Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Joysticks (1983)

I remember hanging around arcades when I was in junior high school. Whenever we had shops, we had to take a bus to another, larger school where we could learn about drafting, electronics, cooking, etc. This larger school was right next door to a shopping mall. So, inevitably, before and after class we would walk over to the mall to get something to eat, or wander around the stores. There was also an arcade inside this mall. But because we were under 16, we had to apply for a special membership card – which involved having our parents sign a piece of paper saying that they were okay with us blowing all of our money on pinball and video games (or something to that effect).

My parents signed the paper, although I don’t think they were thrilled about it, but truth be told I didn’t play many of the games. I was a cheapskate at heart, and I didn’t like to waste good quarters getting killed by aliens or asteroids in thirty seconds flat. Did I mention that I wasn’t very good at video games? This was mainly due to the fact that I didn’t spend a lot of quarters playing them (so it was a bit of a vicious circle, I suppose). I was better at pinball, actually. I liked the feeling of hitting an actual ball around, and I used to play pinball whenever we went down to Fargo for the weekend and stayed in a hotel. I also had my own pinball machine at home (a toy version from my childhood, but the mechanics were the same as on the big machines). So a quarter would last a lot longer if I put it in a pinball machine than if I spent it on Pacman or Space Invaders. I still played those games once in a while, or course, but not in the obsessive quarter-eating way that some people did. Mostly, I just watched my friends play in that shopping mall arcade. it was a place to hang out and talk about horror films, heavy metal, and all the other important subjects not covered in school.

We also talked about movies like Porky’s (1981) and Private Lessons (1981), which had been huge hits and what you might call “water cooler movies” at our school. I suppose water fountain movies might be a more appropriate term for them, as our school had lots of water fountains but no water coolers. These movies were referred to as “Teen Sex Comedies” by critics like Roger Ebert, and they were generally panned by those critics. But we all wanted to see them because they reportedly featured “naked ladies”, another subject that was of great interest to us but sadly absent from the school curriculum. We were too young to get into the theatres to see movies like that, and we had actually made plans to try to sneak in and see Porky’s one day, but for some reason we aborted that mission. 

In a bizarre twist of fate, my friends wound up seeing Porky’s without me when it was released on VHS and Beta. As I’ve mentioned before, renting movies was a social activity in those days. I never did it by myself. So I didn’t get to see Porky’s until much later. I actually saw Porky’s II: The Next Day (1983) before I saw Porky’s – but that’s another story. 

Teen sex comedies were like slasher films in the early ’80s. There seemed to be new ones appearing in the theatres every week. And the video store shelves were lousy with them. We couldn’t get into the theatres to see them, but my friends and I had no trouble renting movies like Spring Break (1983), My Tutor (1983), and Joysticks (1983). 

Joysticks was obviously made by a cinematic genius. Not only was it a teen sex comedy (one of the most lucrative film genres of the day), but it was also about video games and set in an arcade! What could be more appealing to teenagers of the early 1980s? 

I don’t think we thought Joysticks was as good as some of the other movies in the genre. But it did have video games, naked ladies and fart jokes, so we enjoyed it. But unlike Spring Break, which we watched three times before having to return it the next day, we only watched Joysticks once. Come to think of it, I also watched Spring Break a couple of times on late night TV over the years, but I never saw Joysticks again…

…until last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. What made me do it? Nostalgia, of course. And I’ve been curious about this movie for some reason. Was it as bad as I remember it? I figured it would be horribly dated, in terms of the video game imagery. I also imagined that it would never deliver the goods as well as movies like Porky’s – but very few movies, if any, can live up to Bob Clark’s teen sex comedy masterpiece.

Oddly enough, Joysticks was made by Greydon Clark, an actual name in genre film circles – not as revered as Bob Clark, perhaps, but a person of some note, nevertheless. I recently featured one of his other movies at the home drive in, Angels’ Brigade (1979). I also have a surprising number of his films in my personal library: Black Shampoo, Hi-Riders, Without Warning, and Satan’s Cheerleaders. It seemed to me that Joysticks just might be a necessary addition to the collection. 

I am happy to report that Joysticks was everything I could have hoped for – and more! It was so over-the-top 1980s that it was a perfect time capsule. The nostalgia was on overdrive but, surprisingly, it did not feel as dated (in a bad way) as I thought it would. The video games actually looked pretty good to me, and they made me want to dig out my old Atari and start chomping on some dots. The movie also did a pretty good job of delivering on the promises that all teen sex comedies make; there were naked ladies, there were tasteless jokes, there were hapless losers, nerds and misfits who have to save the arcade from an unscrupulous businessman. This movie could be the Citizen Kane of video game teen sex comedies!

Joysticks (1983) is 100% certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema – and I am so glad that I finally watched it again. Perhaps if I had seen it on late night TV in the 1990s, I would have dismissed it as dated nonsense. But it has reached a point in the aging process where it is ripe for rediscovery – at least by people who have fond (ish) memories of seeing it back in the days of arcades and misspent quarters.