Thirty-nine years ago today, the coming-of-age drama/thriller film Suburbia premiered. Suburban kids run away from home, take up a punk lifestyle by squatting in abandoned tract homes, go to shows, get mohawks, vandalize a lot of things, and take drugs. One of the best teenagers-in-revolt films and absolutely the best and first of them written and directed by a female. It’s 1980s to a gorgeous degree.
Title: Suburbia (also known as Rebel Streets and The Wild Side)
Directed by: Penelope Spheeris
Written by: Penelope Spheeris
Produced by: Bert Dragin and Roger Corman
Staring: Bill Coyne as Evan Johnson
Chris Pedersen as Jack Diddley
Jennifer Clay as Sheila
Timothy Eric O’Brien as Skinner
Wade Walston as Joe Schmo
Mike B. The Flea as Razzle
André Boutilier as Peg Leg
Grant Miner as Keef
Maggie Ehrig as Mattie
Lee Frederick (credited as “Robert Peyton”) as Jim Tripplett
Jeff Prettyman as Bob Skokes
Don Allen as Officer Bill Rennard
Andrew Pece as Ethan Johnson
J. Dinan Myrtetus as Sheila’s father
Ilene Latter as Sheila’s mother
Donna Lamana as Tina Johnson
Gavin Courtney as Joe’s father
Gina Carrera (credited as “Julie Winchester”) as Sandy Dawson
Marlena Brause as Mrs. Tripplett
Dorlinda Griffin as Mother
Robert Griffin as Toddler
D.I. (Casey Royer, Fredric Taccone, Tim Maag, Derek O’Brien)
T.S.O.L. (Jack Grisham, Ron Emory, Mike Roche, Todd Barnes, Greg Kuehn)
The Vandals (Steve O, Jan Ackerman, Joseph Escalante, Steve Pfauter)
Cinematography Timothy Suhrstedt
Edited by Ross Albert
Music by Alex Gibson
Production company: Suburbia Productions
Distributed by: New World Pictures
Release date: April 13, 1984
Running time: 94 minutes
Country: United States
A hitchhiking teenage runaway, Sheila, is picked up on Interstate 605 in the Greater Los Angeles Area by a woman with a toddler. When the car gets a flat tire, they find a telephone booth on the edge of an abandoned tract housing district. While the mother is on the phone, the toddler is attacked and killed by a stray dog.
Another teenage runaway, Evan Johnson, leaves his suburban home and abusive, alcoholic mother, ending up at a punk rock concert by D.I., where Keef slips drugs into his drink. The concert ends abruptly when a female attendee has her clothes torn off by the punks in the audience. Jack Diddley offers Evan a place to stay at “T.R. House”, a punk house in the abandoned tract housing district off Interstate 605. Along the way, they pick up Joe Schmo, who also intends to move into the house. Joe changes his mind when he learns each resident must be branded with the letters T.R. (“The Rejected”), but winds up coming back and accepting the brand. He begins to form a romantic relationship with Sheila, who has also moved into the house.
The next morning, several men from “Citizens Against Crime”, including Jim Tripplett and Bob Skokes, drive through the neighborhood shooting at the packs of wild dogs that roam the area. T.R. kids Razzle and Skinner confront them, but the situation is defused by Jack’s stepfather, police officer Bill Rennard. Jack, Evan, and Skinner steal food for the house by raiding the garages of a nearby suburban neighborhood, and they make further enemies of Jim and Bob by disrupting their garage sale. When Evan sees on the news that his mother has been arrested for drunk driving, he collects his younger brother, Ethan, and brings him to live at T.R. House, where Sheila gives him a mohawk. Sheila admits to Joe that she was physically and sexually abused by her father.
During a T.S.O.L. concert, the T.R. gang get into a fight defending Skinner. The men they were fighting with enter the concert and stab a security guard, framing the T.R. kids for the crime by using the knife to hang a flier with “T.R.” written in blood. Jim and Bob next witness the T.R. crew vandalizing a convenience store. At a Citizens Against Crime meeting, they accuse Bill and the rest of the police of not doing enough to curb the teenagers’ criminal behavior, declaring their willingness to take the law into their own hands. Bill goes to T.R. House and implores the teens to stay out of trouble. That night, Jim and Bob invade the house and threaten the teens, assaulting Sheila in the process. The next morning, the kids find that Sheila has killed herself by overdosing on Keef’s drugs. Not knowing what to do, they bring her body back to her parents. When the T.R. kids come to the funeral, Sheila’s father insists that they leave. Joe reveals his knowledge of Sheila’s abuse, and a fight breaks out, hospitalizing Sheila’s father.
At a Vandals concert that night, Bill shows up and warns the T.R. kids to clear out of T.R. house immediately, before their actions bring the Citizens Against Crime down on their heads, but they decide to stay. Learning of the violence at the funeral, Jim and Bob show up at the house and are attacked by the teens, who drive them off. They bring their car back around for another pass, accidentally running over and killing Ethan. Bill arrives, but is too late to prevent the tragedy.