Was 1987 the Greatest Summer Ever for Stoner-Friendly Movies? - Culture | MERRY JANE
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Was 1987 the Greatest Summer Ever for Stoner-Friendly Movies?

30 years ago marked a summer packed full of movies that undeniably appealed to potheads. Let's look back at 15 flicks from ‘87 that had nothing to do with pot, but kept our highs company nonetheless.

by Mike McPadden

by Mike McPadden

As Memorial Day looms, so too does the air-conditioned, munchie-stocked allure of the multiplex. The summer movie season is upon us, but the combined impact of IMAX 3D, Dolby Surround Sound, and special effects-blasted blockbusters can even overwhelm the senses of viewers who aren’t stoned (of course, anyone reading this knows better than to check out Hollywood’s latest CGI spectaculars sans THC-enhancement).  As such, summer 2017’s amped-up retreads of Guardians of the Galaxy, Planet of the Apes, Spider-Man, Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, et al, should deliver the expected avalanche of enjoyably extravagant, smoker-friendly sights and sounds.

Still, will any new movies carry the whiff of stoner culture, regardless if marijuana plays a literal role in them? Is it possible to imagine communing around a bong while watching The Rock in Baywatch or Tom Cruise in The Mummy or The Emoji Movie 30 years from now? It’s a relevant question when considering the catalog of films that blazed across theater screens during the sticky-sweet swelter season of 1987.

30 years ago marked a golden year for movies that appealed to potheads. These weren’t bona fide “stoner movies” like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which came out five years earlier. Rather, these flicks had the humor, aesthetic, and vibe of something that appeals to people who like to rip bowls on the daily. We’re talking cult classics like Evil Dead II, Full Metal Jacket, and Harry and the Hendersons — inimitable cinematic oddballs that offered an intoxicating rush to viewers and still hold up to this day. While 2017’s blockbuster season is yet to pass the chill test, we wanted to look back at a summer when Hollywood bone-rolled out a barrage of THC-friendly films. Below, revisit some hits that continue to keep our highs in great company.

American Ninja 2: The Confrontation
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Larry Poindexter

Under any circumstances, the ludicrous plot and lunatic martial arts action of American Ninja 2 can approximate a giddy state of plant-based inebriation (and no, previously seeing 1985’s American Ninja is not a requirement — but that one’s a reefer-ready riot, too).

Toke up, though, and this macho saga of water-skiing U.S. Army Rangers battling a Caribbean drug lord’s ninja assassins on his private island transforms into a succession of brain-bangs that will keep you rewinding and relighting in order to confirm that none of it is real.

Born in East L.A.
Director: Cheech Marin
Cast: Cheech Marin, Daniel Stern, Paul Rodriguez

At the time, devotees of cannabis comedy’s most doob-tastic duo feared a seeds-and-stems letdown from the first-ever solo effort by Cheech or Chong. Fortunately, Cheech’s Chong-less Born in East L.A. turned out to be a fine (if overtly weed-free) farce regarding Mexicans, Americans, and Mexican-Americans hashing things out over the hot topics of border patrols and undocumented immigration. Times sure have changed, huh?

Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
Director: Sam Raimi
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks

Is Evil Dead II horror cinema’s ultimate smoke-along trip? Just try topping this film’s flawless fusion of gut-bucket splatter and gut-busting laughter, all of which plays out as a series of viscerally violent showdowns between cabin-trapped hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) and a forest full of frightmares.

The barnstorming point-of-view camera work alone makes Evil Dead II a joint-boosting journey unto itself. Consider as well, though, the dancing woodland monster that tips its own head, the disembodied hand hellbent on homicide that flips the bird, and an out-of-nowhere punchline that sets up the medieval madness of 1993’s Army of Darkness.  Plus, if you’ve never truly contemplated Bruce Campbell’s legendary lantern jaw while high, prepare for a mind-expansion on par with the star’s larger-than-life mandible.

Full Metal Jacket
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Cast: Matthew Modine, Vincent D’Onofrio, R. Lee Ermey

The filmography of visionary director Stanley Kubrick contains two of cinema’s all-time most perfect mind-melters bettered by marijuana: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and A Clockwork Orange (1971). So how weed-workable is Full Metal Jacket, then, in which Kubrick takes on Marine Corps basic training and the Vietnam War?

