'Zapped!' is Ugly, Misogynistic Trash, and Its Direct-to-Video Sequel 'Zapped Again!' is Even Worse
(Welcome to DTV Descent, a series where we explore the weird and wild world of direct-to-video sequels to theatrical released movies. In this edition we take a look at a forgotten follow-up to a film better left forgotten.)
Everyone has choices in their past that they regret or that leave them feeling even an inkling of shame, and yours truly is no different. One of my biggest shames, and it’s no small thing, is the knowledge that as a young teenager I was a big, big fan of the movie Zapped! Part of my misguided interest was powered by hormones, obviously, but I also found its antics to be entertaining enough to rewatch it multiple times on HBO. Decades passed before I revisited the Scott Baio-led “comedy” only to discover that it in no way lives up to younger me’s hype. At best it’s a Dexter Riley film (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1969) for dumb, horny teens, but at worst? Well, it’s far, far worse.
But I’m nothing if not dedicated, so before checking out its direct-to-video sequel, Zapped Again! (1990), I rewatched it one last time to see how the two compare as a double feature. That sound you hear is me cringing and squirming for 190 minutes straight.
Barnie Springboro (Baio) is an typical 80s movie nerd with glasses, an interest in science, and not a cool bone in his body. Peyton Nichols (Aames) is his best friend, a bit smoother, and uses his wit and school photographer gig to woo, seduce, and ogle females. Upskirt photos and daytime beers are Peyton’s jam, but Barnie’s more interested in growing weed and teaching mice to SCUBA dive, which leads, obviously, to inventing a formula for telekinesis. Lifting things with your mind is nice, but the real “fun” comes in his ability to pop open hot girl Jane’s (Heather Thomas) sweater against her will.
More girls’ tops follow, and he even uses his ability to help Peyton score with Jane and take some revealing pics without her knowledge. Barnie tries making some moves of his own with another girl to the point of mentally forcing her shirt up as she tries to hold it down, and it all builds to a prom that trades the fiery death of Carrie (1976) for sexual assault as he strips students nude. Sadly, he doesn’t return home afterwards to die.
The DTV Plot
Kevin Matthews (Todd Eric Andrews) is the new kid at school, but he’s no nerd. He’s sporty, has 20/20 vision, and stands up for the little guy when the school bullies start picking on the science club. He joins the dweebs for a club meeting and soon discovers a secret hole in the wall holding bottles of prune juice labeled with the name Barnie Springboro. A few gulps later and Kevin is splitting a girl’s pants open and lifting a teacher’s skirt.
The club goes to war with the cool kids’ Key Club, and they hash it out at a school competition where Kevin pops more clothing to reveal girls’ breasts and bottoms because why not. His own horndog nature upsets his friend Lucy (Kelli Williams), who is inexplicably attracted to him, but don’t worry film fans – he gets to have his cake and eat it too, leading to a school carnival with more casual cruelty and topless “teens.”
This section is usually a gimme for the original, as DTV sequels are invariably a few steps down in the cast and crew departments. But I’m not so sure that applies this time around. Zapped! certainly has the bigger names, but while Baio, Aames, and Thomas are well-known television actors, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone defending any of them as “good” actors. Instead, they’re personalities, who along with the likes of Scatman Crothers and Eddie Deezen, serve to give the movie a series of familiar faces. Zapped Again! takes an arguable step up by not including Baio, but it still manages some recognizable faces in the cameo department with Linda Blair, Karen Black, and Lyle Alzado. So let’s consider it a draw in front of the camera.
The filmmakers fare no better, with the added bonus of neither crew being familiar in the slightest. Robert J. Rosenthal (Malibu Beach, 1978) directed and co-wrote Zapped!, and it was his last feature attempt at either art. His co-writer, Bruce Rubin, made his feature debut here before going out on a high five years later as the writer of the entertainingly campy Thanksgiving horror classic, Blood Rage (1987). The director and writers behind Zapped Again! managed far busier careers, with Doug Campbell finding his niche as a director of Lifetime thrillers, including the presumably popular “stalking” series (Stalked by My Doctor, 2015; Stalked by My Doctor: The Return, 2016; Stalked by My Doctor: Patient’s Revenge, 2018). Two of the sequel’s three (!) writers went on to become successful writers/producers on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place (2007-2012), but it’s the third who’s the most fascinating. Jack Morris’ IMDB page is limited almost exclusively to acting in 1968’s The Green Slime, co-writing Zapped Again!, and then appearing as himself on an episode of Fox and Friends in 2005.
How the Sequel Respects the Original
While most DTV sequels give only a cursory connection to what came before, Zapped Again! draws a direct line by mentioning Barney and seeing the return of his own formula. It’s maybe a bit lazy, as that means Kevin doesn’t have to invest any work into things before being gifted with the potion, but lazy pretty much describes the work ethic here. A single character carries over as well, with Sue Ane Langdon returning and now promoted to school principal. The biggest nod to the first film, though, is the continuation of its “hilarious” themes of misogyny and assault. Our hero once again removes people’s clothing against their will for skeevy lolz, and he’s celebrated for it.
How the Sequel Shits on the Original
While the original Zapped! is an offense to the senses, it at least recognizes the dynamic that has served underdog comedies well over the years – the protagonist should in fact be an underdog in their fight against the bullies. The sequel completely ignores that memo and instead sets Kevin as a cooly self-confident kid from the very start. He makes moves on the most popular girl at school, cracks wise at teachers to entertain classmates, and even wins a fight with a bully on his very first day. These kinds of movies traditionally give the protagonist some obstacle to overcome, but here he’s starting on a level playing field. Worse, he’s every bit the prick that his enemies are. Kevin is a mix of the first film’s two leads in that he has the telekinesis and he’s a cooly malicious asshole with no respect for women.
The missed opportunity here, outside of actually making a good and/or funny comedy, sits with Lucy and the possibility of a gender-swapped follow-up. Imagine the shenanigans a smart high school girl with the power could get up to, and then shake your head in dismay as a jealous Lucy finally drinks the potion only to humiliate other girls. It’s a throwaway sequence, but it’s the film’s biggest disappointment (in a movie that’s nothing but disappointment).
Much like the original, Zapped Again! is a comedy for preteen boys and incels. The boys expect girls to be all over them, and when they’re not, they get punished via public embarrassment. It’s an ugly theme in an ugly movie, and while it’s trying very hard to make you laugh – roughly two-thirds of Kevin’s dialogue is sarcasm and empty punchlines – it never manages to succeed.
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