Not just defined by its epic summer, 1982 was a year-long explosion of significant cinematic entertainment.
Welcome to Debate Week, the first of what we hope to be many weeks in which we open up a topic of a discussion to our entire team. This week: What was the best year in movies, ever? Throughout the week, our team will each make the case for their chosen year. Follow us on Twitter to place your votes on Saturday, April 7.
The greatest year in cinema was kicked off on the first of January with Joe Giannone’s creepy, weirdo slasher film Madman. Loosely inspired by the Cropsey urban legend, this underrated horror owes its existence to the Friday the 13th franchise more than anything else. A group of camp counselors desperately try to keep track of their kids while a crazed backwoodsman chops his way through the herd. Madman has more atmosphere than it has any right to, and goes out of its way to build character without skimping on the gore promised on the VHS box cover art. Yes, there is an egregious hot tub sex sequence that comes out of nowhere and seems to last forever, but the awkward display of teen mating rituals simply adds to the film’s oddball charm.
For a year often cited for its superior Blockbuster season, 1982 deserves credit for the quirky gems sprinkled throughout the months. Pushing into February, Quest For Fire sparked national interest for its salacious depiction of prehistoric man. Members of the Ulam tribe battle outsiders and each other for control over fire. The film is basically an extended version of the prologue from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s made endlessly watchable by actors willing to drive past their Academy Award-winning makeup and deliver truly empathic portrayals of creatures we can barely understand beyond their usual textbook context.
The rest of February is populated with some memorable genre trash. Wes Craven did his best with Swamp Thing. Charles Bronson found so much success with vigilante justice that he brought his dark morality back in Death Wish II. Philippe Mora’s The Beast Within thrust The Omen’s fear of offspring into even darker, messier depths. Francis Ford Coppola returned from the mad jungles of Apocalypse Now and lost himself in One From The Heart, an utterly 80s musical stitched together by the voices of Crystal Gayle and Tom Waits. Sure, it was a colossal financial and critical failure, but it was a necessary step in bringing its director back down to Earth.
Barry Levinson made his presence known in a big way with his directorial debut of Diner. Released in early March, the film was an actor’s showcase for Mickey Rourke, Tim Daly, Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Daniel Stern, and Steve Guttenberg. The ultimate hangout movie, many would try to replicate the good sit of Diner, but few could even scratch the surface of its mojo.
Nipping on its heels was the T&A classic, Porky’s. For my money, few films had as much influence on the adolescent Brad than this one. A dumb and ridiculous saga of teenage horniness run amuck, Porky’s is an atrocious grab for hormonal dollars. However, recent rewatches have revealed a film with a surprising amount of heart. Insert the cliché adage, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
In April, we had a trilogy of essential genre pieces: Silent Rage, Basket Case, and Cat People. Chuck Norris makes his foray into the slasher genre with Silent Rage and roundhouses a wannabe Michael Myers into oblivion. Basket Case trades on ick factor and a corny clump of latex. It’s a shivery horror worthy of the nightmares its spawns. Cheap, but effective.
Paul Schrader takes on Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People and concocts a gorgeous psychosexual descent into madness. After the police capture a leopard roaming the streets of New Orleans, John Heard’s zoologist is brought in to examine the creature. The beast may just be Malcolm McDowell and the brother of Nastassja Kinski. Huh? It’s not every day that your new girlfriend hails from a clan of werecats. Cat People is a stylish masterpiece dripping with dread and funny downstairs feelings. Coming off the hot streak of Blue Collar, Hardcore, and America Gigolo, Paul Schrader would have a few more cool flicks, but Cat People was his pinnacle.
From there we’re into the famous Summer of ’82. In the span of four months we were gifted Conan The Barbarian, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, Rocky III, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Poltergeist, E.T., Grease 2, Blade Runner, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Tron, The World According to Garp, Night Shift, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Friday the 13th Part III, and The Beastmaster. That summer birthed more think-pieces than any other. I could have and probably should have focused my entire attention on this four-month timeframe, but these films get enough of our adulation around the clock. There is no denying their brilliance.
But hold on! There are a few more flicks released around those that don’t get nearly enough attention. In June, Hal Needham unleashed the greatest G.I. Joe film never made. Megaforce is a Barry Bostwick delight that bombed at the box office and we should all be ashamed by this failing. When the fictional nation of Gamibia invades the peaceful Republic of Sardun, Megaforce is sent in to mediate the conflict. Talk is cheap. The quickest road to peace relies on Bostwick’s plan of parachuting Megaforce attack vehicles onto foreign soil and blowing the bad guys to kingdom come. Like Top Gun and Iron Eagle, Megaforce is certainly an action film of the Reagan administration.
In July, Don Bluth adapted the children’s dark fantasy adventure, The Secret of NIMH. This is a film I absolutely cherish, and repeat viewings have me aching for the yesteryear of 2D cel animation. Your heart will break as you watch the widowed Mrs. Brisby search for the fabled rats of NIMH who hold the key to saving her ill son’s life. The film is a master class in storytelling, and Don Bluth proved that he was a real threat to the Disney cartoon factory.
1982 did not end with the summer. The Halloween season gave Sylvester Stallone his second epic franchise with First Blood. While the Rambo sequels deteriorated into macho explosion-fests, the original drama was a sad affair of PTSD and national shame. John Rambo simply goes looking for a meal in the small town of Hope, Washington. The local sheriff doesn’t like the length of his hair or how he wears his Army ranger’s jacket. The two personalities clash and suddenly the small town becomes a battleground. First Blood is an angry exploration of our country’s humiliation surrounding the Vietnam debacle, and it’s also one of Stallone’s finest achievements in acting. Rambo would go on to wage war against the planet, but this first stab on the character exposes genuine human suffering.
If you were looking for more traditional spooky fair in October then you’ve also got Xtro, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and Q: The Winged Serpent. I’ve ranted and raved about Xtro before. The British terror film is a revolting take on Spielberg’s cute alien invader story. Watch with all the lights on or prepare for a panic attack. Halloween III is when the filmmakers decided to take a break from Michael Myers and rely more on Tom Atkins’ scream acting. It might not have gotten the love back in ’82, but Halloween III has gained respect from certain sections of the horror community. Silver Shamrock! Q: The Winged Serpent made our own list of the 37 best big monster movies. Schlockmeister Larry Cohen wanted his own version of the King Kong vs. New York battle royale. It’s one of those films you have to see to believe.
Missing Halloween by only a matter of weeks was the November releases of Creepshow and The Slumber Party Massacre. Not high art, but effective exploitation endeavors. These were the types of films you would use during sleepovers to test your courage. Could you make it to the final gurgling gasps of Ted Danson?
1982 closed out with a barrage of entertainment. December alone withheld 48 Hours, Sophie’s Choice, The Verdict, Airplane II, The Toy, Timerider: The Adventures of Lyle Swann, The Dark Crystal, Tootsie, and The Trail of the Pink Panther. As is the case with the year’s summer releases, each one of those films deserves its own celebratory column.
The best year in film was certainly 1982. At the very least, no other year had as much cultural impact on our current cinematic climate. Here was the beginning of the sequel onslaught. B-Movie Plots were now A-Movie routine, and there was no turning back. Come @ me.