Get Crazy

August 5, 1983

GET CRAZY is a goofy let’s-put-on-a-show comedy directed by Allan Arkush, with a tone similar to his earlier, more popular ROCK ’N’ ROLL HIGH SCHOOL. It’s another broad comedy and celebration of punk culture, oddly mixed with some blues this time.

Daniel Stern (BLUE THUNDER) stars as Neil Allen, stage manager for the historic Saturn Theater, where legendary promoter Max Wolfe (Allen Garfield, NASHVILLE) is putting on his 15th annual New Year’s Eve concert. But there’s a villain trying to steal his thunder. Younger, more competitive promoter Colin Beverly (Ed Begley Jr., CAT PEOPLE) of Serpent Sounds lands his helicopter in front of the theater, causing various women’s clothes to blow off, and struts in with his two henchmen (Bobby Sherman and Fabian), all three of them dressed in silver. He threatens to take over the lease on the Saturn, causing Max to have a heart attack and his shitty nephew Sammy (Miles Chapin, THE FUNHOUSE) to kiss Beverly’s ass.

Meanwhile, former stage manager Willy Loman (Gail Edwards, It’s a Living) – I have no idea why she’s named after Death of a Salesman – comes to visit, and Neil falls instantly in love with her and convinces her to stay and help with the show. Arkush depicts their feelings first by turning things red, steamy and slow motion as they imagine running at each other and roll around on the stage. Later Neil imagines Willy walking in wearing lingerie, while he’s in a Tarzan costume holding a chimp.

Neil has a nerdy employee named Joey who’s trying to lose his virginity (who knows what will happen?) and this is notable to people my age because he’s played by Dan Frischman (LONE WOLF McQUADE), who later played super-nerd Arvid on Head of the Class. Another heavily featured character is space case band/commune leader Captain Cloud (Howard Kaylan of The Turtles, Flo & Eddie and The Mothers of Invention), who shows up in a hippie bus with his band the Rainbow Telegraph, not realizing how late they are for their headlining gig at the New Year’s Eve 1968 party.

The show is opened by King Blues (singer Bill Henderson, TROUBLE MAN), with his new guitarist/driver Cool (comedian Franklyn Ajaye, CONVOY). They perform the King’s famous hits “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock and Roll” (actually by Muddy Waters) and “Hoochie Coochie Man” (actually by Willie Dixon). Later the other bands cover “Hoochie Coochie Man” and King Blues seems flattered, even though their punk versions seem so many generations away from that baby the blues once had.

The main attraction is veteran rock idol Reggie Wanker (Stern’s BLUE THUNDER co-star Malcolm McDowell), who arrives in a private jet stocked with video games, TVs and pinball machines, and causes a mess when the plane rolls and dumps cocaine everywhere. There are some adorable model shots to depict the exterior of the plane. During the show, while Reggie’s drummer plays a solo using chicken drumsticks, we see him backstage crawling out from under a pile of at least eight naked women, only to discover that Joey stole his girlfriend (Anna Bjorn, MORE AMERICAN GRAFITTI).

In what Neil sees as a major coup, Max convinces Dylan-esque singer/songwriter Auden (Lou Reed, ROCK & RULE) to make a rare appearance at the show, but he spends the movie riding around in a taxi making up songs about the experience, before showing up after the show and performing during the end credits, with the place cleared out except for Neil’s sister Susie (Stacey Nelkin, HALLOWEEN III, YELLOWBEARD) sitting cross-legged on the edge of the stage, watching adoringly.

My personal favorite performance is the energetic all-girl band led by Nada (Lori Eastside). They drive to the gig and all 15 or so members come out, clown car style. (Actually, I learned from the extras that two members are missing in that scene because they had to go to the bathroom.) They all dress differently and their act sort of mixes together punk, pop and new wave. Their vibe kinda reminds me of G.L.O.W., but I guess they’d be G.L.O.M., Gorgeous Ladies of Music.

Another obvious highlight is their guest singer Piggy, played by Lee Ving, who had been seen in AMERICAN POP and FLASHDANCE but clearly got this one from being the lead singer of Fear. He’s always shirtless with a string of barb wire wrapped around him like a sash, and he’s introduced when he pops out of the Nada band’s trunk with the title “SPECIAL GUEST STAR PIGGY” and then starts banging his head against a wall, to the applause of the gathered fans. He signs a contract by headbutting it, creating a dent in the car beneath it. When it’s time for him to perform Neil has to release him like Animal from The Muppets, and he has a pistol ready just in case.

