Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Carpocalypse Now: RUN LIKE HELL (1995)

Some filmmakers start with no budget and a group of friends making crappy little home movies and work their way into the Hollywood system commanding ever increasing budgets and bigger stars. Director’s such as Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson made movies on home equipment with not even a thin dime to their names and now are internationally famous multi-millionaires. Other filmmakers do it the other way around.

A personal favorite of ours in the VJ vaults is the obscure DTV classic THE DIVINE ENFORCER (1992) from writer-director Robert Rundle. THE DIVINE ENFORCER boasts an amazing cast of has-beens including Jan-Michael Vincent, Erik Estrada, Jim Brown, Robert Z'Dar and Don Stroud as the titular sweaty, psychotic, toupeed priest-slash-vigilante killer. Do I even need to elaborate further? Freakin’ genius. After that brilliant low-rent insanity (and his previous CYBERNATOR) I have been on the look-out for other films in Rundle's repertoire. I've been looking for this one for over a decade and thanks to Media Blasters I've finally gotten to behold it in all of it’s SOV glory... Holy crap, I gotta start being more careful what I wish for.

You know you are in for something good when the credits are pixilated from a cheap computer program. Shot on home video equipment that makes the film look only slightly less professional than CANNIBAL CAMPOUT (1988), Rundle can’t take the blame for the hilariously inept direction; that distinction goes to prolific trash porno videomaker Eric Brummer (aka Slain Wayne) who you may remember from such literary epics as SLUTS, BUTTS AND HOUSEWIVES 2 (2000) and FUCK PIGS 4 (2000). What Brummer fails to realize is that people watching cheap porn will forgive fumbling camerawork, clumsy editing and a total lack of production values. People watching cheap sci-fi/action flicks don't. On the other hand, Rundle’s script is freakin’ amazing in all the wrong ways. Put the two together and you have trash video gold! Ok, more like pyrite, but still…

Ok, you ladies can get dressed now... please
Set in the post-apocalyptic future of 2008, the government has branded single woman as “a threat to society” (hard to argue that point, I guess) and forced them to live in abandoned refineries, clad only in black thongs. Oh shit, I think I just lost 98% of my readers to an e-bay search. But wait, wait! It gets better! Comprised of seemingly two rooms (one of which, the jail cell, appears to be a public restroom with a drop ceiling), the sadistic warden (Robert Z'Dar) watches TV monitors as the topless inmates take showers (in what appears to be a home shower-stall) and get in fights. He breaks up his heavy breathing sessions to “invite” some of the girls to his “office” (a closet with camouflage fabric draped on the walls) where he tries to rape them... while breathing heavily. After two of his latest would-be conquests roll his ass like a Hollywood drunk, they declare their “plan” to be a success, grab some weapons and organize a group of (yes, topless) girls to make their daring escape, complete with badly edited shoot-outs. So wait, what was the plan again? Make-out in the shower until the warden gets tired of jerking off and has you hauled up to his office for an attempted rape session? Damn, I gotta hand it to the girls, that's a hell of a plan.

Once on the outside of the refiner- I mean, prison - the group of girls make their way to a shanty town, all two houses of it, kill the men there and steal weapons, ammo, and a surprising amount of perfectly fitting women’s clothing including a plaid skirt and halter top. Really, don’t think about it too hard because there’s some shit coming up that blows that bit of absurdity out of the water. After using some telephone lines as a cut-away, we see the warden commanding his cyborg trackers to hunt down the girls and the… err… “plot” is set in motion! Well sorta. See, in his infinite wisdom Rundle doesn't actually use the bounty hunters until the end of the movie, so instead, he decides to throw in random encounters that do nothing to further any storyline at all!

