Ninja Dixon – a great site

I have been a bit slack in my reviews of ‘world’ spy movies this year – long work days, and extended travel time have seen to that (giving me more time to read, and less to watch films). But there are many great websites out there that look at the more obscure Bond influenced spy films from around the world.

Recently I stumbled upon the fantastic blog, House of Ninja Dixon. Here are a few of the tasty spy treats he has served up recently.

• Firstly Bond 303 which stars Jeetendra in this Bollywood Bond ripoff – if the title doesn’t give that tidbit away! I have a copy of this tucked away somewhere, but have never taken the time to watch it. Maybe it’s time!

• Next there’s the Thai spy spoof Operation Black Panther starring Sombat Methanee

• Then the harshly treated Eurospy classic Operation Kid Brother starring Neil Connery.

• Shaw Brothers Interpol 009.

• Then the curious James Band 007, which features R2D2 and C3PO?

Why not head over and have a look around?

Ninja Dixon – a great site

Licence to Kill (1989)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: John Glen
Starring: Timothy Dalton, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto, Carey Lowell, Anthony Zerbe, Wayne Newton, Benicio Del Toro, Robert Brown as M, Desmond Llewellyn as Q, Caroline Bliss as Moneypenny
Music: Michael Kamen
Main title song: ‘Licence To Kill’ performed by Gladys Knight
End title song: ‘If I Ask You To’ performed by Patti LaBelle

Licence To Kill is the sixteenth official Bond movie and was the first not to use a title from one of Ian Fleming’s novels or short stories. Originally the movie was going to be called Licence Revoked but the producers, fearing that audiences would not understand what ‘revoked’ meant, changed it to the more familiar Bondian phrase ‘Licence To Kill’.

When this film came out in 1989, Dalton was heralded as a new tougher Bond. The press releases stated that The Living Daylights was written as a fairly generic Bond adventure as they were unsure who would play Bond. But this being the second film for Dalton, the writers could write to Dalton’s acting strengths. Dalton was never good at light throwaway lines. He was at his best when he was snarling and glaring at his opponents. Often the media spin for a Bond film doesn’t quite match up to the finished product – the previous film was promoted as ‘safe sex Bond’, despite the fact that Bond beds more women in the film than Sean Connery did in Diamonds Are Forever. However, generally this film was very good at delivering what it promised — a harder edged Bond. Admittedly there were still some silly sequences –- particularly with some Kenworth trucks towards the end of the film. But Dalton was good. He was hard and looked angry, and acted like a ‘blunt instrument’ for Her Majesty’s Government –- although in this case he was not –- and to understand that, you have to go back to the film’s original title ‘Licence Revoked’. Yes, this is the film in which 007’s licence to kill is rescinded. But I am getting ahead of myself – let’s have a quick look at how the story plays out.

Concept artwork for 'License Revoked' (click for larger image)

The film opens in Key West in the United States. James Bond’s old friend Felix Leiter – once again played by David Hedison (from Live and Let Die — great to see a bit of consistency) – is about to get married. Bond is his best man and they are rushing to the wedding. At that moment international drug baron, Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), who the American’s have been trying to catch for years, has flown into US airspace. Sanchez’s mistress, Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) has fled to the Florida Keys with a disgruntled minion of Sanchez. Naturally Sanchez wants her back – hey Talisa is pretty hot! – and follows her. As Leiter and Bond make their way to the church a D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency) chopper flies overhead and lands in front of them. Leiter is told about Sanchez’s incursion into the US and he boards the chopper, ready to pursue the Drug Lord. As you expect, Bond refuses to be left out of the action and tags along as an observer.

Bond ends up being more than an observer and ultimately helps Leiter bring Sanchez to justice. Then both Bond and Leiter return to the festivities as planned — that being Leiter’s wedding.

