Home / Classic Movie Review: Pump Up the Volume

Classic Movie Review: Pump Up the Volume

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Pump up the Volume, a film from 1990, stars Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis. It tells the story of a teenage boy living a double life. On one hand, he is a model student attending high school in the suburban desert of Arizona. By night, he is a raunchy pirate radio disc jockey, known as Happy Harry Hard-on, talking hard and stealing the air – as in radio air.

Each and every night he goes live to all those that can hear him, and many can and do hear him. His message about a society gone wrong and a corrupt high school reaches many and angers many more. Soon his broadcasts receive national attention, even drawing notice from the FCC. This follows a few unfortunate incidents that occur among his teenage listeners, for which Harry gets the blame. Even with the FCC breathing down his neck, Harry continues on to make sure his message is delivered.

This movie may have been released in 1990, but its message still rings true in today’s society. Harry is honest with his views of society and this is commendable. He speaks to the confusion and worry many teenagers in the world feel, but in my opinion this confusion and worry isn’t just felt by those attending high school, but by many adults as well. There is so much turmoil in our time, and many are unsure of what will happen next.

Harry shows us how one voice can move many. When his popularity grows, it surprises him and he cannot handle it. He is just one teenage boy named Mark. A boy who is shy, speaking to no one at school and spending most of his days in solitude. His alter ego provides him the outlet to say the things he wouldn’t normally say.

Samantha Mathis plays Nora. She is the girl who searches him out, getting to know both the shy teenager, and the raunchy Harry, once she finds out who he is. By the end of the film, she is assisting him in getting his message out. This movie introduced us to the actress who went on to star in many more movies including The Thing Called Love and American Psycho.

For ninety-five minutes this movie is in your face. We’re taken from Harry’s broadcasts in his basement to the rooms of his listeners as they sit and listen every night. This movie tells their stories as well, and we have a cross-section of a few popular teen stereotypes represented: the popular Miss Perfect school girl who isn’t so perfect, the shy geeky teenage boy who feels his only solution is to end his life, to name a few.

Pump up the Volume has always been one of my favorite movies. I was in my teens when it first came out and its message struck a chord with me then. It still strikes a chord with me now – watching the DVD reminded me why.

It’s honest and out there. The acting is right on. Christian Slater nails the role of teenager with a double life perfectly. His co-star Samantha Mathis does the same. If you have never seen this movie or it’s been awhile, I highly recommend it. Just a bit of a warning, this movie is not for the children. The language is quite coarse.

For more reviews by Regina, including reviews on books, music, movies and television shows, visit her review blog found at One Couch Critic. Her rambles on life and writing can be found on her daily blog, One Writer’s Rambles.


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About Gina

  • Good work Regina. This seems like the kind of flick that needs more a testimonial like this rather than really a “review.”

    Second the thumbs up on this little classic. In theory, this movie seems kinda cheesy and contrived, and I was already well past being a teenager when it came out. Yet the damned thing works. It’s put together quite well, and gives me a little thrill.

    I think the thing is that the Slater character is well conceived. He’s not merely cussing, but he’s really got stuff on his mind that he needs to share. He’s about something.

  • “What are we supposed to do, use harsh language?” – Frost (Aliens)

    The harsh language in the movie is harsh but is seriously tertiary to the whole story. What hit me with this movie is it’s intelligence, never seen again in movies with teenagers as a target audience. Now it’s all bubblegum glossy teens who’s parents can’t afford the clothes on their back, talking about being cool and having the perfect life which means getting to the prom with the right date.

    The Blogosphere is what HHH had in mind when he said to take back the airwaves. We now have the tools.

    Talk Hard

  • This is a great movie of its time and sometimes I sit back and wish we were still living in this time frame. We wouldnt have to worry about jobs and terriosts as much. This is a well made movie that is not a typical high school movie.

  • This is one of my favorite movies of all time! Man, I’m so old.

    The soundtrack kicks ass! Bad Brains, Henry Rollins, the Descendents, Ice-T. It’s the movie that introduced me to Leonard Cohen. That’s worth a million right there.

    Take cover, Arizona!

  • The Leonard Cohen song is one of my favorite things of this whole movie. I can never tire of hearing the song.

  • Great job, Regina. I was 16 when the movie was released, and I remember how much it spoke to me back then. The truly amazing thing about the film is how it doesn’t talk down to the teenagers in the film. It’s a very intelligent, well-written piece, and it deserves a wider audience.

    I practically wore out my VHS copy of it, but I haven’t watched it in years. Thanks for reminding me what a great film it is.

  • Georg Haubenwallner

    It was probably the only movie Slater has worked on, that really carried a(-n important -) message, and for sure, the only one I´ve seen at 9 A.M. on TV, that really touched my inner self.

    Synchronicity or not ;), I read Burroughs´ “The Ticket that Exploded” in the same week as i saw the movie, describing very compelling ideas of information. I can draw a lot of parallels between these two outstanding pieces of work.

    Information is viral.

    No survival of information without carrier.

    Take a look at historic information and how it was conserved or, for a great share of it, manipulated by people with power, who´s main concern was not the survival of the original information, but the survival of their own power and to secure their power to own.

    So spread “The Virus”, and please have a look at the pdf-document
    “Rebuilding America´s Defenses” on http://www.newamericancentury.org, if you want to have a slight understanding of the “biggest terrorist attack on mankind” and the resulting events we´re now experiencing in our daily lives.
    It looks like the most horrible tanks are not made out of steel, but out of thoughts.

    Search for:

    “…catastrophic and catalyzing event, like a new pearl harbor…”

    Why are there chillions of lunatic conspiracy sites, when you can hear it in clear words “directly from their mouth”?

    The answer is already given.

  • Doctor Newt has a unique perspective on suicide letters from viewers…lol Just like in Pump up the Volume.

  • Emory

    Pump up the Volume, was awesome and Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis were great. I loved th eidea of pirate radio as a kid and still remembre pluggnig in my ham radio to my car amp and blasting music.