Zapped! (1982)


USA. 1982.


Director – Robert J. Rosenthal, Screenplay – Robert J. Rosenthal & Bruce Rubin, Producer – Jeffrey Apple, Photography – Daniel Pearl, Music – Charles Fox, Visual Effects Supervisor – Robert Blalack, Visual Effects – Praxis Film Works (Supervisor – Max Anderson), Special Effects – A&A Special Effects (Dick Albain & Ron Nary). Production Company – Embassy Pictures/Apple-Rose


Scott Baio (Barney Springboro), Willie Aames (Peyton Nichols), Felice Schachter (Bernadette Holland), Scatman Crothers (Dexter Jones), Robert Mandan (Principal Walter Coolidge), Heather Thomas (Jane Mitchell), Greg Bradford (Robert Wolcott), Marya Small (Mrs Springboro), Roger Bowen (Mr Springboro), Sue Ann Langdon (Rose Burnhart), Hilary Beane (Corinne Updike)


At Ralph Waldo Emerson High School, nerdish teen genius Barney Springboro is caught in a lab explosion where some chemicals get mixed up and spill over him. Afterwards, Barney finds that he has telekinetic powers. His best friend, party boy Peyton Nichols, is quick to exploit these abilities, using them to score with girls and rip their tops off, in helping the school baseball team win and on the gambling table.

This inane effort was a modest hit back in 1982. It was a variant on the high school vulgarity comedy popularised by Lemon Popsicle (1979) and the big success of the same year’s Porky’s (1982). The idea someone clearly had was to graft the new teen vulgarity comedy onto the basic formula of Disney’s Dexter Reilly films, which begun with The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969) – wherein a teenager accidentally discovers a scientific phenomenon and gains super-powers – and the basic premise of Carrie (1976) – teen underdog gains psychic powers, goes berserk at the prom. It starred two hot young tv stars, Scott Baio from Happy Days (1974-84), and Willie Aames from Eight is Enough (1977-81), along with a then unknown Heather Thomas.

There is all the expected vulgarity and sophomoric hijinks – Willie Aames making out on the principal’s desk; the principal making out under a restaurant table; the hero getting an erection in class and the teacher demanding to see what he is hiding; psychic projectile vomiting; experiments in getting mice stoned and numerous scenes with Scott Baio psychically flipping up girls’ skirts and popping their tops open. The climax offers a bizarre parody of the Carrie prom scene – only this time, instead of a humiliated underdog erupting in a vengeful conflagration, it seems like Scott Baio’s libido has gone wild, flipping up and ripping off girl’s dresses. Despite the vulgarity, Zapped! is surprisingly innocent at times – it takes its love story seriously (in an awfully banal and sappy series of montage shots) and the frat boy antics never go much beyond PG-rated naughtiness – girls never get more undressed than their underwear (not something that can be said for the Lemon Popsicle and Porky’s films whose overall tone is crass). As with the Dexter Reilly films, there is the inevitable scene where the hero uses his powers to aid the school’s underdog sports team.

The film also features some scenes of nutty surrealism that have you convinced that the filmmakers have been conducting a few experiments in marijuana inhalation themselves. In one scene, Scott Baio animates a toy spaceship that flies around his room, whereupon we cut to the interior of the ship, which is a parody of Star Trek (1966-9), before the ship is swallowed by Baio’s dog. In another scene, Scatman Crothers has a marijuana hallucination of Einstein and of being pursued by his wife who is dressed as a Roman emperor riding a horse-drawn chariot and firing missiles of salami at him. Bizarre.

The awful sequel was Zapped Again (1990), which was basically a repeat of the same formula but more vulgar. The only returnee there was Sue Ann Langdon, now promoted to the school principal. Scott Baio and Willie Aames fairly much vanished after this. These days Willie Aames has gone through recovery and is now a Born Again Christian and directed and starred in a Christian superhero video called Bibleman (1996-2004). The most interesting credit on the film is the name of scriptwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, who went onto script A-list films like Ghost (1990), Jacob’s Ladder (1990) and Deep Impact (1998).

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