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Better Off Dead is a 1985 American surrealist black comedy film written and directed by Savage Steve Holland. It stars John Cusack as high school student Lane Myer, who becomes suicidal after his girlfriend breaks up with him shortly before Christmas.
In the town of Greendale in Northern California, high school student Lane Myer s two main interests are skiing and his girlfriend of six months, Beth Truss. Shortly before Christmas, Beth dumps Lane for the handsome and popular captain of the ski team, Roy Stalin. Roy is an arrogant bully who unfairly rejects Lane at ski team tryouts. Beth also criticizes Lane s car, an old station wagon. Although Lane also owns a 1967 Camaro, he has not been able to get it running and it sits in the driveway in a dilapidated state.
Lane lives in a suburban development with his mother, Jenny, a ditzy housewife who routinely concocts creepy (and creeping) family meals; his genius little brother, Badger, who never speaks but at the age of almost 8 can build powerful lasers and attract trashy women from How-to books; and his lawyer father, Al, who daily tries to stop the menacing paperboy, Johnny Gasparini, from breaking his garage door windows with thrown newspapers. Furthermore, Johnny claims that the Myers owe him two dollars for newspapers, and persistently hounds Lane, yelling I want my two dollars! Lane also regularly encounters two Korean drag racers, one of whom learned to speak English by listening to Howard Cosell.
Lane cannot get past Beth s rejection and decides that death is the only way out of his misery. He makes several half-hearted attempts at suicide, which all comically fail. With the help of his best friend, Charles de Mar (who in lieu of not being able to get real drugs in their small town, constantly inhales everyday substances like Jell-O, snow, and nitrous oxide from a whipped cream can), Lane tries to ski the K-12, the highest peak in town, in hopes of getting Beth back, but wipes out. Lane is further embarrassed when he gets fired from his humiliating fast food job at Pig Burgers in front of Roy and Beth, who are there on a date. To top it all, he increasingly begins to suffer from neurotic hallucinations owing to the mounting frustrations in his life.
As Lane attempts to either end his life or win back his ex-girlfriend, he gradually gets to know a new girl: a French foreign-exchange student named Monique Junot, who has a crush on him. She is staying with Lane s overbearing neighbor Mrs. Smith, who continually tries to force Monique into being a girlfriend for her socially awkward son Ricky. The pair are so annoying that she pretends she cannot speak English. Monique, a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, turns out to be an excellent auto mechanic and skier who helps Lane fix his Camaro and tries to build his confidence. When Roy insults Monique, Lane challenges him to a ski race down the K-12, with the winner to be captain of the ski team. Monique helps Lane prepare for the race, which he ultimately wins despite losing a ski and being pursued by Johnny. Beth rushes to embrace Lane at the finish line, but he rejects her and after besting Ricky (who attempts to keep Lane from rescuing Monique from the restraints of his mother) in a ski-pole swordfight, drives off with Monique in his Camaro. Lane and Monique are last seen kissing on home plate at Dodger Stadium, with Johnny bicycling towards them, while in a mid-credit scene Badger launches a homemade space shuttle from his room through the roof of the house.
- John Cusack as Lane Myer
- David Ogden Stiers as Al Myer
- Diane Franklin as Monique Junot
- Kim Darby as Jenny Myer
- Curtis Armstrong as Charles De Mar
- Amanda Wyss as Beth Truss
- Aaron Dozier as Roy Stalin
- Demian Slade as Johnny Gasparini
- Scooter Stevens as Badger Myer
- Yuji Okumoto as Yee Sook Ree
- Brian Imada as Chen Ree
- Laura Waterbury as Mrs. Smith
- Dan Schneider as Ricky Smith
- Chuck Mitchell as Rocko
- Vincent Schiavelli as Mr. Kerber
- Taylor Negron as Mailman
- Rick Rosenthal as Smitty
- E. G. Daily as Herself
Parts of the film were shot in Alta, Brighton, and Snowbird in Utah.
