Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

fasttimes_5Starring Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli, Amanda Wyss, D.W. Brown, Forest Whitaker, Kelli Maroney

Directed by Amy Heckerling

Expectations: Moderate.


It could just be my age, but Fast Times at Ridgemont High was a transcendent experience. It would seem that anyone who lived through the ’80s would have already seen this one, but I was too young to catch it initially, and my parents were just about 30 when this came out, so they were perhaps too old for its charms. In any case, I never saw it growing up, and I’ve always kind of indirectly avoided it because of its reputation. I figured there was no way for it to live up to the hype, similar to my experience watching Valley Girl for the first time a couple of years ago.

But lo and behold, Fast Times at Ridgemont High is a film with strength enough to withstand the test of time. What sets it apart from other high school movies, a genre I generally don’t care one way or the other for, is that it is timeless yet also expertly evocative of the time it was made. I was born in 1981, so I don’t remember the early ’80s, but even still the film dredged up all kinds of nostalgic thoughts and feelings of my youth. But you can’t simply hang four stars on nostalgia alone, and that’s where the timeless part comes in.

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The Burning (1981)

The Burning (1981)
AKA Cropsy, Carnage

Starring Brian Matthews, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Carolyn Houlihan, Fisher Stevens, Lou David, Shelley Bruce, Sarah Chodoff, Bonnie Deroski, Holly Hunter

Directed by Tony Maylam

Expectations: High, once again because this features Tom Savini FX.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

The Burning is exactly the type of movie that led me to start writing reviews. I’ve always liked the Leonard Maltin review books, and I referred to my battered copy of the 1998 edition incessantly during my film snob phase. My love of horror movies often led me to search the book for what Maltin thought of the bloody affairs I loved so well, but this generally didn’t end well. Maltin isn’t much of a horror fan and he usually rated the films much lower than I thought they deserved. I can’t fault him for disliking a genre and its sadistic tendencies, and the genre does contain more than its share of shitty movies, but it seems kind of counter-intuitive to give a bunch of low-scored horror reviews when you’re not a fan. This is exactly why you don’t see me reviewing loads of romantic comedies. Anyway, I looked up The Burning in anticipation of watching it for the first time and was surprised to see the word BOMB in bold, dark type. Maltin reserves his BOMB rating for those films he finds unworthy of any rating stars, but thankfully I knew not to fret. The Burning is excellently made, and an absolute joy to watch for horror fans, and Maltin’s dismissal of this type of high-quality genre film is exactly why I felt the need to start writing reviews. It just took me a while to get around to it.

So The Burning is an incredibly simple story. Some might say too simple, but I say it’s just the right amount of simple to allow for a fun, easy-to-digest slasher. The film opens with a group of punk kids plotting to play a prank on their summer camp custodian Cropsy. Apparently he’s a drunk asshole, so the kids get a skull with worms crawling all over it, put lit candles in its eyes, and place it at Crospy’s bedside. They wake him up, and in his flailing he knocks the skull into his bed, lighting the whole thing on fire. He gets horribly disfigured, and after five years of healing at a local hospital, he’s ready to slice and dice his way to some sweet, sweet revenge.

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