In an attempt to establish some characters and maybe focus some of the uhhhh "action", Rundle gives the girls a serious discussion around a campfire in which one of them declares that they are on their way to Paradise City “where everyone can be themselves!” Ummm, yeah, ok, fine. “Where dreams lie in wait for those who seek them!” Huh? What exactly are you burning on that fire, girl? Whatever it was caused them to sleep soundly into the middle of the noonday sun and awake to the sight of a ninja fighting a cowboy. No. Really. After dispatching the presumably evil cowboy, the ninja, Jag (Henry Olvera), decides to take the girls under his wing and help them reach Paradise City which is apparently right on the way to his own clichéd destiny: The Arena of Death! A secret deathsport held in the middle of the dessert in which the current champion is a mysterious figure named “Chainsaw.” Seriously, I’m not making any of this up. Nor could I make up the line in which Jag imparts his ancient ninja wisdom on the girls by saying in total earnest “You must learn to fight, cause when the time comes to fight, you must fight like a badger.” Uhhhh... yeah, thanks sensei!

While treking through the desert wastes, they run into totally non-sequitur sub-plots about white-trash slavers and a beef-cake bounty hunter and his rescued, bikini-topped daughter of a VIP, in between cutting back to the classy shenanigans back at the prison, including a topless fist-fight/wrestling match! At this point I was thinking to myself, “this isn’t so much the future per se, as just Barstow.” Come to find out, the movie was shot on location in beautiful Victorville (or as we like to call it “Victimville”)! This explains so much. Such as why the girls in this film appear to have been hired from an, errr... “affordable” local gentleman's club.

Finally the group stumbles across a couple of schmucks fighting on a railcar, featuring some of the worst fight choreography EVER. Hey, I don’t say this lightly. I’ve seem a lot of bad, bad movies that have no reason to exist and this, my friends, is unquestionably the bottom of the MMA fight barrel. These weak kicks and jab don't even come anywhere near to connecting and one guy tries to do a nifty leap up off the ground after getting knocked down, blows it and has to get up with every bit as much dexterity as I would. Might as well leave it in, who's going to notice, right? Come to find out this is just the tip of the iceberg. As they walk over a dune they find themselves overlooking (cue dramatic pause)... The Arena of Death! Or, rather, just a couple of dudes standing around, pretending to fight, in the middle of freakin' nowhere. Even though there are no spectators, some announcer guy, who looks like your average college student who got lost on his way to Burning Man, starts bellowing about the fighters including a ninja who comes straight from the CIA training facilities! Wait, what? The CIA trains ninjas?? The fights commence and are stunning to behold. Some of the fakest hits you’ve ever seen and what is probably the funniest climactic martial-arts arena sequence ever in which the fabled chainsaw comes out and wins all of his duels because his opponents are too busy trying to hit his chainsaw (instead of him) and then drop their guard so he can kill them by painting a red line across them with his chainsaw. The final duel between Chainsaw and Jag is staggeringly inept, but that doesn't stop Brummer from actually deciding to loop the fight so it will last twice as long! Again, who's gonna notice?

The dreaded Chainsaw's first victim! Yeah, that's all you get.

Best of all, the film abruptly ends after the final duel and is set up for a sequel in which the wardens boss says that he is sending in a couple of “class A battledroids” to help the warden clean up his mess and promises that it will be “Armageddon!” As far as I can tell that promise never came through and the world will never know whether those girls and their ninja made it down to Paradise City. All those unanswered questions still remain: is the grass green? Are the girls pretty? Did Axel Rose get taken home? I guess we will never know.

Another quiet night at the Victorville library
It’s really amazing that this movie actually has such an extensive credit listing including a second unit director! For so many people to be working on this, you’d think one of them would catch at least a few of the plethora of technical errors. Audio from lines of dialogue are missing, edits cut away from scenes too soon or too late; shots are fired, but only part of them are heard on the soundtrack; random shots of the girls firing their weapons are spliced in to scenes for no reason whatsoever; lens hoods are visible in some scenes, curtains blow into shots, and the list goes on. One reviewer said that this film appeared to be made and written by 12-year olds. I think that might be a tad generous. That said, if you like budget and brain starved trash that is the equivalent of a dixie cup of bathtub likker, this is a great way to kill a perfectly good evening on the sofa.

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