The Return of the Living Dead (1985) Written & Directed by Dan O’Bannon
The Return of the Living Dead is not so much a film as it is a cinematic experience. The characters are drawn paper-thin and spend most of the picture screaming at each other in panic. The plot is super simple, zombies get lose and start wreaking havoc. The movie is more influential than you probably realize, the whole zombies wanting to eat brains trope came from this picture. Zombies being the result of military/industrial chemical experiments or accidents came from this movie. If you think about Romero’s zombies, they don’t really have an origin; they just are. Traditional zombies are related to practices of voodoo. The Return of the Living Dead established new rules while ignoring old ones and became a true cult classic.
The Jewel of the Nile (1985) Written by Mark Rosenthal & Lawrence Konner Directed by Lewis Teague
You don’t hear too many people talk about the 1984 comedy-action film Romancing the Stone. It was the film that set director Robert Zemeckis on his path to helming the Back to the Future series. It was expected to flop and got Zemeckis fired as director of Cocoon, but as we can see, it all turned out in his favor. Romancing the Stone was a box office success, and he proved the studio doubters wrong. Studios want to exploit movies that do well and will always push for a sequel. Romancing the Stone is the type of film that could be a franchise, so on the surface, the idea isn’t bad. However, when all the director has moved on to a more significant project, and the writer dies tragically in a car accident after her career has just begun, it becomes murkier waters.
To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) Written by William Friedkin & Gerald Petievich Directed by William Friedkin
Director William Friedkin made his name in the 1970s with films like The French Connection and the phenomenal success of The Exorcist. Then his following pictures didn’t quite click with audiences, and he slid into less big-budget work. That’s where Friedkin works best, though, and in 1985 he gave us a movie that might out Eighties De Palma’s Scarface. To Live and Die in L.A. is a movie dripping with neon fluorescents, cocaine, and just all-around sleaze. The soundtrack was by pop group Wang Chung and the visuals are full of non sequitur 80s pop art images.
Cocoon (1985) Written by Tom Benedek Directed by Ron Howard
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. has a profound influence on the 1980s and created a subgenre where family, fantasy, and science fiction merged. These were humanist movies, without threatening antagonists or, in some instances, no real villain at all. The common factor in all the pictures was characters experiencing contact with some fantastical entities, typically alien, evoking a sense of child-like wonder in them and leading to the resolution of interpersonal issues. Of the E.T.-inspired movies, Cocoon is one of the better pictures because it keeps the story character-centered and allows the science fiction elements to enhance that narrative.
Better Off Dead (1985) Written & Directed by Savage Steve Holland
I turned four years old in the summer of 1985, so my memory of the year is foggy at best. What I know about this mid-point in the decade came from retrospectively consuming media when I was older. Back to the Future is probably the most prominent touchpoint for movies. I watched that picture over and over and over. I had a Matchbox car that resembled the Delorean enough that it became a stand-in for the iconic vehicle during my imaginative play. This was also the year that saw the release of The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, Clue, Rocky IV, Weird Science, and so many more films. Only one of those movies will come up in my individual reviews the next few weeks, though others will likely find a spot on my favorites list when we wrap up. To begin things, we’re going to look at a film you may have caught on its numerous showings on Comedy Central in the early 2000s, the teen comedy Better Off Dead.