Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Joysticks (1983)

AKA Video Madness
Directed by Greydon Clark
Starring Joe Don Baker, Leif Green, Jim Greenleaf, Corinne Bohrer
Rated R

“I wish you would be like the other dads and stay home and barbeque.”

Ah, ye olde video arcade. The dizzying lights, the cacophony of bleeps and blips, the scent of denim and adolescent sweat, the gurgle and churn of raging teenage hormones. Arcades had existed for decades, of course – pinball was practically thee American pastime in the late 1970’s – but with the advent of the Pac Man machine in 1980, the entire country was swept up in video game mania. Video arcades replaced roller rinks, street corners, and massage parlors as the place to be for the young and the restless. I cannot impress upon younger readers enough just how real this so-called Pac Man Fever really was. It was nuts. It is surprising, then, that video arcades did not yield a bigger crop of teensploitation films. Aside from the tepid Hollywood Zap and minor appearances in a few others, Joysticks is really the only 80’s teen sex comedy that focuses exclusively on a video arcade. Luckily for us, it’s actually worth watching.

Eugene (Leif Green) is a classic uptight, four-eyed, sweater-vest sporting nerd who somehow scores a job at the video arcade. On his way to work the first day, he’s accosted at a red light by two hot girls who rub their tits in his face and steal his pants. I guess the idea is to take a picture of him with his pants down, although I’m not sure why. But anyway, it happens, and he has to arrive at work in his underwear. The first twenty or so minutes of Joysticks are mostly dedicated to humiliating Eugene, which is a bummer, because he seems like a nice guy. Fortunately, they just drop that shit completely once the plot kicks in. Not before he’s bashed around by the arcade’s manager, though. Jefferson Bailey (Scott McGinnis, who was the go-to douchebag back then) is the arcade owner’s grandson, a quick-tongued party boy who treats Eugene like a flunky and uses his status as king-of-tokens to bang video vixens.

Besides wiping down the games and mopping the floor, Eugene also has to run the concession stand. At one point, a hot dog slips out of his tongs and somehow ends up nestled between some aerobic chick’s breasts.

“Umm,” he stammers, “My weiner is stuck in your, uh…things.”

The arcade is, of course, filled with eccentrics. There’s the fat sweaty dude, McDorfus (Jim Greenleaf), who happens to hold the high score on Pac Man. There’s Vidiot (John Gries, instantly recognizable as Uncle Rico from Napolean Dynamite), the boss of a punk rock gang (all girls, who do not talk, but rather make chirping robot sounds).

There’s also a Latino gang, who customize the racing games with pin stripes and velour. There’s the party girls, Lola (Playboy Playmate Kym Malin) and Alva (Kim Michel), always ready to get fuckin’ crazy. And then there’ s Patsy Rutter (Corinne Bohrer), a gum-snapping valley girl who loves the arcade, but nearly brings on its destruction when her asshole dad, local bigwig Joe Rutter (Joe Don Baker), tries to get the joint closed down.

So what’s Joe’s problem? He happens to waltz in there when Lola and Alva are playing video games topless. That scene, by the way, could be the greatest in teen sex com history. It manages to smush your average 80’s teenage boy’s two favorite things – Pac Man and tits – into one orgasmically awesome package.

Anyway, you can pretty much fill in the blanks from there. Joe hires some flunkies to steal the video games. They fail, and Jefferson throws a late-night pajama party. Eugene and McDorfus bust into Joe’s house (I’m sure there’s good reason, but I did not catch it), and Eugene ends up accidentally boning Joe’s wife. There are protests outside the arcade – one woman holds a sign that says “Nuke the arcade”, which seems extreme to me. Jefferson and Joe decide to hold a Pac Man competition. If Jeff wins, Joe fucks off. If Joe wins, the arcade closes. Joe, being an old bastard, gets Vidiot to play for him. Jefferson wants to play himself, but cannot, as revealed in a flashback, where he’s boning a hot blonde on the floor of the arcade. Her dad walks in and slaps her, naked, right in front of the Pac Man machine. So he’s traumatized. Eugene trains him, though, and so the showdown – with gigantic prop joysticks – begins.

There’s a good chance that no one under 35 will understand this movie or why it’s so beloved to cranky old fuckers like the authors of this book, but it is a powerful and cleansing wash of nostalgia that never fails to bring back weird and cheery memories of a teenage life wasted one quarter at a time. I don’t even know where teenagers hang out these days – as far as I know, they all stay in and play X Boxes 360s (or whatever the hip equivalent is when you’re reading this) – but back in the 80’s, the video arcade really was the main hangout for most teens.

Nothing quite as lively as topless gaming or punk rock riots occurred at my particular arcade (1001 Plays, later renamed America's Game, 1001 Mass Ave Cambridge, MA), but my friend Luke did find a bag of weed inside Spy Hunter once, and that one bald boxer came in and let us rub his head one afternoon. So that was fun. Joysticks, thusly, is a funhouse mirror of real teenage life in the 1980’s and will therefore continue to be a cult favorite until we are all dead.

Joysticks director Greydon Clark is an exploitation legend, a drive-in auteur who kicked off his career acting in Al Adamson biker-trash epics like Satan’s Sadists (1969) and Hell’s Bloody Devils 1970) and soon graduated to writing, producing and directing. Clark is responsible for the blaxploitation classic Black Shampoo (1976) and the amazing (and self-explanatory) Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977), among many others. His films are riots of color and noise, non-stop headbangers full of jiggly girls and sauntering anti-heroes, a neverland of polyester and pulchritude where the only thing that matters is getting your rocks off by any means necessary. He’s taken the last decade off to rest – you’d need it too, after thirty years of crazy motorcycles and street-fighting men – but his legend rolls on.

As for our team of vidiots and booby girls, Corinne Bohrer spent a decade in the teensploitation trenches (Zapped, Beach Girls, Surf II) before becoming a fixture on primetime TV. She spent the last few years as Veronica Mars’ mom and can usually be seen these days on commercials for stuff like soup and soap. She still has the amazing figure she did here, although it’s usually swaddled in sweaters and mom jeans these days. John Gries has become an incredibly prolific character actor, appearing in countless TV episodes and indie-flicks. Joe Don Baker is well-remembered for Walking Tall, but he’s been in nearly a hundred films and TV series, and is still going strong in his 70’s.

Kym Malin was in a fistful of Andy Sidaris’s bikinis, bullets and bombs flicks. Everybody else wandered off somewhere. Video arcades died a slow and protracted death in the early 1990’s, but now, thanks to the internet, you can play most of the games featured in Joysticks – including the awe-inspiring Satan’s Hollow – online. Not Space Dungeon, though. That shit was fake.

Availability: Joysticks is available on DVD.

Listen: The Joysticks theme!

Link: Greydon Clark's website

- Ken McIntyre


  1. Totally Awesome Video Games!

    Along with Private School and Hardbodies, Joysticks was a mind altering experience.

    For those lucky enough to have grown up in the no-holds-barred decade, thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    PS: King Vidiot will never die!

  2. I saw this movie for the first time a few nights ago. I thought it was pretty good, for what it was. Nudity and nostalgia in equal measure.

    Btw, that game the two girls are playing in the "strip video" scene is called Streaking. It's a Pac-Man knockoff where a chick (well, a horribly-pixellated likeness of one) has to recover her clothing. The game actually exists in MAME and I have played it!

  3. Kym has another 80s connection - having her clothes vacuumed off and out of a chimney in Weird Science...


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