When I was a kid, my parents bought two things that changed my world and neither was an Atari (though that would come on a Christmas to be named later). The first was a VCR. You may scoff now, but a VCR in 1980 was like a flying car and nearly the same size. The second was a subscription to cable television. It was magical with movies, all sorts of weird TV shows and if you stared long enough at the distortion on the Playboy channel, you occasionally saw some boobs. For a kid barely double digits in age, that was like discovering a stash of porn magazines at your uncle's house, which NEVER happened.
But, early cable television was substantially different from today. Besides being severely limited in terms of channels -- the first ones we had were basically just movie channels -- the programming on the channels we had was remarkably slim. That would gradually change, but my first memories of having cable included repeated viewings of a handful of movies, particularly less well-known comedies of the day.
Over the years, I've thought I should buy all of them just so I can reminisce whenever I want. In fact, I do own a couple. Here are ten of the ones I remember being most overplayed.
10. Scavenger Hunt
The first thing to remember about comedies around this time is that it was a near requirement that Richard Benjamin be a member of the cast...and Cloris Leachman, too. This ridiculous farce about a bunch of wackos trying to win a scavenger hunt (duh) that could net them a massive fortune is, as you might expect, insanely stupid. But it had the ultra-cool Scatman Crothers, Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes -- the original, not the crappy remakes), Tony Randall and that guy from '70s sitcom One Day at a Time who recently played a handsy lawyer in the HBO critical hit Girls, so there's that.
9. My Bodyguard
I gotta confess I still like this movie. Maybe it's the sweet portrayal of the complicated tough guy by Adam Baldwin of Firefly and Chuck fame. Maybe it's sassy Ruth Gordon (Harold and Maude) as the boozy, accepting grandmother. Or maybe it was just seeing Matt Dillon get his ass kicked. Whatever the case, it's a movie with a good heart...and Martin Mull. Bonus!
8. Zorro: the Gay Blade
Zorro -- played by the awesome George Hamilton -- gets hurt and can't defend "de peepels" so his long, lost twin brother -- also George Hamilton -- must come and help. The only problem is that bro is gay and a flamboyant gay at that -- he prefers a whip to a sword and bright colors to black, natch -- confusing both love interest Lauren Hutton (hottest tooth gap of all time) and "evil alcalde" Ron Liebman. With lines like, "Two bits, four bits, six bits a peso. All for Zorro, stand up and say so!" delivered in drag queen-eze, what's not to like?
7. How to Beat the High Cost of Living
My mom loved this movie -- still does. Admittedly, it is funny and you get to see Jane Curtain's body double's boobs, if you are into that sort of thing. The premise is three housewives struggling because of inflation (yeah, we had that) decide to rob a giant plastic ball filled with money for a contest at the local mall. As you might imagine, things go a little haywire. Also stars Susan Saint James, a very young Jessica Lange, Fred Willard and Richard Benjamin...again.
6. Hot Stuff
If there was ever a cast that screamed '70s, it was this one. Dom DeLuise, Suzanne Pleshette and Jerry Reed are undercover cops trying to bust criminals by setting up a fencing operation in a pawn shop. Problem is, they have no monetary support from the police force, so they start selling stolen stuff to pay for the sting. Genius! Bonus boat chase for good measure. 5. Author! Author!
I'm pretty sure no one expected Al Pacino to follow up The Godfather, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon with a heartwarming tale about a father struggling to make it as a playwright and take care of a bunch of kids no one apparently wants. But, that's what happened. Tuesday Weld is the estranged bitch of a wife and Dyan "Lakers' Biggest Fan" Cannon is the star actress/mistress. There's also the cute kid who curses. Plus, Pacino's real-life stepdaughter, Ari Meyers, who was one of the daughters on Kate and Allie. Don't get me started on '70s and '80s sitcoms.
4. Doctor Detroit
Stay with me...Dan Aykroyd is conned into leading a double life as a crazed, metal hand-weidling, psycho pimp and an absent-minded professor at an ivy league university. On one side, there is the villainess "Mom," who is trying to cut into the territory he was forced into protecting. On the other are the tea-sipping blue-blood donors to the school. He has to impress both in the climactic scene as both party in separate ballrooms at a swanky hotel. Yeah. Also stars Aykroyd's future wife Donna Dixon (as a prostitute, obviously), Fran "The Nanny" Drescher and Howard Hesseman. They even got James Brown to perform. And you've never heard a voice like Aykroyd employs for "the Doctor."
3. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
The brilliant Lily Tomlin stars in this cautionary tale of household chemicals that CAN
KILL SHRINK YOU! As you may have guessed, Tomlin's character -- your basic housewife to husband played by Charles Grodin -- starts getting smaller and has to deal with complications of married life when reduced to the size of a Barbie and real threats from dogs, robot toys and the garbage disposal, never mind the nefarious Ned Beatty, who just wants to exploit her dilemma. Interestingly, it was directed by the same guy that did Lost Boys and the crappier of the Batman movies -- Batman and Robin FML.
2. Seems Like Old Times
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No doubt trying to capitalize on the success of the Goldie Hawn/Chevy Chase pairing in Foul Play, this Neil Simon screenplay is downright hilarious, with Charles Grodin playing Hawn's current husband and Chase her former. When Chase is forced to rob a bank at the same time Grodin is up for attorney general, well, things get kooky. Throw in "Aurora's famous chicken pepperoni" and a bunch of dogs and, well sir, you've got yourself a comedy.
1. Saturday the 14th
And here we are at the humdinger of all craptastic movies of this era. Long before the Scary Movie spoofs, there was this. Starring Richard Benjamin (I told you!) and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), this fairly lousy horror movie parody was directed by a guy who, weirdly, directed a combination of real horror films, Rainbow Brite and Care Bears episodes as well as one of the soft-core Emmanuel movies that I, of course, never watched.