Because Red Dawn was made in 1984, it butts right up against my pre-1985 movie prejudice. Unfortunately, I had no idea before I watched it just how much it would butt up against my “right-wing fantasy flick” prejudice, or my “horribly written plot and dialogue” prejudice, or my “amazingly bad acting” prejudice. Yes, this movie was basically a nightmare. A nightmare eerily reminiscent of when I was a second-grader delivering newspapers in a small Midwestern town, wondering if and when I was going to see a mushroom cloud in the distance, signaling the onset of World War III. Yes, my Republican dad hyped up the cold war enough to leave me suspecting that the bombs were going to start raining down at any given moment. Having seen this movie, I now understand where he might’ve gotten that idea.
True to its right-wing roots, Red Dawn doesn’t mess around with a bunch of foreplay—it gets straight to the action in under two minutes, with commies raining down from the sky to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Colorado town of Calumet. Among the first people killed in the attack sequence are the black schoolteacher and the father of young Arturo—proof that it’s not a good idea to have too much skin pigmentation when you’re living in a conservative fantasy world. The movie is also very quick to demonstrate its anti-gun control stance, as the camera focuses on a “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands” bumper sticker just before it pans to show one of the godless pinkos pulling a gun from the cold, dying hand of an American Good Ol’ Boy. The movie leaves no question as to exactly what kind of people want to come take your guns away.
Patrick Swayze rescues his tiger-blooded brother and a handful of other kids from the high school, and they stop at a gas station just outside of town to load up on guns, arrows, Wheaties, and Coca-Cola before heading off into the mountains to set up camp. Now I’d love to recount the gruesome details of the five or so months of communist occupation that ensue, but then I’d feel just as bad about doing that to you fine readers as I do for making my friends sit through all excruciating 114 minutes of this. The short version is: they take on a couple high school girls (Marty McFly’s mom and Ferris Bueller’s sister) and then start an elite paramilitary operation—“The Wolverines,” after their high school football team—to fight the Cuban/Soviet regime that has taken over their hometown and apparently other parts of the United States. Eventually they’re joined by a true military man—a Texan—and he helps to galvanize their efforts, until he gets killed. I won’t spoil it by saying how many of the good guys die, but all of them do. Much like you would expect from a severely repressed imagination, there’s little more than low-level sexual tension between the guys and the girls, with the exception of the crazier of the two girls, who ends up having some fairly creepy interactions with the Texas ranger. It probably is worth mentioning, though, that Swayze does go on to make Dirty Dancing with one of the girls before Sheen dazzles her in a police precinct waiting area in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. (<–click that link, you won’t regret it.)
Part of my inspiration for watching this movie was that I recently heard that the remake, due to be released sometime this year, was originally shot to have China figure as the communist enemy but has been modified to feature North Korea as the invaders. Of course, it’s a little ridiculous to think that North Korea (population = Texas, GDP = Vermont) could mount any kind of respectable invasion of the US. (Nuclear combat might be a different story…? Interestingly, the [fake] trailer for the remake fixed the factual error from the original trailer. Did anyone else catch it?) Something that the war hawks who thrive on this type of movie don’t seem to notice, though, is that the movie has a subtext that would seem to undermine US foreign policy. The Wolverines are insurgents battling the occupation of an invading power – “Because we live here!” Apparently some folks don’t see an inconsistency with labeling insurgents overseas fighting against US occupation as terrorists. Oh, right – the insurgents here are good ol’ down home football-playing Amurricans.