DT Moviehouse Review: Better Off Dead

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review Savage Steve Holland’s 80’s comedy Better Off Dead.

(1985) Directed by Savage Steve Holland

Screenplay by Savage Steve Holland

Tagline: You’ve blown up your neighbor’s mom. You seven year old brother has better luck with women than you do. Your girlfriend has a new boyfriend. Relax, you’re never….BETTER OFF DEAD.


What It’s About:

better-off-dead-stillWhen obsessive teenager Lane Meyer (John Cusack)’s girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) breaks up with him for obnoxiously handsome ski team captain Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier), he begins to contemplate suicide. As if that wasn’t funny enough, he is stalked by a tough talking paperboy, harassed by a pair of Japanese drag racing enthusiasts (including Yee Sook Ree from Karate Kid 2), and outshone in every way by his wunderkind seven year old brother who entertains older women and builds a space shuttle out of household appliances. But when the crass mother of his creepy next door neighbor Ricky (Dan Schneider of Head Of The Class) takes on a cute French foreign exchange student (the gorgeous Diane Franklin), things start looking up.

Why I Bought It:


Didn’t ask for a dime….two dollars.

Re-reading that synopsis I just wrote (and re-watching auteur Savage Steve Holland’s 80’s classic after at least a decade hiatus), Better Off Dead would probably never fly today.  One of its running jokes is a teenager’s repeated attempts to do himself in. Other hilarities touched upon include molesting a foreign exchange student, knocking a ten year old kid off a mountainside, the pursuit of Lane’s teenage ex-girlfriend by everybody from a mystifyingly popular Geometry teacher (played by the late great Vincent Schiavelli) and a creepy mailman (comedian Taylor Negron) to Barney Rubble (himself), and Lane’s buddy Charles De Mar’s (Curtis Armstrong) perennial quest to find a substitute for cocaine.

Yet, I saw this when I was ten or eleven years old and loved it, sorely identifying with the put upon Lane and still laughing at the absurdities of his life.  Cusack plays Lane with the stoic acceptedness of Buster Keaton, the bumbling straight man who is the only guy in the movie that doesn’t get the joke.

better-off-dead-burgerHolland alternately peppers Better Off Dead with helpings of real awkwardness (Lane’s flashback meeting with Beth, where both her and Lane’s self-conscious inner thoughts can be heard) and romance, and then blasts it with some really out there zaniness. Lane’s mom boils bacon green and appears to be steaming a star spawn of Cthulhu in a pot at one point. She passes out gift wrapped stacks of Stouffer’s frozen dinners for Christmas and serves a French-themed dinner consisting of fries, bread, dressing, and “Peru” (Perrier water). Gangs of murderous paperboys pursue Lane through an ominous back-lit nightscape, and a claymation cheeseburger David Lee Roth shreds across his workstation. Even Lane’s own sketchbook doodles berate him.

Elizabeth%20Daily%20(PD)The supporting cast is just as likable as Cusack. I’ve got to mention two of my three biggest 1980’s coming of age crushes were in this flick together, the doll-faced, sweet but scrappy voiced Elizabeth Daily, who sings the title song at the high school dance and was Pee Wee Herman’s admirer Dottie in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (and who, amazingly, looks even better now than she did then), and Diane Franklin who plays Monique, and seriously shot me through the heart Bon Jovi style in the scene where she starts Lane’s long dormant Camaro. 26That image of her in the Dodger’s cap and coveralls, that bright smile shining through that motor oil was indelible. The other, in case you’re wondering, was Kerri Green in Lucas, who was just poetry to an adolescent boy.

Curtis Armstrong and Dan Schneider are both pretty hilarious in this movie, with Curtis being a bit of a scene stealer, and Schneider underplaying what could’ve easily been a very unseemly role, yet somehow in the end winds up sympathetic. Aaron Dozier’s Roy Stalin is a typical 80’s slimeball villain, a caricature of Johnny from Karate Kid, but he plays it to the hilt with his perfectly styled hair, ridiculously straight teeth, and obnoxious line delivery (“Lookin’ GOOD, Meyer. Lookin’ REAL GOOD.”) betteroffdeadLane’s father, played by David Ogden Stiers, seems at times, as he should, like an adult version of Lane, just world weary with the weirdness of his wife and children (“WHAT in the name of ALL that is HOLY?”), yet himself a source of comedy with his terrible attempts at employing youthful slang and his war with the paperboy over the sanctity of his garage door windows. Kim Darby, as mentioned, is hilarious as a slightly psychotic Suzy Homemaker.

