Growing up as a movie geek, there were many fine flicks and more especially cool characters that had a major effect on me. Be it the tough silent type, the outgoing life of the party, or even the outsider with everything to prove I grew up mesmerized, captivated and ultimately wanting to be like the very epitome of what I had witnessed on the big screen. So in a tribute to the good men (and even women!) of film who molded me into the person I am today, I present this loving non-numbered list (they’re ALL #1 to me!) of the good, bad and ugly characters I adored from my childhood. Plus as an added bonus you’ll get even more insight into one with my exclusive ‘Where Are They Now’ Q&A with actor Terrence "Critters" Mann immediately following! (I really do take care of my fellow cinefiles!) So without delay, here is my personal favorite childhood...Top Ten Coolest 80’s Movie Characters.
Nothing says cool like the strong, silent type and this dude went to the Clint Eastwood school of tough guys. As a faceless alien chasing a group of flesh eating little monsters called Crites (aka "Critters"), bounty hunter Ug ultimately decided on one Johnny Steele (an equally tasty 80’s rock and roll icon!) as his face of choice and a legend was born. Steele’s good looks mixed with Ug’s quiet and brooding presence was not just memorable, it was out of this world awesome.
I don’t know if it was his memorable shirts (see above pic!), quick wit (answer to question about a rash that’s going around – 'You looking to catch something?!') or just his party hosting abilities (to a girl who asks what she has to do with Chubby eating a whole bowl of jello – 'Hold the jello!'), but Stiles was the epitome of guys who had it all covered. The Ferris of his day, he’s someone all the guys wanted to be like, all the girls wanted to get with and possessed an overall wild abandon that we all strived to achieve. What were we looking at dicknose? Someone cool.
As the sex-obsessed brother of gender confused teen journalist Terry Griffith, Buddy was an inspired kid with a dream, a goal, and a single purpose in life if you will - to get jammied. It’s a stress that all male adolescents have had to go through, but none were so open ('I’m horny – horny will kick embarrassment’s ass anytime!'), so in touch with ('The room needed something!' – after pasting a ton of Playboy centerfolds around his bedroom!) and so passionately fixated on losing it as the bold and brave Buddy. For god’s sake, he even vacuumed – now that’s a man on a mission.
Yes, another man of debauchery, but the raunchy Rudy took things to a whole other level. When the garage man boldly stated, 'Let’s have a Bachelor Party with chicks and guns and fire trucks and hookers and drugs and booze...' he wasn’t kidding. Taking full advantage of every lewd and crude aspect the out-of-control event had to offer (from chips to magical sexual mules!) Rudy was a guy who ate a giant helping of party life – and still half consciously asked for seconds.
Skinhead Duncan was a classic bait and switch character. Meaning even though he started out as the foe of unlikely hero Keith Nelson, their love of art and women eventually sprouted an unlikely friendship that resulted in the true nature of Duncan reaching the surface. All together misunderstood, unappreciated and all heart, Duncan was both the classic tough guy and sensitive good guy in one bald package – things aren't always what they seem.
What good is cool if you don't wield it to help the less fortunate and intervening tough teen and Fonze-light baddie Rudy provided the much-needed muscle of "The Monster Squad." From super slick slang (to the mummy – 'See ya later, Band-Aid breath!') to his ample action with a sharpened crossbow, Rudy showed us that a leather-jacketed mini-mack daddy can even make playing kids games look good.
Yes, the terrible teens of "Band of The Hand" (and especially their intros!) were unique and styling in their own ways, but all paled in comparison to head honcho Joe 'Special Forces' Tegra. As a former Vietnam veteran, US Marine and Miccosukee Native American, Joe teaches his gang of misfits to fight with both mind and body in one seriously psychotic initiation that would have had the patient Gandhi running for the hills. If the five thugs were truly the fingers on a hand, Joe provided the power of the palm.
Never send a man to do a woman’s job and in the case of McCoy, the tough gal fighting side by side with lead man Tom Cody in "Streets of Fire," there was nobody better. Street smart, hard as nails and a skilled mechanic who 'could drive anything,' McCoy introduced a new breed of hard, harsh and ultimately hot ladies who didn’t take a backseat to those suffering from macho male syndrome – and still looked good doing it.
The ultimate in cool geek chic, Vince 'danger makes great sex' Latello was living proof that even the nerdiest of us could come off smooth. Packing a retro girlfriend, a shotgun and the ever-present sunglasses at night ('Because when you’re cool, the sun shine on you twenty-four hours a day!'), Vince was the perfect quirky sidekick to any hulking action hero – attitude included.
Anyone who wasn’t equal parts fascinated and shocked by the attention getting John Bender of John Hughes Breakfast gang is either lying or a true neo maxi zoom dweebie. Acting out (the pulling door pin is priceless!), lashing out ('Does Barry Manilow know that you raid his wardrobe?') and every once is a while spewing out a pinch of honesty, Bender was the poster child for teen angst. It was something that the Richard Vernon’s of the world never got and never will. Meaning when he asked, 'You think he’s funny? You think he’s ‘bitchin’, is that it?' - the answer was all of the above.
