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The Nostalgic Attic: Private School (1983)

12 June 2014

Private School (1983)

"Bubba says we did it once and it was very good for both of us, but I was passed out, so I don't remember a thing."


Private School was the very definition of the type of film I wasn't allowed rent when I was a kid. My mother definitely wasn't stupid; sure, if you looked at the poster and saw just the sweet couple kissing, you might think it was innocent enough. But then the girls mooning comes into focus, as does the tag line, "You won't believe what goes on and what comes off in...". It's no surprise I wanted to watch this one. But as we all know, what one might find funny and titillating as a kid can be very different as an adult - so how does this one hold up?


Things kick off in wonderfully sleazy fashion at the Cherryvale Academy for Girls. Christine (Phoebe Cates; Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Gremlins) reads an erotic novel out loud to her best friend and room mate, Betsy (Kathleen Wilhoite; Witchboard, Campus Man). In the bathroom adjacent, foxy-but-megabitch Jordan (Betsy Russell; Avenging Angel, Tomboy) is soaping up in the shower, unaware that a trio of guys from the nearby Freemont Academy for Men are halfway up a ladder to perve on her through the window. Two of the trio also happen to be boyfriends of the girls inside; nice guy Jim (Mathew Modine; Full Metal Jacket, Vision Quest) is Christines love interest, whilst slobbish oaf, Bubba (Michael Zorek; Hot Moves, Teen Wolf Too) is dating the unfortunate Betsy. 

Christine is still a virgin, and confides in Betsy that she thinks the time is right for her and Jim to finally get it on. Betsy isn't even sure if she's 'done it' or not; Bubba isn't exactly a charmer, and uses any opportunity they are alone to try and get her clothes off, to disastrous results. Christine books a hotel room in a cheap Mexican place for her and Jim to go to after school finishes up. Meanwhile, the nasty Jordan decides she doesn't want to see the likable Christine happy, so she plans to try and bag Jim for herself. This involves a topless horseback ride in front of the whole school. The guys try and sneak into the girls school in drag, hoping nobody will notice. When Jordan sees Jim, she pretends not to notice he's a man, and tries to give him a naked massage, just as Christine walks in. Will Christine and Jim get back together? Or will Jordan succeed in breaking them up? Will Betsy and Bubba finally do it and remember it? Who knows what could happen in a Private School... 


There really isn't much more to it than what's described above, but like many of these films, it's the hi jinks between the plot points that really matter. Films like Meatballs or Moving Violations show that you don't need much of a story once you have a bunch of enjoyable characters and enough gags to fill out the running time. Although somewhat lacking in the characters department, Private School  definitely delivers on the jokes to keep you entertained. From the previously mentioned 'peeping tom' staple of the genre, to awkward boners on the dance floor, most of the humour falls into the crass category; but since when is that a bad thing? Highlights include the three guys dressing up as women, Bubba's trip to the ladies shower, the offended old ladies being brought on a tour of the campus, only to show up at just the wrong time, the headmistress getting it on with the chauffeur in the back seat of a car while the whole college listens in... there is nearly too much to mention. Sure, none of it will have you howling in your seat, but with the right group of people, the film could be a blast.


As I said, the film is somewhat lacking in truly great characters, but the cast is good fun and helps lift it out of the bland bin. Modine and Cates do their best to look young and innocent, and they are fairly sweet as a couple. It almost seems like a step down for Cates, though, after her memorable performance in Fast Times at Ridgemont High the year before. Still, she is a welcome addition to the cast, and the film would be worse without her. For me though, the true stars of Private School are Michael Zorak and Kathleen Wilhoite. They are great fun whenever they are on screen, and Zorak steals the show with his disgusting behaviour throughout. I'm pretty sure his character went to jail after the events in this film. Wilhoite is well known to horror fans as the bonkers Zarabeth from Witchboard, and while she is kooky here, she puts in a much more likable performance.

Now, it's hard to mention this film without people remembering the other star; Betsy Russell. She is probably the reason why most people still remember this one, and it's due to the amount of flesh she manages to get on display. She is a fairly campy actress, but she seems to suit the material perfectly. Her topless horse ride and other scenes of nudity have helped etch this one into the annals of 'teen sex comedy' lore firmly, and is up there with co-star Cates' nude scene in the previously mentioned Fast Times. She went on to star in several other similarly themed films, and she seemed to have a blast while doing so. We really don't have em anymore like we used to. Special mention should also be made of the fact that we get an extended cameo from the queen of erotic flicks, Sylvia Kristel as the sex education teacher. She's there essentially to connect the film to the earlier Private Lessons, in which Private School is a loose sequel. She isn't the best comedy actress going, but she has a bit of fun with her character.


