May 30th, 2019 – In 1984, there was apparently a lot of revenge to be had for nerds, but in 2019 they may be the ones facing retribution. In the ever-growing list of 80s teen sex comedies that haven’t aged well, Revenge of the Nerds has uncomfortably fought its way to the top.
From installing cameras in a sorority house to a nerd committing “rape by deception,” the film frames its problematic scenes as goofy, commonplace hijinks. At the fictional Adams College, a group of nerds joins the Tri-Lamb fraternity in an effort to stop the harassment coming from the jocks in Alpha Beta. But having the popular kids release pigs at your party now seems less of an offense than a nerd impersonating someone in order to sleep with a sorority sister.
Lewis, played by Robert Carradine, is the leading nerd with the most talked about scene in the movie. During a Halloween party, he dresses up as Darth Vader (a costume he stole from Alpha hunk, Stan) and tricks Betty into having sex with him. He later reveals to her that she wasn’t having sex with her boyfriend, Stan, and she quickly forgives him because he was a more, um, attentive lover.
Hadley Freeman wrote about that scene in a piece for The Guardian titled “Rewatching 80s favourites in the age of #MeToo.”
“But in case you ever get asked in a pub quiz what was the rapiest film of the 1980s, this is the official answer,” she said.
William Bradley, writing for The Mary Sue, also criticized the film saying that the tagline description doesn’t hold up when you view the movie years later. On IMDB, Revenge is described as “a group of bullied outcasts and misfits resolve to fight back for their peace and self-respect” with one user adding the line “An Instant Classic for the Underdog in All of Us.”
“That’s kind of how I remembered the movie too, until I watched it again a couple years ago, for the first time as an adult, and was immediately struck by the way the film plays sexual exploitation and assault for laughs” Bradley wrote. “It’s true that the nerds stand up to their bullies and empower themselves, but they are only able to do so by victimizing women whose chief crimes are snootiness and bad taste in boyfriends.”
Critics of the film also point to the scene where the nerds sneak into the Pi Delta Pi sorority house under the guise of a panty raid only to install cameras to spy on the women. Later, they take images of a naked Betty and put them onto pies to sell during the charity portion of “Greek Games.” They end up beating the Alpha jocks in that round because, well, (nerd) revenge porn.
Revenge of the Nerds has also been blasted for its racism with reviewers comparing the Japanese character’s offensive accent to the one Mickey Rooney used in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And while criticism of how the film uses its black and gay characters is also prevalent, the main critique again goes to rape culture.
Noah Brand of The Good Men Project wrapped it all up by saying:
“Let me be clear. Revenge Of The Nerds has so much rape culture, you could use it to make rape yogurt.”
How does Revenge of the Nerds hold up for you in 2019? Do you think the film could be made as is today?