Thursday, April 26, 2018

Redneck Rampage: POP'S OASIS aka SWIFT JUSTICE (1987)

In the '70s, we had a plethora of drive-in yarns about small towns being corrupted by sleazy politicians and sheriffs who invariably have to have their asses kicked by an unbuyable sheriff, an idealistic half-breed, or a returning 'Nam vet. I'm sure there were precursors, but arguably WALKING TALL (1973), the story of the very real Tennessee badass Sheriff Buford Pusser set the ball rolling for a slew of revenge movies that culminated with FIRST BLOOD (1982), which then set off its own chain reaction of post 'Nam ass kickers along with James Glickenhouse's THE EXTERMINATOR (1980). Yes, I realize that David Morell's book on which FIRST BLOOD was based was written in 1972, which predates Doug Warren's 1973 WALKING TALL novel, but we're talking movies here. The popularity of DEATH WISH (1974, novel written in '72) also played a role in creating this action-thriller sub-genre.

This blenderized version of the core ideas bled over into the '80s with a massive spate of films that finally started to run out of steam and mostly died in the '90s when the target demographic was too young to even know what the hell 'Nam was. Even RAMBO III (1988) dumped Vietnam to relocate to a more current war zone, some place called...  Afghanistan? Sounds vaguely familiar. Were we allowed to win that one?

Opening with an apparent agent to the stars (Cameron Mitchell who may have inconvenienced himself by leaving the Dunes crap table for 20 minutes), making a phone call to a young Hollywood wannabe Marcy (Cindy Rome channeling Pia Zadora), telling her to drive out to Las Vegas to star in a new musical at the Aladdin Hotel. So thrilled is she by this news that she overlooks the impending doom on four wheels in front of her. Yep, her first mistake is using her '68 VW Bug to make the trip. Or rather to not make the trip. In one of the most plausible breakdowns in cinema history, the VW conks out stranding her in the middle of the desert.

So distraught by the heat, Marcy does the only thing she can think of to stay alive in the sweltering heat - take her bra off. Since she simply slides it out from under her shirt, the best part of this scene is when Rome flails on the steering wheel in frustration, she accidentally knocks the rear-view mirror off the window. Loosely applied rear-view mirrors were a notorious issue with old Beetles, but clearly not wanting to do a retake, Hope leaves it in and then actually covers for it later in the film. This guy is talented!

Just as Marcy has decided to give up and cook under the desert sun, she is rescued by musclebound, dimple-chinned ex-Special Forces Vietnam vet badass with the most un-macho name ever: Phil (John Greene). Phil carries her back to his tiny gold mine shack, and while not creepily watching her while she sleeps, he fixes up her Bug so she can get back on the road to Vegas... and leave poor Phil behind. As a parting gift, Phil gives her a bracelet he made by hand with a real gold nugget on it. So grateful for his mechanical skills and the piece of jewelry, she bestows upon him an 8x10 glossy of herself in a swimsuit. Oh yeah, she's from L.A. alright.

In another utterly believable bit of scripting, her Bug breaks down yet again, but as luck would have it, she breaks down in a town called Pop's Oasis. Unfortunately Pop's Oasis is a rundown little town populated with greasy, filthy locals with rotten teeth and bad manners who are looking to fleece anyone who gets within spitting distance.

After paying an extra $1.50 for the ice in her coke ("it comes all the way from Barstow!"), the slimeball mechanic decides to cut the hoses on her car so that he can rack up a bigger bill. Just when things were going from bad to worse, the corrupt judge and mayor (Chuck "Porky" Mitchell) and the corrupt and bumbling sheriff Benny (Aldo Ray) decide to pad the city coffers by citing Marcy for all the damage to her car, saying that it's not road-worthy. In what I'm pretty sure is an add-libbed afterthought, Judge points out that she is also missing a rear-view mirror. Genius!

Not having any way to pay for all of the money that these scumbags are trying to extort from her, they, along with Cyril (Wilson Dunster), the inbred son of the local madam, decide to take it out in trade, viciously raping her in a junk yard. Man, I don't want to sound all PC and shit, but I just don't get the appeal of this kind of stuff. Maybe I need to work on my nerd rage. This is Rome's best bit of acting, presumably because she doesn't appear to be acting at all when she's being assaulted by these creeps. She's perky, bubbly, polite and pretty much adorable, and then we have to see her get completely traumatized in a way that reflects way too much of our current news cycle. It certainly isn't fun to watch. Aldo Ray making the "O" face will be haunting my nightmares for generations to come. As if being raped wasn't bad enough, Judge whips Marcy with his belt until he has an orgasm in his pants. Ok, ok, jeeze, I get it, these guys are bad.

Leaving her for dead, Cyril is tasked with disposing of the body, which he doesn't bother to do. Instead he heads into the bar and, does what I'm guessing all rapists do after the fact, pours a bottle of whiskey over his head.