A man as powerful (and as rich) as Sanchez is hard to keep locked away, and after a proposing a huge financial incentive, to anyone willing to help him escape, Sanchez does just that. Before leaving the United States, he first wants to extract a small amount of vengeance upon Leiter. He does this in two parts. First he kills Leiter’s newly-wed wife, Della (Priscilla Barnes). Then he feeds Leiter to the sharks, dangling his legs in a shark pool. Now this is not intended to kill Leiter — just leave him maimed and grieving. Although the film is not particularly graphic in depicting the violence, plotwise it is quite brutal — and may I hasten to add, it is not a sequence dreamed up solely for the film. It is lifted directly from (my favourite Bond novel — which is due a re-read very soon) Live and Let Die. Most Bond fans are well aware that the Bond films and the original novels are quite different, and even though Live And Let Die had been filmed in the early seventies with Roger Moore, the story did not utilise many of the plot points from Ian Fleming’s novel. Which was a shame for the film Live And Let Die, but a plus for Licence To Kill in which screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson could marry some of these plot points with a character from Fleming’s short story The Hildebrand Rarity and then come up with a new film.

John Gardner's novelisation of the film 'Licence to Kill'

As an adjunct here, having veered off onto a minor literary tangent, I will tell you that John Gardner’s novelisation of Licence to Kill was available in Australia several weeks before the film was released. I immediately tracked down a copy and had read it before the preview screenings had even commenced. The thing that struck me though, about the novelisation, was how difficult it must have been for Gardner to be faithful to the film, and also slot into the already established Bondian chronology. So in Garder’s novelisation, following on from Fleming’s novels, he is faced with the problem that Felix Leiter has previously lost his legs to a shark in Live and Let Die. It is certainly a strange co-incidence that different villains should meet out the same punishment to Leiter – and furthermore, why would a villain dangle a man with prosthetic legs over a pool with a shark in it? Yeah, it’s kind of dumb. This is just one of the many plot convolutions that Gardner had to deal with — but all things considered, he muddled through okay.

So in the film, Leiter is maimed, and his new bride has been killed. Bond — who is extremely upset — believes that he owes Leiter a debt, and rather than moving onto his next mission as instructed, he chooses to stay in the Florida keys and investigate.

First he searches the aquariums, fisheries and marine research facilities for a great white shark. His logic being that if Leiter was mauled by a shark, then whoever was responsible must have one. His enquiries are not particularly fruitful until he arrives at Ocean Exotica Warehouse run by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe). Krest suggests that he is out of the shark hunting business, but a submersible vehicle named ‘Shark Hunter’ would suggest otherwise. Bond, on the surface, accepts Krest’s subterfuge, but decides to pay the warehouse another visit at night.

That evening Bond returns, but he doesn’t find Krest. Instead he finds Killifer collecting his multi-million dollar payoff, for arranging the release of Sanchez. Bond does what any guy whose friend has been fed to a shark would do — and that is feed the man responsible to the shark. He does this, by tossing Killifer’s own money laden suitcase at him, knocking Killifer (and his ill-gotten gain) into the shark pool.

Later Bond is reprimanded for working on his own, and interfering with an American C.I.A. investigation. Furthermore, he had been assigned to a mission in Istanbul, which he had ignored. M, who has flown in personally rescinds Bond’s ‘Licence to Kill’ – or harking back to the film’s original title, has his ‘Licence Revoked’.

Later, Bond breaks into Leiter’s home and retrieves some digital files pertaining to the Sanchez investigation. Bond learns that all Felix’s inside people are dead, except for one operative, Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell), who Leiter is scheduled to meet at the Barrel Head Bar. Bond makes the appointment in Leiter’s stead, and find that a cadre of Sanchez’s goons are there to not only kill her, but whoever she makes contact with. But Pam Bouvier is a sprightly and resourceful agent in her own right, and with Bond’s help, they escape from the establishment.

After acquiring a large sum of money, courtesy of Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe), with the assistance of Pam Bouvier, Bond heads to Isthmus City, posing as a wealthy business man. And once he has attracted Sanchez’s attention, then from within, he intends to bring Sanchez’s whole organisation down – in the usual explosive Bond manner.