The hand-drawn animation in the movie was animated by Savage Steve Holland’s collaborator Bill Kopp, who would later work with him on One Crazy Summer and Eek! The Cat. A dream sequence where hamburgers and fries come to life was produced in stop motion.
According to an interview with Diane Franklin on the RetroZest Podcast, actor Yano Anaya, who played one of Johnny Gasparini s paperboy gang members, also looped all of Demian Slade s dialogue as Johnny the paperboy. Anaya also played bully Grover Dill in A Christmas Story and young Michael Anthony in Van Halen s Hot For Teacher music video.
One of few films Siskel & Ebert featured (they gave two thumbs down) on their weekly television show, yet bypassed entirely in print publications (in either s respective Chicago newspapers). Bill Cosford of The Miami Herald wrote, Better Off Dead has the body of a tired teen comedy but the soul of an inspired student film; it s the first movie in a long time to interrupt itself periodically with flights of animated fancy. At one point, romantic foreshadowing is accomplished by a clay-mation sequence featuring cheeseburgers in love. At another, a lovesick teen draws a cartoon picture of his faithless girlfriend, and the drawing tells him to get lost.
According to Savage Steve Holland, Cusack did not like the film and walked out of a screening, later confronting Holland, saying Better Off Dead was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don t speak to me. Holland claimed that Cusack felt he had been made to look foolish and that his comments made me not care about movies anymore . In a 2013 Reddit Ask Me Anything chat, however, Cusack was asked if he hated filming Better Off Dead, and responded, No, I just thought it could have been better, but I think that about almost all my films. I have nothing against the film…. Glad people love it still.
Better Off Dead holds a rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews with a weighted average of 6.9/10. The site s consensus reads: Better Off Dead is an anarchic mix of black humor and surreal comedy anchored by John Cusack s winsome, charming performance.
|Better Off Dead: Original A&M Soundcrack|
|Soundtrack album by
The film s soundtrack was produced primarily by Rupert Hine.
The opening track, With One Look (The Wildest Dream) , was produced by Hine and features Cy Curnin and Jamie West-Oram of The Fixx on lead vocals and guitars respectively. Hine had previously worked with Curnin and West-Oram, and also contributed vocals to the song. The following track, Arrested By You , as well as Better Off Dub (Title Music) and Race The K-12 (Instrumental) were performed solely by Hine.
Dancing in Isolation features Terri Nunn of Berlin on lead vocals. Hine produced the song and was reportedly under consideration to produce an album for Berlin.
Come to Your Rescue was performed by Thinkman, a group formed by, and including, Hine for the purpose of restoring his solo career without the music press knowing about it. West-Oram also provided guitar work to this song, as well as the instrumental The Falcon Beat .
The only two tracks on the CD without Hine s involvement are A Little Luck and One Way Love (Better Off Dead). Valley Girl s Elizabeth Daily, credited on the soundtrack as E. G. Daily, sang lead vocals on both songs and also performed them in the film during the high school dance scene.
- Tracks 1–6, 8, and 10 produced by Rupert Hine.
- Tracks 7 and 9 produced by Steve Goldstein.
- Martin Ansell – guitar, vocals
- Cellophane – keyboards
- Cy Curnin – vocals, backing vocals
- E.G. Daily – vocals, backing vocals
- Bob Getter – bass
- Steve Goldstein – keyboards
- Matthew Harte – vocals, backing vocals
- Rupert Hine – lead and backing vocals, all other instruments
- Craig Hull – guitar
- Leo Hurll – bass
- Craig Krampf – drums
- Trevor Morais – drums
- Terri Nunn – vocals
- Geoffrey Richardson – guitar
- Chris Rodel – bass
- Angela Rubin – backing vocals
- Thinkman – vocals
- Waddy Wachtel – guitar
- Jamie West-Oram – guitar
- Daniel Zimmerman – backing vocals
A number of songs that appear in the film do not appear on the CD soundtrack, including Howard Jones Like To Get To Know You Well , Van Halen s Everybody Wants Some!! , Neil Sedaka s Breaking Up Is Hard to Do , Paul Simon s Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover , Jimi Hendrix s Foxy Lady , Frank Sinatra singing A Man Alone by Rod McKuen, Hall & Oates She s Gone , and Muddy Waters Mannish Boy .
