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By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
A few years ago I caught a movie I’d never heard of from 1986 called Band of the Hand. Band of the Hand isn’t great, but the one thing it has going for it is that it’s weird. Really weird. AMAZINGLY WEIRD. And when I started thinking of it, I noticed that same “weirdness” seemed to be a theme of 1986.
Band of the Hand
Think of Band of the Hand as a sort of precursor to the FOX TV series 21 Jump Street, except rather than the teen stars dressed in appropriate MTV music video attire who are undercover cops ala Miami Vice, these teens are sort of an undercover assault squad out to take down drug cartels in south Florida. The Band of the Hand teens were originally juvenile delinquents sent away for various crimes until a mysterious ex-military guy named Joe (Stephen Lang) comes along, takes the city teens out into the wilds of the Everglades for some survival training and the group comes out lean, mean and lookin’ for a fight.
Band of the Hand gets really weird at the end when the teen commando squad assaults a drug factory hidden in the swamp using machine guns, hand grenades and rocket launchers in a crazy finale.
I only caught the movie Absolute Beginners recently. It was one of those movies I started watching about halfway through on TV, was immediately transfixed by its weirdness and had to find and record the next showing. This one’s so bizarre it’s difficult to completely describe it without seeming like I’m making stuff up.
Taking place in London circa late 1950s, Absolute Beginners is a wacky musical that deals with sex, violence, the rise of a right-wing hate monger and the following race-riot. The songs vary from sounding like they’re from the 1950s to 1980s new wave and at one point David Bowie shows up playing some kind of club-owning promoter/PR creep. And Bowie wrote and sang the title song for the film too.
Absolute Beginners flopped when it was released in the UK but was available on VHS release here in the US.
Little Shop of Horrors
Little Shop of Horrors, another musical, is a remake of a Roger Corman movie of the same name from 1960. The 1986 version stars Rick Moraines as sad-sack down-on-his-luck flower shop employee Seymour who one day after a total eclipse of the Sun buys this weird plant. A weird plant that can talk. A weird plant that needs to eat people and drink their blood in order to survive.
The movie feels like some EC Comics horror story set to show tunes with bright colors and a man-eating talking plant named Audrey II that gets all the best lines like, “I’m just a mean green mother from outer space and I’m bad!”
Actually, I remember when Little Shop of Horrors was first released it had a lot of “buzz” around it. But in today’s era when movie anniversaries are celebrated like with “Back to the Future Day” last year and “Aliens Day” this year, Little Shop of Horrors that seems like it would be fondly remembered is instead mostly forgotten.
King Kong Lives
For true 1986 weirdness look no further than the sequel to the 1976 version of King Kong with King Kong Lives. This cheapie, which looks like it cost about $9 to make, supposes that King Kong didn’t die from the fall from the World Trade Center as he did in the 70s remake. NO!, he LIVES. But in order to survive he needs a heart transplant. And without any subtable giant ape hearts around instead gets a colossal sized artificial heart. Lemme say that again — part of the plot of King Kong Lives focuses on A GIANT ARTIFICIAL APE HEART!
Of course, Kong and a new lady-Kong escape and go on a rampage around the US since that’s what giant apes and their lady friends do.
The really strange thing about these movies is that all except for Absolute Beginners had a wide release in theaters and it seemed like the producers of these films thought that they had big hits on their hands with their creations — and all except Little Shop of Horrors were flops.