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08/15/2012 02:46 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2012

Remember This? 'Midnight Madness': An Obsessive Chat

midnight madness

"Remember This?" is a recurring feature on HuffPost Entertainment, resurrecting pop-cultural artifacts that haven't enjoyed the spotlight for quite some time. Today, Mike Ryan, along with guests Mike Sampson and Jordan Hoffman from ScreenCrush, discuss the '80s cult favorite, Midnight Madness. If there's a topic you want us to cover, let us know in the comments.

If you were born in the mid-1970s, chances are Midnight Madness just may have been your favorite movie for a short amount of time when you were between the ages of 8 and 10. This is as a result of Midnight Madness being on a constant loop on HBO. Constant! Midnight Madness pitted five color-coded, stereotypical teams -- yellow (nice), blue (mean), red (feminists), white (nerds) and green (jocks) -- against each other in a scavenger hunt (put together by a mysterious man named Leon) pursuit of, well, the finish line ... wherever that may be. (Strangely, there really was no real prize other than pride.) Also, Midnight Madness is known for being the first film role for an actor named Michael J. Fox.

For quite some time, anytime I'm around Mike Sampson and Jordan Hoffman of ScreenCrush, our conversation always drifts into talk of Midnight Madness. Ahead, the three of us finally decided to have a full breakdown, obsessive conversation about our childhood favorite.
Mike Ryan: OK, first, I am convinced Leon is a genius.
Jordan: The Game Master. He's got his finger on the pulse of how kids have fun.
Mike Sampson: Me too, and I always thought it weird that a genius hadn't figured out how to deal with his elderly landlady.
Mike Ryan: He spent an entire year working on this game. A year! I mean, think of all the things that happened to Walter White on "Breaking Bad" in the one year that show has taken place. In that same amount of time, Leon is just working on The Great All-Nighter.
Mike Sampson: The best thing Leon ever did was hire Candy and Sunshine.
Jordan: Woof. No joke on Candy and Sunshine. Did they come with their own roller skates? Regarding Leon's planning, he did rely quite a bit on luck.

