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Vintage Cable Box June 1984: National Lampoon’s Class Reunion/The Hitchhiker/Blue Skies Again

National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, 1982 (Gerritt Graham), ABC Motion Pictures

“Most likely to die crossing the street.”

This is one of those very rare occasions where I remember enjoying a movie immensely when I was a kid, and then looking back at it as an adult and thinking it has either not aged well, or it was my eleven-year-old brain that supplied most of the guffaws. It could’ve been that I had seen Class Reunion right after seeing Vacation (now considered a comedy classic) and was not impressed.

I’ve never been to a class reunion. Never been invited. Because of the reckless and impulsive behavior of my mother, we often found ourselves packing and leaving so I never had the opportunity to finish in schools, nor was I privileged to have a stable mailing address. I’ve certainly seen enough movies and television shows about class reunions. My wife was invited to class reunions, but she didn’t have much of a desire to attend either.

Something about those gatherings seems sad to me. It’s a reminder of age, having to grow up, having to not be what you were when you were young. Some of those sentiments are touched upon in National Lampoon’s Class Reunion, though very briefly because this is a silly comedy/spoof of horror movies. Several movies of this type were released in this time period, notably Saturday The 14th, Love At First Bite, and Student Bodies.

Attendees gather for the 10-year class reunion at Lizzie Borden High. The cast is filled with familiar names and faces like Stephen Furst (Flounder from Animal House), Miriam Flynn (who would appear in Vacation the following year) and Michael Lerner (from Barton Fink). The participants in the class reunion festivities are being knocked off, one by one, and suspicion points to a less than popular kid (played by Blackie Dammett) named Walter Baylor, who was humiliated by this circle of kids on one fateful night ten years before.

Gary Nash (Fred McCarren), formerly the guy everybody forgot—even his best friend – takes charge and leads the investigation, with the help of a mysterious doctor (Lerner). Along the way he attempts to woo the girl he was in love with: Meredith (gorgeous Donna Dixon look-alike, Shelley Smith). John Hughes started writing for the National Lampoon print magazine in 1979.

His first television credit came in the form of Delta House, the failed Animal House spin-off. He wrote Class Reunion, which tanked at the box office, but he followed it with three brilliant comedy scripts: Mr. Mom, National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Nate and Hayes with David Odell (a personal favorite of mine), which earned him a three-picture directing deal with Universal.

Looking at the picture recently, I noted that despite the otherwise funny and talented cast, Class Reunion lacked true comic timing. There is no focus, no lead character to propel the story, nor someone we can identify with. The director, Michael Miller, shoots everything in wide shots to assemble his cast, and good comedy screams for close-up shots to break up the tedium.

The jokes fall flat, which is odd for John Hughes. The warmth and humor of his later work is missing here, and this script would be his only dud in the early eighties. His creative output was astonishing. He worked fast, and his pictures were economical. His unofficial retirement began in 1994, and he passed away in 2009 at the age of 59.

The Hitchhiker, 1983 (Page Fletcher) HBO

“Jake McElhaney would have done anything for a sale. Now he’s a permanent fixture in the twins’ garden. And, if the Packard sisters ever do sell, he’ll probably go with the house.”

Show of hands—who here remembers The Hitchhiker? In the June HBO/Cinemax guide, we’re treated to an encore of the first three episodes produced. The Hitchhiker is best remembered as an anthology thriller series, not necessarily horror but suspense made for adults. The show was loaded with sex and nudity and, if I remember correctly, new episodes might’ve premiered on either Friday nights or Sunday nights.

This was a little before my time, and I probably wasn’t interested, but the show stayed on the air for several years, and when HBO canceled the series after four seasons, the USA Network picked it up for another two, sans the nudity and language. Anthologies were just starting to enjoy a rebirth. Tales from the Darkside would premiere in September of 1984. 1985 saw reboots of Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock.

Amazing Stories would premiere in September of 1985. With The Hitchhiker, we have the titular Page Fletcher (kind of a sexy Rod Serling in blue jeans and leather bomber jacket) giving us brief introductions to our stories of deception and lust. The first three episodes were originally shot with David Cronenberg regular Nicholas Campbell, but in syndication, Fletcher replaced Campbell.

In “Shattered Vows,” Bruce Greenwood marries a wealthy woman, cheats on her with her daughter, and suffocates her by means of some kind of a voodoo candle (of the bride and groom) given him by his old country grandmother who promises he will know only suffering if he does not live a clean life. I remember this episode! When she dies, her daughter inherits her trust fund.

When a bird starts clawing at his candle, he bleeds profusely. The bird knocks over the candle which shatters, causing him to … well, you get the point. In “When Morning Comes,” a sleazy record producer (August Schellenberg) comes home to find a half-naked woman (Pamela Bowman) drying herself after a rainstorm. Since she’s hot, he doesn’t have a problem with her staying the night. She seems nice. This is such a male fantasy.

She seduces him and we get another steamy sex scene. Those were the days! In the middle of their coitus, an alert comes over the radio about an escaped mental patient that fits her description. Apparently, she kills her lovers with kitchen knives. She’s a domestic goddess! This freaks out our record producer and he pulls a gun on her. When she escapes, he chases her through the woods, hunting her like an animal.

She is taken down by a police officer, another woman (Tabitha Herrington), who reveals herself to be the actual escaped mental patient! What a twist! “Split Decision” stars Jackson Davies (I remember this guy from Freddy Got Fingered) as real estate agent Jake McElhaney. He’s desperate to sell the beautiful Packard sisters’ (Audrey and Judy Landers) old house. Daughters of a famous magician, they both take a liking to him and decide they don’t want to share him.

