New Queer Cinema (see Gregg Araki and his “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy”) director, writer, and producer Todd Stephens used his youth-raised years in Sandusky, Ohio (yep, the same town in Chris Farley’s Tommy Boy from 1995), to his advantage: most of his auto-to-semi-autobiographical films are set in that Buckeye State enclave.
While he turned the directorial reigns over to David Moreton (currently in production with his fourth film, Big America), Stephens made his screenwriting debut with the alternative, coming of age rom-com Edge of Seventeen, which was concerned with a Eurythmics-obsessed teenager coming to terms with his sexuality. And as with Stevie Nicks inspiring the title of his debut film, the “Welsh Witch” influence returned for Stephens’s second writing effort, which also served as his directorial debut. While mainstream critics applauded the film — and it found acceptance on the art house circuit (I made the drive to see it) — the film only managed to score award nods and wins in the LGBT film festival community.
To propel this coming-of-age road trip filled with the usual eclectic characters (a sexually-confused Amish teen runaway; Karen Black as a washed-up retired singer), Stephens used the then de rigueur Stevie Nicks Festivals where fans celebrated her music. Gypsy Vale (Sara Rue of CBS-TV Rules of Engagement and The Big Band Theory) and Clive Webb (Kett Turton; Vampire Steve on CW’s iZombie) are early-twentysomething goths who travel to the 1983 Stevie Nicks Festival, aka Night of a Thousand Stevies, in New York for Gypsy to realize her dream to become a famous singer, like her idol, Stevie Nicks. Fueling and supporting her musical dreams is her ex-musician father, Ray (John Doe of X; Border Radio), who deals with the loss of Gypsy’s mom and his musician-wife, Velvet.
Gypsy 83 served as one the earliest art house entries from Palisades Pictures. The studio would come to acquire the catalog of the shuttered, UK-based Tartan Films, which distributed East Asian films under the Tartan Asia Extreme imprint between 1992 to 2003 (Battle Royale, A Tale of Two Sisters, Oldboy). Comic book aficionados with take notice of Andersen Gabrych in the cast (also of Stephens’s Edge of Seventeen and Another Gay Movie) as a writer for several issues of Batman, Batgirl, and Detective Comics.
There’s no free-with-ads or VOD streams in the online marketplace, but we found a You Tube rip for you to enjoy.
Allison Anders and Kurt Voss wanted to re-team on another rock ‘n’ roll film since their 1983-begun, four-year shot Border Radio released in 1987, and the critical and box-office success of her Brill Building and Beach Boys “what if” rock flick Grace of My Heart (1996).
The film’s second genesis was their friend, bassist John Taylor, who aspired to begin an acting career; so Anders and Voss manned the typewriters to create an acting showcase for the ex-Duran Duran’er. To lend to the film’s realism, Anders and Voss opted to cast musicians in lieu of actors: the rest of the cast stars former Spandau Ballet bassist Martin Kemp (who found acclaim in the 1990 British mobster flick The Krays; however, he worked as an actor since the early ’70s, you can see him in Fleshtone), Michael Des Barres (of Silverhead, Detective, and Power Station; as an actor, you know him as Murdoc from the original ’80s MacGyver), and John Doe of X (A Matter of Degrees). Also acting in the film — and providing the film’s musical direction — is Larry Klein, the ex-husband of ’70s folkie Joni Mitchell.
The plot concerns the exploits of Clive, Jonesey, and Nick (Taylor, Kemp, and Des Barres), three washed-up L.A. rock superstars who attempt to formulate a supergroup from their career ashes. They, of course, think they’ll return to the top of the charts with the outrageously sexist tune, “Gravy Stain Girl.” Their fellow washed-up L.A. rocker cohort, Carl (John Doe), is at odds with his pregnant wife over his recent hire as a lead guitarist for an up-and-coming singer. Roseanna Arquette stars as Eva, Clive’s equally washed-up and age-out actress wife, struggling to stay on top in Hollywood. Beverly D’Angelo is an older, rich woman who will back Clive’s musical endeavors — provided he sleeps with her.
