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: Never Too Young To Die
Tagline: Vanity: The new breed of temptress! Stamos: The new breed of hero!
Released by: Charter Entertainment
Director: Gil Bettman
Plot: John Stamos is Lance Stargrove, the son of a slain secret agent (George Lazenby), who teams up with a gorgeous spy (Vanity) to stop the insane hermaphrodite terrorist, Velvet Von Ragnar (Gene Simmons from KISS) from poisoning the city’s water supply.
Thoughts: There were a lot of bat-shit crazy movies in the eighties. This is just a fact. There was something in the water (or more likely the cocaine) back then that made things appear a little more tweaked than just about any other era of film I can think of. But, when it comes to the sheer certifiable lunacy on a caliber similar to a truck-load of clowns driving into a dynamite factory filled with whipped cream, Never Too Young To Die is the craziest fucker in the ward. This movie came off nuts even back in the eighties! It’s a fairly serious attempt at creating a new James Bond-style spy series, as well as making an action movie icon out of John Stamos, who was only known for his television role on Full House at the time. It fails gloriously at achieving both goals.
The film opens with a “meeting” held in what appears like the set of a Heavy Metal music video. A large gathering of bikers that all look like extras from a post-apocalyptic Mad Max rip-off surround their leader: a hermaphroditic terrorist/lounge singer (!) named Velvet Von Ragnar, who refers to his/her loyal subjects as “turdballs” and “scum buckets”. This character is played with absolutely no self-restraint whatsoever by Gene Simmons of the rock group KISS, who had a little acting career in the 80’s playing bad guys in gonzo-action flicks, like Wanted: Dead or Alive and Runaway. Ragnar wants to hold the city ransom by poisoning the water supply, but a crucial computer disc that is important to completing his/her task has been stolen by the master-spy Drew Stargrove, played by George Lazenby – the one time Bond who starred in one of the best in the series, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. A buxom blonde double operative (Tara Buckman) is tortured for this information and then murdered for the delight of the crowd when Ragnar gives her the “finger”, which is the sharpened nail on his/her middle finger.
We cut from there to an opening credits montage featuring John Stamos as Stargrove’s son Lance, while he practices college gymnastics to an opening theme song appropriately titled, “Stargrove”. We also learn that Lance has an Asian nerd friend named Cliff (Peter Kwong) who whips up little gizmos and gadgets for his Caucasian buddy, kind of like that little Asian kid from The Goonies only far more unintentionally racist. Lance somehow lives in a complete vacuum, because he has absolutely no idea whatsoever that his dad is a jet-setting secret agent, even though the man’s never around, always has sex with beautiful young women, has tons of automatic weapons stashed all over the house, and sports a strange British accent. Stargrove Sr. has been sent on a super-secret mission to catch Ragnar, but unfortunately there’s a double cross and the crazed hermaphrodite murders him.
At his father’s funeral is where Lance meets the sexy Danja Deering (Vanity), an “associate” of his dad who wears an inappropriate see-through black blouse to mourn in. He meets up with her again later at the family farm he inherits that he never knew existed, when she’s attacked by an enormously muscular goon who’s dressed like he’s in a barbarian movie and goes by the name of Pyramid. Pyramid escapes in a dune buggy (!) and Danja finally fills Stargrove in on who his father really was.
Seeking to avenge his dad’s murder, Stargrove accompanies Danja to a nightclub called The Incinerator where bikers ride their motorcycles right up to the bar for a beer and a can of motor oil. In the middle of this madness, Ragnar (dressed in a costume once worn by Cher. For realz!) performs an insane spoken word jam to his/her disciples. Later in his/her dressing room, Lance asks for an autograph in an attempt to do some snooping, but Ragnar recognizes the resemblance to his/her former nemesis and the game begins.
Soon the young Stargrove is using his gymnastic skills to beat the shit out of multiple assailants and riding a motorbike in high-speed chases with trucks, Corvettes and a couple of guys on motorcycles that have horse heads on the front of their bikes and use axes and maces for weapons. Then he finds his dad’s hidden office and weapons cache. Teamed with his Asian sidekick Cliff the two assault Ragnar’s lair after Danja’s been captured and they save her by using a homemade rocket launcher.
Later, back at Stargrove’s place, an awkwardly acted seduction scene involving a garden hose plays out between Stamos, who’s wearing a pair of Z Cavaricci pants, and Vanity, who’s looking mighty hot in a jungle bikini. A sex montage that appears to have been edited by a meth addict follows this. I feel it’s important to point out here that Stamos is fucking the same woman his dad once did.
Okay, so finally Stargrove and Darja hook up with the big government agency that Lazenby worked for and they agree to help them capture the villainous Ragnar. The operation is led by a man named Carruthers who is very obviously Ragnar disguised as a man. Nobody else in the movie can recognize this, but the audience is on to it from the very beginning. I mean it’s Gene Simmons wearing a red haired wig and false beard for fuck’s sake. Well, Carruthers/Ragnar dupes Stamos and Vanity easily and captures them both. Once back at his/her lair they are to be forced to fight in a gladiator like arena for the amusement of Ragnar’s “turdy revelers” who are tossed handfuls of drugs by their crazed leader. Then, in typical Bond formula fashion, the government agents’ sweep in for the rescue and a finale that’s like a cross between Apocalypse Now and The Rocky Horror Picture Show on acid ensues.
Ragnar escapes to the dam where he/she plans to detonate his/her bomb and poison all the water, but Stargrove’s in hot pursuit and the two finally battle it out there. The fight is really weird and at one point Stamos actually bites Ragnar’s tit. Not fucking kidding. Somehow Ragnar gets the upper hand and Stamos is hanging on for dear life over the edge of the dam. Then Stamos flirts with Ragnar and he/she lowers his/her guard just enough for Stargrove to throw his/her ass over the edge, where we get a beautiful shot of an obvious dummy hitting the ground. I really miss good dummy work. Then Stargrove somehow destroys the bomb by throwing it into the air simultaneously with Cliff the Asian nerd’s homemade rocket launcher and they both blow up, even though the law of physics would never allow that to happen and I thought the whole purpose was to actually stop the bomb from exploding because of the water. But, whom the fuck cares, because the good guys win and Stamos and Vanity ride off into the sunset together in a dune buggy. If that doesn’t sound amazing to you, you might be in a coma!
There is no way you can dismiss the awesome power of a movie this mind-numbingly stupid that features a cast like this. Everyone seems to be taking their roles very seriously, except Stamos whose approach is pretty much that same smug detached style he perfected on his sitcom. His huge feathered hair and over-the-top-even-for-the-eighties fashions upstage him in every scene he’s in. Simmons doesn’t understand the meaning of subtlety to begin with and he seems to have free range here to chew the fuck out of everything during every moment he’s in on screen, whether he’s rolling his eyes back into his head during a crazy laugh or lashing his infamous and grotesque tongue at everything in sight. A post-Prince Vanity is equally hot and nearly emotionless as the love interest and George Lazenby stops by long enough to pick up a check and deliver my favorite line, “What kind of designer-drug are you on?” Oh, I almost forgot to mention that Robert Englund has a small role as Ragnar’s nerdy scientist henchman.
This is one of those offbeat action flicks that appears to take place in its own alternate universe, like Streets of Fire and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man; only unlike those films this style choice is really never made very clear. I think it was intended to be played tongue-in-cheek, but the ineptness of the director made it appear like it’s all being done straight, thereby making this film a fucking work of ridiculous art. And how can you not love a movie that spared us a world where John Stamos was a feature film star? Now that’s an alternate universe I never want to see!