Twenty-fifth chapter in "32 Days of Movies", an audiovisual tour through 366 films
The Weird Eighties
On the morning of my fourth birthday, I innocently tuned in to a Saturday morning cartoon based on "The Pied Piper of Hamlin." Apparently I was not familiar with the story, because when the piper led all the children off to, well, candyland, or death, or oblivion or whatever awaited them away from the safety net of parental observation, I became greatly distressed. As I recall I even wanted to put off my birthday party, though by the time the guests (and their presents) had arrived I had moved on. The version of "Pied Piper" I saw was, I recall, a fairly straightforward animation and thus not the version you will see in today's chapter.
If I'd seen that in my tender youthful condition I probably would not only have postponed that day's party, but all future ones as I curled up in a ball in my room, a nervous wreck for all time (seriously, it's pretty creepy - and cool; see for yourself). But the film featured below reminds us of a crucial fact, and one that ties in to some of my other childhood frights (namely the bizarre and ghoulish "Hansel & Gretel" episode of Shelley Duvall's "Faerie Tale Theatre"), if not this particular one. It's a fact that people sometimes forget but those of us who were young enough to live through the era with the fresh, easily perplexed eyes of childhood certainly remember: the eighties were weird.
(continued below, along with NSFW warnings)
The chapter opens with three very mainstream releases, before going off in more esoteric directions, but even these early selections, maybe especially these early selections show us just how widespread the oddness of the decade was, with its luridly garish fashion, almost instinctively futuristic music and decoration, and eccentric (to say the least) pop culture. One clip features a Soviet and (no, really) Cuban invasion of the U.S., another displays the wackiest movie monster to terrorize a major city (and one perfectly attuned to a consumerist era), while the third fuses the aforementioned fashion and music to a terrifying nightmare image of unstoppable brute force.
All three films, despite being blockbusters (or attempts at blockbusters) were original ideas, which is enough reason to be nostalgic. And the later selections are even better, moving into weirder and darker territories - a genius madman gyrating to the music, a cool girl in black roaming empty city streets with Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and a Great Towering Genius of music acting like a 7-year-old. Then there is an extremely disturbing sequence which shows us an ordinary family Christmas with an upsetting twist, segued into a series of cryptic, yet deeply moving images cribbed from deep within the dreamworld. The chapter concludes by going all the way back to the seventies (through a documentary released in '86) to find images of normalcy, though depending on your perspective, polka, goofy haircuts, and powder-blue tuxes might be the weirdest elements of all.