I’m a sucker for 80’s movie music too, and this soundtrack has some great songs you won’t hear anywhere else the aformentioned Elizabeth Daily’s two tracks, “One Way Love (Better Off Dead)” and “A Little Luck,” Rupert Hine’s “I’ve Been Arrested By You,” and in particular, Howard Jones’ “Like To Get To Know You Well” are excellent, nostalgic tracks, to say nothing of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and Van Halen’s thunderous “Everybody Wants Some.”

My friends and I quoted this movie up and down when I was growing up (“Meyer? Is that like in Oscar Meyer? Hey Beth, is he your main wiener man?” “Do you know what the street value of this mountain is?” “Gee I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky. The doctors said she’ll be OK, I guess she just can’t eat any spicy foods for awhile,” and “Lane, I’ve been going to this school for seven and a half years. I’m no dummy.”), and though the political correctedness of the subject matter may have changed, for the most part it’s not too badly dated.

betteroffdeadABI dare say the overall theme might even still speak to depressed teens today, as it once did to me. That theme is, much of life’s seemingly most insurmountable tribulations are inherently absurd. Don’t take everything so serious.

In other words, go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.

Best Dialogue:

When Lane comes home and discovers an angry Monique pitching oranges at a No Parking sign, she confesses to him that she speaks English (she has been faking a lack of fluency in order to avoid Ricky and his mom).

Monique: I figured if we had nothing to say to each other, he would get bored, go away. Instead he uses every excuse to put his testicles all over me.

Lane: Excuse me?

Monique: How do you say? You know, like Octopus? Testicles?

Lane: Oh…Tentacles. N-T. Tentacles. Big difference.

Best Scene:

There are a lot to choose from (Charles’ uncontrollable, continuous laughter at the dance when Stalin rips on him and Lane as “his vote for cutest couple…but you better shave her before you take her home” is one), but the scene that always comes to mind for me is one of Lane’s numerous suicide attempts.

Lane stands on the top step in his garage, contemplating his own demise. After looping a bungie cord around his neck and throwing it over the ceiling beam, he suddenly looks up and says;

“Hey wait a minute here. This is death here. I can’t do this. I’ve never even been to New York City. I’ve never been anywhere.”

vaccumAs he begins to take the makeshift noose off, his mother opens the door and walks backwards into the garage, running the vacuum as she cleans the hallway. When the door opens she nudges him off the garage steps, then whaps him with the door a couple times as he dangles behind the door, struggling.

It still cracks me up, and is very indicative of Lane’s overall plight as an overwrought teenager saddled with mainly oblivious parents.

Would I Buy It Again? Yes, though full disclosure, I almost never purchase comedies (I usually have terrible luck with them) – this was a gift from my wife, who knows me better than I know myself sometimes.

Next In The Queue: Big Trouble In Little China

DT Moviehouse

I’ve decided to institute a new (ir)regular feature here on Delirium Tremens.

I watch a lot of movies. A LOT.

But I don’t take home everything I’ve seen. For me to pay for a movie again past the initial theatrical viewing or rental, that movie has really got to speak to me on some level that will induce me to not only want to revisit it at my leisure, but to send a monetary message to the creators that I appreciated their work (altough in taking stock of what I have, there are a couple titles I was given as gifts that I haven’t even watched yet!).

That said, I own something over two hundred movies, give or take. So yeah, lots of appreciation there.

In part to give me something more to do on this blog than just plug my work, and in part to justify my owning all these dang DVD’s and Blu-Rays, I’m going to go through my collection alphabetically and start revisiting and reviewing them here.

I’m no film critic. At least, no more than anybody else. I went to film school yeah, but I promise I’ll keep the mise en scene and chiaroscuro comments to a minimum. I’ve got opinions, and I’ve got memories of the movies on this list, and I’ll share them. That’s it. Oh and there’ll probably be spoilers. So I’m telling you now ‘cause I don’t intend to write it over every single review. Most of these are a couple years old anyway, or will be by the time I get to ‘em.

