Let me take you back to September 3-9, 1982. During that week, singer-songwriter Andrew McMahon was born, Jerry Lewis raised more than $28MM at his annual telethon for muscular dystrophy, Paul McCartney released his solo album “Tug of War,” and Zapped! was the #1 movie in America.
Yep, the film that unseated E.T. after 12 consecutive weeks at #1 was Zapped!, a film I’m guessing you’ve never heard of -- and why would you have? In the mold of Porky’s, a film that may not be good but is certainly iconic, you’d think Zapped! was a complete rip-off if it wasn’t released only a few months later [I suppose maybe it was still possible given the production values of this thing]. The venerable Scott Baio stars as Barney Springboro, a high school nerd who after an accident in the school lab where he spends all his time, develops telekinetic powers. In 1980s comedy fashion, Barney uses the power to get back at the bullies and lift up the hot girls’ skirts.
Zapped! has a very weird tone. As an R-rated high school comedy, there is some rampant sexuality and drug humor. But the film also seems like it wants to be a Nutty Professor or Flubber style wholesome family science comedy. Part of this is the leading role, played by Scott Baio, who isn’t the crude Revenge of the Nerds hero but a sweet, good natured kid whose teenage impulses come naturally once he’s received this unlikely power. It takes about half the film until there is any nudity and there really isn’t much until the prom-set finale. Before then, the film spends its time with an extended baseball scene, a day at Six Flags, and a drug-induced dream involving Albert Einstein on a bicycle. There are bits that act as light parodies for Star Trek and The Exorcist. Nothing particularly risque. Certainly lame for someone looking for the next Porky’s.
Coming off television roles on Happy Days and Joanie Loves Chachi, this was Scott Baio’s big break into Hollywood and I don’t doubt that it was marketed as such. The film’s co-lead, Willie Aames had even more cache on the boob tube as a child actor on Swiss Family Robinson, Family, and Eight Is Enough. Both young actors were going for a re-imaging in something a bit bawdier. Zapped! wasn’t bad enough to kill either of their careers, but it didn’t make them instant movie stars, either. A few years later they would team up again for their biggest career venture, the long-running sitcom Charles in Charge.
Despite coming in at #1, Zapped! wasn’t particularly successful, which speaks to its obscurity. The $10MM it grossed in its fourth week accounted for 64% of its overall gross. Just as soon as it broke through at the box office, it completely evaporated from the cultural consciousness. The numbers are so strange that I honestly wonder if there is a database mistake or missing information over at Box Office Mojo. Then again, the quality of Zapped! clearly warrants a week of good returns followed by a movie-going audience who wasn’t going to be continually duped.
I’ll leave you with this: In his New York Times review, great film critic Vincent Canby called Zapped! “a half-baked, rather retarded parody of Carrie.” That basically says it all.