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The Best and Worst Video Game Movies of the ’80s

Flashback with IFC's '80s Weekend July 30th and 31st.

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Photo Credit: MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

With video games becoming madly popular in the 1980s, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood found ways to integrate Pac-Man, Tron and the rest into movies. Some were rad, some were bogus. Here are our picks for the best and worst video game-themed movies from the 1980s. For more retro fun, be sure to watch IFC’s ’80s Weekend.

Rad:

1. Tron

Many of the effects in this 1982 Disney film still look great today. Tron was a double winner: a good movie about a video game that spawned a good video game (and a worse sequel 28 years later). Even better: a video game Easter egg in the movie, where you can see and hear Pac-Man.


2. The Last Starfighter

What if being great at a video game could get you noticed by its inventor? And then put into space to fight aliens? And then make you a hero to an entire people? That’s the premise of this ’80s cult favorite, which promised a never released arcade game in the credits. We’re still waiting…


3. WarGames

In our current era of high-profile computer hacks, Matthew Broderick almost causing nuclear war with a video seems prescient. In fact, the movie scared President Ronald Reagan so much, it led to some of the first cyber security legislation.


4. Cloak & Dagger

WarGames star Dabney Coleman continues his complicated relationship with 1980s technology, playing a dual role of dad and imaginary friend/spy in this family thriller. In an early example of video game/movie synergy, the filmmakers teamed up with Atari, who repurposed an in-development game called Agent X as a Cloak & Dagger arcade game.


Bogus:

1. Joysticks

One of the many T&A flicks that littered cable during the ’80s, Joysticks is not for the kiddos. The story revolves around employees trying to prevent the shutdown of their video arcade. But really, it’s just an excuse to show scantily clad coeds. As is required in most movies from the 1980s, Joe Don Baker plays the bad guy.


2. The Wizard

What could make you turn on Kevin Arnold himself, Fred Savage? How about a 100-minute infomercial for all things Nintendo, disguised as a runaway’s quest to win a video game tournament? Just squeaking in to the 1980s with its December 1989 release, The Wizard portends the product placement-heavy movies we’d be inundated with in the coming years. It also portends Tobey Maguire, who makes his film debut (with a sweet mullet) in a non-speaking role.


3. Nightmares

“The Bishop of Battle” segment of this horror anthology film finds a young Emilio Estevez as J.J., a punk rock-loving teen obsessed with a video game called… Bishop of Battle, a game so difficult that no one has gotten to its Level 13. 13? That sounds spooky! And sure enough, when our boy gets there, the game takes on mystical powers and J.J. must fight the video nasties in the real world. The graphics are surprisingly crisp, unlike most of the performances in the movie.


4. The Dungeonmaster

Featuring Z-grade special effects and Richard Moll (aka Bull from Night Court) as a bad guy, this low budget flick is ripped off from, er, heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons and early computer RPG games. Plus, it features a cameo from the metal band W.A.S.P.!

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SO EXCITED!!!

Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”

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IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?


Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!


Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.


Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 

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IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.