In 1984, Revenge Of The Nerds was like a dorkier, tamer version of Animal House, with a similar plot: fraternity made up out of outcasts takes on and defeats the popular frat made up of Big Men On Campus. Featuring a pre-ER Anthony Edwards, as well as soon-to-be-iconic Curtis Armstrong and sitcom killer Ted McGinley, the relatable film became a hit upon release, even inspiring a number of sequels. But a closer look at the original movie reveals a number of troubling aspects, like cartoonish stereotypes, secret cameras meant to spy on naked sorority girls, and Lewis, the lead nerd, seducing the girl of his dreams in a scene that’s been described as “rape by deception.”
GQ has a new oral history of the film in honor of its 35th anniversary, and it includes interviews with several of the stars, director Jeff Kanew, producer Ted Field, and screenwriters Jeff Buhai and Steve Zacharias. Robert Carradine, who went on to play Lewis, initially protested, according to Kanew: “Bobby Carradine said, ‘Look, I don’t know what I’m doing here, I’m not a nerd, I’m probably a guy who would beat up a nerd.’ He used to drive fast cars on Mulholland Drive and he was a Carradine brother. But he was a secret nerd.” Carradine went on to move onto the University Of Arizona campus, where he only wore geeky clothes and was often mistaken for an engineering student. When he and Edwards crashed a frat party and were refused the opportunity to pledge, they figured they had captured their nerd personas.
Carradine’s exploration of the nerds went a bit deeper, though, which may be why he went on to play Lewis in all three sequels. He tells GQ, “I think it was Curtis who came up to me. He said, ‘I get it.’ I said, ‘Get what?’ He said, ‘You’re playing it for real.’ I said, ‘Yeah. These guys don’t know they’re nerds.’ And that set the tone for the movie.”
Because it’s an oral history about a movie made in the ’80s, there’s the requisite cocaine talk. Larry B. Scott, who played the flamboyant Lemar, says, “I would like to say cocaine back then was rather prevalent. You can still prosecute, so I can’t say that for sure.” And GQ also addresses the movie’s most problematic scene: “Lewis, our hero, gets the girl in the end—but in the creepiest way possible,” by disguising himself as his crush’s Betty’s boyfriend. She doesn’t realize that she’s having sex with Lewis, and when she discovers the deception, she is delighted rather than horrified. Most of the cast and crew now wish that scene had gone differently, with Julia Montgomery, who played Betty, stating, “You can write this: I blame Jeff. There should’ve been one more beat in this scene—something else, something added, even if Betty had pushed him or slapped him or something.”
The film still contains high points for some of the cast though. McGinley, who played Alpha Beta president Stan Gable, remembers fondly, “I read a poll a couple years ago—and this is a sports, football poll—‘Top 10 Asshole Quarterbacks.’ And Stan Gable was in there. I mean, come on, that’s like the highlight of my life.” And this guy hung out with Fonzie and sailed on The Love Boat. Read more behind-the-scenes Nerds stories over at GQ.