Memorial Double Feature: Roddy Piper

RoddyPiperAs widely reported, 80’s icon “Rowdy” Roddy Piper [IMDB] died peacefully in his sleep on July 31st at the age of 61. Roderick George “Roddy” Toombs was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on April 17, 1954 to parents of Scottish and Irish descent. He left home at a young age after a dispute with his father and ended up doing gopher work for professional wrestlers.

He received the stage name “Roddy Piper” when he made his wrestling debut at the age of 15 in Winnipeg. He approached the ring playing the bagpipes, a gimmick that would become his trademark. The announcer gave his name as “Roddy the Piper”, but fans heard “Roddy Piper” and the name stuck.

Piper had numerous acting credits across a long, interesting career, but I’m going to focus on two of his earliest and, for me, most fondly remembered.

IMDB, Hell Comes to FrogtownHell Comes to Frogtown

Sci-fi/Comedy, 86 Minutes, 1988, More on IMDB

Although not his very first starring role, this is his first starring role where he doesn’t play a wrestler. What he does play is Sam Hell, one of the last fertile males in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The war that destroyed the world killed most of the men and left nearly all the remainder sterile.

It also created a race of humanoid mutant frogs that have kidnapped a group of fertile females to use as sex slaves. Sam is conscripted, forcibly, by the female led military to infiltrate Frogtown, free the prisoners and do what needs to be done to ensure the survival of the human race.

In the 80’s making a bad movie wasn’t just a matter of finding a former B-lister and slathering the screen in cheap CGI. You had to put in some effort. If you wanted giant Frog people you had to build actual giant frog people. In this case that meant building one pretty cool frog puppet costume and a whole mess of terrible ones.

No, this isn’t a good movie, but it’s a heck of lot of fun. It has everything that made 80’s schlock wonderful: a silly plot, terrible effects, horrible writing and enough nudity to make it totally gratuitous. The very best thing about this movie? It’s a franchise. Yes, there are two sequels! No, none of the original actors returned for either of them.

IMDB, They LiveThey Live

Sci-Fi/Thriller, 93 Minutes, 1988, More on IMDB

Where “Hell Comes to Frogtown” is so-bad-it’s-good, this – made less than a year later – is a legitimate classic. Based on a short story by Ray Nelson, Director/Screenwriter John Carpenter [IMDB] melded a classically themed science-fiction morality tale with his particular brand of insanity.

Aliens have secretly taken over the world by leveraging our vices. They, and elite human cooperators, live wealthy, pampered lives on the backs of a suppressed and ever-growing lower class. A small group of rebels have created sunglasses that pierce to the truth of the subliminal hypnotic alien signal.

Yes, the entire concept is a thinly (very thinly) veiled attack on Reaganomics and fiscal inequality. Even Piper’s down-on-his-luck everyman is named “Nada”, or Nothing for the Spanish impaired. The poor don’t live in crappy apartments, they live in tents in a field. Nobody has ever accused Carpenter of subtlety.

It features the line “I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and I’m all out of bubblegum” (written, per legend, by Piper himself) and numerous shootouts, explosions and car crashes. Imagine a wonderful, thought-provoking “Twilight Zone” episode padded out with a 25 minute fist fight over sunglasses and lots of 80’s synth music.

That’s this movie, and it’s awesome.

There are any number of problems with it, and detractors won’t stint on telling you about them if asked. It’s cheesy; thick cheesy. It’s got budget issues and effect issues and pacing issues. Still, this is a quintessential 80’s movie and one for which we can always remember Roddy Piper fondly.

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