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: Down Twisted
Tagline: She’s been set up, shanghaied and shot at. There must be an easier way to fall in love…
Released by: Media Home Entertainment
Director: Albert Pyun
Plot: A billionaire art collector has hired a group of thieves to steal a priceless religious artifact and replace it with a replica from the tropically located nation of San Lucas. However everyone gets double crossed and a beautiful young waitress from L.A. is caught in the middle and kidnapped along with a suave yet clumsy stranger, who may know a little more than he’s letting on. The deal’s still going down, but it’s going down twisted.
Thoughts: This is a classic piece of 80’s verite that the highly prolific Albert Pyun made for the great Cannon Film Group, which was the next feature he did for them after the awesome teen/revenge romp Dangerously Close. I remember seeing this film during its initial release in the eighties at an old Cineplex Odeon theatre in the suburbs of Chicago called the Golf Glen. It was built in 1984 and it was the most 80’s theatre you could possibly imagine – wavy patterned carpets, pink neon, you name it. I remember thinking even back in the 80’s at how 80’s this place was. I also remember thinking that this film matched the theatre’s personality to a tee, which is probably why I never forgot about how much I enjoyed it, even though I hadn’t seen it since. I picked up a used copy recently on the interweb for a revisit.
Down Twisted is one of those quirky caper comedies like John Landis’ brilliant Into the Night, but its Latin American location and Michael Mann aesthetic gives it an Indiana Jones meets Miami Vice vibe. The gorgeous Carey Lowell (Dangerously Close, License to Kill) plays Maxine, a frustrated L.A. waitress who gets caught up in a crazy plot when her roommate needs her help to drop something off for a friend. Instead, her roommate gets blown up in her ex-boyfriend’s Porsche and Maxine is abducted along with a bumbling bystander named Reno (the late Charles Rocket). They are brought via boat to a fictional South American country called San Lucas because a trio of violent motorcycle riding thieves believe they know something about the location of the real crucible that has been stolen and replaced by a fake. This is all happening because a wealthy yuppie gangster named Alessandro Deltoid (that’s right, Deltoid) wants the piece for his amazing art collection. Our hapless heroes fight the bad guys and each other on occasion, but in the end true love prevails.
It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but there’s a great energy and campiness that I love going on here. The moment I popped the tape in my VCR it was as if I was transported back to that tiny cineplex in the suburbs of Chicago circa 1987. The opening title credits are bright neon purple that plays over the Oingo Boingo song, “No One Lives Forever” and you can’t get more eighties than that. The visual palette is sweaty, grungy and bursting with pastels. Think Romancing the Stone and Band of the Hand getting together and having a child. Also, the score by Berlin Game is really cool and very Tangerine Dream inspired.
The cast is a fun group that includes Carey Lowell as our heroine, who can even make a business suit and tie look extremely hot. Then you have Charles Rocket (of SNL infamy for accidently dropping the “F” bomb live once) who shifts back and forth between slapstick and suave so often he makes Chevy Chase look like Cary Grant. Thom Mathews (Dangerously Close, Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) does a typically nice job as the bleached blonde homicidal leader of the motorcycle trio and the sexy Aussie babe Linda Kerridge (Fade to Black, Alien from L.A.) is his equally devious counterpart. I must also mention that this is Courtney Cox’s screen debut where she has a couple of lines and two quick close-ups as one of Lowell’s co-workers. She looks so young it’s scary.
This film along with Pyun’s excellent Dangerously Close has been trapped in analog-only purgatory for decades now. Both need to be given the Blu-ray treatment pronto because they’re just too much fun and far too visually lush to be viewed in such a limited capacity. The director adds a lot of hip touches here and there, creating a unique genre-hybrid that combines comedy, noir and adventure, while keeping you guessing with the multitude of plot twists and double crosses it tosses out like Frisbees. Plus it’s got a totally awesome soundtrack that concludes with the Fine Young Cannibals’ beautiful rendition of “Suspicious Minds.” I cherish the nostalgic mood this movie put me in.
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