Outside the Box: Pump
Up the Volume (1990)
By Maggie Wrobel
Up the Volume (1990)
Starring: Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Andy Romano
Directed by: Allan Moyle
Everybody knows that the 1980s was a decade of excess, neon and bad dance
music. However, it was also a decade that was instrumental in developing
a new film genre: the teen angst comedy.
Films such as Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club
told the tales of young people who tried to find their place in a world,
with strict social rules and invisible lines drawn between different economic
classes. These films were distinctive because they told their relevant
stories with sympathy and humour and also managed to make bona
fide celebrities of their young stars.
Allan Moyle's Pump Up the Volume was released at the tail-end
of the teen angst comedy boom. This means, that while the film maintains
some of the elements of this genre, it also puts its own rebellious spin
on the average "coming of age" story.
Christian Slater plays Mark Hunter, a socially awkward, yet hyper-intelligent,
high school student whose parents make him move from the East Coast to
Arizona in his last year before graduation. Moving halfway across the
country in senior year would be disastrous for someone with a big social
circle, but Mark's extreme shyness keeps him from making friends anyway,
so the move is not a big deal to him.
It is only when he's alone in his room in the basement that Mark can truly
let go and become the person he's hiding from everyone: Hard Harry.
Hard Harry is the name Mark gives himself after he creates a pirate radio
station in his basement and broadcasts his raunchy social commentary and
steamy song selections all over the local airwaves.
His controversial show quickly becomes a hit, especially when he begins
taking phone calls from local kids, many of whom are his own unassuming
classmates who have no clue about his true identity. The show gains even
more notoriety after he openly blasts the administrators of his high school,
where, ironically enough, his dad (Scott Paulin) is the superintendent.
Soon, everyone (including Mark's own parents) is eager to find out Hard
Harry's true identity, though everyone has their own reasons for wanting
to know who he is. This hunt for Harry's identity soon escalates and spins
out of control, with Mark talking himself into a corner until the film's
Slater gives a sensitive and sexy performance as Mark, playing the character's
shy and charming sides with equal ease and skill. He is well-matched by
Samantha Mathis (American Psycho), who plays his seductive love
The film's plot is enticing and exciting from start to finish, and the
witty dialogue thankfully discards any faux teenage slang. In short, Pump
Up the Volume is an intelligent and fascinating film worth checking
out, as its fiery individuality is just as relevant and entertaining today
as it was in 1990.