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Zapped! Blu-ray Review

Zapped! (1982) movie poster Zapped!

Theatrical Release: July 23, 1982 / Running Time: 99 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Robert J. Rosenthal / Writers: Bruce Rubin, Robert J. Rosenthal

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

Buy Zapped! from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD Instant Video

Two years before beginning their long run on the mostly syndicated family sitcom "Charles in Charge", Scott Baio and Willie Aames portrayed best friends in the R-rated high school comedy Zapped!.

This 1982 film establishes Barney Springboro (Baio) as a nerd in his first shot, which finds him in thick glasses and mop top bangs running tests on mice in his home away from home, a science lab to which he alone has access. Barney's not a complete naif, though. His best buddy is Peyton Nichols (Aames),
a hormonal rich kid who is excited to see the rapid growth of one plant Barney has hidden behind the orchids he is cultivating for Principal Coolidge (Robert Mandan).

A lab mishap imbues Barney with the gift of telekinesis. With great power comes great responsibility, right? Wait just a minute. There's no Uncle Ben here, nor even Scott Howard's hardware shop-owning werewolf dad. Barney, a senior at Ralph Waldo Emerson High, uses his powers for fun. Like blowing open the top of Jane Mitchell (Heather Thomas, later of "The Fall Guy"), the buxom blonde cheerleader Peyton has his sights set on.

Barney keeps his powers a secret between him, Peyton, and Barney's blossoming love interest, pretty/nerdy school reporter Bernadette (Felice Schachter). He helps out the winless baseball team in their final game against a rival school, giving himself the game-winning play after a season of riding the bench. He helps Peyton show up Jane's collegiate boyfriend Robert (Greg Bradford) in a drinking challenge during the senior class' amusement park trip. He stands up to and embarrasses bullies. And he even fights against a rigged roulette game at which Robert tries to win back his money from Peyton.

In "Zapped!", science nerd Barney Springboro (Scott Baio) develops telekinetic powers, which he uses here to make lab items float.

Zapped! is an unabashed B-movie, the kind they don't really make anymore, at least not for theaters. This was not beneath Baio back in 1982, nor probably any other time in his life. Back then, Baio's star was rising on the small screen on "Happy Days", where he had recurred since 1977 as Fonzie's younger cousin Chachi. The fall after Zapped! opened, Baio got the short-lived, ill-regarded "Happy Days" spin-off "Joanie Loves Chachi." On the side, he was mostly doing TV movies and afterschool specials, like 1980's The Boy Who Drank Too Much (you can't make that up!). While big screen offers did not come piling in after Zapped!, Baio returned to "Happy Days" for its final season and then started "Charles in Charge" the following fall. And though it was not long for CBS (which axed it after a season), it did go on to run six seasons altogether in the then-new and exciting world of first-run syndication.

Aames had a similar career path, having been a regular on a number of network TV shows, most substantially "Eight is Enough." He picked up a few more theatrical credits, including
the 1982 Victorian romance Paradise with Phoebe Cates, but was happy to find steady employment as in-charge Charles' pal Buddy Lembeck.

Likely conceived and produced in the wake of Porky's, Zapped! feels like the link between raunchy movies like that and Revenge of the Nerds and the squeaky clean Dexter Riley trilogy of sci-fi college comedies that Kurt Russell made for Disney in the late '60s and 1970s. Zapped! is extremely dated in a way that better remembered '80s comedies are not. The movie opened just three weeks before Fast Times at Ridgemont High seemingly captured the early '80s high school experience on the basis of Cameron Crowe's undercover freelance reports.

Zapped! has no intention of being real or providing American adolescence as a snapshot in time. It is a movie that finds the baseball team's coach (Scatman Crothers) getting high on pot fumes and dreaming of riding a bike with Albert Einstein. There is a random "Star Trek" parody involving a model spaceship and Barney's dog. There's also a painfully awkward faculty romance between the principal and a spinster teacher, who meet through classified ads and wind up getting randy under a restaurant table. Then there's Barney's home life, a bleak world that finds his parents checking his arms for track marks and then calling in priests for an exorcism when they think he's possessed.

