Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Dangerously Close
Genre: Teen Angst/Revenge/Neon-noir
Tagline: At Vista High there’s a thin line between being cool and getting caught.
Released by: Media Home Entertainment
Director: Albert Pyun
Plot: At the exclusive Vista Verde High if you’re not a part of the trendy in-crowd, you become a target of the special student group known as the Sentinels. They seek out the less desirables at the school and terrify them with a sadistic “survival hunt” game, but everything changes when one of the targets turns up brutally murdered. The editor of the school paper starts an investigation that plummets him headlong into the seductive and deadly world of teenage vigilante justice.
Thoughts: B-movie auteur Albert Pyun has had quite a prolific career, but some of his finest and most obscure work was done in the eighties with such video store classics as: The Sword and the Sorcerer, Radioactive Dreams (also with actor John Stockwell), Down Twisted, Alien from L.A., Cyborg and the 1990 Captain America movie. He was the Cannon version of James Cameron, only Pyun never delivered the huge blockbuster hit that would make the studio boys stand up and take notice, which is fine with me because the man’s still making the same kind of films he always did. 86’s Dangerously Close is a magnificent Reagan era hybrid that has now become my favorite from the underrated filmmaker.
It tells the tale of Vista Verde High, an elite private school of rich, over-privileged children, who unlike their counterparts in a Bret Easton Ellis novel live relatively clean, straight-as-an-arrow lives and are the postcard for hip, yuppie Young Republican elitism. If you don’t fit in to their aesthetic (like you’re a stoner, or an ethnic type, or you’re poor) then you just might end up on the list of a special, widely-known group of students called the Sentinels – a Guardian Angels-esque clique that all look like male models, dress in matching black jackets, and scare students they don’t think fit in by hunting them down The Most Dangerous Game-style, hanging them from a tree and shooting them in the face with a paintball gun. They are endorsed and controlled by the school principal Mr. Corrigan and led by alpha dog Randy (played with a certain likability by John Stockwell – who also co-wrote the script).
The GQ vigilantes may have gone too far when a recent “warning” to a troubled student results in the young teen’s throat slit! Danny (J. Eddie Peck), the editor of the school paper, is inducted into the Sentinel’s inner-circle and soon finds himself embroiled in a dangerous world of neo-fascist bullying to the one hundredth degree, as well as a steamy love triangle with Randy’s main squeeze Julie (played by a sultry young Carey Lowell). He’s also a friend of the obnoxious, weed-smoking, heavy metal-blasting Krooger (Bradford Bancroft) whom winds up on Corrigan’s list as well. Things are going to get complicated… and violent!
This is a lot like a slick eighties update of the amazing seventies drive-in classic Massacre at Central High – a film in which Andrew Stevens plays the leader of a vicious gang of preppies that beat the shit out of kids they don’t like. In that film they also attempt to indoctrinate a loner, who also develops an attachment to the main guy’s girlfriend. He winds up killing them each off one-by-one. The big difference between these two films is that the line between antagonist and protagonist is much blurrier in Dangerously Close. In Massacre you root for the popular kids to die, but in Pyun’s glossy world you wouldn’t mind being a part of the in-crowd as much.
A large part of this is due to the ice cold Michael Mann aesthetic that’s heavy influence is on display here in the tone, editing, soundtrack and style of each and every frame. There’s some absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Walt Lloyd, who is obviously channeling Ferdinando Scarfiotti (Scarface) with his Miami Vice meets Pretty in Pink palette. Throw into the mix a totally rad 80’s soundtrack that includes “Blood and Roses” by The Smithereens, a very talented group of young actors featuring the aforementioned as well as small roles from Return of the Living Dead‘s Thom Mathews and Miguel Nunez, and a spot on cynical-as-hell ending that will melt your face off. Add this one to the list of rare Cannon releases that desperately require a digital upgrade pronto!