Saturday, May 16, 2015

#207: The Annihilators (Charles E. Sellier Jr., 1985)

One of my favorite subgenres of '70s and '80s exploitation film is the wave of movies where a multicultural street gang has taken over a working class neighborhood and a vigilante or ragtag (often multicultural) team of vigilantes fight back. This goes against every fiber of my political being. I think our country is too obsessed with revenge, violence, macho chest-thumping, jingoism, knee-jerk reactions, and gun worship, and these movies are all about glorifying all that stuff. Still, I love them. They're so damn ridiculous and fun, often with time-capsule location shooting, and there's something a little utopian about a group of people from different ethnicities and walks of life joining together to terrorize shopkeepers and dress like lunatics. I miss this genre of film that was everywhere for about 15 years and then gone forever, though if they tried to make one now, they'd screw it up completely with boring actors, incoherent action sequences, and CGI.
The Annihilators is one of the most low-rent, low-budget vigilantes vs. street scum movies I've seen, and probably one of the dumbest, but in terms of pacing, action, intentional and unintentional hilarity, and oddball casting, it's pretty awesome. Opening with a flashback to Vietnam, we see our special ops team load some explosives in the Vietnamese jungle (which looks suspiciously like rural Georgia) and emerge victorious from a firefight, though not without one of their own taking several bullets in the back. This team includes Gerrit Graham (of Phantom of the Paradise fame), Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (of Freddie "Boom-Boom" Washington on Welcome Back, Kotter fame), Christopher Stone (of Cujo and The Howling fame), and Andy Wood (of Rambo fame).
After this Vietnam sequence, we jump to the 1985 present and a run-down Atlanta neighborhood full of mom and pop small businesses and three no-good street gangs. The gangs are shaking the shopkeepers down for most of their profits and terrorizing everyone in the neighborhood, particularly the most fearsome gang in town, Roy Boy Jagger and the Rollers, which sounds like a terrible '70s doo wop revival group or some Scharpling & Wurster characters. Roy Boy himself, played by cult character actor Paul Koslo, is a mulleted, middle-aged man who looks like he should be drinking cheap beer out of the trunk of his car and selling cigarettes to teens in the parking lot of an Eddie Money concert, not terrorizing a neighborhood. The rest of the Rollers consist of the token black guy, the crazy blonde guy who never talks, a chubby older guy with a beard who looks like an aging biker, and a musclebound spandex type with a shaved head who looks like a gay porn star. There are some other members on the periphery and some teens who want to get in the gang, but these are the main dudes.
As we soon find out, the Vietnam vet who took the bullets in the back survived the jungle, and he runs a small grocery store with his father. He decides to stop paying off the gangs and wants to take his neighborhood back. This doesn't sit well with Roy Boy. The Rollers enter his store and tell him he better pay up or he'll get stomped. The fat biker guy tries to rape a customer. She kicks him in the crotch and is stabbed to death for her trouble. (Her character is only here for the film's gratuitous nudity quota.) Then Roy Boy ups the ante by beating the disabled vet's face in with a meat tenderizer. This doesn't sit well with his old war buddy Bill. Bill (Christopher Stone) attends the funeral, and then assembles the rest of the Annihilators (who are actually never called that in any of the film's dialogue) to kick a little street gang ass. Ray (Gerrit Graham) is so excited about the prospect that he throws his briefcase from his office job into a fountain. Woody (Andy Wood) is an alcoholic living in a broken-down bus, but the ass-kicking of street gangs gives him a new purpose in life. Garrett (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) just has to convince his wife that it's okay to leave her and their son on a crazy vigilante mission. She understands. The team is back, baby. Maybe they can even run the old Hogan's Alley routine on these street punks.
You know what comes next, and it's pretty stupid and pretty satisfying. The vets empower the neighborhood, beat up gangs, get in trouble with the local police for their vigilante ways, get in some tough scrapes, and one of them even finds a little romance. We also get flame throwers, ninja stars, a truck full of heroin, people falling off roofs onto burning cars, a nerd who tries to reason with the gang, and the destruction of a fruit stand. You can find this whole movie on YouTube, and I encourage you to do so.
Director Charles E. Sellier Jr. had one of the strangest movie careers. Besides The Annihilators, he also directed the killer Bigfoot movie The Boogens and the killer Santa Claus movie Silent Night, Deadly Night, and he created the TV series Grizzly Adams. Sometime after the killer Santa movie, which became a major target of the fundamentalist Christian right, Sellier became a right-wing Christian himself, producing such documentaries as The Incredible Discovery of Noah's Ark, Ancient Secrets of the Bible Part II, George W. Bush: Faith in the White House, The Evidence for Heaven, The Da Vinci Code Deception, End Times: How Close Are We?, Heroes Among Us, Miracles Around Us, and The Case for Christ's Resurrection. Oh, and Knight Rider 2000, the TV movie where Hasselhoff gets KITT out of storage to fight future crimes in the future even though there's a more state-of-the-art talking car named KIFT now. No, I didn't see it. Sellier died in 2011, ending a long, strange trip.

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