Revenge of the Dark and Fabulous Part III: The Underseen 1982

By James David Patrick

Over the course of 2022, I’ll call out the Underseen and Underappreciated films from this year’s big anniversaries — 10, 20, 30 years ago… you get the picture. Meanwhile over on Twitter, I’ll send a monthly message calling for recommendations. That list made from your suggestions will inspire an upcoming episode of the Cinema Shame Podcast, where I discuss five new first-time watches. This month, it’s time to fire up the flux capacitor and travel back in time to 1982.

Michael Jackson released ThrillerEPCOT opened at Walt Disney World, and at the age of almost 4, my uncle took me to see Steven Spielberg’s ET The Extra-Terrestrial. Along with the flying monkeys of Wizard of Oz (1939), the hazmat-suited government agents left scars that would never properly heal. Other than Disney’s reissue of Robin Hood (1973, still a favorite), Don Bluth’s The Secret of Nimhand Rankin and Bass’ The Last UnicornI don’t have any other memories of theatrical moviegoing in 1982. Maybe that’s for the best.

Considering the list of movies that invaded American theaters that year, bleached ET and anonymous government bureaucracy would have paled in comparison to the nightmare fuel that lurked elsewhere. Just browse this list of the most logged titles on

Even animated and children’s movies sought to ripen us beyond our years. I already mentioned The Secret of Nimh, but imagine the unsuspecting parent that took their child to The Plague Dogs because Rowf and Snitter sound like cantankerous little pooches… pooches that escaped from a research laboratory and were hunted by the military because they might be carrying the bubonic plague. I wasn’t even prepared for that movie when I watched it for the first time at the age of 32.

I’m making light of the programming trend, but only to look at how narrow the current emotional range of our children’s programming has become. Kids of the 1980s grew up with dark themes and challenging imagery. Some of these films scarred us. Were we expected to grow up a little more quickly? Or was it a matter of being honest, of not placating or talking down to the younger generation? For better and worse, the latchkey generation became feral, defined by our freedom, our television programming, our movies, and our music. We matured faster because of the 1980’s “PG” and a permissive, lax parental methodology needed, in part, by the rise of the two-income household.

In a few short years, I’d have 24/7 access to HBO, video stores, and a sizable in-home VHS library. But I wasn’t exactly sneaking clandestine viewings of Cat People. My parents let me watch almost anything I wanted — with the unspoken understanding that anytime a movie became too “adult” I’d be forced to hear my mother say, “We don’t do (or say) those things.” And the awkward silence stimulated by sex scenes caused me to dread potential on-screen coupling more than any four-letter laden tirade or hyperviolent rampage.

Before this sounds too much like a Gen X propaganda piece, I won’t claim to know if my childhood prepared me to be a better human. Like everyone else, my perspective’s been honed both by early-life scars and delights. I watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood alongside Poltergeist. This juxtaposition directed my movie-watching habits and subsequently how I share movies with my own children.

A lot of these 1982 movies live in specific, untouchable childhood nostalgia – but just as many slipped through the cracks. The populist entertainment that became the 1980s aesthetic remained on the horizon, with only a few movies hinting towards that future. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs. predated the buddy cop genre, Eddie Murphy’s megawatt box-office superstardom, and the action-comedy genre itself. Fast Times at Ridgemont High would inspire a decade of teen sex comedies that totally misunderstood the formula for its success. Sequels became more frequent. 1982 begat Rocky III, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Airplane II: The Sequel, Friday the 13th Part III, Halloween III: The Season of the Witch, Grease 2and Death Wish 2. Horror movies dominated the landscape, and Night Shift predicted glut of lovable, mostly silly comedies and a decade of Michael Keaton excellence. We also watched The Toy – and wondered if Richard Pryor was managed by cocaine.

Before I get to recommending the Underseens and Underrateds, here’s my totally subjective list of the five movies from 1982 I can’t live without. (In alphabetical order)

And now for the main attraction. 1982’s deepest cuts have become limited by availability.

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