Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cheesy Riders: THE DANGER ZONE II: REAPER'S REVENGE (1989)

There are a handful of American low-budget exploitation movie actors that verge on hero-worship around the VJ HQ. Ok, to be fair, there's more than a handful and "verge" is probably not the right word, but high up on that list is Jason Williams. No, no, not the guy from the Nick Millard films, that's Marland Proctor, man! Focus here. I'm talking the man who put the err... "flesh" in FLESH GORDON (1974)! Hmmm... how about the "killer" in COP KILLERS (1973)? Would you believe the "wild" in CHEERLEADER'S WILD WEEKEND (1979)? As slim as his repertoire is (a mere 15 films, if the IMDb is to be believed, 16 if it's not), almost all of them are damned entertaining and you can always count on Williams to give 110%.

Nowhere is this 110% more evident than in his own exploitation epics, THE DANGER ZONE series. Playing an undercover cop Wade Olsen, a biker who is hell bent on taking down the sadistic drug-smuggling outlaw biker Reaper (veteran TV actor Robert Random), Williams pulls out all the stops going *ahem* hog wild with so many ideas over the course of the series, it is completely eye-popping, gut-busting and brain-straining. Williams wrote, produced and starred in all four entries in the series (the IMDb is strangely unaware of the fourth one, released in 1992 and titled THE DANGER ZONE 4: MAD GIRLS BAD GIRLS), not counting a budget release titled DEATH RIDERS (1994) that edits the first three movies into one massive trainwreck of awesome.


In part one, we had a pretty straight-forward (bear with me) tale of a bunch of colorful '80s high-school girls who decide to drive out to Las Vegas to enter in a singing competition (they had those before American Idol?). Of course their car breaks down and a scurvy band of iron horse cutthroats kidnaps them and takes them to their hideout in the middle of the desert where an old prospector and his dog live in the catacombs underneath, unbeknownst to them, and they try to smuggle drugs with a remote-controlled airplane. Olsen infiltrates the gang, in spite of being the most obvious undercover cop EVER and foils their plans by strapping a giant signal box to his chopper that causes the toy plane to crash, and Reaper to get arrested after a shoot out in the desert. Yep, that is straight-forward, uh huh. Compared to what was to follow, that is!

Apparently THE DANGER ZONE sold well enough to make a sequel. Not just well enough, it must have sold shitloads, as the budget for the sequel is multiplied by roughly π.

THE DANGER ZONE II takes us deeper into the life of Wade, opening with a bust gone awry at Chuck's bar, which oddly enough, looks like a junkyard from the outside! Wade plays it cool making the deal happen, when suddenly the sellers try to take the money and the dope (concealed in a canned ham), only to find out that they are busted! Furious at being crossed by the man, when he was trying to double-cross the man, the biker shouts at Wade "motherfuckin' porker!" To which Wade replies "hey man, whadju expect? Sellin' ham to a pig." I always knew there was something addictive about ham. I'm going to have to be really careful who's around the next time I order at Denny's.

We also get a little of Wade's home life complete with a girlfriend Donna (Jane Higginson of 1987's SLAUGHTERHOUSE fame), a swimming instructor, who is demanding some serious commitment, venting her frustration with the old line "you sound like a police computer!" Man, if I had a nickel for every time I heard that old saw... Unfortunately for her, she is about to get a lot more attention in a way she never anticipated, as suddenly Reaper's conviction is thrown out due to an "improper jury selection" which allows him to walk. And walk. Until he is picked up by an Oldsmobile. Hey, at least it's not an auctioned squad car, right? Anyway, Reaper is only interested in one thing: paying back the sumbitch cop that wrecked his airplane! The plan? Kidnap the girl, take Polaroids of her topless in front of the Christmas tree, kill the dog and inscribe riddles on the back of the pictures leaving them strewn all over Nevada for Wade to follow. Yes, I said riddles. The first one goes like this:
"Olsen, if you want to get your bathing beauty back alive, get in the wind on highway 5. Ride to the Good Springs and stop and have yourself a fling. Ain't life a bitch."


I'm guessing Reaper had a lot of time on his hands during the two years he spent in the joint and took a couple of correspondence courses in creative writing. Wade tosses his badge, grabs extra bullets and rides out to the historic Pioneer Saloon. Tapping the vast experience, skill and wisdom that comes with being a veteran undercover police officer, Wade decides the best way to get a lead on Reaper's whereabouts is by shouting "Where's Reaper?!" and busting the heads of the bar patrons. As luck would have it, a stockbroker named Doug (Walter Cox) is in the bar and he too is seeking Reaper! Though his methods, err, differ, he offers to team up with Wade who, incidentally has found another photo/riddle taped to his bike. Doug manages to pull on Wade's cold, hard heartstrings with a story about how he got into a shady deal with Reaper (no shit? A deal with a dude named Reaper went bad, you say?) and unless he gets Reaper's signature on some documents he is going to lose his family, who apparently will leave him because he is not worth anything without money.

