Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Obscure Oddities: DEATH COLLECTOR (1988)

One of the side effects of being a Video Junkie is that you always have more movies than you can watch. It is sad, but an inevitable truth. Currently I have somewhere in the range of 500 unwatched DVDs and I’m sure just as many VHS titles. This endless supply of orbital medicine gives me plenty of opportunity to play Video Junkie’s Video Roulette. This basically involves randomly selecting an evening’s night of great entertainment (or torture) out of a box while an Asian guy yells, “Mao!” at me. Video Roulette has led me down some strange paths before, but what I grabbed last night was really odd. Not to be confused with the Joe Pesci/NJ mob flick of the same name that haunts dollar bins everywhere, DEATH COLLECTOR is truly a one of a kind flick.

In the near future, the town of Hartford City is controlled by a ruthless guy named Hawk (Loren Blackwell). The law is represented by the Holt brothers, Jack and Wade. Jack (Frank Stewart) is the serious one who wants to carry on the family tradition, whereas Wade (Daniel Chapman) has dreams of being a singing cowboy. Problems erupt when Wade awkwardly seduces Hawk’s squeeze Annie (Ruth Collins) and Jack is fatally shot in the chaos. “Here’s a life insurance policy for $10,000. It’s all I got,” says Jack as he lies dying (really!). But little brother Wade has revenge on his mind and heads to Hawk’s corporate headquarters for, uh, revenge. He isn't very good at it apparently because he confronts Hawk, but his gun is out of bullets. D’oh!

For his trouble, Wade has his knee crushed with a sledgehammer and is then sentenced to 50 years in a prison work camp. You can tell it is the future by the prisoner’s outfits. Wade manages to hit several prison clichés (hard labor, the hot box, black friend Bucky) in five minutes before the prison is shut down five years into his run. I’m not kidding, the warden gets a phone call and all he says is, “What? Shut the prison down? Okay.” He is then on the PA system telling all the prisoners they are free. How did this happen? Seems the outside world has changed a lot according to Mr. Exposition Prison Guard. The banks have bankrupted the world with “a few changes of a decimal points” (hmmmm, sounds familiar) and Hawk has seized control by privatizing everything. And everyone in Hartford City now loooooves Hawk because he offers insurance premiums whereby you get $1 million dollars if you live in his city and hit age 35. No one seems to notice nobody has ever collected on it. But recently released Wade just wants what is his and goes goes to Hawk to cash in his brother’s insurance policy. Naturally, Hawk refuses so Wade (along with pal Bucky and love interest Annie) must become the death collector. Oh, I get it!

What...the...hell? I'm not sure how films like this exist. Shot entirely in Connecticut, DEATH COLLECTOR plays out like someone saw Walter Hill's STREETS OF FIRE and said, "I can do that" with a budget of $50,000. Seriously, like Hill’s film or Alan Rudolph’s TROUBLE IN MIND (1985), this takes place in some kind of futuristic retro land. Folks walk through rock quarries (the future!) in cowboy hats and boots, yet everyone drives around in 1950s cars. You can’t fault this low budget production for not having ambition. And director Tom Gniazdowski (aka Tom Garrett) ain't done yet. No, he adds bizarre little quirks like main villain Hawk being obsessed with bowling. How obsessed? He kills a guy who makes him 5 minutes late to the lanes. There is an entire scene in the bowling alley where Hawk is giving Annie some advice on how to throw the ball. Naturally, she sucks at it and it allows for some risible dialogue where Hawk says, “You did it, babe. You became the ball. And you ended up right in the gutter where you belong.” And this isn’t even the oddest line from scripter John McLaughlin. Later in the film Annie is talking to Wade about killing Hawk and says, “Don't try setting him on fire either. I found out the hard way, he's just not flammable.” To quote the great Jack Burton, “I don’t even know what the hell that means!”

I'm not sure this is even a good movie, but it was oddly compelling and had me hooked for an entire viewing (and if you know me, that is quite a feat). Of course, there are the low budget aspects that make it entertaining too. One thing I loved was during Wade’s first performance, two audience members shown are an old guy and a beefcake shirtless dude playing cards. After Wade spends 5 years in prison, he heads back to the same bar and guess who is in the background? The old guy and the buff dude! That must have been one hell of a card game…or sloppy filmmaking.

This is one of those kind of movies where the lead guy need a shotgun and there just happens to be one on the wall. I also love that in the future that Double Dragon and After Burner are still popular in arcades. And there is a country-esque guitar theme that is played ad nausem that you will be humming it by film’s end. Lead Chapman looks kind of like really skinny Dolph Lundgren and sings his own songs with some challenging lyrics ("You make the breakfast...I make the bed") in this one. He was also featured in PHILADELPHIA (1993) as a guy who tells his story in a clinic (where he looked much worse) and he passed away from AIDS in 1994. Ruth Collins is good as the bimbo love interest, but doesn’t do any nudity. I only mention this because she was more than happy to pop her top in DOOM ASYLUM (1987). Also look for splatterpunk authors Skipp and Spector in a one scene cameo. Like I said, all of this makes the film hypnotic and kept me watching the screen from beginning to end. The film was originally released on the RaeDon home video label. But you can find it easily in vol. 1 of Media Blasters RareFlix sets alongside the entertaining THE DISTURBANCE (1990) and POSED FOR MURDER (1989).

2 Reactions:

  1. Great review! ;-) Blast from the past..
    Tom Garrett(Gniazdowski) director of 'Death Collector'

  2. I was the editor/sound editor and the 2nd unit director on this little oddity. That was the director who played the prison guard. (Seems the outside world has changed a lot according to Mr. Exposition Prison Guard. The banks have bankrupted the world with “a few changes of a decimal points”). His lines were rather stilted because he was very nervous. It took a bunch of takes to get the lines right. The reason Ruth Collins wouldn't pop her top for us(even though were offered $$)was that she wanted to a movie where she didn't show her tits for once. One would then wonder why we cast here? It was not for her acting ability. We were basically suckered.


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