If you’re an old-fart gamer — like me — you may remember, or at least be aware of, the 1983 movie Joysticks. I’m not even sure if this Z-grade, R-rated teensploitation stinker has even achieved the rank of “cult classic,” so I’m hesitant to use it. However, in the interest of research…sigh. I finally pulled the trigger.
And OMG. You have to watch it.
The premise — as you could probably guess — is that there’s a popular video arcade, and a rich dude wants it shut down because he’s sick of his daughter hanging around the awful people who patronize it. Among this clientele are every single ’80s movie stereotype: the cool kids, the valley girls, the nerd, the slob, and the punks.
The rich guy — played by Joe Don Baker, who, as any Mystery Science Theater 3000 fan will tell you, is a sure sign of cinematic quality (“BUZZ OFF KID!!”) — also has two bumbling nephews who act as his goons to try to sabotage the arcade to win their uncle’s favor.
Also, there are boobs. So, you know, fair warning.
You know how, sometimes, people will try to do some sort of modern homage to the ’80s, and they put all these obvious tropes in it, like bad acting, bad hair, bad clothes, a synth soundtrack, a predictable and hackneyed plot — and you see it and think, “well, they didn’t really make movies like that in the ’80s, this is just an idealized stereotype.”
Nope. It was true. And Joysticks is that movie.
Everything the movie tries to do, it does weakly. The cool kids aren’t cool. The punks are not punk and the trouble they cause is inconsequential. The pranks that the kids pull on each other are lame. The naughty scenes are unsexy excuses to show topless girls. The rich guy isn’t even that rich, he’s like barely upper middle class.
Of course, there are plenty of video games in the movie. It’s always cool to see original arcade cabinets back in the day. There are tons of popular titles, like Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, Defender, Pole Position, and Centipede, but you can also spot lots of lesser-known games, like Space Dungeon and Star Castle.
Interestingly, there’s a scene featuring a game I was not familiar with. It’s referred to in the film and credits as “Stripper Game,” but a quick bit of research turned up that it was a 1981 game called Streaking by Shoei. Already a bawdy game featuring nudity — which is probably why we never really saw it in the US — it apparently was retooled a bit for this movie. So at least there’s a bit of obscure game esoterica here that’s worth a look — if you can get past the fact that the scene showing this game is also full of bewbies.
Here’s the original game:
The arcade also has what’s called The Arena, which is two oversized screens side-by-side with two gigantic, floor-mounted joysticks in front of them, which they use for competitions. There are two major contests in the movie, one pitting punk King Vidiot against the slovenly Dorfus in a game of Satan’s Hollow, and another featuring Vidiot versus the arcade’s owner, Jeff Bailey, in a Super Pac-Man faceoff. It’s ridiculous, but actually could be seen as a bit forward-thinking, in today’s era of gigantic arcade machines from Raw Thrills.
All things considered, Bailey’s Arcade actually looks like a pretty cool place. I’d totally hang out there. They have hot dogs!
Joysticks was only released on VHS back in the day — never on laserdisc or CED — and copies go for quite a bit in today’s collector market. There were a few DVD releases in the past several years, which are also now out-of-print and expensive (the only one available on Amazon that’s inexpensive is a region 2 version). However, if you have Amazon Prime, Joysticks is available to stream for free!
It should also be noted that Ship to Shore Phono Co., the record label responsible for many great video game soundtrack LPs, did put out the Joysticks sountrack on vinyl, but the limited pressing of 1000 units is also sold out.
So yeah, Joysticks is awful. And yet, if you’re the type of movie fan who actually loves watching terrible movies (and there are plenty of those folks out there — I admit, I can be one myself), I gotta say, Joysticks is also watchable enough to be that Friday night MST3K session you might be looking for. It’s really a pretty solid package of ’80s bad teen movie cliches that you might actually enjoy.