Mike Ryan: But, how did he know they would all show up for the initial meeting? I think he got lucky there. Unless it was just the appeal of Candy and Sunshine.
Jordan: How did he know that the Yellow Team would get thrown into the Pabst Blue Ribbon warehouse at JUST the time the forklift would be loading palates of beer? And how did he know they'd be arranged in just the order to give the clue "Mr. Carson's Obese Child?"
Mike Ryan: OK, with that: They were thrown out early. So I think they weren't supposed to see it set up. I think that was supposed to just be waiting for the teams after they exited the Pabst brewery.
Mike Sampson: In addition to luck and smarts, he must've had a ton of connections. I feel like what Leon was doing here is very reminiscent of The Game. Lots of people involved keeping the players on task.
Mike Ryan: I mean, we saw that at the airport with the fake Hare Krishnas. He had people everywhere.
Jordan: Were they all on his payroll? Or did they have The Love of the Game?
Mike Ryan: Which raises the question: How much did The Great All-Nighter cost Leon? I mean, is he incredibly wealthy?
Mike Sampson: Just that glowing game board alone was a couple thousand bucks.
Mike Ryan: So what did Leon really get out of this? What is Leon's motivation?
Jordan: He's the Game Master! He likes to put people through their places!
Mike Ryan: I mean, this night probably set him back at least $10,000 in 1980 money. And that's not even counting what he has to pay Candy and Sunshine. (I just assume they are prostitutes.)
Mike Sampson: I think Candy and Sunshine just love Leon. Like Manson girls or something.
Mike Ryan: Let's talk about Harold for a second. I actually found myself feeling some sympathy for him. I mean, his father looked at him and said, "Yuck." Yuck!
Mike Sampson: Haha, well, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Is he like that because his dad hates him or does his dad hate him because he's just such a dick?
Mike Ryan: Well, we are introduced to him while he throws a hamburger in a waitresses face, making her cry. So maybe the latter? And then he refers to Adam as a "goody good."
Mike Sampson: In fairness, he only throws the cheese in her face. No cheeseburgers for Harold!
Jordan: It's amazing how he has such a hot girlfriend, even if she does razz him all the time.
Mike Ryan: He hangs out with an attractive girlfriend and the director of Hitch.
Jordan: Something remarkable about Midnight Madness is the casting. Not only is it Michael J. Fox's first role, you've got the young David Naughton, you've got Eddie Deezen, Paul Reubens, the voice of Maude Flanders and ... do you realize who the upstairs neighbor is? The old man?
Mike Ryan: He was on The Bob Newhart Show.
Jordan: Not just that, he is the voice of Piglet from every Winnie the Pooh cartoon! Now that we've established our love for the film, can we bring Fagabeefe back as a term? Like, aw, Fagabeefe, I dropped my poundcake in gravel! Or, woah, did you see those pics of Lindsay Lohan? She's totally Fagabeefe'd up!
Mike Sampson: As much as I love fagabeefe, I probably quote that line the least
Mike Ryan: What do you quote the most?
Jordan: Well, naturally, it's for fair weather fans only
Mike Sampson: Probably Eddie Deezen's "Hug me?!"
Mike Ryan: Mine is "What about the ball?"
Mike Sampson: I also like the Meat Machine chant.
Jordan: One of the things I love about it is that there are multiple good guys. You like the Yellow, Red & White teams. Green you are mixed on and even Blue you kinda like because they eventually turn on Harold.
Mike Ryan: I was thinking about that. What if this movie was told from the green team's perspective? Like, what if their football team was having a terrible season and they really needed this win. Maybe Blaylak was showing signs of alcoholism and this win would really turn it around for him. Would we have rooted for them?
Mike Sampson: It would be like Varsity Blues or something
Mike Ryan: "I don't want ... your life."
Jordan: I think Midnight Madness really hedged their bets with the green team. Jocks were still supposed to be cool in movies -- this was pre-Revenge of the Nerds -- and yet they are shown as monsters. Still, they are harmless monsters and, correct me if I am wrong, ultimately come to the aid of the Yellow Team by blocking the Blue Team, right?
Mike Sampson: The teams are set up very similar to the old Laff-a-Lympics. Clearly the Scooby-Doobies are going to win. And the Really Rottens are always the bad guys. But every once in a while, the Yogi Yahooeys had their day. I'm digressing, sorry. All my 80s nostalgia is collapsing in on itself.
Mike Ryan: Rewatching today, it struck me that everyone is this movie can be manipulated very easily. Perhaps that was Leon's grand plan. But, even Marvin when he didn't want to play. "That's OK, we need a really hot car." "Hey!"
Jordan: Other than pride, what do they win?
Mike Ryan: A plaque. With an outline of their vehicle on it.
Jordan: Oh, well, a plaque. I mean, no reimbursement for gas money?
Mike Sampson: If someone put this game together now, hipsters would play immediately, no questions asked. And I don't say that dismissively of hipsters. I would, too. This looks like a ton of fun.
Jordan: What is your favorite clue?
Mike Ryan: Either "Greetings Earth people!" at the arcade or "S.S. Itari is mixed up and blind."
Mike Sampson: Yeah I'm a big "Greetings Earth people" fan.
Jordan: I just love the fact that the local planetarium allows anyone to grab the giant telescope. And that with it you can watch the woman from the Cinemax Friday After Dark bumper undress.
Mike Ryan: And that kid's father is VERY aggressive. He gets physical with Adam.
Mike Sampson: I love how he chomps on the cigar. And is so proud of his son. Clearly thinks his kid is a genius. But he's about ready to haul off on his son, but then is distracted about talk of a magnetic exhibit.
Mike Ryan OK, rewatching, what scene made you laugh that you've never really thought much about before?
Mike Sampson: When the Meat Machine is in the pub drinking in the beginning. They're guzzling beers from pitchers and they toast and shatter all the pitchers and just chug from the broken remains.
Jordan: Peggy and Lulu's girl dance break. I think when I saw it as a kid I felt bad because they were mocking the fat girls, now I recognize that Peggy and Lulu are actually very liberated free spirits. And I never realized that the Red Team were all ardent feminists.
Mike Ryan: Mine was Eddie Deezen shooing away Candy and Sunshine when he's given the initial invite.
Mike Sampson: Haha, yes! Great little moment from Deezen. His face as Leon is explaining the game is priceless.
Mike Ryan: Yes! Mouth agape! I also liked when Scott (Michael J. Fox) tried to order beer at the Pabst brewery and the bartender blew a whistle. "Mellow out." It felt like foreshadowing to "I want a keg of beer" in Teen Wolf. OK, to Jordan's point about Peggy and Lulu -- they ARE mean to Flynch's date. I mean, that was a really mean thing to do.
Jordan: You mean the zoom in shot of her face? Yeah, that's cruel humor, unbecoming of a film like this.
Mike Ryan Right. I mean, if she had a switchblade or something, I might understand the urgency to "save" Flynch.
Jordan: Not a PC moment. Especially for a Disney film.
Mike Sampson: I was going to mention how I thought the character names in the film were brilliant. Candy and Sunshine. Plus LEON. Then there's Flynch (for the nerd), Barf, Melio, Armpit ... A jock named Armpit is kinda great.
Mike Ryan Don't forget Blade. And he had a knife.
Jordan: Oof. Is Blade the Hispanic kid who never does anything except stare at his knife?
Mike Ryan: Again, not PC. He does laugh once. Also, this is 2012: To this day Harold had the smartest computer ever created. I mean, do you think Suri could figure out those clues?
Mike Sampson: I wanted that van very badly as a child. A dome! It had a dome!
Jordan: If it was such a smart computer how come it couldn't defend itself against marshmallows!
Mike Ryan: Oh, c'mon -- that's a LOT of marshmallows. OK, last thing: What's the legacy of Midnight Madness. Does anyone remember it outside of our age group?
Mike Sampson: Oh god, no. I think this is just for people who were around 7-8 when it hit HBO.
Jordan: Yeah -- it is a very timely thing.
Mike Sampson: It's almost like an inside joke. You just had to be there.
Jordan: For example, I've never seen The Sandlot. I've heard of it, but I didn't know until recently that people in their 20s are insane for that movie.
Mike Ryan: So Midnight Madness is The Sandlot for people in their 30s?
Jordan: But unless a younger person is really into scavenger hunts, they've never seen Midnight Madness. Midnight Madness was not the only scavenger hunt movie of the early 1980s. There was ... Scavenger Hunt!
Mike Ryan: Which, really, no one remembers.
Mike Sampson: People barely remember Midnight Madness. I feel like the Drafthouse needs to sponsor a Midnight Madness event in Austin. Drive around arcades and planetariums, looking for fried food.
Mike Ryan: One final word, would you recommend Midnight Madness? I mean, if it's an inside joke, will others like it? I've shown it to people with mixed responses.
Mike Sampson: I wouldn't recommend it to a 16-year-old. But I definitely would to pretty much any other movie fan. It's a product of its time but an extremely enjoyable movie. I think it holds up.
Jordan: I think it is a great movie for people who like color coding. It's a great movie about teams. Like Heat.
Mike Ryan: Yes, just like Heat. And The Game.
Mike Sampson: "If you liked 'Heat' you'll love 'Midnight Madness!'"
Jordan: Only with a buffet at the end instead of shooting.

Mike Sampson is Editor in Chief of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.


Jordan Hoffman is a film critic for ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.


Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.