Keep your ears open for John Doe’s post-X work in The John Doe Thing with “Tragedy by Definition.” The grungy alt-rock crowd will notice the sounds of PJ Harvey, Thalia Zedek’s Come, and Seattle’s Sup Pop’ers Combustible Edison on the soundtrack. J. Mascis of Dinosaur, Jr. (he recently appeared in I’ll Be Around), who scored Gas Food Lodging for Anders, provides the film score.
Made for a measly, budget conscious quarter of a million dollars, the film barely broke $170,000 in U.S. box office. So, don’t go into this expecting a mainstream Ray or Walk the Line; however, if you enjoy seeing rockers on film and enjoyed ’90s indie flicks courtesy of the October Films and Miramax imprints, then there’s something here for you to enjoy.
And for the Allison Anders and John Doe collaboration completists and Johnny Cash fans hankering for another cinematic beyond Walk the Line: Doe stars as the father of June Carter Cash (played by Jewel Kilcher instead of Reese Witherspoon) in Ring of Fire (2013), a cable TV adaption of the book Anchored in Love: An Intimate Portrait of June Carter Cash.
From the “Trivia to Impress Your Friends at Parties Department”: John’s daughter Elena Nommensen, who has a bit part here (and in John’s 2007 film, The Sandpiper), became a wardrobe and art director. In addition to working on the upcoming Venom: Let There Be Carnage, she also worked (didn’t realize it then) on the recently reviewed short The Devil’s Passengers (discovered on a You Tube dive), and worked alongside her dad in his upcoming, 82nd acting project, D.O.A: The Movie.
This is a rock-documentary-cum-concert flick that dispenses with the backstage tomfoolery and goes right to the stage with professionally-shot footage compiled from a variety of 1980-era shows held in England, France, and the United States.
And there’s a couple of reasons why the Police spearhead Urgh! A Music War: Not only were they the most commercially radio-successful “new wave” band of the groups featured; Derek Burbidge, the director, helmed several videos (the famous “Roxanne”) for the Police (he also did Gary Numan’s “Cars”), while Miles Copeland, the brother of the Police’s drummer, Stewart Copeland, managed the Police and operated IRS Records, which produced the film. The film briefly appeared in U.S. theaters via Filmways Pictures (seen it in an art house theater, natch), but gained its cult status due to its frequent airings on HBO and the USA Network’s “Night Flight” video block.
Beginning in 2009, Warner Archive (the successor-in-interest to Lorimar Pictures, who co-produced with IRS) released an official DVD-R of the movie — burned on a made-to-order basis. As result, this one’s not available as a cable PPV or VOD online stream and the freebie You Tube and Vimeo rips don’t last long. However, searching “Urgh! A Music War” on You Tube populates numerous concert clips from the film. The bands you know in those clips are the mainstream MTV video bands the Police, Devo, Echo & the Bunnymen, the Go-Go’s, Joan Jett, Gary Numan, Oingo Boingo, Wall of Voodoo, X, and XTC. The lesser known bands featured — that some know and most don’t — include L.A.’s the Alley Cats, the Dead Kennedys (Terminal City Ricochet), Magazine (off-shoot of the Buzzcocks), the Fleshtones (Peter Zaremba hosted IRS: The Cutting Edge for MTV), Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, 999, Pere Ubu, the Surf Punks, and Toyah Wilcox (Breaking Glass).
You can view the film’s full track listing on Discogs while you listen to the soundtrack in its entirety on You Tube: Side A/B and Side C/D. If you need more punk documents, be sure to check out our “Drive-In Friday (Saturday!): Punk Night II” featurette where we not only took a look at Urgh!, but Punk in London, The Punk Rock Movie, and D.O.A.
Editor’s Desk: This review originally ran on October 7, 2020, as part of our October 2020 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge. We’ve brought it back for John Doe Week.
“I don’t want to take lessons! I wanna have a fucking band!Fucking be like Deicide! Deicide. Yes, Deicide!” —Shane Carver, loser leader of the Black Circle Boys
Yeah, maybe the guitar is broke, douche-dick.
I won’t say I hate this movie. But I was certainly disappointed by this movie, considering it “starred” John Doe of X and dealt with a misguided ne’er do well finding solace in black metal music. A group of Satan worshiping dopers want to start a band—and kill people—and John Doe? I’m up for that.
Oh, be careful for what ye hail, black metal and horror film buff.
