Better Off Dead is a 1985 American teen dark comedy film starring John Cusack and written and directed by Savage Steve Holland. It tells the story of high school student Lane Myer who is suicidal after his girlfriend breaks up with him shortly before Christmas.
While the film was not a commercial or critical success at the time of its release, it has since been regarded as a cult classic.
In the town of Greendale in northern California, high school student Lane Myer's two main interests are skiing and his girlfriend of six months, Beth. Shortly before Christmas, Beth dumps Lane for the handsome and popular captain of the ski team, Roy Stalin. Roy is an arrogant bully who unfairly rejects Lane at ski team tryouts. Beth also criticizes Lane's car, an old station wagon. Although Lane also owns a 1967 Camaro, he has not been able to get it running and it sits on the drive in a dilapidated state.
Lane lives in a suburban development with his mother, Jenny, a ditzy housewife who routinely concocts creepy (and creeping) family meals; his genius little brother, Badger, who never speaks but at the age of "almost 8" can build powerful lasers and attract trashy women from "How-to" books; and his lawyer father, Al, who daily tries to stop the menacing paperboy, Johnny, from breaking his garage door windows with thrown newspapers. Furthermore, Johnny claims that the Myers owe him two dollars for newspapers, and persistently hounds Lane yelling "I want my two dollars!" Lane also regularly encounters two Korean drag racers who speak in Japanese, one of whom learned to speak English by listening to Howard Cosell.
Lane cannot get past Beth's rejection and decides that death is the only way out of his misery. He makes several half-hearted attempts at suicide, which all comically fail. With the help of his best friend, Charles de Mar, (who in lieu of not being able to get "real drugs" in their small town, constantly inhales everyday substances like Jell-O, snow, and nitrous oxide in a whipped cream can) Lane tries to ski the K-12, the highest peak in town, in hopes of getting Beth back but wipes out. Lane is further embarrassed when he gets fired from his humiliating fast food job at Pig Burgers in front of Roy and Beth, who are there on a date. To top it all, he increasingly begins to suffer from neurotic hallucinations owing to the mounting frustrations in his life.
As Lane attempts to either end his life or win back his ex-girlfriend, he gradually gets to know a new girl: a French foreign-exchange student named Monique, who has a crush on him. She is staying with Lane's overbearing neighbor Mrs. Smith, who continually tries to force Monique into being a girlfriend for her socially awkward son Ricky. The pair are so annoying that she pretends she cannot speak English. Monique, a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, turns out to be an excellent auto mechanic and skier who helps Lane fix his Camaro and tries to build his confidence. When Roy insults Monique, Lane challenges him to a ski race down the K-12, with the winner to be captain of the ski team. Monique helps Lane prepare for the race, which he ultimately wins despite losing a ski and being pursued by Johnny. Beth rushes to embrace Lane at the finish line, but he rejects her and after besting Ricky (who attempts to keep Lane from rescuing Monique from the restraints of his mother) in a ski-pole swordfight, drives off with Monique in his Camaro. Lane and Monique are last seen kissing on the home plate at Dodger Stadium, with Johnny bicycling towards them, while in a mid-credit scene Badger launches a home-made space shuttle from his room through the roof of the house.
- John Cusack as Lane Myer
- David Ogden Stiers as Al Myer
- Diane Franklin as Monique Junet
- Kim Darby as Jenny Myer
- Curtis Armstrong as Charles De Mar
- Amanda Wyss as Beth Truss
- Aaron Dozier as Roy Stalin
- Demian Slade as Johnny Gasparini
- Scooter Stevens as Badger Myer
- Yuji Okumoto as Yee Sook Ree
- Brian Imada as Chen Ree
- Laura Waterbury as Mrs. Smith
- Dan Schneider as Ricky Smith
- Chuck Mitchell as Rocko
- Vincent Schiavelli as Mr. Kerber
- Taylor Negron as Mailman
- Rick Rosenthal as Smitty
- E. G. Daily as Herself
Siskel & Ebert gave the film two thumbs down. Bill Cosford of The Miami Herald wrote, "Better Off Dead has the body of a tired teen comedy but the soul of an inspired student film; it's the first movie in a long time to interrupt itself periodically with flights of animated fancy. At one point, romantic foreshadowing is accomplished by a "clay-mation" sequence featuring cheeseburgers in love. At another, a lovesick teen draws a cartoon picture of his faithless girlfriend, and the drawing tells him to get lost."