Here’s the list, which I’ll update if I make new purchases. I also intend to replace the reviewed titles with hyperlinks to the reviews as I write them for ease of reference (if I can figure out how to do that). This should take me a while to get through. No promises as to regularity, but eventually, one day, I’ll get to the end. Maybe it’ll even be fun.

Anyway, here’s the list of my collection. Don’t expect to see too many scathing reviews here. Like I said, I don’t buy stuff I don’t like, and anyway I don’t have the time or energy to complain about things I don’t like. Better to celebrate things I do, right? Right.

As always, feel free to comment, if you’re so inclined.

  • 8 Mile
  • 300
  • The Adventures of Robin Hood
  • The Agony And The Ecstacy
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • The Apostle
  • At The Circus
  • Atlantis: The Los Empire
  • Attack The Block
  • Back To The Future
  • Back To The Future II
  • Back To The Future III
  • Bad Company
  • Batman Begins
  • The Beast Must Die
  • Ben-Hur
  • Beneath The Planet Of The Apes
  • Better Off Dead
  • Big Trouble In Little China
  • The Black Hole
  • The Black Swan
  • Blade
  • The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi
  • The Blood of Heroes
  • Bonnie and Clyde
  • The Brides Of Dracula
  • Bronco Billy
  • Buffalo Soldiers
  • A Bullet For The General
  • Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid
  • Cabin In The Woods
  • The Call of Cthulhu
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • Captain Blood
  • The Car
  • Casino Royale
  • Chato’s Land
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The WardrobeThe Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe
  • Cimarron
  • Clash Of The Titans
  • Cloverfield
  • Conan The Barbarian
  • Conquest of The Planet of The Apes
  • Constantine
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • Crank
  • Cross Of Iron
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Curse Of The Demon (aka Night Of The Demon)
  • Cyrano De Bergerac
  • Daimajin/Wrath of Daimajin
  • Dances With Wolves
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Dark Knight Rises
  • Daredevil
  • The Dark Crystal
  • A Day At The Races
  • Dead Man
  • The Deadpool
  • Destry Rides Again
  • Diamonds Are Forever
  • Die Another Day
  • Die Hard
  • Dillinger
  • Dirty Harry
  • Django Unchained
  • Dog Soldiers
  • Down With Love
  • Dr. No
  • Dragonslayer
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • The Enforcer
  • Enter The Dragon
  • Escape From New York
  • Escape From The Planet Of The Apes
  • E.T. The Extraterrestrial
  • Ever After
  • The Ewok Movies (Caravan of Courage/Battle For Endor)
  • Excalibur
  • The Far Country
  • Fiend Without A Face
  • The Fighting Kentuckian
  • First Blood
  • A Fistful of Dollars
  • Flag Of Iron
  • Flight Of The Phoenix
  • For A Few Dollars More
  • Frailty
  • From Russia With Love
  • Gamera 3: Revenge Of Iris
  • Gattaca
  • Glory
  • Godzilla vs. Biollante
  • Godzilla vs Hedorah
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II
  • Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
  • Godzilla vs. Mothra:BattleFor Earth
  • Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla
  • Godzilla vs. Destroyah
  • Godzilla 2000
  • Godzilla Mothra and King Gihodrah: Giant Monster All Out Attack
  • Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla
  • Godzilla Tokyo SOS
  • GoldenEye
  • Goldfinger
  • The Good The Bad And The Ugly
  • The Goonies
  • Go West
  • The Great Santini
  • The Great Silence
  • The Green Hornet
  • Green Lantern
  • Gremlins
  • Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan The Lord Of The Apes
  • Gunga Din
  • Gymkata
  • Halloween III
  • Hamlet (Mel Gibson)
  • Happy Accidents
  • The Haunting
  • Heat
  • Hell Is For Heroes
  • The Hidden Fortress
  • The Hired Hand
  • Hombre
  • Hondo
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Hulk
  • I Declare War
  • Indiana Jones And The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull
  • Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade
  • Indiana Jones And The Temple of Doom
  • In Harm’s Way
  • Insomnia
  • Iron Man
  • Iron Man 2
  • Iron Man 3