One contrivance that slightly irks me with Licence to Kill is that when Bond arrives in Isthmus City to bring down Sanchez, is that Sanchez doesn’t recognise him. Sure it may have been hard to see Bond’s face in the pre-title sequence, where he actively assisted Leiter in the capturing of Sanchez. But Sanchez knew to go after Leiter (where and when too) – no doubt due to Killifer. But yet he appears not to be aware of Bond. Adding to the contrivance, Leiter is taken directly after Bond leaves Leiter’s home. Sanchez is waiting inside, so they would have been watching and waiting. But still nobody fingers Bond – well not until Dario at the end, but that is due to the incident at the Barrelhead Bar. I know this is all vague and nitpicking – but it is a tad sloppy.

Licence to Kill has a whole army of villains and minions for Bond to tangle with over the mission. First and foremost, as already discussed is Franz Sanchez, played by Robert Davi. Sanchez is a different kind of villain for two reasons. Firstly he isn’t a cartoonish megalomaniac. And secondly, although he is in supreme command, he runs his evil empire like a large corporation. He is constantly surround by a financial advisor, Truman-Lodge (Anthony Stark), and his military advisor Heller (Don Stoud).

Then there’s Milton Krest played by Anthony Zerbe.  In Licence to Kill, Zerbe doesn’t get as much screen time as his position in the credits would indicate, but he certainly makes his presence felt, and his demise is truly memorable. I once read an interview (can’t remember where) with Zerbe, where he was asked why he played so many villains. His response was that it had to do with his christian name ‘Anthony’. He said that if his name had been ‘Herb’ or ‘Herby’ (as is Herby Zerbe) then his career most likely would have gone down a different path with comedic roles. I can see it! Over the years Zerbe appeared in The Equalizer, The Return of the Man From UNCLE, at least five episodes of Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and numerous other productions.

Sanchez’s sergeant at arms is Heller, played by the ever reliable Don Stroud. Frankly Heller is a nothing character (or what is left of him in the script). In is most memorable scene, he has a prong of a forklift truck through his chest.

Sanchez’s number one henchman is Dario is played by Benicio Del Toro (in one of his earliest roles). Del Toro has become such a solid character actor these days, (I love his performance as Dr. Gonzo in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) it is almost strange watching him as a young punk, spouting cliched Henchman dialogue. He’s not bad, but he doesn’t have many lines, and those he does have are rather awkward – “nice honeymooooonnnn!!!!”

Professor Joe Butcher is played by Wayne Newton, with an almost self-mocking grace – which he would take to extremes a year later with his performance as the villain in The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (don’t groan!).

Gladys Knight sings Licence to Kill

When looking at a Bond film, one of the hardest things to analyse is the music, after all we all have different musical tastes. Furthermore, with the longevity of Bond series, popular musical styles have changed quite considerably since 1962. For example, a song like Goldfinger (with Shirley Bassey), as great as it is, wasn’t really going to cut it (commercially at least) in 1989. You’ve got to remember, this film was made when Eurobeat music was all the rage (and oh, how I hated it!). The good news is, Licence to Kill doesn’t have a Eurobeat theme song. Instead, Gladys Knight was chosen to sing the opening title song, and it’s not too bad. It doesn’t grab me like some of the classics, like the aforementioned Goldfinger, Thunderball or Diamonds Are Forever, but it is a good song and certainly not one that I cringe at every time I watch the film. In fact, over time, I am probably enjoying it more and more.

The film also had a song for the end title credits, ‘If I Ask You To’ performed by Patti LaBelle. The song is pleasant enough, without being remarkable – and once again, thankfully without any cringe inducing pop stylings of the era. Later the song would become a early hit for Celine Dion when she released it in 1992.