In addition to the performing acts – who all, including McDowell, sing their own songs – the soundtrack also includes Sparks, The Ramones (of course), and Marshall Crenshaw. Coming from Corman vet Arkush, of course the movie has appearances by Dick Miller, Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov, plus Robert Picardo, Clint Howard and Linnea Quigley. One of the big scenes is when various audience members and movie characters take turns leaping off the balcony, supposedly into the crowd, like a very dangerous stage dive. I like when Bartel’s character Dr. Carver does it and then gets body passed while protesting, for some reason, “I’m a doctor! I’m a doctor!”

Appropriate for the Summer of Nub, GET CRAZY opens with a STAR WARS parody – the title flying over a starfield, then the bottom of a spacecraft coming from the top of the frame like the famous Star Destroyer shot, then we see giant feet hanging down from the ship and it turns out to be a model rocket that Marvin is practicing riding for the big finale of the show. You see, STAR WARS was popular during that particular time, so they could make references to it. Anyway, it’s a fake out – this is not really a sci-fi movie. Or is it? There’s one character who cannot be explained by today’s technology.

There’s a casual attitude toward drug use, with the crew attempting to steal pills from Dr. Carver and being disappointed when they don’t get anything potent. Instead they have to go to a drug dealer named Electric Larry. He’s my favorite part of the movie because what the hell is he? An alien? Is he Cad Bane? (That’s from Star Wars.) He’s like a cowboy silhouette, his face black except for his red glowing eyes, his outfit black except for the mirrored-like-a-disco-ball band around his hat, he has electro-super-powers and his drugs seem to be magical. Nada is so impressed by him magically laying out lines of cocaine in the shape of a star that she asks, “Are you married?”

Speaking of abrupt life decisions, when Max announces his retirement and gives Neil the lease to the theater at the end, Neil immediately offers to share it with Willy, kind of acting like they’re life partners now that they’ve spent one night flirting with each other. I guess that’s the kind of spontaneous choice you can have the confidence to make if you picture yourself as Tarzan.

According to Arkush on Trailers From Hell and other extras on the blu-ray, the box office failure of his second movie HEARTBEEPS made him want to make something more personal. He and his friend Dan Opatashu (NIGHT CALL NURSES) co-wrote a screenplay called HELLZAROCKIN’, about their time working at New York City’s Fillmore East in the ‘60s. But when he found financiers for it they wanted him to make something not set in the ‘60s and with a tone more like AIRPLANE!. So the original idea morphed into “a Jerry Lewis movie on acid.”

It made less than $2 million in theaters. Arkush has alleged that the distributors did some kind of THE PRODUCERS scam “to sell the shares in it to some Wall Street tax shelter group, and then put it out so it would lose money.” He says they didn’t advertise or screen it for critics and pulled it after one weekend, and that some of the executives were later for financial crimes. I guess that explains why they’d release a movie about New Year’s Eve in August!

GET CRAZY is a cute, silly movie that puts on a punk rock frown but has a very upbeat attitude. It’s just very nice how it brings together this old (fictional) bluesman and these wild punks and has them all instantly get along. And basically all the successful people are portrayed as ludicrous and the working professionals on the crew are cool, fun people.

I have a couple friends who love this movie and were thrilled when it finally came out on DVD in 2021 and then on blu-ray (after the negatives and soundtrack had been missing for years). I do think you have to care more about the music than me to really get into it; there’s quite a bit of performance footage, and McDowell doing fake Jagger is not amusing enough to me to justify how long it goes on. On the other hand, I suspect the main thing I’ll remember from the movie will be the fictional singer Nada. She’s so cool and such a great front woman I assumed Lori Eastside had to be a music legend I just wasn’t familiar with, but from what I could find her main claim to fame was a backup singer in Kid Creole and the Coconuts, and only for a short time. She contributes a whole lot to GET CRAZY, as choreographer for the Nada number, so it makes sense she was later choreographer for ALPHABET CITY, KRUSH GROOVE, CRY-BABY, MANNEQUIN: ON THE MOVE, and more. She also had small parts in FEAR CITY and a couple other Abel Ferrara movies, but has mostly worked as a casting director.

