The story behind Dangerous Men is like the plot of a film in itself – an outsider filmmaker who may or may not have been a successful director in his native Iran during the pre-revolution days flees the country on the verge of the Shah’s overthrow, ends up in America and then spends something like two and a half decades shooting and editing a mind-bogglingly bizarre action film. Eventually, in 2005 and terminally ill, he completes the film and hires a handful of cinemas in Los Angeles to screen his film to small, unsuspecting audiences – none of whom would ever forget the experience. His masterpiece finally shown to the world, he can die a happy man.
You can definitely imagine that made as a bittersweet comedy about determination overcoming a lack of ability, in the Ed Wood style. And who knows, maybe this story will end up as just such a film. But for now, we must content ourselves with the film that John S. Rad finally made, after possibly starting work as far back as 1979. And what a film it is – delirious, incomprehensible and so far removed from anything that you might think of as ‘normal’ film making that it becomes one of the most mind-bendingly fucked up movies that you are ever likely to see.
In a sense, Dangerous Men sits alongside other, better known outsider cinema efforts like Birdemic: Shock and Terror and The Room, two other movies that essentially (and accidentally) reinvent the basics of filmmaking. It also reminded me a little of Cliff Twemlow vehicle GBH, another attempt to shoot an action / crime film with neither the money nor the seeming awareness of basic filmmaking techniques to actually pull it off. The results in all these cases are films that by conventional standards are ‘bad’ – and yet, in a world of cookie-cutter superhero blockbusters that cost obscene amounts of money and all seem pretty much interchangeable, there is a real joy to see something that has clearly come from the heart, and simply throws the rule book out of the window.
Dangerous Men is a hard film to summarise. You know something is off right away, as the opening credits hilariously consist of one name: John Rad, writer, director, producer, editor, music composer and more or less everything else. It feels almost like a gag, designed to slowly build up roars of laughter as the ridiculousness of the same name appearing again and again takes hold. But no – it’s entirely sincere. Rad, like the best outsider filmmakers, clearly had a massive ego.
The film almost feels like two different projects spliced together – the protracted production time might account for that. The first half is essentially a ‘female vengeance’ film – not exactly rape-revenge, as the main character Mira (Melody Wiggins) isn’t actually raped – but when a run-in with a pair of bikers results in her fiancé being killed, she takes it on herself to become an angel of vengeance against sleazy men, using her seductive wiles to lure them into a false sense of security. She takes the murderous biker to a motel, strips and then kills him with a knife hidden between her butt cheeks and then is picked up hitchhiking by a British sleaze ball, who is left naked in the desert in a ludicrously protracted bit of ill-considered comedy. Mira is a pervert magnet – or perhaps Rad thinks all Americans are sex-crazed rapists – and so she quickly becomes a wanted killer. But then, the film allows her story to fizzle out, as her prospective (and unnamed) brother-in-law (Michael Gradilone) sets out to avenge his brother’s death, which leads him from biker gangs to drug lord Black Pepper (Bryan Jenkins), even though this man had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder. It all becomes increasingly incoherent, as characters who were entirely absent from the first hour suddenly become central to the plot. Tellingly, the film ends on a freeze frame featuring Gradlione, Jenkins and a character only introduced two minutes earlier, and the film makes no attempt to tell us what has happened to any of the other characters involved. It’s oddly reminiscent of early 1970s softcore atrocity Wrong Way, which also switched to a random story late in proceedings for no good reason.
The fascinating thing about Dangerous Men is just how utterly incompetent it is on almost every level – and yet you get the idea that Rad really did think that this was a masterpiece. The actors are uniformly bad, and the dialogue is the sort you only get when written by someone for whom English is not their native language – much like in Birdemic, the bad actors are further hamstrung by having to deliver the sort of lines that no one in real life would (or could) say. The plotting and editing are all over the place – characters appear and disappear, cuts make no sense (at one point, a woman is harassed in a bar by a scuzzy biker who’s tattoos keep changing. She walks through a door and we immediately cut to her frolicking in a bikini on the beach without a care in the world – only for the bikers to appear as if she had just left the bar) and the sound is disastrous. There’s some unappealing nudity (Rad reveals a curious knee fetish during the film’s sex scenes), sloppy gore and spliced-in stock footage explosions, and all throughout, the action – be it violence, sex, or sexual violence – is backed by Rad’s entirely inappropriate Casio keyboard score.
The resulting film is unlike anything else out there. It is hard to judge this by conventional movie standards, because the film defiantly ignores all those standards and replaces them with its own. Instead, you just have to surrender to its weirdness. At times, it is heavy going – there’s less consistent entertainment value than in Birdemic or The Room, thanks to the baffling narrative shifts. But as an example of a very singular vision – even if it is a completely deranged and eccentric vision – then Dangerous Men is a must see. It’s genuine cinematic madness, and utterly unique.
Drafthouse’s blu-ray is lavish. There’s a 16 pages booklet featuring the only known interview with Rad (he makes no sense whatsoever), a documentary about the film and its director (stories from his wife and other family members are pretty hair-raising), a screamingly camp public access TV show that Rad appeared on and an interview with the DoP, amongst the extras. Not that you should need any further encouragement to be buying this disc…