Demolition Highway (1996)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Rating: thumbs up

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Red Lips (1995)

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I think there’s some sort of graph you can draw that plots the descent of a certain sort of director – as the budgets drop on one axis, so the number of boobs increase on the other. Such luminaries as Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski have long since gone down this path, the late great Don Dohler did too, and there are dozens of others whose names are lost to time but whose smutty movies are not. Luckily, a glimpse into the future reveals this isn’t the fate of Donald Farmer, who’d go on to all sorts of weird and wonderful cinematic works. Although we were worried there, for a minute.

 

Although I’m a heterosexual man and like boobs just fine, I’ve never quite understood why low-budget horror directors are so insistent on having a few in there – no-one sees horror movies for titillation, surely? Even full frontal shots and hefty amounts of simulated sex? Especially now, when everyone with a phone has access to an almost infinite amount of smut at any time, there’s a significant number of low-budget directors who seem insistent on getting women to disrobe on camera, which speaks more to them than it does to their audience. Perhaps I’m over-estimating the tastes of low-budget cinema fans?

 

But enough of our armchair psychoanalysis, we’ve got a movie to cover! After a girl-girl sex scene which might be related to the rest of the movie or might not (thanks to the VHS quality, it’s pretty difficult to tell) we get right into things. Caroline (Ghetty Chasun, resplendent in an L7 shirt) is a young woman, living on the streets, and has been reduced to selling her blood in order to survive. The doctor (billed as “Doctor”) says that actually, if she wants $100 a day rather than just the $15 every 6 weeks from selling blood, she can get Caroline into a special test programme, where they inject her with a special new serum that may well render her immune to any disease.

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She naturally jumps at the chance, but there’s a side effect – she grows horrific sharp teeth and is compelled to drain peoples’ blood, murdering them in the process. You know, that old chestnut! So, one day, she’s just wandering the streets in a serum-induced daze and happens upon Lisa (Michelle Bauer), who’s just broken up with her girlfriend over the phone. That girlfriend, by the way, is famed B-movie actress Kitten Navidad, who lived with Russ Meyers for many years, the chap who according to legend paid for her breast enlargements. She was at the stage of her career where she was appearing in pretty much anything (including many hardcore movies, where she would just go topless and not do any of the actual “work”). It appears Navidad never learned to act, or perhaps it was a little hard to motivate herself when the scene involved Donald Farmer turning up at her apartment with a camcorder, filming her in the bath for ten minutes then leaving?

 

Much like every Donald Farmer movie, there’s so much rich detail that it’s tough to not just recap every scene.  Anyway, Caroline and Lisa meet, and Caroline is a mess by this point – she’s already killed quite a few people, and she’ll kill the doctor soon, too. Lisa looks after Caroline, and the two of them fall in love remarkably quickly (the entire movie seems to take place over the course of maybe a week, although it’s difficult to tell). They meet Gina at a club and all three of them hit it off. I think? Anyway, Gina invites them to stay with her, but Caroline wakes up in the middle of the night, drinks her blood and kills her in the process, and Lisa, insanely committed to the woman she met YESTERDAY, disposes of the body for her by cutting it up and putting it in the fridge! A brief cameo from Farmer favourite Danny Fendley as Gina’s pimp and you’ve got yourself a movie, kind of.

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There’s so much more I wanted to talk about, and I’d happily tell you everything that went on, but we don’t have all day. As with all Farmer’s movies, I recommend you watch it because it’s a singular experience. Saying that, though, this one honestly feels like a regression in terms of budget and acting – Farmer’s previous two had real actors in them, and at times looked like actual movies. Certain scenes in this are as close to home movie footage as anything I’ve seen for the ISCFC – Navidad’s is the best example, but there are plenty of others. One would hope that after directing movies for close to ten years, he’d have figured some stuff out, but apparently not.

 

You may have noticed the little recap section up there bounced around a bit – if so, it was only because it was mirroring the movie. It would have made a ton of sense to have a bit about their developing relationship, perhaps a montage intercut with Caroline’s feeding, but all we get is…well, nothing. This mirrors the attitude of every woman in the movie, as they’re all up for a lesbian experience pretty much anywhere, at any time. Caroline just walks up to a few victims and starts kissing them, and every one of them is “cool, let’s go” and not “excuse me, I’m just washing my hands, I was in the middle of lunch”. Although Farmer seems to have finally figured out sex scenes, that both people should look like they’re enjoying themselves.

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There’s half an interesting plot here, too! The issue is, it feels like he couldn’t be bothered to develop it. If they’d merged the Doctor and Lisa characters, they could have had the doctor race to find a cure for her lover’s weird vampire curse; this would have provided at least a bit of dramatic tension. Instead we just get endless scenes of Caroline eating people with not even the pretence that we’re moving forward in any remotely logical way.

 

Factor in the out-of-nowhere conclusion with Fendley, and you’ve got a movie that feels like Farmer knocked it out in a bored weekend with whatever piece-of-crap camcorder he could get his hands on. And that’s a shame, I reckon. Ghetty Chasun as Caroline, while not the greatest actress of all time, is strikingly beautiful (I think, through the VHS haze) and towers over the other women, so she’s already 100 times more visually interesting than the average Farmer actress. She appears to have opted out of acting according to this chap who did some research before me, so good for her. Michelle Bauer as Lisa is fine too, but everyone else is just awful, including Danny Fendley, although mercifully he’s kept to a few minutes in this one. I keep expecting him to luck into hiring a good actor, the law of averages indicates he’s due a few, but no. Just legions of the wooden.

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Every Farmer movie is weirdly compelling and absolutely worth watching, but even for him this is grimy and ugly and undeveloped. Don’t jump in with this one, only for the experienced. For a final bit of trivia, Leslie Q, a fascinating experimental musician active in the 90s, is featured in this movie, and you get the entirety of one of her songs. Hell, I liked the music in this much more than anything Farmer had done to this point, a wild noise assault which mirrored (possibly accidentally) the descent of the main character. But this review is nearly done, I can’t start it up again!

 

Rating: negative thumbs up

 

PS thanks to “Taliesin Meets The Vampires” for the screenshots, saved me the hassle. Go read their reviews, should you need more vampire-related stuff in your life.