This is a movie that makes us look deep into ourselves. Why do we watch “bad” movies? Is it for the enjoyment that can be had from them, despite their flaws? Is it to laugh at the pathetic display from people who should have never been let anywhere near a camera? Or is it just to say “I was there”, to relate the story of your journey to some far-distant cinematic shore?
“The Roller Blade Seven” ignores all these easy categories. It defies you to get any enjoyment from it, it mocks your attempts at understanding, but on the way it teaches you one very important lesson – that intent is not the same as execution. Undoubtedly, creators Donald G Jackson and Scott Shaw were aiming for something here – it would be literally impossible to create something like this by accident – describing it as a zen movie, where no script is used, dream (read: no) logic is followed, and certain scenes are repeated over and over. But, just because that was their idea, it doesn’t mean that idea was any good, or that either man was a good filmmaker or actor.
I’ll give you a smidgeon of plot. It’s the post-apocalyptic future, and Sister Sparrow, from the Master Of Light Institute, is kidnapped in the Wheelzone. The Wheelzone is a place where everyone gets around by skateboards or rollerskates (except for those people who don’t), to the extent of having a police force of some sort to enforce the wheel thing. Sister Sparrow is taken to The Pharaoh (William Smith), for the purposes of slavery, or possibly because she’s a psychic and he needs a psychic; there’s a bad chap called The Black Knight (Frank Stallone) and another bad chap called Saint O’ffender (Joe Estevez), but I’m not 100% sure why they both need to be in the movie. Reverend Donaldo (Jackson) sends badass Hawk (Shaw) into the Wheelzone to get Sister Sparrow back – it turns out she’s also Hawk’s sister (before she became an actual Sister, which is what passes for wordplay here).
Hawk is a pretty terrible fighter, if we’re being honest, getting his ass kicked on multiple occasions, so it’s fortunate he picks up some friends along the way – a sort of Kabuki mime fighter who uses a couple of wiffle bats, a banjo playing fella who’s face is covered in bandages and a poor lady whose outfit is a torn red swimsuit and has been told not to pull out her sword unless confronted with the ultimate evil. Or something. There’s a couple of other people wandering about the Wheelzone, such as a lifeguard-looking fellow, and someone with a quiff looking for a plane crash site, but…well, actually, I was about to call them completely irrelevant but they’re as relevant to the plot as anyone else.
Up to about 20 minutes in, you could convince yourself that you’re watching a normal movie. Maybe. Then, the primary component of “zen filmmaking” kicks in, and all bets are off. Footage is repeated over and over again in the most hideously edited way – it’s the same scene from different angles, differently edited versions of the same footage, or different takes laid end-to-end. It goes through a barrier of being annoying to being funny – that these people got real distribution for a movie that looks like this – and then back into annoyance, where you just wish they’d get on with it. As you’re watching the movie, you’ll get lots of segments that remind you of nothing more than a particularly weak episode of MTV’s “120 Minutes”, where they played all the weird videos. It almost smells of early 90s alternative music video in places.
It feels like some live-action role playing group who took themselves way too seriously got hold of a few dollars and a book of avant-garde film theory and decided to make a movie, although we know that’s not the case. Jackson was a serious, if thoroughly incompetent, filmmaker; and if I had to guess about Shaw, I’d say he was a wannabe cult leader with a rich Dad who decided to fund movies to spread his message. And they got William Smith, Joe Estevez and Frank Stallone to turn up for them, all people who’ve appeared in normal, mainstream movies, so it can’t be dismissed quite as easily as something like “Things”.
Nothing makes sense about this. Given Shaw was the star, co-writer, producer, editor, stunt co-ordinator and in charge of the music, you might think this was some personally important passion project for him; then you learn that Jackson made two dystopian roller-blading movies before this with no Shaw involvement at all, and any understanding you thought you might have had just slips away. Perhaps they just met and became close friends and their tastes dovetailed. Who the hell knows? What we do know is that (at least when this was made) Shaw was not a martial artist. He tries, bless him, but his fighting style can be described as like an enthusiastic child who’d seen too many kung-fu movies.
When watching something like this, it’s important to remember the tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. When you have the defence of “this irritating, poorly acted, very ugly movie was made that way deliberately” it can be easy to just take their word for it and move on. Is the fact there’s no real narrative, and it looks at the end as if Hawk marries his own sister, clever audience alienation or just catastrophically misguided? I am aware that both Shaw and Jackson have written a lot about “The Roller Blade Seven” and the choices they made, and – again – while I don’t doubt this is exactly the film they wanted to make, that doesn’t make it any better.
If you’re a top-level director, with a great cast and crew, you might be able to get away with shooting a film without a script. If you’re Donald G Jackson and Scott Shaw, you can’t. While it might sound funny to give this a go, don’t. Let my misery be the last misery this movie causes.
Rating: thumbs down