CERT: 15 | FORMAT: LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY (101 FILMS) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Sean S. Cunningham’s The New Kids (1985) is a curious movie; part 80s teen comedy, part horror film. It makes sense when you look at Cunningham’s short CV, having made Friday The 13th and Spring Break, which are horror and teen comedy respectively. There are great standout moments in The New Kids, especially from a young James Spader, but it ultimately doesn’t fall satisfactorily into either genre, leaving it a little flat.
We start with a fantastic montage where brother and sister Loren (Shannon Presby) and Abby (Lori Loughlin) are forced to exercise by their dad, a go-getting Colonel. In a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, we're told their parents were killed in a car crash, forcing them to relocate to Florida with their aunt and uncle who live on a ridiculous Santa-themed roadside fair. It's not long before they court the attention of a hilarious group of delinquent hicks, led by an unrecognisable Spader. The group make a bet to see who can bed Abby first, but unfortunately their courting consists of them being creepy and then threatening her which, unsurprisingly, doesn’t work. What follows is an escalation of aggressive tactics between the gang and the siblings. Loren, buoyed by his father’s training, turns out to be someone you shouldn’t mess with.
James Spader is the star of the show; he's unsettling and has some great dialogue, telling Loren at one point “you’re made of mouth.” We also get a great insight into his character by looking around his room, which contains weapons, drugs and pictures of topless women and himself! This is great visual storytelling and fine use of mise-en-scene. The Santa fair that becomes home to the protagonists is a great setting, weird and wacky in all the right ways, and is the home for a bloody climax that may remind you of Final Destination.
Despite the more unusual elements, enchanted by a suitably atmospheric score by Lalo Schifrin that sounds great here, the film doesn’t make enough of an impact. This is probably due to its mismatch of plot elements. Cunningham, who is interviewed on the disc, explains how he was tasked with making a movie to fill an open schedule with no idea of what he was going to make - this is evident from the final picture. The New Kids isn’t as fun or scary as other 80s films, which is probably why it's less well known, especially in the UK. The disc also contains an interview with writer Stephen Gyllenhaal, as well as commentary by film experts Sean Hogan and Jasper Sharp, who all give good insights into the actors and the film business of the time.
For some, The New Kids is a cult classic - there's something unique about teen horror from this decade, a feeling of fun and dread that Sean S. Cunningham was adept at utilising. The New Kids elicits some of those feelings; it's just been done better elsewhere.