You might not be familiar with the term 'Z-Movie,' but if you grew up in the 90's, chances are you've seen one. They're the beyond-low-budget monstrosities that teased you from the walls of the mom-and-pop video store. Usually, the films themselves could never live up to the pictures on the videotape boxes (because this was way before your fancy 'Digital Video Discs' and 'Blu-Rays') but occasionally you'd find something truly unique. 'WEIRDO FLICKS' will clue you into some movies which 'unique' doesn't even begin to describe...
'Roller Blade' - 1986, Directed by Donald G. Jackson
Like 'Executioner 2,' this film also has an erroneous title. I, for one, did not see a single roller blade throughout. There are, however, plenty of roller SKATES and also skateboarders, and quite a few switchblade knives.
The movie also served as my introduction to what some call 'Maxsploitation' cinema. Most people are at least somewhat aware of the 'Mad Max' series (mostly the final part, 'Beyond Thunderdome' but little-known is the fact that the original movie (a demented product of Australia) spawned a whole sea of imitators. Everyone from the Philippines to the USA to Italy wanted to get in on the post-apocalyptic thing.
The whole 'Cold War' thing probably had something to do with this--people were at the peak of nuclear-attack fear--so lots of sci-fi films wanted to use scenes of scorched deserts and roving bands of survivors. It also didn't hurt that this was a relatively cheap strategy of film making.
Most of these knockoff films are obviously awful. Some, however, took the original 'Mad Max' idea and messed it up so bad that it created something entertaining. 'Roller Blade' is so messed-up it's mind warping.
In Donald Jackson's opus, we're taken to a post-nuclear-war earth where EVERYBODY rides on roller skates (at least, if they want to live) because it's easier to get away from bad guys I guess. But, the bad guys have roller skates AND skateboards, so it doesn't really matter. There are crews of bad guys, like the 'Spikers,' who look like your average 80's punk rockers, and the weirdos who ride around at the Acid Rink.
The good folks are basically just a group of nuns who 'skate for life,' and have a super-powerful crystal that everyone wants. There's also a cop. He's good, I guess, but he messes everything up to save his stupid son. The guy who wants the crystal the most is called Dr. Saticoy, and he messes with everybody, along with his cronies and a mutant baby-thing he hangs around with.
You can guess the rest of the plot...bad guys steal crystal...good guys get it back...bad guys steal it again...etc. The real reason this movie is great is the off-kilter dialog, the ridiculous costumes, and the director/writer's decision to have everyone say 'thou' and 'thee' instead of 'you.' I guess it has something to do with it being 'the second dark age?'
The film is a goofy little piece of 80's nostalgia, but the story doesn't end there. Curious about Jackson's career, I did a little research and found that he also directed another 80's cult classic, 'Hell Comes to Frogtown,' about a bunch of futuristic frog monsters doing battle with a guy named Sam Hell. Then, I found that Jackson has done no fewer than five other films about post-apocalyptic roller skaters, and NONE of them are sequels to this movie. He's also done just as many movies about mutant frog creatures, only one of which seems to be related to 'Frogtown.'
I guess he finds something he likes and sticks with it? There's even a 'family' movie about a roller skating superchick, but he still dresses her like a stripper. Also, most of his films are done with a guy named Scott Shaw.
Shaw is a possibly-deranged martial artist, actor, director, writer and musician who does what he calls 'Zen Film Making.' This apparently means he gets together with Jackson and some b-list action actors, and makes up a film without any script or even a rough idea. Yep. He has at LEAST 20 (possibly as many as 50) of these movies. The most promising seems to be 'Rock 'N Roll Cops.' A quick glance at Shaw's bio shows that he is no doubt a talented martial artist, and possibly a good writer too. I really can't figure out if this stuff is for real. Let's take a look at some titles: 'Toad Warrior,' 'Samurai Vampire Bikers from Hell,' 'Hitman City,' 'Sealed with a Bullet.' All of which are of course straight to video.
I have no idea how Shaw and Jackson came to work together, but it might be related to Jackson's second lease on life after being diagnosed with leukemia.
Needless to say, this article is to-be-continued, because I now have to watch every single film Scott Shaw and Donald Jackson have made together.
VHS photo by Toby Hudson.