Better Off Dead


1h 38m 1985

Brief Synopsis

A teenager deals with a hilarious assortment of personal crises.

Film Details

Also Known As
Gagner ou mourir
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Romantic Comedy
Release Date
1985
Production Company
Cary Weitz
Distribution Company
WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m

Synopsis

When his girlfriend dumps him for their school's ski jock, a high-schooler wallows in the misery of losing her until he finds love in the arms of a French exchange student across the street.

Crew

Bud Alper

Sound Mixer

David Anderle

Music Supervisor

Martin Ansell

Song Performer

Martin Ansell

Song

Michael Anthony

Song

Gene Ashbrook

Boom Operator

Gene Autry

Song

Alan Balsam

Editor

Frank Beddor

Stunt Player

Yudi Bennett

Assistant Director

Felix Bernard

Song

Sandy Berumen

Stunt Player

Malcolm Brown

Assistant Camera

Chere Bryson

Stunt Player

Kristin Bundesen

Production Assistant

John Byl

Craft Service

Maria Cady

Script Supervisor

Hank Calia

Stunt Player

Jack Clements

Unit Production Manager

Richard Cline

Swing Gang

Stanley Cohen

Caterer

Curtis Collins

Production Assistant

Jeannie Coulter

Stunt Player

E. G. Daily

Other

E. G. Daily

Song Performer

Huw Davies

Location Manager

Roy Downey

Special Effects

James Dunford

Dolly Grip

Kevin Durst

Sound Effects Editor

Jann Dutmer

Assistant Director

Gregg Elam

Stunt Player

Robert Elsey

Transportation Captain

George Fisher

Stunt Player

Albert Fitch

Electrician

William L Fletcher

Apprentice Editor

Nancy Forner

Associate Editor

Gil Friesen

Executive Producer

Tom Furginson

Swing Gang

Susanne Garvay

Negative Cutter

Steve Goldstein

Music Producer

Steve Goldstein

Song

Jan Gould

Grip

Howard Greenfield

Song

Don Haflich

Transportation Captain

Oakley Haldeman

Song

Daryl Hall

Song

Frederick Hamm

Assistant Camera

Bill Hart

Stunt Player

Bobby Hart

Song

Keith Harvey

Stunt Player

Kent Hays

Stunt Player

Jimi Hendrix

Song

Jimi Hendrix

Song Performer

Rupert Hine

Song Performer

Rupert Hine

Original Score

Rupert Hine

Music

Dwayne Hitchings

Song

John Hock

Stunt Player

Frank Holgate

Photography

Savage Steve Holland

Screenplay

William Hooper

Supervising Sound Editor

Merle Jackson

Production Coordinator

Michael Jaffe

Producer

David B Jarrell

Best Boy

Jake Jarrell

Gaffer

Jeff Jensen

Stunt Player

David Jernigan

Transportation Coordinator

Caro Jones

Casting

Howard Jones

Song

Howard Jones

Song Performer

Audrey Kennedy

Assistant

Tom Kessenich

Key Grip

Wayne A King

Stunt Player

Bill Kopp

Animator

Craig Krampf

Song

Greg Langham

Electrician

Marcy Lavendar

Costume Supervisor

Alan Michael Lerner

Stunt Player

Fred M. Lerner

Unit Director

Fred M. Lerner

Stunt Coordinator

Art Lipschultz

Property Master

Brad R Loman

Costumes

Mel London

Song

Darlene Love

Song Performer

Don Macdougall

Sound Re-Recording Mixer

John Mack

Sound Re-Recording Mixer

Patrick W Magee

Assistant Editor

Isidore Mankofsky

Director Of Photography

Isidore Mankofsky

Other

Mike Marvin

Production Consultant

Ellis Mcdaniel

Song

Bill Mcintosh

Stunt Player

Rod Mckuen

Song

Torrence Merdur

Music Lyrics

Andrew Meyer

Executive Producer

Faith Minton

Stunt Player

Gary Moreno

Set Decorator

Tom Morga

Stunt Player

Mckinley Morganfield

Song

Rick Neff

Camera Operator

Eric Nelson

Song

Terri Nunn

Song Performer

John Oates

Song

Robert Lansing Parker

Extras Agent/Coordinator

Harvey Parry

Stunt Player

Bud Peifer

Property Master Assistant

Jimmy Picker

Animator

Scott Prinz

Dga Trainee

Teddy Randazzo

Song

Ted Roberts

Music Editor

David Roesler

Costumer

Wally Rose

Stunt Player

Debbie Lynn Ross

Stunt Player

David Lee Roth

Song

Angie Rubin

Song

Tanya Russell

Stunt Player

Fred Sabine

Photography

Sharon Schaffer

Stunt Player

Jim Scribner

Makeup

Rick Seaman

Stunt Player

Neil Sedaka

Song Performer

Neil Sedaka

Song

Paul Simon

Song

Dick Smith

Song

Peter Stader

Stunt Player

Mark Stanley

Key Grip

William Strom

Associate Producer

Neil Summers

Stunt Player

Dick Tyler Sr.

