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Pump Up the Volume (1990) is a comedy-drama written and directed by Allan Moyle and starring Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis. The original music score was composed by Cliff Martinez.

Filming locations included Saugus High Schoolmarker and other locations around Saugus, California, USAmarker. Although the film takes place at the fictional "Hubert Humphrey High" in Arizona, the real school's markers can be seen in a few tracking shots.

Plot summary

Mark Hunter (Slater), a high school student in a sleepy Arizonamarker suburb, starts an FM pirate radio station that broadcasts from his bedroom transmitter in the basement of his parent's house. Mark is a loner, an outsider, whose only outlet for his teenage angst and aggression is his unauthorized radio station. His pirate station's theme song is "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen and there are glimpses of cassettes by such alternative musicians as The Jesus and Mary Chain, Camper Van Beethoven, Primal Scream, Ice-T, Bad Brains, Concrete Blonde, Henry Rollins, and The Pixies. By day, Mark is seen as a loner, hardly talking to anyone around him; by night, he expresses his outsider views about what is wrong with American society. When he speaks his mind about what is going on at his school and in the community, more and more of his fellow students tune in to hear his show. Nobody knows the true identity of "Hard Harry" or "Happy Harry Hard-on," as Mark refers to himself, until Nora Diniro (Mathis), a fellow student, tracks him down. The radio show becomes increasingly popular and influential; one student, an overachiever, jams her various medals and accolades into a microwave, which explodes, injuring her, and another student commits suicide after Harry attempts to reason with him. Eventually, the radio show causes so much trouble in the community that the FCC is called in to investigate. During the fracas, it is revealed that the school's principal (Annie Ross) has been expelling "problem students", namely, students with below-average SAT scores, such as an unwed mother, in an effort to boost the district's test scores while still keeping their names on the rolls (a criminal offense) in order to keep the government money.

Realizing he has started something huge, Mark decides it is up to him to end it. He dismantles his radio station and attaches it to his mother's old jeep, creating a mobile transmitter. Pursued by the police and the FCC, Nora drives the jeep around while Mark broadcasts. His voice disguiser breaks, and with no time left to fix it, Mark decides to broadcast his final message as himself. They finally drive up to the crowd of protesting students, and Mark tells them that the world belongs to them and that they should make their own future. The police step in and arrest Mark and Nora. As they are taken away, Mark reminds the students to "talk hard." As the film ends, other students start their own independent stations, which can be heard broadcasting across the country.

Main cast


After his film, Times Square, a new wave comedy, was taken away from him and re-edited, Allan Moyle retired from directing and began working on screenplays. One of them, about a teenager who runs his own pirate radio station for other teenagers, came to the attention of SC Entertainment, a Torontomarker-based company, and put into development. He was persuaded to direct his own screenplay. Moyle wrote it without a specific actor in mind but his development deal specified that the project would be canceled if a suitable actor could not be found. The director needed an actor who had to have "glee, to be ineffably sweet and at the same time demonic." Christian Slater met with Moyle and producer Sandy Stern and displayed all these qualities. Moyle has described the film's protagonist as an amalgam of Holden Caulfield and Lenny Bruce and the "Hard Harry" persona as a guy who "has to get credibility as an outsider. As the last angry man on the planet, he has to use the foulest language he can think of. He even pretends to masturbate on the air. He's obsessed with sex and death." The school in the film, Hubert Humphrey High, was based on a Montrealmarker high school where director Allan Moyle's sister used to teach that, according to Moyle, had a principal "who had a pact with the staff to enhance the credibility of the school scholastically at the expense of the students who were immigrants or culturally disabled in some way or another."

Slater disagreed with Moyle who wanted to bring in a tap dance instructor to help orchestrate a scene that begins with "Hard Harry" faking masturbation on the air and ends with him breaking into a manic dance by himself. Slater wanted to do something more spontaneous based on his instincts.


Pump Up the Volume failed to catch on at the box office. When it was released on August 24, 1990, in 799 theaters, it grossed USD $1.6 million in its opening weekend. It went on to make $11.5 million in North America.

The film received generally positive reviews from critics and is currently rated 83% at Rotten Tomatoes. In his review for the New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote, "Much like Heathers, Pump Up the Volume doesn't know how to draw out its premise, once that premise has been thoroughly explored. As the film accelerates toward its conclusion, the strands of its clever plot are too hastily and perfunctorily resolved . . . Working within the confines of the teen-age genre film, however, Pump Up the Volume still succeeds in sounding a surprising number of honest, heartfelt notes". USA Today gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, praising the film's conclusion: "the ending, though in part contrived, doesn't cop out".


