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.
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.
Guitarist Johnny Thunders and vocalist David Johansen were the garage-punk coefficient of the Rolling Stones’ “Glimmer Twins” Keith Richards and Mick Jagger. They were the “Toxic Twins” before Aerosmith’s Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. Before there were Sex Pistols, there were New York Dolls. As with those British-screaming snots, the “Gemini Snots” defined a scene: the ‘Dolls were New York. Bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, formed out of “The Bromley Contingent,” the Sex Pistols’ fan-clique based around London’s 100 Club. The Buzzcocks (!) birthed because of the ‘Pistols. There’d be no Clash or the Ruts or the Stranglers without ‘Pistols. In New York, bands formed out of the ‘Dolls’ audience at The Bowery-based CBGBs. There’d be no Blondie, Ramones, Television, or Talking Heads without the Thunders-Johansen dichotomy.
But not every gunslinger of the six-string electric is destined to be Thomas Edison: sometimes you’re Nicola Telsa.
While their Todd Rundgren-produced (Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell was the ex-Nazz leader’s big one; he produced Sparks (of Rollercoaster fame) as well) eponymous debut on (Mercury, 1973) is regarded as a “rock classic,” no classic rock radio station will ever play them. (Nor will any of today’s alt-rock stations spin the ‘Dolls’ as “golds” analogues to classic rock radio’s spins of the Rolling Stones.) The ‘Dolls’ debut was—as with most “innovators”—a resounding marketing failure compounded by the release of their appropriately-titled sophomore-final, Too Much Too Soon (Mercury, 1974). And, with that, the New York Dolls—along with, to an extent, their Detroit-based inspirational precursors the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges—singlehandedly soured major records labels on punk snot . . . at least until some blonde-haired kid from the Pacific Northwest decided (well, the X-Generation decided) to become the new Jim Morrison. By the time the Sex Pistols first took to the stage in 1976, the ‘Dolls’ were punk vestiges, but not enough in ruins that megla-Svengali Malcolm McLaren (The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle) didn’t want to sink his fangs and extract the last ounce of snot. But it gave him the idea to “form” the Sex Pistols <eye roll>, so it all worked out.
In the midst of the fad-driven major-label mania over rock “supergroups” (that run the gambit from Blind Faith in the 60’s to KBG in the ‘70s to Asia—the last of them—in the ‘80s), there was (before some kid named Tom Petty absconded it as a suffix-moniker) (The) Heartbreakers—a ‘Dolls’ phoenix stoked by Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan with ex-Television (formed out of the ‘Dolls’ audience, natch) bassist Richard Hell. As with all supergroup outings (Fastway comes to mind: UFO’s Pete Way was out before Motorhead’s Fast Eddie Clark and Humble Pie’s Jerry Shirley recorded their debut album proper and became the “No False Metal” voice for Sammy Curr in Trick or Treat), Hell was out before Thunders and company recorded their first album in England (where the ‘Dolls’ had a rabid fan base as much as they had an indifferent fan base in America), L.A.M.F (1977). And, with that, Richard Hell was off to form the Voidoids.
Could you imagine—if he wasn’t so ambivalently indifferent in perpetuity—Kurt Cobain being talked into taking an acting role, say like the Kurt-divergent Eddie Vedder appearing in Cameron Crowe’s “grunge Friends” flick, Singles?
Well, Thunder’s ex-Heartbreakers’ mate Richard Hell used his infamy for a quick stage-to-film transition in Blank Generation (1979). It would be a decade before Thunders repeated the cinematic leap made by Hell (and Debbie Harry in Union City, Iggy Pop in Cry Baby, or the Ramones in Rock ‘n’ Roll High School)—and Thunders had to cross an ocean to do it.
Initially shot in 1984 in a start-stop-start, financially-plagued production schedule (and released three years before his 1991 New Orleans death; it was released in 1988 in France; then Europe in 1989), this acting debut by Johnny Thunders is, needless to say, an extremely rare VHS that’s impossible to find outside of its native country of origin. Alongside with a little-to-nothing to say Jerry Nolan and Billy Rath from Heartbreakers, Thunders stars as Johnny Valentine: a troublesome New York rock star (not far removed from his own self, natch) that’s left in the charge of a music manager assigned to “babysit” the hard-living artist for a week. The thin premise for the drama is a down-and-out rock promoter flying Johnny into Paris to headline a concert. The romantic triangles tinkle as Thunders falls in love with Mona, the manager’s girlfriend. And if that sounds a lot like the character and pseudo-plot of Richard Hell’s Blank Generation, then it probably is. And if the “babysitting” manager angle sounds too much like Get Him to the Greek (with Russell Brand’s obnoxious-oblivious-rocker Aldous Snow—only with less heroin sheik and more Apatow raunch), then it probably is.