But Licence to Kill has a little musical mystery. In 2009, when I interviewed Vic Flick, he related a tale about a lost recording session, where composer Michael Kamen had invited him and Eric Clapton to perform on an instrumental title track. The music from that session has never seen the light of day. Here’s what Vic said at the time:

It was a phone call out of the blue. Michael Kamen wanted a dark guitar sound to compliment the melody and extemporization Eric Clapton was going to do on their composition. So, knowing of my penchant for low string guitar playing, he called me for the sessions. It was good to see Eric again after many years and it was wonderful to work with those two gifted musicians. Eric played some amazing guitar on the track and Michael worked out a fine arrangement. I did my thing with a counter theme in the low register. The title turned out very good and the following day we went to a loft in the wharf area of London to shoot the video. What little I saw of the video was great. The video was then submitted to the Bond producers who had commissioned the project. I waited, Michael waited and Eric was off doing his thing somewhere in the world. After two weeks came the news that the Bond producers wanted a song as a theme and commissioned Gladys Knight and the Pips and blew out the track that Michael, Eric and I submitted.

You can read my full interview with Vic Flick here, where I ask him about the missing recording session and his career.

Carey Lowell as Pam Bouvier

Now just for the kind of double-talkin’ Bondian rhetoric that you would expect to hear from me, I am going to suggest that Licence to Kill is one of the best Bond films — but it is not a ‘classic’. Dr. No and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are among the best Bond films too, but they also earn the distinction of being ‘classics’ — and this has nothing to do with age. While being very good, Licence to Kill doesn’t make it to ‘classic’ status for two reasons. The first is the girls (sorry!). Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto are possibly the most low-key of all the Bond girls. They are attractive (oh, yes), and their acting is quite okay too, but hey don’t have that key ‘electric’ moment which makes a Bond girl a cultural icon.

Talisa Soto as Lupé Lamora

Next there is the plot. I am not saying that the film is overly plotted, but it is clear to see that the Truman-Lodge (Anthony Starke) and Heller (Don Stround) characters have been severely truncated, which muddies the waters during the climax. How and when did the story become about stinger missiles, rather than cocaine smuggling? If I may head back to John Gardner’s novelisation — for those that want to know what is going on — the book is worth a read. I have already pointed out the book’s shortcomings in relation to the Bond chronology, but as this story progresses, the characters and finale are substantially more fleshed out in the novel than the film — Gardner didn’t have to worry about run-times.

But I do like Licence to Kill. It’s funny after all these years seeing the success and popularity of Daniel Craig as the new tougher Bond — and hey, I like him too — yet, Timothy Dalton did the same thing seventeen years earlier but the public did not want to buy it at the time. I for one, wanted more Timothy Bond, but due to legal problems between EON Productions and the film studio we never got to see it. I was one of those in the silent dark days between 1989 and 1995, who kept saying that I wanted to see Dalton in a black and white version of Casino Royale — I can assure you, I wasn’t alone in this. Well, obviously that never happened. But maybe those fan whispers slowly built in strength and momentum. And maybe, just maybe that is how we ended up with Daniel Craig as a new tougher Bond. I know Quentin Tarrantino (love ya, Quentin) has recently said in the press that some of the credit for the success of Casino Royale should go to him, because the project only came together after he started to talk about it. Well that’s bulldust! Because, as we Bond fans know, we had been talking and imagining the idea from the day after we saw Licence to Kill in the cinemas. Here was a real Bond, doing a story that had a good, healthy dose of Fleming. It was good and we wanted more – and ultimately we got it seventeen years later.

Licence to Kill (1989)

Death and the Penguin

Author: Andrey Kurkov
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Published: 2011
Translated by George Bird

In the city of Kiev, Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov is a writer who is suffering from writer’s block. Actually it is worse than that. It is not so much writer’s block but the literary equivalent of A.D.D. He has started a great many novels and stories but never finishes them, and instead they lie incomplete, scattered around his apartment block. Added to this, Viktor lives with a penguin named Misha. This may, from the outside, seem a little strange, but the local zoo ran into financial strife and sold off many off their animals to the local population as pets. So now Viktor has a pet penguin that flops around the house, and splashes in the bathtub.

One morning, Viktor actually manages to finish a piece of writing. It is only short, one page long, but it is complete and he begins to shop it around the local newspapers. Initially he is rejected, but finally he is offered a job writing obituaries at the Capital News by the the Editor-in-Chief, Igor Lvovich. Or more precisely Viktor has to use his unique and succinct writing talent to prepare in advance obituaries for notables who haven’t died yet.

