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Anchor Bay presents
Tapeheads (1988)

Ivan: Josh, losin' those jobs was the best thing that ever happened to us. We're free to pursue our destiny!
Josh: What, dismal failure?
Ivan: Negativity festers in you, man!

- John Cusack, Tim Robbins

Review By: Dale Dobson   
Published: April 01, 2001

Stars: John Cusack, Tim Robbins
Other Stars: Mary Crosby, Clu Gulager, Katy Boyer
Director: Bill Fishman

Manufacturer: Crest National
MPAA Rating: R for (language, adult themes)
Run Time: 01h:32m:28s
Release Date: March 13, 2001
UPC: 013131123890
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B-B+A- C

DVD Review

Tapeheads stars John Cusack and Tim Robbins as Ivan Alexeev and Josh Tager, two aimless young men biding their time as security guards. When they lose their jobs after a wild party at the building they were supposed to be guarding, they become Video Aces, a video production company scraping by on funeral and party videos with Josh directing and Ivan selling. Hard work and perseverance lead them into the music video industry, where they become mixed up with Fuzzball Records executive Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius), questionable politician Norman Mart (Clu Gulager) and his blackmailing mistress Nikki (Susan Tyrrell). The FBI closes in as the guys desperately try to save the careers of their childhood soul-music heroes, The Swanky Modes (Sam Moore and Junior Walker).

If there's one thing Tapeheads "gets", it's the late 1980s. The film is simultaneously of its time and about its time, and its pop-culture influences and targets range from Devo, "Weird Al" Yankovic and Jello Biafra to Menudo and Ed Meese. Swedish synthesizer bands, mindless music videos and conservative politics come in for their fair share of ridicule, and the film's taste is consistently dead-on; it never gives in to commercial considerations like many of its period brethren. Cusack and Robbins are clearly enjoying themselves, and director Bill Fishman isn't afraid to be freewheeling and experimental—an extended rap-music commercial for Roscoe's Fried Chicken is completely unrelated to anything else, yet is easily the best moment in the movie. Cameo performances by the likes of "Bobcat" Goldthwaite, Connie Stevens, Doug McClure, King Cotton, Lyle Alzado, Jello Biafra and Stiv Bator (as rocker Dick Slammer) keep things lively, there's plenty of clever dialogue, and the film celebrates its era with intelligence and style.

The story doesn't hold up quite as well—it goes in so many directions that its basic themes get buried under all the craziness, and the human element is occasionally sacrificed for the sake of wit. And the back-alley Los Angeles Repo Man influence is a little too obvious, though it comes by the family resemblance honestly, courtesy of producers Peter McCarthy and Michael Nesmith.

The appeal of Tapeheads may be limited, but it has definite cult potential—those who appreciate it are likely to find themselves watching it over and over, memorizing and quoting. And that kind of originality is not easy to come by. Recommended.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Tapeheads is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a nice-looking anamorphic transfer. Grain levels run afoul of the single-layer disc's capacity in a few shots, with blocking artifacts in one dark scene, but the film generally looks great, with crisp detail and bright 1980s colors, and the digital transfer faithfully captures the film's low-budget, edgy look.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Anchor Bay presents Tapeheads in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, drawn from the compatible Ultra-Stereo theatrical track, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Both tracks capture the film's pop/punk soundtrack with solid frequency range and decent bass. The 5.1 track features improved stereo separation and more precise sound effect placement, but it's generally faithful to its matrixed-surround roots with no boosted bass or other obvious processing. Music occasionally threatens to overpower the dialogue, but the best lines come through loud and clear. A fine presentation of this music-oriented comedy.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Bill Fishman, executive producer Michael Nesmith, and production designer Catherine Hardwicke
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Bonus CD Single
Extras Review: The Tapeheads DVD features 26 text-menu chapter stops and a few substantial extras:

Commentary Track:

A running group commentary featuring director Bill Fishman, executive producer (and former Monkee) Michael Nesmith, and production designer Catherine Hardwicke. The track is occasionally a tad sparse, but shared memories produce some interesting anecdotes and quite a few good lines. A lot of deleted scenes are mentioned which unfortunately do not appear on the DVD in any form, including a performance by Hervé Villechaize that ended up on the cutting room floor. But it's a good track overall, and the participants' differing perspectives provide a broader view than most such commentaries.

Bonus CD Single:

A pleasant surprise is this Ordinary Man CD single, as performed in the film by The Swanky Modes. I would rather have had Roscoe's rappin' chicken jingle, but this is a nice addition and suits the film well.

Keepcase Insert Booklet:

A full-color insert featuring a few pages of production notes and quite a few behind-the-scenes photos, nicely arranged in a "cutout" scrapbook style in keeping with the movie's tone.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Tapeheads is a quirky comedy that captures a certain period in American pop culture with exaggerated, intelligent style. Anchor Bay's DVD features a solid transfer and a bonus CD single, making this a nice package for any child of the 1980s. Definitely worth a spin.


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