Viking Night: Better Off Dead

By Bruce Hall

February 19, 2013

Pig hats were quite popular in the '80s. No, we swear.

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Anyone between the ages of 30 and 45 probably has a special place in their heart for Better off Dead. And why not? It’s got a little bit of everything assuming you’re a teenage boy living in the year 1985. If you are, prepared to be dazzled by some of your favorite things - crude, hand-drawn animation, teenage angst and rebellion, girls with feathered hair, the Van Halen dancing Pig Burger, an Asian Howard Cosell impersonator, Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, a 1967 Camaro, and the Space Shuttle.

It’s also directed by someone named Savage Steve Holland, it stars John Cusack at his unfinished best, and it’s even got a neurotic fat kid and a pretty French girl. So why, you ask, do I sound vaguely unhappy? Sure, it's got a big following. It's got a handful of great quotes. It's not very long and it doesn't really ask much of you, intellectually. But on this - maybe the 10th time I've seen the movie - it's just not so funny anymore, and the reason is "all of the above." Cusack is all that still works, although even his reliably deadpan schtick starts looking all too real, all too soon.

Cusack is Lane Meyer, a cocky suburban teen who has no idea what hell his life already is, thanks to the criminally insane level of obsession he has for his girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss). His father (David Ogden Stiers) is a gullible dullard who's convinced all teenagers are on drugs. His little brother Badger (Scooter Stevens) is a proto Bond villain science whiz who never speaks. His best friend Charles (Curtis Armstrong) is a psychotic drug fiend. His mother seems to suffer from some kind of brain injury. And Beth? She dumps Lane for Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier), captain of the ski team, while the opening credits are still rolling.


And in the blink of an eye Lane isn't so cocky anymore, and things that were once background noise suddenly get turned up to 11. His father pesters him to get his derelict Chevy off the lawn. Badger's luck with the ladies couldn't be better. Charles is always around. A pair of Japanese street racers in Monday Night Football jackets stalk him daily. The paperboy starts trying to kill him. Beth doesn't return his calls. The basketball team kicks his ass. Stalin keeps persecuting him.

Cats and dogs, living together, mass hysteria.

It's enough to convince Lane he'd be better off dead, and after several (supposedly) hilariously unsuccessful attempts to snuff it, he devises a cunning plan to destroy Stalin and win back his flaky, backstabbing girlfriend once and for all. What he doesn’t realize is that the beautiful foreign exchange student living next door (Monique, played by Diane Franklin) has eyes for him, and things might not be as bad as they seem. Also, Lane happens to be a pretty good skier himself; he’s just unable to qualify for the team thanks to Stalin’s cock-blocking. If only there were some way, between all of these people and all of these things - and the Bitchin’ Camaro - there was a way he could redeem himself and find the love he so clearly, obsessive-compulsively believes he deserves.

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