The first flick of the night was 1989’s Road House, starring Patrick Swayze. But wait, you say. I thought you said this was a Western themed night! Well, in my universe Road House qualifies as a modern Western, since A) it takes place in a saloon, B) every character has a Western movie name – Dalton, Wade Garrett, Brad Wesley, Doc, Emmett, Cody, Red, etc and C) it lifts it’s plot right from Shane or any number of old B-grade oaters, involving a new sheriff hired to clean up the lawless town and take on a greedy land baron.
In this case the "sheriff" is Dalton (Swayze), the best bouncer in the land. Prior to this movie, I had no idea that there was such a thing (I still don’t). The film begins as he’s overseeing the operation at a swanky New York establishment called the Band Stand, where Robert Rodriguez regular Tito Larriva plays with his band, the Crusades (later Tito & Tarantulas). Watch out also for a bit appearance by Patricia Tallman, who went on to play the lead in Tom Savini’s Night of the Living Dead remake the following year, and also had a reoccurring role on TV’s "Babylon 5".
Walter Hill-movie regular Kevin Tighe shows up as Frank Tilghman, and offers Dalton a job at his place in Jasper, Missouri called the Double Deuce. The bar is described as being “the kind of place where they scrape up the eyeballs off the floor” every night. Tilghman has come into some money and wants to remodel and expand, and he needs “the best” bouncer in the land to come and lay down the law. Dalton states that another bouncer named Wade Garrett is the best, but Tilghman wants Dalton’s brand of law & order.
Dalton accepts and drives down to Jasper in his Mercedes convertible (the bouncing trade must also pay better than I was lead to believe). He goes to the Double Deuce for some off-duty recon and finds a waitress dealing drugs and other bouncers more interested in flirting than enforcing order. A long time friend of Dalton’s, blind guitar player Cody (real life blues/rock musician Jeff Healey), is also doing time at the Double Deuce, forced to play behind a chain link fence. Dalton is spotted by waitress Carrie Ann (Kathleen Wilhoite) who recognizes him by name, and promptly lets the word out to the other employees that he’s arrived. But soon enough a fight breaks out that sends bodies into tables and breaks just about every glass and bottle in the joint.
After closing, the bouncers are assembled by Tilghman to meet their new “cooler”. One muscle bound fellow comments that he heard the slight-looking Dalton had “balls big enough to cum in a dump truck”, before being fired for having the wrong temperament for the job. Dalton cleans house, then expounds his philosophy of fighting. I should pause here to mention that it turns out besides being the best bouncer in the northern hemisphere, Dalton also holds a PhD in philosophy from NYU! His credo is basically that they should “be nice… until it’s time to not be nice”.
Dalton rents a barn loft from a kindly old coot named Emmett (Sunshine Parker), which is directly across the lake from Brad Wesley (Ben Gazarra), the big man in town. Wesley is given to having topless models over for pool parties attended by his stable of hired thugs and right hand man Jimmy (Marshall Teague).
Dalton strikes up a friendship with Red (Red Webster), the owner of a car parts store that shares a parking lot with the Double Deuce. This proves to be a good move, since Dalton keeps his Mercedes in storage and drives around a beat up junker that attracts all sort of damage due to his line of work. Red’s store is vandalized by Wesley’s thugs after he refuses to pay protection money extorted from all the business owners in town.
His first night on the job, Dalton breaks up a fight with his Tai Chi honed reflexes, attracting the admiration his fellow bouncers and a top heavy blonde named Denise (Julie Michaels). Unfortunately, he also manages to get slashed in the ribs, so it’s off to the doctor’s office for a quick fix up. The doctor is a statuesque blonde (Kelly Lynch) who is impressed that Dalton carries his own medical files with him for easy reference.
Intrigued, she stops by the Double Deuce for a visit the following night and arrives just in time to see Dalton in action, violently throwing out Wesley’s goons who have come for their weekly payout. The pair go out for coffee and then back to his loft for a little roadhousin’ up against a brick wall fireplace. Then they snuggle up naked on the porch in full view of a jealous Brad Wesley, who watches from his place across the lake. Turns out Wesley once had a thing for the Doc but it went bad.
