In this video I’m taking a look back at Thrashin’ from 1986, a forgotten skateboarding movie that still holds up as a great watch all these year later!
Few films capture skateboarding in the 80s like 1986’s Thrashin’. It’s a film soaked in high energy pop and punk music, filled with professional skaters, and lined with nostalgic montages. It’s a Romeo & Juliet story set inside the world of SoCal skateboarding and it’s as ridiculous as it is epic. So, let’s get into the behind the scenes on Thrashin’, how it holds up today, and why it’s become a cult classic.
This was one of my favorite movies as a kid. I loved the Goonies and I remember the lady at the little video store down the street from my house told me Brand did a skateboarding movie. She walked me over to the action section, pulled Thrashin’ off the shelf and I’d go on to rent that same copy easily more than 20 times over the next handful of years. It’s one of those movies that’s so tongue & cheek cheesy, but also completely cool with a rebellious attitude you can’t help but be drawn into. The plot’s simple, an out-of-town amateur skater named Corey played by Josh Brolin hits LA to stay with friends and enter some competitions.
It isn’t long before he falls for a beautiful blonde named Chrissy played by Pamela Gidley. The only problem is she’s also from out-of-town visiting her brother Hook played by Robert Rusler who’s the leader of the Daggers, a rival skate gang to Corey and his crew The Ramp Locals…opps. So, as I said, it’s essentially a Romeo and Juliet story with the noble families being swapped with rival skate crews with young Corey and Chrissy serving up a tried-and-true love at first sight summer romance that will aid in bringing the rival gangs to battle. Thrashin’ even includes a skateboarding joust between Corey and Hook that we’ll get into here in a minute.
But as a film, Thrashin delivers the traditional structure of the 80’s teen drama and layers it with the culture and attitude of SoCal punk and urban skating. It’s cheesy without question. And it’s by-the-numbers as Corey and Hook coming head-to-head will test the newly found love between Corey and Chrissy. You can predict where this story will go beat-by-beat, yet the silliness of it all is nostalgic and when you strip away the 80s teen-drama façade it’s actually a very competent skateboarding movie. What stands out most is Thrashin’s capable direction from David Winters that complements the tone of the film perfectly. From the low angle capturing of the skaters, to the montages, how he opens the scenes to frame intensity, and definitely the incorporation of music.
It all just gels and there’s a strong visual flow to this movie that effortlessly takes you from one scene to the next. With a tone that balances humor, action, love, and friendship, all of which gives this movie such an easily engaging progression. Winters was an accomplished director at the time of this film in ’86. He liked young Josh Brolin as the lead Corey Webster. However, for Corey’s nemesis Tommy Hook, the leader of the Daggers, Winters wanted Johnny Depp cast in the role. Depp’s girlfriend at the time Sherilyn Fenn was already cast as Velvet, Hook’s girlfriend in the film so it seemed like a natural choice despite Depp being still relatively unknown at the time. Producer Alan Sacks took Winters’ request and had Depp come in to read for the part. Sacks in an interview stated that when Depp walked into the room and shook his hand to introduce himself that it felt a little wimpy. Sacks felt the leader of the Daggers couldn’t have a weak handshake, so Robert Rusler was cast, and I think it was a perfect choice.
Rusler has an edginess that creates just enough of an intimidation factor, plus he just oozes Dagger charm. He has a pretty boy look but he pours into the bad boy persona nicely. And even if Hook’s written as a one-dimensional villain, Rusler makes the most of it and he knew how to skate, much like Brolin who learned for this role. This allowed Winters to fill the action sequences with some cool shots of the characters actually on the boards which naturally increases the intensity of the action at the right times. The role of Chrissy the female lead was played by the adorable Pamela Gidley. At the time Gidley was a model, Thrashin’ would be her very first performance and I think she holds her own. She certainly has a few clunky lines but so do Brolin and Rusler so with this writing you won’t really notice her inexperience inside this already young cast. Plus, Gidley brings sincerity as the kid from Indiana visiting LA. She brings a natural level of naivete, but she also has a maturity to recognize the silliness of it all. It’s subtle but it does bring some authenticity to her character that you can connect with.
Gidley would go on to have a steady career in Hollywood in both film and television before sadly passing away at the age of 52 in 2018 from undisclosed health reasons. But her first performance here in Thrashin will always immortalize her in 80s pop culture. Rounding out the cast, as mentioned Sherilyn Finn played Hook’s girlfriend. With Brett Marx, Josh Richman, Brooke McCarter, and David Wagner playing Corey’s friends and fellow Ramp Locals. And I think this group’s great together. You can tell when actors get along and these guys certainly did which sells the juvenile pranking and banter between them making it feel more natural. So really, they’re just a likable group of goofballs, without ever over playing it.