What we ended up with here is an all-male version of—without the supernatural hocus pocus—1996’s much better The Craft, which also gave us a peek into the teenaged occult, as well as 1987’s The Lost Boys. And, oh shite, this film pulls the ‘ol Eric Roberts (Power 98) bait-n-switch on you. (Bastards!) Either John Doe was cast—in typical Eric Roberts fashion—for one scene just to get a brand name on the box/in the credits, or Doe’s work as a police detective investigating the Black Circle Boys Murders, for whatever reason, ended up on the cutting room floor. And sorry, Donnie Wahlberg is cool these days (and excellent) in TV’s Blue Bloods, but he just isn’t an effective consolation prize when we came to see John Doe (but, truth be told, the ex-New Kids on the Block member, in his third acting role, is very good as Greggo, effeminate Satanist who introduced Shane to the Black Arts). Oh, yeah . . . blink and you’ll miss Lisa Loeb (remember her gal-paldom with Ethan Hawke and hitting the U.S. Top 10 in 1994 with “Stay (I Missed You)”from Reality Bites?) as an “angry goth chick” in a club.
As you can see, the casting on this movie is flat out, upside down FUBAR’d. Why would a production (granted, it’s low budget, but still) take known commodities—that inspire us to rent in the first place—such as John Doe and Lisa Loeb—and place them in one scene cameos; each should be in the larger, respective roles of Detective Roy, played by Victor Morris (NBC-TV’s In the Line of Duty film series and Bigger Than the Sky), and the Dead Head-high schooler Chloe, played by Tara Subkoff (The Last Days of Disco; The NotoriousBetty Page).
True, both Morris and Subkoff are affable in the roles, but wouldn’t you, as The Devil’s Advocate (sorry) producer, want to predominately feature Doe and Loeb’s names on the box in smaller type under the leads and copywrite-plug their past, known works on the box’s flipside? Loeb could totally pull off the wiles of a hippy chick high schooler—and you could feature her playing the acoustic guitar and singing a folk song—to the antithesis of the goth kids running the school. And if you’ve seen John Doe’s work in A Matter of Degrees and his co-starring role as Teddy Connor, the leader of the once great Wotan, in the NBC-TV Law & Order: TOS 2003 “Ripped from the Headlines” episode “Blaze” (which took it scripting cues from Great White’s tragic 2003 performance at The Station night club in Rhode Island*), you know that Doe not only carries a film as a lead actor with distinction—he can pull off a goth rocker with class and style. (Sorry, Donnie. No offense. We love Doe ’round these ‘ere Allegheny wilds and crush any actor before him.)
But alas . . . Black Circle Boys was made in 1998 and not 1988; so the producers decided to appeal to the then nostalgic-maturing New Kids on the Block contingent, instead of the ol’ punk codgers (aka myself and B&S boss Sam) who admire John Doe and rocked out to X in the ’80s via The Decline of Western Civilization and Urgh! A Music War. And yeah, David Newsom (ABC-TV’s Homefront) is a fine actor (and now a successful reality television producer; kudos, Dave!), but the divine Dee Wallace Stone of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Howling fame is wasted in her “Eric Roberts Casting” as the troubled mom; Wallace would have been more effectively utilized in Newsom’s larger role as the swim coach-physics teacher hybrid—and being the horndogs we are, even get a few scenes of her in a curve-accentuating one piece. And yes . . . that is the pride of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Richard “Les Nesman” Sanders of WKPX in Cincinnati (check out our review of FM) also being woefully underutilized in his one (uh, I think it was two?) shot role as Principal Dunkel. (At this point, the producers should have called in Eric Roberts—who we friggin’ love like blood around here. And yes, another major f-up by the producers: not having Killing Joke on the soundtrack, Deicide references be damned.)
Now, that’s how you cast, music consult, and sell tickets, kiddies. But alas, I am a schlub writer and not a casting director or music consultant. . . .
