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For Gilbert (Edwards) and Lewis (Carradine), they’ve been looking forward to this day all through high school. Adams College (home of the Atoms) has the finest computer department in the country. And better still, with 58% of the student population being girls, there’s an average of 7107.32 boobs! Them’s good odds! They settle into the Freshman dorm and start making plans to have the best room on campus.
That is until the jocks start playing with fire in their own frat house and burn it right to the ground. That’ll happen when you do fireballs with 180 proof. Guess where they decide to take up residence? Yup, out go the newbies as the football team rushes the dorm and “relocate” the freshmen to the gymnasium where the Dean has set up a block of cots and a black & white TV that looks like it might very well be thee first black & white TV. The good news is, with the housing shortage, fraternities can pledge early so there’s a chance that gym won’t be home for Gilbert and Lewis long. On the recommendation of lovely Atom’s cheerleader Betty Childs (Julia Montgomery), the boys head over to the Alpha Betas and hope for an easy initiation. Whoops. They end up in the company of sheep and walk home in their underwear, lathered in oil and pillow feathers. So, no. They didn’t make it.
Undaunted, the remaining nerds pool their resources and find a ramshackle off-campus house for sale. In no time, following the movie montage rule of fixing something up by pop-song, the house is like new in under three minutes. Just in time too as Alpha Beta leader, Greek President, and football quarterback Stan Gamble rides up on his motorcycle with lovely Betty Childs wrapped around his waist. He sees the work the nerds have done and decides it just won’t do. He vows to see it wrecked. The guy really hates nerds.
Just silly enough to be fun and never vulgar enough to be dumb, Revenge of the Nerds steers clear of the teen rom-com tropes and creates a whole new set of them on its own. Packed with memorable quotes and filled with some genuinely funny moments, the original in the long running series is by far the best and has a real charm about it that transcends the unnecessary sequels. Delivering a surprisingly powerful message without being preachy, the film hits all the right notes for a very satisfying geeky adventure.
Scene Setup: It’s been a battle for the ages between the jocks and the nerds with both sides uping the stakes with each reprisal (see below). After learning they can’t form their own fraternity without a national sponsor, the nerds enlist the support of Lambda-Lambda-Lambda, a mostly Black frat that is looking to get a chapter at Adams. Now serving as a probationary chapter, and after hosting a spectacularly nerdy celebration party, the nerds can compete in the Greek games. If they win, they can unseat Gable and take over the Council. After an exciting day of beer games, belching, kissing booths and masked oral sex in a fun house, it all comes down to the talent show. The nerds have a big surprise.
Why it matters: Right from the start, there hasn’t been any doubt about who we should be rooting for. The jocks have been living up to their stereotype from the word go, partying, being obnoxious, getting all the girls. So too have the nerds, dressing in high-water slacks, polyester tops, pocket protectors and thick-framed glasses. All except Booger (Armstrong), who is more geek that nerd, gaining a reputation for combing high schools for dates, conning Toshiro (Tochi), the Japanese exchange student in card games (What the fruck is a frush?), delivering world class belches, and living up to his nickname. There’s also Wormser (Andrew Cassese), a genius pre-teen who is, well, a pre-nerd, Poindexter (Busfield), the near-sighted, violin playing spaz, and Lamar (Scott) as the dainty black gay guy with a super positive attitude. The rag-tag team of misfits are the perfect storm of nerdiness and high-tech creativity, putting together a stage show that combines just about anything and everything they can think of, including fireworks, neon sings, Devo wannabes, Michael Jackson-esqe rapping, a punk-inspired electric violin, and a short, greasy Elvis. It’s spine-tinglingly good.
More: We have Director Jeff Kanew to thank for that. How many people land a job by saying they’d make something to be embarrassed about? That’s what Kanew did when asked what he’d do if he could direct. Mission accomplished, though it’s not nearly as bad or as scandalous it could have been. Yes, there are co-ed girls who show off their nibblies, even full frontal at least once, and cheers to them for doing so, but it’s played for fun and feels somehow less raunchy than it was in the similarly-themed Porky’s a few years earlier. Still, it’s memorable, more-so because of the reaction of the nerds watching on closed circuit TV. The film, despite its aims to be depraved, is actually rather charming, and ends up being a full-fledged feel-good comedy by the time Queen kicks in and the credits roll. Go figure. And that all comes from the standout performances of the two leads who go full nerd and never waver. This isn’t one of those Pygmalion make-over flicks. No nerd is gonna get a lesson in “cool” and become a hunk. They’re nerds from start to finish and if it had been any other way, this movie would have faded into oblivion soon after it was released. In this scene, we begin to see how special that nerdiness is. Let’s watch:
Nerds in film have always proven popular. Look at the success of Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Napoleon Dynamite, and Superbad. People come to see the stereotype overplayed for laughs but more especially want to watch the underdog win the day. It arguably begins with Jerry Lewis and his hysterical turn as Professor Julius Kelp in the original Nutty Professor. High water pants, think glasses, slicked hair, gangly legs and odd mannerisms, he set a standard that has seen its fair share of tweaks. But Revenge of the Nerds is the first to use the name, and remains a kind of nerd scripture for those looking to kneel at the alter of nerddom.
