“Gymkata!!!” This 1985 movie is widely regarded as one of the worst of all time, Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas received a Razzie Award for it as “Worst New Star,” and the movie’s name was a running joke on “Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-1999). (I am linking here, by the way, to the Super Fan Trailers Youtube channel.)
The funny thing is, I remember being pretty impressed with this movie when I saw it on VHS back in the day at my buddy Peter Hughes’ house. (I’m not sure what that says about me as a young high school student.)
Oh, well. Peter and I got a fun summer afternoon out of this.
I might have to hunt down a copy. Although MST3K never actually devoted an episode to “Gymkata,” its successor “Rifftrax” (2007) did. Hmm. I’m not sure if I want to see the movie without any commentary at first — so I can get an undiluted hit of 80’s nostalgia. I’ll share here either way.
It is currently circulating on Facebook. (No pun intended.)
I actually met Maya Angelou (or attended one of her readings, really) when I was a student at Longwood High School. Our English class took a field trip to Suffolk Community College in New York in … 1988 or 1989, I think. One of my alums piped in on Facebook to say he remembers too.
“The Beastmaster” (1982) was THE movie that captured the imaginations of grade-school boys in the 1980’s. There were summer afternoons when this was the single biggest topic of conversation.
I almost wrote here that the movie was an obvious knockoff of the far-better-remembered “Conan the Barbarian;” that is how I’ve always remembered it. But the Internet informs me that they hit theaters only months apart. Wikipedia also informs me that “The Beastmaster” was actually a commercial failure, and that its two sequels and its television adaptation (all in the 1990’s) were aimed at a subsequent cult following spawned by the original movie’s appearance on 80’s TV. (I’m pretty sure that’s how my friends and I saw it.) What the hell was wrong with 1982 audiences, anyway? Was it something in the water? “Blade Runner” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” were also flops that year — and those were some the best science fiction movies of all time. Talk about pearls before swine.
Anyway, please understand — “Conan the Barbarian” was inarguably the better film. No matter how much it polarized critics and audiences, that dour, violent, R-rated movie was intended as a serious adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s literary source material.
“The Beastmaster,” on the other hand, was campier stuff that was firmly aimed at kids. (I was surprised to learn that it had its own literary source material, but its B-movie wackiness only followed those books very loosely.) It had a PG rating and was jam-packed with garishly grotesque monsters that would thrill a fourth grade boy — the animalistic berzkers were what really got under my skin; my friends were more unnerved by the … bat-people. (There is a simple but quite effective 80’s-era practical effect that show how these baddies digest a victim alive. You kinda have to see the movie to know what I mean.) Hell, even the witches were a little creepy, and witches were not high on our list of things that were scary. I honestly think the film’s success owes a lot to its successful incorporation of horror movie elements designed to impress the younger set.
“The Beastmaster” starred Marc Singer, who went on to star in another 80’s phenomenon, television’s “V” series. (I might have loved “V” even more than “The Beastmaster.”) The movie also starred Tanya Roberts, who was another quite popular topic among gradeschool boys in the 80’s. John Amos starred in a supporting role, and he did a really good job of it. A lot of my older friends will remember him as the grouchy Dad in the “Good Times” (1974-1979); 80’s kids might point him out as the owner of “McDowell’s” in 1988’s “Coming to America.”
I really am curious to find out how well “The Beastmaster” has held up over time. I was surprised to discover that there is a great copy of it here on Youtube. (Thanks, VHS Drive-In.) You can bet that I’m watching it this weekend.
“Willard” (1971) and its sequel, “Ben” (1972), were another pair of 1970’s movies that got plenty of airtime on 1980’s television. I read both books when I was a kid too.
First I picked up Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks at a yard sale, because that’s how you found cool horror books during summer vacations when you were too young to drive. (Sometimes adults had few compunctions about what they sold to minors too. I bought a vampire book in gradeschool that was full of nude photos, for some reason, and that led to what I’m sure was an interesting conversation between my parents and the neighbor-proprietor down the street.)
Anyway, I absolutely loved Ratman’s Notebooks (despite its lamentable absence of nude photos) and I finished it in a day or two. The novelization of the “Ben” film by Gilbert A. Ralston was somewhat less impressive, but I still enjoyed it.
If you’re a comics fan, like I am, then it might occur you that “Willard” and his army of trained rats seem to inspire a villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery — Ratcatcher. Ratcatcher has been a minor league villain since he debuted in DC Comics in 1988, but he’s a pretty neat bad guy when placed in the hands of the right writer.
I feel certain that anyone will recognize Ernest Borgnine in the first trailer below– his face and voice are impossible to confuse with those of another man. If the disaffected, spooky, eponymous Willard looks familiar to you, that’s none other than a young Bruce Davison. He’s a good actor who’s been in a lot of films, but I think a plurality of my friends will know him as Senator Kelly from the first two “X-Men” movies (2000, 2003).
You’ll note the presence of flamethrowers in the trailer for “Ben.” Flamethrowers were a staple of 70’s and 80’s horror films; it was just part of the zeitgeist. They were handy for heroes fighting any nigh-unstoppable nonhuman baddie — think of “The Swarm” (1978), “The Thing” (1982), “C.H.U.D.” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), and “The Blob” (1988), for example. Hell, 1980’s “The Exterminator” featured a vigilante using a flamethrower to kill criminals. It was a weird time.