Horror and exploitation movies from the non-CGI era reviewed semi-weekly
Saturday, May 30, 2015
#208: Armed Response (Fred Olen Ray, 1986)
Me, and almost everyone I know, has had one hell of a crazy month, involving various combinations of deaths, pregnancies, weddings, pet deaths, extreme weather conditions, family relocation, illness, and intense work schedules, as well as a lot of much less serious but odd anomalous events, and I'm feeling pretty shell-shocked by the crazy ups and mostly downs of this chunk of 2015. It was a nice respite to stay up late Thursday night, drink lots of beers, and watch this ridiculous, goofy movie with my wife. Now I'm going to write about it while I'm stuck at work for a frustrating, indeterminate amount of time.
I've already reviewed two other Fred Olen Ray (the Fassbinder of schlock) films for this site (his rural alien zombie movie The Alien Dead and his sci-fi/action robot alien killing machine movie Alienator) so I knew a bit of what I was getting into. Ray is not what you would call a technically accomplished writer or visual stylist, and the budgets for his movies are akin to what can be pooled together from the pockets of any random group of schoolchildren, but damn, he's enthusiastic. He's directed hundreds of films since the late 1970s, and he's still at it. Armed Response is Ray's take on the '80s action/revenge/thriller movie, and though it's definitely a low-budget film, it's practically a Hollywood blockbuster compared to his usual resources. He blows up way more shit than usual, and he's got a pretty insane cast of B-movie legends and aging Hollywood actors at his disposal.
Like the other Ray films I've seen, Armed Response is pretty stupid and pretty damn enjoyable, but there are some irritating Reagan-era action staples you have to overlook here if you're a left-wing socialist degenerate like me. Some of this movie very lazily panders to jingoistic morons who love seeing white guys talk about how much they love America while shooting non-white guys. We also get plenty of sexism, which is presented in the film like it's a good thing. The rest of this movie is so ridiculous and fun that I was able to ignore this stuff, but I'm a white guy. It's probably easier for me to compartmentalize shit I haven't had to experience firsthand.
Armed Response stars David Carradine as Jim Roth, a Vietnam vet and bar owner who is close to his brothers Tommy and Clay, also Vietnam vets, and his surly father, ex-cop Burt Roth (Lee Van Cleef). When a no-good street punk comes into the bar with a few friends looking for a fight and waving his switchblade around, we find out that the Roths are a family of manly badasses who take the law into their own hands. Clay is a private investigator who works with a partner, the shady, sleazy Cory Thornton (Ross Hagen). (BTW, my wife and I both thought Cory was an odd name for an older man in the 1980s. Not too many old Corys.) Cory and Clay accept a strange job from some dangerous clients. Long story short, Clay ends up dead, the Roth family ends up with a valuable statue belonging to the yakuza, and hell breaks loose all over Chinatown. The Roth family ends up in a vigilante battle against yakuza boss Akira Tanaka (Mako) and his multicultural gang that includes creepy muscle from F.C. (Michael Berryman, of The Hills Have Eyes and Weird Science fame). Berryman is my favorite part of the movie. He likes to slow snap to new wave music while torturing his enemies, and he drops a fortune cookie in your lap before he kills you. Solid dude.
We get most of the solid '80s action cliches, filtered through the warped Olen Ray lens, including shootouts, car chases, fights, torture scenes, domestic arguments, Vietnam flashbacks, explosions, gratuitous strip club nudity, and ridiculous lines of dialogue. The final scene is pretty damn solid, too.
There's nothing particularly special here, just stupid fun and some stuff to shake your head about, and it is enjoyable to see the weirdo cast do their thing. Besides Carradine, Van Cleef, Mako, Hagen, and Berryman, we also get some great cameos from Dick Miller and Laurene Landon as a couple of eccentric thieves. Life has been throwing a little of everything it's got at me this month, so it was nice to take a 90-minute breather for a little stupid fun.
Dr. Mystery, aka Robot X, aka Raul "Sous Chef" Mendoza, aka Josh Krauter was killed in a brawl in a Pizza Hut parking lot after expressing his disappointment with the "Dippin' Strips" pizza. His skeleton was saved and inserted into an apesuit-wearing robot powered by an electrical current emanating from the still-beating heart of deceased actor Zero Mostel. He is also a limited liability company and writes the weekly advice column, "Pull Your Head Outta Your Ass," for the Vermont Luthiers Annual Newsletter.