This all goes very well at the beginning. Then, through his boss, Viktor receives a visit from a man named Misha, who is not a penguin – and in fact is referred to as Misha Mon-Penguin throughout the story. Misha wants an obituary written for a friend, and Viktor obliges. This is the first of many, and over time a strange friendship begins.

Noticing that his friend is down in the dumps, Misha (Non-Penguin) asks Viktor, what is the matter. Viktor explains that even though he enjoys his job writing obituaries for people who may die, that because none of these people have actually died, he hasn’t seen his work in print yet. Misha asks which obituary Viktor believes is his best work. Viktor tells him it is for an official named Aleksandr Yakornitsky.

Not long after Yakornitsky dies. And he is just the first of many. Coincidence? Let’s just say that Viktor’s journey is just beginning, and despite what could almost be described as a ‘cute’ start to the story, that journey is quite claustrophobic and tense as the story progresses.

Later, Viktor (without a say in the matter) is entrusted with Misha non penguin’s young daughter, Sonya. To assist him, Viktor hires a nanny, Nina – as he knows very little about bringing up a young girl. The three of them (or four if you count Misha the penguin) become a very unusual family unit – and through his de facto family, he comes to realise the truth about his obituaries.

Of course a book titled Death and the Penguin, which features a character that is a penguin, is going to be a little offbeat. If you are looking for a hard boiled, spitting teeth thriller, then Death and the Penguin may not be for you. But if you are after a quirky thriller, with ‘unusual’ characters, then this is well worth your time.

Now, is Death and the Penguin a spy novel? Well, not in the strict sense, however at the climax, Viktor’s work ties him to a clandestine organisation known as State Security Group A who have a hidden agenda, in which Viktor is an unwitting pawn.

The Spiel from Melville House:

Aspiring writer Viktor Zolotaryov leads a down-and-out life in poverty-and-violence-wracked Kiev—he’s out of work and his only friend is a penguin, Misha, that he rescued when the local zoo could no longer feed its animals. But Viktor thinks he’s finally caught a break when he lands a well-paying job at the Kiev newspaper writing “living obituaries” of local dignitaries—articles to be filed for use when the time comes. The only thing is, the time always seems to come as soon as he writes the article. Slowly understanding that his own life is in jeopardy, Viktor soon comes to realize that the only thing that might be keeping him alive is his penguin.

Publisher, Melville House has launched a series they call Melville International Crime, where they have taken popular foreign crime titles and translated them into English. Naturally, I am hoping they throw in a few ‘traditional’ spy titles as well. On the strength of Death and the Penguin, I’d suggest that those who are seeking some quality, crime fiction – that is a little bit different, should check out the series.

Death and the Penguin is available from Melville House and Amazon

The follow-up novel, Penguin Lost will be released in September.

Here’s the trailer for Penguin Lost.

Death and the Penguin

Watch Barabarella Do Her Thing – at Spy Vibe!

There is no doubt for Spy fans, Jason Whiton’s Spy Vibe is one of the best sites on the web, and this is reflected in how quickly he has attracted over 200,000 visitors to his site. And to celebrate this milestone, he is going to be giving away some prizes to some lucky readers. First up is a Barbarella poster style B, 11×17 poster. To enter, just send an e-mail to Spy Vibe (jason[at]spyvibe.com) with “Barbarella” in the subject line and your mailing address. The winner will be chosen from a random drawing on August 9th.

In other news from Spy Vibe, Jason has contributed to the image gallery on the upcoming Blu-ray edition of Elio Petri’s cult classic, The 10th Victim (1965) – from Blue Underground.

I am continually fascinated with The 10th Victim. Although the film is based on the 1953 short story Seventh Victim by sci-fi author Robert Sheckley, I feel it owes much to the short story, The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell, which was published in Collier’s Weekly on 19 January 1924. And while both The Most Dangerous Game is not a spy story, its theme of the manhunt has been a regular trope of espionage stories (both in book form and in films) ever since.