While Hell was clean (we think) and coherent in his role in Blank Generation, it’s hard to watch Thunders swagger-stagger through the film either drunk, stoned—or both. Regardless of the cool factor in having one of punk’s forefathers in an acting role (and truth be told, Thunders isn’t half bad at it), it’s nonetheless heartbreaking (sorry) to see a clearly broken Thunders squeezing out (or manipulated into) his last ounce of fame infamy—especially when considering the mainstream film appearance of his clean and sober ‘Dolls’ mate David Johansen in hit films such as Scrooged and Married to the Mob.
While Thunders was (always) a musical-footnote oddity in the States, he was, nevertheless, a celebrity in France—alongside ex-U.S. punks Stiv Bators of the Dead Boys and Willy DeVille of Mink DeVille. So, in that country, he continued to record and perform in concert—long after the early ’70 glam and late ‘70s punk halcyon days. In a historical twist, his solo debut, So Alone (1978), featured the backing of ex-Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook. Director Lech Kowalski (D.O.A) examined the troubled life of Thunders in Born to Lose (1999) and offered additional insights with the direct-to-video New York Doll. The Polish director also shot and recorded a pair of shows with Thunders for his heroin-document Gringo, aka The Story of a Junkie; while that film-music partnership floundered, the footage ended up in Lech’s subsequent Thunder-documentaries.
An extremely clean rip of the Mona Et Moi—with subtitles—is offered on the You Tube page of Cult Fusion TV.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Nikolas Schreck founded the musical magical recording and performance collective known as Radio Werewolf, which also included his former wife Zeena LaVey Schreck. He’s also worked with NON, Death in June and Christopher Lee, with whom he conceived and produced the album Christopher Lee Sings Devils, Rogues & Other Villains.
Schreck also worked with the Church of Satan and was a member of the Temple of Set before renouncing Satanism in 2002. This film is part of his study of the philosophy, music and spiritual ideas of Charles Manson, including his ATWA ecology theory and Gnosticism. One of Schreck’s main beliefs is that Manson was set up by the media.
For example, Schreck states that the murders of Sharon Tate and the others were the result of a deal gone bad between Charles Watson and Jay Sebring. If anything, Schreck’s theories come from a researched place and not sensationalism, which is difficult to do when it comes to Manson.
This film features a 90-minute interview with Manson, edited down to what one can only surmise are the easiest to comprehend moments. The actual breakdown of his life and the influences on his mindset are much better, including the destruction of the claims in The Family that the Process Church had anything to do with Manson and the somewhat tenuous link between the Church of Satan and the subject of this movie.
That said, Manson comes off as, well, Manson. A dope who was able to win over impressionable teens and rock stars looking for some magic in the waning days of the hippies. The best part of it all is the Rising Forth ritual that LaVey used to hopefully bring about the end of the age of free love: “Beware you psychedelic vermin! Your smug pomposity will serve you no longer! We know your mark and recognize it well. We walk the nigh as the villain no longer! Our steeds await and their eyes and ablaze with the fires of Hell!”
For what it’s worth, LaVey did speak on Manson: “”These people are not Satanists. They are deranged. But no matter how many they do, they’ll never catch up with the Christians. We have centuries of psychopathic killing in the name of God.”
Oh, Elke Sommer and Britt Ekland, oh, how I love thee both. Let me count the ways. The way I confuse your German bombshellness and Swedish beauty and mixed up your credits and get a quarter-way into a review and realize that I credited babe Elke — with her also ’90s low-budget horror doppelganger Severed Ties (which was a long ways away from her Baron Blood and Lisa and the Devil days) — for Britt’s vampy role.
Forgive me, Britt, ye of our Roy Ward Baker-Milton Subotsky opuses Asylum (1972) and The Monster Club (1980), for this is your movie. And how did you end up in this knock off of Jim Carrey’s Once Bitten (1985)? Why Fred Olen Ray hired you, ye of the great Terminator-cum-Alien patch job Alienator (1990). Which leads us to wonder: Why didn’t Fred offer you a two-picture deal and give you the role of the Alienator? How perfect that film would be with you — and Ross Hagan and Robert Quarry goin’ — on all “Star Wars” in the OlenVerse.
But wait! Hey, Father Ferraro is Robert Quarry (a long ways away from the Count Yorga days). And look! There’s Michelle Bauer (Witch Academy! Evil Toons! Sorority Babes in the Slime Bowl-o-Rama!, aka adult star Pia Snow!). And what the . . . ubiquitous film “nerd” Eddie Deezen (do we really have to rattle off his resume of B&S favorites) . . . as the hero?
We bow, oh, Lord Olen Ray. We bow before ye for employing Ernest Farino, the writer behind the Sly Stallone rip Terminal Force (1989) and Wizards of the Demon Sword (1991), in giving us this bevy of bloodsucking hookers from Transylvania. Which is a better title, come to think of it . . . but we get it: you needed to get some of that Eddie Murphy Beverly Hills Cop stank on ‘ya . . . or was that Terror in Beverly Hills? Which leads to ask: Why haven’t you and Frank Stallone done a movie, yet? (Fred’s rest on B&S: Biohazard, Dinosaur Island, Wizards of the Demon Sword, Evil Toons, and Beverly Hills Vamp. One day we’ll get to Star Slammer, Cyclone, Deep Space, Evil Spawn, and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers.)
