Joysticks (1983) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Joysticks isn't much of a movie, but it brings back a helluva lot of memories. My sons talked me into taking them to see this in a theater, and we joked about it for years afterwards. Looking back on that makes me smile and cringe at the same time, but mostly it leads me to wonder how the hell this film could have merited a theatrical release in the first place. Ah, the eighties!

As I look back on the early 1980s, there are two pop culture trends that stick out on my mind:

(1) The video game craze. There were hordes of teenagers hanging around in arcades, obsessed with the flickering images of Galaxian, Zaxxon, Space Invaders, Ms. Pac-Man, and all the rest of the arcade games of the second and third generation (Pong having been the first generation). It was a craze, perhaps not as pictured in this movie, but it was truly nuts. Convenience stores were ripping out more and more shelves every day to add video games. Bars without video games might as well have been without beer. Pac-Man made the cover of Time.

(2) Youthsploitation sex comedies. In the same era, sexy, youth-oriented comedies were gold. Porky's, Risky Business, Revenge of the Nerds, Ferris Bueller, and all their clones and sequels were bringing in dollars in theretofore unimaginable quantities. I think Porky's is still, to this day, the highest-grossing Canadian movie of all time, even though ticket prices are now about double what they were then.

Video games and youth-oriented sexploitation. Joysticks incorporates both. Perhaps the worst of both.

A hunky young man is running a video game arcade in his grandfather's absence. He is assisted by the local nerd and the fat slob video game champion. Unlike some of the comedies of the era, the nerds and the cool guys all get along and encourage each other in this universe. All they want to do is have fun playing video games and getting girls naked, but there are those who oppose that way of life. In the 1980s they were not represented by Che or Osama bin Laden, but by Joe Don Baker, playing a stuffy local tight-ass who has made our hero's arcade the target of a shut-down campaign because he caught his daughter on the premises in some unsavory situations. The secondary baddie is an evil video game player called King Vidiot, who wears make-up like the Joker on Batman and travels with an entourage of four girls who pretend to be the Pac-Man ghosts. The story gets resolved when it is finally decided that the great battle between the video arcade and the uptight Joe Don will be decided by a game of Super Pac-Man, with King Vidiot playing as Joe Don's champion.

Sounds kinda lame, doesn't it?

Well, it's a lot worse than it sounds.

Even with such a lame premise, Joysticks might have been a fun little exploitation film. After all, Summer Rental has a dumber idea than this and is a decent little sexy comedy, but Joysticks just pitched everything at too low a brow and too young an audience. Although it is an R-rated film, the writers were obviously targeting the 11-13 crowd. Every character is exaggerated beyond cartoon proportions. Every situation is overacted with hammy disregard for credibility, as the actors engage in a clumsy struggle for the most juvenile laughs. The fat guy goes for leg-raising farts and food on his clothing. The nerd says "oh, golly" every other sentence and cleans the game screens while people are trying to play. The stock valley girl isn't even recognizable as a person. If you asked a bunch of seventh graders to act out their impressions of vals, video addicts, geeks and hippies, their interpretations would be no less subtle than those which Joysticks put up on the screen. The cinematography ignores even the basic principles of lighting, to the extent that there are occasionally "ghosts" on the screen. This is the only professional post-1950s film in which I can recall seeing some transparent arms and legs. There's no need to enumerate further faults.  It's just a really bad movie and the DVD makes it seem even worse. The disc has no features at all, not even a widescreen transfer, and has obviously been transferred from an old full-screen VHS print. And not even a good VHS print. There are innumerable color shifts, and some scenes are so dark that facial features can't even be distinguished.

The director, Greydon Clark, started in the business as an actor in grade-B biker movies and the like, and he eventually branched out into directing. And what a resume he assembled! Joysticks is actually in the top half of his career output.

  1. (4.44) - Wacko (1983)
  2. (4.33) - Black Shampoo (1976)
  3. (4.30) - Without Warning (1980)
  4. (3.56) - The Return (1980)
  5. (3.36) - Joysticks (1983)
  6. (3.29) - Satan's Cheerleaders (1977)
  7. (3.01) - Uninvited (1988)
  8. (2.87) - Skinheads (1989)
  9. (2.83) - Lambada, the Forbidden Dance (1990)
  10. (2.75) - Final Justice (1985)
  11. (2.31) - Angels' Brigade (1979)

Any career that includes such diverse fare as Satan's Cheerleaders, Joysticks, and Lambada, the Forbidden Dance is OK by me. After all, there are plenty of guys who made bad movies, but can you name anyone who made so many different kinds of bad movies? Greydon is the Renaissance Man of crap.

Yes, Joysticks is crap, but what a strange potpourri of 80s memories it stirs! It's the kind of bad movie that reminds one about everything that was wrong with movies in its era. In that respect, it symbolizes the seamy underbelly of early 80s films just as The Last Movie did for the films of the hippie era. It does no less for the culture itself. In its unsubtle evocation of the video game craze, it encapsulates the feeling of the time with ... well ... unswerving inaccuracy, but an inaccuracy that now seems in retrospect to say something worthwhile about those times. It's like a bad street artist's hastily drawn caricature which we stuff away in a box of memorabilia because it is too incompetent to frame, then find oddly compelling when we drag it out a decade later, because it does seem to say something about what we were almost like, or how some people might have viewed us.

In other words, Joysticks is a time capsule, but not one which limns the way we were. Rather it shows us the way we had barely enough sense to avoid.



  • No features
  • No widescreen
  • VERY poor transfer


  • Kym Malin and Kim Michel show their beasts in two scenes.

  • Erin Halligan shows her breasts and the side of her hips in a dark sex scene pictured in flashback. There may be a brief flash of pubes as well.

  • Four topless bims are observed oh-so-briefly in a conservative's imaginings of the arcade's goings-on.

  • An unknown actress is seen topless in a hot tub.

The Critics Vote ...

  • No major reviews online.


The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It did have a brief theatrical release on April 3, 1983. It grossed four million in a maximum of 310 theaters.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a well-reviewed film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-. Films rated below C- generally have both bad reviews and poor popular acceptance.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film would be an E in a Criterion edition, and one must fairly say an F as is. And yet, it has bare breasts, awful jokes, Joe Don Baker, and other elements which imbue it with a certain lovable bad movie vibe.

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