The New Kids (1985): A Hidden Gem of '80s Cinema

While The New Kids may not be a common '80s movie title to get thrown around in conversation revolving around favorites from the era, it deserves infinitely more recognition than it receives. Directed by Sean S. Cunningham (yes, the same guy behind Friday the 13th), the movie tells the story of two siblings, Abby and Loren McWilliams, played by Lori Loughlin and Shannon Presby. The two have an interesting dynamic with their military father, played by the legend, Tom Atkins, but his charchter (and their weird dynamic) is confined to the first few minutes of the film. Sadly, both parents are tragically killed in an accident, leading the brother and sister to a decision to move in with their entrepreneurial failure of an uncle at his fledgling roadside attraction/gas station/home. As soon as they're settled in, they quickly find themselves tangled in a web of teenage turmoil.

The movie packs a surprisingly intense and mature punch. It's not just another teen drama; it's a rollercoaster of emotions that sits somewhere in the middle of horror/suspense, slice of life, and teen melodrama. Abby and Loren face bullying, harassment, and all-out warfare from a gang of ruthless backwoods Florida delinquents led by Eddie Dutra, portrayed brilliantly by James Spader. Dutra's portrayal is a masterclass in playing a charismatic yet utterly menacing antagonist. His character is the definitive '80s movie teenage creep.

The film showcases the struggle of the McWilliams siblings as they attempt to fit in, find love, and ultimately, fight back against their tormentors. It's a gripping narrative that keeps you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.

Lori Loughlin and Shannon Presby give heartfelt performances as the vulnerable yet resilient McWilliams siblings. You root for them, you feel their pain, and you cheer for their inevitable revenge. It's a rare instance where the actors genuinely inhabit their roles.

The supporting cast also shines, with familiar faces like John Philbin and Eric Stoltz delivering solid performances. But it's Spader, as the charming but psychopathic Eddie Dutra, that really sticks with you. This was a pivotal role early in his career, and he portrays the perfect blend of charisma and menace. Spader's portrayal of Dutra is nothing short of iconic, and it's a testament to his incredible talent as an actor, especially at such a young age.

One thing that sets The New Kids apart from typical '80s teen dramas is its unflinching portrayal of violence and bullying. The movie doesn't sugarcoat the harsh realities that the McWilliams siblings face, nor does it mask anything with much comedic relief. There are scenes that are genuinely brutal and uncomfortable to watch, but that's what makes this film so effective. It doesn't shy away from the darkest corners of adolescence, and any first time viewer should go into the film acutely aware of this fact.

While there are moments that could require a trigger warning for some, the film is ultimately a story of resilience, survival, and the strength of bonds between siblings. It's a coming-of-age story with a brutal twist, and it leaves a lasting impact on the audience.

The semi-remote setting of the film provides a looming presence throughout, much like another cult classic from the era that tends to share a very similar overall vibe: The Wraith. While The New Kids has absolutely none of the supernatural elements that are present with The Wraith, both films do have a similar element of unease that is due, at least in part, to being secluded to a small, rural area. In both cases though, the scenery is very specific to a usually untapped area for locations in these types of films. Instead of sunny California, a rural midwest, or a placid New England town, both films trap us in a locale known for unforgiving heat. It's a subtle detail, and it may have been entirely budgetary in both cases, but it has a noticeable effect on these films.

There's something special about discovering a hidden gem like this, from a decade that has been picked over for every piece of cultural references one could possibly exploit. It wasn't a box office hit during its release, and it stands hidden in the shadows of '80s blockbuster classics - many of which can't possibly live up to the depth of storytelling that's present with The New Kids.

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