(Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first edition of our new column, FOUND ON FANDOR! The concept it simple, Fandor is a streaming service focused on a love for cinema. Imagine Netflix, but filled with rare and wonderful films from all over the world. So like, you know, good. This first edition written by awesome friend of the site Justin Harlan focuses on the film Straight to Hell. Coincidentally there was an amazing piece on this very film over at BIRTH. MOVIES. DEATH. that you can find here! We are not usually in the business of promoting other websites BUT this piece is really great, the website is really great, and it is really worth checking out)
Alex Cox is best known for Sid and Nancy and Repo Man. The former is a seminal rock and role biopic on the destructive relationship of the punk legend and his lover. The latter is the best damn punk rock science fiction action adventure film ever made. The rest of his filmography is far lesser known as the larger billed of his two films released in 1987 was a huge flop that lead to Cox never being offered another Hollywood job again. That film, Walker, lost several million dollars and was widely panned by critics.
The lesser known of the two 1987 films cost less than a million to make so it had less impact on his career and on his ego when it also received poor reviews and little fanfare. It had a few short runs on home video years later; but, due to little interest and limited runs, Straight to Hell had been all but lost to obscurity. Thankfully for the fans that had seen or at least heard of the film, a new director’s cut dubbed Straight to Hell Returns was released in 2010. Unfortunately, this edition soon became a rare commodity as well. Alex Cox fans, Joe Strummer completists, and any other folks interested in the film have been ass out of luck for the past few years unless they have had a spare 80 bucks laying around.
Enter Fandor to save the day. Amongst the numerous amazing films from all types of genres that Fandor has curated on its service for lovers of film, both the original edition of the film and the 2010 rerelease are available to watch and enjoy. Thus, when I flipped through the service and found that the director of Repo Man had done a second film with Joe Strummer (I’d known about Walker), it was a no brainer what I’d be watching for the evening.
Going into the film, I only knew the basics. Fully unaware that this film is an adaptation of the Italian western Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (which is fully unaffiliated with the Django films, despite the name), I simply knew it was a western that starred one of my all-time favorite musicians. I wasn’t expecting anything like the film that I experienced.
The film focuses a trio of criminals who end up stranded in a little western town where they clash (pun intended) with espresso weilding cowboys. Funny scenarios, intense shootouts, numerous deaths, witty quips, and clever banter push the story forward until the end where virtually everyone is dead and, ironically, the film announces it’s forthcoming sequel (which, of course, never happened).
The cast includes Joe Strummer, Sy Richardson, and Dick Rude as the main trio, along with their female tagalong played by a young Courtney Love. The coffee addict cowboy gang is portrayed by the members of the Irish punk legends The Pogues. Cameos from Grace Jones and Dennis Hopper add a special touch to a cast that is rounded out with musicians and others in Cox and Rude’s inner circle, including Elvis Costello and members of The Circle Jerks. The cast is quirky in the same way the characters are. But the well written script and this cast deliver to create an entertaining action comedy that spends a good bit of its energy riffing on the melodramatic Spaghetti Westerns of the 60s and 70s.
The film’s aesthetic is such that one can’t help but think that Quentin Tarantino was enamored with this film to a strong degree. Sy Richardson’s Norwood looks and acts the way Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules does in Pulp Fiction. There is little doubt that both Jackson and Tarantino took some cues for Jules from Norwood. The rest of the gang has a Reservoir Dogs vibe to them in many ways, though not to the extent that one would link them directly to Mr. White and the crew. The influence of this film on Tarantino seems undeniable.
The soundtrack is fantastic. The score is done by San Francisco based music collective Pray for Rain (not to be confused with the 90s Christian Contemporary Band, whose music is far less appropriate for this film). Peppered into the score are tracks by Costello, The Pogues, and Strummer (who scored Walker for Cox). One of the most notable tracks is The Pogues’ cover of Ennio Moricone’s classic theme to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (linked below), which is a fantastic take on the well known tune.
If there’s a complaint about the film it’s that it does feel slow at times and drags during those portions of the film. At only 86 minutes (91 minutes if watching the 2010 director’s cut), a film shouldn’t have time to drag. However, those portions of the film don’t detract from a film that is overall a clever sendoff to a genre that Cox obviously appreciated and care about.
The standout performance in the film is tough to pinpoint, as everyone plays their role. Dick Rude’s Willy has top billing and seems somewhat like the leader of the trio, but it’s Joe Strummer’s Simms who steals every scene he’s in. He’s a ladies man, a quirky and charismatic criminal, and a pretty horrible friend. On screen, Strummer just has a great way about him and having only been in a few films, it’s important to cherish his contribution to each one (my bias towards the “Punk Rock Warlord” is showing).
As Fandor does have he additional footage in Returns does little much to enhance the film, but the digital restoration makes it the better cut of the film. So, fire up your espresso machine and your streaming media player and dive a bit deeper into the Alex Cox catalog thanks to the wonders of Fandor.