The best thing about having kids is living vicariously through them. More specifically, reliving the past through your kids is unbeatable. And the best way to do that is by showing them awesome movies from your childhood. A few months ago, my daughter and I watched E.T. Everything was fine until we got to the scene where Elliott’s older brother teases him about being scared of the creature in the backyard shed. Elliott jumps up from the dinner table and shouts, “Penis breath!” Heh-heh, I thought. Good one. Oh, wait! Little Elliott’s calling his brother a cocksucker!
My daughter, who’s nine, didn’t notice. Unless she did. Maybe “penis breath” will sit in her mind like a toxic mold spore, waiting for the right moment to bloom and destroy her innocence. But the line in an otherwise classic children’s movie is nothing compared to what I experienced as a kid. My dad popped in a variety of movies that had sex, violence, and far worse phrases than “penis breath.” They opened my eyes to much more than aliens. It was another time.
Realizing that even feel-good family movies can pierce the high castle wall you’ve built to protect your little ones from the cold, cruel world, you might decide to take my dad’s approach and screen a collection of completely inappropriate movies. Here now, the films my dad used to kill my childhood.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil
This is a great buddy comedy that collects no more than mediocre performances from its three best-known actors. Kevin Spacey is simply a peevish mustache with a British accent. Richard Pryor is funny, but then he could be funny just staring into space, which he does a lot of here. And once or twice, Gene Wilder unwinds the creeping manic sarcasm that drives his better performances. But mostly, everyone simply rides along in a classic ’80s cop chase caper.
Pryor enters the film a cantankerous show boat, with a short stand-up in a subway car followed by a twisted meet cute with Wilder that sets up the formula for all their interactions to come: slapstick meets Don Rickles as reflected in a funhouse mirror. Almost immediately, a femme fatale arrives with young Keyser Soze to shoot a bookie at Wilder’s news stand. Our deaf and blind duo is fingered for the murder, and the plot is off and running.
And now, one of the funniest scenes in cinematic history. Upon viewing this the first time, my dad was paralyzed with laughter. He paused the VHS tape and rewound it over and over again. The lines are seared into my memory. Setting aside the profound emotional imprinting of witnessing my father’s joy, these short moments are a master class in editing and performance. Wilder’s disgusted mutterings, paired with the policewoman’s unhinged manner, topped by the camera flash at the perfect moment. Chef fingers kiss.
There’s a jailbreak, hordes of boxy police cars speeding around town, a captain who’s too old for this shit, lots of dick jokes (“I don’t know what you’re looking for, but it’s a little to the right”), an evil mastermind, and a happy ending. Pryor and Wilder teamed up for another film after this one, but let’s not talk about that. Better to package this with Silver Streak and Stir Crazy for a solid little trilogy.
Crimes against: Ice cream cones! Facial hair! Fine automobiles!
Profanity: “I suppose a fuck is out of the question?”
Boobs: Soapy ones!
Innocence destroyed factor: Bambi’s mom engages in profane pratfalls and jokes about genitals, but lives to tell the tale!
The way things are going, I’ll feel lucky if 2029 turns out to look anything as hopeful as the future Los Angeles imagined in this film: scrappy freedom fighters battle death machines controlled by a rogue Department of Defense artificial intelligence program that’s bent on wiping out humanity.
The all-knowing AI sends Arnie back in time to 1984 with a mission to murder Sarah Connor, whose unborn son John will grow up to lead the freedom fighters. Sarah’s hero is Kyle Reese, a man selected by John Connor himself (dramatic irony alert) to follow Arnie back in time. Kyle Reese, who’s a hell of a driver for a guy who grew up in an irradiated wasteland. Kyle Reese, who teaches Sarah how to be a good fighter. Kyle Reese, the virgin, who’s had a crush on his buddy’s mom forever. “I came across time for you, Sarah. I love you. I always have.” What girl can resist a line like that? He teaches her to make pipe bombs, she teaches him to lay the pipe.
Arnie just won’t quit, not even when he’s barbecued. In fact, once the Terminator sheds its Arnie skin, it’s straight-up nightmare fuel. A red-eyed metal skeleton jerking around in stop-motion ambulation, it’s eventually reduced to a torso, commando-crawling after Sarah, who leads it into a hydraulic press. Hey, maybe those guys on YouTube will get a chance to give it a whirl in a few years. After all, there’s a storm coming.
Crimes against: Music! Hair styles! Fashion!
Profanity: “Fuck you, asshole!”
Boobs: Yes — the first ones my younger brother saw on screen!
Murder: The title is literally describing the guiding impulse of one of the main characters!
Innocence destroyed factor: Bambi’s mom doesn’t die, but she does bang some dude named Kyle!
Full Metal Jacket
This is a real motherfucker of a movie. We begin with basic training in the sweltering heat of Paris Island, South Carolina, where privates Joker, Cowboy and Pyle are sweating their asses off. There is so much shouting, even Al Pacino thinks it’s over the top.
As a kid, I learned a lot from that scene, including how high they stack shit, the chief exports of Texas and the proper time to administer a reach-around. But mostly I learned how disturbing it is to watch a man choke himself red-faced using another man’s hand.
