Revenge of the Nerds (1984) – A Review
NERDS! NERDS! NERDS!”
“Where are they?”
“I think they’re talking about us.”
It’s the 80’s version of the classic underdog story. As the poster declares – ‘They’ve been laughed at, picked on and put down. But now it’s time for the odd to get even!’ The movie trailer even had Orson Welles doing the voiceover! I guess around this time Orson would be willing to do anything for a few bucks.
Lewis and Gilbert are heading off to Atoms college to begin their freshman year. Gilbert is nervous, fearing that the troubles he experienced in high school will only follow him to college only on a much bigger scale. Lewis however is unwaveringly optimistic that college will be different. He’s confident that this is going to be a great year. Afterall Atoms has the best computer department in the country!
Very quickly Lewis, Gilbert and other assorted colleagues fall under the abuse of the jock fraternity the Alpha Betas. After being humiliated, tormented, bullied and mocked the ‘Nerds’ finally band together to stand up against the Alphas to make this truly their ‘best year ever’.
I’ve always enjoyed Revenge of the Nerds. It’s a funny movie and it has a pack of likable, memorable characters. The story of the bullies getting their due is something everyone can identify with. I can’t help but enjoy seeing the jocks get some overdue payback, the eclectic group of nerds being triumphant in the end and giving a rousing speech representing the nerd in all of us.
Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards make a fun duo. Carradine is so confident and gullible as he first walks the campus of Atoms that I can’t help but like him. Edwards’ Gilbert is a different story. He seems to be much more aware of how the two are perceived and has his natural suspicion working on overdrive. It takes Lewis awhile to catch up that he is viewed as ‘a nerd’.
The movie has a pretty decent cast. Many of the characters are played by either up-and-coming stars or already established ones. Along with a few that I’ve never seen again, but made indelible impressions in their roles in the film.
Ted McGinley is perfectly cast as Stan Gable the head of the Alpha Betas. McGinley has the good jock looks and does very well with the arrogance that Stan is meant to have, which builds up to him finally getting owned by the nerds.
Matt Salinger – son of the famous author is Stan’s righthand Alpha. He doesn’t have much to do, other than follow Stan and become a familiar face in the fraternity. He got much more to do when he played Captain America in the 1990 film. He’s better here.
The biggest and showiest Alpha Beta is Ogre played by Donald Gibb. Just from his sheer size, beer drinking and over-the-top meanness he instantly becomes a huge threat to the nerd way of life. He is the quintessential bully. Pushing people around, being loud, looking intimidating as hell. He makes a very effective adversary for the nerds.
On the female side Stan’s Pi Delta girlfriend Betty Childs played by Julie Montgomery is alright. She’s the typical stuck up hot blonde and Montgomery fulfills what’s needed of the role. She’s also the only the notable female castmember who provides the required 80’s boob shot.
There are other boobs on parade, but they’re contributed by nameless female characters. There’s really no other major female characters. Other than Betty there’s only Judy, the Omega Moo that Gilbert hooks up with and like Betty she’s a pretty flat character. I know our heroes are nerds, but the film could have included some actual stronger female characters.
The adult characters are across the board all good. A young John Goodman is the Alphas mentor Coach Harris. Constantly barking orders and enjoying all the nerd-bashing, he’s very funny and looks to be having a great time playing him.
David Wohl as Dean Ulich, the nerd-sympathizer who probably endured the same treatment when he was younger. U.N. Jefferson (Bernie Casey) the no-nonsense head of the Tri Lamb fraternity. And James Cromwell as Lewis’ father who steals his short scene. Cruising along at 35mph he introduces us to the ‘nerd laugh’, one that we’ll be hearing his son do for the rest of the film.
The nerds are naturally the real stars. Along with Carradine and Edwards they lead their fellow nerds who are all a unique batch of characters by themselves. The blind violin-screeching Arnold Poindexter (Timothy Busfield), the prepubescent genius Harold Wormser (Andrew Cassese), the gay devoted aerobic exerciser Lamar Latrell (Larry B. Scott), the cliched funny Asian character – who we’ll see in many 80’s comedies – Toshiro Takashi (Brian Tochi) and of course the vulgar Dudley ‘Booger’ Dawson (Curtis Armstong).
Ever since the film came out there has been an ongoing debate whether Booger is indeed a nerd. I don’t have an answer to that. I suppose it all depends on how you would define a ‘nerd’. He doesn’t seem too smart. He appears to spend most of his time smoking dope and cigarettes. He doesn’t have glasses or a pocket protector.
But he is an outsider, so I think he qualifies in membership with with this group. Besides he’s pretty funny. The long shadow that Booger has cast has made it virtually impossible for Armstrong to ever get out from it.
