Better Off Dead (film)

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Better Off Dead
Better Off Dead.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Savage Steve Holland
Produced by Gil Friesen
Michael Jaffe
Andrew Meyer
Written by Savage Steve Holland
Music by Rupert Hine
Cinematography Isidore Mankofsky
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • August 23, 1985 (1985-08-23)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $10,297,601

Better Off Dead is a 1985 American teen romantic comedy film starring John Cusack and written and directed by Savage Steve Holland. It tells the story of high school student Lane Myer who is suicidal after his girlfriend breaks up with him.


The story takes place in the fictional town of Greendale in "the state of Northern California" and centers on high-schooler Lane Meyer (John Cusack), whose girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) dumps him for the arrogant and bullying captain of the high school ski team, Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier). Lane cannot get past this rejection and decides that death is the only way out of his misery. His half-hearted attempts at suicide, however, always fail, with comic consequences.

Lane's family is odd: his mother, Jenny (Kim Darby) is a sort of deranged Stepford wife and perhaps the world's worst cook; his genius little brother, Badger (Scooter Stevens), never speaks but can build lasers and attract trashy women; and his father, Al (David Ogden Stiers), is convinced Lane is using drugs. Lane's best friend, Charles de Mar (Curtis Armstrong), attempts to inhale everyday substances, like the nitrous oxide in a whipped cream can (known as a whippit), Jell-O, or snow, as if it were cocaine because he "can't even get real drugs here". The film also introduces two Japanese drag racing brothers, one of whom (Yuji Okumoto) learned English by impersonating Howard Cosell.

As Lane attempts to either end his life or win back his ex-girlfriend, he gradually gets to know a new girl: a French foreign-exchange student named Monique (Diane Franklin). She is staying with Lane's neighbors (Laura Waterbury and Daniel Schneider) across the street, who are so annoying that she pretends she cannot speak English. Monique turns out to be a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers (as she calls them) and is a tough, confident soul. She helps Lane fix up his 1967 Camaro and rekindles Lane's confidence and his will to live through "language lessons" in the international language of love.

The climactic scene involves a ski competition against Roy Stalin on a treacherous slope called the K-12. As the two rivals race, Johnny, Lane's persistent paperboy, pursues him, repeating (as he has periodically throughout the movie) that he wants two dollars that are owed (spawning the catchphrase "I want my two dollars!").



Some of the skiing scenes were shot at Snowbird, in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah. During the sword fight with ski poles, the word "Mid Gad" is plainly visible on the lift machinery; Mid Gad is a ski lift at Snowbird. Most of the ski scenes were shot at Alta Ski Area; the parking lot is Alta's parking lot. It is widely speculated that many of the "town" scenes of the film were shot in various locations throughout La Crescenta, CA, the eastern San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties in California. The exterior of the high school was filmed at the Anderson W. Clark Magnet School (then a junior high school) in La Crescenta, CA. The race scenes were filmed in the city of Sierra Madre. It appears[weasel words] that many of the scenes were shot in Upland, California. Several scenes were filmed in the city of Burbank, as local landmarks are visible in driving scenes. The film's final scene was shot at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California.


The film received positive reviews from critics with an 82% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 22 reviews. The consensus was that "Better Off Dead is an anarchic mix of black humor and surreal comedy, anchored by John Cusack's winsome, charming performance."[1] However, Siskel & Ebert gave the film two thumbs down.[2]

Also, according to Savage Steve Holland, Cusack didn't like the film. Cusack walked out of a screening as both were making One Crazy Summer, later confronting Holland saying it "was the worst thing I have ever seen. I will never trust you as a director ever again, so don't speak to me." Holland claims that Cusack felt he had been made to look foolish and that his comments "made me not care about movies anymore".[3] However, in a 2013 Reddit "Ask Me Anything" chat, when asked if he hated filming Better Off Dead, Cusack responded "No, I just thought it could have been better, but I think that about almost all my films. I have nothing against the film. . . . Glad people love it still."[4]


Better Off Dead: Original A&M Soundcrack (sic)
Soundtrack album by Various artists
Released 1985
Genre Rock
Length 39:45
Label A&M
Producer Rupert Hine
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 1.5/5 stars link

The film's soundtrack was produced primarily by Rupert Hine.

The opening track, "With One Look (The Wildest Dream)", was produced by Hine and features Cy Curnin and Jamie West-Oram of The Fixx on lead vocals and guitars respectively. Hine had previously worked with Curnin and West-Oram, and also contributed vocals to the song. The following track, "Arrested By You", as well as "Better Off Dub (Title Music)" and "Race The K-12 (Instrumental)" were performed solely by Hine.

"Dancing in Isolation" features Terri Nunn of Berlin on lead vocals. Hine produced the song and was reportedly under consideration to produce an album for Berlin.

"Come to Your Rescue" was performed by Thinkman, a group formed by, and including, Hine for the purpose of restoring his solo career without the music press knowing about it. West-Oram also provided guitar work to this song, as well as the instrumental "The Falcon Beat".

The only two tracks on the CD without Hine's involvement are "A Little Luck" and "One Way Love (Better Off Dead)." Valley Girl's Elizabeth Daily, credited on the soundtrack as E. G. Daily, sang lead vocals on both songs and also performed them in the film during the high school dance scene.

Track listing
  1. "With One Look (The Wildest Dream)" – 3:26 (written by Torrence Merdur/Rupert Hine)
  2. "Arrested By You" – 5:07 (written by Torrence Merdur/Rupert Hine)
  3. "Shine" – 3:49 (written by Martin Ansell)
  4. "Better Off Dub (Title Music)" – 3:48 (written by Rupert Hine)
  5. "Dancing In Isolation" – 4:04 (written by Torrence Merdur/Rupert Hine)
  6. "Come to Your Rescue" – 5:03 (written by Jeannette Obstoj/Rupert Hine)
  7. "A Little Luck" – 4:21 (written by Angela Rubin)
  8. "The Falcon Beat (Instrumental)" – 2:37 (written by Rupert Hine)
  9. "One Way Love (Better Off Dead)" – 3:33 (written by Steve Goldstein/Duane Hitchings/Craig Krampf/Eric Nelson)
  10. "Race The K-12" – 3:49 (written by Rupert Hine)
  • Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, and 10 produced by Rupert Hine.
  • Tracks 7 and 9 produced by Steve Goldstein.

A number of songs that appear in the film do not appear on the CD soundtrack, including Howard Jones' "Like To Get To Know You Well", Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some", Neil Sedaka's "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do", Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover", Jimi Hendrix's "Foxy Lady", Frank Sinatra singing "A Man Alone" by Rod Mckuen, Hall & Oates' "She's Gone", and Muddy Waters' "Mannish Boy." [5]


  1. ^ "Better Off Dead (1985)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 23, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Savage Steve Holland talks about "Better Off Dead" & "One Crazy Summer" at the Aero Theater – Written by Ben Kenber". Retrieved 2011-11-24. 
  3. ^ The Sneeze – Better Off Dead Tribute Interview with Savage Steve Holland
  4. ^ Reddit Ask Me Anything Hey, it's John Cusak, I'm here to talk about Freedom of the Press Foundation, among other things. Ask Me Anything.
  5. ^

External links[edit]