So wow. (The always affable) Eddie Deezen is the “cool” nerd, Kyle (you know, like Anthony Michael Hall’s “Farmer Ted” in Sixteen Candles), the brains of the geek-triad of Brock (Tim Jr., the son of Tim Conway from the The Carol Burnett Show; know your Antenna TV reruns, youngins) and Russell aspire to make a movie. And it turns out Brock’s uncle Aaron (who’s so “hep” he dresses like Sonny Crockett from Miami Vice) is a down-and-out director in Hollywood who can “help” them get their script made.
So to pass the time — in between their big meetings and sightseeing — they visit a call girl service, (i.e., prostitutes, i.e., brothel) managed by Madame Cassandra (Ekland) and her “girls” Jessica, Claudia, and Kristina (Bauer). Of course, the call girl service is a front for a vampire coven. Now Kyle, being the “cool nerd,” has a girlfriend, Molly, and, to be faithful to her, leaves Brock and Russell behind for a night of fun. And they never return. And when Kyle goes to the brothel, whadda know: nobody knows what Kyle is talking about. And Molly flies into Hollywood to help Kyle find his friends — and gets fanged. And when Brock finally shows up, he’s not the same either: yep, he’s been fanged to a pale and clammy complexion. Cue Robert Quarry. His Father Ferraro is the Van Helsing (and priest-aspiring-screenwriter) of this vampy boondoggle (as only Lord Olen Ray can give us) that helps — again, the “hero” — Eddie Deezen defeat Britt Ekland Elke Sommer, damn it, Britt Ekland. Oh, and to get some of that Jim Carrey Once Bitten (1985) stank on the celluloid: we have Balthazar, a gay butler-daylight protector-man servant (just like Clevon Little’s Sebastian) with the “hots” for Eddie Deezen, who confesses he doesn’t think he even likes girls.
So, after that fabulous light-show vamp disintegration (in the clip above) do we really have to tell you this is no Love at First Bite: you remember that George Hamilton vampire-in-modern-New York comedy that cleared near $40 million against a $3 million budget in the summer of 1979? Does this movie need chainsaws and a cult of Egyptian chainsaw-worshipping prostitutes, you know, like Olen Ray’s (last year’s) vamp rom, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers? And that’s what we have here: the same vamp romp played for camp. Well, both are “campy,” but you get the drift.
Now, amid all of the excessive nudity — surely added to distract our one-track minds from the swing-and-a-miss vaudevillian one-liners endlessly poking holes (sorry) in vampire folklore and vampires movies in general — Olen Ray claims that, amid the bad gags, there’s a socio-“subtext” about practicing safe sex.
Oh, Fred Olen Ray, you scamp. We don’t come to your movies for the social commentary. For ye are the king of all things boobs, blades, and blood, with a (very large) soupçon of aliens and bikinis.
But what I am talking about. I sans all of that ’80s boobs and bikinis tomfoolery of your 158-and-climbing resume for your Christmas movies. Yes, you heard me right: Fred Olen Ray is in the Christmas movie business these days. No more chainsaws. Bring on the enchanted mistletoe and magical snowglobes.
And it’s that time of year where Hallmark is holiday-programming the automation hard drives for — what looks like — a COVID Christmas. (Now that’s an exploitation title, Asylum Studios! Hint!) So, to help you make the list — and we checked it twice — we give you the holiday films resume of the man that went from vamps . . . to Santas.
And for that, we bow to ye, oh, Lord Olen Ray. We bow before ye.
Fred Olen Ray’s Holiday Films Resume
2020 A Royal Christmas Engagment – Director
2019 A Chirstmas Princess – Director One Fine Christmas – Writer & Director Baking Christmas – Director
2018 A Wedding for Christmas – Producer & Director A Christmas in Royal Fashion – Writer & Director
2016 A Christmas in Vermont – Producer, Writer & Director
2015 A Prince for Christmas – Producer, Writer & Director
2014 Christmas in Palm Springs – Producer & Director
2013 All I Want for Christmas – Producer & Director
2013 Holiday Road Trip – Writer & Director
2012 A Christmas Wedding Date – Producer, Writer & Director
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.
Neal Sundstrom — yes, the director of Space Mutiny — made this, the fifth of many werewolf movies that are not always connected. This time, the movie plays out like a furry Ten Little Indians.
We start in Budapest, where the owners of a castle are killed sometime in 1489 by a murderous couple who then kill themselves. Yet before they pass away, they notice that a baby survived.
500 years later, a whole bunch of somehow connected people comes to the same castle, invited by a count. They soon learn that Satan himself once controlled the wolves that would lay waste to the people of this country.
