I’d put a quarter in those slots.
If you didn’t live during the late 70’s and early 80’s when Video Arcades ruled the land, perhaps you watched The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which has re-ignited the spark of arcade game nostalgia. Maybe you laughed at the obsessed game nerds, or thought that it was a little unbelievable that grown men would remain slaves to quarter-eating machines over 20 years later. Well, things were a bit different then…
Let’s go back in time via this documentary called Joysticks, about daring young men trying to run a Video Arcade, only to have a blustery local businessman try to shut them down. This happened in the 80’s all the time, and in fact happened in my hometown of Nutley. Yes, the town is in fact nuts, and our little 12-year-old minds were overjoyed when something as cool as a Video Arcade opened up on the main drag. We flocked in little nerdy droves, until the blustery businessmen of our town decided to shut it down by having the council pass an ordinance that required 2 parking spaces for every arcade game in an establishment. Even if it only had one controller! Imagine the outrage. Well, there was none. Loitering kids are the bane of every small town, and having us glue our faces to a video screen was somehow considered a crime against humanity. So we had to mope our way back to Rocky’s Pizza or Artie’s Drug Store, places which had one or two machines (Ms. Pac-Man, Rygar, and a few others if I recall) because they had parking lots.
So this film touched a nerve with me. The movie opens with us meeting Eugene, your typical nerd driving to his first day of work at the arcade. Two cute girls pull alongside him, and to let us know we’re in an 80’s teen fantasy, they show him their boobs, to lure him into their car. This is an ingenious prank, one of many in the film, to get a Polaroid of Eugene with his trousers down. Needless to say he drops trou in front of a cop, and all that is missing is the wah-wah-wah sound.
At the Video Arcade (that’s the clever name of this video arcade) the girls show off Eugene’s underwear and we meet this ragtag band of misfits who have all the fun in town. There’s Jefferson Bailey, the guy who runs the place for his old grandfather, but he’s just the boring lead, a Scott Baio look-alike for the girls to look at. The real hero is McDorfus, the slob who looks like what obsessed video gamers really look like. Here he is in all his glory, after his battle with King Vidiot (who we’ll meet shortly).
King Vidiot is what they came up with to make nerds like McDorfus and Eugene feel good about themselves. Punks were the lowest form of life in 80’s movies, and King Vidiot is no exception. He storms into the arcade with his gaggle of punk rock girls who mimic Pac-Man eating dots. I assure you we did not do this back then, even if we have a spiked leather jacket in storage from the days when we had blue hair and listened to the Dead Kennedys.
He doesn’t like how they run the arcade, they aren’t worshipful of his greatness, or quite as obsessed as he is. So when Joe Don Baker shows up looking for his Valley Girl daughter, and sees Jefferson cavorting licentiously with two scantily clad ladies in a game of strip Pac-Man. Actually it’s a Pac-Man clone that I can’t remember, so here’s a screenshot.
Joe Don Baker and King Vidiot team up against our friends, who just want to share their love of video games. Vidiot and McDorfus go head to head in a battle of Satan’s Hollow, which is a spaceship game where you battle Satan, in his hollow. Following that link will let you experience it firsthand.
Vidiot loses this round, but as you know, the villains never stop in their battle against Fun. Joe Don Baker’s clumsy henchmen try to steal all the arcade games, but are foiled in a rather unexciting manner. In the meanwhile, Eugene and McDorfus break into his house and get assaulted by his undersexed wife. Eugene’s virginity will not go unchecked in this film, that is a given. And this foreshadowing should not go unnoticed by the more watchful viewers. Here’s another hint, when Eugene is serving hotdogs at the arcade’s lunch counter, one flies out of the tongs and lands here:
But wait, they can! If only Jefferson can overcome his fear, he can be whole again. After a lovely training montage, our hero is ready for battle. I won’t tell you if he wins, that’s for you to learn. I had to suffer through this film, and I’m not going to deny you the experience. I will leave you with one of the best parts of the movie, the fact that director Greydon Clark (who’d go on to gift us with Lambada: The Forbidden Dance) splits up scenes with Pac-Man waka-wakaing across the screen, like so:
As far as video game movies go, this is far behind The Last Starfighter and just ahead of that trilogy movie where Alex Winter gets eaten by a video game. It’s a great example of why Porky’s is remembered so fondly. It was a good teen romp, where this was the median. Porky’s was directed by the same talented director who brought us A Christmas Story, and Black Christmas (but also Baby Geniuses). Joysticks is not something you’ll watch for pleasure, but pain.