AKA Summer Release
Directed by Terry Car
Starring Courtney Thorne Smith, Mariska Hargitay, Joanne Willette
“Horses can smell fear, you know.”
“Oh yeah? Can they smell hate?”
Welcome to 18 opens with a three-girl slumber party featuring two future primetime TV stars (Courtney Thorne-Smith and Mariska Hargitay) and one girl (Joanne Willette), who’s still working on it as we speak. They did not know this in 1986, though. In 1986, they were just happy to be out of school. By the way, there's a bit in this opening scene where they pluck a goldfish out of his aquarium and plop him into a half-empty bottle of wine. Alright, I realize it’s just a gag, but I think it’s a little fucked-up. They can’t swim in wine. Miraculously, this one can, but still, what am I watching here, Make Them Die Slowly?
So anyway, these three BFFs: Lindsey (Thorne-Smith), Joey (Hargitay), and Robin (Willette), are hanging out, chugging wine, and figuring out what to do with the rest of their lives. In what seems to me like the worst idea ever, they decide to head to a dude ranch to work for the summer. Not surprisingly, it’s horrible. The ranch is littered with rich poker-playing douchebags and sleazy cowpokes, the latter of which chase the girls around when they're not shoveling horseshit or spit-shining some fucker’s boots. One notable horseback ride finds Robin being wooed by a stumpy old cowboy who tells her about the last cockfight he attended.
“Jesus,” he shudders, “There was blood and cock guts all over the place.”
Later on, during a rare break from indentured servitude, Robin runs into another teenage blonde, the skittish Talia (Cristen Kauffman, Mischief, Joy of Sex), who compliments Robin on her make-up application abilities. This film is loaded with makeup references, by the way. Perhaps Maybelline were ghost investors. Anyway, Robin sizes Talia up in a scene that throbs with accidental lesbian overtones.
“I could do things to your face,” she says, somewhat menacingly. “You wouldn't even recognize yourself.”
Talia decides she likes this odd, flamboyant girl, and she suggests that if she ever needs a place to stay and a job less manure-oriented than the dude ranch, to look her up.
After the girls’ manager, mean-assed Beulah (Micole Mercurio, who I found powerfully attractive, in a matronly sorta way) docks half their paycheck for expenses, the girls bail and take Talia up on her offer.
Talia lives in a huge lake house with a squirrely drug dealer/pimp named Roscoe (Erich Anderson). The girls, being 18 and innocent, are completely unaware of any dirty dealings, and move right in, hot-tubbing and gulping down top-shelf booze like there's no tomorrow. They get fake IDs and jobs at the casino, but all is clearly not well. Unbeknown to them, Roscoe has cameras installed in the girls’ bathroom so he can tape them showering. He has secretive conversations with shady characters and occasionally gives Talia a smack in the chops.
One morning, Talia suddenly throws them out, but she sets them up with a cheap cabin on the edge of town. While they negotiate the price, the front door falls off. The landlord takes a buck off the price. A 6 foot tall transvestite named Fuscha (Brian Bradley) lives next door, and drops by to give them some leftover pate. You think all of this would be a clear indication that it’s time to go home, but the girls roll with it. They play poker to pass the time in the grubby cabin but, lacking the funds for a proper game, bet with their make-up. Seems gross to me. Do you really want some other chick’s used lipstick?
Talia runs into them at the casino, and invites the girls to a party at Roscoe’s. She’s pretty sketchy about it, though.
“Are you sure you want to go?” She asks. “It’s going to be full of Roscoe’s friends. Older guys with lots of money.”
This is not a deterrent to the girls.
They girls get all spiffed up in gowns that they most certainly did not bring with them to the dude ranch, and head over to the party.
It takes them forever to figure it out, but once they accidentally see the tape of Joey showering, they realize it’s a sex party, and they’re being pimped by Roscoe. The cops show up and toss ‘em in jail for prostitution. Roscoe gives Talia money to bail them out, and then cries when they yell at her. They go back to the cabin and the tranny makes tea for them.
“I don’t understand why Talia would do that to us,” says Robin.
“Sometimes people get confused about who they are,” says the man in a dress.
Couple days later, Talia shows up at the cabin with her face all busted up. Robin fixes it with her magic make-up.
Pissed that Talia flew the coop, Roscoe takes Lindsey’s car as retribution, demanding the $5,000 he forked over for bail money before she can get it back. Their solution is to put a brunette wig on her and send her off to a high-stakes poker game with a bunch of the dude ranch clowns.
She manages to pull it off and they get the car back, but Talia is still being held semi-against her will, so the girls decide to launch a daring rescue mission. They wear cat burgler-esque knit hats and everything. During their break-in, the song on the soundtrack (by Randall Kirsch) goes “Someone’s going to get into this house/someone’s going to get-get-get into this house” like 57 times. It was starting to make me panic, quite frankly.
It ends in a high-speed boat chase with all the trimmings, including one of the most hilariously unconvincing exploding yachts I think I’ve ever seen.
Theoretically, I should hate Welcome to 18. It’s more of a chick-centric drama than a comedy, there’s no nudity to speak of (that’s Hargitay’s body double in the shower scene), and there appears to be some cosmetics fetish at work, given the countless close-ups of lipsticks and compacts. But despite these fairly major detriments, the film does have its strengths. The girls are adorable, the script is surprisingly sharp, and the acting, especially for such a young and inexperienced cast, is across-the-board excellent. It is neither funny nor boner popping, but it’s got pretty girls in halter tops, so I’m not complaining.
Interestingly, Welcome to 18 has garnered a small-but-fierce cult following over the decades, in part because of its blaring AOR soundtrack by a fistful of earnest unknowns like Doll Congress and Second Language. There’s no accounting for taste, man, especially in 1986.
Welcome to 19.
A goodly amount of the cast went on to do high-visibility work.
Thorne-Smith made a fortune on Melrose Place, and is currently amassing another pile of cash with the execrable, forever-running sitcom According to Jim.
Hargitay is one of the main players in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, which, as far as I can tell, is gore-porn for Christians and grandmothers.
Willette still pops up on sitcoms and hospital dramas, as does Anderson. Terry Carr worked mostly as a producer and production manager. He worked on the unforgettable 74’ TV creepfest Bad Ronald, among several other notable titles, but this was his sole directing credit. He died of a heart attack in 2005. I don’t mean to bum you out, but that’s just the way it went.
Availability: Welcome to 18 is available on VHS.