Thus begins a game of “who is the werewolf” with no werewolf break to help us along the way. And yes, in case you wondered, this has nothing to do with the Gary Brandner source material.
Cedric Sundstrom was originally to direct this (he did the third and fourth American Ninja movies), but he was already working on another movie. He recommended his brother, hoping that he would have a better time here than on the aforementioned Space Mutiny, which he took over halfway through filming. Instead, he found himself at war with writer Clive Turner (who was behind the fourth, fifth and Howling: New Moon Rising films in this long and, well I guess storied history of this franchise) and the film’s cinematographer leaving on the first day as since he couldn’t speak English, he couldn’t work with the director.
EDITOR’S NOTE: OMFG Vinegar Syndrome is releasing Ladrones de Tumbas, or Grave Robbers, for the first time ever on blu ray complete with an interview with director Rubén Galindo Jr.! Here’s hoping that this is the first of a series of Mexican VHS era premium releases! All those rituals and all that blood — it finally pays off!
I am a complete fanboy for Ruben Galindo Jr. who made Don’t Panic and Cemetery of Terror. I’ve never been let down by any of his films so far and I am getting the idea that I may never be disappointed by them after reading the description of this film on IMDB — “Teenagers accidentally resurrect a Satanic killer who targets the local police captain’s daughter to birth the Antichrist.”
It’s like people are making the exact movies I want right now, except they made them in Mexico 31 years ago.
Like all great Satanic movies — I’m looking at you Black Sunday and Evilspeak — this movie starts in the past, as the executioner of the Mexican town of San Ramon throws in with the devil instead of God, assaults a virgin and battles the other monks of his order before he’s stopped with an axe right to the chest. He then says, “Some day someone will come and wrench the ax out. Then I’ll return with more power to father Satan’s son in one of your descendants.”
If you’re not all in, get out.
That descendent is Olivia, the lovely young daughter of Captain Lopez and she is the lone virgin amongst her slasher victim friends. Woe be to them, as they’re camping next to a cemetery that’s beset by — get this — grave robbers. That foursome includes Manolo, his psychic girlfriend Rebeca (trust me, Mexican films are not content to stay within one genre, they’re going to toss in every ingredient) Armando and Diana.
You may wonder if they’re about to find an abandoned church and tear the axe out of the body of the villain, setting this all in motion. Wonder no more. And when the first villagers die, of course the grave robbers are blamed by Olivia’s dad. So he does what any real cop would: he tells them to go find the axe killer themselves. Yes, two people are dead, they’ve been blamed and he asks them to be junior detectives.
I love this movie.
Nearly everyone dies — by axe, by magic, by getting mashed into a pulp, bye bye and adios — until a priest explains that a Satanic idol and the axe itself, not to mention a whole bunch of TNT, are what it takes to kill off the executioner. This being Mexico, the action is intercut with Padre Jeronimo conducting a midnight mass while the cop uses a machine gun to continually blast the undead killer.
This may not be the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s edging closer to that space every time I watch it, just by sheer force of will and my belief that if Fulci lived in Mexico, this is the kind of lunacy that he’d have made. As Mexican Nicholas Cage might say, ” Eso es un gran elogio.”
Mike Hodges has had a crazy career. Who else could make both Flash Gordon, Pulp and Get Carter? This film is even stranger, a tale of Martha Travis (Rosanna Arquette), a carny clairvoyant who is traveling the rails with her father (Jason Robards), pulling off that old cold reading trick, letting people feel better about their dead loved ones. One night, however, she predicts a death, which starts spiraling her life — and everyone connected to it like journalist Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce, Amadeus) — out of control.
After predicting the death of a whistleblower, Martha is soon followed by the police, the press and the man who keeps killing anyone to keep the secrets of industry. While she was once content to use her gifts for showmanship, now she feels the need to tell her growing audience that there is nothing left in the great unknown. Worse, she is starting to see how each of them will die.
This is an anachronistic film, because if you asked me when it took place, I’d say the 1930’s, but there are references to R2D2 in the dialogue. That kind of incredulity makes me love this movie even more. It’s a shame that it was basically dumped on release. No surprise, it was produced by Miramax over here.
Arrow has re-released this film (it came out in 2005 from Anchor Bay), keeping archival features whole adding their always stellar extras. With a brand new restoration from the original negative approved by writer-director Mike Hodges (Arrow will also be releasing his movie Terminal Man in 2021) and new audio commentary by film historians Kat Ellinger and Samm Deighan, this is the best version of this movie that you can find.
I’m the biggest fan of movies inspired by the Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash — Cannonball, Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run 2 — yet I had never heard of this movie. Can you believe that? While this is known as Speed Zone in the U.S., it was called Cannonball Run III and Cannonball Fever overseas.
I only found out about this because it was directed by Jim Drake, who made Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol. It was written by Martin Short’s brother Michael, who has worked with the SCTV cast on projects from the Ed Grimley cartoon to Schitt’s Creek.