So while some of the actors (and actresses – hail Amy Madigan!) on this list have gone on to long movie careers, there are some that still leave a question – where are they now? I took one of my ultimate favorites from this list, the oh-so-memorable man with a gun Terrence 'Ug' Mann and decided to investigate. Not only is he still working today, but he virtually became the Tom Cruise of Broadway. (Figures – this is Johnny Steele after all!) So I tracked the mighty stage siren down and what follows is a cool Q&A with a very genuine guy about "Critters" (I’m still a movie geek folks!), the fun of playing Ug and Johnny 'Power of the Night' Steele, plus his years at the top of the Broadway stage. So press your remote critter-calling device and welcome my hero...
How did a ‘distinguished professor in musical theater’ happen to be cast in the role of tough guy Ug, the bounty hunter in the original "Critters?"
Terrence Mann: Well, I didn't become a distinguished professor until I got old! So all the "Critters" stuff happened in the 80’s and about five years ago I was asked to come down and be part of a program at Western Carolina University. So that was in my other life when I was playing Ug – when I was young and had long hair...and I was thin! But I was doing 'Cats' at the time and one of the girls in the show was a musician and her boyfriend ran a studio down in Chelsea and he knew the producers of the first "Critters." And they came and saw me in the show and said, 'Do you want to come and play Ug and do that character?'
You have a musical background so it’s rather ironic that the person Ug changes into is a rock and roll star Johnny Steele – was that in the original script and did you record ‘Power of the Night’ yourself?
TM: I did write the song ‘Power of the Night’. But they knew they wanted a rock song and then we just got lucky when they said, 'Do you want to write it?’ I said sure and Richie Vetter, who was a music producer, and I just went into a room and wrote that tune ‘The Power of the Night’ - and that’s the song that became THE song.
Any thoughts at the time of making an album under the guise of Johnny Steele?
TM: No, there wasn’t because I don't think there was enough...I mean we talked about it, but I don't think there was a budget for it (laughs) and I don't think there was enough to put on an album of any merit.
The character of Ug had a quiet cool that captivated me as a kid – what were some of your influences in creating the role?
TM: Mostly it was just the way they talked about the guy, like he’s an alien bounty hunter. But Clint Eastwood is also what we talked about - Clint Eastwood tempered with a little Mick Jagger cool. It was that kind of stuff, but mostly keeping him really low key. I think some of it just came out of way I was doing it – that strong, but silent deadly type.
Which aspect was more fun for you to play – the song and dance of Johnny Steele or the tough gun slinging of Ug?
TM: I think the most fun was throwing the bowling ball, blowing up the toilet and of course playing guns. It was fun to do the rock song, but it was really fun to be in there and do the shoot ‘em up, bang ‘em up stuff – and kill those "Critters!"
What was the response both now and then to your iconic role in that first film?
TM: It was interesting because "Gremlins" had come out I think about a year, maybe two years before, so we were on that furry crazy little animal alien thing anyway and we just caught the wave of that. To this day I get people looking at me in the grocery store and they go, ‘Johnny Steele? Ug?’ Literally today and I go, ‘Yeah.’ And they go, ‘Oh, I love that movie!’ So the aficionados like yourself, the ones who really, really are into the whole sci-fi genre put that one apparently in the top ten even – a lot of folks really like it.
It’s definitely awesome! Were you at all surprised that the film was so popular that it sprouted a sequel...
TM: Well, yeah!
And what were your thoughts about coming back for a second film?
TM: I knew it was gonna have some legs when it was number six at the box office that year when it came out for a good amount of time and I thought that’s great. And they immediately called up and said we want to do two as well and I said cool, so we turned right around and shot that thing in like a year I want to say. Then they did three and four – I was kind of source materialing in "Critters 3" and I came back and did a little cameo in "Critters 4."
I was always curious, and a little heartbroken, about the whole scream/losing face moment when Ug’s partner Lee dies in the second film – what was your take on that event?
TM: I think that was just it wasn’t fun to be Johnny Steele anymore when your best friend dies, so he just retreated and receded back to being the alien bounty hunter. Because Johnny Steele was associated with all the fun and excitement and all of a sudden his best friend is gone and he didn't want that anymore because it related so much to Lee as well.
So how did you become such a performing icon on the Broadway stage?
TM: I was happy just to be working in a Shakespeare festival in North Carolina and then I just came up to New York in one off season in January and got a job on Broadway. I had low or no expectations of doing anything like that and I was just coming up to test the waters. If something happened great, if it didn't I was very happy to go back to North Carolina working the Shakespeare festival. So all of a sudden in 1981 I got this Broadway show 'Barnum,' then 'Cats' followed and 'Rags' and then I did 'Les Mis,' so I don’t know. Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right kind of chops, you know? Sometimes it’s better to be lucky then it is to be good and I kind of hit it at a time when they were looking for what it was that I had to offer.
So besides the professor thing, what’s next for you?
TM: I just finished doing 'The Addams Family' last March for a year and right now I’m looking for the next gig. I’ve done some regional stuff, some musicals and as you said I go down there and teach - I’m getting ready to direct a production of 'Sweeney Todd' at the University where I teach. So what ever comes along I’ll try to do it!
So cool and it’s fascinating to know that my hero Ug became a huge Broadway stage actor!
TM: (Laughs) Yeah! And clearly more people know me from the "Critters" movies then they do from all of the Broadway shows I’ve done together – that’s the magic and the phenomenon of film!