Critics be damned, Bob Clark caught lightning in a bottle as the writer and director of Porky’s, the 5th top grossing film of the box office juggernaut that was 1982 (think E.T.), raking in a cool $105,492,483 – sandwiched between Rocky III (4th) and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (6th). To put that in perspective, Porky’s box office mugging was strong enough to turn away American Pie (1999), and managed to hold onto the “raunchy” teenage-sex-comedy box office crown into the new millennium – until American Pie II surpassed it with $145,103,595 (2001).
While Porky’s flirts with the coming of age genre by addressing familial racism that is handed down from father to son, it ultimately knows what kind of film it is, and Clark does an excellent job of staying in his lane. Set in Angel Beach, Florida in 1954, the plot centers around a high school basketball team that has committed to help their buddy “Pee-Wee” (Dan Monahan) get laid. The guys travel 70 miles out in the Everglades to the redneck speak-easy “Porky’s,” where they are humiliated and ripped off by Porky himself (Chuck Mitchell), then further hassled by Porky’s brother and local Sheriff (Alex Karrass), in roles both men elevate as backwoods bullies. After the gang’s friend Mickey (Roger Wilson) takes a beating at the hands of Porky and his men for trying to get the gang’s money back, the urgency to “pop Pee-Wee’s cherry” is supplanted by a revenge plot to turn the tables on “Porky’s fat ass” and Clark delivers with quality payoffs all the way through to the clever credit sequence.
The beauty of Porky’s is how easy writer and director Clark makes it all look, with a cast that’s believable as high school friends, laughing at their own private jokes and backstories. Mark Herrier, as Billy, describes a story when Pee-Wee over-confidently wore a rubber under his clothes on a date with Cherry Forever (Susan Clark) that ended with Pee-Wee blowing a sure thing. The high school kids aren’t alone in the laughs department, as the adults are given moments to shine that they run with, including Kim Cattrall as hilariously sexy “Lassie” Honeywell, revealing how she got her nickname in a moment of blind passion in the boy’s locker room. Nancy Parsons is a scene stealer as Beulah Balbricker, the schools’ self appointed moral center, who has her watchful eye on students, peepholes and faculty alike. Clark has all his actors on the same page, and the laughs are holding up almost 35 years later.
In Roger Ebert’s one-and-a-half-star review of Porky’s he described the film as “another raunchy teenage sex-and-food-fight movie,” which was glowing by comparison to his one-star review of another 1982 darling, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, that Ebert derided as “a scuz-pit of a movie.” The negative reviews didn’t seem to matter. The studio “hard-R” comedy could fill up a theater like the smell of the lobby popcorn, with simple plot lines built around the horny teenagers that couldn’t wait to discover the wonders of losing their virginity (presumably so they could brag about the deed to their dumb little buddies). This genre was a low risk, solid investment formula, that gave unknown actors their big break. What we didn’t know at the time of Porky’s release, was that the hormone-fueled-high-school-comedy was peaking right before our eyes – soon to fade from existence like the flightless, funny looking Dodo bird.
The “raunchy” teenage-sex-quest-comedy was broken into two separate categories: the high school kids, and the college kids. The high school kids would be willing to drive to Tijuana and pay to get laid in Losin’ It, whereas the college kids in Animal House would get the girls to come to their frat house using more clever-tactics, such as a toga party – “To-ga! To-ga!” That’s what a college education can give you. So why did these movies that had low budgets, with the ability to be a summer box office sleeper, go the way of the Dodo?
First, today’s politically correct Police would yell “misogyny!” in a crowded movie theater, and attack the “hard-R” teenage-sex-comedy on social media, like Beulah Balbricker grabbing Pauley the Penis through the girls shower peep-hole. Second, there’s an obsolescence the internet has caused the big screen teenager who is held hostage by his hormones, and who would risk bodily harm to see a woman naked and get some answers about the opposite sex. Now, unless the film is a period piece, we know those answers are available on the teenager’s smart phone. There’s a loss of innocence. Third, studios aren’t interested in this genre as a potential money maker anymore, unless one of the virgin teens puts on a cape and fights crime in-between driving 70 miles to a speak easy in the everglades to – like the neon sign reads – “Get It” at Porky’s. Captain Blue Balls anyone?
The old school “teenage sex-and-food-fight movie” comedies like Revenge of the Cheerleaders, The Hollywood Knights, H.O.T.S., Zapped!, Screwballs and countless others in that Roger Ebert described genre, made no apologies for their brand of humor. These films played out like live action cartoons for adults, with characters that were so hyper exaggerated and bigger than life, it’s hard to imagine that anybody would take these movies seriously enough to be offended by them, and yet, here we are. Hollywood has replaced the small budget “raunchy” teenage-sex-movie with the awkward teenage outsider, who’s more concerned about their quirky hobbies and pipe dreams, than losing their virginity with the unattainable high school beauty queen. “Dang!”
The novelty of a clueless teenager suffocating under the weight of his own sex drive, while devising a way with his hapless friends to lose their virginity, seems to have worn off on today’s audiences. Has this genre played itself out in the same way 1940’s gangster movies called guns “heaters”? Are people too jaded or sophisticated to watch a horny teenager climb a tree outside his dream girl’s house and watch her undress through his binoculars? I’m not here to defend the sexist nature of these types of comedies. If it’s thought provoking, coming of age cinema you’re looking for – The Graduate, The Last Picture Show, The Summer of ’42 and Breaking Away are at the top of the list. But if you want to laugh, I mean lean your head back and drop your mouth open with howling laughter, then seeing Porky’s at the New Beverly will serve as a wonderful museum to see this virtually extinct genre Dodo, with a group of people that will truly appreciate it.
Porky’s screens December 13 paired with its sequel, Porky’s II: The Next Day.