Heeeey, is this The Elk's Lodge in Oak View?

Wade spits. Wade contemplates the night fire while thinking about Donna. Can a brother get a power ballad up in this bitch? Meanwhile, accompanied by the same power ballad, but for some reason during daylight, Reaper leans on a rock in the desert, strokes his beard and fantasizes in slow-motion of tasering Wade. Whaaaaa?? Why don't you just shoot him now? I mean, I'll go get a gun. We'll shoot him together. It'll be fun. Yeah, I don't get it either. Reaper says he doesn't do coke, so I guess he's just naturally confused. That natural confusion would explain why, when he is handing out pound bags of coke for distribution, he decides to send six pounds to Santa Cruz and only four pounds to Fresno! What?! Come to think of it, I guess it makes sense, because SC would want the natural product, while the cheap bastards in Da No would rather take meth. Oh, and while were on the subject of cocaine deals: Mr. Composer, a little FYI for you. The moody Chinese flute music on the soundtrack is for scenes involving opium or heroin only. Or, perhaps, a ninja meditating on the floor of an empty dojo - but that's it. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter going forward.

While following Reaper's riddles, Wade is ambushed by extras from "The A-Team" (we know this because the only thing they can shoot with deadly accuracy is inanimate objects), negotiates tripwire traps, and finds another companion in an old man named Rainmaker (Barne Wms Subkoski), who ironically can't make rain, not because he's some random white dude who looks like the love child of Frederick Offrein and Kenny Rogers, but because Reaper gave him a cursed bracelet that will prevent him from making rain until he gives it back! He also gives Wade and Doug some protective rocks, which are presumably not affected by the curse.

You'd think at this point, we're good with the stable of travelling companions and we're set for some good revengin' (yes, that's a word)! ...And you'd be wrong. Williams apparently ate the wrong kind of cactus while out in the Nevada desert and things get even more bizarre. We get a fortune-teller in a wedding dress (Texas singer/artist Carol Cisneros) who sings a Reaper riddle, a stripper with a clue tattooed to her boob (Stephanie Blake), another stripper Francine (Alisha Das), who is a snarled ball of hate because Reaper ruined her life and stole her baby. So vicious is this woman, that she takes down all the road signs, thus blackmailing the trio into letting her join the posse, lest they be lost for, presumably, perpetuity. Brother, hell hath no fury like a stripper mom. And, just in case you were wondering at this point we are only about halfway through the movie!

Oh, the humanity!

Critics have made a cliche out of comparing films with roller-coasters. If DANGER ZONE II was a roller-coaster, it would be a wooden roller-coaster in desperate need of structural reinforcement. It moves at breakneck speed and rattles, slams and occasionally slips right off the track and plows through a fruit stand. Reaper is probably one of the most entertaining villains in a low-rent DTV action flick. Not only is he an evil, sadistic, drug lord, but he's sometimes kind of a whiny hypocrite. Case in point when he complains that Wade's goals aren't as lofty as his and all Wade is interested in is revenge. Wait, what?? So just who was it who got out of prison and kidnapped someone's girlfriend and killed his dog? Did you not see the title card, Mr. Reaper? In another scene, we find out that Reaper knows how to apply make-up and yet another he has an understanding of psychology, telling Donna that he knows Wade will never save her because she has no ring on her finger. Oooooooh, ouch, buuuuuurn!

Of course there are plenty of brawls, shoot-outs (including the spectacular ending sequence in an airport and hotel), and random bits of thuggery (during a party scene a biker clocks his old lady for absolutely no apparent reason). As if that weren't enough, there is a staggering amount of visuals from seedy bars and strip-clubs (I love the run-down massage parlor with a sign that says "se habla espanol"), to great little bits like the paperboy throwing a paper into the Blessed Virgin's face in front of Wade's house. All of this adds up to a fantastic way to spend 95 minutes of your life.

With all of the mind-bending insanity of THE DANGER ZONE II, can you even imagine what part III will hold? Not even a singing psychic in a wedding dress could predict that!

Moments of Clarity:

2 Reactions:

  1. I've been a Jason Williams fan and didn't realize it. I already have 7 of his 16 films and I just bought two more (THE DANGER ZONE 1 & 2). Can't wait to check these out.

    Any plans to review parts 3 and 4?

    Nice Austin Powers reference ;)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ha! That's funny, glad you discovered that you were a fan.
    I'll have reviews up for 3 & 4 over the next couple of weeks, hope you enjoy the movies!

    ReplyDelete

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