The film really isn’t concerned much with plot. It’s mostly a collection of set pieces that see our heroes and their foes duking out for campus bragging rights. Classic brains versus brawn. As such, we thought it’d be fun to take a closer look at each of the pranks and judge them on originality, style, believability, and finally, legacy. A perfect score is a 5 and abysmal is a 0. Each prank can earn a maximum 20 points. So, in oder of escalation, here are the Revenge of the Nerds fraternity pranks:
This is the opening gambit. Gilbert and Lewis attempt to pass the initiation rites of the Alpha Betas but instead run afoul of Gable and his crew. A sheep and a used condom hint at potential bestiality, but it’s not seen, rather the boys get stripped to their undies and end up huffing it back to the gym covered in goose down.
Legacy: 5 TOTAL: 14 / 20 “Let the initiation begin.”
Summary: There’s no doubt the house of horrors we see when the boys visit the Alpha Betas is over the top, but what a great introduction to their level of commitment. A funny stunt, it is widely remembered in the film and the image of Gilbert and Lewis casually heading to the showers is classic. Good start, Jocks!
While still reeling from their last embarrassment, the nerds have settled into their new house, thinking they have put some distance between them and the jocks. Think again. One early morning as they gather in the kitchen for breakfast, a rock crashes through the window. On one face, in bold black ink: NERDS GET OUT!
Legacy: 0 TOTAL: 6 / 20 “What is a nerd?”
Summary: Quick, sharp, and a little scary, this one is just mean and kinda dangerous. Straight up vandalism, this one lacks any real thought and is more a crime than a prank. While the jocks have already shown they don’t much care or respect university housing–it is after all how the whole mess began as they torched their own frat–tossing a rock through a window just seems kinda petty. For us, property damage is not a way to conduct a good prank, and really, NERDS GET OUT!? Come on, Jocks, is that the best you could do?
To celebrate their probationary frat acceptance, the nerds decide to throw an epic party but are lacking dates. The lovely Betty Childs, and the Pi Delta Pi cheerleaders get in on the prank action. Gussied up with gowns and candles, they serenade the nerd’s, singing, “Alpha Betas are okay, if you like sweat socks. We prefer your high IQ’s, to their great big . . . jocks.” Nice.
Legacy: 3 TOTAL: 17 / 20 “We got dates!”
Summary: A much kinder-gentler prank, this one has a sweetness to it once we realize how things will end up. The girls look great in their baby blue gowns and the lit candles make a nice touch. They also sound angelic and who ever wrote the verses deserves some credit for the clever wordplay. Well done, girls! But your time is coming.
After the Pies are a no-show to the party, Gilbert’s new nerd girlfriend invites her housemates, the Omega Mu’s, who are not cheerleaders. A little awkward at first, eventually things liven up (thanks to some “good shit” weed) and Michael Jackson. Then, the front door opens and in pile a small herd of pigs. They run through the house and the nerds follow them out where the jocks await, flashing them the moon and singing farmer songs.
Legacy: 4 TOTAL: 17 / 20 “Old McDonald had a farm.”
Summary: Overseen by U.N. Jefferson (Bernie Casey) of the Tri-Lam’s, the party is shaping up to be a good time and the nerds are proving themselves worthy of membership. The nerds themselves are finally loosening up and showing that they aren’t all facts and formulas. Sure, the girls are not the typical co-ed types, but as Booger recognizes, they sure can party! Eager for some action, the girls take to the festivities and it’s sex, drugs, and, er, contemporary radio pop from then on. This prank is actually really clever and surprising. It’s also a little playful. There’s no vandalism and between competing frats, it could seen as a fun prank. More farm animals and a big step up from that thrown rock. Well-played Jocks.
Time to live up to the movie’s title! After the party is busted up by the pigs, the nerds head over to the cheerleader’s house as the girls shower and generally mill about in their under things. While Wormser and Lamar break into the attic and setup closed-circuit TV cameras, the other nerds keep the house distracted in a full scale, blitz panty raid.
Legacy: 10 TOTAL: 20 / 20 “This is gonna be a great year!”
Summary: We’ll give the “silencer” on the cordless drill a pass (not a thing) and enjoy this prank for what it is. Boobs! The boys figure (correctly) that the best way to get back at the Jocks is to go for their girls. And not just a peek. They’re in it for the long haul, positioning cameras throughout the house to get angles on bedrooms, showers and hallways. Sure, it’s creepy, most definitely criminal, and bordering on psychotic, but again . . . boobs. It’s a central preoccupation of boys, and nerds, at least in this universe, are no less fascinated by the likelihood of seeing them. As a revenge prank, it’s top drawer and puts the nerds back on top.
