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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 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?"
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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, it does beat the alternative.
  • Playful Hacker: Happy Harry is a pirate radio equivalent.
  • 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.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Slater smoked so many cigarettes while making the movie, mostly while filming Mark's rants, that he made himself physically ill.
  • 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.
  • Title Drop: averted.
  • Unintentional Period Piece : The clothes, the hair, the politics, the technology, all of it screams "late 1980's/early 1990s."


Pretty WomanFilms of the 1990sQuick Change

alternative title(s): Pump Up The Volume
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