The New Kids (aka Striking Back)

Dir: Sean S. Cunningham, 1985

7/10

This review is of the uncut version

Re-titled Striking Back in the UK (in a censored version), Sean S. Cunningham’s horror/action hybrid is a, rather, fun little film, with its tongue in its cheek.

After their parents die in a car accident, teenage brother and sister, Loren and Abby McWilliams, go to live with their aunty and uncle.

But, the local gang don’t take too kindly to the siblings after the leader, Dutra (James Spader), has his advances towards Abby, spurned. Waging a war on the pair, before long, Abby and Loren are forced to defend themselves.

Written by Stephen Gyllenhaal (dad of actors Jake and Maggie), The New Kids doesn’t have a statement to make or is trying to make one. It’s sole purpose is to entertain, which it does, surprisingly, well.

Riding on the bandwagon of other underdog films, Cunningham’s movie feeds the audience the pleasure of retribution towards bullies, albeit in a more violent way than, say, The Karate Kid does.

Through all the violence and sadistic edge that is prevalent, there is a tinge of black comedy. The characters are stereotypical high school students and the gang are straight out of a comic book.

Spader, as gang leader Dutra, has more camp than Butlin’s. John Inman would have told him to take it down a notch. Primarily cast as the baddie, Spader can’t portray evil very well. Sleaze and being an arsehole are his best efforts.

The gang are about as threatening as celery. The Village People could strike more fear into the heart than this lot do.

But, it’s there that the director fails. Cunningham is unable to elicit any sense of fear or dread. Even menace is a bit of a push. The viewer needs to feel unease and an empathy for the character and Cunningham can’t do that.

Despite his success with Friday The 13th, the director can’t shake off the amateur vibe that comes with this film. The acting is subpar and the characters uninteresting. Eventually, the movie falls into familiar territory with the unrealistic death scenes, reminding you of a grindhouse b-movie. That being said, the effect of a burning head is, actually, very impressive and does make you wince.

Regardless of the abundance of the negative aspects, The New Kids is still an enjoyable experience and is a great time filler of an evening.

Easygoing entertainment that won’t tax your brain.

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