19 October 2014

The New Kids (1985)
86 min.
Directed by Sean S. Cunningham.
With Shannon Presby, Lori Loughlin, James Spader, John Philbin, David H. MacDonald, Vince Grant, Theron Montgomery, Eddie Jones, Eric Stoltz, Tom Atkins.
Heather Smith
After producing The Last House on the Left (1972) and directing the original Friday the 13th (1980), Sean S. Cunningham directed the savage thriller The New Kids. Although this little gem never gained a following, it still holds up well as an enjoyable suspense story.

Loren and Abby McWilliams (Shannon Presby and Lori Loughlin) lose their parents in a tragic car accident, forcing them to move to Florida to live with their aunt and uncle. Their relatives reside in an amusement park, which they are trying to turn into a sucessful enterprise.

These typical teens adapt to their new and unique surroundings just fine. They assist with the business and even help get the park up and running. Both are attractive and nice, and make friends quite easily. Life seems to be working out for them.

They are soon introduced to Eddie Dutra (James Spader) and his gang of misfits. Full of Southern charm and intimidation, this group doesnít take kindly to not getting their way. Unfortunately for Abby, Eddie has his sights set on her and will stop at nothing to win her over. By rejecting Eddie repeatedly, Abby unwittingly places both herself and her family in harm's way.

What starts out as simple bullying soon escalates into violence, turning the siblings' lives into a nightmare. Will the McWilliams clan be able to finally put this gang to rest, or will they lose their lives in this fight between good and evil?

The New Kids is a very underrated, above average thriller, with its mixture of suspense, violence and nostalgia. The audience can easily identify with Loren and Abby. After their lives takes such a sad and drastic turn, we build high hopes that they will be able to adjust. The characters are admirable for their willingness to carry on in spite of their tragic circumstances.

The bullies are the kinds of thugs you love to hate. Their retaliation consists of butchering animals, vandalism and severe beatings. They even attempt to rape Abby and burn her alive.

Although this film is reminiscent of earlier high school revenge movies such as Massacre at Central High (1976) and Class of 1984 (1982), it contains a great deal more brutality. In particular, there are a couple of heinous animal butcherings which seem all too real, a drawback that will turn many people off. The death and fight scenes are particularly graphic, details that make the picture veer into pure horror territory.

Lori Loughlin and James Spader are stand-outs. Loughlin would go on to star in the Full House TV series a few years later, while Spaderís character in New Kids is in line with the type of sleazeballs he's known for playing in both film and television.

Eric Stoltz gained cult status with Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) and has appeared in a number of notable projects in the last two and a half decades. Look for cameos by Tom Atkins and John Philbin of The Return of the Living Dead (1985) fame.

Despite some well-known names, don't go into this one expecting perfection. The acting and pacing are very good, in spite of the budget and experience level of the cast at the time. Kudos to an ending that's left open for interpretation but which also leaves the viewer satisfied.

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