Maybe it was 9/11, you know? Like, maybe the horror and shock of that day forced us to ‘grow up’ for better or worse. We got tougher, a bit more wary and jaded. I don’t know. Maybe it was something else; Western Culture catching up a tiny bit with our European brethren, psychologically speaking. Whatever the case, the fact remains that back in the 80’s and early-90’s, we were soft, pink, mewling little kittens. 2015 us could wipe the floor with 1988 us. Fact.
Here’s what led me down this particular path of discovery. Recently I was doing an image search for actor Lee Tergesen. I’d considered putting together another “That One Guy” blog, with a slight difference in focus: I’d concentrate on one particular actor. Perhaps make a series of such posts, one for each iconic character actor. Lee is one of those guys who’s been in a lot of films and TV shows, usually sort of disappearing into his role, which is what makes him such a great actor. The same guy who played Tobias Beecher on HBO’s prison drama ‘Oz’ also played one of Wayne and Garth’s metalhead buddies, thrashing along to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ before appearing as Evan ‘Scribe’ Wright in ‘Generation: Kill’ and so on and so forth. Anyway, one of his earliest roles was that of Rosie in ‘Point Break.’
Rosie was the archetypical scary biker tough guy. Bodhi’s muscle, in a very real sense. (Note to self: consider a blog entry that examines how Bodhi, Utah, and Rosie were all manifestations of the Super-Ego, Ego, and Id.) Rosie was frightening, and supposedly capable of gutting someone with nary a concern other than trying to avoid getting any ‘on his shoes.’ I remember seeing the film when I was not quite twenty years old and thinking he was fairly intimidating. Rosie wasn’t a surfer, he was ostensibly some sort of biker. An outsider, even among the outsiders. He was a savage, and hey, remember that scene at the bonfire? Remember? The others are out surfing at night, but Rosie is back on the beach, drinking, and spitting booze onto the fire, making it flare up. Remember? I wonder what sort of wickedly potent, liver-pounding rot-gut booze he was slugging?
Wait…seriously? He’s drinking…
CORONA?! Are you fucking kidding me? A beer?! I mean, don’t get me wrong: beer is great. And Corona is easily one of the top-fifty beers from Mexico. But, c’mon. Rosie is a terrifying monster in bike leathers. He should be drinking moonshine or whiskey…maybe 151…ANYTHING approaching 100 proof. Beer? BEER THAT ONLY TASTES GOOD WITH A STINKIN’ LIME IN IT?! Might as well have been a Zima. (Actually, Zima was a malt liquor beverage with a higher alcohol content than most beers, so it would have been MORE manly.) A kid that had never actually (up to that point) been to an illegal beach bonfire or nearly incinerated a friend while spitting and igniting grain alcohol and other things that maybe I should stop talking about right now might have been impressed with Rosie. Shit, I was. Now I realize he’d get his ass kicked in any place outside of Malibu. Perhaps his ending was the most realistic part of the film. It happens off-screen, but Utah tells Bodhi that Rosie apparently got knifed to death in Mexico. What if that was Rosie’s first trip outside of his home county? He thinks he’s a tough guy, orders a Corona ‘straight up’ and the Mexicans beat the living shit out of him with bottles of Pacifico and Modelo.
So, R.I.P Rosie and his tough-guy image. I sat there thinking about him, and my mind flashed on another badass that maybe wasn’t. Bennett. The bad guy from ‘Commando.’ the actor’s name is Vernon Wells, and yes, I could do an entire ‘That One Guy’ on him. The dude’s appeared in everything from ‘The Power Rangers’ to ‘Innerspace’ and has no fewer than twenty-one projects due to be released this year alone. But the role you will probably remember him from was from the iconic Mad Max sequel, ‘The Road Warrior.’ He played a character named Wez and holy shitballs, was he scary.
Wells would go on to almost exactly replicate that performance as a party-crashing biker/euphemism in ‘Weird Science.’ Again, an impressively crazy, wild-eyed psychopath on a motorcycle. Jesus, I almost crapped my pants just thinking about him.
So when you learn that Vernon Wells is playing the nemesis in an Arnold Schwarzenegger action-adventure flick, you think “AW, YISSS!! MOTHER FUCKING BAD-ASSERY!” and then you get to the theater and see…
Freddie Mercury?! What the actual fuck, man? What happened? Is that vest made of old pop-tops or just nasty grey yarn that his grandma didn’t want, because seriously, who wants an olive-grey tea cozy? Nobody, that’s who. Good call, grandma. While I’m talking about relatives, Bennett looks more like your weird uncle Gary that collects Thomas the Tank Engine stuff even though he doesn’t have any kids. Maybe that’s more unsettling. Could the makers of Commando been deliberately trying to give off that pedophile subtext? After all, the main point of the ‘plot’ is that Arnold’s daughter has been kidnapped…were the studio types making a statement? A subtle, veiled threat to the virtue and physical well-being of the girl in order to make moviegoers even more uneasy?
Or had Wells simply let himself go between roles? Like, the casting director didn’t request an up-to-date headshot, and when Wells rolled up to his trailer on the first day of shooting, the director was all “Well…huh. Fuck it, we’re on a schedule people. Keep the mustache. We’re rolling in five.” Occam’s Razor makes that seem like the more likely scenario. Either way, though, you’re never truly convinced that this doughy, sweater-vested, Bob’s Burgers cosplay guy is going to be able to physically match up with Arnold’s character. They may as well have cast Kevin Spacey as the bad guy, although holy shit: Kevin Spacey in a mustache would be a GREAT Bob’s Burgers cosplay.
The point is, we were seemingly much more easily intimidated back in the day. I won’t even get into how the Friday the 13th movies look so dated compared to modern horror films and television. Seriously, the Jason Vorhees flicks remind me of old 50’s Martian invasion movies. But initially, they were terrifying enough to spawn a generation’s worth of sequels. I guess that’s sort of comforting. The things that scare us often turn out to be not so bad after all. Laughable, even. (Gene Simmons used to terrify people. Let that sink in for a second.) There’s a lesson there somewhere. Sleep tight, America.