80s movies inspire alum’s self-help book

by Natalie Busch / Beacon Staff • September 8, 2016

How can Ferris Bueller’s Day Off help you to have a more positive mindset? What can The Karate Kid teach you about dealing with bullies? How can Sixteen Candles improve your romantic life?

These questions and more are answered in Evan Crean’s new book, Your '80s Movie Guide to Better Living, a humorous take on self-help books that delivers life advice gleaned from the films of the ‘80s.

Crean, ‘08, co-authored the book with Bryan Krull, Crean’s history teacher at his high school in Connecticut. Krull was also the faculty sponsor of Crean’s ‘80s movie club during his senior year. The pair bonded over their mutual appreciation of the era and, in 2010, Krull reached out to Crean with the idea for the book. Six years later, Your '80s Movie Guide to Better Living is available on Amazon.

“We realize we’re not self-help gurus,” Krull said. “But people who are way smarter than us have looked through all sorts of different things to find life lessons. So I thought, why not do something fun? Why not ‘80s movies?”

Krull and Crean self-published the book through Amazon’s print-on-demand publishing company CreateSpace, where copies are printed as orders are made online on Amazon or CreateSpace. Crean, a journalism graduate, said the book is light-hearted by design but that sections like “How to Avoid the Perils of Time Travel” are balanced by more grounded ones like “Tips on Romance and How to Deal With Life after College.”

“Do we think that people are going to read this book and really change things in their life? Not necessarily, no,” Crean said. “But we think self-help books take themselves a little too seriously. Our idea was to talk about some things you can learn but to also have fun.”

Crean, who works in Somerville as a marketing strategist, has also been a film critic for the past seven years. He founded the Boston Online Film Critics Association, co-hosts the film podcast Spoilerpiece Theatre, and contributes online movie reviews to Starpulse and his own website Reel Recon.  

“I really enjoy films, books, and television shows that are mashups,” Crean said. “I like mixing and matching things and taking elements of one genre and mixing them into another. [Your '80s Movie Guide to Better Living] has got a little bit of self-help, a little bit of humor, and a little bit of film criticism.”

It is clear that past decades are anything but old news, especially considering the recent reboots and remakes of Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and The Karate Kid, and the popularity of the new ‘80s-centric Netflix series Stranger Things. Krull, who teaches high school history in New York, said that for others who grew up in the ‘80s, the popularity of the genre has a lot to do with nostalgia. But Krull said that those born after the decade are drawn to those films because they tackle timeless topics.

“There are some fundamental issues that these movies deal with that I think people connect with: romance, dealing with other people, school, growing up,” Krull said. “I think that’s why, for instance, The Breakfast Club, is a hugely popular movie. I think everybody identifies with at least one of those characters and can put themselves in that situation.”

Crean said that one of his favorite chapters to write was “How to Deal with Ghosts,” where he discusses films like Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, and Poltergeist.

“Even though those are all very different movies, there are still trends that you can find within them,” Crean said. “So that’s a lot of fun: digging into movies and seeing how they can be similar despite seeming so different.”

Krull said he particularly enjoyed writing the five-part chapter “How to Survive an ‘80s Horror Movie,” especially a section where Friday the 13th antagonist Jason Voorhees offers advice to the reader. But while the fact-finding process was certainly entertaining, Krull said he used his skills as a historian to conduct purposeful research.

“A lot of serious thought went into it,” Krull said. “You really have to think about all these movies and what the common themes are.”

In their analysis, Crean said they found that ‘80s movies contain insights that most people don’t notice, like the discussion of social standing. Crean said films of the era that seem like light hearted entertainment often comment on class.

“[Caddyshack] is a silly outrageous comedy but there are definitely things the movie has to say about the rich country club folks,” Crean said. “They look down on Rodney Dangerfield’s Al Czervik character even though he’s just as rich as the rest of them because he’s from new money and he’s kind of outrageous and not so uptight.”

Discussions of race, class, and gender have changed a lot in the past 30 years and some scenes, characters, and lines that seemed innocent then are offensive now. Crean said that at times it can be difficult to watch old movies through a modern lens.

“It’s complicated and I think it’s good to feel complicated about it,” Crean said. “It’s not a bad thing to enjoy a movie but to kind of put that frame of reference on it and say, ‘I enjoy this as entertainment but I don’t agree with all the things it says now in retrospect.’”

Crean and Krull said the door is open for additional books and there are essays that did not make it into the final volume, but those could serve as a starting point for a second.

“There are definitely some topics that we don’t cover that I think would be great,” Crean said. “I know a lot of people expressed interest in Kurt Russell or John Carpenter movies, which Bryan and I both love.”

Crean said they have sold roughly twenty copies and that he hopes the book rekindles a sense of nostalgia and excitement among people who grew up in that decade.

“But if there’s a reader who didn’t grow up in the '80s, my hope is that they’ll go back and watch films that they’ve seen before through a new lens,” Crean said. “Or hopefully go and see some of these movies that they never saw or never gave a second thought to.”