Until Silicon Valley altered the social universe and put the poindexters on top for good, the '80s were a cruel decade for nerdkind, at least in the glut of post-Animal House campus comedies flooding the marketplace. It seems unlikely that real-life goobers were actually getting wedgies and swirlies in reputable universities, but onscreen, fraternities were having all the fun, and non-Greeks were partying significantly less hardy. Enter 1984's Revenge Of The Nerds, which registered an important symbolic victory for outcasts everywhere and provided an easy headline for two decades' worth of articles about Bill Gates. Sure, it isn't far removed from the broad, crass lowbrow comedies of the time—for a major refinement on the same formula, try Real Genius the following year—but seen today, the film remains surprisingly disarming and quaint, a sweet-natured precursor to modern staples like American Pie.
In the documentary on the new "Panty Raid Edition," nobody gives much respect to the script, and most claim their participation was strictly mercenary, but the ringers in the cast really brought the film to life. Robert Carradine's braying laugh was likely the hook that launched three sequels and a currently stalled remake, but as his best friend and fellow freshman at Adams College, Anthony Edwards is equally good, and his self-possession serves as ballast for his less-confident brethren. (He's a nerd and "pretty proud of it.") Other performers get by on sheer enthusiasm, from jock enforcer Donald Gibb as "Ogre," whose apoplectic reaction to nerds rivals only William Shatner's "Khaaaan!" for vowel extension, to Curtis Armstrong's "Booger," still the gold standard by which all disgusting slobs are judged. Not much thought was given to the plot, which involves the nerd fraternity battling the jock fraternity for control of the Greek council, but it's enough to justify plenty of monkeyshines.
The special features lionize the film to an absurd degree, as if Revenge Of The Nerds were some scrappy little art movie that the studio didn't want to make, instead of the commercial comedy it's always been. Still, there's no denying the film's enduring influence, just as there's little point in resisting its crude exploitation of genre clichés or pandering inspirational speeches. "Nobody's gonna be free until nerd persecution ends," says Edwards. Amen, brother.
Key features: In addition to the documentary, there's a commentary track with director Jeff Kanew and three nerds, deleted scenes, and the pilot to the painfully unfunny TV spin-off.