The New Kids (1985) poster

The New Kids (1985)


aka Striking Back

USA. 1985.


Director – Sean S. Cunningham, Screenplay – Stephen Gyllenhaal, Story – Stephen Gyllenhaal & Brian Taggart, Producers – Sean S. Cunningham & Andrew Fogelson, Music – Lalo Schifrin, Production Design – Robb Wilson-King. Production Company – Fogbound.


Shannon Presby (Lauren McWilliams), Lori Laughlin (Abbie McWilliams), James Spader (Dutra), Eddie Jones (Charlie McWilliams), John Philbin (Gideon), Tom Atkins (Colonel McWilliams)


After their parents are killed in a plane crash, Lauren and Abbie McWilliams go to live with their Uncle Charlie in Florida. At school, Abbie attracts the attention of a gang of toughs who bet among themselves to see who can score with her first. When she rejects them, they vandalise Uncle Charlie’s carnival. When Lauren breaks into the gang leader Dutra’s house and takes money at knifepoint to pay for the damage, all-out war ensues.

After toiling for a number of years in B and independent filmmaking, director Sean S. Cunningham, had an enormous hit with Friday the 13th (1980), one of the key influences on the 1980s slasher film. However, Friday the 13th was a film whose success Cunningham failed to consolidate in any way. Other directors from around the same period such as John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven and Peter Jackson were able to springboard from low-budget horror hits to success as big-budget mainstream directors. Not so Sean S. Cunningham whose subsequent output (see below) remained resolutely caught down the B-budget end of the scale, with Cunningham never again replicating the success that Friday the 13th had had.

For those familiar with the 1970s genre of revenge exploitation movies – The Last House on the Left (1972), Massacre at Central High (1976), Day of the Woman/I Spit on Your Grave (1978), The Exterminator (1980), The Class of 1984 (1982) – The New Kids holds few surprises. On one hand, it is a competently made film – Sean S. Cunningham has polished his act considerably since Friday the 13th. However, rather than stir up any raw primal savagery in the way these other films do, Cunningham only churns cliches. There are also times the film strains credulity – it does, for example, seem rather absurd that people end up killing each other just because of a rejected date.

Gang leader Dutra (a young James Spader) threatens Lori Loughlin in The New Kids (1985)
Gang leader Dutra (a young James Spader) threatens Lori Loughlin

James Spader, a few years later Cannes Award winner for his role in Sex, Lies and Videotape (1989) and various high-profile roles subsequent to that, outfitted here in dark glasses and immaculately dyed-blonde hair, has a frighteningly effectively macho presence in the film. Screenwriter Stephen Gyllenhaal is these days better known for his two famous acting children, Jake and Maggie Gyllanhaal.

Sean S. Cunningham’s other genre films are:- the vampire sex comedy Case of the Full Moon Murders/The Case of the Smiling Stiffs (1973), the original slasher film Friday the 13th (1980), the kidnap thriller A Stranger is Watching (1982), the monster movie Deepstar Six (1989) and the alien invasion film Terminal Invasion (2002). Cunningham also produced the House series of films beginning with House (1986), the Disney teenage zombie comedy My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), Black Friday (2008) and the remake of The Last House on the Left (2009), as well as the Friday the 13th sequels Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), Jason X (2001) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003), and the remake of Friday the 13th (2009).

Trailer here

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