August 2, 1985
I’m no expert on the films of John Hughes, but I’ve seen enough to know WEIRD SCIENCE (which he wrote and directed) is pretty different from the other ones. It’s still a teen movie, like he was known for at the time, but it’s his only foray into science fiction unless you count his screenplay for JUST VISITING (the 2001 flop remake of LES VISITEURS) for involving time travel.
It feels a little off to call WEIRD SCIENCE sci-fi though. It’s more like computer magical realism, I think. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Much like EXPLORERS, we have two oft-bullied nerds, the main character Gary (Anthony Michael Hall, following SIX PACK, VACATION, SIXTEEN CANDLES and THE BREAKFAST CLUB) and computer genius best friend Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, HOW TO BE A PERFECT PERSON IN JUST THREE DAYS, DANIEL, THE WILD LIFE). Going by the actors’ ages, Gary and Wyatt are about 2 or 3 years too old to be Explorers or Goonies. So they’re different in that they do not dream of adventure; they are entirely consumed by horniness. And the girls they like to stare at in school ignore them, so Gary’s big idea is to make a woman. He’s inspired by seeing BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN on TV (colorized! what the fuck!?) and figures his smart friend should be able to do something like that with his fancy computer machine.
No problem, right? Gary doesn’t seem to necessarily have any nerd skills himself, he’s just the guy who tells his friend “Hey, do this clearly impossible thing I want and have not even thought through at all because I’m too stupid to understand that it makes no sense,” and Wyatt is the one who’s like, “I don’t know, something like that is very… I would have to – [typity typity]. Hmm, well, I suppose if I [something something axis binary blah blah etc.] – ah ha! We did it!”
I’m almost positive Gary grew up to be some piece of shit CEO who does absolutely nothing, but takes all the credit because he’s an “idea guy.”
EXPLORERS also had a computer genius kid who could perform actual miracles in his bedroom, but they explained some of it by having aliens implant circuit designs in their dreams. Hughes doesn’t have that excuse and wisely chooses to forgo believability entirely. They scan in a bunch of pictures from magazines, attach wires to a Barbie doll, and connect to a Pentagon database. Scanning in a picture of Albert Einstein makes her smart, David Lee Roth gives her swagger. It makes no sense, but the great title song by Oingo Boingo gets you hyped up to just go with it. (The actual score by Ira Newborn [SIXTEEN CANDLES, INTO THE NIGHT] is less danceable.)
Their experiment causes power surges and craziness and of course it seems like it didn’t work, but then the woman of their wet dreams (Kelly LeBrock, who had made her debut in THE WOMAN IN RED a year earlier) walks in in a cut off sweatshirt and panties. Before they even name her (Lisa) she invites them to shower with her.
I think we can all agree that in 2020 there probly wouldn’t be a PG-13 teen movie that lets you think “Oh, these two scrawny pals created an adult woman to double team, good for them.” ’85 was different in that sense. It’s a bluff, though. They stand nervously behind her trying to remain calm until the reveal that they were too scared to take off their pants.
Lisa has magic powers – she creates a Cadillac, clothes for herself and the boys, fake IDs and whatever else she needs. For a while I thought she was kind of a Mary Poppins figure – she comes into their life allegedly to be their sexbot or whatever, but kind of acts like their cool mom, pushes them to try new things, teaches them life lessons and then is sad to know she has to leave them and move on. But she’s also a Cat in the Hat figure, a trickster who introduces chaos to their lives, wrecks the house in a fun way, then fixes things and goes away.
She brings them on silly adventures, helping them impress people by pretending to be their girlfriend. One way she challenges them is by bringing them to a bar called Kandy Bar that they think is scary, possibly because of the largely Black clientele. The one thing in the movie that has aged to be more Problematic™than the sexual politics is the very long joke about Gary getting drunk and befriending a bunch of older Black men by wearing a “pimp hat” and talking to them in a “Black voice” (or “speaking jive” in the AIRPLANE! parlance). If Gary really did grow up to be a CEO I have a theory about what he’ll be forced to resign over.
Later one of these new friends works bar for the boys’ party (why not just be a guest?) and a white character we don’t like tries to converse with him by saying, “Hey, brother. What’s happenin, my main man?” At that point Hughes seems to recognize that this sort of white man code switching is embarrassing.
A more surprising thing about the Kandy Bar scene is the prominent placement of b-action icon Steve James as an extra! He’s not credited, he’s just one of the guys sitting there listening, but he’s right next to Gary. Has his hand on his shoulder, even.