This movie was absolutely despised by Siskel and Ebert. While the former said, “It is an atrocious excuse for entertainment. If I have a pet peeve about movies is that they are so venal that don’t even try to be good,” Ebert went all in on his hatred for this movie, stating “Read my lips. Cars are not funny. Speeding cars are not funny. It is not funny when a car spins around and speeds in the other direction. It is not funny when a car flies through the air. It is not funny when a truck crashes into a car. It is not funny when cops chase speeding cars. It is not funny when cars crash through roadblocks. None of those things are funny. They have never been funny.”
The teams for this race are:
BMW: Parking valet Charlie Cronan (John Candy), racing for his school rival Leo Ross (Eugene Levy), who sends his girlfriend Tiffany (Donna Dixon, the wife of Dan Aykroyd) along for the ride.
Jaguar XJS: Mob hitman Vic DeRubis (Joe Flaherty!) and compulsive gambler Alec Stewart (Matt Frewer, Max Headroom in the flesh), who have turned Viuc’s contract on Alec’s head into a chance to win money.
Ferrari Daytona Spyder: MIT students Lee Roberts and Margaret (Melody Anderson and Shari Belafonte), who see the race as a challenge that their love of technology can solve.
Lamborghini: Italian porter Valentino Rosatti (Brian George, who is really Isreali-English) and former cop Flash (Art Hindle, Black Christmas).
Bentley Corniche: Cheating rich guys Nelson and Randolph Van Sloan (The Smothers Brothers), who decide to fly to the finish line.
The News Van: TV reporters Heather Scott and Jack O’Neill (Mimi Kuzyk and Tim Matheson) who become part of the story they are covering.
They’re all being chased by Police Chief Spiro T. Edsel (Peter Boyle) and Whitman (Don Lake, Police Academy), who has already arrested one entire race worth of contestants.
Man, this movie has some cameos. Brooke Shields (who was hit by the shrapnel of this movie and got a Golden Raspberry Award for her brief moment in the, well, sun), Alyssa Milano, Carl Lewis, Richard Petty, Michael Spinks, John Schneider (who is pretty much playing a Duke boy in the beginning), Lee Van Cleef in one of his last roles and Jamie Farr, who appears as Sheik Abdul ben Falafel, making him the only actor to be in all three Cannonball Run movies.
Seeing as how this has never been releasedon DVD or blu ray, I don’t feel bad sharing the link to watch this on YouTube. Here’s to a Cannonball Run-themed box set!
I have great memories of hearing the commercials on my local rock radio station for Down on Us when it played at the—then—behemoth six-plex in the big city as a midnight movie. Our hopes were high. We loved the Doors. We all dog-eared our copies Jerry Hopkins’s No One Here Gets Out Alive. We loved those midnight showings of AC/DC: Let There Be Rock, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, and Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. This was going to be an epic night were the classic rock spewed from the speakers, mixing with the waft of nacho cheese congealing over tortilla chips and the sweet flow of Mr. Pibb. . . .
To say we were disappointed at what unfurled across the silver screen would be an understatement. This wasn’t Rock ‘n’ Roll High School. This was Plan 9 from Outer Space: The Rock Musical. Yes, if Ed Wood made a rock ‘n’ roll flick, it would be this Larry Buchanan hot mess of a movie. Where’s Roger Corman and Allan Arkush when you need them?
While we’re on the subject of the Ramones: The modern-day doppelganger for Down on Us is Randall Miller’s muddled bioflick boondoggle, CBGB (2013). Randall Miller, the first film director in history to be convicted in the U.S. for the death of a cast or crew member (during the production of Midnight Rider, his Gregg Allman bioflick), was unable to secure permissions from the estates of Joey and Johnny Ramone, so faux “Ramones” tune were created—and Ramones tunes were absent from the accompanying soundtrack. (A movie about CBGB’s without the Ramones? Why bother making the movie at all?)
As for American exploitation filmmaker Larry Buchanan: He proudly wore his self-professed “schlockmeister” honor on his chest, an award he earned for his beloved (blue-jelled) day-for-night shoots trash-classics of Curse of the Swamp Creature, The Eye Creatures,In the Year 2889, Mars Needs Women, and Zontar The Thing from Venus (need we say more: he made the Planet of the Apes rip-off Mistress of the Apes). Buchanan’s faux-biographical drama format—mixed with his ubiquitous speculations and conspiracy appendixes—that he utilized in Down on Us dates back to his “exposés” on the Kennedy assassination with The Trail of Lee Harvey Oswald (1964), the gangster chronicles The Other Side of Bonnie and Clyde (1968) and the life Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd in Bullet for a Pretty Boy (1970), and the “romance” between billionaire Howard Hughes and actress Jean Harlow in Hughes and Harlow: Angels in Hell (1977). Buchanan also twice explored the life of Marilyn Monroe with his same theories-vigor in Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976) and Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn (1989). Not even folklore dinosaurs are immune from the depths of Buchanan’s conspiracies: he made the speculative-drama The Loch Ness Horror (1982).