The famous ‘panty raid’ sequence is one I still get a kick out of it. ‘The Mission Impossible’ theme kicking in, nerds running around, topless girls screaming. It’s probably my favorite scene in the entire film. It’s exciting to watch Carradine frantically barreling down the halls, arms interlocked with his fellow-Nerds, doing his donkey laugh and yelling “this is going to be a great year!”.
There are a few things that feel a little less innocent in this alleged zany comedy. During the panty raid, the guys install hidden cameras so they can watch the Pi’s undress. It’s sort of a hi-tech version of the required ‘peeping tom’ scene. Afterwards they enjoy ogling an all night live-telecast of the naked gals.
This leads to the scene during the Greek Council Games. the charity fund-raising booth competition. The Alphas and Pi’s being the good-looking people they are have a kissing booth and do pretty well making some decent money, but they’re beaten by the nerds who are selling pies and are attracting huge crowds.
The way the nerds do it is by including a hidden camera photo of a topless Betty in the bottom of each pie. It’s something of a depraved victory. I guess back in 1984 voyeuristic photos weren’t such a big deal to people. I don’t think anyone had even coined the term ‘upskirt photo’ yet.
I would think at the very least Betty could sue the nerds over some kind of invasion of privacy law. As it stands in the movie, it just makes Betty and the Alphas red-faced mad and it’s just another sly way the nerds are able to win the competition and nothing is said about it. I guess Betty wasn’t majoring in law.
Or how about the 20 lap tri-cycle race where at the end of every lap the rider has to chug a beer? What kind of college would hold that competition? Would any responsible educator allow the student body to get publicly drunk?
The biggest scene that folks jump on is Lewis while pretending to be Stan has sex with Betty. Afterwards when she realizes she didn’t just have sex with her boyfriend, but a strange nerd she falls in love with him because of how good he is. Do I really have to go any further with why people get upset with this scene and how the character of Lewis loses some affection there? Is a nerds revenge really as evil as committing date rape?
I never understood why Lewis just didn’t hook up with that Omega Moo chick he scored with anyway. She seemed like more of his type, she thought robots were sexy and she attacked him! Why even bother with Betty.
Nerds was made in 1984 and while some of the things that happen in the film seem wrong by today’s standards, it was made nearly thirty years ago and sex-based crimes weren’t taken as seriously I guess. They were able to play them for laughs and not think about the reality or the consequences of them. When I first saw Nerds back then I never really considered any of this stuff.
From today’s perspective the nerds seem to do some meaner stuff than the Alphas at times, but in 1984 they were able to play them much lighter than how we would view them today. Besides it’s supposed to be an 80’s comedy afterall. It wouldn’t be much of an ending if the nerds were neckdeep in lawsuits when the credits started to roll.
One could find allusions to the treatment of the nerds mirroring racism. A lot of what the Alphas do to them, seems awfully similar to what blacks endured back in the day. Burning warnings signs outside their homes, rocks thrown through their windows. The nerds even join an all-black fraternity!
I guess the correlation is there if you want to look at it that way, although I’m not sure if the filmmakers intended to draw those parallels. My guess has always been their main goal was to just make a silly comedy.
Revenge of the Nerds has left its mark. Not only did the the film really help make the word ‘nerd’ popular in the English language, (with some help from the candy), it also became one of the most popular 80’s teen sex comedies of the decade. Despite acting in dozens of projects, Carradine’s legacy will always be playing Lewis Skolnick.
His character really cemented the ‘nerd-stereotype’. In fact he and Armstrong are set to host a reality competition for TBS entitled ‘King of the Nerds’ in 2013. See, I’m not sure if a ‘true nerd’ would really fight to hold that title. They just want to be who they are and be accepted with no label attached to them. Or at least was the attitude the ‘nerds’ of yesterday had.
Today there’s this whole ‘nerd-chic’ going on. Now nerds are ‘cool’. They’re smart, can fix our computers and they can make a lot of money. It’s the ultimate revenge. If they were to make this movie today I’m not sure the ‘nerds’ would be portrayed as the big a pack of outcasts as they were in 1984.
In fact, a proposed remake of Revenge of the Nerds was planned for 2007. However, a few weeks into filming it was scrapped due to some problems.
There were several Nerd sequels – the theatrical sequel Nerds in Paradise. The Next Generation and Nerds in Love were both TV movies on FOX, one that had the gimmicks of being presented in 3-D and AeromaVision. I’ve seen a few of them. I remember Morton Downey Jr. being in one and Ogre becoming a full-fledged nerd wearing glasses and getting a pocket protector, I don’t remember much more than that. They were all pretty bad. All of them forgettable projects and none as entertaining as the original is.
I still think that a lot of these people who claim to be a nerd and wear that badge with their heads held high are not truly nerds. They’re just doing it because it’s the ‘in thing’ at the moment.
Orson Welles helping to introduce the world to Revenge of the Nerds!