The New Kids opens with a musical montage typical of the eighties. And whilst it's fun to rip the piss out of eighties montages no matter how cheesy they might appear, the montage does the job of compressing plot and character development into a small time frame. It has to be used sparingly though, maybe once or twice in the entire movie. Rocky IV for example, the king of the montage, gets it wrong and almost becomes a series of music videos strung together, leaving you desperately searching for the movie in-between.
In The New Kids, we get just a couple. There's one at the beginning which shows us that the two lead actors, playing brother and sister, have a happy childhood, going for runs and martial arts practice in the early hours of the morning with their military dad. He warns them it's a jungle out there, and whilst they might not take him seriously, he's subconsciously instilling the dangers of the modern world in them, should the worst happen. Don't forget this is the eighties. There's no end of creepers, peepers, rooftop prowlers, rapists and thugs lurking in the shadows, eager to bring harm on decent American folk.
But do we want half an hour or more of that build up? That training? All of that overrated character development? Nah, that'd be boring. Hence the montage, complete with an uplifting eighties tune. It's done and dusted in two minutes and now we can move on with the rest of the story. That's my kind of movie!
The happy times don't last as — not really a spoiler — the kid's parents are killed in an accident. Literally in the first ten minutes, with the brother receiving the bad news over the telephone. This is juxtaposed with the siblings and a group of friends watching the father on TV receiving a commendation for services to his country. An unbelievable high quickly becomes an unbelievable low. Considering how early in the film it is, it's amazing how emotional the scene is. Let's give the montage some credit for that.
But credit also goes to genre movie stalwart Tom Atkins. Atkins counts among his acting resume, Escape From New York, The Fog, and Maniac Cop. He's one of those actors whose face you kind of recognize without being able to place the name. Always dependable, always watchable, always likable. And the likability extends to Shannon Presby and Lori Loughlin as the brother and sister.
So when the kids end up at a new school (the new kids!), and working for their uncle at a rundown funfair, you feel for their plight when they butt heads with the local school bullies. However, the bullies led by James Spader may have bitten off more than they can chew. Whilst the new kids aren't indestructible, their military training has toughened them up to a certain extent, Shannon Presby as the brother particularly giving as good as he gets.
Straw Dogs with high school kids
But we need to talk about James Spader. James Spader wears a lot of cool shirts in The New Kids. Probably more different shirts in one movie than he's worn in his entire career. I watched the first season of The Blacklist, and I think he wore the same waistcoat and suit for the entire run. Not sure about the other seasons. After twenty-two episodes, I'd had enough of him saying all his lines with his head tilted to one side. The head tilting thing seems to be something he's picked up with his advancing years. However, The New Kids features the younger, slimmer, more hirsute version of Spader. And thankfully, the head tilting appears absent. But anyway, those shirts…
Spader is on form as the creepy psycho whose romantic advances towards Lori Loughlin are rebuffed, triggering schoolyard bullying which slowly escalates throughout the movie, culminating with life-threatening violence from Spader and his gang. Think Straw Dogs but with high school kids.
The film is directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who was also behind the lens on the infamous Friday the 13th. So I found there was a certain level of tension throughout, especially during one scene where I wondered just how far he would go. And the film gets pretty violent towards the end, but in that curiously charming way that eighties movies can often excel at.
It may not be the absolute best example of the horror genre, and it'll never win Oscars, but it won my admiration. There's commitment from all involved, from actor to director. There's a desire to do nothing beyond give viewers a short 90 minute blast of entertainment. That's my kind of movie!