According to Savage Steve Holland, Cusack did not like the film and walked out of a screening, later confronting Holland, saying Better Off Dead "was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don't speak to me." Holland claimed that Cusack felt he had been made to look foolish and that his comments "made me not care about movies anymore". In a 2013 Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat, however, Cusack was asked if he hated filming Better Off Dead, and responded, "No, I just thought it could have been better, but I think that about almost all my films. I have nothing against the film.... Glad people love it still."
Better Off Dead holds a rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 26 reviews with a weighted average of 7/10. The site's consensus reads: "Better Off Dead is an anarchic mix of black humor and surreal comedy anchored by John Cusack's winsome, charming performance."
In Popular Culture
In the episode, I Take Thee Quagmire of Family Guy
The film's soundtrack was produced primarily by Rupert Hine.
The opening track, "With One Look (The Wildest Dream)", was produced by Hine and features Cy Curnin and Jamie West-Oram of The Fixx on lead vocals and guitars respectively. Hine had previously worked with Curnin and West-Oram, and also contributed vocals to the song. The following track, "Arrested By You", as well as "Better Off Dub (Title Music)" and "Race The K-12 (Instrumental)" were performed solely by Hine.
"Dancing in Isolation" features Terri Nunn of Berlin on lead vocals. Hine produced the song and was reportedly under consideration to produce an album for Berlin.
"Come to Your Rescue" was performed by Thinkman, a group formed by, and including, Hine for the purpose of restoring his solo career without the music press knowing about it. West-Oram also provided guitar work to this song, as well as the instrumental "The Falcon Beat".
The only two tracks on the CD without Hine's involvement are "A Little Luck" and "One Way Love (Better Off Dead)." Valley Girl's Elizabeth Daily, credited on the soundtrack as E. G. Daily, sang lead vocals on both songs and also performed them in the film during the high school dance scene.
- Track listing
- "With One Look (The Wildest Dream)" – 3:26 (written by Torrence Merdur/Rupert Hine)
- "Arrested By You" – 5:07 (written by Torrence Merdur/Rupert Hine)
- "Shine" – 3:49 (written by Martin Ansell)
- "Better Off Dub (Title Music)" – 3:48 (written by Rupert Hine)
- "Dancing In Isolation" – 4:04 (written by Torrence Merdur/Rupert Hine)
- "Come to Your Rescue" – 5:03 (written by Jeannette Obstoj/Rupert Hine)
- "A Little Luck" – 4:21 (written by Angela Rubin)
- "The Falcon Beat (Instrumental)" – 2:37 (written by Rupert Hine)
- "One Way Love (Better Off Dead)" – 3:33 (written by Steve Goldstein/Duane Hitchings/Craig Krampf/Eric Nelson)
- "Race The K-12" – 3:49 (written by Rupert Hine)
- Tracks 1-6, 8, and 10 produced by Rupert Hine.
- Tracks 7 and 9 produced by Steve Goldstein.
- Rupert Hine - lead and backing vocals, all other instruments
A number of songs that appear in the film do not appear on the CD soundtrack, including Howard Jones' "Like To Get To Know You Well", Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some!!", Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do", Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover", Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady", Frank Sinatra singing "A Man Alone" by Rod Mckuen, Hall & Oates' "She's Gone", and Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy".
- "Better Off Dead: Just Give the Kid Two Dollars Already". Bleeding Cool (16 November 2019). Retrieved on 8 January 2020.
- (2010) When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah, 1st, Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
- "Better Off Dead - Animated Burger," YouTube. Accessed Jan. 3, 2019.
- Savage Steve Holland talks about "Better Off Dead" & "One Crazy Summer" at the Aero Theater – Written by Ben Kenber. FilmArcade.net. Retrieved on 2011-11-24.
- Cosford, Bill (17 Oct 1985). "Better Off Dead". Retrieved on June 7, 2017.
- The Sneeze – Better Off Dead Tribute Interview with Savage Steve Holland
- Reddit Ask Me Anything Hey, it's John Cusack, I'm here to talk about Freedom of the Press Foundation, among other things. Ask Me Anything.
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