1985 was a good year for teen movies – we had the wholesome teen pirate adventure The Goonies as well as those naughty kids in detention in The Breakfast Club. The New Kids feels very similar in a way, opening on a fun family training montage, complete with a positive pop soundtrack playfully bopping away in the background. However, given the fact that The New Kids was directed by horror maestro Sean S. Cunningham who had brought us Friday The 13th a few years earlier in 1980 and teen horror Spring Break in 1983, something is definitely going to go wrong.
After the death of their parents, teen siblings Loren (Shannon Presby) and Abby (Lori Loughlin) are taken from the regimented life they know, to living in a tacky theme park named Santa’s Fun Land in rural Florida with their idealist uncle (Eddie Jones). When Abby attracts the eye of bad boy Dutra (a young James Spader who brings a real sense of creepy danger with him) and his delinquent group of goons, a chain of events are triggered that soon leads to bloodshed.
The real neat trick in The New Kids is the build-up of tension. Many elements are cleverly placed within the film to slowly build up a sense of pressure. From the clearly vulnerable setting of the theme park itself, whose corrugated metal walls instead of brick can so easily be knocked down, to the acts of anti-social behaviour that slowly build up in intensity.
As the boys mount the pressure on Abby and Loren himself is driven to worsening acts of brutality, so too is the strain on the viewer – you know you’re on the precipice of something bad and you’re just wondering when you’re going to fall off.
This is aided in the unnerving tone of the movie. That Eighties feel-good vibe never ceases throughout – that soundtrack never gives up its positivity and playground fights are met with a triumphant punch in the air, giving off an odd mixture of frivolity and violence. However, these interspersing scenes between Eighties feel-good and brutality is strangely more charmingly disarming rather than grating
The young cast work well in their roles. Lori Loughlin delivers a balance of vulnerability and toughness, though there are some questionable acts of brutality and sexism towards her that are very much of their time. Also, Eric Stoltz helps ground the movie as Abby’s straight-laced friend, while the late, great Eddie Jones adds his usual charm to proceedings.
Though touted as such, there’s certainly not as much horror as you would expect from the director of Friday The 13th (he himself addresses the film’s borderline genres in the Blu-ray’s accompanying interview). Instead, it’s more of a thriller that also spills into carnage.
The new Blu-ray release from 101 Films looks great – accentuating the bright colours of Santa’s Fun Land which illuminates the havoc happening under its fluorescent lights. It also comes with some wonderfully insightful extras, including an interview with Cunningham who reveals the challenges in the movie’s tight filming schedule, as well as some of his concerns, especially around its casting.
The Blu-ray also comes with an honest interview with writer Stephen Gyllenhaal who remembers needing some cash and being tasked to write a script for the film in ten days. Luckily enough, when trying to think of what to write, he goes on a trip with a young Maggie and Jake, and spots a tacky theme park that looks like it might be the perfect setting for a horror movie…
The New Kids is out now on Blu-ray from 101 Films.