Every time I see a list of movies that came out in certain years in the ’80s, I’m amazed, and 1985 is no exception. So many movies that I still hold in high regard came out that year, but two films came out that really captured my attention. These two movies taught me about being strong and fighting for what’s fair and just, even when everyone around you thinks you’re going about it the wrong way. These two films are Red Sonja and The Legend of Billie Jean.
Based on Robert E. Howard’s comic universe, Red Sonja looked to capitalize on the success of Conan the Barbarian and other sword and sorcery films that seemed to be in endless supply in the early ’80s. Arnold Schwarzenegger was even tapped to appear alongside Brigitte Nielsen. He did not reprise his role as Conan, though Conan and Red Sonja crossed paths and swords in the Marvel Comics magazines and comics of their respective titles. It turns out the film did not have the rights to use Conan’s name. Instead, Schwarzenegger played Kalidor, a protector of the She-Devil with a Sword.
The story is not new territory for a sword and sorcery movie: Red Sonja is out for revenge against a murderous queen who is responsible for the death of her family. Among Gedren’s victims is Red Sonja’s sister, who was a keeper of a talisman that gives Gedren great powers. Sonja vows to use her sword to avenge her sister and the city that Gedren destroyed, and Kalidor, who was set to destroy the talisman before it could do any harm, teams up with Red Sonja to fulfill his duty. There is a fun cast of characters, including a young prince named Tarn, played by Ernie Reyes, Jr., who also wants to defeat Gedren.
Is it a particularly good movie? It is not. However, like many sword and sorcery films of its ilk, it’s a lot of fun to watch. The highlight of the film by far is Ennio Morricone’s score. Even if you don’t want to sit through the film, it’s worth seeking out the score and giving it a listen. Given the lukewarm reception the film has received over the years, Morricone seems to be the only one who didn’t suffer some career bumps for having been a part of it.
Even so, it’s a movie I’m always happy to revisit from time to time, especially when I need to see one of my favorite comic characters come off the page and onto the screen. I would have loved to have seen a film where Red Sonja and Conan teamed up for some of the adventures they had in the comics, but alas, it was not to be.
Moving to a more contemporary setting, but keeping with the theme of ladies seeking justice, The Legend of Billie Jean follows a group of teens who get more than they bargained for when they seek restitution from a bully. Perhaps $608 for a scooter isn’t as high-stakes as a magic talisman, but when you’re Billie Jean Davy, fair is fair.
Starring Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Peter Coyote, and Yeardley Smith (whom you may know as the voice of Lisa Simpson), the movie takes place in Texas. Helen Slater’s Billie Jean starts the movie as a traditional teenage beauty but winds up as a punk icon by the end of the film. After a local store owner’s sons trash her brother Binx’s (Christian Slater’s) scooter, Billie Jean goes with her friends Putter (Yeardley Smith) and Ophelia to the police. When Detective Ringwald (Peter Coyote) tells her to wait, she decides to go to Mr. Pyatt to ask for the money to fix the scooter. Mr. Pyatt suggests there are ways she could get the money from him and attempts to assault her. Binx gets his hands on a gun and accidentally shoots Mr. Pyatt, thereby making him and Billie Jean fugitives.
All Billie Jean wants is the $608 and an apology from Mr. Pyatt, but he refuses. The band of teens, now on the run, sneak into Lloyd Muldaur’s house. Lloyd is a rich kid, and he helps Billie Jean make a video to plead her case after she shaves her head to the iconic cut that even people who haven’t seen the movie recognize. Unbeknownst to them, the tape starts a movement among teenagers, and Billie Jean has become an unlikely hero, with everyone embracing Billie Jean’s battle cry, “Fair is fair!”
The best part of the film is the climax, where Pyatt is trying to cash in on Billie Jean’s popularity by holding a rally. So many girls decide to help Billie Jean evade the police by styling their hair like hers, and the rally ends with the giant Billie Jean statue going up in flames.
Like Red Sonja, The Legend of Billie Jean isn’t a particularly important film. It has a cult following, and rightfully so. Even though it’s not breaking any boundaries, it’s a fun movie to watch. And Pat Benatar’s driving and inspiring anthem, “Invincible,” is an iconic theme song. With lyrics about standing up and facing an enemy with the power of conviction, it’s just as relevant today as it was when it was released. I know I play it a lot, especially when I need a little kick of “Fair is fair” in my day.
So while these two films may not be held in high regard as the best of 1985, they stand the test of time, at least to me, in terms of being iconic for portraying the strength of women who have something to fight for.
What memories do you have of these films? Do they stand the test of time for you?