So, anyway . . . We meet Kyle (Scott Bairstow of FOX-TV’s Party of Five), a star high school swimmer wallowing in depression over a personal loss (an idiot friend fell off a bridge/water tower and broke his neck while they were drunk; instead of moving on and taking responsibility, Kyle blames “the world”)—which makes him easy pickings for paranoia-poster child Shane Carver (a very good Eric Mabius; big screen debut in Welcome to the Dollhouse, noticed in Cruel Intentions) and his little goth clique, The Black Circle Boys. Kyle is introduced to hard booze, drugs, devil worship, and frog beheadings-by-mouth in quick succession . . . and murder, by way of drug-dealing Rory (an early Chad Lindberg of The Fast and the Furious), a BCB “slave-trainee” by Shane as a form of sacrifice. Along the way the boys start a band, which is an utter failure. So, out of frustration—and a parnoid belief his goth-clique is betraying him—Shane starts killing off the other members of ‘the Circle.
At least I think that’s what happened. Yeah, they lost me. That’s what happens when you deny me of my John Doe fix, boondoggle me with Donnie Wahlberg, and don’t give us the black metal we came for and stick us with a bunch of never-heard-of bargain bin basement clutter that is neither “black” nor “metal” or anything worthy of woof or a tweet. I mean, come on . . . a movie about “black metal murders” that only uses the word “Satan” once? And what in the Sam Hill (another music consultant f-up: no Glenn Danzig and Samhain**) is this B.S. referring to Satan as “Father” all the time? Get the Anton LeVey (The Devil’s Rain) out of here, Mr. Politically Correct screenwriter. Fuck, dude.
And what the hell, bass player? Learn your root, 3rd, and 5th triads. Fuck me. Even the shittiest of shite bassists know ’em. You deserved Shane slashing your throat and tossin’ your lame ass off a bridge. I’d nut-punch you myself, dick breath. The Relentless from American Satan would dissolve you and your “boys” into a puddle just by pissing on ‘ya. Pusswads.
In the end, what we have here is an ineffective, low-budget variant of 1987’s far superior River’s Edge (starring Crispin Glover and Keanu Reeves), in the Black Circle Boys claims in its promotional materials that it is “Based on a True Story.”
F-You, marketing department. Your “true story” and John Doe bait-n-switch be damned, pisses me off. And you too, Mr. Music Consultant.
That “true story” takes us back to Slayer, whose loud and aggressive music—featuring violent themes that would even scare Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath—went beyond the usual horror-film influenced, satanic lyrical themes to include odes to sadism, necrophilia, serial killers, and Nazi death camps. Not helping Slayer’s reputation in the eyes of the Moral Majority was Slayer’s music being predominately featured in the River’s Edge, the film itself based upon the 1981 California murder of Marcy Renee Conrad and the 1984 New York murder of Gary Lauwers, where their troubled-teen killers bragged about and returned to the murder site of their victims.
The most catastrophic example of this ignorance regarding hard rock and heavy metal music was the highly publicized, 1994 West Memphis 3 case in which questionable “evidence” led to the wrongful conviction of three non-conformist boys as murderous Satanists. Their only guilt: a shared interest in rock music, horror films, and unconventional art and books (you know, guys like myself and Sam, B&S About Movies’ boss. And we’re harmless, really).
The occult and the America justice system simmered in a cauldron of abhorrence and ignorance once again in the 1999 Columbine massacre, as satanic-panic maligned the music of shocker-rocker Marilyn Manson and, to a lesser extent, the industrial/goth bands KMFDM and Rammstein as underlying causes. The misguided controversy forced Manson to cancel the remaining dates of his 1999 Rock Is Dead world tour and negatively affected the sales of his third album, Mechanical Animals (1998). Additionally slandered as “co-conspirators” were Oliver Stone, by way of the Quentin Tarantino-scripted Natural Born Killers, in addition to the designers behind the video games Doom, Wolfstein 3D, and Duke Nukem. (A 1999 Rolling Stone article: “Columbine: Whose Fault is It?,” in addition to Dave Cullen’s 2009 in-depth tome, Columbine, examine the tragedy.)
Paving the way for the legal atrocities of the West Memphis 3 was the 1986 case regarding the seminal British metal band, Judas Priest. In that judicial miscarriage against the creative arts, the parents of two Reno, Nevada, teenaged boys sued Judas Priest and its label, Columbia Records, for $6.2 million dollars, claiming the band’s 1978 release, Stained Class, contained backward, subliminal messages that drove the boys to suicide (the court dismissed the case in 1990).
