I’m From Iowa. I Only Work in Outer Space: The Best of the Bad Children’s Theater
“The Bad Children’s Theater” was a name given to $1 theaters by La Mommie. Technically the moniker was reserved for a specific day and time – Saturday afternoons between noon and 3pm – and did not suggest a distaste for the establishment in question, only an acknowledgement that from noon to 3pm on Saturday afternoons adults would be well advised to avoid any theater showing films of the Stroker Ace variety, if their sanity was at all meaningful to them.
To be clear, the children patronizing these sacred houses of cinema were not bad – you couldn’t actually be a bad child and gain entrance to a showing of such cinematic classics as the David Naughton vehicle – Midnight Madness, which I seem to remember involving a scavenger hunt and a pivotal scene featuring some kind of “cherry point”/”pin ball city” clue conflation, which stalled the nascent plot for a good ten minutes. Despite the limited “adult” supervision – in the form of teenagers staffing the concession counter – there was an understanding you were expected to conduct yourself with the utmost decorum.
That meant starting a gummi bear fight would not be permitted until after the opening credits rolled and the film was well passed its shaky exposition. And to be fair, these two hour friends of mine were generally decently behaved. Most acts of obnoxiousness were usually limited to the screen. And if things got too rowdy, the manager would simply turn off the projector until folks settled down. Surprisingly, the kids were pretty good at policing themselves.
Sadly, the advent of DVDs, multiplexes and the shortening of what’s termed in the industry as the “video window” (the span of time between a film’s initial release and its arrival on DVD) these establishments – long home to The Bad Children’s Theater – are nearly extinct. More than just a loss on a cultural level, it’s a real blow to thrifty suburban parents everywhere who now have to actually pay more than five bucks to distract their tweens for couple of hours while they run important errands1.
Let us take a moment to look back at the best The Bad Children’s Theater Had to Offer. (in reverse chronological order):
Millennium – 1989 – starring: Kris Kristofferson, Cheryl Ladd
Millennium, sci-fi thriller in the tradition of classics such as Capricorn One, is far too riddled with craptacular acting and stilted romantic chemistry to grapple with the shotgun sized time travel paradox plot holes it encourages the audience to accept. Millennium was my Bad Children’s Theater swan song. Any attempt to describe the plot results in sounding as though you’ve been up for four days without sleep, food or a shower and dressed in tin foil hat. Something about the TSA and Cheryl Ladd wearing a lot of air hostess costumes. Kris Kristofferson – I always tend to find enjoyable to watch, despite be an actor of limited capabilities – is exceptionally awful in this film and casting him in what appears to be a role designed for James Brolin circa 1975 contributes to much of the cinematic chaos. To me, Millennium evokes Freejack and feels as though it was conceived, written, cast and filmed nearly five years before it was actually unleashed on unsuspecting audiences. These films also possess an overwhelming anachronistic stench – despite positioning themselves as futuristic. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind seeing this again.
Vibes – 1988 – Cyndi Lauper, Jeff Goldblum
Goldblum delivers some iconic lines:
- “Someone’s had sex on this table.”
- “Parts of me are already applauding”
- [when asked about the places he didn’t want to be shot] “South America.”
This is classic BCT fare: stinky plot, fairly recognizable celebrities, some sort of quest or mystery to solve used to prop up an ill-conceived love story. Basically, if there was a watered down Romancing the Stone knockoff, the BCT was quick to show it. That said, I do love this film. It still makes me laugh – when it’s not making me cringe with its inane script and patchy plotting. Plus it has CYNDI LAUPER, while truly doing the film a disservice, is by no means the most powerful LULZ producing agent in the film. Goldblum and the script take top honors in that category.
They Live – 1987 – Roddy Piper, Keith David
This John Carpenter sci-fi action classic might have been the only time in BCT history where a film actually commanded the rapt attention of the entire crowd. We were all riveted by the stellar performances by Roddy Piper and Keith David. And didn’t we all exit the theater reciting the film’s most endearing line: “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass and I’m all out of bubblegum!” – well I’m sure we censored ourselves in front of our parents.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – 1986 – starring: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig
While the cinematic community – with its petty insistence on exceptional storytelling, plausible plotlines and avoiding cheesy tropes – might not have fully embraced what I believe is the absolute best of the original Trek films (yes, Virgina, there really are people who prefer IV to II who are true blue fans of the franchise.) the BCT regulars – this time under the watchful eye of the manager Uncle Joey (who oddly enough I was semi-related to by way of Hawaiian relatives) – whooped it up at Katterbach or BCT: The Overseas Edition. I still remember watching it with my sister and cousins – visiting from the states – and being dazzled the time travel sequence and many references to “nuclear wessels”.
Beat Street – 1984 – starring: Antonia Rey, Lee Chamberlin, Franc Reyes, Dean Elliott, Jim Borrelli, Saundra Santiago, Leon W. Grant, Jon Chardiet, Guy Davis
- Boasting a cast of actors/rappers who – for the most part – would effectively leverage their success in this project into stints as hookers, street thugs or cops and in the case of Saundra Santiago – cops who frequently went undercover as hookers – Beat Street had us all looking for the elusive white train. Everybody say, “Ramo!”
Blue Thunder – 1983 – starring: Roy Scheider, Malcolm McDowell, Candy Clark, Warren Oates
- From time to time, the BCT was given to exposing its patrons to PGish explorations of sociological themes expressing themselves in current society. To this end, Blue Thunder presented a thought provoking examination of how a society’s desire to protect its citizenry could easily produce the unintended consequence of eviscerating rights – well that is after Scheider’s character and his rookie get done using the fancy Firefox knockoff chopper to peep on naked ladies doing yoga in their expensive Wilshire Blvd high rise apartments. And in case you’re wondering, Firefox is the better of the two.
Tex – 1982/3 – starring: Matt Dillon, Meg Tilly, Emilo Estevez
Before I blather about what I don’t remember about this film, I have to give props to director Tim Hunter who did this thing here, but is much better known to me as the director of my favorite H:LOTS episode Nearer My God to Thee and other great episodes including: The City That Bleeds and Thrill of the Kill – one of my most recent recaps. Hunter seems – as best as I can tell – to be the Terrence Malick of TV directors, which pretty much only means something if you are familiar with or enjoy the works of Terrence Malick. Though I’m pretty sure Hunter is far more prolific. Anyway. Tex was first movie I ever saw at The Bad Children’s theater. Nostalgia aside, I don’t recall much about the film and oddly the trailer is not jogging my memory much. I tend to associate the film with the song How Do We Make Love Stay by Dan Fogelberg, which is a pretty nice song, though I have no idea what it has to do with the film. The other thing worth nothing was the first appearance of my crowd pleasing ability to zing. Some chucklehead kid was making a bunch of noise with his friends and said something like, “ladies, I’m here.” and I replied, “Unfortunately.” and got “unsweeted” laughs and applause from the other 10 – 13 year olds. Unfortunately had been one of the bonus words on the vocab test.
1 The erasure of these theaters means the disenfranchisement of working class peeps and other folks of limited means who want to engage in pop culture consumption. While it’s true the fare was often inferior to first run multiplexes, many of these theaters – many times independently owned – served as safe havens for the more geeky among us, who went from being “bad children” to the midnight dwellers for many a Rocky Horror showing. Moreover, these theaters provided opportunities for independent filmmakers and film buffs alike to host screenings and connect with other cinema fans in their communities. While the framing of this entry is playful and cheeky, the loss of these theaters and the class/access to media implications of this loss requires thoughtful acknowledgement.