Boys, Avenge Me, AVENGE ME!

By Shawn Robare

Recently Brian over at Cool and Collected posed the idea that a bunch of us like-minded writers, toy-fanatics, bloggers, and collectors should come together once a week or so and all write separate articles with a singular topic.  This way we can all get some inspiration to write and to be inspired by the collective’s output.  A League of Extraordinary Bloggers as Brian put it.  I can’t promise I’ll be hitting this up every week, but I’ve had a lot of fun doing this sort of thing in the past with helping to run and contributing to the Countdown to Halloween, and Zartan Zaturday was a blast a while back too.

The first assignment has been sent out and it concerns a go-to, Saturday afternoon comfort movie from our childhood that we watched a bunch on TV or VHS.  I took in a metric ton of movies on Saturday afternoons, both on cable and on our local Fox affiliate back in the 80s, and at first I wanted to pick something really obscure that might be a hidden gem for those who missed it back in the day.  Something like The Million Dollar Mystery with Tom Bosley, Eddie Deezen, and Rick Overton, or The Heist with Pierce Brosnan and Tom Skerritt.  I also considered talking about Near Dark as it’s one of my favorite films as both a kid and an adult.  But no matter how many times I find myself browsing my nostalgia DVD shelf, I always come back to the same film.  It was something I watched countless times on HBO, and was one of four films (including Rad, The Monster Squad and Transformers the Movie) that I religiously rented from video stores every weekend.  Most importantly, it’s a film that I never tire of and one that I’ve never discussed on Branded before. That film is Red Dawn.

I’m sure there were a lot of folks back in the day that dismissed the flick as just another one of those Brat Pack films filled with young stunt-casting, but as an impressionable 8 year-old who was really into G.I. Joe and spent the better part of his childhood daydreaming about defending my backyard from terrorists and megalomaniacal warmongers, Red Dawn is the perfect escapist fantasy.  Set in the then modern day, the film plays off of the palatable fear of a World War III due to all of the nuclear weapons grandstanding during the waning days of the cold war.  Communism was still the number one threat to our borders (it seemed), and the idea of a war whose main front was being fought on our own domestic soil was pretty darn scary.  In fact, the image of the Communist paratroopers all of a sudden floating out of the sky still kind of haunts me to this day.

For those who haven’t seen it, the film centers on a group of teenaged kids who manage to survive a paratrooper assault on their high school and town.  Led by brothers Jed (a young Patrick Swayze) and Matt (Charlie Sheen), this rag tag group starts off as 6 friends (including C. Thomas Howell, Darren Dalton, Brad Savage and Doug Toby), but by the middle of the film it grows to include a couple girls (played by Jennifer Grey and Lea Thompson) and a grizzled veteran fighter pilot played austerely by Powers Boothe.  This band of young patriots brand themselves the Wolverines (their high school mascot), and they proceed to strategically attack the communists, engaging in guerilla warfare tactics in an effort to save townsfolk from being executed and to try and make a dent in their forces in the hopes that the U.S. military will eventually come to their aid.

Again, the dizzying high I got from this flick as a kid was equal parts awe and horror as it acted as a sort of wish-fulfillment for my playtime daydreams.  It sounds a little weird to say that I sat around hoping we’d be attacked by Commies so that I could “play” G.I. Joe for real, but I’d be willing to bet that in the climate I grew up in a lot of kids probably had similar thoughts.  Another aspect that I loved about this flick was the dead-serious tone that director John Milius brought to the production.  He managed a similar feat with the first Conan film, both of which had scripts that could easily have gone way too over the top to stay believable and engaging.  Don’t get me wrong, I love films like Commando and Rocky IV as much as the next red-blooded American, but even in the day it was clear how much they came across as campy, patriotic propaganda.  Red Dawn is grounded in the story of the eight kids, their bonds of friendship and loyalty, and it’s heart-wrenching when some of them get killed in action.

