Film / Pump Up the Volume

"Feeling screwed up at a screwed up time in a screwed up place does not necessarily make you screwed up."
Mark Hunter

A 1990 movie written and directed by Allan Moyle and starring Christian Slater, Pump Up the Volume features the exploits of Mark Hunter, a recent transfer to Hubert Humphrey High in Arizona, where he spends his days as a moping teenager and spends his nights running a pirate radio station under the moniker Happy Harry Hard-on.

While entertaining the locals, his show becomes more political as he takes on the local school over injustices done toward the local student body. He goes from an underground favorite to a controversial figure overnight, however, when one of his call-in guests claims to be contemplating suicide... and then actually does it after hanging up on Harry.

The film underperformed at the box office, but has become a cult favorite since its release. In the long term, it's perhaps most notable for featuring the debut of Samantha Mathis (Broken Arrow (1996), Little Women, American Psycho) and its soundtrack, as well as an early performance by Seth Green.

This film contains examples of:

  • Audience Monologue: Several throughout the film. The audience in this case is Harry's listeners, as well as the viewer.
  • Big Bad: Principal Crestwood
  • Brick Joke: "Is it bigger than a baby's arm?"
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: Mark as "Harry". Just to hammer it in, the F.C.C. is called in on the final act.
  • Can't Stop the Signal: The very last scene is Mark being arrested by the police... and a number of teenage Buccaneer Broadcasters starting to broadcast (encouraged by Mark/Harry and his "speak up!" last speech) throughout America as the film fades to black.
  • Catch Phrase: Several, as Harry is very quotable. "So be it." "Take cover, Arizona!" "I'm done, stick a fork in me." "Turn on the truth!" "Talk hard," and so on.
  • Censorship Bureau: The F.C.C. form up a Stern Chase posse during the final act. The Principal tries her hardest to be this, but it becomes increasingly notable to the ones looking that she is just escalating her fascist methods and stopping to bother with covering them up.
  • Clark Kenting: Mark needs glasses and seemingly can't speak above a mutter, which initially convinces Nora that he can't be Harry.
  • Chekhov's Gun : We see Nora's red letter in the very first shot of the film, and it's later the way she identifies him. Also, Mark finds the letter from Deaver in his dad's office several scenes before he reads it on the air.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: We're introduced to some students on the bus in the very first scene, whose names come up much later as Mark's platform to rail against the injustices at the school. Luis Chavez and Cheryl Biggs are called in to see the principal, and we see a shot of the (unnamed) Malcolm.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: By the end of the movie, Mark decides not to disguise his voice anymore and is finally able to talk publicly when he gets caught, overcoming his fear.
  • Dean Bitterman: Principal Crestwood, of the two-faced and thoroughly illegal methods variety.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Most of the teen cast, but Mark/Harry especially. "Are you going to write a letter to your friends back East?" "No, I thought I'd send away for an inflatable date."
  • The Dragon: Mr. Murdock, to Principal Crestwood
  • Driven to Suicide: Malcolm.
    • Subverted with Harry himself.
    Now I'm depressed. Now I feel like killing myself. Luckily, I'm too depressed to bother.
  • Eating Lunch Alone: Used as a way to highlight Mark's isolation in his school. Also a plot point, as it allows Nora to identify him, in the stairwell.
  • Fun with Acronyms / We Care: BIONIC (Believe It Or Not, I Care)
    • Also in universe, it's Hubert Humphrey High, and Happy Harry Hardon. This explains why the students gather in front of their school entrance, where the building reads H.H.H., to listen to him.
  • The Grunting Orgasm: Parodied by the main character.
  • Hippie Teacher: Averted with the guidance counsellor. Played straight with Miss Emerson. Zig-Zagged with Brian, Mark's dad, who was this until he became an administrator.
    "I still love my job...and power and money."
  • Intrepid Reporter: "This is Shep Sheppard, reporting..."
  • Jerk Jock : The story about the jocks by the lake.
  • Large Ham Radio: "Harry". Every broadcast scene up until the very last one is just Mark unleashing his inner (very foul-mouthed) Large Ham.
  • Made Myself Sad: Mark, but luckily, he was too depressed to kill himself.
  • Memetic Mutation: In-universe, the students at Humphrey hang posters and spray-paint Harry's catch-phrases everywhere.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Mark is a talented writer, and his English teacher is trying to get him to write for the school paper.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: A tragic example in the "advice" Harry gives to Malcolm.
  • No Dead Body Poops: Averted after the call-in guest kills himself, Harry talks about suicide during the following broadcast, citing being found after the inverse of this trope kicks in as one of the reasons suicide is bad.
    "Girls you never spoke to are going Why Why Why?...And you've got a load in your shorts!"
  • Open-Minded Parent: Mark's parents are such stereotypical baby boomers that it's vaguely ridiculous, but they're absolutely delighted at the idea that Mark has been sneaking Nora into the house under their noses. Of course, at the time they find out, they A. think Mark's the pirate DJ they're hearing about on the news, so it beats the alternative, and B. have been pushing him to try and have more of a social life at his new school - a cute girlfriend is a major step in that direction.
  • Playful Hacker: Happy Harry is a pirate radio equivalent.
  • Product Placement : Diet Pepsi. Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi is even mentioned in some of the dialogue, though Black Jack gum might just be something Mark likes.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Mark's Dad and English teacher play it straight, Principal Crestwood and Mr Murdock are notable aversions.
  • Shirtless Scene: Involving both Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis.
  • Slimeball: Deaver the guidance counselor is a creep who takes orders from Crestwood to validate the expulsion of "undesirable" students while pretending to care about them. Crestwood herself is a whole lot worse (not only creating this policy (and enforcing it through flat-out illegal means) in order to get better grades and thus up the school's funding, but she calls the expelled students "losers" when confronted about this).
    • Deaver might get a bit of a Heel–Face Turn at the end, when Brian Hunter confronts Ms. Crestwood about her illegal and unethical activities. It seems that his decision to expel Cheryl might have been intended to help her, and he didn't know how far Crestwood had gone in her actions - or maybe he just knows the scheme is about to be exposed, and he's trying to make himself look better.
    Cresswood: They were losers.
    Deaver: They're just kids!
  • Smoking Is Cool: Slater smoked so many cigarettes while making the movie, mostly while filming Mark's rants, that he made himself physically ill.
  • Smug Snake: Crestwood.
  • Spoonerism: Charles "Chuck" U. Farley
  • Stalker Without A Crush: Nora's interest in Mark, at first, is an attempt to solve the mystery of Harry's identity. She more or less stops stalking him when she finds out who he is.
  • Stupid Statement Dance Mix: One of the earliest examples, when Joey (a young Seth Green) makes one from Harry's on air conversation with Mr Deaver, the guidance counsellor.
  • Title Drop: averted.