Oddball exploitation cinema from the heyday of the VHS era.
Reagan-era America seemed to have a fear of alternative youth cults that bordered on the pathological, almost as paranoid as the old McCarthy anti-Communist fears of the 1950s. Watch films and TV shows from the time and you will see a hilarious parade of ill-founded fears about punkers, metallers and anyone else who didn’t look like some preppy idiot. Of course, all these productions seemed to only have the most passing knowledge of what the people they feared so much actually looked like or did and so we would generally get astonishing visual mash-ups who would trot out half-baked anti-establishment rhetoric while looking about as hardcore as Bucks Fizz. Fans of the screamingly inept and hysterical are recommended to check out the legendary episode of Quincy where a girl is ‘killed by punk rock’, or revel in the street gangs of Death Wish 2 and 3. Or they can check out Punk Vacation, which might take the award for ‘most unlikely film to appear on Blu-ray’ and which offers up a cartoon view of punks vs rednecks that seems unsure where its sympathies lie.
Starring (as Stephen Fiachi) and produced by Stephen Fuschi, the film is based on the curious premise that a gang of punks would leave the sinful environs of Los Angeles to take a country vacation in Hicksville, USA. When one of them – just about the straightest looking youth you’ll ever see – tries to get a soda from a vending machine and loses his 40 cents – “all the money I have in the world” – in the process, he understandably starts to kick the machine. Out pops the shotgun-wielding diner owner to chase him off, only for the punk to return with his punk gang. Now, when I say ‘punk’ – we have a motley crew of older-than-they-are-supposed-to-be stereotypes who look more like a mix of glam rockers, New Romantics, Liquid Sky cast-offs and surfer dudes. One of them looks uncannily like The Human League’s Phil Oakey. Another wears a bandana. Another wears hippy shades. It’s punk, but not as we know it.
They kill the old man and – apparently – rape his teenage daughter. At this point, the lack of violence and nudity involved makes you realise that this is not going to be much of an exploitation film. Mr Diner’s elder daughter Lisa and cop boyfriend – the barely awake Fuschi – arrive back in time to capture the 40 Cent Punk, who spends most of the rest of the film handcuffed to a hospital bed. Lisa is determined to get revenge on the gang, who the cop has brilliantly worked out “might not have left the area so might still be around”. You suspect her Avenging Angel persona isn’t going to work out well when she fails to manage to stab the punk who has one arm handcuffed to the bed and the other in plaster. If she can fight her off, what hope does she have against the whole gang? And sure enough, she’s soon stripped to her modest white underwear and tied to a tree as Punker leader Ramrod tidies herself up and goes to the hospital dressed as Lisa to rescue her brother. Meanwhile, our one-note hero and a colleague go to the desert to rescue Lisa and the gung-ho, Commie-hating sheriff forms a posse to hunt down and kill the punks.
Director Stanley Lewis, taking his one and only shot at the big time (and missing by a mile) shoots all this with indifference while the story is all over the place. The Punks are initially set up as villainous monsters – they do rape and murder, after all – but then are shown to be not all bad, really. They are just misunderstood kids trying to have a nice vacation hanging out in a deserted barn in the middle of nowhere, only for The Man to come down on them. Or something like that – it’s all a touch ambiguous, and the whole rape ‘n’ murder bit is probably the point where most people would draw the line at respecting the punks right to just be themselves. Equally, the right-wing sheriff and his trigger-happy posses are more figures of fun than representing the forces of the establishment crushing the free-thinking kids. It’s all very confusing.
Lacking in the sex and violence that the story demands – possibly the budget didn’t stretch to paying an actress to take her bra off in scenes that have clearly been included solely to display gratuitous nudity – the film instead falls back on weird dialogue, unconvincing characters (and even more unconvincing moral arguments), oddly ineffectual action scenes and ill-timed humour. All of this is backed with a screamingly-Eighties synth score – the closest we get to ‘punk’ music is a frenetic new wave electro tune that all the punks dance to while underwear-clad Lisa is tied to the ground and teased with a cage of rats.
So clearly, by any conventional standards, Punk Vacation is terrible. So terrible, in fact, that it becomes oddly fascinating and unquestionably entertaining. It’s my new ambition to hold a public screening of this film because it’ll probably be a riot. Fans of deliriously trashy 1980s schlock will adore this and any old punks in the audience will be left aghast.
And if the insanity of Punk Vacation isn’t enough, Fuschi’s previous production Nomad Riders is evidence of some sort of non-creative mind at work exploring alternative youth cults and their anti-social activities. This 1981 atrocity was directed by Frank Roach, who previously thrilled us with the former video nasty Frozen Scream – so you might know what to expect. This tale of vengeance begins with a bunch of cartoon bikers offing a mother and daughter at the behest of a Mr Vacci, who is up to something or other illegal and wants to ‘send a message’ to cop Steve Thrust. Yeah, you read that right. Steve Thrust. Fuck.
Anyway, Thrust goes rogue, handing in his badge and getting all vigilante, which would be more convincing if Steve Thrust wasn’t some dweeby looking guy with huge glasses, a basin haircut and a penchant for dressing all in white. He’s also a bit of a cock, quite honestly, roughing up suspects and taking time out from being traumatised by the death of his wife and daughter to bed a sexy female cop. Like Punk Vacation, the budget doesn’t seem to have stretched to naked girls, so we get a coy sex scene and a bizarre moment with a stripper in a biker bar who keeps her clothes on. Much of the film takes place in this bar, for no immediately obvious reason beyond ‘padding’, introducing characters who have no involvement in the rest of the story.
Roach plays Vacci, who is mostly shot from behind for no obvious reason, we get long car/bike chase scenes, utterly bizarre dialogue and a brief moment where the film seems the question the cyclical nature of vengeance before getting back to the action. And, just to say it once more, a hero called Steve Thrust. It’s pretty amazing.
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