The progeny of The Most Dangerous Game litter the espionage genre. Off the top of my head, there is the Eurospy film Coplan Saves His Skin, with Claudio Brook as Francis Coplan – as an interesting curio, I only noticed last weekend, that Brook plays the Banker in Bond film Licence To Kill (1989). Then there’s Avenging Force (1986) with Michael Dudikoff, where the Hero, Matt Hunter is tracked down by an evil organisation known as Pentangle in the Florida everglades. The film was almost remade, but without the espionage element, as Hard Target in 1993, starring Jean Claude Van Damme, and directed by John Woo. Incidentally, Chuck Norris had previously played a character called Matt Hunter – who also lives in the everglades – in Invasion USA (1985). There is even a passage in the film Octopussy, where Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan) and his minions hunt Bond for sport. Mounted on their elephants, they track him like it is a big game safari. For those you want an even creepier connection, or example of The Most Dangerous Game, may I suggest that you watch David FIncher’s film Zodiac. It’s not a spy film, but ‘the Game’ certainly makes its presence felt!

But back to The 10th Victim, which is one of the more fleshed out presentations of ‘The Hunt’. The Big Hunt, the game that the characters play in this film, is a legalised form of violence. But the game has rules. You can’t just kill people willy-nilly. Firstly, you have to be registered with the Ministry of The Big Hunt. If you volunteer to participate in the hunt, you have to agree to participate in ten hunts. Five as a ‘hunter’ and five as a ‘victim’. Each of these roles alternates with each hunt that you participate in — presuming that you win, and stay alive of course! The person selected as the hunter is given all the information available about his intended victim. The victim, on the other hand, does not know who the hunter is. Whoever wins each hunt is given a prize. If you survive all ten hunts, then you receive one million dollars.

While I enjoy The 10th Victim, I do find it a bit cold and detached, but then again maybe that is the point. After all, only a certain type of sociopath would want to join The Big Hunt. And maybe that was (and still very much IS) a indication of what society is becoming in it’s tolerance of violence – cold and detached.

To read more about The 10th Victim, and it’s amazing Production Design, click here and you’ll be beamed across to Spy Vibe’s Top Ten Spy Set Countdown and don’t forget to look around the rest of the site – and enter the Barbarella Poster competition.

Watch Barabarella Do Her Thing – at Spy Vibe!

Super7even: Operation Four Play

For spy film and fumetti fans, episode three of the Super7even web series is now on line, starring Jerry Kokich as the titular Super7even, and crowd favourite Olivia Dunkley as Sandra West, ex-agent of T.H.E.M.

This episode finds our red-suited hero attempting to convince ex-agent West to ‘come in from the cold’ and rejoin T.H.E.M. However, she has other, more aggressive and lethal ideas. Operation Four Play is an enthusiastic homage to those masked super hero and spy films of the 1960s, and will bring a smile to the lips of those who grew up watching Diabolik, Argoman, and Superargo, as well as small screen shows such as The Man From UNCLE and Get Smart.

Operation Four Play is the first part of a two part episode, so stay tuned for the conclusion which is shooting now.

You can see more of Olivia on her official website: oliviadunkley.com or on her Facebook fan page.

Super7even: Operation Four Play

Hobo With a Shotgun

Release Year: 2011
Country: Canada
Director: Jason Eisener
Writers: John Davies, Jason Eisener, Rob Cotterill
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Gregory Smith, Nick Bateman, Jeremy Akerman
Cinematography: Karim Hussain
Music: Adam Burke, Darius Holbert, Russ Howard III, The Obsidian Orchestra
Producers: Chris Bell, Rob Cotterill, Niv Fichman, Paul Gross, Kevin Kritst, Andrea Raffaghello, Frank Siracusa

Hobo With a Shotgun owes its existence to Quentin Tarrantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse films. While I like the Grindhouse project, perhaps Planet Terror a bit more than Death Proof, are they really what they purport to be? Are they Grindhouse films? However, that’s a question for later, what we’re looking at is how Hobo and the Grindhouse films are connected.

