Color, 1985, 91 mins.
Directed by Cary Medoway
Starring Lewis Smith, Jason Gedrick, Jane Kaczmarek, Richard Mulligan, Mark Metcalf, Nancy Valen, Beau Dremann Scorpion Releasing (Blu-Ray) (US RA HD),MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
With the public's appetite for teen movies reaching a fever pitch in the mid-'80s, filmmakers were looking to all kinds of variations on sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure to pull in audiences with titles ranging from The Last Starfighter to Weird Science, with the apex hitting in 1985 with Back to the Future. That same year saw a curious fantasy contribution from Orion with The Heavenly Kid, which melded the greaser fad kicked off by Grease with a wholesome story about divine redemption and connecting generations.
In "The Ridge... early 1960's," rebel Bobby (The Final Terror's Smith) is so smitten with girlfriend Emily (Malcolm in the Middle's Kaczmarek) that he reacts to a pass made by Joe (National Lampoon's Animal House's Metcalf) by challenging him to a duel of chicken at a quarry. The race turns tragic when Bobby outpaces his rival only to get accidentally tethered to his car when it goes off the edge of a cliff, after which he finds himself in the afterlife aboard a train. Courtesy of oddball spiritual advisor and motorcycle enthusiast Rafferty (S.O.B's Mulligan), he finds out that he can't be admitted to the next heavenly location, Uptown, until he achieves a divine task that will be assigned in the future. After years of riding that train along with other waiting souls, Bobby is sent to his hometown in 1985 where he becomes a guardian angel for bullied high schooler Lenny (Iron Eagle's Gedrick). However, only Lenny can see his helper, which leads to various comic hijinks as Bobby helps him look and act cool -- which isn't quite the lesson that needs to be learned, especially when Bobby finds out about the identity of his pupil's parents and has to make some decisions of his own.
A sweet-natured film that seems to exist outside of the era that created it, The Heavenly Kid didn't really set the box office or critics on fire when it came out smack in the middle of the summer of '85 stuck right in between two other Orion films, Secret Admirer and Return of the Living Dead. (A particularly humorless Siskel and Ebert even named it their Stinker of the Week, which seems way too harsh.) Of course, this seemed tailor made for cable TV and the VHS market where it found a more willing audience able to appreciate its modest throwback charms and catchy pop soundtrack.
After its VHS run from Orion, The Heavenly Kid turned up in a widescreen transfer on DVD from MGM in 2005, then got repurposed as a 2007 double feature disc with Teen Witch. Available via Diabolik and Ronin Flix, the 2020 Blu-ray from Scorpion (with one of the oddest Photoshopped menu screens you'll ever see)looks quite nice in 1080p with a fresh scan bringing out a lot more detail than the earlier DVD. The rosy-looking color scheme is typical for more recent MGM-connected scans and there's a fair amount of diffusion applied in the afterlife scenes as always, so take that all into consideration for what amounts to a significant quality boost. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track (with features optional English SDH subtitles) nicely replicates the theatrical Dolby Stereo mix, which has some enjoyable separation where it's needed with the songs and the whooshing train sounds working especially well. A new audio commentary with director Cary Medoway, moderated by Jeff McKay, which covers the shooting in Georgia and Florida, the alternate extended version prepped for TV (which explains Kaczmarek's ring), the odd time period issues caused by the fact that the script was originally written around 1979, the issues with choosing all of the songs, grappling with the need for a PG-13 rating, the surprising cameo by Blood Feast star William Kerwin (a.k.a. Thomas Wood), the stunt involvement of Creature from the Black Lagoon's Ricou Browning, and the original shooting title of Teen Angel (and not Heavenly Bodies, which is a false bit of online trivia). Unlike the butchery found on other MGM-connected commentaries in recent years, this one also appears to have escaped relatively unscathed as well. A new interview with Smith (7m35s) touches on his multiple audition flubs going out for the film, his wrangling with some of his "sappy" lines through practice, the big lesson he learned from Mulligan, and the role of Metcalf as the leader on the set among the actors. Finally actress Nancy Valen appears for an interview (6m7s) about her time working and living in South Florida, the confidence acting gave her, and the appeal of her girl next door role here. Finally the disc rounds out with the theatrical trailer (which plays like more of a teaser) and bonus ones for California Dreaming, 3:15, Grace of My Heart, and Clifford.