Scatman Crothers takes a bike ride with Albert Einstein in the movie's pot-fueled fantasy sequence.

The film's climax is its answer to Carrie, a school prom in which Barney uses his powers...to blow more clothes off his classmates, specifically dresses, shirts, pants, and bras (but few other undergarments). It's a silly end to a silly movie which can't resist trying to sincerely develop -- via corny montage, of course -- the romance between Barney and Bernadette.

Zapped! grossed just under $17 million in theaters, which inflation adjusts to a quite respectable $49.3 million in today's money. Only 14 movies have grossed more than that domestically this year so far and all of them have been more sophisticated and more elaborately produced. Zapped! couldn't have cost much, despite its inclusion of a then-rare visual effects credit. Those effects hold up surprisingly well for their age and analogue nature. But it's all just a bit of lowbrow escapism fun from filmmakers who would move on to other things.

Believe it or not, Zapped! spawned a direct-to-video sequel in 1990 called Zapped Again!, which sounds more like a remake and one that had zero involvement from the original cast.

It took until 2008 for Zapped! to finally come to DVD. Later this month, the MGM-owned movie hits Blu-ray through a licensing deal with Olive Films, who also treats it to a new DVD.

Zapped! Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
2.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English)
Subtitles: None
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: May 24, 2016
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95
Also available on DVD ($14.95 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as MGM DVD (February 12, 2008), in Totally Awesome 80s Double Feature with Making the Grade (June 10, 2008), 6 80s Movies MGM Movie Collection (October 5, 2010)
Blue Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

I can't find any figure estimating Zapped!'s budget, but I imagine it must be low. Even so, the movie looks surprisingly terrific on Blu-ray from Olive Films. The 1.85:1 presentation is very clear, throughout. Colors have that early '80s look to them. Effects shots (optical ones, no doubt) show just slightly more wear than their less processed brethren. And you can only spot the strings lifting things and people up on rare occasions, most obviously Bernadette's ascent to Barney's lab desk. The 2.0 monaural DTS-HD master audio mix is unexceptional but adequate. Some may lament the absence of English SDH subtitles, especially since the target audience for this disc is now in its fifties.

The secondary romance of "Zapped!" sees Barney's rich best friend Peyton (Willie Aames) pursuing gold-digging cheerleader Jane (Heather Thomas).

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Expanded from the cover art, the static, silent 16:9 menu offers just two options:
"Play" and "Chapters." That accurately indicates this Blu-ray is barebones in every sense of the word, even lacking subtitles and a trailer. I can't imagine Baio and Aames being unable to take out a couple of hours to revisit and remark on the film, but I also can't imagine that doing so would brighten more than a few dozen people's days. (Meanwhile, Zapped Again!'s rare and evidently long out-of-print DVD commands, but doubtfully begets, close to $160 in secondhand markets.)

The full-color disc is accompanied by a small but sturdy insert showing off other Olive Films Blu-rays and merchandise as well as giving you a chance to sign up for the company's mailing list.

Barney (Scott Baio) uses his powers to make clothes disappear in the film's climax, set in Emerson High School's senior prom.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Zapped! is a blast from the past,
sure to be best enjoyed by those who were teenagers in the early 1980s. This comedy certainly continues to hold some nostalgic appeal, but more as a guilty pleasure than as something you'd feel comfortable recommending to anyone with standards. Olive Films' Blu-ray presents the movie in high definition and nothing more than that. If (and only if) you've been itching to see those early '80s underwear styles (and occasional breasts) in 1080p, then you might decide this disc is worth the $14 or so it's currently selling for.

Buy Zapped! from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed May 9, 2016.



Text copyright 2016 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1982 Embassy Pictures and 2016 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Studio Canal, and Olive Films.
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