Wesley retaliates by ordering all liquor suppliers away from the Double Deuce. Dalton puts a call in to best friend & mentor Wade Garrett (Sam Neill), who, despite being the 2nd best bouncer in the world, is currently working at a fleabag strip joint. Alcohol supplies are arranged and Garrett travels down to Jasper for a visit, arriving just in time to join Dalton in busting up more of Wesley’s goons who have arrived to destroy the liquor delivery.
The two take Doc out for a night on the town that culminates in slow dancing during breakfast at Denny’s. Garrett reads Dalton right away – that he's troubled becuase the whole situation with Doc & Wesley is bringing back awful memories from some time ago when Dalton murdered a man in self defense.
Wesley is aware of this information as well, and taunts Dalton with it after summoning him to his compound for a peace negotiation. Dalton refuses to play ball and join Wesley’s goon squad.
That night, at the newly remodeled Double Deuce, the patrons are startled when Red’s store explodes. A small fire won't do when you can blow things up real good! Wesley and his henchmen go into the bar to talk smack about Red, and allow Denise, whom Dalton had rejected earlier, to perform a strip tease on stage. Dalton pulls her down and tells Wesley “If you’re gonna have pet, keep it on a leash”. Insulted, Wesley instructs secret weapon Jimmy to take on the fighting philosopher. The two men are nearly evenly matched, and after the whole bar has been demolished by a knock-down drag out brawl once again, Wesley orders his thugs to leave.
The local businessmen gather to make a stand against Wesley but come up short. The local police are in his pocket. This allows him to do just about whatever he wants in the town, including bringing in a monster truck (!) to ride through the local car dealership, destroying a fleet of showroom station wagons (!?!). Dalton has had enough and trains on a punching bag while both Garrett and the Doc try to talk him out of his vengeful state of mind. But then Emmett’s house is destroyed in an even bigger, two-fireball explosion. Emmett is rescued and Dalton spots Jimmy, laughing like a hyena, leaving the scene on a motorbike. Why Jimmy simply didn’t blow up Dalton’s barn is beyond me, but hey we takes what we gets.
Dalton chases Jimmy down and has a mano e mano waterfront kung-fu brawl with his nemesis. At one point, Jimmy gets the best of Dalton and threateningly intones “I used to fuck guys like you in prison!” Well, Dalton will have none of that – and when Jimmy pulls a gun, Dalton tears his throat out with his bare hands!
The next day, a well-rested Dalton strolls into work, as apparently the still unseen police force has better things to do than go around arresting people. He gets a phone call from Wesley who threatens to kill either Doc or Garrett in retaliation for Jimmy’s death. Dalton goes to warn the Doc, but since she’s sworn that Hippocratic Oath and all, she’s appalled by last night’s murder and refuses to speak to him. Chicks, man. Back at the Double Deuce, Garrett turns up with a knife in his chest.
Swayze runs a gamut of emotions across his face (acting!) as he pulls the bloody blade from the body of his dead friend and storms off to Wesley’s compound for the Final Battle. He dispatches the remaining goons and enters into Wesley’s trophy room, which is full of big game, including buffalo, lion and zebra(!) The two fight and Dalton kicks Wesley’s ass, but stays his hand from ripping out the older man’s throat. If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that we should rip someone’s throat out if we are given the chance, for sure enough once Dalton’s back is turned Wesley goes for his concealed revolver. Dalton is saved by multiple shotgun blasts from the rifle-wielding business owners, including Red and Emmett, who serve up some long overdue comeuppance. As the police arrive, the weapons are collected and hidden, and everyone professes ignorance of having seen anything.
This must be good enough for the cops, for the next scene shows us Dalton skinny dipping with the Doc (presumably she came around after he was done with all that killing).
