Vintage Cable Box: “Midnight Madness”, 1980

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midnight madness

“Midnight Madness”, 1980 (David Naughton), Buena Vista

“Midnight Madness” is a movie I remember watching a hundred times on cable television, and I recall the three major disparate element that make up what is essentially the fun of a truly entertaining movie.  The first element is David (“Makin’ It”) Naughton, the dancing Dr. Pepper spokesperson (he is actually seen drinking a Dr. Pepper late in the movie!), who would eventually transform into a werewolf and woo Jenny Agutter in “An American Werewolf In London”.  The second element is the scavenger hunt; an all-night Amazing Race wherein the contestants retrieve items and search for clues in an effort to get the grand prize.  The third element is a young Michael J. Fox, portraying David’s annoying little brother, Scott, pleading for attention in every scene he is featured.  Family Ties had been on the air for a year-and-a-half before I first saw this movie on cable, so I identified him immediately.

We start off with some hot roller-babes delivering invitations to all the prospective entrants, as (what I can only assume) the movie’s upbeat, disco-tinged theme song plays during the credits.  Naughton, along with Stephen “Flounder” Furst, and Eddie Deezen have to assemble teams for the “Great All-Nighter” organized by huge-brained Leon (whom will one day create Microsoft, I’m sure).  We have typical college archetypes: the nerds, the jocks (led by Dirk Blocker), the feminists, the idiots apparently like a high-concept “Animal House” or “Revenge of the Nerds”.  It would be cute to think this was the college Naughton’s character was attending before he became a werewolf, but probably not, and also kind-of sad.

Meanwhile, Michael J. Fox has a chip on his shoulder.  Naughton spots him at a bus station running away from home.  Laura pressures him to be supportive of his younger brother.  She’ll make a great wife some day!  Scott’s a bit of a hellion, trying to score beer, and being otherwise unpleasant and obstinate.  He reminds me of myself as an angry young Canadian television actor.  It’s surprising to me, given the nearly two-hour running time, so little effort is put into his character.  All we tend to see are scenes of him angry, pissed-off, and rebellious yelling at David Naughton or  whining to Laura.  Apparently big brother forgot his little brother’s birthday.  Get over it, kid!  And comb your hair while you’re at it!

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With a discreet clean-up of some of the more off-color concepts, this movie could easily play as a made-for-tv movie.  It has a television sensibility, and it’s utterly harmless, innocent fun that teaches “life lessons” along the way.  What those lessons are escape me, except that you listen to your snotty younger brother, and you should always make a move on a pretty girl who likes you.  I really enjoyed this movie revisiting it after some odd thirty years, even with all the lip gloss and the hot pants, and the roller-skates.  Recently transferred to high definition, the photography is quite good, and the editing keeps up a very nice pace.  Sometimes the character development gets in the way of the action, or is it the other way around?  Either way, this movie was a welcome respite from “They Call Me Bruce?” and “The Lonely Lady.”  Look for a pre-Pee Wee Herman Paul Reubens in the arcade scene, dressed up as a cowboy to boot!  This movie puts me in the mood for similarly-themed titles, such as “The Cannonball Run” and “Tag: The Assassination Game.”

Check out a cool podcast discussion of this movie during the “Summer of Deezen” (or #deezenpalooza) at VHS Rewind!

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. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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