i Need Media
We have arrived: Oxnard in popular culture
By Matthew Singer 01/02/2014
That is, if anyone still cares about the Paranormal Activity franchise, which is certainly up for debate. This week, the fifth film in the found-footage horror series — subtitled The Marked Ones, it is technically not a sequel to the previous movies but a spinoff — opens at theaters nationwide, and it is, inexplicably, set in the sleepy beach town I was raised in. Whether or not it does well critically or financially, this is undoubtedly the city’s biggest pop-culture moment.
But this is not its first moment, of course. Being just up the PCH from Malibu, Hollywood has long been aware of Oxnard’s existence. Shoot, there’s a whole neighborhood here called Hollywood Beach. If you enter “Oxnard” in IMDb’s shooting locations search engine, you get more than 100 results. (And that’s not even counting Port Hueneme, which has credits of its own.)
As an Oxnard native, I grew up especially attuned to hearing my hometown’s (intensely weird) name whenever uttered on screen, and recognizing its familiar scenery. And so, as we prepare for the inevitable flood of tourists looking to explore our haunted barrios, here is a brief history of Oxnard in popular consciousness, as I remember it.
Prior to The Marked Ones, Oxnard’s most widely seen on-screen moment was the two seconds in Alexander Payne’s Oscar-winning ode to oenophilia when Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church are shown exiting the freeway at Vineyard Avenue, indicating that Giamatti’s character’s mother lives in the ”Nard, though it’s never said aloud, as far as I recall. Trust me; it was a really exciting revelation at the time.
Some of the more memorable moments of my early adolescence involve watching Daphne Zuniga and Thomas Calabro — aka Jo Reynolds and Dr. Michael Mancini — scream at each other on the porch of the Oxnard Shores beach house down the street from my own house, which served as a major locale for the prime time soap in its spectacularly trashy later years. My friend swears he got a kiss on the cheek from Heather Locklear once. I merely stole a biscuit from catering.
On an episode of the terrible mid-’90s sitcom, star Mayim Bialik is lamenting the fact that she didn’t get into the university of her choice. Her brother — the non-Joey Lawrence one — jokingly says, “Well, looks like it’s Oxnard College for you!” I think the show was set in Santa Barbara, which helps explain why they’d select our local junior college for ridicule, but still: pretty random. Google isn’t backing me up on this (there’s shockingly little information about Blossom online), but I swear it happened. Then again, I was also sure that Chris Elliott was Sam Elliott’s son, so maybe my memory is deceiving me.
One night in high school, I stayed over at a buddy’s house watching trashy Skinemax flicks until 5 a.m. One of them was this classic of ’80s garbage cinema about, well, hookers who murder people with chainsaws. The “plot,” as it were, involves a private detective tracking down a teenage runaway, who — as we’re told multiple times — is from Oxnard. From runaway prostitutes to demonically possessed Latino gangbangers — we’ve come a long way, baby!
i Need Media is a biweekly media column by Matthew Singer. Follow him on Twitter@mpsinger.