Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thunder Alley (J. S. Cardone, 1985)

Even though there are subtle hints that punk and new wave exist in the world depicted in Thunder Alley. It's safe to say that bland, middle of the road rock music is the dominating force. Call it the macho version of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, call it the eyeliner-free version Breaking Glass, I'd even go as far as to call it the winklepicker-less Scenes From the Goldmine. Anyway, call it what you will, this movie, directed J.S. Cardone, might lack the visual flair of the flicks I just mentioned. But it's still a pretty good rise, fall, and then rise again redemption-heavy '80s rock movie. Sure, the movie's band, Magic, doesn't have a synth player, but... Wait a minute, they do have a synth player. In fact, he's using a Yamaha DX7. I think the reason I thought Magic didn't have anyone on keyboards was because the first few songs I heard of theirs seemed to be devoid of synths (which annoyed me like you wouldn't believe). Or maybe the synths were just drowned out by the bands obnoxiously straight-forward guitar rock sound. Either way, their soon-to-be drug addicted synth player can definitely be heard during the songs they play while touring the dive bar circuit. Only problem being, the quality of his keyboard playing begins to suffer as the band starts to gain traction. Why, you ask? Um, it's simple, really, he's addicted to drugs. I know, you're thinking to yourself, his substance abuse problem shouldn't effect his playing. Granted, it might ruin his life in other ways. But I think most people agree, drugs make you a better musician.

While that might seem like a controversial statement. Think about all the great albums in your record collection. Do you think they were made by people who weren't high on cocaine? I don't think so.

I think the reason the drugs had a negative effect on Magic's keyboard player was because he was, well, a keyboard player. Falling over guitar amps in a foggy haze or pounding maniacally on a drum-kit are synonymous with drug-fueled rock stardom. On other hand, keyboard players need to remain focused. Seriously, has a rock keyboard player ever died of a drug overdose? (I recall the touring keyboardist for the Smashing Pumpkins dying of a heroin overdose back in the 1990s.) Okay, that's one. That being said, it's still not that common.

Another factor, of course, was the anti-drug hysteria that was sweeping America at the time. And this hysteria was reflected on the big screen in the form of plot lines that featured illegal drugs as the primary antagonist.

A holdover from the hedonistic 1970s, drugs, like, heroin and cocaine, were viewed as the worst, most evil things in the universe.

As per usual, women and the morbidly obese are to blame for the drug addiction that threatens to cut Magic's meteoric rise off at the knees. You see, the woman typically gets the drug from the morbidly obese individual, who, in turn, passes the drugs onto unsuspecting rock stars in training. It should be noted that the woman uses the confines of her silky vagina as a lure as well. And who among us can resist the confines of a silky vagina?

Uh, I'll tell you who can. Richie (Roger Wilson), that's who. The guitarist and occasional frontman for Magic is offered a tasty slice of chlorine-soaked pussy at a pool party (hence, it being chlorine-soaked), but turns it down. Partly because he's currently "seeing" the Phoebe Cates-esque Beth (Jill Schoelen), the counter-woman at the local sundae stand. But mainly because she looks like trouble.

In case you're wondering, the reason I called Richie the ""occasional" frontman of Magic is because Skip (played by the always awesome Leif Garrett) is supposed to be the bands frontman. Their rivalry, intensified by the fact that Skip didn't want Richie to join the band, is what drives the plot in the early going. However, once Skip realizes that Richie is a major talent, he puts his jealous feelings aside and begrudgingly accepts Richie into the fold. I mean, if Benjamin Orr and Ric Ocasek of The Cars could share singing duties back in the '70s and '80s, why can't Magic?

At first, Donnie (Scott McGinnis), the band's keyboard player/chief songwriter, and the reason Richie became a member in the first place, reaps much pleasure from the fact Skip is constantly irritated by Richie's presence. This backfires big time when Donnie starts to resent Richie. And, you guessed it, Donnie resorts to drugs and guilt-free groupie poontang (ignoring his soda jerk/new wave girlfriend in the process) to dull the pain.

While a lot of the bands success can be attributed to Richie's guitar playing and songwriting prowess, you shouldn't discount the advantages that come with having Clancy Brown as your road manager. Don't believe me, just ask the club owner who tries to pay the band with a cheque. Not only did Clancy cause  him to piss his pants, they got paid in cash, yo.

What I think I'm trying to say is, Clancy Brown is a bad-ass. (Duh, squared!) Yeah, I know. It should go without saying. But I don't think I've ever reviewed a Clancy Brown film on here.

At any rate, you're probably wondering about the fashion in Thunder Alley. Well, I can tell you this, it's not all blue denim and white t-shirts paired with sneakers. In fact, if you look closely, you can spot the odd punk here and there.

Watch when Richie and Donnie are walking through an alleyway ("Thunder Alley," perhaps?) on their way to The Palace (the exalted concert venue that looms large throughout the movie), you can see a couple of punk chicks leaning against a wall.

As for new wave duds, both Carol Kottenbrook (who works at The Palace) and Cynthia Eilbacher (Donnie's girlfriend) wear short skirts with studded belts and funky sleeveless tops.

While not as flashy as the movies I mentioned earlier (Breaking Glass, for example), Thunder Alley is still a solid '80s rock movie. If you liked Eddie and the Cruisers, you should definitely check it out.

In case you're wondering, "Can't You Feel My Heartbeat" is my favourite Magic song. Oh, and special thanks to chyneaze for recommending this movie.


  1. This was filmed in my hometown - Tucson, Arizona. The three screenshots of the "alley" with the punk chicks capture the old 4th Avenue tunnel. It was a narrow traffic tunnel with a walkway that bridged 4th Avenue (an eclectic strip with boutiques, dive bars, frat bars, coffee shops, restaurants) with Congress Street, Tucson's main downtown strip (home to the Rialto Theater and Hotel/Club Congress, both shown at the beginning of this movie).

    The 4th Ave. tunnel is also seen in The Wraith (where it appears much longer than it actually is) and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (where they magically enter Burbank on the other side). The original tunnel was shut down and expanded in and around 2007/2008. Although the lanes are wider and the walkway is "nicer," it still smells like piss.

    1. Thanks for the info regarding the tunnel from Thunder Alley.