3/13/11

Joysticks (1983): Greydon Clark Gets Next

As the road to Horrorhound Weekend draws me ever closer too my destination, I am still scrambling to catch up on the work of many of the guests. Today I want to talk about a very special attendee, Graydon Clark, who is being brought in by the fine folks at Cashiers du Cinemart, the magazine and online cult film resource which has so often championed Clark’s Black Shampoo as one of the best films of all time. While I can’t go that far for Black Shampoo (I do love it though and can’t wait to have my classic clamshell case signed.), I’ve always been a fan of Graydon’s work no matter if you’re talking about his acting in films like 1969’s Satan’s Sadists or his direction of flicks like Satan’s Cheerleaders or The Return. However there’s so many I haven’t had time to see. One such, the rare Without Warning, I will finally get to see at HHW with Mr. Clark in attendance, but one I’ve had sitting around the house for ages without getting to it, the 1983 Arcade-sploitation flick, Joysticks.

If you ask Joseph Rutter (top billed Joe Don Baker) they’ve got trouble, oh they’ve got trouble, right here in River City! Trouble with a capital "T" that rhymes with "V" and stands for Video Games. With Jefferson Bailey (Scott McGinnis) left in charge of the Video Arcade while his grandfather, the owner, is out of town, it’s become more popular than ever. All the River City teens; boy and girls, punks and nerds, and jocks and dweebs, are spending too much time in the arcade. This includes Mr. Rutter’s valley girl daughter, Patsy (Corrine Bohrer), who has begun to hang out in the Arcade (with the dreamy Jefferson Bailey) rather than go down to The Galleria. So Rutter, and his dim-wit nephews, try and put the arcade out of business, but their plans continue to backfire. It finally comes down to a test of skill, as Rutter employs punker King Vidiot (John Gris) to challenge Jefferson’s best player, Class President turned fat slob McDorfus (Jim Greenleaf) to a game of Super Pac-Man with the fate of the Arcade on the line.

In an interview with Mondo Video.com, Greydon Clark remembered the inspiration for Joysticks coming to him, “I was in San Antonio, Texas attending a “sneak preview” of  Wacko when the idea for Joysticks came to me. I saw a group of young people standing in line to play a video arcade game in the lobby of the theatre.  It was the first video arcade game I’d seen and I realized I could create a movie based around an arcade.  Most of my movies come from an idea that somehow snuck into my consciousness.” When Mr. Clark was beginning to make his film I was seven years old, and video games were very much a part of my consciousness. From games tucked into the corner of every convenience store and restaurant to the roller skating rink and the dim, smoky (yes, smoky) confines of my local Aladdin’s Castle, I was constantly on the search for a game to play. I wasn’t the only one. Only a year before “Pac Man Fever” had become a hit song and bookstores were crammed with guides on how to play and win at your favorite arcade games. Atari’s were a must have in all my friend’s homes, and so enraptured were we that the thought Nintendo would change everything only three years later was outrageous.

So with the country in such an upswing of video game fever, I’m surprised there weren’t more movies like Joysticks that took advantage of the latest craze. While there have been some since (The Wizard for example) or tangentially related (Cloak and Dagger), I can’t think of a single other title that found its inspiration in the Arcade. Another thing that surprised me is that I couldn’t Google up an instance where a real Arcade in the ‘80’s (or any other time) was protested. I feel certain it had to happen, but then again I may be looking at that through a modern lens where everything is quickly protestable. Actually, when I was trying to find something I searched every variation of “Video Game Arcade Protest”, and all that would stubbornly come up is a “video” from “Arcade Fire” about the Wisconsin “Protest”. (On a side note I would like to “Protest” anything having to do with “Arcade Fire”, but I digress.) When you get down to brass tacks, Joysticks is an ‘80’s “Save the…” film. Save the what? What’cha’ got? While usually the place in question is a Community or Rec Center, it could just as easily be a ski lodge, a sports program, or, yes, an arcade.

