Song: “Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen
With the success of the absolutely wonderful Stranger Things (#TeamBarb), everything 80s horror-related is en vogue. (Not to be confused with En Vogue.) So I thought we should take a look at Van Halen’s brief foray into horror: the short-form music-based film “Hot for Teacher.”
You think David Lee Roth-related project and song touting the attractiveness of educators, there could only be one possible direction for this video. I mean, we’re talking about someone who made an ear of corn vulgar:
So it’s pretty cool that they stepped away from their comfort zone when the song could have prompted such an obvious, plotless display. Primary influences appear to be Carrie, The Wizard of Oz, Eraserhead, and grain alcohol.
“Hot for Teacher” tells the story of Waldo, a pre-teenish boy who suffers from visual and auditory hallucinations that appear to warn him about a future apocalyptic disaster. Complicating matters is the fact that he doesn’t speak, which subjects him to further bullying. He tries to tell his mother he’s not like other guys, but the words remain trapped in his mind as he boards a school bus driven by a sinister character who somehow knows his name. And then everything goes silent.
You know you have goosebumps.
While the other kids wait for class to start, Waldo is subject to menacing visions of who his classmates will grow up to be. One of them looks eerily like the bus driver. No wonder Waldo feels like he’s losing his grip. Suddenly the classroom is empty, signaling to Waldo that these visions mean impending disaster.
Something is going to happen in the future. Something that will eradicate education and force women into roles based on their looks, not their talents or abilities. How something so far-fetched could happen is beyond Waldo’s imagination. (Note: there is no indication that this is happening 32 years from 1984.)
Sadly, what could have been a truly stand-out short film starts to buckle under too many plot threads. For instance, Waldo is taunted both by his classmates’ future selves and some Twin Peaks-ass dancers.
While truly frightening, due in no small part to Alex Van Halen, the film’s focus on these dance sequences as relates to the rest of the action is completely unexplored, a device that clearly goes on to inspire teen mystery-horror franchise/my favorite program Pretty Little Liars.
David Lee Roth might be the most fearsome opponent Waldo faces. There’s something sinister about the way he and his child self finish each other’s sentences and his expressionless direct address to the camera, and especially the way his voice and mouth don’t line up when he moves. What trickery is afoot?
However, while Waldo’s fear and terror is believable, his predicament is at times unclear. For instance, he gets a moment’s peace but then his visions reappear. “I heard you missed us, we’re back!” they mock. “I brought my pencil. Give me something to write on!” The tone is so menacing it must be a clue as to how Waldo can prevent the apocalyptic disaster but, like so much with this film, it’s a dropped plot point.
He finds himself tortured by a character played by Eddie Van Halen in the library while he is frantically trying to figure out what wormhole he needs to close to prevent the disaster.
In an excellent nod to The NeverEnding Story, Waldo appears to fall inside the book, where he’s confronted with a group of people penned up in a holding cell. David Lee Roth appears with a giant hourglass, reminding him time is running out. Shaking with terror, Waldo faces the scene. He’s ready for battle.
Why don’t we get to see Waldo’s fight? Why does the most important action take place offscreen??? I am all for Rocky IV-style “the real opponent is you” and the abrupt cut certainly builds suspense, but damn, Van Halen. Damn.
Flash forward to the future. His classmates have found successful careers, except for Eddie Van Halen, indicating that Waldo was successful. You go, Waldo. Four for you, Waldo. Because Eddie was in the library when Waldo faced the beast, it’s understandable that he’s traumatized.
Unfortunately, it seems Waldo has sacrificed himself for the greater good, never to be seen again, and Van Halen decided to stick with their strengths and roles that embrace spanglier pants. But we’ll never forget the horror we’ve seen, at least not until we get to Dokken’s “Dream Warriors.”