The New Kids (1985)
The repellent The New Kids could be re-titled Death Wish For Teens. It’s a predictable, loathsome thriller that not only has a contempt for anything resembling reality, but it wallows in its revenge-fueled depravity. The New Kids is a slick production, and that makes it come across even worse.
Our “new kids” here are an impossibly wholesome brother and sister, played by Shannon Presby and Lori Laughlin, respectively. After their military dad and mom are killed in a car crash, they come to live with their kooky uncle in Florida who is trying to renovate a dilapidated amusement park known as Santa’s Funland. And as a soon as you see this set, you know plenty of sh*t is going to go down in and amongst all of the rides. Anyway, in their new school, Presby and Laughlin become the targets of a group of school bullies which is led by a bleached-blonde and oily James Spader whose character has the ridiculous name of Dutra. The bullies are your basic redneck meanies and they have it out for our heroes because of the fact that Laughlin won’t go out on any dates with them.
So, yeah, after getting blown off they decide to seek revenge. At first there are just incidents of vandalism and some schoolyard fistfights (and like so many of these movies set in high schools, there are never any teachers or authority figures around to stop anything), but then it escalates to Spader cutting up Laughlin’s pet bunny and tossing its bloody corpse in the shower with her. Eventually, of course, the baddies kidnap Laughlin from the school dance and try to rape her before hosing her down with lighter fluid in order to set her on fire. We also get a tasteless scene of Spader cutting open a cow’s throat, spreading Laughlin’s panties with the blood and then threatening to release a vicious pit bull on her.
The blood-drenched finale in The New Kids takes place at, you guessed it, Santa’s Funland. Spader and his cronies hunt down Presby and Laughlin with shotguns, but our heroes have ingenuity and smarts on their side. One baddie plummets to his death from a booby-trapped Ferris Wheel seat, another is fried after Presby wets down the electrified bumper cars, and still another is decapitated by the roller coaster. Spader and Presby have a fight to the death while clutching a flaming gasoline nozzle that ends up cooking Spader good. I guess we are supposed to cheer that the bad guys are defeated, but I don’t know, I felt kinda grimy after it was all over. Not so much cathartic as it was depressing.
The New Kids is a creative masterwork from the minds of writer Stephen Gyllenhaal (who wound up being a much better director than writer) and director Sean S. Cunningham, the man behind Friday the 13th, DeepStar Six, and Spring Break. And like the bulk of his movies, The New Kids is well-made but creatively bankrupt, borrowing heavily from better, more successful films in order to construct a pale imitation. Also unfortunate are some of the gag-inducing stylistic choices in costuming and music that firmly plant The New Kids into a cheesy, 80s time capsule.
If you are into this kind of film, it would be wiser to just stick with the oeuvre of Charles Bronson. He may not have been a great actor, but he certainly has more screen charisma and talent than either Presby (who disappeared from acting shortly afterwards) or Laughlin (who had a few other minor roles) can muster either separately or together. The New Kids may be slick junk, but it’s junk all the same.