a bang, but with a slice. Friday the 13th: Part 2 was the first horror film I ever saw in the theater, and I'm not above admitting I was an enormous fraidy cat the whole time. My buddy's mom bought tickets for us and then left us via the rear exit, and we sat in the very back row where my teeth chattered like a telegraph. Seriously, I was terrified. The rest of the weekend fizzled anyhow with the Kim Basinger movie Hard Country, and Harry Hamlin in King of the Mountain. Both are coma-inducing.
May 15: I still haven't seen the James Garner-starring The Fan from this weekend (conventional wisdom says to avoid it), but Take This Job and Shove It was one of my first-ever "grown up" movie experiences. It's by no means a good movie, and is named after a country western song. It also features Barbara Hershey mud wrestling, and that's something she'd probably love to scrub off of her resume. Still, it's an entire movie about drinking beer, and has Art Carney, Martin Mull, and Eddie Albert in it. Craptastic! Even the poster shamlessly plugs "...Robert Hays hasn't had this much fun since Airplane!"
May 22: Outland brings both science fiction and Sean Connery together in what's basically a version of High Noon in space, and I couldn't have been happier. I ended up seeing this movie several times over the summer, and my buddy Thomas bought a Con-Am 27 hat. Pure delight. Then there was Richard Pryor in Bustin' Loose, which wasn't quite as good as Stir Crazy from the year before, but was loads better than Superman III which would come later. The "grown up" movie The Four Seasons ended up being the high grosser from that weekend (in the long run: Bustin' Loose won the weekend with $6.6 million), and I've still never seen it. Sorry, Alan Alda.
June 12: A day which will live in movie infamy forever: Raiders of the Lost Ark is released. I remember going to see this because of the Han Solo / Harrison Ford factor, and being completely blown away. Seriously, every kid I knew wanted a leather jacket and a whip that Christmas. Me, I just wanted the fedora and the satchel full of adventure gear like ... well, we've never seen what Indy carries in that man bag of his. Anyhow, whips and the occult ended up being pitted against swords and Greek mythology with Clash of the Titans, another great movie (when you're ten) that is currently being remade. Harry Hamlin thankfully redeemed his King of the Mountain debacle in Titans, and Mel Brooks and Cheech and Chong rounded out the weekend with the comedy of History of the World: Part I, and Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams which made it a perfect movie sandwich weekend: action, comedy, comedy and action.
June 19: How do you follow up Superman: The Movie? Sadly, if you're the Ilya and Alexander Salkind, the producers, you fire Richard Donner who had just handed you a pitch-perfect adaptation of the Man of Steel, and hire Richard Lester of the Beatles Help! fame to finish Superman II. Even as a kid I was scratching my head over this one: you've got Superman shooting beams of blue light out of his hands, he's able to create duplicates of himself, and he can tear off his S-shield and use it to wrap people up. My movie magazine was loads better, as is Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, which was released in 2006. I was left to drown my sorrows in buckets of popcorn, Dom DeLuise style, while watching The Cannonball Run. Purely enjoyable movie cheese.
June 26: Now this was probably one of the best all-around weekends in movie history. You've got action with For Your Eyes Only, fantasy with Dragonslayer, comedy with Stripes, and a family film with The Great Muppet Caper. If you forget the lack of Connery and the presence of Moore in the Bond flick, what could be more perfect? Plus Caper is a much better flick than the original The Muppet Movie: Charles Grodin, Diana Rigg, and the Baseball Diamond? I still have my collectible McDonald's glasses from that movie. Sad, but true. Now go back and rent Stripes and marvel over how young Harold Ramis is.
July 10: It's a truly juxtaposed weekend, with The Fox and the Hound delighting family audiences (and me, I'll admit it) on one end, and Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken kicking ass on the other in Escape from New York. He was single-handedly responsible for bringing back the eyepatch and making it look cool. It also featured one of the best movie posters ever created, with the head of the Statue of Liberty lying in the streets of Manhattan long before J.J. Abrams and Cloverfield stuck it there.
July 17: There's nothing better than seeing a movie filled with comedic quotes when you're ten, and continuing to use them until you're an adult. Also, it's a really good way to annoy people. Dudley Moore's Arthur prodivded great quotes like "If I didn't have a bathtub ... there'd be water everywhere!" and gave us the world's most lovable drunk. Just like Escape from New York, however, this one also has a sequel you should avoid. Escape from L.A. and Arthur 2: On The Rocks are both very skippable. George Hamilton also stopped making relevant movie this year with Zorro, The Gay Blade. That's one movie a ten year old should never see.
July 24: Putting this list together, I realized there are a ton of movies I haven't seen from this summer. Things like Julie Andrews in S.O.B. (July 1), and Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone (what?!) in Victory (July31), but the weekend of July 24 really puts it all in sharp perspective. I never saw Blow Out with John Travolta, Eye of the Needle with Donald Sutherland, Gas, or Wolfen (I know, our own Scott Weinberg will kill me for that one). In fact, the only movie that opened this weekend that I actually saw was Tarzan, The Ape Man. Who could pass on seeing Bo Derek as Jane? Just don't tell Scott I skipped werewolves for it.
July 31: Chevy Chase had a big year in 1981, starring in Under the Rainbow this weekend, and Modern Problems in December. Rainbow features Billy Barty as a Nazi spy, The Wizard of Oz, and World War II-era Hollywood. Probably Chevy Chase's worst movie, and that includes you Nothing But Trouble. Even Carrie Fisher and one of the original munchkins hated it, and that's a pretty ringing anti-endorsement. Still, it's an indelible part of my summer.
August 7: My parents used to buy me novelizations of movies before the movies came out, mostly to keep me shut up in the backseat on long car trips. For some reason, Disney movies always featured heavily in grocery store mass market paperback rotation, and that's how I discovered Condorman. It's about a comic-book artist who becomes the hero he's been drawing for years, and features a ton of nifty James Bond-esque gadgets. As far as The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia (with Kristy McNichol, Dennis Quaid and Mark Hamill) and Student Bodies are concerned, I might never know. I missed those too.
And the rest: The end of the summer closed out fairly uneventfully for me until I saw An American Werewolf in London, which will hopefully put me back in favor in the Weinberg camp. It's still one of the best werewolf movies ever made, and those transformation scenes gave me nightmares when I was a kid. I went on to miss a lot of movies in August and early September due to summer camp and school starting, although nothing really stands out except Honky Tonk Freeway. How on Earth could I have missed that? Howard Hesseman, Teri Garr, Peter Billingsley, and Beau Bridges finally unite in a film and I miss it? A real tragedy that Netflix can help me rectify.
I also would like to stick in a plug for November 6, 1981 here. That's the date that Time Bandits appeared in theaters, and despite the whip-it-good frenzy that was Raiders, Time Bandits has been the movie that has stuck with me the most and is one of my most favorite movies. I drew my own time maps, studied all the eras they traveled to, and even had the same name as the boy-hero in the movie. In the day before CGI made everything look hyper-fake, this movie made it all look real. Now to find my map of all the timeholes ...