by Eric Bradner


Messy Tessie, Valerie Vomit, Foul Phil …Damn, but it’s tempting to put a psych 101 spin on this movie and imagineer it to be a statement about “the other” and how society marginalizes those who don’t fit it’s narrow notions of beauty and appropriate behavior. But really, now, people, it’s not FREAKS, it’s just a bad film thrown together by a “Dukes of Hazard” director to squeeze even more money out of the famous gross-out  trading card characters, who first appeared in the 80s as a piss-take of the Cabbage Patch Kids. It’s really of most interest to 80s kids seeking nostalgia for bad fashion and cheesy synth-pop, or those with perpetual 10-year-old booger-caca-peepee senses of humor. All others should steer clear unless, like me, you have a high tolerance (some might say fetish) for painfully wrong movies. It received three Razzie nominations, people. I’m serious, it’s a stinker, do not pay full price!  I laughed out loud when the credits came on and said a Topps Chewing Gum production! You just know you're in for some quality entertainment when you see that seal of approval!



Plotwise, it’s the predictable story of a kid who befriends the Garbage Pail Kids (henceforth “GPKs”) and how he gets them to help him win the affections of a girl, and along the way we learn something about ourselves and how to appreciate each other’s differences, blah blah blah… Yecch! The film’s treacly tagline is not  “Out of the garbage can and into your heart” for nothing. Thankfully, the plot is merely a thin ruse to exhibit good old-fashioned body function-based humor. All I can say is, Jesus, Anthony Newley must have been hard up for a paycheck. As the film’s only actor most would recognize, Newley is Cap’n Manzini, the father figure who stewards the GPKs, and is unusually restrained in his performance. I guess if you acted with midgets wearing rubber suits covered with fake pimples and snot, people wouldn’t notice your hamminess as much, either.  Tangerine is the love interest who sells her hideous homemade 80s clothes at the back doors of clubs (“one day I’m gonna be a fashion designer in New York!”). Her boyfriend Juice, the neighborhood bully, is obsessed with beating/humiliating our hero, Dodger, played by blond  “Facts of Life” teen heartthrob McKenzie Astin. Director Rod Amateau would also give his kids some small parts.


The world that the filmmakers have constructed is askew and weird and full of cheaply made signs.  Early on, the GPKs perform an entirely uncalled-for (but not totally unexpected) feel-good musical number “We can do anything by working with each other.”  Talk about offensive! They hide from the Normies and their looks-obsessed hate. Cop-types drive around and abduct kids to the Home for the Ugly, and reinforce the status quo with a “kid, you shouldn’t wear a mask when it’s not Halloween” comment. The home itself has signs on its’ cells with Santa Claus labeled “Too Fat” and Gandhi “Too Skinny.”  Look out for a generic 80s Beverly Hills Cop-type soundtrack defining the film, and an unexpected Pepsi product placement. The Kids get into a fight at a biker bar (“The Toughest Bar In The World”), then party with them (“Hey, this little sucker’s got guts!”), and get driven home drunk! The high school bullies who take the hero’s lunch money appear to be pushing 30. In one of several half-assed attempts at social statement, a sewer has pipes going in different directions labeled variously, “Prime Time TV”, “CIA”, “ City Zoo”, “IRS”, “Toxic Waste”, etc. Perhaps this was a preemptive strike against the people who would claim GPKs to be the foulest sort of content-free commercial tie-in dreck. Another scene demonstrates that it’s also OK for the GPKs to steal a sewing machine, because it’s taken from a place with a sign stating, “Non Union Sweat Shop.” Signs are cheap to make; therefore, so is this film.



Neglected children but always proud, the GPKs act out and call attention to their deformities by various means; Nat Nerd’s public pants-peeing (“Look! Niagara Falls!”), Ali Gator’s indiscriminate toe-biting, Tessie’s inability or unwillingness to control her projectile sneezing a few examples of their transgressive behavior. Cap’n Manzini even comments outright “We cannot choose the way we look, but we can choose the way we act.”


This would be the last film Amateau directed. Tangerine (Katie Barberi) has made a career acting on Mexican soaps, and lead Astin continues to be a working actor in TV and indie films. With a good cast of little people; Greaser Greg was played by Phil Fondacaro, who has enjoyed a long career in flicks such as Troll (Title role), Adams Family Reunion (Cousin It), Phantasm II (hooded dwarf), and Return of the Jedi (an Ewok), and was in 2005’s Land of the Dead.


The Kids look artificial and kinda cheesy (their mouths can’t close), but not without charm. At least it got made before the current ascendance of CGI to the SFX throne; can you imagine a remake with crappy digital effects strewn everywhere? Speaking of special effects, keep an eye out for Tangerine to do an unexpected (unnoticed/snuck in by the editor?) Basic Instinct commando leg-crossing scene about 33 ˝ minutes into the film. And hey, now that I think of it, don’t most theatres ban or at least discourage chewing gum such as Topps? What gives, here? This film is but more proof that eventually almost everything will get reissued on DVD, at least once. Right up there with other 80s short bus classics like Cool As Ice, The Ewoks TV movies, Mannequin and the 2nd Ninja Turtles movie.

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