Tuesday, July 29, 2008


When I was eight years old, I saw Cloak and Dagger for the first time, and for the first time, I had a monster under my bed. I kid you not--I wasn't allowed to watch any of the traditional 80s scary flicks as a youngster. I had to wait until my college years to come under the tutelage of Kevin Still to be introduced to the quasi-baddies, and even today, I don't do so great with the opening scene of Scream. My monster, unlike the Freddys or Jasons or Pinheads or Bill S. Prestons of the 1980s, had three fingers and wore a really bad hat.

In Cloak and Dagger, the villan (SPOILER ALERT) turns out to be a grandmotherly figure who heads up a spy ring interested primarily in government secrets encased in video game cartridges. The distinguishing mark of this matron of evil? Inexplicably, she only has three fingers on her right hand. No background is given for this disfigurement, but like the traditional villans (Jason, Freddy, Pinhead), her villany coinsides with physical deformity. This is a tradition which goes back to Scripture itself, in which the outsiders and sinners are characterized in Scripture by their physical ailments (blindness, leprosy, lameness). Granted, the Gospels characterize sin in this way in order to undo this misnomer about physical disability, but you get the point: traditionally, if you want to point out that someone is "not of us", you give them a physically distinguishing mark, and the job is done: a scar, an extra toe, loss of digits. My childhood is marked, thus, not by a boogeyman under the bed, but a lady with three fingers and a doilie around her neck, stretching out for my pubescent ankles as I jumped into bed.

I watched this again for the first time in nearly two decades this past weekend, and was surprised how well it's aged. Sure, it's got the 80s pacing and acting style, but what didn't? But it's got Henry Thomas, Dabney Coleman, intrigue, spy games, mistrusting parents, and emotional drama. Good times.

The occasion for watching this was being at home with the folks in Shreveport, which turns into a concentrated time of relaxation and general lounging. For the last few years, Dad has sworn that he's going to cancel the cable and just go DVD, and so, every time I come home, part of our ritual is him updating me on the latest DVD acquisitions. I don't think he'll ever cancel the cable, but he enjoys becoming a movie buff, and it's part of coming home that I look forward to, so it works. Dad works hard all day, so enjoying a movie sacked out in the recliner is the least he can expect, I think.

I might also mention that Mom and Dad have this for their TV, so that even the innocuous "pissed" wind up getting bleeped. Again, it's part of what I look forward to about coming home, that there are places in the world left where the f-bomb isn't common currency.


the hamster said...

myles - my favorite story about the werntz family tv-guard includes the film BEST IN SHOW and a shihtzu dog - thankfully renamed a crapzu for the kiddies. that's golden.

dude, this review was way fun to read. (of course, i was in it, but that's not the whole reason). i'm ten times more interested in a person's experience viewing or interacting with a film than just their opinion. so all the history here makes me happy.

by the way, sometime in august, the college station cinema will show WAR GAMES on the big screen. i remember thinking that film was boss as a kid.

keep the childhood nostalgia flowing. these are stories worth telling.

myleswerntz said...

NO WAY! Look up when that's going to be, and I'm coming for that!!!! I'm totally serious!

the hamster said...

umm, i think i spoke too soon. it already happened. sorry, bro. but you can still come, and we can rent it. and you can sit on a chair and i can sit on the floor and it'll feel like stadium seating.

John Barber said...

I'm jealous. I should have thought to review this one - it's an all-timer and I just bought it on DVD a few months ago. I would have like to have heard a dissemination on the psychological causes and ramifications of having Dabney Coleman as both inept father and as action hero. Historically, doesn't the father/father type situation occur when it is inept father and villain (a la PETER PAN, when the father is also Captain Hook)?


Great job, Myles. I, too, have a phobia about amputees and will forever thanks to this one.

Seth said...

If you were a child of the 80's and you didn't like this movie, then you are no friend of mine. Hiding secret spy messages within an Atari cartridge-how much more high-tech can you get? And when Jack Flack gets drilled in the end-heart wrenching. I laughed and cried as a kid, and I wore out my beta-max copy.

I must admit, I would also have liked a review about the psychological underpinnings. There could be some great stuff in there about the father/father juxtaposition. The idea is found in scripture too-if your earthly father wouldn't give you a snake when you ask for bread, how much more so your heavenly father. In other words, "hey your earthly fathers are pretty good and take care of you, but your heavenly father is way more cool." This was kind of the theme I saw in the movie, although the earthly father ended up being the ultimate hero (at least from my memory).

That's my 2...