Prior to Judas Priest’s slandering by religious zealots, Ozzy Osbourne, the ex-lead singer of Black Sabbath, became the victim of another bogus suicide-by-rock music claim. Three sets of parents sued the “Prince of Darkness” between 1985 and 1990, claiming the song “Suicide Solution” from Ozzy’s 1980 debut album, Blizzard of Oz, encouraged their young sons to commit suicide—all three cases were eventually dismissed. In an archetypal overreaching misconstrue by the Christian Right blinded by satanic-panic to deflect their parental failures and to excuse the “misadventures” of their own children, the clearly anti-alcohol and an anti-suicide song, with lyrics written by bassist Bob Daisley, was a touching tribute to Bon Scott, the then recently deceased lead singer of AC/DC (AC/DC: Let There Be Rock). Other tomes claim it was actually about Daisley’s concerns regarding Ozzy’s health. Whatever Daisley’s lyrical motivation, the song certainly is not a clarion for teenagers to commit suicide.
Anyway, back to Black Circle Boys.
This ain’t no River’s Edge and director Joe Berlinger’s theatrical, three-film documentary series Paradise Lost is more disturbing and far more engrossing (in addition to the non-fiction books Blood of Innocents by Guy Reel and Mara Leveritt’s Devil’s Knot, both which examine the WM3 tragedy at length; the later book itself was adapted into a 2013 film). If the filmmakers behind Black Circle Boys had only adhered to their source material: David St. Clair’s 1987 expose Say You Love Satan, about 17-year-old Ricky Kasso and the murderous exploits of the Knights of the Black Circle (which resulted in the death of the aforementioned Gary Lauwers).
You can stream Black Circle Boys for free on You Tube, as it is not available on any streaming platforms. Used copies of the unnerving Say You Love Satan are readily available in the online marketplace—it’s a highly suggested read. In fact, read the book instead of watching this movie.
Seriously, though: The appreciation of a film—whether it is good or bad, well-made or poorly made—is based in the age of the viewer; for film appreciation is of a time and place. While I love my horror movies (Phantasm to Rocktober Blood) and my Killing Joke, Samhain, The Misfits, Venom, King Diamond, and Deicide as much as the next guy, I was already ensconced in adulthood (wearing shirts with collars, even ties!) when Black Circle Boys was released. So, if you were in middle school or just starting high school at the time Black Circle Boys was released—as I was when the juvenile delinquency drama Over the Edge was released in 1979—rewatching this film will warm the cockles as your own person “classic” film.
* The Great White tragedy also served as the basis for the Mark L. Lester-directed and Eric Roberts-starring Groupie.
** Glenn Danzig is in the film biz these days. We recently reviewed his film Verotika. Yeah, we adore auteur projects and movies with rock stars ’round here. Speaking of which . . . you can get all of the rock ‘n’ roll flicks you can handle with our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week II” features from this past July and September with links to over 100 films reviews.
Okay, so we’re cheating with this review. It doesn’t star John Doe, the subject of our week-long film tribute.
This parody on organized religion and the mass communication medium of television directed by New York No Wave artist Beth B stars Doe’s ex-wife Exene Cervenka, who meet her second husband Viggo Mortensen on the set of this, her only acting role. Beth B made her feature film debut with the 16-mm black & white film Vortex (1981) starring Lydia Lunch (Blank Generation, Mondo New York) and a young James Russo (later a go-to heavy in films such as Beverly Hills Cop and Donnie Brasco).
Stepthen McHattie (Theodore Rex) stars in this black comedic statement on the televangelist craze of the ’80s (think Jim and Tammy Bakker) as Reverend Randall, a flock-bilking preacher who likes to compose and rehearse his sermons while watching pornography. His religious empire begins to crumble when the unemployed Jerome Stample (Viggo Mortensen), who grows tired his wife Rhonda (Cervenka) donating to Randall’s church, devises a blackmail plot with his sister-in-law (the singular Dominique) to ensnare the reverend in a sex scandal.
Surprisingly, the film’s soundtrack doesn’t feature the music of Cervenka or director Beth B’s frequent collaborator Lydia Lunch; it instead spins the popular college radio and new wave club hits “Sputnik,” “Touched by the Hand of God,” and “Skullcrusher” by New Order, and “Jesus Saves” and “Twanky Party” by Cabaret Voltaire — along with a few tunes by co-star Dominique (Davalos), who would form the Delphines with former Go-Go Kathy Valentine in the late ’90s.
