“Joysticks”: It’s “snobs versus slobs” in this raunchy T&A-drenched ’80s teen sex comedy

By on May 18, 2017

This Friday, May 19, 2017, Greydon Clark’s raunchy T&A-drenched teen sex comedy Joysticks will be screening at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA, on an ’80s Arcade Double Feature bill with another Night Flight fave, Pinball Summer.

Night Flight contributor Mike Vanderbilt remembers the movie that “was part of the early ’80s arbitrary genre of Porkysploitation.”

1983’s Joysticks never aired on “Night Flight,” not that we can remember, but today it seems like it’s the kind of movie that might have been custom-made for Friday and Saturday late-night cable TV programming, a midnight movie you’d see throughout the late ’80s to the mid-’90s.

The movie has everything that a twelve year old kid (or a twelve year old at heart) would want to see — tits and ass, raunchy humor, video games, and Joe Don Baker — even if the movie had to be edited for television.

Joysticks was part of the early ‘80s arbitrary genre of Porkysploitation.

While the roots of the teen sex comedy — as well as the concept of the “snobs versus slobs” — can be traced back to earlier films like Animal House, Porky’s‘ Canadian success really ushered in the era of raunchy, trashy comedies featuring a group of horny young men on the make.

These movies flooded theaters, video stores, and, of course, late night cable TV throughout the Reagan era.

Joysticks also crosses over into Atarisploitation, which includes such flicks as 1979’s Tilt, 1980’s Pinball Summer (aka Pick-Up Summer), and 1983’s Nightmares.

Even the title Joysticks, while seemingly innocent, implies something dirty to anyone with a juvenile sense of humor.

What some younger gamers might not remember is that — in an era before Nintendo was king and their heel turned face mascot Mario Mario became a favorite of children around the world — video games had a sleazy aura about them, due to generally being found in smoky bars and sleazy pool halls (do we really need to bring up Custer’s Revenge?)

With its generous helpings of nudity, sleazy bad guys (and sleazier good guys), Joysticks certainly represents the nasty charm of that moment in time.

Joysticks was shot in a brisk thirteen days in the fall of 1982 and released the following spring. It was shot as a quick cash-in on what was assumed to be the video game fad.

“When we were testing [Wacko] in San Antonio, I noticed a line of kids standing in front of some machine in the lobby of the theater,” Greydon Clark explained in a video interview featured on the Joysticks Blu-ray.

Clark: “It was the first video game I’d seen and I saw all these kids eager to put their quarters in this machine and I thought that’s a great idea for a picture, there must be a movie here somewhere.”

Clark was already an established director of the finest drive-in trash throughout the ’70s, diving into all the best sub-genres including Blaxploitation with 1973’s Tom and 1976’s Black Shampoo, as well as Satansploitation with 1977’s Satan’s Cheerleaders.

In 1980, Clark delivered a double dose of sci-fi junk with the forgettable The Return and the extremely enjoyable proto-Predator alien invasion flick, Without Warning.

Clark’s best known film, however, may be his 1985 Joe Don Baker vehicle Final Justice, thanks to an appearance on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Joysticks marked the first appearance of Midway’s Satan’s Hollow video game.

Clark felt that using a brand new game in a sequence would increase the appeal of the film, an idea nicked by 1989’s 90-minute commercial for Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. 3, The Wizard.

Joysticks features all the coolest ’80s fashions: bitchin’ babes in striped tops and short shorts are the order of the day, and the film’s hero is perpetually clad in pastel polo shirts and skinny ties.

The plot is of the basic “snobs versus slobs” variety that Doug Kenney arguably perfected with 1980’s Caddyshack, peppered with plenty of T&A and literal farting.

Within ten minutes, the audience is treated to four beautiful breasts belonging to a brunette Pat Benatar-type and a blonde Farrah Fawcett-type (lest the film be accused of not being inclusive).

There’s also a rockin’ opening theme with an of-its-time refrain (“totally awesome video games!”) that sounds like it should be advertising the latest release from Capcom, LJN, or Konami.

By the way, in 2016 Eczema Records finally released the film’s new wave-y, power pop influenced soundtrack — composed by Ray Knehnetsky and performed by Legion — on glorious vinyl.

Our heroes are cribbed from the Animal House playbook: Jonathan Andrew McDorfus (Jim Greenleaf) is this film’s John “Bluto” Blutarsky (or perhaps the Grossout for any King Frat aficionados) and a proto-Tim McVey-type (as featured in Man vs. Snake).

A former senior class president, McDorfus’s brain has been rotted out by video games and he has devolved into a slovenly oaf whose only concern is getting the high score on Pac-Man.

