35 Years Ago: ‘Porky’s Revenge’ Ends a Randy Trilogy
Porky's Revenge, released on March 22, 1985, brought an end to one of the strangest comedy trilogies in American movie history.
The series went out the way it came in: with raunchy jokes, comedic nudity and a vision of American male teenage life that was, if nothing else, a good deal more honest about boys' obsession with sex than what had come before.
The original Porky's was the brainchild of Bob Clark, an American director who made his most important films in the Canadian movie industry, and has somehow never quite gotten his due. Clark spent part of his youth in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and played quarterback at a small college in Michigan before going on to study theater at the University of Miami. Eventually, he moved to Canada, where he started directing films.
He began in horror – his Black Christmas from 1974 is a minor classic and maybe the most influential '70s precursor to the '80s slasher film genre. In 1979 he directed Murder By Decree, an underrated Sherlock Holmes movie staring Christopher Plummer and James Mason, and in 1983 made perhaps his greatest film, A Christmas Story, a perennially beloved holiday classic.
But in some ways, his most influential film is Porky's, which he co-wrote and directed in 1981. Set in Florida in the '50s, and drawn from some of his own high school experiences, the film reads as an schlocky updating of George Lucas' 1973 masterpiece American Graffiti. It tells the story of a group of prank-playing high school boys, obsessed with girls and sex, who run afoul of Porky, the malicious owner of a roadhouse in the Everglades. This feud escalates until Porky has one of the boys badly beaten, and they retaliate by tearing down his roadhouse and humiliating him.
But the real subject of Porky's is high school hormones, and its real breakthrough was the amount of raunchy material it introduced onto the screen, from boys peeping on girls through holes in the shower, to jokes about condoms and prostitutes, to a character named Coach Beulah Balbricker (Nancy Parsons), who becomes obsessed with identifying one of the boys by a private anatomical quirk that she would like to put in a police-style lineup. The film was enormously successful – grossing over $130 million on a $5 million budget – and its influence can be seen in subsequent films like American Pie, There's Something About Mary and Superbad.
Porky's also spawned two sequels, Porky's II: The Next Day – in which Porky himself does not appear, and the boys from the first film run up against the KKK and a fundamentalist preacher – and Porky's Revenge.
The closing film of the trilogy, with which Clark was not involved, opens with the same boys now playing in the semi-finals of the state basketball tournament. Demoralized and losing, they only manage to will their way to victory once the female cheerleaders promise them an orgy if they win. The girls renege on their deal and instead play a prank (one of the themes of the trilogy is the tantalizing nearness of sex which is never quite consummated), forcing the boys to run home naked. In the aftermath, the boys realize that their basketball coach has run up gambling debts to Porky and decide that they need to do something about it.
They journey out to the riverboat that Porky now owns, on which he's running an illegal gambling operation, hoping to get evidence of this operation to blackmail him into cancelling their coach's debts. Instead, Porky catches them and forces them to agree to throw the state championship game so he can bet on it. This means that they have to figure out a way to actually win the game while escaping Porky's ire (and also destroying his riverboat). At the same time, they're forced to deal with a couple of side-plots that include an obstreperous science teacher with a role-playing sex life, and an attempt to reunite Coach Balbricker with her high school sweetheart.
All of this is carried off in a fairly uninspired way, so much so that many people's favorite thing about the film is its music. It's unclear to this day how Welsh rocker Dave Edmunds managed to convince so many big-name musicians to contribute but this soundtrack is something of a gem, featuring new music by George Harrison, Jeff Beck, Willie Nelson, Carl Perkins, Clarence Clemons and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, all of it calling back to a '50s early rock 'n roll style.
Beyond this, film has the feeling – shared by so many of our contemporary sequal/prequal/reboots – of attempting to replay scenes from the original in slightly warmed-over form while also half-halfheartedly adding new material, and getting neither right. It has little of the demented, manic charm of the original Porky's, and is not helped by the fact that the cast (most of who were already in their mid-20s at the time the first film was shot) is four years older and even less believable as high school students. On its release, the movie was savaged by critics and nominated for a Stinkers Bad Movie Award.
But is quality the reason anyone has ever watched a Porky's film? The truth of the matter is that there is a debauched side of the high-school mind that hadn't really ever appeared in popular movies until Bob Clark came along. For that mind, sex is mysterious and verboten, difficult both to understand and to find, but also the stuff of pranks and laughs and moments of indelible humor that exist outside – and maybe in large part to annoy – the adult world.
In the end, the legacy of a movie like Porky's Revenge may not be so much that it's bad, but that it's bad in a way that refuses to go away, because it understands something true about being a young man.