The oft forgotten about 1985 “horror”/thriller, The New Kids, taps well into the zeitgeist of the decade, combining Brat Pack charm and Stallone action-muscle, while hitting all the right marks in between. Simple, yet catchy rock song that sounds like a Van Halen knockoff? Check. A high school dance where the bad guys also show up? Check. Carnival rides? Check. Bloody rabbits? Oh, wait…forget about that last one.
The New Kids follows Loren McWilliams (Shannon Presby) and his sister Abby (Lori Loughlin) as they move in with their uncle in a small town in Florida following their parents’ death. Uncle Charlie (Eddie Jones) runs a gas station and small amusement park on the same property, where both teens help out.
At school, where every single student chews gum, there’s a group of thugs, led by Eddie Dutra (James Spader), who are constantly harassing Abby, with a couple of them aggressively trying to get her to go out with them. Dutra and his gang are completely nuts. Their idea of humor is shooting pistols at each other’s feet and entering their pit bull into dog fights.
Abby keeps rejecting their impolite offers, so they begin to make her and Loren’s lives a living hell. Loren retaliates and even breaks into Dutra’s home to teach him a lesson. Or so he thinks. Dutra is out for blood, literally, and has a bigger and darker plan in mind.
We can’t help but feel like this movie was meant to be a horror film. It seems to be marketed that way–just look at the poster and the taglines. Instead, we get something more akin to Pretty In Pink meets Straw Dogs, with its unbalanced tone being the biggest takeaway. Even if its identity crisis is also one of the things that makes it so intriguing.
Presenting the contrasting tones with an air of polarizing imbalance, The New Kid’s appealing blend of worlds isn’t exactly original, but the way its executed is enough to make the movie stand out. The inability to be put in a box is just bizarre enough to warrant somewhat of a cultish following.
The musical score is also on board as it keeps the suspenseful motifs at a minimum, opting for a more pop-sounding underpinning.
Unfortunately the film holds back on the gore, pulling punches visually, while still keeping its dark implications. The budget wasn’t necessarily low, so the frustrating lack of payoffs is somewhat uncalled for–especially from the guy who gave us the first Friday the 13th movie.
Although he drives a gripping story, director Sean S. Cunningham doesn’t exactly craft anything magical from the material he’s been given. The carnival backdrop isn’t necessarily wasted, but also fails to result in anything amazing. We’re constantly feeling like the film could be much better, which I suppose is credit to the inherent appeal of its ingredients.
The entire story is driven by the audience rooting for our two leads and our desire for them to get their redemption against these savage bullies. And while we do get an adequate payoff, there seems to be a slight lack of recognition of that desire during the big climax–perhaps due to the lack of horror sensibilities. Cunningham could have used these final moments as a good time to introduce them.
Despite the tonal issues, The New Kids is a charming movie with an engaging story and fun characters, but we just can’t help feeling like it never quite hits its stride.