Joe Don Baker, who landed top billing as the protective father turned anti-video game crusader, hams it up effectively, clearly relishing his bad guy part. This was Joe Don’s second Greydon Clark film as well as his co-star, Scott McGinnis, both appeared in Wacko. McGinnis is enjoyable enough, but I didn’t find his preppy manager all that likable. The real stars are the weirdos, nerds, and punks. John Gris, who is best known now for his role as Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, takes over the film every time his punk rocker King Vidiot shows up. No matter if his Highness is riding his new wheels (a mini-bike) dancing around with his all female troupe of Vidiots, or trying to seduce one of  Rutter’s nephews in drag (long story) only to grab his junk and howl in pain when rejected, Gris is simply too much fun to watch.  Leif Green (whose biggest claim to fame is a role in Grease 2) entertains as Eugene, McGinnis’ nerd employee, and Jim Greenleaf, who shines as the arcade’s house champion and slob, might be recognized by the keen-eyed horror fan as Ox from the Clint Howard masterpiece Evilspeak.

Now I haven’t talked a whole lot about the film making itself, but let’s be honest, while Greydon has done some of the best and most original exploitation titles over the years, it’s hard to claim that the look of Joysticks is above average. His ideas, the entertainment value of his films, and the actors he chooses far outclass most cult films which is why so many of us love Greydon, but there’s little chance a viewer would walk away stunned by the visuals. However, when you think about his miniscule budget, and then weigh that against the settings and situations in the film, it’s clear he knows how to make a dollar look like two dollars. My point is this, watch Fellini for Fellini and watch Greydon Clark for Greydon Clark. If you want to have fun and watch a crazy film then check out anything Mr. Clark has to offer, you can’t go wrong, but if you want high art, then there’s plenty of that to be found elsewhere.

Probably my favorite moment in Joysticks comes when Joe Don’s Joseph Rutter drags Jefferson and crew in front of the town council in order to get the arcade closed down. This presentation includes a stern warning from a nurse that arcade games could cause “callus between the thumb and forefinger” and “Pac-Man Arthritis” not to mention the “germs all over the joysticks”. This, coupled with the football coach’s claim that “Video Games are worse than dope, booze, or women.”, reminded me so much of the outrageous claims about marijuana and in films like Reefer Madness and The Burning Question. This thread of classic original exploitation brought though fifty years of cult film and landing smack dab in the middle of Joysticks is one of my favorite things about the film. Greydon Clark is a name that’s been a mainstay in cult film since the 1960’s, but his films always continue the spirit of cult and exploitation film, from where they began to where they will go. (Is there any question Black Dynamite owes something to Black Shampoo?) Joysticks is another great example of this, and a title that any lover of off beat cinema should add to their “must watch” pile. After Horrorhound, I’m sure to have some thought about Without Warning to share with you, but until then let me put a quarter up ‘cause I got next play.

Bugg Rating


6 comments:

  1. Fantastic film! A buddy of mine recent introduced me to it and I've been trying to track down a copy ever since. Any idea where I could snag a DVD of it?

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  2. Unbeknownst to me the DVD I picked up on the cheap at the local indie rock shop seems to be out of print, vaguely available, but expensive. If I spy another on the cheap, I'll keep you in mind!

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  3. Much appreciated Bugg. I thought I had found a copy on Amazon once before, but it ended up feeling rather shady so I canceled my order.

    Great article, btw. I didn't really know much about the backstory of how the film came to be- pretty interesting.

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  4. Thanks everybody for the kind thoughts. Go to my website (www.greydonclark.com) to get copies of most of my films.

    I will be at the HorrorHound Convention in Indianapolis March 25 - 27. Feel free to stop by and say hello.

    -Greydon Clark

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  5. Greydon, you awesome bastich, thanks for the info! I won't be able to make it out to HorrorHound, but I will definitely be snagging a copy on your site. :)

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  6. Greydon,

    Thanks so much for stopping by. I will be at the HHW March 25-27, and I can't wait to meet you there!

    ReplyDelete

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