Road House is a movie that could only have been made in the ‘80’s, and could only have come from producer Joel Silver. While Jerry Bruckheimer was still cutting his teeth on action films with late partner Don Simpson, Silver was the reigning king of morally questionable, loud, slick and expensive summer action fests. He was also a talent scout, drafting up-and-coming actors for his personalized action vehicles, including Whoopi Goldberg (Jumpin Jack Flash), Commando (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Andrew Dice Clay (The Adventures of Ford Fairlane), Bruce Willis (Die Hard), Mel Gibson & Danny Glover (the Lethal Weapon movies), Denzel Washington (Ricochet), Jet Li (Romeo Must Die) and DMX (Cradle 2 the Grave). Silver is still active, producing the Matrix movies and bringing us Paris Hilton’s first big role in the House of Wax remake.
Appropriately enough, the film was directed by a fellow named Rowdy Herrington. He’s gone on to do a couple of things, including the recent Jim Cavizel starrer Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius (2004). Silver’s budget was big enough to recruit famed cinematographer Dean Cundey, who got his start working on early John Carpenter films before moving up to work with the likes of Steven Spielberg. Patrick Swayze was moving up through the ranks into being a movie star, having appeared in Red Dawn (1984) and Dirty Dancing (1987). Silver signed him to Road House the year before his big hit, Ghost (1990).
Everything about Road House is so over the top, there’s no way anyone could have expected us to take it seriously. It’s an amped-up movie for arrested adolescent males of all ages, providing us with extended bar fighting, bare breasts, explosions, monster trucks and a rockin’ blues soundtrack.
The second movie of the night was the low, low budget spaghetti Western Comin At Ya! from 1981. At the time the film was made, it was the first 3-D movie to have been produced and widely distributed in a number of years (Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein was released in 1974, and another, called Ape, appeared in 1976). The film is relentless in its desire to throw as much stuff into the camera (and thus, the audience) as possible. All other considerations, including plot and characterization, are secondary. The film was so financially successful that it kicked off the 80’s 3-D boom, and was followed in 1982 by both the Charles Band's zero budget futuristic monster movie Parasite (featuring Demi Moore) and Friday the 13th Part 3, which became the largest studio released 3-D movie in 40 years.
Prior to the movie, I prepared a trailer reel of 3-D nostalgia, beginning with a spot for The Creature from the Black Lagoon, followed by Rock Hudson as Taza, Son of Cochise. The original Comin’ At Ya! trailer came next, which is amusing in that it doesn’t show any film footage at all, but instead offers up a fellow in a movie theater describing the 3-D action to us as sandstorms, bullets and flaming arrows assail him. I followed this up with two three dimensional trailers for It Came From Outer Space and The Maze (both starring Richard Carlson… who also appeared in Creature from the Black Lagoon!).
Comin At Ya! comes from Rhino Home Video, who had a company called Dimension 3 prepare the 3-D effect for home viewing. In theaters in 1981, Comin At Ya! utilized polarized glasses in order to provide a full color experience; unfortunately that system only works when light is projected, and cannot be duplicated on a back-lit television set. Dimension 3 encoded the full feature using the red and blue anaglyph method, which makes the movie appear virtually black and white. The interesting thing about Dimension 3's process is that they reverse the red and blue coding for their projects, rendering standard 3-D glasses inoperable unless they’re reversed so the red lens covers the right eye.
The film begins with a credit sequence that calls to mind The Cheap Detective or Delicatessen, where company credits are printed on props displayed for the camera. Enigmatic drifter Hart (Tony Anthony) enters a stable and putzes around with the credit marked items, tossing most of them into the camera lens. A flashback reveals his mission – at his wedding to the beautiful Abilene (Victoria Abril), two bad men, Pike (Gene Quinano) and Polk (Ricardo Palacios), broke in, shot Hart and kidnapped Abilene.
Hart rides out in pursuit, stopping in a dusty ghost town where he discovers a Scottish minister hiding in a church confessional. The minister knows of the two brothers and their business of selling captured women into brothels down in Mexico. Hart takes the old Scot along as a Bible-quoting sidekick.
The women are corralled together in some tower structure where they come under attack from 3-D bats (on wires!). Polk gets offended when Abilene calls him a “fat pig” and is told by his brother to “go have some fun”. Fun, in this case, means a romp in the hay with a sweet senorita way off in the countryside, despite having a full compliment of women (who are about to be sold into prostitution) on hand. Unfortunately, the object of Polk's affection is married, but that doesn’t stop Polk, who has his men hold the husband at bay. Hart catches up with the bad guys and blows them all away, holding Polk hostage.