Courtesy of its chintzy-muddy production values, Down on Us looks like a porn movie—only backed by a cover band sloggin’ through some “originals” they wrote that ersatz-as-tunes for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and The Doors. Yikes! This wasn’t Oliver Stone’s The Doors—not by a longshot. This was Ferd and Beverly Sebastian’s Rocktober Blood—only with Jim Morrison instead of Billy Eye Harper (and Nigel Benjamin) fronting Sorcery. And if not for Oliver Stone going into production with his 1991 biography on the Lizard King, even with the home video market’s voracious appetite for analog delights to line their shelves, this Buchanan conspiracy faux-fest would most likely have never made it to video on the cusp of the grunge decade.
Although many critically attacked Buchanan’s film that explores Jim’s paranoia of the government—not so much a theory, but more a cinematic license playing with a “what-if” story line—as rubbish, it seems those critics are not familiar with the legend of Jim Morrison. For Morrison, it was a real, believed threat: American Government agents were after him; that he was marked as “Number 3”—after Hendrix and Joplin. Therefore, Morrison left America for Paris to find shelter and reject the legal controversies of his life. Except, in Buchanan’s bizarro-Jim world, Morrison didn’t die in a Paris bathtub: Jim fled to Spain and took up residence in a monastery.
And speaking of legal controversies: It’s one thing to craft a bogus dramatical document about the psychedlic rock triumvirate of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison. It’s another to licensing their music. So Buchanan contracted musicians to forge replicates of those artists for the film. Oscar nominated and award-winning director Gus Van Sant exceptionally and effectively executed this same approach with 2005’s Last Days, his faux-Kurt Cobain docudrama concerning actor Michael Pitt’s eerily portrayed pseudo-grunge rocker, Blake, fronting the film’s scripted Nirvana substitute, Pagoda (featuring stunning Nirvana simulations composed by Pitt; it all goes back to poet William Blake, one of Jim Morrison’s lyrical inspirations. The circle completes). The man Buchanan hired to mimic Jim Morrison was a musician also speculated as one of the possible musicians behind the Phantom mystery of March of 1974; an enigmatic Morrison-ersatz that released the album Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1 on Capitol Records: Richard Bowen. (Listen to the 1973 pre-pressing acetates (Part 1 & 2) of the Divine Comedy album on You Tube.)
Courtesy of Bowen, it was Buchanan’s film—not Oliver Stone’s The Doors—which offered the first on-screen interpretation of Jim Morrison, as done by actor Brad Wolf, who lip-synched to the music written and performed by Bowen. Bowen construct haunting Doors mimics with “Knock So Hard,” “Sorcery,” “Old Pictures,” “Holding On,” and “Phantom in the Rain”—each sounding like doppelganger leftovers from Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1, or as outtakes from the recording career of Jim Morrison’s alleged son, Cliff Morrison. (Cliff Morrison—in a career-analogous path to Jimi Hendrix’s “son,” Billy Yeager (and to a lesser extent, Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush and his Hendrix-medium myths)—evoked his “dad’s” memory with two, late-nineties albums: Know Peaking and Color of People, fronting his Lizard Son Band.) Not only were the vocal similarities between Morrison, the Phantom, and Bowen contributing to the theory that Bowen could be the Phantom: the songs titles composed by Bowen for Down on Us also fueled the theory. Again, Bowen wrote two songs: “Sorcery” (which is what a “wizard” performs—and ties into the lead track on Phantom DC’s “Tales from a Wizard”), and the second song that appears in the film, “Phantom in the Rain.”
The first theory about Morrison’s demise was murder: In the backwash of Oliver Stone’s 1991 document, another film sloshed the brackish tributaries first navigated by Buchanan, a film that played it very fast and very loose with the Morrison-was-murdered theory: the 1992 direct-to-video rock flick Sorority House Party (You Tube). In this case, three hotties thwart a managerial plot to kill Attila, and unpredictable, high maintenance, costly ‘80s rock star, to boost album sales. This murder theory regarding Jim was the direct result of Hendrix and Joplin doing great sales numbers after their deaths. Moreover, with Jim flaking out on the band and a split of the Doors proving costly to both the band and the label, knocking off the Lizard King doesn’t seem like an implausible idea. (Also known as Rock and Roll Fantasy,Sorority House Party served as the directing debut of David Michael Latt, who came to incorporate the successful mockbuster purveyor, Asylum Studios.)
Other movies in the 1980s also tailored the mysterious threads of Jim’s death as cinematic narrative inspiration.
