Hmm. Just when you thought you’d figured out the pattern, everything changes.
After a really strong start with the one two punch of welcome obscurities that were The Lost Films of Herschell Gordon Lewis and Massage Parlor Murders, cult, grindhouse and adult film preservationists Vinegar Syndrome seem to have performed a 180 degree flip flop.
While the original intent appears to have been relegating the standard release line to DVD while reserving the superior, “showcase” releases for Blu Ray, in point of fact, Vinegar Syndrome has continued to deliver a steady stream of interesting, enjoyable and quite welcome obscurities in their standard DVD double bills, while the Blu Ray format appears to have become consigned to the lesser entries – certainly oddities, arguably somewhat questionable releases (and I’m sure you all know which one I’m referring to here).
This time around, thankfully, it’s closer to the “oddity” end of the equation, with a likeable head scratcher of a film that leaves the viewer wondering just what it was about the experience that they walked away sort of liking, when all the parts fail to gel in any measurable or appreciable respect.
And so it is that we come to Punk Vacation, a nearly undefinable bit of cinematic strangeness brought to you by director Stanley Lewis and writers Lance Smith and Harvey Richelson (whose combined total filmic effort this lone production comprises).
Our viewing for this evening opens to a grainy 16mm shot of Western brush-bedecked countryside marked by gunshots from goofy local cop Steve Reed (Stephen Fiachi, typecast as cops for several films of his brief career), who spends much of the film running around with his shirt half open showing off a ridiculously hairy chest.
If that weren’t scary enough in and of itself, for a guy who totes a gun for a living, he really needs to improve his aim. Yeah, I’d trash a bottle of Diet Pepsi too – does anyone actually drink that chemically confected crap? Though why he’s also shooting at a bottle of flammable, soft plastic car injector fluid is beyond me.
It seems he gets frequent false alarms from the local bar cum gas station, where he’s dating Lisa (TV bit player Sandra Bogan, whose sole credited film role beyond this was in the Whoopi Goldberg stinker Fatal Beauty), a Markie Post-like bottle blonde whose grizzly old father really doesn’t care for our intrepid boy in blue. “Ever since she joined that Chamber of Commerce…” he growls, warning prospective parents everywhere not to let their babies grow up to be Rotarians.
Some geek who reminds me of a cross between Duckie from Pretty in Pink and the kid from Evilspeak decides to have it out with the establishment’s outdoor vending machine, and while he’s wimpy enough that he can’t even break the glass of the lighted logo, he’s apparently also “a punk” and part of the goofiest and least threatening “biker gang” this side of Miami Connection, if not the terrifying B-boy gang bangers from Breakin’ and its sequel Electric Boogaloo. Paging Shabba-Doo!
These “punks” are quite clean cut and sport more awkward, likely Adam and the Ants inspired face paint than you remembered seeing throughout the entirety of the decade. They dance to weird pseudo-Residents style alternative music (which is about far from punk of any stripe as you can get), and generally prove far less threatening than the cast of your local production of West Side Story than you could possibly imagine without seeing this one for yourself.
At least they had the decency to sport a low-rent Siouxsie Sioux type with a fake Brigitte Bardot accent, who’s cute enough to be the only real aesthetic focus in the bunch (so I gather this “punk” biker gang also admits goths?). They definitely admit skinheads, at least the sort sissified enough to wear great swathes of yellow eye makeup smeared across their faces, so I guess anything’s possible here.
Our little lawman runs afoul of the gang when they return to the scene of the vending machine beatdown to scare li’l sis Sally and kill the grumpy dad, exacerbated by the fact that Steve’s distracted driving manages to take out one of ’em (which provides the rationale for the “punks” sticking around, to liberate their pal from the hospital).
Cue fun scene at the sheriff’s office. “What happened out there?” asks the deputy. “I’ll tell ya what happened out there,” yells his stupid, cigar toting sheriff boss. “One of the finest citizens this town has ever known got his ass murdered out there by a bunch of filthy, yellow bellied fascist communist pinkos!”
This apparent lack of comprehension at the differences between two political poles seems to upset our hero, prompting yet another zinger from our brainless sheriff, this time historical in nature: “Did Patton call the state troopers when he took Iwo Jima?” Everyone salutes the misguided memory. Yep, it’s a nod and a wink style comedy, but at least it’s reasonably low key about it.
