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The Launch of Retro Review 1981: The Column

Posted by Thurston McQ on Thursday, January 6, 2011

Editor's note:

The mission: review at least one movie a week that came out in 1981. The reason: because he can.

The man to do the mission: Thurston McQ.

Prepare yourself for a trip back through three decades in time, to an era when VHS was king, video stores were popping up everywhere and movies could be rented by young, impressionable minds. What were movies like back then? And 30 years on, do the movies that were released in 1981 hold up to our storytelling standards today or fall down hard?

Welcome to a year-long column that will revisit those cinematic classics and not-so-classics from an era where CG and PG-13 didn't mean a thing to anyone yet. Welcome to Retro Review 1981 - The Weekly Column. Thurston, you have the floor. -- Patrick

The nature of progress dictates that we abandon old technologies for new.  The benefits are usually obvious, or we wouldn’t do it.  Right?  Some would argue this isn’t always the case, and have a handful of valid arguments for whythis isn’t so.  The arguments usually come down to superior marketing, product durability, or having convenience sold to us over quality.  Amazingly enough, the public hasn’t been fed that many video player upgrades.  We’ve gone from film, to tape, to disc, to (maybe) downloadable content.

You know all that already, of course.  If you're like me, you've welcomed each new format with a little unease, because you've noticed some movies don't make the transfer.  Some movies become canonized, and are going to find their way on to each new system no matter what.  You could stop me right here and say that most of what gets left behind is crap, and you’d be right.  Thing is, I like a lot of crap, and I like deciding for myself what I think is crap.

In 2003, I lost track of my copy of the '81 version of The Legend of the Lone Ranger.  If you've heard of this film, you've heard bad things.  If you've seen it, you've probably said bad things about it to others.  It wasn't out on DVD, which made me worry it never would be.  I went on a quest for a new copy.  I hit up rare video sellers in St. Louis and Chicago, and no one had it.  I was surprised.  I didn't expect to find it in the chain video stores, since most had abandoned tape at that point, and were only keeping newer releases on shelves.  I did, however, expect to find it somewhere.  I could have ordered it on eBay, but I've always preferred walking into a store and finding what I want.  eBay is a last resort.

My mother eventually found it in a rural Alabama video store, bought it, and mailed it to me.  After all these years, I guess I'm still something of a mama's boy.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger was released on DVD in 2008.  It's one of the lucky ones.  Lucky enough to find its way to Blu-ray, though?  Who knows?  So many movies never even made it to DVD.  Quite a few never made it to tape, and are likely lost to me forever.

1981 looms large in my development into a movie lover.  When I was three (mid-1983), the U.S. Military told my mother, my first stepfather, and me we needed to leave South Carolina for Frankfurt, Germany.  So we packed up our group, got a grip, came equipped, grabbed our proton packs off our backs, and we split.  My mother bought herself a couple VCRs, got a membership to some video stores, and started copying left and right.  A huge chunk of the video stores' individual catalogues was devoted to 1981 releases.

When we returned to the states in 1987, we had amassed a collection of somewhere around 1,000 movies.  I realized a few years later that, outside of the handful of '81 movies my mother had used as go-to babysitters over the years (among them The Legend of the Lone Ranger, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Excalibur [she was thoughtful enough to cut out the sex scene for me], Clash of the Titans, The Great Muppet Caper, Cannonball Run, Private  Eyes, Time Bandits), I wasn’t all that familiar with that year in movies.  The same goes for 1982 and 1983.  By 1984, I was conscious enough of my surroundings to follow along, and had watched the movies as they had been dropped into our collection.

In 1990, at the impressionable age of ten, I went through our collection one-by-one.  I came to the conclusion that 1981 was a weird and wonderful year for movies.  I was appreciative mymother had gone to the trouble to capture as much of it as she had. 

I still feel 1981 was a weird and wonderful year for movies, though it occurs to me people have been born and have grown old enough to drink alcohol in the time since I watched many of the movies I watched for the first time as a ten-year-old.  Also, I watched them as a ten-year-old.  Many times over the years, I’ve wondered what it would be like to revisit all those movies.  I've wondered what stuff sailed over my head, and I've wondered how good my memory of some of what I saw is.  (For years, I would whistle the end credit music for Saturday the 14th.  I rewatched it in 2009, and was amused to note that my version of the music had shifted slightly.  The meat of the original was there, but I had made definite changes.  Turns out my memory of the movie, itself, hadn't held up quite as well.)

I've also wondered what movies I missed.  My mother’s collection of '81 movies was vast, but it was by no means complete.  She recorded Inseminoid, but she either skipped Pacific Banana or had no access to it.  In fact, I hadn’t even heard of it until I went digging for other '81 movies.

The result of all this wondering is that I have decided to watch some of these '81 movies either again or for the first time.  I'll be making observations about my experience as I go along, and will be sharing them with you on as many Thursdays as I can manage for the rest of the year.  I will be watching each movie asclose to the thirtieth anniversary of its original release date as possible, and I will be watching them in a variety of formats (tape, DVD, LaserDisc, AVI, NetFlix Instant).

So here on Coming Attractions throughout 2011 we're going to go retro and pretend like it's the year 1981. Join me next week as I take a look at two sci-fi relics that came out 30 years ago, Hangar 18 and Inseminoid.

