Thursday, June 3, 2010
A DOZEN WAYS TO DIE (1990) - a biker thriller so obscure not even the interweb knows of it
Here's proof I'm not making this whole thing up
As a child, I remember seeing Hal Ashby’s 8 Million Ways to Die listed in T.V. guide and, as somewhat of a math nerd, my mind boggled. Your average Schwarzenegger film at the time usually topped out at about twenty-five or thirty ways to die. Surely Hal must’ve cooked the books, or maybe had someone watching holocaust footage in the film and thus added six million to the total by proxy. Even then, you would have to count each individual death as a separate category. Then again, maybe every human being is like an individual snowflake, and the snuffing out of a single snowflake could be considered a special form of death.
Either way, the title is actually a play on the phrase “there are 8 million stories in the naked city”. This makes sense in the New York set (the titular naked city) hard boiled detective novel that the film is based on, but the movie itself is set in L.A., so the cynical play on words becomes lost. Regardless, I probably shouldn’t takes things so literally.
So, I had specific numerical reasons to lower my expectations for A Dozen Ways to Die, as well as the fact that I couldn’t find any information on the film searching on the internet. Not even an IMDB listing. Then again, maybe the man is trying to keep it down. That must be it.
Directed by Randal Hill, A Dozen Ways to Die concerns a family going on a camping trip in their RV. The unit consists of a mother, a daughter (wearing a “china tour” t-shirt that lacks any sort of band logo; maybe it’s a shirt they give out to yanks when they land in Beijing), and a creepy French father (creepy not because he’s French, but because he looks like a Greek lumberjack and has an unspeakable mullet/unibrow combo).
Of course, their attempted “oneness” with nature is cut short when they encounter the most unlikely biker gang in movie history; a cowboy, a Che-lite revolutionary, a bandito, a pseudo-ninja wearing fatigues, a hippie stoner, and a fake WWII German soldier. Only Cyclops, the leader, and the token biker chick (whose tits are constantly plopping out) fit the biker bill. Either way, it’s how they work together that counts, and they manage to tie up the father so they are free to beat up and rape the women. They chain up the semi-hot daughter like a dog, and force the mother to wear a monk’s robe while enslaved in a bamboo cage. I get the “treating a girl like a dog” fetish, but am confused by the caged monk deal with the mother. Maybe its one of those Zen thingies.
Well, the biker gang thinks they have it made. A nice afternoon camping, drinking beer, riding their bikes around, and occasionally raping/molesting their new found slave. Unbeknownst to them, however, is the fact that the awkwardly European father has escaped his shackles. More importantly, however, is that he has suddenly become a super soldier cross between John Rambo and MacGyver; packing heat, living off the land, awkwardly spitting out one liners, and able to concoct a weapon on a moment’s notice by just pulling out some random household items out of his backpack (like an egg timer and some speaker wire). My favorite of these being the “molotov slingshot” he invents on the spot. He even finds a sheriff’s badge lying in a stream and pins it to his chest, as if to say “there’s a new sheriff in town…and he’s been pushed to the limit…and he’s too old for this shit”.
I think you know where this is headed but, pleasantly, there is a pretty awesome downbeat ending, followed with a comically rad epilogue that has little to do with what came before. However, the film, technically speaking, is extremely rough, even by the standards of no budget regional filmmaking. Seemingly shot on 16mm, there is nary a shot that matches the exposure of the previous shot, compositions are an afterthought, dialogue recording is all over the place, and the whole thing is padded to hit a running time.
However, within its threadbare, dirt (literally) aesthetic, and the rough treatment of the two female victims (their degradation is the emotional core of the film), it achieves a sort of ragged repulsiveness, married to a goofy, Golan Globus-esque script. At the center is the most awkward action hero in the history of unseen VHS tape. As portrayed by Gilbert Houseaux, he can’t even portray Frenchiness convincingly, let alone inhabit a wily, bad ass killing machine. It is this odd combination of action camp and gutter grit, Hills Have Eyes meets American Ninja 3, that separates this one from your usual regional b-movie effort of the era (presumably late 80’s, early 90’s). If you don’t mind technical incompetence and endless padding, I say check it out whenever it finally comes out on Blu-Ray in a super deluxe “holy shit” edition.
P.S. It is now listed on IMDB, but I'll just go ahead and pretend that it isn't.