  • It’s Always Fair Weather
  • I Was A Teenage Frankenstein
  • I Was A Teenage Werewolf
  • Jarhead
  • Jesus Christ Superstar
  • John Carter of Mars
  • The Jungle Book (Sabu)
  • The Karate Kid
  • The Killing
  • King Arthur
  • King Kong vs. Godzilla
  • Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
  • Krull
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Kwaidan
  • LA Confidential
  • Ladyhawke
  • Lair Of The White Worm
  • The Last Detail
  • The Last Starfighter
  • The Last Man On Earth
  • The Last Temptation Of Christ
  • Lawrence of Arabia
  • A League Of Their Own
  • Legend
  • Legend of The Drunken Master
  • Leon The Professional
  • Lethal Weapon
  • License To Kill
  • The Life And Times of Judge Roy Bean
  • Live And Let Die
  • The Living Daylights
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Sword Of Vengeance
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart At The River Styx
  • Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons
  • The Long Good Friday
  • The Long Riders
  • The Lord Of The Rings (Ralph Bakshi)
  • The Lost Weekend
  • Mad Max
  • Magnum Force
  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • The Man From Earth
  • The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
  • The Man With The Golden Gun
  • The Mark Of Zorro
  • Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World
  • Mars Attacks
  • Miami Blues
  • The Missing
  • Monty Python And The Holy Grail
  • Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life
  • Mystery Men
  • The Naked Prey
  • Near Dark
  • Nevada Smith
  • A Night At The Opera
  • A Night In Casablanca
  • Night of The Hunter
  • Observe And Report
  • The Offence
  • Office Space
  • Once Upon A Time In The West
  • On The Waterfront
  • Open Range
  • The Others
  • Outland
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales
  • Patton
  • Peter Pan
  • Pirates Of The Caribbean: Curse of The Black Pearl
  • Planet Of The Apes
  • Platoon
  • Popeye
  • Predator
  • The Princess Bride
  • Prometheus
  • The Proposition
  • The Punisher
  • The Quiet Man
  • Raging Bull
  • Rambo (IV)
  • Ravenous
  • Real Steel
  • Rear Window
  • The Rebirth of Mothra (1 and 2)
  • Red River
  • Reign of Fire
  • The Return of The 5 Deadly Venoms
  • Ride With The Devil
  • Rio Bravo
  • Rio Grande
  • Robin And The 7 Hoods
  • Robocop
  • The Rocketeer
  • Rocky II
  • Rocky III
  • Rocky IV
  • Room Service
  • Rope
  • Run Ronnie Run
  • Saving Private Ryan
  • Scarface (Howard Hawks)
  • The Searchers
  • Se7en
  • The Seven Ups
  • Shaft’s Big Score
  • Shaolin Soccer
  • Shaun Of The Dead
  • She Wore A Yellow Ribbon
  • The Shootist
  • Signs
  • The Sixth Sense
  • Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow
  • Sleeping Beauty
  • The Sound Of Music
  • Spartacus
  • Spider-Man
  • Spider-Man 2
  • The Spy Who Loved Me
  • Stander
  • Stardust
  • Star Trek The Motion Picture
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • Star Trek III: The Search For Spock
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
  • Star Trek: Generations
  • Star Trek: First Contact
  • Star Trek: Insurrection
  • Star Trek: Nemesis
  • Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith
  • Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  • Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of The Jedi
  • State of Grace
  • The Sting
  • Strangers On A Train
  • Sudden Impact
  • Superman The Movie
  • Superman II
  • Sword Of Doom
  • The Ten Commandments
  • Thief
  • Thief Of Bagdad
  • The Third Man
  • The Thirteenth Warrior
  • Thunderball
  • The Time Machine
  • Touch Of Evil
  • Treasure Of The Sierra Madre
  • True Grit (original)
  • Unforgiven
  • The Untouchables
  • Wall-E
  • Warlock
  • The Warriors
  • The War Of The Worlds
  • Whale Rider
  • Where Eagles Dare
  • White Zombie
  • The Whole Wide World
  • The Wicker Man
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Winchester ’73
  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • The Wolfman
  • The Woman In Black
  • Wyatt Earp
  • X2: X-Men United
  • X3: The Last Stand
  • X-Men
  • X-Men: First Class
  • The Yakuza
  • You Only Live Twice
  • Young Guns
  • The Young Lions