March 29, 2019 Teen Movie Hell (Book Review)
The teen years are one of the harder stages of life. Things get more confusing. Alongside the physical and emotional changes, there are changes in taste. One day the best piece of music around is the Spongebob Squarepants intro. The next, music becomes an entire way of life. It is not enough to listen to Rock, Pop, etc. One must be a Goth, a Greebo, or even a Belieber.
The same goes for films. The cutesy, sanitized cartoon shows of old do not cut it anymore. The serious stuff is much too dry. Teens need something both closer to home and daring. Like jocks, nerds and dorky school staff getting shown up, or the things their parents shielded them from; booze, boobs, blood, and drugs. Well, depending on their parents anyway.
That is where Mike ‘McBeardo’ McPadden’s Teen Movie Hell comes in, due out on Tuesday, April 2nd through Bazillion Points. He had previously chronicled music in 2012’s If You Like Metallica… and Heavy Metal movies in 2014’s Heavy Metal Movies. Now he turns his eye towards what he calls “Porno movies watered down for thirteen-year olds.” He chronicles the rise of the teen sex comedy flick from its R-rated origins to today.
There are the usual suspects, like 1981’s Porky’s, 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and 1999’s American Pie. They are also joined by over 350 other cult classics, hidden gems and cinematic Titanics. Remember Troma Picture’s 1983 film The First Turn-On? How about the awkward 1986 picture Soul Man? McPadden goes through them all, listing their year of release, key cast, and contents (1982’s Splitz features “Nerds, New Wave, Hypnosis”).
McPadden does not dig deep into the production history of each film. Otherwise, even with reviews by Heather Drain (Video Watchdog), Kate McPadden, etc, he would still be working on ‘C’ out of the A-Z of cheeky teen sleaze. Instead, he and his guest reviewers give the reader 3-5 paragraphs, sometimes more or less, detailing a film’s plot, its quality, and its features. He also sometimes adds a little trivia. For example, 1986’s Something Special– a Comedy about a girl called Milly (Pamela Adlon: King of the Hill series) magically becoming a boy called Willy- may have inspired the similar 1989 FTM comedy Cleo/Leo, which its director claims were ripped off by the 1991 “junk-swap comedy” Switch.
As such, it makes for an easy read. People can just scroll through the letters, find a curious title, then read all about it. One can get a good grasp of the history of the Porky’s franchise through the three entries covering the first film and its lesser sequels. The A-Z largely covers the genre’s heyday- the 1970s through to the early 1990s, with an extra chapter on modern teen comedies. But the book offers more than just an alphabet of Alpha Beta and other frat houses.
One big criticism of the genre is that it seems to be largely male-centric. Basically, some might think the book is just a compendium of films about dudes’ thirst for boobs. That is where Teen Movie Hell’s contributors come in. Kat Ellinger (editor-in-chief of Diabolique Magazine), Katie Rife of the AV Club, Kier-La Janisse (House of Psychotic Women, FAB Press 2012), Samm Deighan (Lost Girls, Spectacular Optical 2017), Wendy McClure (I’m Not the New Me, Riverhead Trade 2005) and Eddie Deezen (Grease 1978. The Polar Express 2004), the one other guy aside from McPadden himself.
They are rather beefy contributions too. Ellinger defends the genre with an argument that provides food for thought, while listing its Golden Age Hollywood roots. Rife talks about the women behind the camera, while Janisse writes about the fascination for teacher-student relations in a chapter called “Hot for Teacher.” Each contributor brings something different to the table, be it Ellinger’s passion, Janisse’s discussion of sexual politics, or McClure’s recollection of the abortion talk in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. For a book about cheap thrills, it does not avoid heavier subjects.
So, that is 350+ light-hearted reviews by McPadden and company, 6 heavier guest articles, and even some extra chapters on teen movie soundtracks and more. All wrapped up in an ’80s teen flicks aesthetic, including film posters, original illustrations by Scott R.Miller, and Saved By the Bell-esque page borders. Teen Movie Hell might not change the minds of people not into old school teen films, but it makes for a solid, entertaining package, and a good introduction to the genre for newbies, let alone being essential for fans. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this book 4 out of 5 stars.