|Plot||After his girlfriend ditches him for a boorish ski jock, Lane decides that suicide is the only answer. However, his increasingly inept attempts bring him only more agony and embarrassment. Filled with the wildest teen nightmares.|
|Directors||Savage Steve Holland|
|Writers||Savage Steve Holland|
|Stars||John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby|
|Produced by||Gil Friesen,Michael Jaffe,Andrew Meyer,William Strom|
|Music by||Rupert Hine|
|Cinematography by||Isidore Mankofsky|
|Film Editing by||Alan Balsam|
|Casting By||Caro Jones|
|Production Design by||Herman F. Zimmerman|
|Set Decoration by||Gary Moreno|
|Costume Design by||Brad R. Loman,David Roester|
|Makeup Department||James R. Scribner,Georgina Williams|
|Production Management||Jack Clements|
|Second Unit Director or Assistant Director||Yudi Bennett,Jann Dutmer,Fred Lerner,Scott Printz|
|Art Department||Rich Cline,Tom J. Furginson,Art Lipschultz,Bill McLaughlin,Bud Peifer Jr.,Drew Struzan,Robert Tanenbaum|
|Sound Department||Bud Alper,Gene Ashbrook,Kevin Durst,William Hooper,Don MacDougall,John L. Mack,Richard Tyler,Dick Vandenberg,Earl Watson,Cary Weitz,Bill Young,Bill Henderson|
|Special Effects by||Roy L. Downey|
|Visual Effects by||William Reilly,Hoyt Yeatman|
|Stunts||Frank Beddor,Sandy Berumen,Cheré Bryson,Hank Calia,Jean Coulter,Greg Wayne Elam,George Fisher,Bill Hart,Keith Harvey,Kent Hays,Johnny Hock,Jeff Jensen,Wayne King,A. Michael Lerner,Fred Lerner,Bill McIntosh,Faith Minton,Tom Morga,Harvey Parry,Wally Rose,Debby Lynn Ross,Cha Cha Sandoval-McMahon,Sharon Schaffer,Rick Seaman,Peter Stader,Neil Summers,Dick Warlock,Mark Yerkes,Bruce Paul Barbour,Jim Dunn|
|Camera and Electrical Department||Malcolm Brown,Jim Dunford,Albert Fitch,Jan Gould,Frederick Hamm,Frank M. Holgate,David Jarrell,Jake Jarrell,Tom Kessenich,Greg Langham,Rick Neff,Fred Sabine,Mark Stanley,Russell Wooley|
|Animation Department||Bill Kopp,Jimmy Picker|
|Casting Department||Robert Lansing Parker|
|Costume and Wardrobe Department||Marcy Lavender,David Roesler|
|Editorial Department||William Fletcher,Nancy Forner,Susanne Gervay,Patrick Magee|
|Location Management||Huw Davies|
|Music Department||David Anderle,Rupert Hine,Ted Roberts,Tom Boyd,Stan Jones,Stephen W. Tayler|
|Script and Continuity Department||Maria Lease|
|Transportation Department||Robert Elsey,Donald Haflich,David Jernigan|
|Additional Crew||Kristin Bundesen,Kristin Burleson,John Byl,Stan Cohen,Curtis Collins,Merle L. Jackson,Audrey Kennedy,Shelley Kirkwood,Mike Marvin,Dona Williams,Isabell Yale,David E. Van Houten|
|Companies||CBS Entertainment Productions, A&M Films|
|Keywords||french girl,skiing,exchange student,high school,teen comedy|