Directed by Noel Black, the film actually looks great, and isn't nearly as cheap looking as you would expect. It has plenty of well shot scenes, and one sticks out well in my mind - the girls doing their warm ups for gym to the sounds of  'The American Girl', by Rick Springfield. The segment could almost be a stand alone moment, and somehow it manages to sum up the genre in ways that is difficult for me to do through the written word. It's moments like this that make it all worth it, to me, and helps give a film like this it's own identity. Cates also manages to land two tracks on the soundtrack, and she sounds great. The title track, 'Your're Breaking my Heart' by Harry Nilsson, is also quite memorable, mainly for the refrain 'You're breaking my heart, so fuck you' as it plays over a freeze-frame of Cates looking cute and innocent in class.

You probably know yourself if you'll enjoy this one by the poster alone. It promises nudity and comedy, in which it delivers both in spades. the comedy is going to be highly subjective in material like this; either you dig it or you don't. It's also great to see some of the actors in their earliest roles, and the film has some great moments that will stick in your head after the tape has finished rewinding. And hey, if you are still in doubt, I have just two words for you: Betsy Russell.



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4 Comments:

At 12 June 2014 at 12:34 , Blogger Wes M said...

Very cool John, I love that pic of Matthew Modine in drag. Reading these posts, discovering these movies out of time makes me realize exactly what I wasn't watching in the late 80's, so I'm keeping an eye out for the likes of Nightshift, Spring Break, Sixteen Candles and this one which looks like it could be fun... I dunno if we talked about this before I could never relate to these movies when I was kid - I went to an all-boys school and talking to girls was difficult enough let alone scoring with one of them, so I felt better at home with Horror movies, or something bitter and twisted like River's Edge ! Y'know what this place really is an attic of nostalgia - as I was reading this post it unlocked two long lost memories for me - the first, seeing Matthew Modine in the 1985 film Vision Quest (or Crazy For You as it was called here after the Madonna song), and secondly, seeing Betsy Russell in Trapper County War, a sort of First Blood meets Deliverance thriller, and a film I haven't thought about in well over 20 years ! God, Sylvia Kristel - how I loved gazing at her perched on the top shelf of the video shop...

 
At 12 June 2014 at 15:45 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Thanks Wes, I'm always glad to to hear of the flashbacks people get when delving into this sort of stuff - I share all my posts on facebook, and the amount of 'Oh my god - I remember this!' comments I get from friends is delightful. It's funny the sort of junk that's buried in our minds, especially for the likes of ourselves who obsess over film and music, and the euphoric moment of realising that there are nuggets of memories that sit in the basement of our brains waiting to be engaged again...

You know, I definitely agree with you on what kind of teenager you were - I was essentially the same. I also went to an all boys school (good old catlic upbringing, eh?) but I did have quite a few female friends growing up. Still though, I was a shy kid, and I only lost that shyness when I was around 14 or 15. By then, me and my best friend at the time were into films like Blue Velvet and the aforementioned River's Edge, and of course, whatever horror films caught our eye. But we would always balance it out with a comedy, just to keep our brains in check, and to be honest, it's only in the last few years that I fully realised how much I miss these types of films.

I've never seen Trapper County War, though it sounds like a blast! Will definitely put it on the list!

 
At 12 June 2014 at 19:08 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I saw this one in the theater, and haven't seen it since - though it is now in the video vault on special edition DVD for the nostalgia value alone. I am the odd man out here with plain old American public school - which didn't make me any less awkward talking to girls - but did give me plenty of opportunities to ogle them at least. I think Vision Quest was my first Modine movie too - which I loved for the plot of the girl moving in - who didn't dream of such things at the time? Trapper County War is well worth checking out!

 
At 13 June 2014 at 02:45 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

It's been 20 odd years since I've watched Vision Quest, and to be honest, if it wasn't for IMDB, I wouldn't have remembered Modine was even in it! Gonna have to get on it at some point. And that's two rec's for Trapper... so up the list it goes.

 

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