No. 21: Porky’s II: The Next Day
Note: Back to the Movies is a special feature on the FilmNerds blog in which Matt Scalici will be watching the Top 50 highest-grossing movies of 1983 in order from 50 to 1.
Through the first thirty films of this series, there are very few films I would definitely call truly great but Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story is most certainly one of them. That the same Bob Clark released another film in 1983 so utterly deplorably awful is just another one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Back to the Movies project.
Clark was actually simultaneously directing Porky’s II and A Christmas Story (fans will notice the “major award” from A Christmas Story makes a cameo appearance during the Shakespearean swordfighting sequence) but that’s about the only thing the two films have in common. Porky’s II: The Next Day is obviously the sequel to Clark’s runaway smash hit from 1982 Porky’s, a film that almost single-handedly accounts for the onslaught of sex comedies flooding the box office in 1983.
It’s actually quite stunning to look back and realize just how huge a hit Porky’s was. It was the fifth-highest grossing movie of 1982, topping out at $105 million. Factoring in inflation, that’s the equivalent of over $240 million today, unthinkable for what was essentially an independently produced sex comedy with no stars. We’ve discussed the teen sex comedy phenomenon in a number of other installments of this series but suffice it to say that while the phenomenon of getting people into theaters with nudity and shock humor existed before Porky’s, Bob Clark pushed the envelope further than it had typically been pushed and the risk paid off tremendously.
Full disclosure: I have not seen Porky’s. When I set out on this project, I realized that I would come across sequels to films I hadn’t seen and while seeing the original film might help me understand these sequels a little better, I made the determination not to require myself to watch the predecessors. As is the case with any sequel, there were almost certainly viewers that went into Porky’s II without having seen the original Porky’s and their experience in the theater and take on the film is no less culturally relevant.
While this lack of knowledge of the characters might have been a major impairment in some cases, I really don’t feel like I missed anything here. Porky’s II opens, quite thoughtfully, with a quick recap of what happened in the first film, which I gather involved a bunch of high school guys trying to get laid, getting betrayed by the slimy owner of a Florida strip joint, then exacting revenge with plenty of hi-jinx ensuing along the way. This film literally picks up exactly where Porky’s left off, with the confusingly large bunch of guys all meeting back up at school the next morning.
Pee Wee (Dan Monahan), who finally got laid at the end of the first film, is beside himself with excitement over his new non-virginal status but quickly finds himself disappointed when he begins to hear that the girl he lost his virginity to (and now considers his girlfriend) has a reputation as a “pushover”. Meanwhile, the other high school-aged guys who look like 25-year-olds are involved in a school play that appears to combine the most well-known scenes from every Shakespeare play.
Somehow, and I’m not sure I even remember how it gets to this point, a local Evangelical preacher named Reverend Bubba Flavel (Bill Wiley) launches an enraged campaign against the school for putting on a play filled with the filth of Shakespeare. Wiley’s bombastic performance is entertaining at times, mostly because of the enormous effort he gives, but at the end of the day think of any wacky preacher character you’ve ever seen and you’ve probably got a good idea of what Rev. Flavel is like.
The preacher and his angry flock are a ludicrous but mostly harmless plot device. Where the film takes a turn for the truly offensive is a subplot involving the Ku Klux Klan and their harassment of a Cherokee student named John Henry (Joseph Running Fox) who plays Romeo in the Shakespeare festival at school. It’s not quite clear but I think the Klan are supposed to be angry that a Native American will be kissing a white girl in the play. While it’s patently offensive to turn the Klan into a foolish bunch of bullies in a comedy film, the revenge exacted on the Klansmen by the boys (which includes some disgusting anti-Semitic gags) is where the film truly goes off the rails.
Perhaps the other scene that most likely riled up critics was a scene in which the film’s only sympathetic female character, Wendy (played by Kaki Hunter), decides to get revenge on a local city official who wants to sleep with her (she’s underage). She shows up at a fancy restaurant in ridiculous clothes, trashes the place and then spills fake vomit into the fountain in the middle of the restaurant. Overall, the scene isn’t particularly funny or offensive but it occupies such an inordinate amount of the film’s final half hour that it quickly grows tiresome.
It’s not surprising that the film feels so disjointed and poorly thought-out, considering it was rushed into production just a few months after the debut of the first film. What is surprising is that the film manages to turn what should be an irreverent good time with a bunch of teenage guys into a bizarre dance between messages of tolerance and horribly racist humor. The film itself should barely qualify as a sex comedy, mainly because it’s not even about sex. Audiences who thought they’d be getting more of the nudity-filled raunchy good time of the original Porky’s must have been sorely disappointed to find a movie that featured more nudity from the Klansmen characters than from its female leads.
Usually, I try to include a clip from the film in each of these posts but this time I’ve found something a little better. Check out Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert reviewing the film on their show “At The Movies”:
Next Up: The completely Hitchcock-free sequel, Psycho II.