Leif Greene portrays Eugene Groebe — the nerd — in a role that seems to have been written for Eddie Deezen.

The leader of the gang is Jefferson Bailey (Scott McGinnis, who popped up as Mr. Adventure in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock), the manager of the most popular video arcade in town who, despite being surrounded by coin-op machines all day, never plays any of the games as a result of an earlier traumatic experience.

There’s something about McGinnis though, who never comes off as charming like Tim Matheson’s Animal House ladies man Eric Stratton.

Instead, he’s overtly sleazy, and his good looks, high cheekbones, and stylish demeanor are arguably a detriment to his character. He looks like he’d fit in better with the snobs than the slobs.

Corrine Bohrer — best remembered as Zed’s girlfriend in Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol — is in full Valley Girl mode as Patsy Rutter, a regular customer of the arcade.

However, her father wants the place shut down and, of course, her dad Joseph Rutter is played by none other than…

Joe Don Fucking Baker!

Baker displays his deft gift for playing his comedy straight. He simply looks like the kind of guy that doesn’t want to see anybody else having a good time and he uses that to his advantage as he terrorizes the youngsters around the video arcade.

Baker may not have as good a sense of humor as someone who appears in Joysticks probably should, though.

It’s long been rumored that the actor would like to kick the asses of the “Mystery Science Theater” gang due to their merciless taunting during his 1975 action flick Mitchell.

Rutter and his dopey nephews Arnie — John Diehl, who, according to IMDB has “[played] various delinquents, wackos and psychos in his earlier years, he has matured into a fine screen character actor” — and Max (character actor John Voldstad) attempt to shut down the arcade through theft and protest, but they are foiled by our heroes at every turn.

The most memorable character from Joysticks is without a doubt punk rock gamer extraordinaire King Vidiot, portrayed by Jonathan Gries.

Gries is a favorite of cult-film enthusiasts having appeared in TerrorVision, High School U.S.A., and The Monster Squad and, of course, he was also Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite.

King Vidiot and his harem of punk rock babes steal every scene they appear in, particularly when riding tiny motorcycles.

The film’s climax features King Vidiot versus Jefferson Bailey, competing for the soul of the video arcade in a game of Super Pac-Man.

Who wins? You’ll just have to plop down some quarters to find out… but you probably already have a pretty good idea if you’ve seen any of these ’80s-era teen sex comedies, and we think you probably have.

Joysticks features several of Clark’s usual associates behind the camera as well as in front of it.

Writer Curtis Burch worked as an editor on both Without Warning and The Return (he also wrote the screenplay) and cinematographer Nicolas Josef von Sternberg shot Wacko for Greydon Clark and would go on to work on Final Justice as well.

It’s worth noting that Sterberg has over fifty Director of Photography credits to his name, many of which will be of interest to fans of genre cinema, including Dolemite, Charles Band’s Tourist Trap, and a favorite of modern VHS collectors, 1976’s Death Drug.

The film’s editor, Larry Bock, also has an impressive list of genre credits to his name, having cut Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and Roger Corman’s Galaxy Of Terror (a quality bit of Aliensploitation featuring Sid Haig and the late Erich Moran), 1980’s Alligator (a Jaws knock-off), and 1986’s Critters.

Bock also worked as an assistant editor on one of this writer’s personal favorites, 1985’s Fright Night.

According to Clark, the week that Joysticks opened it was the #1 movie across the country.

Joysticks is arguably the best (perhaps only) representation of video gaming in a pre-gamer gate world. Thanks to cable TV, the film has garnered a small but loyal cult following.

Joysticks has some very funny moments, plenty of pretty girls, and some terrifically oddball performances. It’s certainly of-its-time — and charmingly stupid — but, really, it’s a lot of fun.

Tickets for Joysticks and Pinball Summer are now available for the screening on May 19th, at the Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028.

About Mike Vanderbilt

Mike Vanderbilt is a freelance writer and contributor based on the south side of Chicago. He has written for The A.V. Club, The Chicago Reader, and Daily Grindhouse, tackling a variety of subjects ranging from Cheap Trick, George Lucas' Red Tails, and for better or worse he knows a thing or two about online dating. A bartender by trade, when not mixing cocktails, Mike hosts and produces the Drinks On Monday With The Strike Team podcast, as well as Revenge Of The Pod People. He can also be seen performing with his power pop band The Romeros and punk act Modern Day Rippers.
  • Reldnew

    The advertising push for Joysticks was heavy. Lots of spots on MTV if I remember, and it opened in a respectable, first-run theater in our town. In grand b-movie tradition, the print graphics shared little with the movie, and the film adverts seemed to be of higher quality and featured scenes that weren’t in the movie.