Sound Re-Recording Mixer

Alex Van Halen

Song

Eddie Van Halen

Song

Dick Vandenberg

Sound Effects Editor

Dick Warlock

Stunt Player

Muddy Waters

Song Performer

Earl Watson

Sound Effects Editor

Bobby Weinstein

Song

Cary Weitz

Cable Operator

Dona Harter Williams

Production Accountant

Georgina Williams

Hair Stylist

Russell Woolley

Best Boy

Isabell Yale

Medic

Mark Yerkes

Stunt Player

William G Young

Sound Effects Editor

Herman Zimmerman

Production Designer

Film Details

Also Known As
Gagner ou mourir
MPAA Rating
PG
Genre
Comedy
Romantic Comedy
Release Date
1985
Production Company
Cary Weitz
Distribution Company
WARNER BROS. PICTURES DISTRIBUTION (WBPD)

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m

Articles

Better Off Dead


Writer/director/animator Savage Steve Holland's quirky offbeat comedy Better Off Dead (1985) stars John Cusack as Lane Meyer, a high school student who is thrown into despair when his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) dumps him for the captain of the ski team. Whenever he's not thinking up creative ways to off himself, Lane dedicates himself to winning Beth back. In the meantime, Lane must deal with his mother's bizarre cooking, his annoying neighbors the Smiths, and a deranged paperboy with a score to settle. Filled with eccentric characters, off-the-wall sight gags and a heightened sense of the absurd, Better Off Dead is a true comic gem from the 1980s.

Better Off Dead marked the feature directing debut of 25-year-old filmmaker Savage Steve Holland, who initially had the idea for the film right after college. When his girlfriend broke up with him, Holland was driven to half-heartedly explore ways to kill himself. "I went into the garage, and I put an extension cord on a pipe," said Holland in a 2004 interview, "and I'm on a garbage can, and I'm thinking, 'Should I do this? Maybe this isn't a good idea.' Anyway, it was a plastic garbage can, and my weight just like crashed through it, and I fell, and the pipe broke! And it starts pouring water everywhere. And I'm basically in a garbage can, drowning. And my mom comes and...starts yelling at me for breaking a pipe, which is what any mom would do. So I started writing down stupid ways to kill yourself that would fail after that, and I put them in sort of a diary. And that diary kind of became Better Off Dead."

Even the persistent paperboy ("I want my two dollars!") came from Holland's own life. "...honest to God, [the paper boy] would come up to the house - I was a latch key kid - my mom wouldn't come home until six," said Holland, "and this kid would come up to me and would say, 'Give me my two dollars.' And I'd say, 'Hey, I'm just a kid in school! I don't have two dollars. My mom will be home soon!' And he would sit across the street waiting. And then he'd come back in ten minutes and say, 'You got my two dollars?' You think he'd wait for my mom's car to pull up..."

After channeling those ideas into a couple of short films that got him noticed on the film festival circuit, Holland decided to develop the concept into a feature-length script for A&M Films (which also made the teen classic The Breakfast Club [1985]). Andy Meyer, an executive at A&M, loved the screenplay and passed it around Hollywood trying to get people interested for over two years. "One day Andy set up a meeting with a real 'production style' producer named Michael Jaffe who had somehow read the script," said Holland. "I swore this was the last meeting I was ever going to take on this script and was planning to quit Hollywood and become a living autopsy model at UCLA Medical School, which, it seemed, had to hurt less than the daily rejection. So at lunch Mr. Jaffe explained he had a low budget teen script that needed a comedy re-write, and asked if I could do it kind of like Better Off Dead. I asked him: if he was meeting with me because he thought Better Off Dead was funnier than his script, why didn't he just make my script? And to my amazement he said he'd think about it. The next day he called and said that's exactly what he was going to do! He was going to make Better Off Dead! It was unreal!"

