"I want my two dollars!" If you know what that means, then you belong to the cult of 'Better Off Dead' -- a surreal 1985 comedy in which John Cusack starred as Lane Meyer, a suicidal teenager who tries to win his girlfriend back by skiing the dreaded K12 mountain. Written and directed by "Savage" Steve Holland, the film contains a mysterious French girl who may sway Lane's heart, a group of Howard Cosell–obsessed drag racers, a maniacal paperboy, and a dancing hamburger. Initially, a box-office disappointment, the film has grown in legend and is now a cult classic.

To celebrate the film's 25th anniversary, Moviefone spoke with Holland, as well as cast members Curtis Armstrong (who played Charles De Mar, Lane's oddball pal), Aaron Dozier (Roy Stalin, the smug nemesis), Diane Franklin (Monique, the lovely exchange student) and Amanda Wyss (Beth, the heartbreaking ex). They shared their memories about their time on the set, John Cusack's distaste for the movie, and the passionate fanbase that has made the movie more popular than ever.
Believe it or not, much of the film is autobiographical. Like Lane Meyer, Holland also had a real high school girlfriend who broke his heart, and he even went so far as to stand on a plastic garbage can in his garage with a rope around his neck that hung from an overhead pipe. Realizing it was a terrible idea, he tried to step down, but as he did so, the lid cracked under his weight. He collapsed into the can and the pipe broke. With water pouring on top of him, as he flailed in the garbage can, his mother entered the garage and got upset -- because of the mess he had made.

"Savage" Steve Holland: My girlfriend dumped me for the captain of the ski team -- that's all true. I wasn't allowed on the ski team because I didn't make the time, and that's how he moved in on my girlfriend. I guess in my fantasy world, I had this "If I could only do it again, I'd win that race." The K2 is the biggest mountain out there, so I made it the K12 so it'd be super-double-extra-awesome. So, in my fantasy world, that's me winning and getting my girlfriend back.

Curtis Armstrong: My agent called and said somebody had offered me a movie -- which no one had ever done. I was sort of startled and she said it was this person named "Savage" Steve Holland. And I thought it was a bad connection; who has a name like that? But they sent me the script and it just made me laugh. I took to it instantly.

Holland: [Curtis] played Miles in 'Risky Business' and I hadn't seen a character like that in so many years -- a second banana character that stole the movie. I was like, "God, if I could have a cool dude like that playing Charles De Mar, my movie will work."

Diane Franklin: I knew immediately that this was an incredible script. I laughed through the whole thing. I was really hoping I could play Monique.

Holland: What I learned -- which is cool -- is that when you make a movie, you can call in people that you like or think are cool, and they'll actually respond. So when Diane came in, I couldn't believe it. She was as cute as what I had dreamed. You might assume from 'Last American Virgin' that she was evil, but she couldn't have been cuter -- which is why I said she was like "Bambi on acid."

Amanda Wyss: It is hands down for me, one of the funniest scripts I have ever read. I was crying from laughing so hard. Steve's work is like a punk Woody Allen.

Holland: Amanda had that "girl next door" thing -- I had a big crush on her from 'Fast Times at Ridgemont High.' And she came out after that with 'Nightmare on Elm Street.' I thought, 'If I could get that girl, this would be the double-best movie of all time!' And then she walked in the door, and it was amazing."

Aaron Dozier: When I came in, I didn't know who "Savage" Steve was at first. I [looked at one guy and] said, "Who's this chubby kid?" Turns out he's the director.

Holland: I'm watching dailies and drinking beer with Cusack, and all of a sudden this pompous jerk comes in and says, "Hey, who's the fat surfer?" And I'm like, "Wow, who is this?" and they go, "Savage, this is the guy coming in for Roy Stalin." And I'm like, "You have the part! You're perfect."

Holland: Henry Winkler had hooked us up because John had just done [the Winkler-produced comedy] 'The Sure Thing.' We just hit it off. I said, "This is the coolest guy I've ever met and he'd be perfect for this movie."

Armstrong: He has a quality almost like a silent-film comic, which he almost never uses. In fact, truthfully, the only time I ever think he's used that quality was in the movies with Savage, which is unfortunate. Stan Laurel comes to mind when I think of him -- expressive face, great comic instincts.

Dozier: Cusack and I had never been on skis a day in our life before, so we went up early -- we didn't want to look like spazzes. And we have this big mountain girl teach us how to ski on the bunny slope. [After a few quick lessons] he pays her off for the rest of the day and sends her on her way, and then we take the tram up to 11,000 feet and ski like animals for two days. When the production team got up there, they were so p***ed at us because if one of us breaks a leg, we put everybody out of work. But that was John. Back then, he would go 100 miles an hour with his foot on the gas the entire time.

Franklin: The chemistry was just right. Everybody "got" the script, liked each other, and worked as one cohesive group. Part of it was that he allowed us to do some improv in it, and that made the actors really comfortable.

Dozier: I remember the day we shot the big school dance scene. In the script, that whole thing was one thin paragraph. And we all got together and Savage is going, "Okay, what are we going to do? What are we going to say?" I came up with the line "You guys got my vote for cutest couple. You better shave a little closer before you kiss her goodnight." And it was my idea that Curtis starts laughing hysterically like it was the funniest thing he ever heard. To this day, I take a little bit of credit for concocting that scene.

Armstrong: Holland [pictured with Armstrong, at left] brings an enormous amount of joy to the set. His set is unlike any other I've ever been on.

Holland: No one stopped me from making my movie. As long as it made us laugh, no one really stopped me. But if it didn't make you laugh, the producer would stop you and say "Maybe we should rethink this." And I was really glad that he did -- I was just really trying to shove every little creative idea I had in my body into one movie, so that if it failed horribly, which it kind of did, people would say, "Well, at least he can do that."

Wyss: I do remember that the studio had given Steve a list of names that they wanted him to change the title to, and they were so ridiculous. One of them was 'Tennis Shoes and Brie.' [Laughs]

Check out Part 2 to learn how the movie bombed at the box office, why John Cusack doesn't want anything to do with it, and how it became a cult favorite.
Better Off Dead
In Theaters on January 1st, 1985

Dumped teen (John Cusack) meets a French exchange student (Diane Franklin). Read More

September 29, 2016
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