Those you have seen Grindhouse – or singularly Planet Terror would be aware of the faux trailer for Machete. The trailer proved so popular that an actual film was made, based on the incidents shown in the trailer. Now Machete cannot be really called a good film, but it was fast paced and fun and delivered everything that was promised in the trailer. But there were other trailers beside Machete.

Upon Grindhouse’s release, as a publicity gimmick, a competition was held to create a Grindhouse style trailer. The winner of this competition, was for a fictitious film called Hobo With a Shotgun. Allegedly, this trailer was incorporated into the Grindhouse program in North America – although, I have not seen this trailer myself.

Now, several years later a film has been made based on the trailer, the big difference being that Rutger Hauer is playing the titular hobo. And that’s where I come into the story. As an Australian, I was unaware of the trailer competition, and therefore unaware of Hobo With a Shotgun’s backstory. All I knew was that there was a new film called Hobo With a Shotgun and it starred Rutger Hauer. Those two points were all it was required to sell me.

Now I like watching trash and exploitation pictures. I’ll watch practically any type of ‘ploitation’ picture, be it Blaxploitation, Bruceplotation, Nunsploitation, Rednexploitation, MadMaxploitation, anything really…and therefore my standards aren’t very high. Violence, Sex and Sleaze are old friends and it takes a lot for me to be disgusted. But Hobo With a Shotgun came close to crossing that line. It is a violent, repugnant piece of work, that has no redeeming features at all. But I seem to be alone in that opinion, with the internet buzz suggesting that the film is a genre classic. Maybe I am just getting old.

I think I draw the line at violence being perpetrated against children. I know cinema is all make believe and no actual children were harmed, but when the villains of the piece, torched a bus load of children with a flame thrower, I thought the film went too far. This was after a scene, where a paedofile in a Santa suit is seen driving off with a boy in the back seat, banging on the rear window, begging for help, while the townsfolk ignore him. These aren’t gory scenes by this film’s standards, but the themes encompassed are simply abhorrent. And they don’t add to the story at all either. The bus scene could have just as easily been a load of adults, and the same emotional content – that being, making the the viewer hate the villains that bit more – could have been achieved.

The film opens with an un-named Hobo (Rutger Hauer) hitching a lift on a cargo train. The train pulls into Hope Town – although the sign at the limits has been tagged and now says Scum Town. Later, a police officer refers to the city as Fuck Town. Either way, this city is not a friendly place, and in some ways echoes the village, ‘The Unhappy Place’ in Guilio Questi’s Django Kill: If You Live Shoot. Immediately the Hobo is a witness to a strange event on the streets. A man, whose hands have been tied, runs through the street with a thick circular collar around his neck. This collar just so happens to be the same width as a manhole cover. This man asks the town folk on the streets to untie his hands, but everybody ignores him. The citizens live in fear and don’t want to get involved.

Cars race into the street from opposite ends, blocking the man’s progress. From the vehicles step underworld kingpin, The Drake (Brian Downey), and his two delinquent sons, Slick (Gregory Smith) and Ivan (Nick Bateman). It turns out that the hunted man is The Drake’s younger brother, and somehow he has offended his criminally minded sibling. No explanation is really offered, but as punishment, the younger brother is marched into the middle of the street where he is lowered into a manhole, where his collar locks him into place. His head is now the only part of his body visible. Then a barbed wire noose is placed around his head, while the other end is tied to a car. On The Drake’s signal, the car speeds off, and his brothers is decapitated sending a shower of blood high into the sky. If the scene wasn’t fucked up enough, then a girl in a bikini and a white fur coat starts to dance in the shower of blood.

The town folk return to their business and the hobo moves on. Later, the hobo finds himself outside The Drake’s nightclub, which is more like a torturous amusement park. The viewer is introduced to the sort of fun that is had inside, by a visual of a man being forcibly held down on a dodge-em car track, when two cars plow into his head from opposite sides. His head disintegrates in a balloon of blood.