Abilene and the rest of the womenfolk are auctioned off at a well-attended dinner function. Hart infiltrates and gets the drop on Pike, and secures the release of the captives. The old Scott takes them away in his wagon while Hart stays behind to make sure no one follows. Of course, one of Pike’s men catches Hart off guard and they torture him to discover Polk’s whereabouts.
Polk, meanwhile, is about to be eaten by rats. Pike arrives in time to free him and Polk wants revenge. As Pike and his posse track down the escapees, Polk returns to fight Hart - inexplicably cutting him loose so he can fight fair. This comes to be a bad decision as Hart overpowers the elder brother, impaling him on a sharp object in the loot vault.
By the time Hart catches up with the wagon all the women are dead and Abilene is missing. The old Scot clings to life long enough to relay a message, that Pike will be waiting for Hart in an old ghost town.
Abilene is tied up in the center of town while the rest of the gang kills time by playing with yo-yos, cards, and bothersome flies (in a possible nod to the opening of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West).
Hart rides in and orders Abilene be freed. Pike agrees, then shoots her in the back while she runs away. Apparently, she’s not dead – or injured in the least, since later she’s seen right as rain riding away with Hart into the sunset. Whoops! Did I get ahead of myself? Hart takes shotgun in hand and marches through the storefronts of the town dealing out death to Pike’s henchmen, finally capturing the big man himself. Strung up to the water tower, Pike is forced to watch Hart blow up the entire town (apparently the producers didn’t have enough money to blow up the actual buildings – the explosions occur in the street outside each store) before becoming victim of the final explosion.
After Hart and Abilene ride into the aforementioned sunset, the film ends with a highlight reel of all the 3-D moments from the film.
Comin’ At Ya! was the brainchild of former Xerox salesman Gene Quintano. Looking to get into filmmaking, he remembered seeing Fort Ti in 3-D as a kid and thought it would be a useful gimmick for drawing attention to his Western homage. Recruiting actor Tony Anthony (who also serves as producer) and filming in Spain under the direction of the prolific Ferdinando Baldi, the film was made fast and cheap and reaped box office gold. Quintano, Anthony and Baldi would follow up this film with one of the last 3-D movies of the boom, the god-awful Indiana Jones rip-off Treasure of the Four Crowns (1984). Quintano has gone on to direct the spoof Loaded Weapon 1 (1993) and served as a writer on Jean Claude Van Damme’s Sudden Death (1995) and the kung fu version of The Muskateer (2001), among others.
American Tony Anthony, whose filmography includes mostly Italian and European films, apparently quit acting after Treasure of the Four Crowns (not a big loss to the entertainment world, rest assured). However, leading lady Victoria Abril went on to star in Pedro Almodovar’s Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! in 1990 and has since gained a reputation as one of Spain’s preeminent motion picture actresses.
The film’s score is perhaps the only other worthwhile asset, composed by Carlo Savina channeling Ennio Morricone’s famous spaghetti Western music for Sergio Leone.
Now, I’ve been a lifelong fan of 3-D and have had countless hours of exposure to it. Watching 3-D TV is a bit like looking at those Magic Eye illustrations – you have to relax your eyes a bit in order to merge two separate images in order to see depth effects. Apparently, I’ve trained myself to do this easily but it did not work so well with my audience, who suffered headaches, double vision and basically got nothing out of the 3-D presentation (even though the colors were calibrated more carefully to match the red/blue of the glasses better than Frightfest 2004’s showing of Amityville 3-D). By the end of the movie only two of us still had our glasses on, two left and two went to sleep.
Dimension 3 has recently rendered services for a 3-D remake of Night of the Living Dead (starring Sid Haig) and is working on rehabbing the old 3-D soft core flick The Stewardesses, but I’ve learned my lesson regarding showing 3-D at home and neither will likely be getting play at the Saturday Night Freak Show.