Holland was introduced to his Better Off Dead star John Cusack through actor Henry ("The Fonz") Winkler. The latter had just produced the 1985 Rob Reiner comedy The Sure Thing and recommended Cusack to Holland as one of the best talents he had ever worked with. Better Off Dead would be one of Cusack's earliest roles and help establish him as one of the leading young talents of the 1980s.

According to Steve Holland, Better Off Dead was a fun shoot with a great deal of camaraderie among cast and crew. The film received very positive reactions from early test screening audiences, and Warner Bros., the distribution company, was sure that it had a huge hit on their hands - so much so that they went ahead and greenlit Holland's next project, One Crazy Summer (1986) as a vote of confidence in the new director.

Holland received a shock when he screened Better Off Dead prior to the film's release for the cast and crew of One Crazy Summer--also starring John Cusack--just before production was about to get under way on location in Cape Cod. Twenty minutes into the screening, Cusack walked out and never returned. "The next morning," said Holland, "[Cusack] basically walked up to me and was like, 'You know, you tricked me. Better Off Dead was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don't speak to me'...He was just really upset. And I said, 'What happened?! What's wrong?!' And he just said that I sucked, and it was the worst thing he had ever seen, and that I had used him, and made a fool out of him, and all this other stuff...It was so out of left field that it just floored me." Cusack finished One Crazy Summer since he was contractually obligated, but he never worked with Holland again.

Holland received another blow when Better Off Dead, despite the high expectations from Warner Bros., opened at the box office with a whimper. While it did make a profit, theater audiences didn't quite know what to make of the oddball film, and it was considered a disappointment.

Better Off Dead was a film that gradually found its audience over the next few years on cable and home video. Over time, the film acquired a loyal cult following that has endured to this day, making it one of the most popular under-the-radar teen comedies of the 1980s. "Sometimes I still look at it and I go, 'This is still one of the funniest movies I have ever seen'...Cusack being in it was amazing," said Holland looking back in 2004. When asked to comment on the film in 2003 by Entertainment Weekly, John Cusack said, "The director was trying to do absurdism, and that was really attractive to me. It was this surreal teen comedy, and I thought, 'Wow, when am I going to get a chance to do this again?' People still really like that film, but I never had much of a feel for it." In 2008 Cusack told writer Diablo Cody in an interview that fans still come up to him all the time to repeat the "I want my two dollars!" line - something to which Cusack's 2010 comedy Hot Tub Time Machine gives a winking nod, much to the delight of Better Off Dead fans.

Producer: Michael Jaffe
Director: Savage Steve Holland
Screenplay: Savage Steve Holland
Cinematography: Isidore Mankofsky
Music: Rupert Hine
Cast: John Cusack (Lane Mayer), David Ogden Stiers (Al Meyer), Kim Darby (Jenny Meyer), Demian Slade (Johnny Gasparini), Scooter Stevens (Badger Meyer), Diane Franklin (Monique Junot), Laura Waterbury (Mrs. Smith).
C-97m.

