Teen Movie Hell

Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-Of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped!
By Mike McPaddden
[Bazillion Points]

There was a time when Atlanta was lucky to serve as the shooting location for an ’80s teen comedy like Fast Food – and Teen Movie Hell carefully captures those heady days when video stores were desperate for a sex-crazed romp featuring Jim Varney and reformed porn star Traci Lords. The deliriously detailed collection of film reviews is the latest cinematic deep dive from Mike “McBeardo” McPadden, who previously explored similarly important lowbrow moments with his definitive Heavy Metal Movies.

And, once again, McPadden is chronicling a time when stacks of VHS tapes often doubled as a second album collection. There were plenty of great songs hidden away in the heyday of teen movie soundtracks – which McPadden mostly agrees took place in the ‘70s and ‘80s, with Teen Movie Hell drawing the line at 1995’s National Lampoon’s Senior Trip.

“That’s when you began to get those second-tier Candlebox knock-offs,” McPadden notes from his Chicago headquarters. Fortunately, the man with “MEAT LOAF” tattooed on his knuckles has plenty more musical highlights from the genre. Teen Movie Hell even comes with an addendum that lists an Official Mix Tape for genre fans. The playlist includes Cheap Trick’s lost title tune to 1984’s Up the Creek, Kathy Brown’s “all things Aerobicizable” semi-title theme to My Tutor, and the Circle Jerks raging through “Moral Majority” in Surf II.

Sadly, there’s a minor sin in leaving out Tommy Tutone’s otherwise-unavailable “Teen Angel Eyes” from The Last American Virgin. McPadden’s still working on the list, though. “I only had space for about 20 songs,” he explains. “I’m pretty happy with the list, but you can go to the website for Bazillion Points Publishing and see my extended version. I’m still adding songs. I might be up to #49 now with the latest one. That’s the disco theme from Midnight Madness.”

McPadden doesn’t know that the Fast Food soundtrack featured local acts such as Paper Dolls and Darryl Rhoades. That’s okay, though. His review notes that the movie has big problems, anyway. (“A wet T-shirt contest is announced – but then never happens!”) He’s also caught up on the genre’s most important moments and major music figures.

That includes indie L.A. act Gleaming Spires as the likely leader in the realm of Teen Comedy soundtracks. The future backing members of Sparks showed up in plenty of productions, with “Are You Ready for the Sex Girls” serving as a calling card for The Last American Virgin, Revenge of the Nerds, and their own personal appearance in the college-kid-in-a-coma sleeper School Spirit.

“That’s the first band that comes to mind with these movies,” agrees McPadden. “I was expecting there to be more names that would keep showing up. Instead, there didn’t seem to be any one guy. Sammy Hagar might be the closest. He shows up in Up the Academy and The Sure Thing and gets the title song for Fast Times at Ridgemont High – although it’s not as good as Billy Squier’s ‘Fast Times (The Best Years of Our Lives).’”

One problem, of course, is that teen sex comedies often served several young masters and missies. 1989’s Dream a Little Dream is a good example, with Corey Haim and Corey Feldman trying to grow up without sacrificing their status as sexually unthreatening teen idols. The soundtrack is reduced to balancing some fine AOR songs with painful kiddie pop melodies – culminating in soap star Michael Damien’s neutered hit cover of David Essex’s “Rock On.”

“There are so many schizophrenic soundtracks out there,” says McPadden. “Zapped! is another great example. It has that incredible theme song by Keane, who were teenyboppers in the ’70s and trying to become rockers in the ’80s with ‘Tryin’ to Kill a Saturday Night.’ Then the rest of the songs are just dreck. The soundtrack to Private School has Rick Springfield with ‘The American Girl,’ but then you have that disturbing Phoebe Cates love song. Zapped has a really awful love theme, too.”

Zapped! also has some typically problematic moments from teen cinema, with the poster promising that telekinetic teen Scott Baio would use his new powers to undress some unsuspecting women. That kind of thing poses a problem for most film scholars nowadays. Fortunately, McPadden wisely addresses those concerns by making room in Teen Movie Hell for several fine guest essays from female writers.

Even better, he didn’t have to fret over #MeToo moments when choosing the Teen Movie Hell playlist. “I don’t think too many musical elements have aged poorly,” McPadden muses. “Maybe with ‘Johnny, Are You Queer?’ from Valley Girl. I remember the song getting some pushback when the movie came out. That might be part of it being another great moment-in-time soundtrack – but it’s such a specific place. Nobody in New York City in the 1980s was really listening to Josie Cotton or Gary Myrick. Everyone knew that Modern English song, but even The Plimsouls were pretty unknown.”

Of course, it’s a very personal thing whether you care to get obsessed about major-studio slumming like Hardbodies and Porky’s, or indie obscurities like 1984’s obscenely low-budget The Party Animal (which somehow landed a sweetheart deal with the IRS label to feature R.E.M. and other rising stars.) (Not to be confused with Bachelor Party starring a young Tom Hanks, which came out that same year and whose soundtrack was actually released on I.R.S.)

And, as McPadden notes, the music can often feel like a film’s most personal touch: “Look at the Up the Academy soundtrack. You have to wonder what mad genius put that together. It feels more like some guy’s mix tape, with these unsigned bands getting to be on a major label before they just disappeared. The soundtrack to The Last American Virgin is another one – I don’t know who at Cannon Films had the wherewithal to mix together REO Speedwagon and The Commodores and the first time that so many of us heard U2.”

Teen Movie Hell also includes one personal listing that McPadden credits to his own musical obsessions. “Vision Quest probably really just made it into the book because of the songs,” he admits. “After Up the Academy, that’s my own favorite soundtrack. It’s not quite a comedy, but the movie’s a perfect snapshot of where my mainstream tastes were in 1985. Sammy’s on it, and there’s Journey doing ‘Only the Young’ and sounding like they’ve been listening to R.E.M., along with Dio’s ‘Hungry for Heaven,’ which is really just ‘Baba O’Riley,’ and John Waite doing ‘Change,’ which is just so beautifully earnest and brilliant. Plus, Madonna.”