The hobo enters the club and watches from the shadows, and sees a young hooker, named Abby (Molly Dunsworth) picked up by Slick. She thinks it’s an opportunity to earn some decent money. But Slick is pretty perverted, and things quickly get out of hand. But before things get really ugly, the hobo steps into the fray and knocks Slick out. He claims to be making a citizens arrest.

The hobo drags Slick to the police station. However the hobo is not received politely. The police chief is in cahoots with The Drake, and he frees Slick. Then Slick, with Ivan’s help, kick the shit out of the hobo and carve a message into his chest. But they don’t kill him. They simply throw his battered body into a garbage heap.

Later the battered and bleeding hobo staggers along a line of streetwalking girls, looking for Abby. He finds her, and she takes him back to her apartment, and she patches him up – and allows him a good night’s sleep on her bed. However, in the morning he is gone, and that would be it, but the hobo has a dream to buy a lawn mower and start his own business. He goes to a pawn shop to enquire about a mower, but before he has a chance, three hoodlums barge in, threatening the customers and demanding money.

The hobo decides enough is enough, and picks up a shotgun from the wall (strange it should be loaded). Then he begins to dispense his own unique brand of shotgun justice. But it doesn’t end here. The hobo marches out onto the street and starts killing all the riff-raff. Soon, his actions have caught the public and the media’s attention, and he becomes somewhat of a people’s hero.

Of course, this does not sit well with The Drake and his boys and they put a bounty on the hobo’s head. In fact, they put a bounty on all homeless people. So ordinary folk, with a mob mentality, suddenly start killing the homeless folk, man, woman or child, and with each death, they get closer to finding and catching the hobo.

When a corrupt police officer tries to force Abby into performing sexual acts, the hobo steps in, providing his unique justice, and then the two of them escape back to her apartment. The hobo relates his lawn mowing business dream, and Abby says that she will go with him, and they can both start a new life together in a new town. But before they can leave, Skip and Ivan turn up – violence, trouble and a large amount of bloodletting ensues.

The only thing I can think to compare this too is the current crop of Japanese gorefests, such as Tokyo Gore Police, Vampire Girl and Frankenstein Girl and many others. The Japanese films cross the lines of good taste too, but there a sense of style, and even professionalism in their productions, which can be admired, even if you don’t particularly like the film. Hobo With a Shotgun does not display that professionalism. The acting is amateur at best, particularly from Gregory Smith and Nick Bateman who play Slick and Ivan – two of the central characters. Brian Downey as The Drake only fairs marginally better. I think he can act, but in this instance chose to go widely over the top – embarrassingly so.

The gore effects thankfully aren’t CGI, but they are crude and simplistic, with almost balloon or garden hose delivery systems. If that’s your thing, then this film delivers everything from decapitations, machete slashing, stomachs slit open by baseball bats with razorblades embedded in them, hacksaws to the neck, hands being vaporised in lawnmower blades, and of course, multiple shotgun blasts.

Defining exactly what an exploitation picture is, is very difficult. I guess they have to have some exploitable quality, and I guess Hobo With a Shotgun exploits star Rutger Hauer. I love Rutger, and will watch the bulk of his work knowing full well it isn’t very good. And here I have done so again, and in saying that, may I suggest that in its way Hobo With a Shotgun is a more successful Grindhouse exploitation flick than Death Proof, Planet Terror or Machete. These last three films provide a decent nights entertainment, whether it be at the cinema or in front of the television at home. Many people, myself included, will watch them again and again. However, most likely I will never watch Hobo With a Shotgun again. It is a film that has exploited my fondness for Hauer films. I watched it solely because his name was on the poster, and now I feel cheated – possibly exploited – and definitely unclean.

The thing is, readers don’t come to P2K looking for reviews of family friendly cinema. If you have done so, I apologize for the pictorial content. Most visitors here are cult and exploitation film savvy, and like myself are going to hear about Hobo With a Shotgun and want to watch it for themselves to make up their own minds. I understand and appreciate that, but if I may be so arrogant to suggest that maybe this one to steer clear of… who am I kidding, you’ll watch it anyway.

Hobo With a Shotgun