The second theory regarding Jim’s “demise” was a death hoax: Jim, tired of the dealing with the band and his Miami indecency trial ending in a possible jail sentence (like counterculture comedian Lenny Bruce), paid a French doctor to create a phony coroner report and death certificate. The cable movie-rock flick favorite Eddie and the Cruisers (VH-1’s replay/Vimeo) played with this myth—no doubt inspired, in part, by the last chapter of No One Here Gets Out Alive, the 1980 best-selling, first biography on Jim, which theorized Jim Morrison may have faked his own death. In Eddie and the Cruisers, a Rimbaud-inspired rocker of the Sixties, distraught over band infighting and record company hassles, bailed out with an elaborate death ruse. In the eventual Eddie sequel, the rocking protagonist, Eddie Wilson, ended up as a construction worker in Canada; not exactly ranking with the romanticized rumors of Jim running away to Africa—then returning to music in 1974 as a mysterious rocker, the Phantom; or as the Circuit Rider (that’s a whole other Jim-tangent that we won’t get into here).
And that brings us to best of the Jim-inspired conspiracy rock films: Down on Us (1984), eventually reissued to video as Beyond the Doors (1989). And we say “the best” because it’s all about the schlock n’ trash at B&S About Movies. (Honorable mention going Michael A. Nickle’s portrayal of the Lizard King in Wayne’s World 2, of course, living out his life as a sage beyond the immaculate perimeters in the desert.)
Larry Buchanan’s film speculated Jim was not murdered, nor did he fake his death: he went underground to avoid assassination. The plotline: President Richard M. Nixon, despondent over the antiwar sentiments agitated by the hippie icons of Hendrix, Joplin, and Morrison, sanctioned the F.B.I to kill the trio. Morrison apparently caught wind of the plot and “got out alive.” And, to complete the final cover up of the plot: the agent (Sandy Kenyon) who carried out the sanction is murdered. When his son discovers his dad’s files, the plot unfolds via flashback, then the son tracks down Morrison in Spain . . . .
While Buchanan’s film doesn’t get into it: The alleged “F.B.I murdered Jim” scheme has been in circulation since Jim’s death in 1971, cobbled in a basket with theories alleging the American government assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Marilyn Monroe (Hi, Larry!), along with Robert Kennedy and his brother, President John F. Kennedy (Hey, Mr. Buchanan!).
One of the earliest critics of the Warren Commission report regarding President Kennedy’s assassination, Mae Brussell, the late counterculture public radio personality of the Carmel and Monterey, California, radio stations KLRB and KAZU, most likely influenced Buchanan’s screenplay. The former host of the nationally syndicated Dialog: Conspiracy program compiled her government conspiracy theories in an unpublished November 1976 report: From Monterey Pop to Altamont, Operation Chaos: The C.I.A’s War Against the Sixties Counterculture (it was online to read in full; now it’s gone again). This report, along with current Doorsphile conspiracy theorists on social media platforms, contend there was a coordinated effort initiated in 1968 by the F.B.I’s Counter Intelligence Program and the C.I.A’s “Operation Chaos” to undermine the counterculture movement. These theories point out that Jim Morrison knew Charles Manson, through his mutual acquaintanceship of the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson and music producer Terry Melcher, and Morrison composed “Riders on the Storm” about Manson’s “murderous” followers.
Additionally, theorists opine the membership list of the 27 Club (with its own outlandish conspiracies; e.g., Courtney Love hired El Duce of the Mentors to murder Kurt Cobain) ties into the military service of the rockers’ parents. In addition to the high-ranking, classified naval service of Jim Morrison’s Admiral father, Lt. Col. Paul James Tate, the father of Manson Family murder victim, actress Sharon Tate, also served in the military. Theorists also point to Lewis Jones, the father of the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones, a PhD mechanical engineer, who served as a military aeronautical engineer for Bristol Aircraft . . . et cetera, one may read the extended theories online, but the point: the deaths of their famous children were “assassinations.” The “theory” concludes: Charles Manson and his family were either hired as “actors” for the “plot,” or Manson himself was a patsy—like Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald (Oy! Larry!)—set up to take the fall for the Tate “assassination.”
It all began, according to Brussell, with the 1966 death of anti-establishment comedian Lenny Bruce (1967 memoirs: How to Talk Dirty and Influence People)—the first victim of the “operation.” The critical and financial success of the Monterey Pop celebration in the summer of 1967 simply solidified the government’s resolve to snuff out the counterculture’s icons. Brussell goes onto state that, between 1968 and 1976, many of the most famous names of the counterculture movement, were dead: Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, and Janis Joplin all participated in or attended the Monterey Pop Festival. The report’s assassination roster also “stars” Duane Allman and Berry Oakley of the Allman Brothers (Hey, Randall?), folkie Tim Buckley, Jimi Hendrix’s manager Michael Jeffrey and the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, along with Graham Parsons of the Byrds, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan of the Grateful Dead, blues musician Jimmy Reed, and, of course, Jim Morrison, along with his wife, Pam Courson. All became victims of coordinated mind control tactics via Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)—a poisoning that altered the icons’ personalities and behaviors, encouraging their accidental “deaths-by-misadventure. . . .”
