Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review: Dangerous Men

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Dangerous Men
Directed (and everything else) by John S. Rad
Sima Sim International
Drafthouse Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2005 / 2016

There is a place in the heart for certain people like myself when it comes to really bad films. I grew up with the likes of those directed by Ed Wood Jr., The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960), and Robot Monster (1953), all of which could be seen on television. In the 1980s, with the advent of VHS cheapies and television shows like Elvira’s Move Macabre (1981-85) and Rhonda Sheer’s USA Up All Night (1989), another layer of bad films was leveled on an audience that either enjoyed the experience or just didn’t get it.

Now there is a new generation of bad cinema that has come to light with the medium of digital filmmaking, giving us some pretty awful releases, like The Room (2003), which have achieved cult status and are regular screened for adoring fans.

This film is a bit different. Even though it was officially released in 2005, it was shot on film with Rad’s own money over 22 years (starting in 1984), which would certainly explain the jumpiness of the story, what there is of it. It has gained fame over the years since 2007, finally being released digitally to the public now. Sadly, the director, a Persian named Jahangir Salehi Yenganehrad who self-penned himself John Rad, died in 2007, never seeing its success.

Melody Wiggins as Mina
Perhaps because it took over two decades to make, it’s no surprise that a character that is central to one part is not the focus of another. This happens a lot in here. In the first half, it’s sort of a revenge narrative as a cute and petite woman, Mira (Melody Wiggins, who is a physician now), whose fiancée is murdered by a couple of bikers, sets off on a Ms. 45 / I Spit on Your Grave man-killing spree. The second half is more about the fiancée’s brother, a police detective who is also out to bring down some bikers; evil motorcyclers are the largest percentage of “dangerous men” in the film, though not the only ones. The gang is led by an almost albino surfer-type dude, known as – wait for it – Black Pepper (Brian Jenkins, an actual surfing teacher; d. 2013).

The very end is both a head scratcher and guaranteed to make you do one of those confused-dog-head-tilting-to-the-side motions. Not that goals aren’t narratively necessarily completed, but…hunh? One of the things I find interesting is how Rad manages to squeeze in some unconnected Iranian aspects to the film, such as the wife of one of the main characters being Persian (the first face the audience sees), and the inexplicableness of having an actual belly dancer (Roohi) at a particularly odd moment.

Brian Jenkins as Black Pepper
The acting is pretty inconsistent. For example, sometimes Wiggins is spot on emotionally, and others her emoting is terrifyingly unintentionally amusing, which makes it all the more disturbing. For example, before her first kill, you can see her face is full of rage, but it was more disturbing than anything else. But when she smiles, she brightens up the scene. Some of the other actors are just terrible: the bartender at the biker bar, the woman playing darts (who has a large role than just that), Jenkins, for example. It’s actually the bikers that come across as most genuine. And for once, they’re more realistic as bikers than, say, the romanticized versions by Marlon Brando or Peter Fonda, or even Jack Nicholson.

Also, there isn’t any gore, really, though some blood. Considering the number of stabbings and shooting, as there is a nice sized body count, there is relatively just a smidgen of blood. But nudity is another story. There’s plenty of female bodies shown (and a few close-ups of the belly dancer’s upper torso shaking), including one full frontal, and even some male nudity from the rear, not to mention an obvious genital grab. Certainly enough to keep it interesting for everybody.

John S. Rad
The extras include some of this and other film’s trailers (including Ms. 45), a 30-min documentary called “That’s So John Rad,” a road trip about searching for things John Rad and ends up with interviewing his daughter and grandkids; a 10-minute interview with the Director of Cinematography of all 22 years named Pater Palian (also Iranian); and a local access television show called “Queer Edge” where the loquacious and stupefying John Rad is interviewed sorta-kinda by the host and Sandra Burnhart. There is also a full-length commentary by genre authors Zach Carlson and Bryan Connolly. Most of it is good, as they tend to discuss what you are seeing more than behind the scenes goings-on. The only negative really is that the sound of the film is turned on too high and sometimes interferes with what they’re saying (though I’ll take that over when the film soundtrack is completely turned off on commentaries).There is also a really nice booklet included, with a reprint of a 2006 interview with Rad from the LA Weekly.

A reason this film is so honored, considering it really is a terribly made albeit extremely entertaining one, is because it is a prime example of (a) never giving up dream, and (b) a pure example of DIY workmanship. Sure it’s rough around the edges (and the middle, and the sides…), but you can see the dedication, sweat, personal money and in the case of the wrecking of his daughter’s car, personal property, in every frame. It could be considered an anti-masterpiece.

Just like there is the “Outsider” genre of music, meaning untalented musicians who believe so much that they are creating important music (e.g., Wildman Fischer, Legendary Stardust Cowboy, Drake) that it actually gives the songs credibility, this is also true of Outsider cinema (such as Richard Kern and most of the Transgressive subgenre). It goes beyond the “so bad that it’s good,” to the level of “so bad that’s it’s just bad, and thereby it’s so good.”

Honestly, I would only recommend it for those with an understanding of this kind of thing, and you may be surprised how many there are considering it tends to sell out some shows by those in the know. If you are one of those, you may believe that it can give even the classic Outsider film The World Greatest Sinner (1962) a run for its money.

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