GORE IN THE STORE
THE NEW KIDS ****
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham.
Starring Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin, James Spader, John Philbin, Eric Stoltz, Tom Atkins.
Horror/Thriller, USA, 89 mins, cert 18.
Released in the UK on Blu-ray by 101 Films on 29th June 2020.
By his own admission Sean S. Cunningham is not really a director. Yes, he helmed the cameras for seminal slasher FRIDAY THE 13TH but that was more by accident than design and it would be fair to say his talents lie more in putting the pieces together to make a movie and then selling it rather than displaying any auteuristic qualities. 1985s THE NEW KIDS was put together in a typically Sean S. Cunningham kind of way by him basically needing to put together a movie by a specific release date, hiring several writers to come up with a story and a script and then piecing it all together like a jigsaw puzzle.
Which sounds like a shambolic way to do things but hey, that’s the movie business and in 1985 a movie with ‘FROM THE DIRECTOR OF FRIDAY THE 13TH’ emblazoned across the poster was pretty much a guaranteed sell. Bear in mind that said poster also featured two teenagers wielding large pieces of wood whilst guns are being aimed at them and you have the recipe for a sure-fire hit, which this movie sort of wasn’t due to terrible box office returns thanks to being released during that highlight of the movie-going year known as the third week of January.
However, there is a bright side as 101 Films have now added THE NEW KIDS to their consistently excellent Black Label imprint of cult movies and the movie has at last found a home where an appreciative audience can lap up the now clichéd 1980s teen movie conventions with 35 years of retro knowledge and enjoy the movie for the fun ride that it is.
The story itself – written by Stephen ‘father of Jake and Maggie’ Gyllenhaal and Brian Taggert (along with a few other contributions, according to Cunningham) – is a fairly bare bones tale of teenage siblings Loren (Shannon Presby) and Abby (Lori Loughlin – AMITYVILLE 3-D) whose parents – one of whom is played by Tom Atkins (NIGHT OF THE CREEPS/THE FOG) who nearly steals the whole movie with a slow-motion ROCKY-style training montage (no, really) - are killed in an accident and so they move to Florida with their Uncle Charlie (Eddie Jones), who owns a run-down Santa themed fairground desperate for customers.
Adjusting to their new life Abby becomes the target of a local street gang – led by the sinister Dutra (James Spader – PRETTY IN PINK) – who begin to terrorise her and Loren when she spurns their advances, with the violence escalating to the point of murder.
Combining 1980s high school teen drama with elements of STRAW DOGS, PORKY’S and even something like NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER (minus the ghost of Bruce Lee, of course), THE NEW KIDS brings nothing new to the table and Sean S. Cunningham’s direction doesn’t exactly add a lot of sparkle to it but it is helped along by the earnest performances of the actors, a dynamic and driving score – courtesy of legendary composer Lalo Schifrin (DIRTY HARRY/COOL HAND LUKE) – and some brutal violence, plus Tom Atkins in a slow-motion training montage (in case you missed it).
Light on nudity considering who the director and what the subject matter is (Sean S. Cunningham was a producer on Wes Craven’s exploitation classic THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), THE NEW KIDS borrows some traits from the rape/revenge genre but never quite goes as far you think it will, likely because if it did go there it the movie would lose the beating heart of Americana that lies at the centre of it, that familiar trope of high school life filled with dances, first dates and driving open-top cars that adds a whole heap of charm onto a formulaic story and keeps you invested during the perfect 89-minute running time.
With an HD polish that makes the image almost gleam and coming backed with two fascinating interviews with director Sean S. Cunningham – who is never less than honest when talking about his limitations as a director and the film as a whole – and writer Stephen Gyllenhaal, plus an audio commentary by film critics Sean Hogan and Jasper Sharp and a booklet featuring writings on Sean S. Cunningham and ‘80s teen gang movies, THE NEW KIDS is a highly entertaining film from an era that was saturated with many movies of a similar nature, a lot of them technically ‘better’ or more boundary-pushing but perhaps not quite so endearing. James Spader and fellow gang member John Philbin (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) bring an intense level of threat that makes the revenge all the more satisfying when it comes – and it does take a while to get to that point, but the wait is worth it – and the raw energy of the actors and unfussy nature of the filmmaking overcomes the obvious flaws (James Spader’s attempt at a southern accent anyone?) and stops the movie falling into the trap of being too cheesy. Overall, a superb release of an underseen gem that should benefit from the current wave of ‘80s nostalgia and finally give THE NEW KIDS the audience it deserves.