January 23, 2013

OUTLAND and the Wrath of Mad Dog

Starring Sean Connery, Peter Boyle, James B. Sikking, Frances Sternhagen. Directed by Peter Hyams. (1981, 109 min).

I first saw this movie in a theater when I was 16 or 17, but after buying my ticket, I'm ashamed to say I had no memory of it the next day.

Not that it's a bad movie. On the contrary, Outland is an underrated gem released in the wake of Star Wars and Alien, sort-of a sci-fi High Noon. It ain’t the most original thing ever made, like most movies directed by Peter Hyams. But it's fun, fast-paced junk food with  decent special effects and boasting just enough nudity & gore to placate kids like me. It also features a terrifically understated performance by Sean Connery during a period just before The Untouchables made him respectable again.

Connery plays O'Niel, the newly-appointed marshall of a titanium mining colony on Io, one of Jupiter's moons. Things are going okay until several miners begin going apeshit and killing themselves. At first everyone writes it off as cabin fever, but upon further investigation, O'Niel discovers the victims were all addicted to a synthetic amphetamine which makes them a lot more productive, but eventually fries their brains. Worse yet, this shit is being brought in by Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle), the colony manager who wants to keep production high. Since O'Niel won't take a pay-off to look the other way, Sheppard hires assassins to come to Io and finish him off, leading to a pretty exciting showdown which comprises the final act.

But I didn't know any of this at the time. In fact, it wasn't until a few days later that my best friend, Clay, had to remind me what movie we even saw.

The night-in-question started out fine. Me, Clay and Mark (I was friends with Mark because we played soccer together) began our Friday night cruising 82nd Avenue, a few years before the city of Portland declared it illegal. Mark drove because he was the only one who had his own car, a souped-up, fat-tired Bug, which was infinitely cooler than borrowing my mom's Pontiac.

I know the act of cruising was mainly a 50's and 60's thing, but kids were still doing it in the early 80's. It was a great way to blow off steam, show off your car, blast your stereo and, most hopefully, meet girls (which actually didn't happen all that much, despite what George Lucas had us believing). And Mark just loved cruising, convinced he was gonna get laid every single time he hit the road. Then again, he always acted like a horndog...the kind of guy who made sucking sounds whenever he spotted a girl he found attractive, and would wiggle his tongue between his fingers to show his friends what he'd like to do with these girls if he got them alone.

But that was Mark's image, which he was proud to cultivate among friends. The truth was actually quite the opposite, which I learned when he showed up at my front door, not to see me, but to take my sister out on a date. This was at a time when I still refused to admit my younger sister was physically attractive to others, especially my friends. All kinds of alarm bells went off in my head as I briefly went into protective brother mode.

Hey, motherfucker, this is my sister! You do that tongue-wiggle thing around her and I'll rip it outta your mouth!

Mom! Dad! What are you thinking??? You can't let her go out with him! You don't know him like I do!

But Mark turned out to be a perfect gentleman on their date. Maybe because he was afraid of my dad's wrath (who was our soccer coach), or perhaps he respected women more than he always led on.

Anyway, back to that Friday night, when Mark actually behaved a lot better than I did...

Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!
The night took an early turn for the worse when we talked some old guy into buying us bottles of Mogen David 20/20, a cheap red wine which tastes like cough syrup and is commonly referred to as Mad Dog. It tasted like shit, but was a cheap way to get fucked up. Another plus was the fact its rectangular bottle allowed us to easily hide it in our jackets.

Mark was a lot of things, but never much of a drinker, especially swill like this. Me & Clay, however, started pounding the stuff. One thing I eventually discovered about myself that night was me and Mad Dog absolutely do not mix.

While still sort-of sober, we bumped into two girls we knew from school. Well, we knew them in the sense we'd seen them in the halls. I couldn't have actually told you their names, even without having finished off a third of my bottle, but that familiarity was enough of an ice breaker for me to roll down the window and slur, "Whattaya girls doin?"

Things get a little blurry at this point because I was still guzzling Mad Dog, but I vaguely remember me & Clay ending up at the Clackamas Town Center theater with these girls. For the sake of her dignity, lets just call one of these girls Jane, shall we? I was bowled over that Jane was into Iron Maiden. They were still pretty unknown at the time and I thought I was the only one who’d ever heard of them. As a die-hard headbanger in my drunken state, I must have thought I found my soul mate.