Drakemd
Location:
Posts: 1905
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

I just looked through all of the releases from 1981 and was surprised to find so many movies that have imprinted memories into my childhood.  Probably the biggest imprint is Chariots of Fire.  Despite winning the Oscar for Best Picture, this will forever remain in my memory as the longest 2 hours I ever spent in a theater.  I was 10 years old and my parents took me and my brother to see this in my grandmothers town.  This was long before the days of grand multi-plex theaters, so the theater was small and cramped.  To top it off, the movie was sold out, so my brother and I watched most of the movie sitting on the aisle stairs.  I have not seen the movie since that first viewing and, honestly, all I remember is the music and a bunch of guys in white running along the beach.  Perhaps this year long look into 1981 will spark the urge to go back and view these movies again.  To start, I am going to search for Chariots of Fire and watch it again.

Turn your head and cough!
Thurston McQ
Location: Germany
Posts: 142
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

I really had to dig to find some of the releases.  I had to dig even more to find the actual release dates of some, since conflicting release dates are reported.  I have an idea of the fifty-two movies I will be covering, but if there's a strong desire to have me cover specific movies you think I may not be covering, let me know in the comments.  There's a chance I will be discussing some in longer reviews of others, but if there's an overwhelming desire for me to look at, say, Scanners, you guys should let me know.

There's also a chance we'll be getting the occasional guest review from Patrick.  He may want to give his two cents on a few of the Canadian movies I'll be covering.

It's likely I'll be covering more than just movies in the column.  I plan to make some mention of as much of what made '81 a special year as possible.  I'll be proceeding more or less chronologically.

Quasar
Location:
Posts: 7588
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

I own The Legend of the Lone Ranger on DVD because it's awesome.

Back in the day, I used to tape movies off of HBO, and The Legend of the Lone Ranger was one of those. On the same tape, I also taped Passenger 57. Jack pointed out to me that both of those movies just happened to star Michael Horse, who played a terrorist in Passenger 57, and Tonto in The Lone Ranger. Those are the only 2 movies I'm aware of him in. Jack dubbed that tape "The Michael Horse Tape".

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline
Drakemd
Location:
Posts: 1905
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

Not to be confused with "The Horso Tape".

Turn your head and cough!
The Swollen Goi...
Location:
Posts: 14343
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

Quasar wrote:

I own The Legend of the Lone Ranger on DVD because it's awesome.

You and I are more similar than you dare to acknowledge, Quasar.

Jack S. Pharaoh
Location:
Posts: 2231
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

I have many fond memories of 'The Michael Horse Tape'. Mostly of watching 'The Legend of the Lone Ranger' and 'Passenger 57'.

Mal Shot First
Location:
Posts: 3180
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

With a name like Michael Horse he should have played Silver.

Jack S. Pharaoh
Location:
Posts: 2231
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

I want to relive the films of 1981 right now.

msunyata
Location:
Posts: 63
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

What a wonderful idea, and what a sublime introduction.

Just make sure your sentence structure isn't *too* overwhemingly convoluted.

;P

msunyata
Quasar
Location:
Posts: 7588
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

According to imdb, Hangar 18 had a release date of July 1980. DISQUALIFIED!

Inseminoid (or Horror Planet) was released January 23, 1981 in West Germany (I assume we're going by earliest release date wherever in the world it happened).

Scanners was released January 14, 1981. Ergo, Scanners should be reviewed BEFORE Inseminoid.

Some movie called Dreadnaught was apparently released January 1, 1981. It should be reviewed FIRST.

 

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline
The Swollen Goi...
Location:
Posts: 14343
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

Hangar 18 was only in limited release (New York and California, I think) back in July, then didn't resurface for the rest of America until January.

Don't trust the January 1 release dates, or any of the other release dates that show the movie coming out on the first of the month.  "The Numbers" and other sites will lump a whole bunch of movies together and claim they came out on the first of the month if they can't find specific release dates.

Dreadnought is one of these movies that got mislabled as a January 1 release, as far as I can tell.  I can find no reliable date for its American release.  Its theatrical run in Hong Kong, according to hkmdb.com, was 3/5/81 to 3/21/81. 

In part, this project is selective.  It's up to me which ones I choose to cover among the ones I have been able to track down.  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to track down all the ones I want to track down.  

I wanted to pass Scanners by, since I figured everyone had already seen it.  Patrick thought it was a seminal 1981 film, though, and that it should receive some attention.

Patrick Sauriol
Location: Canada
Posts: 20119
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

What he said. Word.

If McQ doesn't review SCANNERS then I'm gonna. You just don't pass by an opportunity to review a movie where a balding Michael Ironside causes someone's head to explode.

No matter where you go, there you are.
The Swollen Goi...
Location:
Posts: 14343
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

Looks like I'll be doing Scanners, then.  I'm still doing Inseminoid this week as advertised, but I will do Scanners next week.

Jack S. Pharaoh
Location:
Posts: 2231
Posted: 8 years 36 weeks ago

Based on my experience of reliving the films of 1981 so far, no movies were released that year.  It must've been a sad time for film enthusiasts, repeatedly stopping by their favorites theaters and only seeing last year's films in the rotation.

Quasar
Location:
Posts: 7588
Posted: 8 years 35 weeks ago

The Swollen Goi... wrote:

Looks like I'll be doing Scanners, then.  I'm still doing Inseminoid this week as advertised, but I will do Scanners next week.

This is Thursty's gig, Goiter! You're not reviewing anything! 'Specially when you italicize one movie (Scanners), and not ther other (Inseminoid). You're already showing obvious favoritism!

Faster and faster, a nightmare we ride. Who'll take the reins when the miracle dies? Faster and faster till everything dies. Killing is our way of keeping alive. - Virgin Steele, Blood and Gasoline