Welcome back to 80s Bits, the weekly column in which we explore the best and worst of the Decade of Shame. With guest writers, hidden gems and more, it’s truly, truly, truly outrageous.
What would you do if you had the ability to move objects with your mind? Combine that concept with the 80s teen T&A genre, and a touch of Grease, and you get Zapped! Writer/Director Robert J. Rosenthal captured in this 1982 quirky comedy the essence of a teenage boys mind and what you could do with an overactive imagination if you had special powers.
Barney is scientific genius with uptight parents that are convinced that he is a possessed junkie. Through experimenting with chemical mixtures and alcohol, a powerful concoction is created that first gives extraordinary visual strength to Edgar the lab mouse, then leading to an explosion. Barney slowly realises his newly found talent through extreme adolescent emotions, both good and bad. This leads to pranking the teaching to get out of a sticky situation, and gaining the higher ground over his parents through the use of a dummy acting as a possessed vessel. After using his newly found skills to take out the Baseball Game, win thousands in a poker match, and take out revenge on enemies he can’t seem to secure the most important thing to him: a date to the Prom.
The school is full of stereotypes which are perfectly played by the cast. Scott Baio (TV’s Charles in Charge) is Barney, someone who seems to have the nerd-jock crossover down pat. Even without his power, he is cool in his own way having access to his own chemistry lab in which he has created a weed plantation. Barney’s love interest Bernadette (Felice Schachter) is the naturally pretty and smart newspaper writer and school presenter who takes a keen interest in conducting research on Barney’s telekinetic powers. Together they experience all the intense new emotions of a physical romance, only to be challenge by antics of the best friend Peyton.
Peyton (Willie Aames) is the overly confident and somewhat annoying womanising bestie who adds much comedy to the flick as he seduces femme fatale’s from the principal’s secretary to the school beauty Jane: “I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to. I have too much respect for you”. Jane (Heather Thomas) is a blonde bucksome bombshell that is in the dreams of all boys in school, and of course dating college jock Robert Wolcott. And high school wouldn’t be the same without a torrid affair between the unauthoritative principal who takes more interest in the classifieds than running the school and his mousey slightly desperate English teaching. To top it all off, the standard of the school is set by a punk rebel who’s repeated senior year 3 times, putting his hopes for graduation into classy poems about chicks.
Memorable moments in the film include drunken scuba diving lab rats being used for a school report on driving under the influence, harvesting fast growing dope with the principal’s orchids, and the marijuana scheme where cool dude coach Dexter hallucinates about riding bikes with Einstein only to be chased down by his wife shooting salami sticks at him. The telekinetic power is also creatively used in a Star Trek like montage starring Barney’s sheepdog and Starfleet clad men inside a toy model of The Enterprise, and a Carrie like chaotic Prom climax.
To reminisce over what high school wasn’t get Zapped!