With a dash of scholarly incisiveness and more than a handful of anarchy, Teen Movie Hell takes an exhaustive, encyclopedic look at the teenage sex comedy genre that hit its apex in the 1970s and 80s. It is a chunk of a read, well over three hundred pages, but thanks to spirited and hilarious writing by Mike “McBeardo” McPadden, it isn’t that much of a chore.
Predicating the entire tome on the presumption that our culture no longer knows how to have fun, McPadden lovingly details movies about horny teenagers, bare breasts, and customized vans. These are the kinds of movies that played at drive-ins and on cable channels ad infinitum. One of the more famous examples is Porky’s. Directed by Bob Clark, this film about high school kids and their experiences with a Florida brothel. With its leering camera work and cavalier attitude towards sexual behavior, it is doubtful a movie like that could get made today. McPadden contends that is a shame while conceding that we’ve changed as a people.
Consider Teen Movie Hell not only a reference book but a celebration of cinema history. As a people, we may have glossed over some serious issues in the backlash of the sexual revolution. But we were more difficult to offend. We may have also had a more free-wheeling sense of humor.
One of the fascinating things about Teen Movie Hell is the inclusion of movies one wouldn’t normally think of as being teen comedies. Risky Business? Sure, that comes to mind right away. But OC & Stiggs, Robert Altman’s failed attempt at a teenage road movie? Most folks have forgotten the movie exists, but not McPadden. His research is impeccable and his writing style is acerbic, like liner notes for a punk album.
You’ll learn about Canadian tax shelter films, Vansploitation flicks, and why with few cinematic exceptions, John Hughes was a bourgeois pig. In some of the more incisive and hilarious parts of the book, McPadden destroys Hughes’ fictional town of Shermer, Illinois and its upper class, white bread denizens. You may never look at Ferris Bueller the same way again.
The bulk of Teen Movie Hell is an alphabetic list of movies, complete with McPadden’s capsule reviews of each film. There is an excess of information here, and his effusiveness over the films he likes is balanced out by his vicious hamstringing of the ones he does not. McPadden is a funny guy, and the whole book is infused with his dark sense of humor. He even includes a listing of songs, called the Teen Movie Hell Mixtape, in which he provides his favorite tunes from the films he reviews in the book. We agree on those Cheap Trick choices, by the way.
That being said, this book is a monster. There is a theme, but not a narrative, which means that reading the entire thing in a sitting or two might make your eyes cross. Instead, devour Teen Movie Hell one morsel at a time, when the mood strikes or when needs must.
With articles from genre luminaries like Kier-La Janisse, Samm Deighan, and Kat Ellinger, Teen Movie Hell is anything but lowbrow. This is a carefully thought-book, and the reviews are mostly respectful. That is, unless a movie needs to be disrespected (see: Hughes, John). There is respect to gained for this forgotten sub-species of film, and the people behind and before the camera. Names like Rainbeaux Smith and Chuck Vincent pop up with alarming regularity. A Google search is encouraged to learn even more about these grungy visionaries.
Filled with nostalgia and creative alternatives for the word, “breasts,” Teen Movie Hell wistfully longs for a better, simpler time. Cultural mores dictate that we will never see an era like that again. Without drive-ins or video stores to feed that need, Teen Movie Hell is set to be one of the few links to that type of cinematic hedonism we will have left.
Teen Movie Hell is available for pre-order from Bazillion Points and will be unleashed onto an unsuspecting public April 16.