The Runnin’ Kind (1989)

This is one of those punk flick obscurities that no one saw in theatres and barely caught on video due to a poor critical reception and worse distribution. Movies starring James Cromwell (Dr. Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact; the evil warden in Adam Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard, just to name two of his films) and El Duce of the Mentors, tend to work out that way.

My memory of The Runnin’ Kind stems from Henry Rollins name dropping the film, along with Robert Altman’s O.C and Stiggs (1985), in the pages of one of his books, possibly Fanatic!: Songs Lists and Notes from the Harmony In My Head Radio Show, about his DJ exploits on L.A.’s Indie 103.1 FM. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s when I finally found a copy of The Runnin’ Kind (along with the college-rock coveted A Matter of Degrees) courtesy of a mom-and-pop video store’s “Going Out of Business Sale.” (I VHS-snagged O.C and Stiggs off a late ’80s UHF-TV replay.)

The latter Altman film received Rollins’s fandom as result of King Sunny Ade appearing the film; if you know Rollins, you know how he feels about that Nigerian African pop singer — and Robert Altman. The Runnin’ Kind (as I vaguely recall) got his attention as result of it serving as the screenwriting debut of Pleasant Gehman, the lead singer of the underground L.A. cowboy-punk band, the Screamin’ Sirens. The band’s then pioneering mix of punk, country, and rockabilly was more commercially acceptable than the somewhat similar the Cramps, and served as an early progenitor to what became known in the grungy, early ’90s as “alternative country,” a musical form practiced by the likes of Wilco, Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks, Whiskeytown, and Son Volt.

In existence from 1983 to 1987, the Screamin’ Sirens managed to released one album on Engima Records (Capitol affiliated; home to hitmakers Stryper, Poison, and Hurricane): Fiesta! (1984), along with Voodoo (1987) on the U.S. “college rock” indie label, Restless Records. In addition to appearing on a couple of Engima compilations and a 1983 Rodney on the ROQ compilation, they also provided the songs for a Thrasher Magazine CD compilation, along with “Love Slave” for Reform School Girls (1987; starring Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics).

Directing and assisting in rewrites on Gehman’s screenplay was Max Tash; getting his start in television, The Runnin’ Kind, produced for United Artists, was his feature film debut. Upon the film’s poor reception (and its failure in advancing the Screamin’ Sirens to mainstream acceptance; it was a multimedia showcase), Tash returned to television, forging a career with the likes of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose (Corin Nemic, later of Mark L. Lester’s Sand Sharks) and The New WKRP in Cincinnati, just to name a few.

Courtesy of strosfan74/eBay

As story unfolds, it’s pretty obvious United Artists’ was going for a (little late to the show) Risky Business vibe with its preppy, self-discovering ne’er-do-well in the Cruise-esque David Packer (most notably as Daniel Bernstein in NBC-TV’s sci-fi series V).

Packer is Joey, a recent college graduate with his future planned by his over-bearing father and well-meaning, but naive mother (notable TV mainstays John Carter and Susan Strasberg). But — as with the Max Glass, the preppy ne’er-do-well of A Matter of Degrees on his way to Columbia and having a “college-life crisis” and losing himself in the campus radio station — Joey Carter isn’t having any of this clerking-for-his-father’s-law firm non-sense and attending Yale Law in the fall. In a last fling before signing his life away, Joey’s yuppie buddies from Shaker Heights take him to the rundown part of Cleveland to check out a punk show. At the concert Joey’s heart is “thunderstruck” (Thanks, Angus!) by Thunder (Brie Howard), the female drummer of a band fronted by Joe Wood (of T.S.O.L, who perform “Hit and Run” on stage).

Head over heels in love, Thunder is the inspiration Joey needs to escape his father’s grip; he ends up Los Angeles and bunks with his Uncle Phil and Aunt Barbara (James Cromwell and Julie Cobb; yep, the mom from Charles in Charge). During his search of the L.A. punk scene for Thunder, Joey’s befriended by Pleasant Gehman and her band, the She-Devils (aka the Screamin’ Sirens). In need of a drummer, he comes to introduce the band to Thunder and uses his law skills to manage the band. Along the way Joey also meets Susan Ursitti (sigh . . . Boof from Teen Wolf) and Juliette Lewis (if you don’t know Juliette by now, buddy), El Duce (Suburbia, The Mentors: The Kings of Sleaze), and Rodney Bingenheimer (Mayor of the Sunset Strip).

The affable-on-screen Brie Howard was a member of the pioneering, all-female rock band Fanny. Their album, Rock and Roll Survivors (1974; Casablanca Records, home of Kiss and Angel), had a hit single in “I’ve Had It,” which reached #79 on the U.S. Top 100 Billboard chart; the album’s second single, “Butter Boy,” peaked at #29 in 1975. Transitioning into acting, Howard made her big screen debut as the “Ripley” character in the Alien-inspired and Klaus Kinski-starring Android and followed up her work in The Runnin’ Kind with Tapeheads (starring John Cusack, along with Jello Biafra of Terminal City Ricochet). Patti Quatro, the sister of Suzi Quatro (Suzi Q), was a one-time Fanny member alongside Howard.

T.S.O.L, through a plethora of roster upheavals (from Jack Grisham to Joe Wood on lead vocals) and style changes (from hard core, metal, and back again), continue to record in 2020. In addition to appearing in Suburbia, they also provided songs to The Return of the Living Dead and Dangerously Close. Their songs “Flowers by the Door” and “Hear Me Cry” also appeared in Hear Me Cry, an ’80s installment of the CBS Schoolbreak Special (yeah, we found it on You Tube).

We found a free rip of The Runnin’ Kind on You Tube, and be grateful; for this one isn’t available as a DVD (not even in the grey market) or as PPV or VOD stream. It was previously available for streaming at Amazon Prime, but ran into licensing issues and is no longer accessible on that digital platform.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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