Well, watching Vincent D’Onofrio come psychotically undone as Private Gomer Pyle becomes either more hysterically hilarious or tremendously tragic depending on how the strain hits your brain. Then, either way, the combat footage will have you ducking, and by the end you’ll be singing the Mickey Mouse Club theme song out loud combined with 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” (the title of which is a Full Metal Jacket sound sample). So fire up at your own risk.   

The Garbage Pail Kids Movie
Director: Rod Amateau
Cast: Mackenzie Astin, Anthony Newley, Katie Barberi

The Garbage Pail Kids first hit big as a line of gross-out collectible stickers that spoofed the ’80s craze for Cabbage Patch dolls. The original images were funny and mean and could frequently be found slapped on bong bases and stash boxes.

Somehow, then, the Kids mutated into the live-action Garbage Pail Kids Movie — an absolute freak show that features little people in wincingly weird rubber masks, such as Foul Phil, a crabby baby with horrendous breath, and Windy Winston, a fat kid who can’t stop farting. All that’s missing on-screen is a ganja-based Garbage Pail Kid named Mary Jane, so be sure to bring her to any viewing party of this crackpot adventure on your own.

The Gate
Director: Tibor Takács
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Louis Tripp, Christa Denton

Getting high and spinning heavy metal records backwards in hope of hearing devil-worship messages was a major pursuit of hard-rock headbangers throughout the 1980s.

In The Gate, a couple of suburban goofs do just that and unwittingly rip open a portal to Hell in their own backyard, through which pours an army of freakishly realistic, foot-high mini-monsters along with demonically dazzling and hallucinatory Satan-spawns. At the peak of the interdimensional invasion, one kid grows an eyeball in the palm of his hand. We’ve all (thought we) had that experience at least once, right?

Harry and the Hendersons
Director: William Dear
Cast: John Lithgow, Melinda Dillon, Don Ameche

Bigfoot crashes with a suburban family in Harry and the Henderson, only here the 10-foot-tall, sweet-hearted hairy beast is called Harry and we’ll leave to you to deduce the name of the family.

Sasquatch slapstick ensues nonstop, bolstered by the sort of A-game (for the era) visual effects that come with the movie’s Steven Spielberg executive producer credit.

Lethal Weapon
Director: Richard Donner
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey

As the buddy-cop action movie toward which all previous buddy-cop action movies led and from which all subsequent buddy-cop action movies have proceeded, Lethal Weapon still rules — to the point that, just last year, its first-ever TV spin-off became an instant hit.

The original movie rocks like nothing else, though. The pairing of Mel Gibson’s ticking-time bomb Detective Martin Riggs with Danny Glover as world-weary, just-shy-of-retirement Detective Roger Murtagh remains crime cinema’s most simultaneously terrifying and amusing match-up.

Beyond a plot that alludes to cocaine funding the Vietnam War, Lethal Weapon also seems steeped in druggy delirium. Lethal Weapon 2 (1989), featuring the same cast and creative team, makes the point outright in a scene Riggs and Murtaugh’s teenage daughter blatantly advocate for legalization while the rest of the family just tries to eat dinner. You know where the pro-pot participants got their appetites.

The Lost Boys
Director: Joel Schumacher
Cast: Corey Haim, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz

“People are strange” intones The Lost Boys theme song, a cover of the 1967 Doors anthem by psychedelic new-wavers Echo and the Bunnymen. That notion is embodied by a pair of teenage brothers as they settle into the unearthly California beachfront town of Santa Clara.

In fact, Santa Carla actually teems with vampires — the strangest (and coolest) of which is a Goth gang led by Kiefer Sutherland as the diabolical David and Jami Gertz as his bloodsucking bride, Star.  The undead outfit’s motto parallels many-a-pot-puffer’s most sincere ambitions — “Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die!” — and The Lost Boys, overall, explodes with top-tier hydro-haze visuals.

Masters of the Universe
Director: Gary Goddard
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Frank Langella, Courtney Cox

With its bare-chested barbarian hero riding a giant green tiger, a floating ghost in a floppy wizard hat making jokes, and a bad guy whose face and castle are both shaped like human skulls, the cartoon series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe functioned as a gateway for an entire generation into many aesthetics of marijuana culture.

