Film, Went There

(2/25) WENT THERE: Trash Night Video Presents THE DIRT BIKE KID (1985) DIR. HOLTE C. CASTON @BRATTLE


In last year’s excellent documentary REWIND THIS!, film archivist Caroline Frick bemoans the lack of attention given to VHS preservation. It’s a valid concern; think back for a moment to the shelves of your local childhood video store. Sure, there were the movies you actually rented, but chances are there were a lot more that you never took a second look at. It’s unlikely that much of that stuff will ever be released on DVD, and without a Martin Scorsese style spokesman to protect those tapes, most of them will just get fuzzier and fuzzier, until they literally disintegrate.

That said, there is a reason VHS conservation is a low priority among cinephiles: most of the at-risk titles are fucking terrible.

Fortunately, there is a thriving underground dedicated to the format for that very reason, who hoard as many third-world children’s movies, golf instructional videos, and godawful erotic thrillers as they can get their hands on. Such is the case with Trash Night Video, a Jamaica Plain based collective dedicated to sharing the cream of their thrift-store findings in a raucous monthly screening. Originally held in the tiny MicroCinema in the basement of the Somerville Theatre, the screenings’ burgeoning popularity has necessitated a move to the more spacious Brattle, where they will remain for the foreseeable future.


For their second post-move installment, the minds behind Trash Night selected THE DIRT BIKE KID, a forgotten kiddie flick from 1985 starring Peter “Ralphie from A CHRISTMAS STORY!” Billingsley (well, not entirely forgotten; as Trash Night founder Stephen Swift explained in his introduction, he had to break it to multiple people that their childhood favorite would be receiving a less-than-reverential treatment). Billingsley plays Jack, an ’80s-model smartass kid who spends his mother’s grocery money on a used dirt bike, which, naturally, turns out to be a sentient, flying dirt bike with attitude. In accordance with federal screenwriting law, Jack and his bike then have to save the local hot dog stand from being torn down by greedy banker Hodgkins (played by Stuart Pankin, best known as the voice of Earl Sinclair on DINOSAURS, who seems to be the only member of the cast actually trying to act).

The problem with THE DIRT BIKE KID (apart from the writing, directing, and acting, I mean), is that it lacks the budget necessary to adequately convey the dirt bike’s sentience. It doesn’t talk, for starters, or even emit an R2-D2 like series of beeps. Instead, its intelligence is conveyed by having it move on its own, jiggle its headlights, and buck wildly whenever someone tries to get on it. The cumulative effect isn’t that the bike has a mind of its own, so much as that it simply doesn’t work very well. Curiously, the human contingent of the cast seems to compensate by never once questioning the concept; the typically incompetent police officers even go so far as handcuffing the bike, giving it its own jail cell, and releasing it on bail.


Badness on this scale can be tough to take in one sitting, so the programmers inserted “commercial breaks” in the form of heavily edited highlight reels from other VHS obscurities. These included an Australian gentleman giving advice on earthquake preparedness, a profoundly sleazy dating video, a mind-bending collage of clips from the late-’80s DUNGEONS & DRAGONS cartoon (featuring quite possibly the world’s most obnoxious unicorn), and a humorously overdubbed infomercial for the mildly dirty-sounding JaniKing custodial service. Best of all was the breathlessly enthusiastic ad for the Jesus-loving ZuCamp, followed by a brief, grim account of Trash Night’s fruitless attempts to contact anyone involved.

The oceans of forgotten VHS tapes out there make being an bad movie connoisseur a bit like being a paleontologist. You can know everything there is to know, but any day someone can make a discovery and boom: dinosaurs had feathers, and PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE doesn’t even make the bottom ten movies ever made. It’s that thrill of the unknown, however, that makes it such an entertaining and sustainable pastime. Thank god there are people like Trash Night who keep on digging.

The next Trash Night will be on Tuesday, March 25, when they take on the post-apocalyptic delinquent opus CLASS OF 1999; beginning in May, it will occur on the first Tuesday of every month.

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