Since GET CRAZY, Arkush has mostly directed TV shows (Fame, St. Elsewhere, Moonlighting, Crossing Jordan, Heroes, Nashville), but did manage to fit in CADDYSHACK II (1988), plus the rock ’n roll themed TV movies SHAKE, RATTLE AND ROCK! (1994) and ELVIS MEETS NIXON (1997).

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11 Responses to “Get Crazy”

  1. Now we’re talkin’. This is my favorite rock n roll movie, and it’s not close. Most rock movies are so sanctimonious. This one is fun and absurd. It’s about why rock is enjoyable, not why it’s important. The songs are great, the cast is amazing, and I don’t want to oversell it but Electric Larry is probably the coolest thing in the history of motion pictures.

    If you’re not convinced, here’s my ancient review from way back when I was capable of loving things:


  2. Well that explains why I’ve never heard of this. Sounds fun. Guess I have to get the blu ray to see it.

  3. Oh shiiiiit, that sounds like my kind of movie! Have to track that one down!

  4. Even if that movie was used as a money laundering scheme, the promotion put enough effort into it to release the Sparks theme song (Which by the way I hadn’t heard before, but sadly it’s not one of their more memorable songs) as a single with Malcolm McDowell’s song as a b-side.


  5. People seem to be somewhat puzzled over the humor/punk mix in GET CRAZY. But if you read the gospel of Joe Strummer this is what it’s all about. Be kind, do the right thing and have fun. The English punk scene, including The Ramones, is something quite different from the more aggressive American hardcore that came later.

    I don’t know when you wrote your piece, Vince, but I’m surprised that neither you nor Vern identifies Lee Ving as the bad guy from STREETS OF FIRE and DUDES. They loved to use punk rockers in movies in the early 80s, so much that even John Lydon got a gig as the bad guy in COPKILLER with Harvey Keitel.

  6. Sorry to go off-topic, but I’m shocked that there are two separate movies about Elvis meeting Nixon. I know it happened in real life, but it seems like such a nothingburger to devote an entire movie to… twice!

  7. What do you mean “nothingburger”?! That’s how Elvis got his special police badge and was able to go on parol at night fighting crime!

  8. This is an annual viewing for me on or around NYE. STRANGE DAYS is my poignant goodbye to the previous year as I go into the new one with something resembling hope, while GET CRAZY is just a fun way to start the new year, fueling me up with foolish optimism that. I find myself quite smitten with Nada, btw; it’s like, when she punches and kicks the fan who gets up on stage, I *get* why he thanks her for it.

  9. That “that” shouldn’t be at the end of the second sentence. Anyway, I’ll just use this second comment to mention that I get a kick out of seeing Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph show up here as Susie and Neil’s parents, post-LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS/pre-GREMLINS coupling.

  10. Hey I just want to say that I bought a bootleg DVD of GET CRAZY from a shady gray-market entrepreneur that I met on this site back when the movie was out of print. I watched it once and thought it was cute, but more cute than funny, and didn’t think a lot more about it. Until years later, when I learned a funny story.

    See, I bought the movie while I was still living at my parent’s house, and left it there with many other items during a few years when I was living a semi-nomadic existence. That’s where my little sister discovered it just before she left for college. Assuming that it was a beloved cult movie, she took it with her to school with the hopes of establishing some indie credentials with the cool kids. When her newfound friends professed complete ignorance of any movie called “GET CRAZY,” she treated it as if they’d said they’d never seen CASABLANCA, and organized a packed showing. And… they loved it! It became a huge favorite, they watched it over and over throughout college and to this day frequently quote it to each other. I’m genuinely not sure they ever realized that nobody except Mr. Majestyk had ever seen this movie before, and are even now happily going through life quoting it to completely uncomprehending strangers. When I learned all this years later and explained to my sister that she had unintentionally purloined perhaps the single most obscure movie I owned and then acted as though it was a beloved classic, she was totally stunned. I got her the new Blu for Christmas last year, but she still has never relinquished my original bootleg edition, which I concede now belongs to her more than it ever did to me.

  11. So this is what it feels like when your life hasn’t been a total waste of time.

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