Paradise1982, Starring Willie Aames, Phoebe Cates, Tuvia Tavi and Richard Curnock. Written and Directed by Stuart Gillard (AVCO Embassy).
Guest Review by Allan Mott
Anyone who’s a real movie buff knows that very often the films with the best behind-the-scenes stories are most likely the exact same ones that no one on the cast and crew are ever going to talk about. Ishtar may have finally made it to Blu-ray this year, but it came out on a disc with zero special features — nary a commentary or interview to be found. The thinking behind this is obvious — why spend money on extras for a film that most people never wanted to see in the first place? So, instead, fans of these films, such as myself, are forced—forced!!!—to imagine their own backstage stories about how certain terrible movies came to exist, even though they clearly shouldn’t have.
For example, having just watched 1982’s shot-in-Israel-but-made-by-Canadians Paradise, I find myself wondering what the meeting that led to its genesis might have been like. In it, I see three people sitting in a well-appointed office room — one furnished by the profits of such Canuxploitation classics as In Praise of Older Women, Agency, Suzanne and Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid. Whether this office belongs to producers Robert Lantos or Stephen J. Roth is unimportant — all that matters is that they are joined by Coronation, Alberta’s own Stuart Gillard.
Robert: Stuart! We are so excited to have you in here.
Stephen: Abso-fucking-lutely. We saw that movie you wrote about that blind guy and it was amazing. I cried.
Robert: It’s true! He did! Like a woman!
Stuart: I’m glad you liked it.
Stephen: Liked it? WE LOVED IT! And watching it we both immediately knew that you were the guy to write our next movie.
Robert: It’s going to be huge!
Stephen: Bigger than huge! Colossal. Gigantic. FUCKING ENORMOUS!
Stuart: Wow. What is it? Something based on a book?
Robert: Books? Who reads books? No this is even better — a completely original idea!
Stephen: And you know how rare those are.
Stuart: That’s great. What is it?
Robert: What’s what?
Stuart: The idea.
Stephen: It’s going to blow everyone away.
Robert: It’s about these two kids. Two real beautiful kids in their late teens. So hot, you cream in your pants just looking at them. But it’s classy because it’s olden times. Like a hundred years ago or so. They’re out in one of those desert places.
Stephen: We have some Israeli investors who can’t wait to give us some money.
Robert: Right. So they’re out there traveling and the girl is so hot that this evil Arab guy decides he wants to own her in his harem and make her his sex slave, so he massacres their traveling party, but the two kids escape.
Stephen: And they’re out there, trapped in the desert, but then they find this spot and it’s a perfect paradise and before you know it, they’re like, “Hey, you’re pretty cute. We should do something about this.” Which means...
Robert: ...tits and ass, but real tasteful. Not the usual whack-off stuff. More arty.
Stephen: Right. So they explore each other and by the end, the bad guy is dead and she’s pregnant and it’s all happily ever after. Didn’t we tell you? It’s going to be huge!
Stuart: Aum… it sounds… really familiar.
Robert: What the fuck are you talking about?
Stuart: It just… sounds a lot like another movie.
Stephen: Here we go!
Robert: We know what you’re going to say.
Stuart: I mean— no offence —but it sounds like the same plot as The Blue Lagoon.
Stephen: Why the fuck does EVERYONE SAY THAT?!?!?
Robert: It’s completely different, Stuart. Apples and oranges.
Stuart: How so?
Robert: The Blue Lagoon is a historical drama about two beautiful teenagers who discover their awakening sexuality and have a baby on a deserted tropical island. Our movie is going to be a historical drama about two beautiful teenagers who discover their awakening sexuality and have a baby in a hidden desert oasis. The settings couldn’t be more different. In fact, they’re totally opposite.
Stephen: Why is that so hard for people to understand?
Stuart: I dunno, you guys….
Robert: We’ll let you direct.
Stuart: I’m in!
Now, I have no idea if this is even close to being accurate or if I’ve just committed unintentional libel, but it’s very easy to imagine this conversation having happened when you give Paradise even the most cursory of glances. A full examination — like the one I just engaged in — only strengthens this perception.
As rip-offs go, Paradise is the rip-offiest. But a lot of my favourite movies are rip-offs of other movies, so I honestly don’t hold that against the film or the filmmakers. Roger Corman is my God and Corman knows he was never ever shy about chasing a buck by copying an established success.
No, the only standard by which a film like this can be judged is by where it stands on its own merits. By that — of course — I mean the gratuitous nudity. And by that standard, Paradise is an epic achievement, the credit for which falls on two very lovely shoulders — ones that many who grew up as teenagers in the VCR era will be very, very familiar with.
That’s because, besides being an unapologetic Blue Lagoon rip-off, Paradise also served as the screen debut of everyone’s 1980s fantasy girlfriend — Phoebe Cates. Anyone who gets an instant memory boner the instant they hear The Cars' “Moving in Stereo” will no doubt appreciate a movie made the same year that worked even harder to exploit the beautiful young actress more than Amy Heckerling and Cameron Crowe ever did.
But the truth is that Paradise proves that quan-titty is no replacement for quali-titty. (You guys cannot comprehend how proud I am of this sentence—please read it a dozen times to allow it’s true genius to sink in). Because despite featuring numerous scenes of Ms Cates in her glorious lack of shame, there is not a single moment in the film that comes even as close to being as mind-blowingly fantastic as the one scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High that (justifiably) made her a legend.
In fact, in many of her scenes in Paradise it’s hard to tell it’s even her. I spent much of the movie assuming they had hired a body double, until one specific underwater shot made it very clear that she apparently was not afraid to expose everything for this specific motion picture.
That said, the rest of the non-naked Phoebe parts of Paradise rate the high praise (for such a film) of being marginally diverting. The film is never actually good in the traditional sense, but it manages to avoid being as terrible as you might have hoped when you started watching it. Its ludicrous elements are legion and immediately noticeable (neither Phoebe or her co-star—Zapped’s Willie Aames—are the slightest bit credible as period teenagers, and they don't even attempt to alter their natural contemporary speaking voices, which was probably a wise choice), but the effort itself is so lightweight and inoffensive it’s impossible to take the film seriously enough to hate it. If you took out all of the nudity, Paradise would feel more like the kind of forgotten 1970s family films that used to get cut up into chunks and serialized on The Wonderful World of Disney.
For example, there is one genuinely good moment in the film where David (Aames) lashes out at Sarah (Cates) for being the cause of the death of his missionary parents and the rest of their Damascus-bound caravan. She responds to this by quietly reminding him that she can expect a much worse fate than death if Tuvia Tavi’s slaver character, The Jackal, catches them. It’s an underplayed moment that still manages to send a slight chill up the spine, but it’s ultimately undone when his character does capture her and Aames manages to rescue her unharmed in a scene better suited for a Don Knotts and Tim Conway vehicle than a serious adventure drama.
Paradise is neither a success nor a travesty, but instead the exact kind of unambitious imitation upon which much of the Canuxploitation canon was built. However it came to be, all that matters is that it effectively supplies an important commodity — naked Phoebe Cates — that is otherwise in short cinematic supply.
Oh, and she also sings the song over the closing credits and it’s kinda amazing.