Anyhow, once Private Pyle grants Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and himself early discharges, we’re shipped off to Vietnam. Joker is now a reporter with Stars and Stripes, cracking wise and fighting boredom with compatriots who long for an assignment in the shit. Then the Tet Offensive erupts, and into the shit they go. Joker reunites with Cowboy, and a sniper begins killing Marines one by one, with plenty of slow-mo blood spurts to emphasize the agony. Just when you’re worried you can’t feel any worse, the sniper is revealed as a young woman, Joker finally gets to show his war face and the Mickey Mouse Club marches through the burning hellscape they’ve created. Roll credits.
Crimes against: Human decency! Geneva Conventions! Reasonable speaking volume!
Profanity: “You climb like old people fuck!”
Boobs: No! But plenty of prostitution!
Murder: It’s a bloodbath!
Innocence destroyed factor: Bambi’s mom is shot then gutted and skinned right in front of him!
Shot, meet chaser. Take everything disturbing about Full Metal Jacket and triple it, set the Acto-o-meter to “Daytime Soaps,” saturate the colors and ratchet up the philosophic frat-boy narration. What you get is Platoon. No one ever accused Oliver Stone of subtlety, and here he reaffirms that reputation: body bags in the opening scene, humps complaining about “politics, man,” a cartoonishly evil sergeant, a narrowly avoided village massacre, cowardice in the trenches and incompetence in the officers’ ranks. Guys, did you know Vietnam was bad news?
Charlie Sheen is Chris Taylor, a rich kid who volunteered for the infantry. He has the misfortune of landing with the surliest bunch of sorry-ass cheesedicks ever to wear the uniform. It’s like someone gathered a whole platoon of Francises and ordered them to bicker constantly while blowing up the jungle. Maybe they’re taking cues from scar-faced Sergeant Barnes, who gazes upon the corpse of one of his men and bestows this memorial upon it.
Sheen’s protector is Willem DaFoe’s Sergeant Elias. As a child, I found Elias off-putting. His smile trended too much toward a leer. It didn’t make me feel reassured, that look. It said to me, if Taylor gets killed, this guy just might eat his heart so that his soul may live on. But it’s Elias who dies, in Most Ultimate High Tragic Fashion. My brother, who is nearly six years younger than me, still gets the shakes whenever he hears “Adagio for Strings.” That song and that scene are inseparable, but what I’d forgotten is just how often Stone cues up the ol’ violins throughout the movie. I half expected the camera to pan over to quartet of humps creeping through the jungle and fiddlin’ away, Monty Python style.
It’s a symptom of what ruins the movie. It’s not enough that Barnes shoots innocent people in a village. We have to see a gang rape, and a dance, motherfucker scene. Overfilled with Overly Serious Visuals, the film becomes unreal and unintentionally comical. Watch this far superior Sheen-Berenger jam instead.
Crimes against: Believable dialog! Classical music! Understated acting!
Profanity: “Ho Chi Minh sucks a dick!”
Murder: Bookoo heaps of it!
Innocence Destroyed Factor: Bambi’s mom smokes a little pot, kills many innocent people, and realizes that she has become the monster she once feared!
We’ll wrap it up with the best of the bunch. Alien came out two years after Star Wars, and in between Halloween and Friday the 13th. It shares more with those last two than the first one. Ignore the setting of deep space, and Alien is a classic horror movie, of the Defend The Castle subgenre.
It starts sloooooowww and quiet. The crew awakens from deep sleep. Hopelessly out-of-date computer screens beep and boop. Then a curious event sends a trio of dummies — including Captain Dallas — into the dank, dark cellar of an unknown planet. Never go into the basement! That’s where they keep the face-huggers! When our hapless explorers return to the ship, Dallas orders warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to let them in. She refuses, citing quarantine protocol. But science officer Ash opens the hatch, sealing everyone’s fate.
At this point, Alien becomes Ripley’s film. She’s correctly suspicious of Ash. She challenges each of the many bad decisions Dallas makes. And even in terror, she bootstraps up while the others lose their minds.
A friend of mine saw this in the theater, and knew one of the most memorable scenes in history was coming up. He fled to the bathroom, but didn’t stay long enough, returning just in time for the money shot. The self-destruct scene is what I remember most. The blaring siren, announcing the approaching deadline, Ripley’s panicky breathing and twitchy movements, the rage when her attempt to override the command occurs too late. All of it spoke to me as a child, and I think of it often when there’s a deadline in my future. The soundtrack of a calm countdown amidst chaos plays through my mind as time ticks away. The moment of self-destruction looms.
There’s maybe a deep psychological explanation behind that obsession, but let’s not dwell on that now. Let’s instead behold the final thoughts after a battle well fought. Sleep well, Jonesy.
Boobs: No, but nearly naked Ripley displays butt crack at the end!
Profanity: “Why don’t you just fuck off?”
Murder: The titular character slaughters the entire crew, except for Bad-Ass First Class Ripley!
Innocence destroyed factor: Bambi’s mom — the only smart character in sight — harpoons a vicious alien into the vacuum of space and saves the kitty cat, too!