I grew up in the relatively quaint surroundings of the north Shropshire countryside. And by ‘relatively quaint’ I mean ‘boring as fuck’.
My maternal Grandparents by contrast lived in Halewood, Liverpool, one of the roughest parts in one of Britain’s most deprived cities. As a kid I fucking loved visiting it.
For a start, as a football fan, it was a chance to go and see two of the best teams in Europe at the time: Liverpool and Everton. My Dad would take me to whoever was playing at home when we happened to be visiting in the days when you could rock up to a top flight match two minutes before kick off and it only cost tuppence ha’penny and a threepenny bit… or something.
Then there were the domestic pleasures. As fairly health-conscious, pseudo-hippie types, my parents never had any fizzy drinks at home. My Nan had a fuck-ton of them though, so me, my sister and my brother indulged to the max. Lemonade with lime cordial? Tidy! Vimto-cola? Let’s give it a whirl! Orangeade with extra Kia-ora syrup? Tuck the fuck in!
Jacked up on sugary concoctions, we’d then make use of the wide, straight, carpeted staircase (at home it was extremely narrow, curvy and wooden) and spend hours on a phenomenon known as the sleeping bag race. The resulting arse-ache was a small price to pay for the adrenaline rush.
But best of all, my Grandparents had a VHS video player. Not even a Betamax, but a big, shiny silver VHS!
As the last kids in the western world to have a video player at home (or so it felt) we were in awe of this beautiful, magical, almost-otherworldly contraption.
“Have you seen Robocop?” was the question I was asked most often when I got to secondary school in 1989. The answer was no, and frankly, I didn’t have any idea what people were talking about. I tried not to let on though.
Thanks to my Grandparents VHS however, I had seen a few decent cult movies by that point. Here’s my guide to the ones I can remember best from those days.
The Star Wars films
I know what I just did there. By lumping them all together I’ve immediately exposed myself as not being a particularly big Star Wars fan, and therefore a traitor to my generation and anyone, anywhere who’s ever written a film blog.
Alas, I cannot lie. The sordid truth is yes, I am not a particularly big Star Wars fan. Obviously, I watched all three movies dozens of times and absolutely loved them, but still, I am not particularly a Star Wars fan. I suppose I’d better qualify this…
I never had any Star Wars toys and can’t even remember ever asking for any. I‘ve never considered putting ‘Jedi’ down as my religion on the census form. I’ve never said “may the force be with you!” (until now), I’ve never considered calling my son Luke or Han, never asked my partner to dress as Princess Leia (although irnically, she’d probably be well into it. She’s a much bigger fan than me. She even likes the new ones for fuck’s sake).
I’ve always laughed at how seriously people take the Star Wars films. And I know the mega-fans do too. The difference is, I laugh at people laughing at how seriously people take the Star Wars films.
When they added a few explosions and re-released the films at the cinema in the late-90s, I went along with some mates for a late night showing. Despite the fact we were watching a 20 year old kid’s film that the entire audience had seen several times before, the theatre was packed.
At a moment of quiet following some particularly hokey dialogue (it might have been Han saying “look sister, I ain’t in this for your revolution”) I nudged my friend sitting next to me and said “wait a minute… this film’s shit!” It accidentally came out loud enough for the strangers in the surrounding seats to hear. If looks could kill, I was James Caan on the causeway in The Godfather.
Anyway, all three original Star Wars movies are great KIDS films, and Return of the Jedi was my favourite. Which probably emphasises just what a big Star Wars fan I’m not.
Superman I, II and III
In fact… deep breath… I probably preferred the Superman movies to Star Wars as a kid. Let the hate mail begin! (nobody sends mail anymore Leon – Editor) But not the fourth one, obviously. That was rubbish.
It’s actually the first time I can remember feeling really let down by a movie. The first three are probably rubbish too, but I haven’t seen them for years and have no desire to. I just remember loving them as a kid, especially the one with the weirdly beardy baddies. Was that II or III? (it was I and II, Jesus, do you not have the internet? – Editor) Anyway, our Nan taped the first three when they were on the tellybox and we watched them over and over and over.
Now we’re talking! One of the greatest movies of all time. Period. I loved it when I was seven and I still love it now I’m 37. Everything about this film is ace: Bill Murray’s face, “are you the keymaster?”, the stupid made-up ‘science’, Rick Moranis’s moron Louis, “are you the gatemaster?”, “he slimed me!”, “yes it’s true… this man has no dick”, Bill Murray’s face, “we got one!”, the way the cigarette hangs out of Dan Akroyd’s mouth upon seeing Slimer, the heroes smoking in a kids film, Bill Murray’s face, Ray Parker Jnr’s theme song, “Do you want my body?” “Is this a trick question?” Bill Murray’s face, “don’t cross the streams!” “I love this town!”
And I fucking love this film.
The Dark Crystal
I think we rented this one when I was about five years old. Big mistake. I had nightmares for weeks. Despite it being a puppet film, there’s nothing particularly cutesy about it. The bit where the Skeksis drain the poor little Podling’s life essence… Jesus, I’m still not sure how this got away with a PG certificate.
I watched it again quite recently because my girlfriend had never seen it and it still packs a surprisingly dark punch. It’s also totally charming in a way that Jim ‘The Muppets’ Henson’s film follow-up Labyrynth isn’t particularly, or in fact any of todays CGI-generated nonsense. I know, I know, I’m an old man, but seriously, give me jerky puppets over Mr Popper’s fucking penguins any day of the week.
Coming to America
We had an older friend called Naomi who lived in Leicester but came to visit because her Mum was going out with our next door neighbour. We all looked up to her because she lived in a city and was cool and had seen loads of films that we hadn’t.
“You’ve got to see Coming to America” she told us, “it’s amazing!” So next time we were in Liverpool, we begged our parents to rent it, even though it was a 15 certificate and we were between 10 and six-years old at time. I can’t imagine they were keen at first, but possibly feeling guilty about our on-going status as the last household in the western world not to have a VHS player, they relented it. Oh, poor neglected us!
So we stick it on, all of us watching together… my parents, Grandparents, my little brother and sister…
First line: “the royal penis is clean, your Highness.”
This instantly becomes the funniest thing I have ever heard. I look around and my six year old brother is creased up, dying with laughter. My Grandparents meanwhile, are not.
“Uh… I think we’ve got some cartoons on video down there Jane” says my Grandad (imagine it in a thick Scouse accent and it’s funnier). Thankfully Jane (our mother) ignores him and we go on to watch the rest of the modern comedy classic.
I think my favourite bit now is “sexual chocolate” but upon first seeing it “Freeze, you diseased rhinoceros pizzle!” particularly grabbed me. I still think it’s the best, funniest, most charming film Eddie Murphy has ever made. Admittedly, a list of Murphy classics is not a particularly long one.
And neither is this list. That’s the thing, watching films was a special experience as a kid, as it happened much less frequently as it does now. It was more of an event, something that was occasionally hard-fought. Looking back now, I’m sort of glad it was this way. Sort of.
And no, I still haven’t seen Robocop.