The 80s were a boon to the teen movie genre. That was the ultimate launching pad for the genre, and many, many careers. Yeah, Rebel Without A Cause in the 50s and American Graffiti in the 70s also fall into the genre, but for sheer volume and presence of teen films, it’s the 80s. John Hughes and his Brat Pack were of course the poster faces, from The Breakfast Club & Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Weird Science & 16 Candles. That’s what we think of when we think Teen Movie. Of course there’s also the great Fast Times At Ridgemont High (which is my 2nd favourite of the genre, behind Dazed & Confused from the 90s) and Say Anything… both written by Cameron Crowe. Those are the standards. What’s great about the 80s is sometimes the movies got really weird, or into really specific sub-genres.
My Best Friend is a Vampire starring Robert Sean Leonard and Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox. Then you’ve got Summer School, Better Off Dead (both two of my all time faves), The Outsiders, Red Dawn, Can’t Buy Me Love, Rockula, Risky Business… I could literally go on for hours. All of which I recommend.
But I want to bring your attention to one that only recently, within the past few months, hit my radar. I’m a big fan of The Nerdist podcast with Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and Matt Mira, and a few months ago I noticed them mention the movie Three O’Clock High as a great 80s flick. I hadn’t even heard of this one. But they mentioned it a few times, and I said, “Well shit… I have to seek this out and see it, if these guys who I admire speak highly of it.” I didn’t have to seek long as it was right there on Netflix.
The film stars Casey Siemaszko as Jerry Mitchell, a not popular, but not geek-loser kinda guy, just… cool in the way that he does his own thing. And he pisses off this new kid who’s legendary status as a bully has been passed around before the first bell even rings, warranting a countdown to his death by beating at 3:00pm.
It’s a wonderful riff on the old classic Westerns, “This town ain’t big enough fer the 2 of us. Shoot out at dawn, pardner!” So that thrusts it into the sub-genre category, but it’s also delightfully surreal. It’s a kindred spirit to the equally bizarre Better Off Dead with John Cusack. You’re inhabiting the head and the mindset of the main character, and seeing the world in his skewed way, with his imagination. The principal (Jeffrey Tambor, who has never aged), the cop (Philip Baker Hall, who has also never aged) and the security guard (Mitch Pileggi, he’s aged) are all exaggerated caricatures. That’s not who they are, but that’s how Jerry sees them. And Richard Tyson’s bully Buddy Revell is so gloriously larger than life.
If you like the standard John Hughes teen flicks, this one may be too…. out there for you, but if you’ve seen and loved Better Off Dead (I’m using it as a point of reference since that’s slightly more well-known), then this one is definitely for you.