Summer of the 80’s: Better Off Dead

Summer of the 80s is a weekly column that will run until the end of August in which I watch a movie released during the summer movie season of the 1980s that I’ve never seen before. Every Friday, I’ll write about an 80s movie that came out on the same day, or near the same day, that correlates with the post here on the site. So follow me as I travel back in time to discover my lost summer at the movies.

About the movie

Better Off Dead had a bit of a weird release schedule.  It was in limited release on August 23, 1985 through Warner Bros. Pictures before it opened wide on Oct. 11, 1985.  It was written and directed by Savage Steve Holland (One Crazy SummerHow I Got Into College).  The film stars John Cusack, Diane Franklin, Amanda Wyss, Curtis Armstrong, Dan Schneider, Yuji Okumoto, Kim Darby and David Ogden Stiers.  This PG-rated film’s production budget is unknown and it earned $56 thousand in its opening weekend (remember, it was a limited release) before going on to gross $10.2 million domestically.  It is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD.


You’ve blown up your neighbor’s mom.  Your seven-year-old brother has better luck with women than you do.  Your girlfriend has a new boyfriend.  Relax, you’re never… (Better Off Dead)

My thoughts

Better Off Dead marks the second Savage Steve Holland movie to appear on my Summer of the 80s column, with One Crazy Summer being the first (which you can read about here).  While I enjoyed One Crazy Summer, I liked Better Off Dead even more.  The film seems to have a story that flows better and the oddball humor seemed to hit more often than not.  Much like in One Crazy Summer, there is a bit of animation to start the film out, though the animation only really pops up briefly during the rest of the film unlike in One Crazy Summer where it pops up with some frequency.

The movie follows Lane Meyer, a young teen who is literally obsessed with his girlfriend Beth.  When she dumps him for a star football player, he becomes at times suicidal.  He figures he can win back his girlfriend if he is able to ski down the treacherous K-12 slope since Beth’s new jock boyfriend can do it.  Lane sets out to complete this task and along the way meets a French foreign exchange student named Monique who helps him complete his goal while their attraction for each other grows.

The thing I really enjoy about Savage Steve Holland movies is the random and odd humor.  Often times, the movie kind of stops so it can go off on some weird comedic tangent.  One of my favorite tangents is a Frankenstein fantasy in which Lane electrifies a hamburger and it comes to life and plays guitar and sings a song.  It’s delightfully weird and fun all at once.

There were quite a few funny elements in the film as well.  Lane’s mom is a terrible cook and everything she makes seems to turn out turquoise (even bacon).  One of her dinners actually starts to crawl off of Lane’s plate as he casually looks at it as if this is a normal occurence.  Lane’s younger kid brother, Badger, who doesn’t say a single word in the entire film, is constantly creating something or learning how to do things.  He builds a working laser gun, learns how to have trashy women at his beck and call and builds a space shuttle from vaccuum parts and then launches into space.  Lane’s best friend, Charles De Mar, is essentially a junky, only he likes to snort Jello and snow as if it was cocaine.  I also can’t forget to mention the Asian car-racing brothers, one of which talks like classic sportscaster Howard Cosell, and the paperboy that stalks Lane for money.  “I want my two dollars!”

John Cusack has been on record stating that he hates Better Off Dead (and One Crazy Summer) and I’m not quite sure why.  I found it to be a really fun movie that provided plenty of laughs.  I was even somewhat invested in the romance in the film, something I wasn’t invested in while watching One Crazy Summer.  Perhaps Better Off Dead just isn’t John Cusack’s brand of humor and that’s okay.  Our comedic tastes all vary.  I like comedies that are random and contain a little off-the-beaten-path humor and am less likely to enjoy something with very broad humor.  If you’re looking for an entertaining 80s movie, Better Off Dead makes for a good time.  The only thing that would have made the film even better was if Savage Steve Holland had injected the already funny movie with some Bobcat Goldthwait madness like he did in One Crazy Summer.


After people protested the film’s original tagline, “Sometimes…you’re Better Off Dead,” it was changed to “Relax…you’re never Better Off Dead.”

During the scene where the Meyer family are opening Christmas presents, the large toy robot that is seen is Twiki from the TV show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

When Beth (Amanda Wyss) shows up at the high school dance, the person standing behind her is wearing Freddy Krueger’s sweater.  Wyss played Krueger’s first victim in A Nightmare on Elm Street.

When Lane gets home from the dance, he opens his brother’s door to find lovely ladies in his room.  The camera angle is that of the classic scene from The Graduate where the lady’s legs are spread so we can see the boy in the doorway admiring her.

According to Savage Steve Holland, the film is mostly autobiographical.  Holland really was suicidal when his high school girlfriend left him for the captain of the ski team.  He also really did have a paperboy named Johnny Gasparini who would harass him for two dollars.  Holland stated that when the film came out, the ex-girlfriend contacted him to apologize.

by Ben McBride


2 thoughts on “Summer of the 80’s: Better Off Dead

  1. Ah, Ben…… of my favorites. I had a feeling you would be viewing this epic lost film from the 80’s. Great pick. I want my two dollars…….cash.


  2. Another great point……a love the fact that the rival skiier in the movie was named Roy Stalin. Also, one of my favorites is Curtis Armstrong as the sidekick, Charles De Mar. Great film.


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