As we bring this installment of “Just Say No Month” to a close, we come to the inevitable “based on a true story,” 1977’s The Death of Richie, a grim account of a man forced to kill his drug crazed teenage son. How close to the true story does it end up being? Well, pretty close, surprisingly, or at least, close to the Thomas Thompson book upon which it’s based. The only difference is that the real Richie, a short, average looking high schooler with curly red hair, is played by dreamy Robby Benson, which makes his oft stated awkwardness around girls a bit implausible.
We begin with Richie’s funeral, and then learn how he got there. Like last week’s Not My Kid, the movie wastes no time in getting to a point where Richie’s drug problem is out of control–it’s already out of control, as Richie hangs out with a bad crowd, and spends much of his time in a secret black light poster decorated room in the back of his closet, where he trips on LSD and reads a book called How to Talk to Girls.
You know you had a mediocre public school education when the “health teacher” did double duty teaching another class. In my school, it was usually either a gym teacher or a football coach, and all you had to do to pass was show up. Despite the rise of HIV and ever increasing teenage pregnancy rates, virtually all of what we learned in health class was related to the dangers of alcohol and drug use, and most of that we learned by watching made for TV movies, while the teacher sat with his feet up on the desk reading about how the Eagles were doing that week.
A popular one with my health teacher was 1985’s Not My Kid. We watched it in seventh grade. We watched it in eighth grade. By ninth grade, we could all but quote along from it, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m not sure why my teacher liked it so much, when there existed far more grisly cautionary tales such as Stoned, in which a pot addled Scott Baio nearly kills his brother with a rowboat paddle, and Desperate Lives, in which an angel dusted Helen Hunt throws herself out a window. I can only assume that as an aged, bitter teacher, he enjoyed its frequent scenes of high school students reduced to blithering, tearful wrecks by adults who know better.
The internet loves a good fan theory, especially when it’s connected to science fiction. Because it’s science fiction, any cockamamie scenario is possible, and it only takes a small amount of mental pretzeling to apply it. Thanks to its multiple ambiguous endings, a particularly popular movie for fan theorizing is Blade Runner. Deckard is a replicant! Deckard isn’t a replicant! Deckard has Gaff’s memories! It’s all a fantasy! It exists in the same universe as the Alien movies! It’s all inside the mind of an autistic child!
Even I have my own theory: in an earlier script for Blade Runner, it’s mentioned that five Replicants escaped to Earth from the Off-World Colonies–Roy, Pris, Zhora, Leon, and a third female whose fate was unknown. A later version of the script identified her as “Mary,” a Replicant designed largely for housework duties. Though a small amount of test footage was filmed using Mary, she was eventually dropped from the final script altogether. However, consider the idea that Mary fled the city, where she was found by an engineer/inventor who wipes her memories and resets her programming, so that she has to learn how to act like a human again. Then he changes her name and takes her home to his family, where she is treated alternately like a daughter and a servant, while her true identity is kept a secret from the outside world.
Now, that may sound ridiculous, but is it really any more so than the plot of Small Wonder, in which a man invents a child robot that can be taught to act, think, and feel like a human, then goes to extreme lengths to keep this astonishing advancement in artificial intelligence a secret, for no discernible reason?
When you think “master of disguise,” you might think of Sherlock Holmes, or Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible movies. You may even think of Dana Carvey as Pistachio Disguisey, the hero of The Master of Disguise, which someone on the internet right now is swearing is an underrated comedy gem.
But what of Barney Rubble, who’s dedicated more than forty years of his life to creating elaborate disguises for the sole purpose of relieving his best friend of his ample supply of breakfast cereal? Barney could have put his skill for costume design into show business, or more nefarious endeavors, such as robbing the First National Bank of Bedrock, but no, it’s Pebbles he wants, Cocoa or Fruity, it matters to him not. He could just ask Fred “Hey, man, think I can have some of that cereal?”, but that would be too easy. For Barney, the pursuit of cereal has become a quest, a challenge, the sport of kings. The Pebbles would taste less fruity if they were simply given to him; stealing by way of deception is what gives them their zest.
With that, let us now remember some of the most notable of Barney’s disguises, as we ponder how it was possible that he had plenty of money to spend on wigs and props, but not enough to buy his own goddamn cereal.
Nobody was put through more shit in the 70s than Linda Blair. While other young actresses got to do movies about the joys and pains of first love, or pursuing their dreams of stardom, the cherubic Blair, in a four year stretch of unrelenting misery, played an abused runawaywrongfully sent to reform school and sexually assaulted (Born Innocent), a gravely ill teenager trapped on a plane in danger of crashing (Airport 1975), a semi-illiterate farm girl kidnapped by a mentally ill man (Sweet Hostage, and if you think TV movies of today are too tawdry, it was marketed as a romantic drama), a hijacking victim (Victory at Entebbe), and a young woman tormented by her evil cousin (Summer of Fear). All that, plus starring in Exorcist II: the Heretic, which is enough suffering to endure for an entire decade on its own.
Thanks to 1975’s Sarah T.–Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic, Blair became the poster child for troubled teen made for TV movies. Though not the pioneer in the genre (that would be 1973’s Go Ask Alice), it was among the first to take both neglectful parents and irresponsible advertising to task for the growing problem of teen substance abuse. The movie opens with a spot-on parody of a beer commercial, where attractive young people joyously toss brewskis around like frisbees, intercut with a somber voiceover rattling off statistics about alcoholism and high school students.