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The Best Supernatural Revenge B-Movie You’ve Never Seen: Drive Angry

One of an occasional series. In a media bristling with pop-culture punji sticks, we work to highlight overlooked gems in film, television, and print.

by
Roy M. Griffis

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June 3, 2014 - 10:00 am
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Remember when movies were “fun?”  They weren’t film, they weren’t cinema.  They were movies.  They weren’t trying to change your life — to quote an old movie mogul, Jack Warner, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.”  Movies were willing to give a shot at changing your moments, like about 90 minutes worth of them.  And if you happened to see a really good movie, more than likely you walked away with a big, goofy grin on your face.

For the geekigentsa, the 60s and early 70s were a golden age of “film.”  The young turks were taking it to the Man and the System.  The Godfather.  Bonnie and ClydeMidnight Cowboy.  All of them were films that took cinema to new levels of realism in terms of sex and violence (real and emotional).

Then there were “B-movies.”  Popular, mass entertainment.  Motorcycles, babes, drugs …anything that could be made on the cheap that might turn a buck, and a lot of which was  shoveled into the Drive-In theatres that still clung to the American landscape.  It was “product” and any appreciation of it as folk art would only come later.

To keep the product line profitable, the formula was tweaked when sales began to lag or new trends emerged:  Harley hogs became American muscle cars, Redneck Sheriffs stood in for “The Man,” but movie producers kept the core of what made those Drive-In classics work.  Explosions.  Shootings.  Breasts. (Young female breasts, covered and exposed, were very popular and much more important than the acting ability of anyone else on screen)  Often a supernatural element gave the plot (such as it was) a reason to feature… more breasts.

Why is Drive Angry Great?

This 2011 movie (one can’t call it a “film”) is like a 70’s Drive-In movie brought forward 30 years:  higher budget, better tech, and actors whose names are known by more people than their dealer.  The basic plot sounds promising:  Man breaks out of prison to avenge the daughter he left behind and to protect her baby.  The fact the prison is actually Hell and the convict’s name is Milton, John Milton, only makes it better.  With such a cornucopia of low-brow entertainment, it’s hard to know where to begin.    It’s got guns, breasts, shoot-outs, gratuitous nudity, explosions, nekkid women fist-fights, corrupt Southern sheriffs, and more breasts:  DNA ripped right from the very Id of the Drive-In.

Drive Angry also has a very smart and funny script, with the first hint being our anti-anti-hero’s name.  Nicolas Cage, in a reasonably sane performance, plays the absurd story straight, in the process giving some real emotional weight to the convict’s quest to redeem some part of his life.   The dialogue is filled with sly, clever throw-away lines and plot devices that are laugh-out loud funny (one of Milton’s friends is “Webster,” as in “The Devil and Daniel”), with many of the best bits given to character actor William Fichtner, who steals the entire movie as “The Accountant,” the man (?) sent from Hell to bring Milton back.

Fichtner has had a long career, often playing menacing heavies;  as the Accountant, he underplays to hysterical effect.  After his car goes off a bridge and lands upside down with the genre-required crushing impact, two stoners approach the wreck.  The car door blasts out, striking Stoner One like a missile.  After the Accountant climbs out of the wreckage, unharmed and brushing dust from his very nice suit, Stoner One says, “You could’ve killed me!”  Fichtner answers matter-of-factly, “Not even close.  I won’t see you again until you’re seventy-three.”  With an appraising glance at Stoner Two, he adds, “You I’ll see in three months.”  Watch this movie, and I promise you will never hear KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way I Like” the same way again.

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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Not that I would EVER countenance anyone downloading pirated content, but just for fun I took a look. There are dozens of copies online, a majority of which are in foreign languages. Apparently the genre has broad appeal!
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was all set to get a copy of this movie until the KC & Sunshine Band comment. I think I had the first "Death before Disco" shirt in this end of the Galaxy. The said formula worked, it got us teenaged boys and our girls in the Drive-in for wrestling matches (the only time a 4 speed was nuisance) of post puberty teen fury or a carload of us boys something that went boom with boobs, our favorite.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The fact the prison is actually Hell and the convict’s name is Milton, John Milton, only makes it better."

Dunno. That puts me in mind of a B movie called Creepozoids (1987). Female leads were called Bianca and Kate. As I observed when I first saw it, calling your female leads Kate and Bianca does not make your story Taming Of the Shrew, although some killer shrews might have helped this time waster. It had "Explosions. Shootings. Breasts." But it was NOT fun. (It wasn't even fun to make fun of.) Matter o' fact, most B movies I've seen are NOT fun. And y'know, A movies with "Explosions. Shootings. Breasts." are not certain to be fun, either; The English Patient immediately comes to mind.

In my experience, B movies in and of themselves were not so much about being on the cheap as they were about about expectations from the distributers. A good, not too distant past example of this would be going to Blockbuster a few years ago and seeing what movies they had only ONE copy of: that'd be a B movie. I bring this up because some of those one-or-fewer copy wonders were better than some of the hundred copy A pictures. (Example: One night in the days of VHS/DVD parity, I went out to get a copy of Citizen Kane. Should be doable, right? Five video stores later, I noted no copies of Citizen Kane but about a zillion copies of Battlefield Earth.) Form followed function, though: If you're making a movie with low expectations, then cheap it will be.

Nah. Most of the fun of watching a good B movie (in my opinion): watching an attentive director creatively get the most out of a limited budget. Examples: Poe movies by Roger Corman, early works of John Carpenter, Robert Rodriguez's El Mariachi, Peter Jackson's Bad Taste. We'll see how Drive Angry measures up to those.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Great point at the end, there, Apostic, about the limited budget. I couldn't agree more: when you have more creativity than money, you work harder to get around the limitations: if you run into a problem with the story, you can't say "hey, we have a big SFX budget, let's just throw in more CGI/effects." (see "An American WereWolf in London" and it's weird dream sequence. Great Rick Baker makeup...did almost nothing for the story) That being said, give "Drive Angry" a chance. I think you'll be surprised.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
And into my Amazon shopping cart it went last night...
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you want to review a film that nobody's ever seen, one that is actually worthwhile, see if you can scare up a copy of "Joyriders", staring Martin Landau and Kris Kristopherson.

It was produced by Pat Matricianna, who also produced the "Clinton Chronicles" and "Death of Vince Foster".

Ooops. Can't have a successful film produced by an enemy of the Clintons, not while they were working very hard to bankrupt Pat.

The word went out, and Hollywood killed it.

I think it might have won Landau an Oscar, had it not been spiked.

You can sometimes catch it on late night TV, and you might find it on Amazon.

28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah, that does sound like a fun bit of lowbrow movie. I'll have to check it out the next time I'm fishing for obscure fun stuff.

Two films I recommend for the next time you're out fishing for obscure fun stuff at PJMedia: Eating Raoul (1982), a black comedy in which watching a sexless couple "offing" obnoxious swingers for their money with a frying pan will have you laughing and rooting for the killers, and Paperhouse (1988) the horror/suspense film that makes a perfect scare movie to watch—for example—at a Halloween party while on a date with a girlfriend who doesn't like blood-and-guts slasher movies.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
The best line in the movie is when The Accountant ask one of the cult followers, if she really would have murdered an innocent baby. As the cult follower stands their silent, The Accountant says: " That's what I thought. See you soon".
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mike, the film was full of wonderful throw-aways like that. I was telling Dave, the PJM editor of this section, that in a just world, William Fichtner would have at least scored an Academy Award nomination for Best-Supporting Actor. He was that good.
28 weeks ago
28 weeks ago Link To Comment
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