Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Better Off Dead: A Look Back

As we all know and love, and by love I mean Billy Zabka, the 1980s were a classic period for teen comedies.

Those early proto-douche teen archetypes, the high school ‘bags and hotties, were in embryonic archetypal form in the 1980s teen comedy. Those still forming hottie and douchebaguette characters would come into maturation under the power of the Grieco Virus in the 1990s and 2000s.

One of the first triumphant teen comedies of the mid 1980s managed to introduce not one, but two, early Douche Archetypes (as well as two hot chicks caught in their pull). As you can tell by the image, I’m talking about the 1985 classic John Cusack comedy, “Better Off Dead.”

If you haven’t seen it, go out and rent it. Now. Truly genius, and some of the most quotable lines ever. There’s cinema. There’s literature. And then there’s this:

My little brother got his arm stuck in the microwave. So my mom had to take him to the hospital. My grandma dropped acid this morning, and she freaked out. She hijacked a busload of penguins. So it’s sort of a family crisis. Bye!

As to the early douchebaggery on display in Better Off Dead, there was the classic Nordic Aryan SkiBag, ski champion of the K-12 and all around douche-nozzle tool, Roy Stalin.

Yes, the writer/director, Savage Steve Holland, actually named his bad guy Stalin.

A lot of teen comedies present douchebag villians, but how many have the guts to name them “Stalin”?

This was also the period when teen comedies could still plausably cast actors in their early 30s to play high school students. Good times.

The basic plot driver is that Cusack’s an aspiring high school skier, Lane Meyer, and Roy Stalin is the captain of the ski team. Stalin steals Cusack’s girlfriend, Beth, and Cusack decides he’s going to win her back by beating Stalin at a ski contest.

Here’s Stalin after losing the big race. Look at that guy. Tell me he doesn’t set the table for all sorts of modern day scrotery.

Even back in 1985, Better Off Dead understood that Hotties pulled into douche-orbit sometimes aren’t worth saving.

As Lane Meyer pines to win Beth back, it slowly dawns on him that sometimes the hottie attracted to the douchebag, to put it bluntly, sucks monkey poo.

Beth isn’t worth saving. Exposure to a source douche like Stalin has polluted her beyond recognition.

Instead, there is Monique. The French foreign exchange cutie living across the street.

Monique is suffering under the unwanted advances of ‘bag prototype #2, The Creepy Nerdbag. Nasal spray snorting Ricky Smith.

Here’s Monique exchanging Christmas presents with Ricky, played by future “Head of the Class” star, Dennis Blunden. (yeah, he’s got a real name somewhere, but he’s Dennis Blunden).

Monique helps Lane to win the ski race. After winning, Beth throws herself at Lane, but instead he picks Monique. And his best friend, Charles De Mar, snorts snow.

If there’s a better teen comedy from this period, I can’t think of it. I don’t know if I can adequately explain what Better Off Dead meant to my childhood.

Taping it off HBO in 1986 or 1987 I must’ve watched that movie over 200 times. I related to Lane Meyer. I wanted to be Lane Meyer.

His frustration with high school stupidity. His dream Camaro car. His goal to save the Hotties from the Stalins of the world.

And the fact he danced with animated cheeseburgers to Van Halen songs.

I wore down my VHS tape because I wanted to be Lane Meyer. And because I wanted to quietly and awkwardly hump both Beth and Monique while a Japanese race car driver narrated like Howard Cosell.

Thinking about Better Off Dead the other day, it suddenly dawned on me.

I live 20 minutes from the Glendale house where Better Off Dead was filmed. And really, what better way to spend a Sunday than a short drive to visit the house I’d seen so many times on that worn VHS copy that got me through middle school?

I drove down the 5, switched to the 134, and took the exit into suburban Glendale. I drove up the winding roads to an upper middle class neighborhood that looked nothing like Lane Meyer’s small ski town. I parked and looked around.

And there it was:


Exactly the same.

Except for a lack of windows in the garage, it was pretty much the same house that had imprinted itself on my impressionable young mind back in the late 1980s.

The fictional house where my projected self resided among so many awful meals and a younger brother who never spoke but knew how to pick up trashy women.

Yup, the same faux brick paneling. Same angled English Tudor windows.


Here’s a straight on frontal view.

I can almost see the imprint from the Camaro.

This was the house that Badger’s space shuttle took off from.

This was the house where that sweet 1967 Camaro lay dormant under a cloth cocoon.

It was bizarre. Surreal.

I felt tingly.

Here’s a still from the film.

Note the basketball hoop, the windows on the garage and the large bushes growing. It also appears they redid the blue door from a two door entrance into a single door entrance.

Also note the Camaro in foreground left.

Ah, if o
nly I could find a tomboy French hottie obsessed with baseball to help me fix it, I really could be Lane Meyer.

Gee I’m really sorry I blew up your mom, Ricky.


As to the door and the house?

Nearly exactly the same.

Here’s a closeup on the door today.

I was giddy taking these pics. Because I’m a huge douchebag.

And my feet smell like gouda.

But I still love Monique.

And I still love Beth, too. Is that so wrong?


Here’s Lane’s dad dashing out of the house to save his beloved garage windows from the “Two Dollars” paperboy.

The awkward lawyer dad trying to speak “teenage” to his annoyed son.

Good times.

It’s got raisins.

You like raisins.

But what about Monique’s house?


Across the street, there it was.

Ricky and Ricky’s mom’s house.

Monique was staying in the upstairs room on the right, I believe, but not sure.

I’m not sure this is the exact same house, it was hard to tell in the movie what it looked like. This may have been redone since the film.

Tentacles. Tentacles. Big difference.

Ah, Monique. I would play sax and serve you fast-food, then take you to a Dodgers game.

I would ski the K-12 on one ski, then turn down Beth, just to toss oranges at a parking sign until you giggled sweetly.

I would practice language lessons over fast food hamburgers shaped like a pig.

Reflecting on my pilgrimage to the Meyer house, I thought back on the weird delirious state that repeated watching of a favorite film causes, and the odd sensation of actually visiting a location that exists as sort of a temporal projection of the subconscious. Then, realizing my thoughts made no sense but satisfied that my quest had been fulfilled, I decided to head home.

On the way I decided to stop off at Subway, have a sub, and contemplate my journey.

I won a free cookie playing the Scrabble Game.

I munched on my sandwich and reflected on Stalin and Ricky. On Beth and Monique. And on Lane.

Maybe I’m till trying to be Lane Meyer. Maybe I’m trying to save the hotties from douchebaggery, one K-12 ski slope at a time.

Maybe someday I’ll rebuild that Camaro and drive Monique to Dodger Stadium.

It could happen.

# posted by douchebag1

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