For a crazy conceptual 80s war flick, Red Dawn still holds up pretty darn well.  Even crazier, it manages to provide an opportunity for C. Thomas Howell to play a geek turned into a sawed-off-shotgun-toting badass with absolutely no irony whatsoever.  That is not a feat to be dismissed lightly.  Also, as everything from the 80s is apparently rebootable these days, there is also a new Red Dawn film destined to hopefully frighten and inspire a whole new generation almost 30 years after the original.  I’m pretty curious to see if the writers/producers/director can nail the same serious tone of the original or if it’ll just deflate into yet another crappy remake that has barely a 10th of the heart of the original.  Time and an invasion from some strange evil nation can only tell…

You can find some of the other participants of the League below:

TL, Flashlights are Something to Eat, talks about Poison Ivy

Christopher Tupa, Tupa’s Treasures, talks about The Goonies

Fiji Mermaid, Sideshow Cinema, talks about Fright Night

Jeff, Siftin’, talks about Superman II

Justin, General Joes, talks about the 70s Live Action Spiderman

Paxton, Cavalcade of Awesome, talks about Back to the Future and the Star Wars Trilogy

Stacey, Pendragon’s Post, talks about Temple of Doom

  • TL – Hope it doesn’t disappoint! IAreGeek – It feels good to not be the only one. And you are totally a lucky duck to have had even a quick connection with Mr. Howell. I are jealous…

  • I absolutely feel the same as you about Red Dawn. I watched this movie as much as possible and it even got to the point where my friends and I went from playing G.I. Joe outside to playing Red Dawn. You’re not the only weird one. I too wanted the Commies to invade so I could totally blow ’em away with my awesome Rocket Launcher. After I did that I’d want it to end so my mom could make me lunch. I kind of met C. Thomas Howell at Fright Night Film Fest 2011 in Louisville,KY. I say “kind of” because I didn’t have time to go to his table but as we were at a red light, leaving the hotel, he was walking up to the light to cross the street. I’m guessing he was going to the gas station on the other side. In a panic I grabbed my phone and took a pic before the light turned green. After I got the pic I still had time so I rolled down the window and yelled “WOLVERINES!” and he looked over at me, smiled and gave me a fist pump. If I were a smarter man I would have got it on video but, yea, I’m man enough to say that almost brought me to tears.

  • Truth? I’ve never seen Red Dawn. Further truth? It is now at the top of my Netflix queue.

  • BJB – I hope you dig it 30 years later. As far as the hive mind observation, I’m a big believer in the bridging communal power of branding and pop culture proliferation that swept though the country in the 70s and 80s. It really is amazing how many shared memories that generation has thanks to toys, cartoons, and products. I’m sure it’s potentially soul corrupting on some level, but I’ve had nothing but good experiences because of it, particularly because of starting this website.

  • Zog – I can certainly see that point of view, but then again I think that argument can be levied against most stories. Practically every story is derivative of previous work and it becomes hard, after discovering this, to not side with what’s perceived as the original as being better simply because it came before. Granted, I won’t compare Red Dawn to the work of John Steinbeck. It makes me think of a movie like Fistful of Dollars. I love Leone, and Clint Eastwood truly embodies the “man with no name”, but the flick is at heart a campy rehashing of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (which is in turn an interpretation of a pulp novel.) Does Leone get brownie points for turning the story into a western or does it get slighted because of the screwy technical issues of language problems (trying to sell the film to two international markets at once.)

  • BJB

    Geez, I swear these 80s pop culture sites are part of some collective hivemind that I’m inherently linked to. You can count me as one of the other overly-imaginative 80s kids and I happen to have Red Dawn coming to me from Netflix tomorrow. It will be my first time seeing it. I can’t wait.

  • Zog

    I liked this movie as a kid but I dont really care for it much now that Im older. Its very derivative of WW2 movies like Die Bruke (kids in combat, everyone dies tragically) and the Battle of Algiers (partisan warfare) and books like John Steinbecks the Moon is Down (partisan warfare). This wouldnt have been a problem if Milius had brought something new to the table. Im sure he could have found something new to say – Red Dawn does after all take place in a very different era and setting but he doesnt. And what he does have to say, he doesnt say anywhere near as well as the people who have said it before him.

  • Dex – I can’t even begin to describe how much I wanted one of those rocket launchers from the flick. Oh, and I totally went through a phase of wearing a beret just like C. Thomas Howell. Brian – I really wanted to use that quote for the title, but thought it would get confusing for people with both lines (from two characters.) One of my favorites…

  • Great memories Shawn. I might just love this movie as much as you do! One of my favorite lines is when the Colone tells C. Thomas Howell’s character that all his hate is going to burn him up, to which he replies, “It keeps me warm.” Now I think I might have to watch this tonight. ;)

  • WOLVERIIIIIINES!!!! We did tape this one from cable and I can’t remember how many times I watched it. People that grew up after the 80s will never understand how scary this movie was to 80s kids. With teh Russians and the threat of nuclear war it was an interesting time to be a kid with an overactive imagination. I remember when the mini series The Day After came on and that was a huge deal. I didn’t watch it though :)