Pump Up the Volume (1990): Allan Moyle’s Youth Tale, Starring Christian Slater

“Pump Up the Volume,” an intelligent feature about teen angst, was written and directed by Allan Moyle, who previously dealt with disaffected, music-obsessed teens in “Times Square.”

Among other distinctions, the film put on the map two talented young actors, Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis.

The protagonist, Mark Hunter (Christian Slater) has a double life. By day, he is a quiet student at an ordinary suburban high school in Arizona.  But at night, Mark goes down into his basement, fires up his pirate radio transmitter, and broadcasts to the community as Hard Harry, a sexually obsessed commentator who passes along angry philosophy about the state of teenage life and then blast punk rock or gangsta rap cuts.

In the pre-credit sequence, we hear in voice-over narration, “The whole country is off. There is no one to look up to.”

“Is there life after high school,” Mark charges on the air.  “Right now, I am as horny as a pig.” He then goes on to simulate an orgazm on the air, thus exciting his equally horny listeners.

Hard Harry comes into conflict withthe high school, principal Mrs. Cresswood (Annie Ross), who keeps SAT scores up at the expense of her students’ dignity and individuality by eliminating “troublemakers” from the student body.

Hard Harry’s broadcasts, however, become a rallying point for the school’s misfit underclass.  As a result, Mrs. Cresswood is determined to track down the mystery student and bring him to justice.

The war against Hard Harry intensifies when he broadcasts data from confidential school board reports. It doesn’t help that Mark’s father is a school commissioner, who has no idea what his son is doing in the basement.

Meanwhile, Mark gains the attentions of Nora (Samantha Mathis), who has figured out his true identity.

Sharply uneven, the film begins extremely well, with some serious and satirical commentary that’s relevant to youngsters of the 1990s, but then the narrative loses its steam and becomes more conventional.