My guess is he got invited by Judie Aronson, his co-star in AMERICAN NINJA, which was released later in the same month. Here Aronson (FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER) plays Hilly, who along with her friend Deb (Suzanne Snyder, THE LAST STARFIGHTER) are the girls Gary and Wyatt realize they’re more into than their computer creation. But they’re already dating shitbag bullying dickface new wave dudes Ian (Robert Downey Jr. after BABY IT’S YOU, FIRSTBORN and TUFF TURF) and Max (film debut of Robert Rusler, right before A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE, which Downey reportedly drove him to the audition for). Hilly and Deb have enough of a conscience to question the bullying, but it still seems improbable that they start to think Gary and Wyatt are cool because they know Lisa. Especially after a long, awkward encounter with them in the smelly bathroom.
The other antagonist of the movie is Wyatt’s idiotic military dude older brother Chet (Bill Paxton between THE TERMINATOR and COMMANDO), who they have to hide Lisa and their various magic computer creations from. Oh no, he’ll tell Mom that we played God! This might be Paxton’s first big chance to be a funny goon, and then he played Hudson.
One of many ways the party gets out of control is when the weird science summons some movie character type toughs to drive into the house on motorcycles and terrorize everybody. This includes Michael Berryman as “Mutant Biker” and Vernon Wells as “Lord General,” a very Wez-like post-apocalypse type character who’s even referred to as a “road warrior” in the script.
Hughes pulls that very 1980s male fantasy thing that Gary and Wyatt are scared but then when these monsters threaten a woman it offends their code of male duty so they summon their inner mandom and become invincible like Popeye when he eats spinach. Suddenly they’re cocky about their ability to fight these scary dudes. It makes no sense to me at all but it gives Berryman maybe the funniest line in the movie, so I can’t object too much.
No, never mind, I forgot that Gary defeats Wez by calling him a homophobic slur. I do object.
One part that made me laugh is when Gary’s mom (Barbara Lang, “Librarian,” one episode of Mr. Belvedere) realizes that her son sometimes locks himself in the bathroom to masturbate. She starts crying and says “You told me you were combing your hair!”
Some of the overly generous sympathy I might’ve had for Gary and Wyatt goes out the window when they tell Ian and Max the secret of Lisa and try to make one for them. Jesus christ, boys. Not only have you learned nothing, but you knew less than I thought you did in the first place. Lisa tsks them for it, but partly because they did it wrong, causing all kinds of random weird science to happen. The one that most goes against Hughes’ reputation as the high end teen movie guy is a totally disconnected sequence about a sexy neighbor or something (Playboy Centerfold Kym Malin, who had been in JOYSTICKS and would later be “Party Girl” in ROAD HOUSE) playing piano and then her fireplace starts acting as a vacuum and sucks her clothes off and then sucks her in and shoots her out the chimney naked into a swimming pool. It seems more like a Motley Crue video than it does THE BREAKFAST CLUB.
I can’t say I really like or relate to this horny 14 year old boy movie, but I do think LeBrock is charming far beyond the obvious hotness she was hired for, and the character of Lisa somehow rises above the proceedings. She’s literally a boy’s sex fantasy come to life in a movie where characters frequently talk about “bimbos” and “hussies,” but she’s kind of the Bugs Bunny character who’s always in charge. She’s funny and cool, with her own playful sense of fashion and an admirable don’t-give-a-fuck attitude that nobody around her knows how to deal with.
Also, hats off to the make-up FX of Craig Reardon (EATEN ALIVE, ALTERED STATES, THE FUNHOUSE, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, POLTERGEIST, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE) for the weird scene where Chet gets turned into a shit monster or whatever. It’s weird that I saw this movie as a youngster and didn’t remember that part. Usually that sort of stuff is what makes the biggest impression on me.
And again, the theme song by Oingo Boingo is really good. The movie would be about 50% less good without it.
Ah, hell – as long as we’re getting superficial, it’s also an excellent logo. Titles credited to R/Greenberg.
This is the only collaboration of Hughes and producer Joel Silver, who had primarily done Walter Hill movies up to that point, but would soon launch more fully into Silverdom with COMMANDO. It might just be because Weird Science was the title of an EC Comic, and Silver owned the film rights to those (later resulting in Tales From the Crypt), so it’s kind of like Marvel having a copyright on Hulk Hogan. I have read that the plot is inspired by a Weird Science story called “Made of the Future,” but from what I’ve read about the story it sounds like a stretch to me.
Horny-ass Roger Ebert gave the movie a generous three stars, but I actually agree with pretty much everything in his review. He points out that it involves “a new myth, that of the teenage computer geniuses who lock themselves in their bedrooms, hunch over their computer keyboards and write programs that can change the universe.”