While it was released on VHS and appeared on HBO, Salvation! has never been released on DVD, while the vinyl-only soundtrack has never been reissued on CD. The film was previously offered as a VOD stream on Amazon Prime, but has since been pulled from release. You can, however, watch the film through a series of clips uploaded to a playlist by a You Tuber known as “McHattie Fan.”
No, this isn’t a docudrama about the creative, sad soul that was Roky Erickson and his band the 13th Floor Elevators (although there’s a 2007 documentary about Roky with the title). This is a dramedy written and produced by Eric Brooks (who’s eight films deep in the TV movie realms, including two Hallmark Christmas flicks*) that’s co-produced by his pops, country-legend Kix Brooks (who appears here as Uncle Elmer, Colt’s brother).
A modern-day western with motorcycles instead of horses, You’re Gonna Miss Me tells the story of the unexpected death of country music legend Colt Montana (John Schneider who, while top-billed, isn’t here much), which serves as a catalyst in reuniting his two estranged sons. Before they can claim their large family inheritance, they have to fulfill their father’s final wish: take a motorcycle-based scavenger hunt through the American Southwest. And they agree to “the ride,” as both have their own demons and motives for needing the financial windfall — but they discover so much more.
As you can see from the one-sheet, there’s a large ensemble cast headed by Leo Howard (who got his start as the “younger versions” of Snakes Eyes and Conan in G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Conan the Barbarian ’11, respectively) and Justin Deeley (Mike Trimbol from Fear of the Walking Dead). We also have the-never-ages Morgan Fairchild (Shattered Illusions) and William Shockley (a noted country music radio host who got his start in Howling V: The Rebirth and a five-year run on TV’s Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman), along with our beloved Eric Roberts (who, like Schneider, isn’t here much, natch). And for the wrestling fans (yeah, we’re talkin’ to you, Paul Andolina of Wrestling With Film, who also writes for B&S About Movies), there’s WWE’s John Hennigan, aka John Morrison. And for the John Doe fans (moi), there’s a helping of John Doe (sportin’ a Plissken eye patch), but he’s here about as much as Eric Roberts. (I want an Eric Roberts-John Doe marquee co-starring film . . . with them as out-of-retirement mercenaries . . . or two ex-rock stars making amends, now!)
If you haven’t also guessed from the one-sheet, there’s an Easy Rider vibe to the proceedings helped by another country-cum-western (and Christmas flicks!) TV movie stalwart, Dustin Rikert, who — despite the film’s bad reviews — made Phil Pitzer’s sequel-passion project, Easy Rider: The Ride Back, work (seriously, it’s not that bad).
Sadly, even with the name of Kix Brooks on the package, this “John Doe Week” entry couldn’t be more obscure and hard to find. There’s no online trailers, no streams, and Vudu — who had it as an exclusive — no longer offers the film in their catalog. But if you’re into The Dukes of Hazzard** ephemera, or need to complete your collection of John Doe flicks, or satisfy your watch-everything-with-Eric Roberts fetishism, you can find (pricey) DVD’s on Amazon Prime that are also currently “out of stock” at Walmart.com. So, Kix, buddy. If you’re reading this, get You’re Gonna Miss Me uploaded as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi TV. We, the fans of Eric Roberts and John Doe, demand it!
* Eric Roberts has made eight Christmas flicks (we’ve reviewed A Husband for Christmas), so how is it that Eric Brooks or Dustin Rikert haven’t made one with Roberts? We want an Eric Roberts X-Mas flick from each of you, stat!
** So you want more The Dukes of Hazzard ephemera, Hoke? Then check out that CBS-TV series’ theatrical precursor from 1975, Moonrunners, which we reviewed as part of our August 2019 “Redneck Week” tribute to Hickplotation cinema.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook.He also writes for B&S About Moviesand publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.
Editor’s Note: This review originally ran on June 21, 2020, as part of our “Rock ‘n’ Roll Week.” We’ve brought it back for our “John Doe Week of Films.”
Penelope Spheeris may be best known for Wayne’s World, but her life and films are more than just one movie.