by Andrea Passafiume
Better Off Dead

Better Off Dead

Writer/director/animator Savage Steve Holland's quirky offbeat comedy Better Off Dead (1985) stars John Cusack as Lane Meyer, a high school student who is thrown into despair when his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) dumps him for the captain of the ski team. Whenever he's not thinking up creative ways to off himself, Lane dedicates himself to winning Beth back. In the meantime, Lane must deal with his mother's bizarre cooking, his annoying neighbors the Smiths, and a deranged paperboy with a score to settle. Filled with eccentric characters, off-the-wall sight gags and a heightened sense of the absurd, Better Off Dead is a true comic gem from the 1980s. Better Off Dead marked the feature directing debut of 25-year-old filmmaker Savage Steve Holland, who initially had the idea for the film right after college. When his girlfriend broke up with him, Holland was driven to half-heartedly explore ways to kill himself. "I went into the garage, and I put an extension cord on a pipe," said Holland in a 2004 interview, "and I'm on a garbage can, and I'm thinking, 'Should I do this? Maybe this isn't a good idea.' Anyway, it was a plastic garbage can, and my weight just like crashed through it, and I fell, and the pipe broke! And it starts pouring water everywhere. And I'm basically in a garbage can, drowning. And my mom comes and...starts yelling at me for breaking a pipe, which is what any mom would do. So I started writing down stupid ways to kill yourself that would fail after that, and I put them in sort of a diary. And that diary kind of became Better Off Dead." Even the persistent paperboy ("I want my two dollars!") came from Holland's own life. "...honest to God, [the paper boy] would come up to the house - I was a latch key kid - my mom wouldn't come home until six," said Holland, "and this kid would come up to me and would say, 'Give me my two dollars.' And I'd say, 'Hey, I'm just a kid in school! I don't have two dollars. My mom will be home soon!' And he would sit across the street waiting. And then he'd come back in ten minutes and say, 'You got my two dollars?' You think he'd wait for my mom's car to pull up..." After channeling those ideas into a couple of short films that got him noticed on the film festival circuit, Holland decided to develop the concept into a feature-length script for A&M Films (which also made the teen classic The Breakfast Club [1985]). Andy Meyer, an executive at A&M, loved the screenplay and passed it around Hollywood trying to get people interested for over two years. "One day Andy set up a meeting with a real 'production style' producer named Michael Jaffe who had somehow read the script," said Holland. "I swore this was the last meeting I was ever going to take on this script and was planning to quit Hollywood and become a living autopsy model at UCLA Medical School, which, it seemed, had to hurt less than the daily rejection. So at lunch Mr. Jaffe explained he had a low budget teen script that needed a comedy re-write, and asked if I could do it kind of like Better Off Dead. I asked him: if he was meeting with me because he thought Better Off Dead was funnier than his script, why didn't he just make my script? And to my amazement he said he'd think about it. The next day he called and said that's exactly what he was going to do! He was going to make Better Off Dead! It was unreal!" Holland was introduced to his Better Off Dead star John Cusack through actor Henry ("The Fonz") Winkler. The latter had just produced the 1985 Rob Reiner comedy The Sure Thing and recommended Cusack to Holland as one of the best talents he had ever worked with. Better Off Dead would be one of Cusack's earliest roles and help establish him as one of the leading young talents of the 1980s. According to Steve Holland, Better Off Dead was a fun shoot with a great deal of camaraderie among cast and crew. The film received very positive reactions from early test screening audiences, and Warner Bros., the distribution company, was sure that it had a huge hit on their hands - so much so that they went ahead and greenlit Holland's next project, One Crazy Summer (1986) as a vote of confidence in the new director. Holland received a shock when he screened Better Off Dead prior to the film's release for the cast and crew of One Crazy Summer--also starring John Cusack--just before production was about to get under way on location in Cape Cod. Twenty minutes into the screening, Cusack walked out and never returned. "The next morning," said Holland, "[Cusack] basically walked up to me and was like, 'You know, you tricked me. Better Off Dead was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don't speak to me'...He was just really upset. And I said, 'What happened?! What's wrong?!' And he just said that I sucked, and it was the worst thing he had ever seen, and that I had used him, and made a fool out of him, and all this other stuff...It was so out of left field that it just floored me." Cusack finished One Crazy Summer since he was contractually obligated, but he never worked with Holland again. Holland received another blow when Better Off Dead, despite the high expectations from Warner Bros., opened at the box office with a whimper. While it did make a profit, theater audiences didn't quite know what to make of the oddball film, and it was considered a disappointment. Better Off Dead was a film that gradually found its audience over the next few years on cable and home video. Over time, the film acquired a loyal cult following that has endured to this day, making it one of the most popular under-the-radar teen comedies of the 1980s. "Sometimes I still look at it and I go, 'This is still one of the funniest movies I have ever seen'...Cusack being in it was amazing," said Holland looking back in 2004. When asked to comment on the film in 2003 by Entertainment Weekly, John Cusack said, "The director was trying to do absurdism, and that was really attractive to me. It was this surreal teen comedy, and I thought, 'Wow, when am I going to get a chance to do this again?' People still really like that film, but I never had much of a feel for it." In 2008 Cusack told writer Diablo Cody in an interview that fans still come up to him all the time to repeat the "I want my two dollars!" line - something to which Cusack's 2010 comedy Hot Tub Time Machine gives a winking nod, much to the delight of Better Off Dead fans. Producer: Michael Jaffe Director: Savage Steve Holland Screenplay: Savage Steve Holland Cinematography: Isidore Mankofsky Music: Rupert Hine Cast: John Cusack (Lane Mayer), David Ogden Stiers (Al Meyer), Kim Darby (Jenny Meyer), Demian Slade (Johnny Gasparini), Scooter Stevens (Badger Meyer), Diane Franklin (Monique Junot), Laura Waterbury (Mrs. Smith). C-97m. by Andrea Passafiume

Vincent Schiavelli (1948-2005)


American Actor Vincent Schiavelli, a classic "I know the face but not the name" character player who had prominent roles in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Nightshift and Ghost, died at his Sicily home after a long battle with lung cancer on December 26. He was 57.

