Rupert Pupkin Speaks: VHS Gems Guest Post: Josh Johnson ""

Monday, September 10, 2012

VHS Gems Guest Post: Josh Johnson

 TRAXX (1988)

If you were a regular viewer of Hollywood Squares in the late 80's than you almost certainly remember the lustrous mane and velvety voice of announcer Shadoe Stevens. In 1988, Shadoe got a chance to be a leading man in an action comedy and he couldn't have been more excited to have the opportunity. He relishes every moment on screen and can't suppress a smile for longer than a few moments at a time. He plays Traxx, a former mercenary who decides to clean up a small Texas town after his baking business doesn't get off the ground. Robert Davi plays a villainous mobster and the film snaps back and forth between explosive action and goofball antics with whiplash force. Bizarre, funny, and in a world all its own.


I would like to submit that this film is a lost classic. It predates HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER by a year but shows some of the same impulses that were explored there. It's about a Sunday School teacher who goes on a serial killing spree. It spends the whole runtime observing this central character without judgement, just looking on as he does what he does.  It follows films like MANIAC or NIGHTMARE IN A DAMAGED BRAIN which take a hard, focused look at murderers as protagonists but it has none of the explicit violence of those movies. The approach here is far more subtle. MURDERLUST is extremely sympathetic in it's portrayal, quietly beautiful in its own strange way.

It isn't always fair to rank movies but I have to say this is my No. 1 top favorite competitive paintball/slasher hybrid. We meet a cadre of enjoyable personalities at a paintball tournament who are forced to fight for survival when things go awry. The script is always more clever than it has to be and the ensemble of actors do an admirable job of creating strong characters despite minimal screen time. There are a fair number of unexpected twists and creative kills but the films sense of humor is its greatest asset. It sets up punchlines without ever acknowledging the absurdity of the plot. Ridiculous entertainment of the highest order.


The direct-to-video market wasn't designed merely to cater to libidinous teenagers and basement-dwelling gore hounds. It was also for divorcee dads. There is no movie more clearly made by and for dads than ROCK HOUSE. It's as though the celluloid itself was somehow made up of beer coozies, muscle cars, grey mustaches, and jokes about breasts. Written by, directed by, and starring the dadly Jack Vacek in a role that epitomizes the houseboat-living charisma of divorced fatherhood that rose to new heights in the late 1980's. His character, named Turner, will not stop until the mean streets of Los Angeles are cleaned up and no trace of illegal drugs remains. He is definitely going to to have no-strings intercourse with a self-loathing twentysomething along the way though. It's just the natural order of things.


Don't try to understand it. Don't try to explain it. It exists in a world beyond understanding and explanation. It is quite possibly the least movie-like product to ever make its way into the home video marketplace. Never has a single film been more audacious in trying to stretch a small amount of footage out to an acceptable feature length presentation. Feet walking down a hallway, grunting sounds, repetitive synth drones, a killer with green Spock ears. These are the materials used to entertain you for roughly 90 minutes. I've never been more obsessed with any piece of art in my entire life. This one will change you and not for the better.


Psychedelic films are often visually or intellectually stimulating, but emotionally inert. This film manages to twist your brain around while still affecting your feelings. It has a loose, almost improvised feel. However, a studied examination shows it to be very controlled and meticulously arranged. Incest, isolation, mysterious desert landscapes, sexual confusion, and multiple identity crises await you down THE ROAD TO SALINA. Your guide for the journey is the always haunted Robert Walker, Jr. His blue eyes stare into your soul and judge you while you slowly go mad.


The VHS boom coincided with the cocaine boom. The intersection of these two worlds birthed the mad genius of this white powder-fueled melodrama. Ian McShane plays a caricature of a Hollywood drug impresario. He wears white suits, sweats profusely, bellows unnecessarily, and wanders around his mirrored mansion like a greasy, invincible superhero. He gets good guy Steve Railsback hooked on the stuff and if you've ever seen Railsback's skin-ripping, nerve-shattering approach to acting you can imagine how he behaves once he has an addictive stimulant in his system. A domestic melodrama plays out but it is completely unlike the suburban malaise of Douglas Sirk. It's louder, more garish, and totally without restraint. If you ever need a movie to elevate your mood just pop this one in. It will force you to feel good whether you like it or not.

Look for updates regarding Josh Johnson's upcoming film REWIND THIS here:
Follow him on twitter @yeahjoshjohnson.

1 comment:

Kev D. said...

Can't help but wish MASTERBLASTER was based on that old nintendo game.