Grab onto your joystick and jerk and jiggle away with the video game junkies of Greydon Clark’s JOYSTICKS, a 1980s R-rated sex comedy receiving its thirtieth anniversary release courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.
On his first day at River City’s newly-opened video arcade, geeky virgin Eugene (Leif Green, GREASE 2) has his pants stolen by Lola (Kym Malin, WEIRD SCIENCE) and (Kim G. Michel) – the groupies of studly arcade owner Jefferson Bailey (Scott McGinnis, WACKO) – and run-ins with benign arcade junkie Dorfus (Jim Greenleaf, EVILSPEAK) and arrogant King Vidiot (Jonathan Gries, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2) and his punk subjects. It’s not all fun and games at Jeff’s arcade, however, because wealthy Joseph Rutter (Joe Don Baker, THE LIVING DAYLIGHT) is trying to shut down the arcade after discovering that sixteen-year-old daughter Patsy (Corinne Bohrer, ZAPPED!) cannot stay away from the place. When Jeff and company prove too smart for Rutter’s lamebrain nephews, Arnie (John Diehl, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK) and Max (John Volstad, LEPRECHAUN), Rutter steps up his assault by appealing to the media and the mayor (Logan Ramsey, who had previously appeared opposite Baker in WALKING TALL) with charges of depravity and harm to minors (with bought-off King Vidiot as his number one exhibit). When it all comes down to a video game challenge, Eugene will have to help Jeff face his inner demons and grab the joystick after Rutter takes Dorfus out of the picture.
Although light on actual sex for an R-rated sex comedy, JOYSTICKS fully exploits the jiggly possibilities of tightly-clad and topless women suggestively jerking the video game joysticks to the tunes of Ray Knehnetsky, including a truly godawful yet catchy theme song ("Totally awesome video games!"). A game of strip arcade allows for more jiggling bare breasts in close-up, and Baker – who seems to be having a good time with his arms full of topless chicks – as Rutter adds some S&M accoutrement in typically conservative prurient embellishment when he describes the unwholesome atmosphere of the arcade to the mayor’s panel (which starts with a MUSIC MAN “…there’s trouble in River City” homage). Greenleaf’s slovenly Dorkus – who the director admits is patterned after John Belushi’s ANIMAL HOUSE character – provides the bodily-function humor throughout with “The Dorfus Maneuver”, Rutter’s wife (cartoon voice actress Morgan Lofting) is, of course, a repressed nympho, and Bohrer’s “valley girl” is amusing yet often incomprehensible. Gries’ goes over-the-top King Vidiot (yet still manages to be overshadowed by Baker), but his beef with Jeff isn’t particularly well-delineated. Diehl and Volstad do the best they can with thin roles, but their work gets caught up in antics of the glut of bumbling sidekick characters on both sides (Clark also throws in a video-game-possessed monk and an extra doing a Curly-impression for no particular reason). The trauma that has prevented Jeff from playing video games is a bit lame, or at least lamely recollected (and I’m not sure whether that was intentional or not), and his training for the final challenge of course takes the form of a ROCKY-esque montage (not so much funny in its content as the fact that all of this is supposed to have taken place in fifteen minutes). Indeed, the film is so glutted with teen comedy and movie parody elements that getting Eugene laid almost becomes an afterthought (in fact, his central character falls by the wayside for much of the running time). Singer/actress Becky LeBeau (BIKINI DRIVE-IN) and Playboy Playmate Lynda Wiesmeier (EVIL TOWN) are among the arcade’s patrons.
JOYSTICKS was announced as a DVD release by Media Blasters as part of their Guilty Pleasures line in 2006, but that release was cancelled presumably due to rights issues. Liberation Entertainment put out a DVD the same year, and that one actually did make it to the streets before being pulled. Scorpion’s 2012 disc was advertised as a thirtieth anniversary edition since the film was shot in the fall of 1982). The dual-layer disc featured a progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer that was boldly colorful from the yellow credits lettering to the neon of the video games and the garish décor of the video arcade with a clean and boisterous Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio. Scorpion's 2015 Blu-ray retains the bold colors while boasting more natural skintones and significantly enhanced detail so that jiggling braless tops are that much more gawk-worthy, primary colors stand out from clothing and Gries' punk make-up, and there appears to be more picture information on the left side of the screen. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track proves quite active for a low budget mono film with constant background music and video game noises throughout.
Ported over from the DVD is director Greydon Clark's audio commentary track and a video interview. Clark reveals that the original title was VIDEO MADNESS (which is still quoted in the dialogue) but decided that JOYSTICK would be more suggestive; indeed, it proved too suggestive for distributor Jensen Farley (who distributed Clark’s previous film WACKO), so they compromised on the plural form even though neither the film’s theme song or film’s dialogue are subtle about the title’s double meaning. Clark actually got permission to use the munching Pacman animated transition between scenes (which seems like it would cost more than film's budget nowadays) and also points out bit parts by collaborators Candy Castillo (ANGEL’S BRIGADE) and Michael Starita (executive producer of THE RETURN and WACKO), as well as the contributions of art director Donn Geer (SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS) and cinematographer Nicholas Von Sternberg Jr. (UNINVITED). Although Clark provides a lot of background information on the film, he could have used a moderator since there is an increasing amount of dead space in the track as it continues.
There is a bit of overlap with the interview featurette (17:37), which offers a more concise behind-the-scenes story of the film’s conception, shooting, and reception before moving onto his subsequent work, including his collaborations with Menahem Golan such as THE FORBIDDEN DANCE – which was hurriedly developed to compete with previous partner Yoram Globus’ LAMBADA – and DANCE MACABRE with Robert Englund (originally set at a horse riding school for girls rather than the final film’s ballet academy). He also replaced the director for Golan’s Moscow-shot MAD DOG COLL aka KILLER INSTINCT, which was shot back to back with Golan-directed HIT THE DUTCHMAN featuring some of the same actors in the same roles). He very briefly mentions his pre-JOYSTICKS films, including interest in remaking or making a sequel to WITHOUT WARNING. Clark goes into more detail about his collaborations with Baker (who he initially wanted for THE RETURN, another Scorpion Releasing title), including the actor’s insistence that he not be doubled for scenes not showing his face in WACKO (even if it meant only being paid for half the time). The DVD included the film’s theatrical trailer (1:26) is in pretty ragged condition, and it looks even worse here, pixelated like a YouTube download. The Blu-ray is limited to 1,000 copies and available exclusively from Screen Archives. (Eric Cotenas)
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