Certain films have an aura. These are the films people talk about, though few people have actually seen them. There is a myth, a legend, surrounding their production or distribution that makes the film’s presence in cinematic history much greater than the sum of its parts.
ROAR is a film with an aura. Prior to its recent DVD and limited theatrical release, not many people had seen the film since its 1981 release, though many film fanatics had heard of the film. ROAR was in production for over a decade with many cast and crew members being mauled by the big cats featured. Big-named stars Melanie Griffith and Tippi Hedren were both injured significantly by the lions on set, and the cinematographer was scalped. Even after the film got redistributed in 2015, more people talk about the incidents surrounding the film than the film itself. ROAR’s reputation precedes it.
Similarly, WAKE IN FRIGHT is also enveloped by an air of repute which goes before the film. Released in 1971, the Australian story of a teacher slipping into the underbelly of an outback town would have been easy to forget. The film did not get a DVD or even VHS distribution in the US until 2012. WAKE IN FRIGHT, however, was infamous in cinematic history because of the inclusion of one single, violent scene. The film contains a real kangaroo hunt, with real animal blood and death. Though the hunt was officially sanctioned by the Australian government, its brutality was undeniable and gave the film a notorious status.
Both ROAR and WAKE IN FRIGHT had a reputation before they were rereleased. Film communities had heard of them, and often you would know someone who knew someone who had seen it once, but you were not certain you would ever be given the opportunity to see it yourself. Thankfully both of these films were released by Drafthouse Films, a distributor who has carved a niche into distributing previously unattainable films. Drafthouse’s latest acquisition is a film that was once thought of as a cinematic urban legend: DANGEROUS MEN.
In production for twenty six years, DANGEROUS MEN is a marvel. Created by Iranian immigrant John Rad the film plays out like a long string of clichés and shortcomings. The plot starts out by following Mira (Melody Wiggins). After her fiancé is viciously killed on the beach one day, she goes on a murderous streak, killing men left and right. She first seduces them and then stabs these thugs in an attempt to exact revenge. About halfway through the film, the plot completely drops Mira and instead tracks her dead fiancé’s brother and his mission against the drug dealers responsible for his brother’s death.
Aside from the plot being incredibly difficult to follow, the visual and aural style of DANGEROUS MEN leaves much to be desired, too. We know Rad was not a professional filmmaker, but the film underlines that point. The shots are poorly framed, with no dynamic composition to speak of. The costumes are horribly dated to the array of decades that spanned the film’s production. The performances are all equally amateur. Even with all of these issues, the greatest offense in DANGEROUS MEN may be the soundtrack. Created on a cheap Casio keyboard, the repetitive and passé beats feel like the intersection of the Law and Order theme song with Seinfeld’s scene transitions. Rad must have fallen in love with his musical creation because the same song is loudly laid on top of every scene and much of the film’s dialogue.
I know that this all comes across as trying to persuade audiences to avoid DANGEROUS MEN, but to the contrary, it is meant to entice you. DANGEROUS MEN is so bad it is good. Rad makes up for talent with gumption and passion for his film, and this affection comes across on screen, albeit mostly misguided.
There are plenty of cinematic guilty pleasures, but the legend of DANGEROUS MEN is pure Hollywood. After working single-handedly on the film for twenty six years, Rad was unable to find any sort of distribution for the film. He paid himself to book it into a Los Angeles theater for one week in 2005. After that the film played a few nights as a midnight movie after Rad’s death in 2007. Only four 35mm copies existed, and all of them lived in his daughter’s garage until Drafthouse bought the rights.
Even among the most underground cinephiles, DANGEROUS MEN was a thing of myth. Unless they were one of the dozen or so people who bought tickets for the original screenings, or they saw it at midnight, the film had not been seen outside of Los Angeles. Tales of DANGEROUS MEN have made the rounds between film junkies for years, though mostly we heard about the synth soundtrack and the director named Rad. The legend of the film travelled much farther than the film ever had.
All that changed at this September’s Fantastic Fest film festival in Austin. Every year the festival offers a few secret screenings, where the audience does not know what film they are seeing until the film starts. Imagine our elated surprise when we found out that we were not only being treated to a screening of the white whale DANGEROUS MEN, but that Drafthouse (the hosts of the festival) were also distributing this gem.
Gaining distribution costs DANGEROUS MEN a bit of its aura. It is no longer a thing of folklore. Now, it is a film that you can go see at The Brattle. Nonetheless, getting Rad’s opus into theaters and eventually on DVD did not remove it from its pedestal. This film deserves to be seen and playfully ridiculed by wider audiences, and thank goodness we now have that opportunity.