He was born on November 10, 1948 in Brooklyn, New York. After he studied acting at New York University's School of the Arts, he quickly landed a role in Milos Foreman's Taking Off (1971), and his career in the movies seldom dropped a beat. Seriously, to not recognize Schiavelli's presence in a movie or television episode for the last 30 years means you don't watch much of either medium, for his tall, gawky physique (a towering 6'6"), droopy eyes, sagging neck skin, and elongated chin made him a casting director's dream for offbeat and eccentric parts.

But it wasn't just a striking presence that fueled his career, Schiavelli could deliver the fine performances. Foreman would use him again as one of the mental ward inmates in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975); and he was hilarious as the put-upon science teacher, Mr. Vargas in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982); worked for Foreman again as Salieri's (F. Murray Abraham's) valet in Amadeus (1984); unforgettable as an embittered subway ghost who taunts Patrick Swayze in Ghost (1990); downright creepy as the brooding organ grinder in Batman Returns (1992); worked with Foreman one last time in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996); and was a dependable eccentric in Death to Smoochy (2002). Television was no stranger to him either. Although he displayed a gift for comedy playing Latka's (Andy Kaufman) confidant priest, "Reverend Gorky" in a recurring role of Taxi, the actor spent much of his time enlivening shows of the other worldly variety such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tales from the Crypt, The X Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

In recent years, Schiavelli curtailed the acting, and concentrated on writing. He recently relocated to the Sicilian village of Polizzi Generosa, where his grandparents were raised. He concentrated on his love of cooking and in 2002, wrote a highly praised memoir of his family's history as well as some cooking recipes of his grandfather's titled Many Beautiful Things. He is survived by two children.

by Michael T. Toole

Vincent Schiavelli (1948-2005)

American Actor Vincent Schiavelli, a classic "I know the face but not the name" character player who had prominent roles in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Nightshift and Ghost, died at his Sicily home after a long battle with lung cancer on December 26. He was 57. He was born on November 10, 1948 in Brooklyn, New York. After he studied acting at New York University's School of the Arts, he quickly landed a role in Milos Foreman's Taking Off (1971), and his career in the movies seldom dropped a beat. Seriously, to not recognize Schiavelli's presence in a movie or television episode for the last 30 years means you don't watch much of either medium, for his tall, gawky physique (a towering 6'6"), droopy eyes, sagging neck skin, and elongated chin made him a casting director's dream for offbeat and eccentric parts. But it wasn't just a striking presence that fueled his career, Schiavelli could deliver the fine performances. Foreman would use him again as one of the mental ward inmates in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975); and he was hilarious as the put-upon science teacher, Mr. Vargas in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982); worked for Foreman again as Salieri's (F. Murray Abraham's) valet in Amadeus (1984); unforgettable as an embittered subway ghost who taunts Patrick Swayze in Ghost (1990); downright creepy as the brooding organ grinder in Batman Returns (1992); worked with Foreman one last time in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996); and was a dependable eccentric in Death to Smoochy (2002). Television was no stranger to him either. Although he displayed a gift for comedy playing Latka's (Andy Kaufman) confidant priest, "Reverend Gorky" in a recurring role of Taxi, the actor spent much of his time enlivening shows of the other worldly variety such as Star Trek: The Next Generation, Tales from the Crypt, The X Files, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In recent years, Schiavelli curtailed the acting, and concentrated on writing. He recently relocated to the Sicilian village of Polizzi Generosa, where his grandparents were raised. He concentrated on his love of cooking and in 2002, wrote a highly praised memoir of his family's history as well as some cooking recipes of his grandfather's titled Many Beautiful Things. He is survived by two children. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall October 11, 1985

Began shooting November 5, 1984.

Released in United States Fall October 11, 1985