Until the age of seven, Spheeris grew up in a traveling carnival until her father was stabbed after intervening in a racial dispute. After his death, she grew up in California trailer parks with a succession of stepfathers, yet still graduated high school voted “most likely to succeed.”
Working at Denny’s and IHOP in Los Angeles — one wonders if she even encountered David Lynch — she put herself through UCLA and started her career producing short films with Albert Brooks, several of which aired during the first few seasons of Saturday Night Live.
Between Dudes, Suburbia and two of the Decline films, Spheeris has shown her understanding of punk even as she lays bare some of the sillier moments of the kids caught up in its wake. The decline of Western civilization could mean many things here. It could be a reference to Lester Bangs’ review of The Stooges’ Fun House, where a friend remarked that this album had to be the signal of the end of it all. Or it could be a reference to Germs singer Darby Crash Darby reading Oswald Spengler’s Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West).
The bands within this movie — as well as the punk rock fans — gave Spheeris some amazing access to their lives, warts and all. While some bands like Alice Bag Band and Catholic Discipline may not be well known, X, the aforementioned Germs, Fear, the Circle Jerks and Black Flag should be recognized by anyone, not just punk fans.
After the film was screened in Los Angeles, punk music fans got into so many fights and caused so much chaos that L.A. Police Chief Daryl Gates wrote the filmmakers a letter asking them not to screen the film again.
This series of movies was only available in bootleg form for years. This was because of licensing issues for all the songs and Spheeris not wanting to go back and relive them. She didn’t need the money, but then she decide that she’d rather be remembered for these films than her more commercial work.
Filmmaker Abbe Wool made her feature film debut as a screenwriter with her 1986 chronicle on the Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious with Sid and Nancy. And she made her directing debut on this troubled production — her only directing effort (which she also wrote) — a reimaging of Easy Rider starring John Doe of X — in one of his few leading man roles (see A Matter of Degrees) — and Adam “King Ad Rock” Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.
According to an October 1991Los Angeles Times report on the troubled production, it’s learned the film did not start with Abbe Wool, but with aspiring, first-time filmmakers Bill Henderson and James Whitney. The duo planned to co-direct their ’80s updating (as with the later Me and Will and Easy Rider: The Ride Back) of the ’60s counterculture classic — a film that transitioned Jack Nicholson from television (he did an Andy Griffith episode!) into a film career.
Then the writing-directing duo had a fallout with their longtime friend David Swinson, an ex-concert promoter who served as the project’s producer. To hear Henderson tell it, Swinson sold out him and Whitney by making a deal with New Line Cinema. And, with that, the intimate, low-budget indie the first time writer-directors wanted to make as an industry calling card became a bloated $3 million dollar project. Wool was given the green light as result of her track record in bringing Sid and Nancy to the screen — a film that brought British actor Gary Oldman his first widespread acclaim.
While the critical reviews were mixed and the film flopped in both theaters and on home video — and was, in fact, hard to find on home video — Roadside Prophets earned cult status as result of its incessant cable airings in the grungy ’90s (yeah, this is Over the Edge all over again).
Yeah, I love this movie. How can you not love a flick with John Cusack going el loco with an eye patch? Then again, I enjoyed — and everyone else hated — what Melissa Behr and Phil Pitzer did with their respective counterculture updates, so what do I know?
Joe Mosley (John Doe) is a Harley-riding factory worker whose slightly-tweaked friend Dave (David Anthony Marshall; Willie Hickok in Another 48 Hours) tells him about a can’t-loose casino in the town of El Dorado — just before Dave is electrocuted in a video arcade. After honoring Dave’s wishes to be cremated and have his ashes spread in the desert (as in another of my road-flick favorites, 2003’s Grand Theft Parsons), Joe decides to stay on the road and find Dave’s mystical, Nevada casino. Along the way, Joe meets Sam (Horovitz), an eclectic free-spirit traveling America’s back roads to find the Motel 9 where his parents committed suicide (plot spoiler: Sam may be Dave’s ghost).
Along the way, the ’60s retro-counterculture duo meet a diverse cast of characters — the “roadside prophets” — comprised of the diverse cast of Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (Suburbia), ’60s icons Arlo Guthrie and Timothy Leary, David Carradine (Night Rhythms), an eye-patched John Cusack, Sam Raimi cohort Aaron Lustig (Bad Channels), Stephen Tobolowsky (Ned Ryerson from Groundhog Day!), and a very early-in-their careers Done Cheadle (War Machine in the Iron Man franchise!) and Lin Shayne (the Insidiousand Ouija franchises!).
