Giving Teen Witch the Recognition it Deserves.
First off, I want to thank a now defunct video store on Shepherd’s Way in Perth, Western Australia for stocking an array of teen movies on VHS without which my childhood might have been slightly different. To quote a writer I recently discovered during my internet travels, Robin Hardwick, who recapped an episode of Family Ties for Culture Brats in which Jennifer throws a party, “As a youngster, I was fascinated with any episode show that included (1) a makeover (2) someone getting to be in the popular crowd and (3) awesome outfits. Let’s face it, I was a shallow kid”. Robin, that article spoke to me. Read the article here.
As we celebrate another New Year – that heady mix of nostalgia and the new, where we look back on what we’ve done with our lives at the same time as we plot our fresh start and a different hairstyle – it seems like the perfect excuse for an 80s makeover movie countdown!
She’s Out of Control
Way before She’s All That and the piss-take that was Not Another Teen Movie, geek girl Ami Dolenz made the bold move to take off her glasses. She then went from being head of the class and re-enacting Flashdance’s ‘She’s a Maniac’ in her bedroom to being pursued by boys of all shapes and sizes – we’re talking punks, nerds, a guy in a sailor costume, you name it. The most sinister of all the guys was a pre-Friends Matthew Perry, aka the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. The one glaring omission from this film was the cool girl clique. I mean, what did everyone at school say when Ami Dolenz basically showed up as a different person? I want answers.
Best outfit: The new Ami’s debut outfit – sheer white knee-highs, a white ra-ra skirt and a frizzy half up-half down do, backlit to full angelic effect. It was an ethereal outfit choice for her slow motion descent of the living room stairs to the sounds of Frankie Avalon’s ‘Venus’.
I’m sure this film was the inspiration for Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, but it really doesn’t get the credit it deserves for a being a quintessential 80s teen movie. It really should be more well-known than it is. It didn’t just have a spectacular makeover scene, it had a spectacular makeover musical number. Yes, that’s right – this movie was at the top of its game when it came to the whole 80s trend of a film scoring its own songs and integrating them into the plot. ‘I Wanna Be the Most Popular Girl’ was the song in question when teen witch Robyn Lively (Blake Lively’s step-sister, FYI) struts and fluffs her hair during a montage in which she is instantly accepted into the cool girl clique and tailed by a carload of boys rapping about how popular she is. Serena Van Der Woodsen, eat your heart out.
‘I Wanna Be the Most Popular Girl’ is up there with two other exclusive Teen Witch gems – cheerleader locker room chant ‘We Like Boys’ and ‘Top That’, a ‘Hangin’ Tough’/’Informer’ hybrid that’s currently enjoying a minor wave of popularity due to its blink and you’ll miss it inclusion in a random YouTube remix video, Sweet Brown’s ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That’ – even if it is just people asking “What the fuck?” when they see it. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s the video and the Teen Witch scene in question.
Continuing my argument that the underrated Teen Witch has all the hallmarks of an 80s teen classic, Robyn Lively’s main motivation for having a makeover is to get the stereotypical nice guy jock called Brad – what else? – played by go-to late 80s/90s dream guy actor Dan Gauthier. You may remember Dan as Chip Matthews in Friends. He’s also showed up in Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place. To para-phrase Chandler, could he be any more good looking (in that 90s way)?
Another unimportant sidenote – the second in charge queen bee of Teen Witch (the Gretchen Weiners, if you will), is played by Tina Caspary, who also played the second in command queen bee in Can’t Buy Me Love (we’ll get to that film in a minute, don’t you worry).
The dress Robyn Lively wears to the school dance – tight and blue, with a tutu, shoulder pads and heartshape neckline, accessorised with her magical amulet. It was mystical and late 80s-pretty at the same time, perfectly capturing the tone of the film. Dan Gauthier is so captivated by her confidence in the dress that they perform a choreographed dance together where they link arms and walk in circles. Now that’s a WTF? moment.
Can’t Buy Me Love
Fact: some of the best 80s makeover movies involved guys making the transition to the in-crowd by way of a new look. A pre-Doctor McDreamy Patrick Dempsey – who once made a living out of playing geeks (fact) – pretty much buys popular girl Cindy for a month after she spills wine on her mother’s suede outfit, thereby ruining both it and her life. Ronald (Patrick) pays for the replacement suit, so she rubs some gel in his hair, rips the sleeves off his jacket and introduces him to the popular crowd. Lessons about the importance of being yourself are subsequently learnt.
Best outfit: The prize goes to fashionista Queen Bee number three (aka the high school Donna Martin) Darcy DeMoss for wearing a red and yellow lightning bolt on her cheek to school, red fingerless gloves to the dance and for just generally being 80s glam-tastic.
This is another forgotten gem that’s basically about a nerd who sells his soul to become a hunk. The name of his new persona? Hunk Golden, no less. More importantly, this film has one of the best body transformation scenes of 80s cinema, including a moment where his bulge increases in much the same fashion as Meryl Streep’s boobs transform in Death Becomes Her.
Following in the footsteps of one of the most famous makeover movies of all time, Sandy’s studious cousin Michael Carrington (Maxwell Caulfied, people!) arrives at Rydell High and transforms himself into a biker to win the affections of Pink Lady Michelle Pfeifer, aka Stephanie Zanoni, who only wants a cool rider to burn her through and through. Unlike Can’t Buy Me Love, this movie carries the message that, in order to get the girl and gain the acceptance of morons like the T-Birds, you need to change who you are. Through the medium of song, Michael asks himself, “Can she see the real me behind my charade?” Um, no, not really Michael.
Despite this, Grease 2 is one of the most awesome movies of the 80s. I mean, its soundtrack alone warrants an entire article all to itself. I know there is a cult of Grease 2 fans out there who will agree with me – you know who you are.
Best outfit: The gold biker outfit Michael wears in fake motorcycle rider heaven. Another big winner is Stephanie’s two-way pink ladies/black leather jacket that she shows off to full effect during ‘Cool Rider’. Oh, and her Christmas tree outfit complete with star head decoration.
The Breakfast Club
I couldn’t let my countdown go by without mentioning the most famous makeover movie of the 80s, but it’s one of the few where I thought the person in question looked better before. In conclusion, Ally Sheedy just cannot pull off a hair ribbon.