Masters of the Universe, the low-budget, live-action movie adaptation from schlock studio supreme Cannon Films (best known for Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo), never fully expands on the source materials pothead potential, but it still supplies a decent rag-weed rush.

Predator
Director: John McTiernan
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura

The Predator of Predator is an armor-plated space-fiend who sports long dreadlocks and “sees” via heat vision that looks a lot like LSD trails. So drug connections ripple straightaway here from the title character onward.

The Predator is also an intergalactic hunter who slums on earth to stalk and slay a band of commandos — one by gorily dispatched one — led by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the jungles of Latin America.

For the finale, the two interplanetary foes square off mano-a-monstrosity in a climax so kickass it generated an entire film series, and each installment makes for fine smoking accompaniment. As usual, though, it’s this first pull that still pummels most potently.

Raising Arizona
Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, John Goodman

The Coen Brothers followed their hard-boiled 1984 film noir debut Blood Simple with the loopy, loony Raising Arizona, a blitzed-out bolt of bliss in an entirely different — and entirely dank-conducive — direction.

Trailer trash Nicolas Cage comically steals a baby from a hotheaded furniture store magnate, thereby setting in motion a madcap misadventure in which John Goodman emerges roaring up from a mud puddle, and pro-boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb brings on the apocalypse as a biker from Hell.

River’s Edge
Director: Tim Hunter
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, Crispin Glover

It’s a bum ride, to be sure, but River’s Edge and its depiction of small-town teenage dirtbags who get in deep after one of them commits murder is a must-see for any history-minded marijuana enthusiast. The movie offers a snapshot 1980s Hesher Nation as bluntly numbing as the bales of bunk-weed smoked by the young cast on screen.

River’s Edge also showcases a bizarro world star-is-born performance from Crispin Glover as a kid you can only hope is constantly on acid, and freak-flick legend Dennis Hopper doing his slow-burn psycho best as a Vietnam vet married to a blow-up sex doll.

RoboCop
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Peter Weller, Nancy Allen, Miguel Ferrer

At first, you’ll torch up to RoboCop for its sci-fi sensations, still-dope special effects, and over-the-top action that awesomely erupts into blood-spraying shootouts and skull-smashing beat-downs. Once you’re properly smoked up though, the movie’s sly and subversive satire will truly snap your synapses into deep thoughts that even further elevate the film’s high thrills.

For example, now that we’re all attached to smart-phones 24-7, isn’t our entire species presently part-human and part-machine and under constant corporate control — just like RoboCop himself? The movie makes you wonder… and marijuana will lead you you with the answers, man….

Spaceballs
Director: Mel Brooks
Cast: Bill Pullman, Rick Moranis, John Candy

John Candy as Mawg, the half-man, half-dog. Rick Moranis as Dark Helmet, the nerdy no-good-guy in gigantic head gear that goes along with his name. Mel Brooks as Yogurt, the Yiddish-speaking space guru out to erect an empire of endless Spaceballs tie-ins and spin-offs in pursuit of capitalism at its most cosmic. These are just a few of Spaceballs’ enduringly spliff-ariffic points of mad mirth.

There’s also the giant comb used to actually “comb the desert,” the creature from Alien bursting forth from John Hurt’s chest and breaking into a vaudeville song-and-dance number, and, perhaps most 420-tastic of all, Pizza the Hut. So, yes, it’s time to blast off again. Now.

Summer School
Director: Carl Reiner
Cast: Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Courtney Thorne-Smith

As a Hawaiian-shirted beach bum turned off-season teenage flunky instructor in Summer School, Mark Harmon exudes all manner of seaside smoker suave. Even his dog wears sunglasses.

Still, this breezy youth comedy’s most enduring contribution to the cannabis-friendly movie canon remains best buds and horror-hound class cut-ups Dave (Gary Riley) and Chainsaw (Dean Cameron). Like their subsequent bong-circle brothers Bill and Ted (and Wayne and Garth, and Beavis and Butthead), we never see Dave and Chainsaw actually partake of the tweed, but the source of their constant foggy-noggin’ed good feelings is as clear as their eyes cannot possibly be.

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Mike McPadden

Mike McPadden is the author of "Heavy Metal Movies" and the upcoming "Last American Virgins." He writes about movies, music, and crime in Chicago. Twitter @mcbeardo



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