I don’t recall anything after that, but since Clay was there, too, he was later able to relay all the shit that went down.

I woke up the next day to the sound of my mother throwing my bedroom door open and staring coldly at me. “Get up,” she hissed. That’s when the jackhammers in my head went to work, even though I had no idea why I was in such pain and why Mom was so pissed. In fact, I couldn't remember how I even got home the night before.

More pressing issues immediately arose, such as the fiery gorge roaring up my throat. I barely made it to the bathroom before unloading what must-have been a gallon of puke. I lurched until all that spewed out was a string of yellow drool. After an eternity hovering over the toilet, I staggered from the bathroom, down the hall and into the kitchen, where my parents stood. Dad actually looked amused, but Mom had the condemning scowl of an assistant D.A. from a Law & Order murder trial.

Aw, shit. This was bad. I’d done dumb things before, but this was the first time my parents were more aware of my drunken state than I was. They didn’t say a word at the time, so I slowly turned around to crawl back into bed and die, but instead they forced me to stay up and spend the entire day shopping with them as punishment for my debauchery. Although my hangover was obvious to my folks, thank God they never knew the extent of my debauchery the night before. Hell, the only reason I knew was when Clay - laughing his ass off - told me during a phone call a few days later...

During the movie, me and Jane apparently got reeeeally friendly in the front row. When I say friendly, we were doing a hell of a lot more than kissing. Clay said when the movie was over I staggered out of the theater with my pants unbuckled. As he cheerfully relayed the lurid details, I felt sick all over again, wondering how many people watched Jane and I go at it in the front row. Worse yet, outside the theater, where a line of other patrons waited to get in, my nearly-empty Mad Dog bottle fell out and shattered, so Clay had to help me high-tail it out of there. But we were stranded. Jane and her friend had already taken off and Mark had long-since ditched us. Or was it the other way around? He was nowhere to be seen, and since our evening began in Mark’s car, I guess it was we who ditched him. By the way...sorry, Mark.

Clay quickly decided we should go to Pietro’s, a pizza place several blocks away, to get some food in me. It would have been a short walk for a sober fellow, but considering Clay was pretty drunk himself and dragging my shitfaced ass, Pietro’s might as well have been on the moon. And the whole way there, I kept drunkenly insisting the two of us should start a band together (even though I didn’t know how to play an instrument). Somehow, we managed to get there and crawl into a booth.

There was this girl named Lisa, a classmate I’d always carried a little torch for ever since middle school, but never had the nerve to ask out. It turned out she was working at Pietro’s at the time and saw me at my worst. No sooner did we get there and order food before I puked all over the table, the seats and myself. Clay dragged me to the men’s room, where I hurled again, leaving Lisa to clean the chunky puddle I left in her section. Shortly afterwards, the manager told us to leave.

It’s at this point where I learned just how good of a friend Clay really was, because Pietro’s was at least three miles from Alderhill, the neighborhood where we lived. I could barely walk, yet he managed to half-drag, half-carry me the whole way back, occasionally stopping to let me purge more stomach chowder. It must have looked like scene from a war movie where the hero drags his bullet-ridden buddy to safety by sheer will, screaming “Don’t you die on me!” the whole way. Only Clay was probably begging, “Don’t you puke on me!”

In my humble opinion, that made him a fucking superhero. If I were him, I’d have probably left my sorry ass at Pietro’s to wallow in my own filth. But as a true superhero with a keen sense of self-preservation, Clay did what any right-thinking 16-year-old guy would do when helping a friend in need: He carefully propped me up against my front door, hit the bell and ran like hell.

What else could the guy do?

That night was the most knock-down-drunk I’d ever been at the time, and probably the main reason even the smell of wine makes my stomach churn today.

At any rate, Clay held nothing against me (he didn't let me live it down, either). However, after this debacle, I was never able to look Lisa in the eye again, much less get the courage to ask her out. As for Jane, whenever I saw her in the hall at school afterwards, I totally avoided her, which was probably a bad idea. I'm pretty sure that pissed her off, considering how 'close' we got with each other at the movie. But I was so embarrassed by my behavior, especially hearing all of this shit second-hand, that I just couldn’t face her, not to mention the fact I had a girlfriend at the time.

So Jane, if for some reason you ever read this...sorry about that, but that wasn't really me you frolicked with in the front row of the Clackamas Theater. It was some other asshole named Mogen David.

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