Welcome to an exciting year-long project here at The Nerdy. 1981 was an exciting year for films giving us a lot of films that would go on to be beloved favorites and cult classics. It was also the start to a major shift in cultural and societal norms, and some of those still reverberate to this day.
We’re going to pick and choose which movies we hit, but right now the list stands at nearly three dozen.
Yes, we’re insane, but 1981 was that great of a year for film.
The articles will come out – in most cases – on the same day the films hit theaters in 1981 so that it is their true 40th anniversaries. All films are also watched again for the purposes of these reviews and are not being done from memory. In some cases, it truly will be the first time we’ve seen them.
This time around it’s April 24, 1981, and we’re off to see The Hand, Night School, and Ms. 45!
Quick side note: Since we launched this series this year, we’ve discovered that Vintage Video Podcast is doing the exact same project with two differences: First, it’s audio (naturally), and second, they are doing every major film. We’ve listened to a couple of episodes and it’s fun checking off their thoughts against my own. Check them out over at Vintage Video Podcast.
It felt like in the 1980s you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a Michael Caine movie. Some of them were unexpected gems like The Island. Others were Jaws 4 levels of awful. The Hand very squarely falls much closer to the latter.
Caine plays Jon Lansdale, a cartoonist who loses his hand in a freak car accident and then is haunted by actions being taken by the now-autonomous hand. Throughout this Oliver Stone – yes, THAT Oliver Stone – film, you aren’t sure for large chunks of the film if he is imagining what is happening or if the hand is really out there killing people.
As the story progresses you become more and more convinced that Lansdale has had a mental break as the deaths become more and more absurd and the idea that a hand not only crossed the entire country to follow him, but could also move entire dead bodies on its own.
As the film wraps up it’s fairly clear that while Lansdale has had a mental break, the hand is also really perpetuating these acts. You kind of just sit there going, “Really?” It’s one thing to spend the film believing this has to be imagined, but to learn in the closing seconds it was probably real makes you re-examine the entire story and have to rethink everything you thought you understood.
And, again, you have to start asking questions about how the hand did all of this.
There should never be an issue with a movie making you reexamine it, but not for silly reasons. And that is all The Hand does is make you go, it’s not worth me going back in and look for clues.
I have a lot of thoughts about Night School, but they are nearly as overcrowded as this story. From rituals of ancient tribes to apparently every teacher in an all-girls school sleeping with their students, this movie had a bit of everything.
A string of murders have broken out across Boston that end with the female victims being decapitated and their heads being put into bodies of water ranging from duck ponds to toilets. As the movie goes on we finally learn the reasoning behind every stage, but it doesn’t make it any more sensible.
And honestly, the story is fine, it doesn’t break any new ground for the most part, but there are some silly leaps in logic. Take for instance how the killer not only finds their way around their next victim in a wide-open locker room, but then fits themselves in a large metal cabinet and closes the doors without making a noise that alerts the victim so that they can then leap out and shock the victim.
This isn’t the only instance of the murderer just showing up somewhere that makes no logistical sense to the point that it pulls you out of the movie as you question the physics of what happened.
And then you reach the resolution, and it seems that the broken person that has committed the murders will just walk away without consequences. We’re to believe this person will never kill again? That they can just go on for the rest of their lives with the knowledge they killed so many?
It’s a bit of fluff that isn’t horrible, but it also won’t change your life.
And now we reach the revenge thriller of the week I had never heard of before and I will gladly watch again.
Ms. 45 is your standard revenge plot of a woman done wrong, with a fairly silly opening. (She gets raped twice in the same day… maybe an hour apart… by two different guys… I would rate that as some pretty bad luck.) But where the film goes in a totally new and unexpected direction is that Thana (Zoë Tamerlis) is a mute. She becomes a silent avenging angel of the city killing men she feels threaten women. From street thugs to a middle eastern sheik, she kills whomever a woman may fear.
As the film wraps up as Thana kills multiple men, a female co-worker kills her, and as she dies she suddenly screams out “Sister!” Were they really sisters? Could Thana talk all along and chose not to? YOu just have no idea.
Despite the odd opening of the double-rape, and some truly awful fake blood, it is one of the more engaging 1981 films I’ve watched in this project.
It is most definitely worth checking out, but expect some grindhouse-style exploitation tropes.
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