Captain Spaulding on Skull Island

The DEAD ALIVE of Action Movies

September 14th, 2009

Last week I had a mini-Over-The-Top Action Movie Festival when I watched CRANK, CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE and SHOOT ‘EM UP and I thought I’d re-post these thoughts that I typed up after I saw SHOOT ‘EM UP for the first time.

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On August 21, 1993, I saw the movie DEAD ALIVE at the Music Box Theater in Chicago.  Growing up, I watched tons and tons of horror movies, the gorier the better.  I even subscribed to “Fangoria” magazine, whose sole purpose seemed to be to celebrate the goriest scenes from film.  All of the gore in the movies I watched was wonderful, but I always wanted a little bit more.  And then I saw DEAD ALIVE.  As soon as I saw it, I realized that I’d been imagining this movie in the back of my mind for all those years, but I never dared to hope that it could possibly be made.  But there it was on the screen.  It was a movie I felt I’d been waiting my whole life for.

Now this has happened again.  Growing up I also watched a lot of action movies.  I still remember the night Scott Smith and I saw Chuck Norris’ INVASION USA and Schwarzenegger’s COMMANDO back to back.  There were plenty of explosions, fights and chases and many many many bullets flew that evening.  Even still, I wanted more.  Not even more bullets, explosions and fisticuffs.  I wanted more of something I couldn’t name.

Last night (January 1, 2008) I received that un-named gift.  I still don’t know exactly what it is, but SHOOT ’EM UP gave it to me.

A few thoughts on why this movie touched me the way it did.

– In its own way, it reminded me of who I am.  The first thing I did last night after watching SHOOT ‘EM UP was e-mail Suzi Middendorf, my friend of 20-plus years, to tell her about it.  She replied and said she’d seen it at the theater and that it’d made her think of me.

– While I was on the road with the Improv Comedy Group Authorized Personnel, we were interviewed by several local and college papers.  One reporter asked us who our comedy influences were.  Always thinking of punch-lines, I said Sinead O’Connor (it was topical at the time).  Then I said “Monty Python,” the original “Saturday Night Live,” “The Muppet Show” and Looney Tunes.  It was wonderful to see someone take a Looney Tunes influence and twist it in remarkable ways.

— On a side note to the above side note, another influence on my writing is professional wrestling and SHOOT ‘EM UP features professional wrestler Christian Cage for a millisecond (and, maybe, wrestler Chris Jericho).  Having a wrestler in a movie automatically gives it an extra edge.

– SHOOT ‘EM UP really really entertained me.

I don’t want this post to be a review of this movie. I’ve seen a lot of raves about SHOOT ‘EM UP.  I’ve also seen a lot of pans written by people that absolutely hated it (it’s even listed as one of MSN’s worst movies of the year).  I think that’s just the way some movies are, you either get it and love it or you don’t and you hate it.  I’m sure DEAD ALIVE is the same way (but, honestly, how can you not love a Sumatran Rat Monkey?).

I don’t want to this to be a commentary on the Asian Cinema influences or the HARDBOILED parallels or the great actors or the over the top hyperkinetic qualities or the use of carrots as weapons or the theory that this isn’t an action movie, it’s a comedy disguised as an action movie.  There are plenty of places online where you can peruse articles of that type, particularly at Ain’t It Cool News.

I don’t even want this to be a recommendation for other to see this incomparable piece of cinema.  I try not to do that very much, people know what they like and they generally know how to find it.

I guess I just want this post to be about me finding something I didn’t really know I was looking for, something I’d been waiting for my whole life.  At its core, this is a post about the unbridled joy of unexpected cinema.

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