I always remembered reading about the film when it cropped up in the pages of the DC and Marvel comics I devoured in my youth (sharing advertising space with intriguingly sounding US sweets like Tootsie Rolls and Milk Duds), but I didn’t actually catch it until a decade or so later, where I enjoyed it more than I had any right to at that age.
Ostensibly a Romeo and Juliet-type tale of two warring ‘tribes’ of skaters played out against the backdrop of a neon-heavy, 80’s Los Angeles setting (populated with pink bikinis and garish-looking beetle convertibles), Thrashin’ is a joy from start to finish. With a title track performed by Meat Loaf (somewhat at odds with the rest of the alternative, post-punk soundtrack) this is a totally rad film with some gnarly skating to boot.
The year after making his screen debut on a quest to find One-Eyed Willie’s treasure, the now well-established A-lister, Josh Brolin, gets his first lead role here. He plays Corey Webster (the makers obviously went for the most American-sounding name they could come up with), a talented and popular skater from the Valley who falls for a girl who happens to be the sister of Hook, fearsome leader of notorious Venice Beach-based, denim and leather-clad skate gang, The Daggers (think teenage version of The Rogues from the 1979 cult classic The Warriors).
This emotional tug of war accumulates in a gripping and atmospheric ‘skate joust’ between Corey and Hook, as they go man-to-man in a dark, flare-lit concrete battle ground – a place where half the film’s budget appears to have been blown on hiring smoke machines. The denouement is in the form of a seven-minute downhill skating race, where the now injured Corey has to make that final stand and win back the girl he loves.
Like Breakdance: The Movie (aka Breakin’), a feature from the same era cashing in on the latest craze, Thrashin’ is a film very much of it’s time, and the plot (like Breakin’) is secondary to the real star of the show – namely the impressively staged and imaginatively shot skateboarding sequences – some of which are performed by real professions (a barely-in-his-teens Tony Hawk is one of the skaters here). Hook even offers the ultimate diss to group of street body-poppers when he proclaims that “breakin’ is a memory”.
It’s hard to disagree with him. I imagine kids in the US must have lapped this up when it was initially released, doing for skateboard sales what Top Gun would do for Ray-Bans the year after. The filmmakers also display a canny knack of having their fingers on the pop culture pulse of that period, by hiring an extremely young-looking Red Hot Chili Peppers to perform in a nightclub scene.
Above all, Thrashin’ presents a fascinating glimpse into the era where my love of all things film was first formulating. The appeal of watching this period of (predominantly) American cinema was incredibly appealing and exotic, partly due to the fact that it was so completely removed from the world I knew. Like the previous video vault entry Night of the Comet, although dated in many ways, this film is still really well-made, with a lot of love and reverence for its subject matter.
Personally, I suffer from zero balance and chronically bad coordination skills rendering my skating ability non-existent, but I’ve always had a fascination with the look and lifestyle of the skater. Documentaries like Dogtown and Z-Boys and fictional pieces like this have provided an interesting insight into the birth and development of this once specialist hobby, which now have a significant place in modern culture.
Thrashin’ is available on Region 1 DVD, sadly for Region 2 fans eBay looks to be the only option. Here’s a trailer to whip up a frenzy.