But the most important members of this cast. The ones who once you peel away the cheesy 80s teen drama façade, make this a fantastic skateboarding movie is the collection of professional skaters brought in as extras and for stunt doubles. Like I said, Winters’ direction of the skating from the bowl sequence to the street skating, to the half pipe skating, to the chase sequence with Corey and the Daggers, to the impressive climax at the LA Massacre, it’s all visually awesome because the stunt work is impressive. Add to that a young Brolin and Rusler, knowing how to skate and being able to do a good number of their own stunts. Then topping it off with professional skaters like Tony Hawk, Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero, Allen Losi, Tony Alva, and many others creates a perfect recipe for top notch skateboarding (for the time) and the ability to work that skateboarding into the story as seamlessly as possible.
To me the 80s nostalgia in this movie is a key factor. But the punk atmosphere of Thrashin’ wrapped around a clear visual appreciation for the culture of skating is what makes this movie a cult classic. Thrashin’ was filmed from Sept of 85 to March of 86 throughout southern California. Fun fact the house the Daggers call home according to production designer Catherine Hardwick who also makes a cameo during the opening credits of this movie, you can see her right there, said the Hollywood home used was actually a legitimate rundown crack house. The film would be released in the US on August 29th, 1986, and this is the first movie I was unable to find any box-office information on. It’s weird. I’m sure it had a smaller budget and probably didn’t do the best numbers in theaters. But I have no doubt it did relatively well on the VHS market.
The 80s were filled with extreme sports movies before they were really called extreme sports with movies like Gleaming the Cube, North Shore, BMX Bandits, Rad, and Thrashin’ certainly holds its own in this subgenre. Thrashin’ is Romeo and Juliet meets The Karate Kid and it still holds up as a feel-good night with a movie that also serves as a charming time capsule to the punk culture of street skating. None of the performances will blow you away and the screenplay from Alan Sacks and Paul Brown is filled with clichés and blatantly simplistic dialogue. But the story is a tried-and-true guilty pleasure formula that can lure that kid in you to the surface for a fast paced 90 minutes. You can side with the Ramp Locals but still see the coolness factor in the Daggers. The drama kicks in when The Ramp Locals halfpipe is burned, and when the Daggers sabotage Corey during the bowl competition.
It’s certainly formulaic but It’s strung together with appealing direction and endless action. This is when the montages kick in and when Thrashin is rolling full speed with the hard-hitting punk music serving as the pulse of the entire film. The scoring from Barry Goldberg is sufficient but the vibrant soundtrack certainly takes center stage. A pre-famous Red Hot Chili Peppers make an awesome in-film performance. Meat Loaf would record the film’s theme song title Thrashin, and White Sisters would record Touch the Sky, the song used during the bowl sequence specifically for this movie, and other artists like Devo, The Bangles, The Circle Jerks and others fill out the musical lineup for the skating action and its world class. It gets going with the half pipe sequence. The bowl competition is awesome. The nighttime chase sequence across town and in the parking garage is well shot and reminiscent of Daniel Larusso running from the Cobra Kai in the Karate Kid. Then there’s the over-the-top but unconditionally amazing skateboarding joust sequence. It’s a bit much but I can appreciate the atmosphere the scene builds.
Hook and Corey finally come to blows and as ridiculous as it is it still serves as a solid lead up to the final act. And to me this electrifying final-act in Thrashin’ still serves as one of the best closings in 80s sports dramas. You want your movie to close on a high note to feel rewarding. Thrashin serves up a buffet of great skateboarding, yet it still manages to go out with gusto in the LA Massacre. This is where the blend of Brolin & Rusler being able to skate, Winters’ solid direction, and great stunt work are able to craft a fantastic, adrenaline pumping closing. You know the outcome. Yet seeing it unfold as guys are reaching breakneck speeds and flying all over the place is a blast. There were many injuries during the filming of this climax. This guy right here really broke his leg, and these are real paramedics.
So, the filming of this sequence was no joke and the Santa Monica mountains as the backdrop is perfect for the action-packed finale. It’s a blend of handheld, stationary, and aerial camerawork, and it’s a thrilling closing as Hook and Corey battle it out for LA skating supremacy, and they just don’t make action sequences like this anymore. This movie’s undeniably cheesy, but you can see there is a passion to this movie, a respect and love of skateboarding that oozes out of the screen in the most appealing of ways. The movie is not without its flaws, but these flaws are also something that make this such a lovable movie for those who grew up with it and had our own dreams of challenging the LA Massacre.
CAST: Josh Brolin, Robert Rusler, Pamela Gidley, Brooke McCarter, Josh Richman, Brett Marx, David Wagner, Sherilyn Fenn, Chuck McCann DIRECTOR: David Winters WRITER: Paul Brown, Alan Sacks DISTRIBUTOR: Fries Entertainment RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes RATING: PG-13 (For action, violence, language, sexual themes) YEAR: 1986 LANGUAGE: English GENRE: Action/Drama/Sport/Romance
Anthony J. Digioia II © 2023 SilverScreen Analysis.