Gene Siskel gave it 2.5 fewer stars, calling it “a disappointment,” “a vulgar, mindless, special-effects-cluttered wasteland” and “a tasteless romp through tired, grade-B teen movie situations.”
Since I mentioned that Kandy Bar scene being Problematic™ by modern standards I should disclose that Sheila Benson’s review in the Los Angeles Times noted “the racially offensive character or sequence” on a list of Hughes trademarks, and called the scene “insulting and loathsome.” So it’s not as if it went unnoticed at the time. As negative as Benson’s review is overall, she liked LeBrock too:
“The film’s greatest asset is Kelly LeBrock, who is triumphant. She may represent souped-up womanhood at its most fanciful but she does so with great warmth and a sharp sense of herself. (To Hughes’ credit, he lets his two Galleria girls–who will find their way to the boys’ sides–react to her generously, as well they might.)”
That asset must’ve been enough. WEIRD SCIENCE opened in 4th place but eventually made almost $40 million on a $7.5 million budget. While I don’t think it ranks in the top of Summer of 1985 movies that people still talk about, I do hear it mentioned occasionally. Mostly Bill Paxton’s part. But people remember it exists. It just had to pretend to have a hot girlfriend so people would notice it.
FRIGHT NIGHT was also released on this date (and opened a little bigger). That one fits the trend of THE GOONIES, EXPLORERS and sort of WEIRD SCIENCE of being an homage to old timey entertainment (in the form of a Hammer-esque actor turned horror host), but with an acknowledgment that its young hero Charley is unusual for caring about that shit in the age of slasher movies. Check out my review from 2017 for more information.
Summer of 1985 connections:
When Ian and Max meet Lisa, Ian tells her “We call him Mad Max.” He does not mention Thunderdome though.
Joel Silver also produced BREWSTER’S MILLIONS, and must’ve brought along stunt coordinator Bernie Dobbins and costume designer Marilyn Vance.
Craig Reardon, who did the “Chet Blob” and other makeup FX, also created the Sloth makeup for THE GOONIES.
The creation of Lisa involves scanning a Kelly LeBrock pictorial from Playboy, which continues the Playboy motif of GOTCHA! and RAPPIN’. (They also have a Penthouse.) And I’d say a kid accidentally manifesting a nuclear missile inside his house has some relation to the Cold War themes we were seeing earlier in the summer. It comes from a real 1983 Time magazine cover story entitled, “NUCLEAR POKER – The Stakes Get Higher And Higher.”
Lisa points a gun at Gary’s dad and says, “Go ahead,” and he says, “Make her day?” So I think that’s the third “Go ahead make my day” of the summer after GOTCHA! and FLETCH. And now I regret that I didn’t include May 5th release PRIVATE RESORT in this series, because apparently it has one too.
Bedrooms are decorated with posters for Depeche Mode, Human League, STOP MAKING SENSE, and WHEN DINOSAURS RULE THE EARTH (that last one following the Joe Dante model of “modern nerds should be into movies that came out when I was a kid”). There’s a Billy Idol pin and a General Public record. We see some Munsters and Dave TV (MTV programming hosted by David Lee Roth). There are references to Rex Harrison, John Wayne and Phil Donahue. The ROCKY theme plays.
The “additional music” credit for Alf Clausen is the prolific orchestrator and conductor’s first credited composing work for a feature film. He’s now known as the primary composter for The Simpsons.
A full nine years later there was a
syndicated USA Network TV show that ended up lasting five seasons! Vanessa Angel (KINGPIN) played Lisa, who grants the boys wishes each episode, with John Mallory Asher (young version of Donald Sutherland in SPACE COWBOYS) as Gary, Michael Manasseri (LICENSE TO DRIVE) as Wyatt and Lee Tergeson (POINT BREAK, NO ONE LIVES) as Chet. John Hughes had no involvement – it was created by Alan Cross and Tom Spezialy of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. (Spezialy later developed Ash vs Evil Dead and executive produced Watchmen).
In 2013 there was talk of Joel Silver producing a remake written by Michael Bacall (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, 21 JUMP STREET). Then it didn’t happen.
Robert Downey Jr. (Ian) continued to act, appearing in U.S. MARSHALS and others. Anthony Michael Hall (Gary) will play Tommy Doyle in HALLOWEEN KILLS. LeBrock didn’t do another movie for five years, but when she did it was HARD TO KILL, so she was obviously just waiting for a movie that would be her legacy. To date her most recent credit is the 2015 Fred Olen Ray made-for-Starz movie A PRINCE FOR CHRISTMAS.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.