Demolition Highway (1996)


What would you call a movie that had no demolitions or highways in it? I wonder if some producer / money-man came to him and said “hey, Donald Farmer, I want to make something with this title, got a script knocking about anywhere that’d fit?” to which our friend Donald replied “er…yes! But don’t check with me until the movie’s done, okay?”


Up to a point, “Demolition Highway” had me thinking it was going to be a competent, and therefore utterly boring, B-movie. I understood who the characters were, what they were doing and why they were doing it, and the plot seemed to be progressing in a reasonable manner. The wheels fell off, so to speak, when our hero Frank Scarvo (Danny Fendley) meets a biker gang, and “Poet” (Ghetty Chasun) starts showing tarot cards to demonstrate that he’s out of luck. But she doesn’t show them to him, she shows them to us, pointing them right at the camera while cackling maniacally, and that thoroughly bizarre choice, and so many more afterward, lets us know we’re in Farmer country.


After an intro where Scarvo’s girlfriend is shot by some bad guys while the two of them are leaving some robbery or drug deal or something with a suitcase packed with $500,000, Scarvo spends five years in jail. He keeps his mouth shut, despite it being immediately obvious (to the viewer, not him) that he was double-crossed by his boss. So, he gets picked up by a couple of goons on his release, and he’s expecting a big party and some sort of reward. Unfortunately, that reward is to be shot and buried out in the wilderness, but Scarvo is made of tougher stuff than that and kills em both, plus he frees some old guy from the boot of the goons’ car. The old guy has a beautiful daughter, Summer (Lisa Tyre, hired for her boobs more than her acting) who’s been kidnapped by Scarvo’s old boss, Xavier Cardone (Joe Estevez), so Scarvo decides to pay his old boss a visit and rescue the girl at the same time.


But, mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Despite being told Cardone is a tough guy to get close to, Scarvo is able to just drive up to the front door of his house and see him; and both good guy and bad guy ought to be a bit quicker to shoot people, because there’s far too many scenes of these two mortal enemies having conversations and then one or the other escaping. Then there’s Summer. Cardone, the guy who’s presumably raped her on several occasions and is holding her against her will, tells her that Scarvo is the guy who killed her Dad and she immediately believes him, levelling the gun at our hero and letting Cardone off the hook. So yes, I wrote “wow, Summer is stupid” so many times I nearly wore out my pen. One of the many problems this movie has is that it’s in the same position at the 1-hour mark as it is at the beginning, and that’s no good to anyone.


It’s pretty obvious Farmer had seen a few Tarantino movies before writing this one. He tries his best with what he’s got, both in terms of his own skill and the actors he can afford, but sometimes, that best just isn’t good enough. There’s a particularly crazy scene where Scarvo annoys that random bike gang (it turns out they work for Cardone), so they kidnap Summer and leave him tied to a noose with a rickety chair underneath him – next to a normal road, but that’s by the by. He manages to escape because he’s amazing, of course, and turns up at the bike gang’s base in the next scene. This requires a few questions be asked.


  1. They drove him an unspecified (but presumably not small) distance from his car. How did he get that car back?
  2. We see them throw his gun away. How did he find it?
  3. How did he know where the biker hideout was?
  4. Why did they let him drive up into the middle of their group without shooting him?


Although 4 could be applied a dozen times in this movie, with people just turning up in the middle of large groups of people who don’t like them, who don’t immediately shoot them despite it being in their best interests to do so. There’s a weird bike-jousting battle between Scarvo and one of the bikers, with Summer as the prize, and the bikers just let Scarvo steal the gun from his opponent and shoot him, without helping their comrade out. It’s not like they’re honourable guys, either…ah, this entire segment is crazy. It’s really trying for that self-consciously cool crime thriller, but it’s so far off the mark.


I made reference to him doing the best he had with his actors, too.  Fendley seems to have improved very slightly since we first saw one of his movies; but I think if Ghetty Chasun had been discovered by any other director than Donald Farmer, she could have been a big name. She seemed comfortable in front of the camera, able to communicate emotions other than “confusion”, and I think she deserved better (and that they spelled her name wrong in the credits is just the final insult).  Joe Estevez is the only actor who realises what a piece of trash he’s in, and while he’s definitely the weakest of that acting family, he gives it his all and overacts with the best of them. Everyone else is, of course, terrible, but there’s one funny bit. I would bet good money on the biker gang boss having put that he could ride a bike on his acting CV, but if you notice in the movie, he’s always the passenger. Did he lose his licence or lie to the director?


The ending is perhaps the culmination of all this “classic Farmer” and relative acting chops. Cardone, his one remaining goon, and Summer, are stood on one side of a quarry, Scarvo on the other. Cardone shouts, because the two of them are supposed to be a long way apart. Perhaps because Fendley is unable to shout, Scarvo talks in his normal voice. The goon gets shot, from an amazing distance, with a handgun, too. It’s a great scene.


One last scene breakdown before we head off. Scarvo and Summer have a plan to steal $500,000 back from Cardone, and it involves intercepting a drug buyer before he can hand over the cash. To carry out this plan, they need the help of one of the strippers, a friend of Summer’s. She agrees to help, and does so, but when Scarvo and Summer drive off with the money, they leave her there and Cardone just shoots her in the face. One might expect the two heroes of the movie, who we’re supposed to be sympathetic with, to want to save their friend, or be a bit sad that she’s dead just so they can be rich…but no. They don’t so much as mention her again – sorry, stripper friend!


It’s another gem, and although it’s every bit as incompetently made and poorly acted as any other Farmer movie, this one looks a lot better (it’s either shot on a very good camcorder or maybe honest-to-goodness film) and is therefore easier to sit through. As I hope I’ve made a few fans out of you, I worry that future pickings are going to be slim indeed. There’s comedies, kids’ films, and more thrillers – although it looks like this was the last time Danny Fendley acted in a Donald Farmer movie, so we’ve got that to be thankful for. Let’s hold hands, dear reader, and brave 21st century Farmer together.


Rating: thumbs up