Even though it’s not scary or has nothing to do with ghosts or goblins, The Hollywood Knights is in the vein as a Halloween movie as Die Hard is a Christmas movie. And I’m saying this as someone who loves both movies.
Set on Halloween night in 1965, the plot focuses on the titular characters, who are a car club but more known for their pranks and antics as they get back at authority. They’re the constant thorn in the side of the Beverly Hills Police Department as they are always hanging out at Tubby’s Drive-In. But unfortunately, civic leaders have led to the drive-in being closed and demolished for “a beautiful office complex.”
The Knights are led by their de facto leader, Newbomb Turk (Robert Wuhl in his first role), but it seems there’s only a handful of them that we follow. There’s the geeky Shorty (Glenn Withrow), the boostful Simpson (P.R. Paul) and Wheatly (Randy Gornel) who seems to be enthused by James Dean. Other Knights include Duke (Tony Danza) and his older brother, Jimmy Shine (Gary Graham).
As Wheatly observes, they may actually just be a bunch of people stuck in the 1950s. This is something Duke also comments on as Jimmy is set to go to Vietnam for the military. The movie is set about two years after the JFK assassination. The Knights are worried if they’re breaking up since there are only four pledges for the club that year. Duke says when he was younger everyone wanting to be a Knight.
With their popular hangout spot set to close and concern they may slowly dissolve, the Knights decide to make their last night at Tubby’s the most memorable. They set off a series of pranks all over the town, constantly invoking the ire of BHPD Officers Bimbeau and Clark (Gailard Sartain and Sandy Helberg) as well as the civic leaders responsible for the closure of Tubby’s. These include Jacqueline Freeman (Leigh French) and her secret lover Nevans (Richard Schaal). Jacqueline’s husband is one of the bigwigs but is unaware of his wife’s infidelity even though she seems quick to grab on to Nevans the second his back is turned.
Some of the pranks probably don’t sit well in the modern era. Newbomb sneaks in the bushes and takes pictures of teenage Sally (Fran Dresher) and her friends sunbathing with no swimsuits on. They later observe them changing their clothes at a secret spot. And even forcing the pledges to strip down till they’re naked as jaybirds is dated in today’s climate. Wheatley also pretends to be a one-arm violinist at a talent contest and uses his other hand to act like he’s holding the bow with his penis.
They urinate in a punch bowl but only make sure the police and civic leaders drink it at a social event. They vandalize a banner at a pep rally with profanity language. Their antics which might seem childish and vulgar are a middle finger to the stuffy conservative actions of the community. It never explains why they’re called the “Hollywood Knights” but mainly hang around Beverly Hills even though it seems they drive all around the L.A. area as the pledges are left in Watts with a goal to a radio station deliver a statement on air for Tubby’s.
There is a lot of National Lampoon’s Animal House crude behavior here and you can see similarities with the Knights and the Deltas. The difference is that while Animal House had a concrete plot, there’s more episode events that occur here. I don’t know it’s that’s good or bad. At the beginning, Sally doesn’t care for Newbomb but over a few hours seems to like him a lot more. Then there’s the change of Dudley Laywicker (Stuart Pankin) a nerdy, obese college-age teen who is at first terrorized by the Knights but later becomes their friend and Jimmy hands Dudley his Knight jacket for safe-keeping while he’s gone.
The subplot involving Jimmy worried about never coming back from Vietnam and Duke having relationship problems with his girlfriend, Suzie Q (Michelle Pfeiffer), who wants to be an actress give off more American Graffiti vibes. It had to be on a lot of young person’s minds in 1965 as what was going to happen as things were changing around them a lot.
As for race relations, the movie is told through the eyes of the white characters even though there are a few black supporting characters, mainly some young men listed as Do Whoppers (with a young T.K. Carter playing one of them) who hang around the record station. The Watts riots had occurred in August of 1965 but nothing is said about it even though it probably would’ve been fresh on the minds of many people at the time.
Regardless, director Floyd Mutrux is able to bring on the nostalgia that other filmmakers who were young in the 1960s did. The movie boosts a huge soundtracks of 1960s hits, which is part of the reason it didn’t hit the home video market until the late 1990s after several licensing fees and legalities were negotiated. It had become popular on cable TV and especially HBO and Cinemax over the years after it’s 1980 release.
It doesn’t have the clever craziness that Animal House portrayed and it didn’t go for the jugular in the vulgar area the way Porky’s did. There is a lot of crude humor, such as scene where Newbomb, having stolen Dudley’s major domo outfit, sings “Volare” at the pep rally while farting after every line.
It’s a nice movie to watch around the Halloween season if you don’t care for scary movies but you don’t want to watch Jack Skellington sing in the snow.