You can guess what happens based on the title. This episode is very similar to an installment of Tales from the Crypt starring Joe Pesci titled “Split Personality.” While Crypt was imbued with a child-like glee, The Hitchhiker was a much more mature affair, except for the occasional goofiness of an episode like “Split Decision.” Even if some episodes missed the mark, we still had that awesome, synthesizer-driven theme song.

Blue Skies Again, 1983 (Harry Hamlin) Warner Bros.

“Come on, Wall Street! Bring me home!”

Blue Skies Again is one of those rare instances of a studio conspiring with the media of the time to basically destroy a movie’s release with bad word-of-mouth. In early previews, reviewers tore the movie to shreds for no reason I can fathom. The worst thing you could say about a movie like Blue Skies Again is that baseball fans would not want to see it, and that’s exactly what critics said.

That statement is completely inaccurate. I should probably preface this whole thing by saying I love baseball. It’s my favorite sport. No other sport comes close, except possibly curling (I’m kidding, of course), because for me, baseball incorporates nearly every element of other sports: running, catching, throwing, sliding, etc. Physical contact is forbidden except for when you’re tagging out a runner. I know it can get a little rough.

Pete Rose once slid so hard into Ray Fosse that Fosse sustained a dislocated and fractured shoulder. It ruined his career going forward as he never quite recovered. Chase Utley slammed into Rubén Tejada and broke his leg, ending his season prematurely in 2015, a year that would see the Mets make it to the Series. It can be a brutal game, but that doesn’t preclude keeping women out of it.

I don’t see any reason why women shouldn’t play professional ball with the boys. It’s silly to keep them out of the game. Football, yes, maybe even basketball, but not baseball and possibly not hockey (they wear a lot of protection). Paula Fradkin (Robyn Barto) shows up at the fictitious Denver Devils stadium and hits up team manager, Lou Goff (Dana Elcar) and sports agent Liz West (Mimi Rogers) to give her a shot with the team.

Liz is impressed with her almost immediately. The initial reaction is one of laughter. Is she supposed to be funny? Paula is dead serious about wanting to play ball. With Liz pressing sexist, old-fashioned coach Dirk Miller (Kenneth McMillan), he gives her one chance, which doesn’t seem fair considering auditions go on a lot longer for male players.

It doesn’t matter because she mops up the field with these Denver bums (including Andy Garcia in his motion picture debut). Most of the team doesn’t want to play with her. One of the players even calls her a “freak,” which is messed up. Andy likes her, though. New team owner Harry Hamlin’s initial reaction is also that of laughter. He even threatens to fire Dirk.

After some thought, and apparently being instantly attracted to Liz (The King Kong Rule: good-looking people gravitate toward each other), he offers to mull it over in exchange for a date. Liz agrees, and now we have a romantic comedy! At a second try-out, Paula doesn’t play well, mainly because the other players are constantly hounding her and distracting her.

I understand being an amateur this would be a sobering slap in the face. It is unfair, but Paula also has to learn to ignore these annoyances if she wants to play the game. Hamlin lets it slip that he told the players to heckle Paula, which pisses off Liz. Miller, for his part, is tired of taking crap from his players as well as the front office, so he manages to sneak Paula into the opening game in the 7th inning.

It’s rare you get a feel-good movie. The ’80s (at least part of the ’80s) was a time of feel-good movies and optimism. While Paula must overcome artificial, mean-spirited obstacles, she eventually earns the respect not only of her teammates, but also the opposing team, and I find that inspiring. Of course, these ideas go in cycles, but we’ve yet to come back to the optimism. Blue Skies Again is a damned charming movie.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. In June of 1984, HBO and Cinemax broadcast an incredible, eclectic assortment of movies. Vintage Cable Box returns to highlight each of those movies, as well as offering new appraisals and providing context into what was cable television in the mid ’80s. It was a different cultural landscape at the time, and these movies offered an education that went far and above film school. Vintage Cable Box explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. Enjoy!

Special thanks to Dave Hooser for scanning the HBO/Cinemax guide and sharing these pictures.

LawlerD

David Lawler has written for Film Threat, VHS Rewind, Second Union, and his own blog, Misadventures in BlissVille. Lawler has produced several podcasts including That Twilighty Show About That Zone, Two Davids Walk Into A Bar (with co-host David Anderson), EQ Lawler/Saltz (with Alex Saltz), and Upstairs at Froelich's (with co-host John Froelich).

2 thoughts on “Vintage Cable Box June 1984: National Lampoon’s Class Reunion/The Hitchhiker/Blue Skies Again

  • Hi, Lawler.
    Do you re-watch the shows for these columns? Reason I ask is I have a particular interest in THE HITCHHIKER and was wondering if you did do a rewatch, was it from the commercially-released DVDs (where they used Page Fletcher re-cuts for two of the episodes) or were you watching from a vintage-recorded VHS tape of all 3 Campbell episodes?

    I and another fan are trying to assemble a complete/uncut set of episodes, and are trying to reconstruct the Nicholas Campbell episodes with the best elements possible. I have a dub of a 1983 VHS recording, but the guy who made it for me accidentally used SLP/EP when making my copy!

    We were hoping to track down someone who might have an off-air recording of “When Morning Comes” and “Shattered Vows”, either from the 1983/84 HBO broadcasts, or even USA showings before Campbell’s scenes were switched out with the Fletcher reshoots. “Split Decision” might also be welcome, as the DVD episode of that also had very slight edits (though we have the missing footage for that courtesy of a Russian release). I would, of course, be happy to share the results with you on a DVD of your own.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment! I found the three episodes on the Internet Archive. Two episodes were hosted by Page, and the third retained Nicholas Campbell. Other than those, other full episodes are extremely hard to find.

      Reply

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