Jan 26, 2015

Man-Mountains of the 1980s

The sensitive, androgynous New Man fell into disfavor during the conservative 1980s.  Instead we got man-mountains, masses of post-bodybuilder pecs and abs with steely eyes and gritted teeth who grunted when they spoke at all, and strutted through the plot with their shirts off (no shirt were big enough, anyway), carrying an Uzi in one hand and a hand grenade in the other, usually with a naked lady clinging to their leg like Conan in the 1970s, or Steve Reeves in the 1950s.

At first they weren't terribly popular at the box office.  The #1 movie of 1986 in the United States was Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Big Then, after slogging through Hoosiers, Pretty in Pink, The Hitcher, and Jean de Florette, you finally hit Cobra (with man-mountain Sylvester Stallone) at #63 and  Delta Force (Chuck Norris) #77.



But by 1988, Die Hard (with man-mountain Bruce Willis), was #1, and then there was Bloodsport (Jean Claude Van Damme, left), Red Heat (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Above the Law (Stephen Seagal), Missing in Action 3 (Chuck Norris), Mercenary Fighters (Reb Brown), World Gone Wild (Michael Pare), and Rambo III (Sylvester Stallone).

The titles were all about the same, two words suggesting hand-to-hand combat: Instant Justice, Hard Knox, Strike Commando, American Ninja (1,2,3,4,5), Kickboxer (1,2,3,4,), Bloodsport, Death Warrant, Forced Vengeance.  

The plots were all about the same:  the man-mountain, a good, patriotic white guy, travels deep into a jungle country occupied by amoral, barbaric Asians or Hispanics to:  a) rescue a prisoner of war, former boss, buddy, or brother; b) keep drugs from hurting kids; c) get revenge on a warlord who killed his wife or girlfriend.


He gets captured and tortured by a female or gay-coded male villain (the humiliation!), and escapes.  He then uses his martial arts training to take out the entire enemy army with his bare hands. (Left: Michael Pare in Deadly Heroes).

Oh, and he meets with a woman from the enemy country, usually a freedom fighter. They have sex -- usually after he's been beaten or tortured.  She's always naked, and always on top.  They fall in love.

Racist, imperialist, sexist, heterosexist, homophobic, horribly violent.  The list of negatives goes on and on.  So why would gay teenagers watch? (Or actually fast-forward the VHS tape to the good scenes).  (Left: Tom Skerritt in Opposing Force)










1. The beefcake.  The man-mountains were shirtless throughout the movie. (Left: Michael Dudikoff)
















2. The bonding.  The man-mountain often traveled with a less-muscular buddy, who would be captured and require rescue.  Or they were captured together, as in David Bradley and Dwayne Alexandre in American Ninja 4.  Or rescuing the buddy was the motive for the entire adventure. In spite of the fade-out kiss and the overt homophobia, the plots often emphasized same-sex love.

See also: Gary Daniels; Stan Brock; Reb Brown.