The movie won the Golden Space Needle Award at the Seattle International Film Festival, beating out the festival favorite, Denys Arcand's Jesus of Montreal. Reportedly, some audience members booed when the film was named the winner. Moyle's film also won the Audience Award at the Deauville Film Festival.



Music being central to the plot of a film about a young pirate radio station DJ, the soundtrack featured a diverse lot of artists. The official soundtrack release had the following tracks:

  1. "Everybody Knows" (Leonard Cohen) – Concrete Blonde
  2. "Why Can't I Fall in Love?" – Ivan Neville
  3. "Stand" – Liquid Jesus
  4. "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)" – Pixies
  5. "I've Got a Miniature Secret Camera" – Peter Murphy
  6. "Kick Out the Jams" (MC5) – Bad Brains with Henry Rollins
  7. "Freedom of Speech" – Above the Law
  8. "Heretic" – Soundgarden
  9. "Titanium Exposé" – Sonic Youth
  10. "Me and the Devil Blues" (Robert Johnson) – Cowboy Junkies
  11. "Tale O' The Twister" – Chagall Guevara

The soundtrack features several covers. The Cowboy Junkies' contribution to the soundtrack is a remake of a Robert Johnson song, while the Bad Brains and Henry Rollins track is a cover of the MC5 anthem. "Stand" by Liquid Jesus is a new version of the 1969 song by Sly & the Family Stone.

Peter Murphy's exclusive track was later included on a special reissue of his 1988 album, Love Hysteria, while Sonic Youth's song appeared on their 1990 release, Goo.

An earlier version of Soundgarden's "Heretic" appears on the 1985 Seattle band compilation album Deep Six. Concrete Blonde revisited "Everybody Knows" on their 2003 album, Live in Brazil. The original, upbeat version of "Wave of Mutilation" appears on Doolittle, the third studio album by Pixies.

A number of songs prominently featured in the film did not appear on the officially released soundtrack, including the original version of "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen, which appeared on his 1988 album, I'm Your Man. Although Cohen's version serves as the theme song for Mark's pirate radio program during most of the film, he opens his final broadcast with the Concrete Blonde cover that appears on the soundtrack. Also present in the film but absent from the soundtrack are "Dad, I'm in Jail" by Was from their 1988 album What Up, Dog?, "Fast Lane" by Urban Dance Squad from their 1990 album Mental Floss for the Globe, "Weinerschnitzel" by The Descendents from their 1981 EP Fat, "Love Comes in Spurts" by Richard Hell and the Voidoids from their 1977 album Blank Generation, and "Talk Hard," by Stan Ridgway, the original version of which has never been released (though Ridgway has released a live version of the song).

Not as prominently featured is a legendary early track by the Beastie Boys entitled "The Scenario". Although the song appears only briefly in Pump Up the Volume, it is notable because it never appeared in any official release, however is available on hard to find bootleg recordings. The song was cut from the Beastie's Def Jam album Licensed to Ill after being deemed too explicit. Christian Slater's character explains this when he introduces it on the air saying, "Now here's a song from my close personal buddies, the Beastie Boys...a song that was so controversial they couldn't put it on their first album."

Also of note is the fact that Cliff Martinez's instrumental score has never seen an official release of any kind.

The complete soundtrack listing in the order in which they appear in the film is as follows;

  1. Everybody Knows - Leonard Cohen
  2. Love Comes in Spurts - Richard Hell & The Voidoids
  3. Girls L.G.B.N.A.F. - Ice-T
  4. Wienerschnitzel - Descendents
  5. The Scenario - Beastie Boys
  6. Me and the Devil Blues - Cowboy Junkies
  7. Freedom of Speech - Above the Law
  8. Tale o' the Twister - Chagall Guevara
  9. Talk Hard - Stan Ridgway
  10. If It Be Your Will - Leonard Cohen
  11. Kick Out the Jams - Bad Brains (with Henry Rollins)
  12. Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf) - Pixies
  13. Titanium Expose - Sonic Youth
  14. I've Got a Secret Miniature Camera - Peter Murphy
  15. Why Can't I Fall in Love - Ivan Neville
  16. Heretic - Soundgarden
  17. Everybody Knows - Concrete Blonde(a small instrumental section of this song also appears in the film between 10 and 11)
  18. Hello Dad...I'm in Jail - Was
  19. Fast Lane - Urban Dance Squad
  20. Stand - Liquid Jesus


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