Fortunately for Marcy, Sheriff Benny has the brilliant idea to poke around Phil's gold mine, looking for gold that he can steal. I mean, how tough could a loner 'nam vet be? Of course Phil catches his clumsy ass, and after a fight in which we are expected to believe that an out-of-shape Aldo Ray who looks like he's on the verge of a heart attack, goes toe-to-toe with a strapping 25 year old buck, Phil discovers what happened to Marcy. In retaliation, Phil bites Benny on the face (!?), cuffs Benny to his own patrol car and sends it over a cliff. And now, finally, it's payback time! Phil's gonna kill 'em all and let god sort 'em out! Right? No wait. First Phil has to go rescue Marcy and profess his love to her comatose body, telling her that he "should have never let her leave". Yeesh! Poor Marcy is a legit creep magnet. Of course, the man has spent 12 years post 'Nam in a tin-roof shack in the middle of the Nevada desert, so I guess we have to cut him a little slack.

It's a pretty long, though admittedly sleazy and weird, slog to get to the 'Nam vet going nutso on the hicks, but when it finally gets there, it's surprisingly fun. Not that there aren't a few moments along the way. For some unexplained reason, there's a bit where Cyril gets all bent out of shape that they don't actually cannibalize Marcy's "corpse", plus there's a nice ironic moment in which Judge is shown reading bible passages to children warning them of the evils of corruption. Then there is Aldo Ray who is exceptionally good at playing a drunk sheriff. So meticulous is his acting that to sell the performance he trips over some of his lines. That's a master at work, I tell ya. When he's at a card game, the boys are talking about how much they'd like to get Marcy, Ray shouts "turn 'em upside down, throw the skirt over their face and... [awkward pause where Ray clearly has forgotten his line] ...they're all sisters! Hahaha!" What? I don't even know what the hell that means! One of the best moments is a scene Phil where buries the mechanic in the desert with just his honey-covered head sticking out. In short order the desert ants swarm over his head and tear out his eye! Remind me never to piss off any 'Nam vets if I get stuck in Nevada.

While John Greene's turn as an enraged vet is possibly even more comical than Ted Prior's take in DEADLY PREY (1987), Cindy Rome (aka Sugar Ray Renee) really should have gone on to other things. Known mostly for her clothed appearances in the '80s phenomena of nudie sports videos, such as the infamous FOXY BOXING (1986), this is pretty much her only straight acting role. Other than the videos, she is best known for having dated Nikki Sixx and Brett Michaels in the late '80s. Granted she's not in danger of winning any Oscars, and has a bit of a speech impediment that manages to come off as cute, but is charismatic and looks great in a bikini. You'd think that's all you really needed to get gigs in cheapo indy movies in the '80s. Given the fact that she was, if memory serves, the only participant in FOXY BOXING to remain fully clothed, perhaps her shyness closed a few doors.

The elusive Harry Hope, may be best remembered for his contributions to Al Adamson's DEATH DIMENSION (1978) and SUNSET COVE (1978), as well as producing the musical comedy SMOKEY AND THE JUDGE (1980), also had the promising sounding entry in the Brucesploitation subgenre, ENTER ANOTHER DRAGON (1981) which was to have been shot in the Philippines, staring Bruce Le and Ron Van Clief. This was to be Hope's first film that he wrote, produced and directed, but sadly appears to have never actually been made.

Released direct to video a year after Harry Hope's death, this film, bearing the title SWIFT JUSTICE, is a video burn that was clearly added for the video release. The amusing title HATEMAN: BORN OF HATE was used in Germany, but oddly neither has any real bearing on the content of the film. Justice comes... eventually and there is more than one hate-filled man. In some parts of Europe the film was released as POP'S OASIS, which is a title that hardly sells a rape/revenge film. As it turns out, Variety archive obsessionist Will Wilson found an ad selling the film under the title POP'S OASIS, which proves that it's the original title. I imagine it was a pretty tough sell under that moniker.

It seems that the inspiration for the film came from the very real Pop's Oasis in Jean, Nevada. Peter "Pop" Simon, a wealthy mine investor, actually owned the town of Jean that featured a whopping population of eight people. The inbreeding must have been a nightmare. Can you imagine the office politics? This is clearly the basis for the film and as further proof of this, Pop's Oasis actually closed shortly after the film was released. An admission of guilt if ever there was one.

I would love to be able to interview Harry Hope and find out exactly what happened, during what I must assume was a stop-over in Jean, that inspired him to make this film. Hope was clearly very proud of this film as he managed to cram his name into every available gap in the opening credits, even going so far as to have a card that reads "A Harry Hope Film".

It was the only original film he wrote, produced and directed (except for DRAGON, which may or may not have even existed in any form). I'm not sure whether he was trying to give it an air of legitimacy or whether he really thought this was his signature masterpiece. And maybe it was, it's probably the best of his films with some ambitious effects work in the final reel. As genuinely unpleasant as the film is in parts, there is some ramshackle charm about it if you are killing brain-cells, nursing a concussion or are just in the right frame of mind.

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