The singer from The Romantics, fishing for Lyme disease in the tall grass with his Tonto-quoting pal (who looks like the dumb guy who gets classy when he hits his head in Nico Mastorakis‘ Switch) quits his harmonica rendition of “what I like about you” when he sees a patrol car driving down the side of the mountain. Time to warn the rest of the gang, holed up in a ramshackle barn and suddenly sporting shotguns.
“Look, I don’t know about you,” opines the poetic, sensitive member of this punk troupe, “But I came along to get away from the smog. I didn’t sign up for the Dirty Dozen, you know. I thought maybe we could do a little fishing, go out on some nature walks, stuff like that. But no, you killed the old man, and now I feel like Jesse James.”
“You know…vacations have a way of turning out different than you plan,” comes the rejoinder. Yeah, this one’s really disconnected from reality.
Damn, I miss the 80’s, with their films and TV shows written by clueless old men with their fingers firmly in the opposite direction from the pulse of street and pop culture, and shows about mercenaries and Vietnam vets who never seem to kill anyone amid hails of gunfire…
Going off on a one woman revenge mission, our heroine winds up as a hostage fairly early on in the proceedings, prompting the rather homely lead punkette to steal her clothes and take on the yuppie look in an attempt to break her pal out of the hospital. Markie Post makes friends with 2 of the punkettes when comparing the punk lifestyle with the cult of scientology and they get excited over the prospect of getting handcuffed by her cop boyfriend. Now they’re just getting silly here…
Probably the apotheosis of humor in Punk Vacation comes in this exchange, between two of the cops during a raid on the punks’ barn hideout:
“The plan sucks. It’s in a million movies…when the white guy makes the plan, the black guy always does the dirty work.”
“I don’t think this is the time to discuss racial stereotypes in the media.”
or maybe this one, when our “French” Siouxsie gets slagged for her halfhearted efforts late in the film:
“Wow, she’s a lot of help…”
“Europeans. They just don’t have the work ethic like we do.”
Yeah, that’s about as funny as it gets. A few mild smirks here and there, but nothing to write home about (much less laugh out loud over).
Geez, somehow we’re 2/3 through the proceedings, and still nothing much has happened. I guess they were shooting for a slasher comedy take on the 60’s biker film, but without even a hint of the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll-fueled violence fans of the genre patronized those films to partake of.
Less obnoxious and slapsticky than Gorman Bechard (Cemetery High, Psychos in Love), but still close enough in tone to be in the same general ballpark, the film is hard to recommend on any objective level, as it falls flat on so many of its intended goals – this is no long lost cult classic by any stretch of the imagination.
Those looking for a Miami Connection style experience are better directed to any of the many Cannon-funded Sho Kosugi “ninja” pictures of the era (anything from the Franco Nero Enter the Ninja through the bizarro Ninja III the Domination and every starring vehicle between – 9 Deaths of the Ninja, Return of the Ninja, Rage of Honor, Pray for Death, the list goes on and on).
Nonetheless, there is an indefinable je ne sais quoi that leaves this oddity quite likeable. What the film does have going for it is somewhat hard to pinpoint: despite (or perhaps because of) its many flaws, it ends up as a sort of Rocky Horror (minus the foregrounded subtext) for the 80’s set.
Odd side note: producer Stephen Fusci had a bit part in the sadly still unreleased Renee Harmon oddity Frozen Scream back in 1975 – a one off performance that seems to have inspired him to produce this slab of weirdness a full 15 years later before returning to obscurity.
Suffused in 80’s dayglo, Punk Vacation comes to us in a rather crisp and vibrant transfer from Vinegar Syndrome and Process Blue. After that grainy opening shot, things get detailed enough to make out just about every blemish on our cast’s awfully bizarre, warty, lined, extra chinned faces (which is not exactly a good thing…where did they find these people, anyway?).
In the final estimation, while no masterwork in any sense (inclusive of tongue in cheek or camp readings of the material), Punk Vacation proves eminently watchable (and perhaps even re-watchable), and lends itself admirably to MST3K style get the friends over, crack out the booze and slag it mercilessly treatment Lewis’ efforts truly deserve.