After the nerds get home, it time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. With snacks and booze, they settle into the living room and feast on female nudie footage. From jumblies to “hair pie” the boys get quite the show, and for a short time, revel in their victory over the Pi Delta Pi’s.
Legacy: 5 TOTAL: 16 / 20 “We’ve got bush.”
Summary: For the first time, the boys seem like regular Joe’s. Wearing jeans and hoodies, (and one polyester suit) T-shirts and caps, they seem like an average bunch of frat boys getting their kicks off girls in their underwear. It’s a much more enlightening moment than first impressions give away though, as we see that maybe there really isn’t much difference between the squabbling underclassmen. No doubt, if it were any other house of naked girls, the Jocks probably would feel right at home on the sofa with these “nerds”, drinking beer, eating pretzels and crackin’ wise with the fellas. But it’s not to be. And the Jocks are about to feel the sting of a vengeful pack of nerds.
Satisfied with the panty raid, the nerds make a swift, powerful move against the Jocks. Sneaking into the locker room, they nab a bottle of undiluted “Liquid Heat” muscle relaxing rubbing alcohol and douse the player’s athletic supporters. It’s gonna get hot.
Legacy: 5 TOTAL: 18 / 20 “Shit, we forgot to practice.”
Summary: This one is just downright hilarious, arguably the funniest of the pranks, and not so much because of the pranks itself, but more so as the football players desperately try to keep composure as their coach tries to lecture them on teamwork. Unable to endure, they breakdown, except for Ogre, who keeps it together until the bitter end, finally trotting off the field like a little boy holding in his pee. Classic.
The Jocks take it to the next level in a serious, almost frightful way. As the nerds celebrate being accepted as members of the Tri-Lam fraternal organization, a fire cracks to life out on the front lawn. Through the window, they see an enormous “NERD” sign, blazing in the evening air. It’s chilling. The Jocks push it too far and the movie suddenly takes a dark turn, albeit brief.
Legacy: 0 TOTAL: 5 / 20 “This is bullshit!”
Summary: We already hated the Jocks at this point, but now it’s just fury. And when the nerds take it up with the Greek Council, led by Gable, their petition for a reprimand is dismissed. This motivates Gilbert into action, telling the boys they’ll never get out from under this mess as long as Stan sits in the big chair. Time for the Homecoming and the annual Greek Games.
The Greek Games are a series of contests that pit pairs of frat houses against each other. While there are otheer frats on campus, nobody cares. This real fight is the Alpha Beta Jocks & Pi Delta Pi Cheerleaders versus the Tri-Lams & Omega-Mu’s. To win the games, the nerd cheat. We can’t sugar coat it. Every event they win, aside from the the talent show (see above), they use tricks. But you know what? We like it. The games are all skewed toward athletic types anyway, and the nerds wouldn’t have a chance without a little creative thinking.
It’s also at the Greek Games where Lewis decides he’s a better man than Gable. He makes his move on the lovely Betty Childs. Yummy. Thinking the masked man she’s leading into the dark corners of the funhouse for a little tryst is her boyfriend, she has a powerful sexual encounter with a nerd instead. Turns out, it’s a pretty damned good sexual encounter. Why? Because jocks think about sports all day, nerds think about sex. She’s utterly flummoxed by nerd whoopie and the experience does more than tingle between her thighs. It spreads up into her once soured heart, and like the Grinch on Christmas morning, everything changes. No, she doesn’t save Whoville, but she does fall in love. So too does Lewis. Wait ’till Stan hears about it.
While we’ve spoiled a lot of the film for those who haven’t experienced the nerds, we won’t reveal the highly satisfying ending, which ultimately lifts this racy teen romp up a few rungs on the likability ladder. Sure, there’s maybe a short list of questions concerning some trivial things like home invasion, right to privacy, social behaviors, sexual assault, criminal misconduct, animal abuse, underage drinking, child abandonment, negligence, academic corruption, racism, alcoholism, favoritism, hazing, drug use, unprotected sex, welfare of a minor, personal safety, hate crimes, pornography, misappropriation of school equipment, and health code violations, but they’re hardly worth mentioning, really. But you should read more by our good friend Rob Ager over at Collative Learning with his brilliant examination of this film, including some of its harder to accept aspects. Great stuff.
Often very funny, sometimes a little silly, but always entertaining, there is a lot to love about the nerds in their quest for equality. This was huge in 1984. For the movie trailer, they got none other than Orson Wells for the narration. That was a pretty big deal back then, and showed just how much confidence the studio had in the project. They had no reason to worry. It made a nerd-ton of cash. But even with all that, after so many years, and with everything in the film beyond dated, the message is timeless. No matter who you are, what you do, or where you go. We’re all nerds.
Tim Metcalfe (story), Miguel Tejada-Flores (story)
Robert Carradine, Anthony Edwards, Timothy Busfield