I know . . . I know . . . tangents and non-sequiturs. Let’s get back to the movie! But wait! There’s one last tangent: what’s this all have to do with Rocktober Blood?
Riba Meryl, who co-wrote the faux-rock epic “Rainbow Eyes” with Sorcery’s Richard Taylor, became an actress and portrayed Janis Joplin in Down on Us. Surprising, Riba, an accomplished singer in her own right, lipsyncs the faux-Joplin tunes “Easy Now” and “No Way” written-performed by Janet Stover (her lone film credit). Riba also repeated her Joplin character in a 1987 episode of the syndicated rock ’n’ roll U.S television series Throb (You Tube). After her lone, non-Janis character acting role in 1987’s Banzai Runner (You Tube), Meryl concentrated on television and film session work and contributed the song “Brand New Start” to a 1987 cop-murder drama, The Jigsaw Murders (You Tube). Sadly, Riba passed away in 2007 at the age of 52 from breast cancer. (And why didn’t Riba Meryl provide the vocals for the song she wrote for Rocktober Blood? We may never know.)
The studio band who helped create the faux-soundtrack for Down on Us was comprised of the members of the American-New Jersey hardcore punk band Adrenalin O.D (they also as appeared as musicians-background actors). If you’re familiar with the Slickee Boys (their punky-take on Status Quo’s “Pictures of Matchstick Men”) or the Dead Milkmen (remember “Punk Rock Girl”?); AOD are goofy like that. How else can you describe a band who releases an album Crusin’ with Elvis in Bigfoot’s U.F.O that features “Bulimic Food Fight” as a lead single? Formed in 1981, AOD broke up after the failure of their “big rock move” on Restless Records, their fourth album, Ishtar (1990) (they do Queen a hell of a lot better than Metallica; it’s like the Monkees on crack. And they played CBGB’s several times).
And we never heard again from the acting-musician duo behind faux Hendrix: Gregory Allen Chatman mimed to the music written and performed by David Shorey (he also served as the film’s music supervisor): “Today or Tomorrow,” “Looks Like You,” “Crystal Wings,” “Three Day Rain,” “Poet’s Reprise,” “Just My Size,” and “Seriously Shot Down.”
We did, however, hear from two of the film’s lead actors, again: Sandy Kenyon, as government agent Alex Stanley, and Toni Sawyer as his wife; neither let there involvement with Buchanan dissuade their careers. Kenyon continued to work up until his 2010 death, amassing over 130 credits on a wide array of TV series since the 1950s (and I’ll never find a copy of the 1974 TV movie Death in Space starring Kenyon and Cameron Mitchell, will I? Nope: The only known surviving English language print is stored at Library of Congress, alongside Kim Milford’s lost TV rock flicks Song of the Succubus and Rock-a-Die Baby). Toni Sawyer’s latest (her 74th project), the family-adventure, When the Moon was Twice as Big (Facebook), is currently in post-production.
Both versions of movies are exactly the same: so don’t fret over which VHS issues you decide to buy. Although, in all my years, I’ve never seen a post-1984 VHS on the shelves as Down on Us, only the 1989 Beyond the Doors version. And I only found the ’89 VHS, out of six video memberships —once—at a 10,0001 Monster Video. The VHS pops up in the online marketplace from time to time, Amazon and eBay in particular. However, beware of those DVDs: they’re all grey market rips-from-the-VHS.
As for online streaming: There’s only two choices to watch this online—via You Tube, natch. There’s a multi-part upload (of 13, 10-minute segments) HERE that was the only choice for many years. However, someone recently uploaded the complete film in one upload HERE.
“Our assignment: neutralize the three pied pipers of rock music.” — F.B.I Agent Alex Stanley
Indeed. And you “neutralized” the after effects of my cheesy nachos and Mr. Pibb, Agent Stanley. (I miss you, John, my brother. Good times.)
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis regarding Jim Morrison’s doppelganger, the Phantom of Detroit, on Facebook and Medium. He also writes film reviews for B&S About Movies.
He must deal with German Robles character, who is the dark leader of a Satanic church. Robles is perhaps best known for playing Count Karol de Lavud in El Vampiro and Nostradamus in the serial that gave birth to four different vampire films. He also played Satan in 1970’s El Pistolera Fantasma.
It doesn’t help that Robles’ character can help the blind see and the lame walk. How can the church keep up with that? Well, this being Mexican film, the Satanic priest also starts making his way through the wives and daughters of the village of San Andres, who are left mumbling, “The word of the envoy has penetrated my mind.”
After a Black Mass where Robles eats a girl’s heart and then nearly kills the older priest, there’s only one way to fix everything. Cordero must put on a crown of thrones and carrying a cross through the streets of his city.
My favorite part of this movie that was even after reducing the evil priest to a quivering mass of guts and bones, he keeps laughing. If you ever wanted to see the Mexican version of Needful Things mixed with the right parts of The Devil’s Rain!, this movie is the spicy recipe you’re after.