In addition to his work as a leading man, John Doe also scored the film, while the soundtrack features solo tunes from his ex-wife Exene Cervenka (we’re reviewing her work in Salvation! this week, look for it), the Beastie Boys, the Pogues, Pray for Rain, Gary U.S. Bonds, and tunes collectively written and performed by members of X and the Blasters. And yes . . . that’s David Carradine performing the song “Divining Rod” that he also wrote. And that’s Harry Dean Stanton crooning “Make Yourself at Home.”
Writer and director W.T Morgan is a name engraved in the history of the Los Angeles punk band X. When Morgan made his debut foray into feature film narrative work with his rock ‘n’ roll love letter to his college radio roots in A Matter of Degrees (1991), he cast X’s bassist John Doe in one of Doe’s best-remembered roles as a burnt-out college rock disc jockey at odds with the commercialization of radio broadcasting. And that theme of the homogenization of music and radio industries carries through in this rock-doc.
As with the four-years-in-production schedule Doe experienced with his first acting gig in Border Radio (started in 1982, released in 1987), W.T Morgan followed the band around Los Angeles and Southern California between 1980 to 1985. In addition to its sixteen-song strong soundtrack of the band in the studio and live on stage, the film also features band interviews, along with footage and insights from local disc jockeys, record store owners, and other local movers and shakers.
Granted with a limited art house release, this is one that punkers were first exposed to as result of its multiple showings on HBO and the resulting VHS tapes that hit the shelves. The DVD and Blu-ray version was issued on December 7, 2011, and includes a special features section with John Doe and Exene Cervenka discussing the film.
X: The Unheard Music is available on a wide variety of VOD streaming platforms, but we found a copy on You Tube. This is X in their prime. If there’s any punk document to watch, it’s this one. Watch it.
Before he gained mainstream Hollywood notice for the Val Kilmer-starring The Salton Sea (2002) and went mainstream with two back-to-back Shia Labeouf-starrers with Disturbia (2007) and Eagle Eye (2008), before he gave us xXx: The Return of Xander Cage (2017) and tossed his hat in the ring to direct the upcoming G.I Joe: Ever Vigilant, D.J Caruso directed this Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist) co-penned retro-action flick for HBO Films that aired on the cable network on September 18, 1998.
Hot from his 30-plus episode run on TV’s Melrose Place and his debut in a theatrical-starring role with Starship Troopers (1997), Patrick Muldoon (American Satan, The Comeback Trail) stars as Johnny Del Grissom, a gas-station attendant who chases down the chain gang escaped convicts who abducted his girlfriend — and he’s also on the run, as he’s blamed for her father’s murder (Rex Linn, TV’s Better Call Saul and Young Sheldon). And, of course, her pappy is the sheriff. And so ensues the Fast & Furiousness with Johnny chasing down the convicts and Deputy Norm Babbit (Jake Busey, S.F.W. and Starship Troopers) chasing down Johnny.
Seriously, how can you not like a movie (and there are detractors) that rolls out a tricked out Olds 442 tweaked with Nitrous . . . and gives you John Doe, our favorite punk bassist from Los Angeles, matching thespin’ chop-for-chop alongside Kevin J. O’Connor (Deep Rising, The Mummy), Peter Greene (Pulp Fiction, The Mask), our favorite ex-Bond girl Lois Childs, and Jeffrey DeMunn (currently starring on Showtime’s Billions; Dale Horvath on The Walking Dead)?
You can’t. Not with a writer and director and cast like that.
In spite of its obviously low budget, Black Cat Run burns rubber and then some, all working in a Mad Max, big-dumb-engine sort of way, which was just an Aussie western trading out horses for horsepower.
And we love it, for this is pure A.I.P retro-cinema: a ’70s Drive-In dream that would make Roger Corman proud, filled with 44-Magnums, exploding tanker trucks, cheesy one-liners that would make make Eastwood cringe, and every other B-Movie absurdity you can think.
Watch the full movie as a free rip on You Tube. You can thank us later.