November 13th, 2015 will mark the theatrical release of Drafthouse Films’ DANGEROUS MEN. A film 26 years in the making, DANGEROUS MEN is the passion project of filmmaker John S. Rad. A truly bizarre film, it’s one part rape-revenge thriller, one part Cannon-style action film, and 100% enjoyable. It is honestly a film that needs to be seen to believed. The Drafthouse restoration of DANGEROUS MEN premiered at this year’s Fantastic Fest and it was a favorite among the fans and critics alike at the festival. The Daily Grindhouse staff loved it.
Mike Vanderbilt of Daily Grindhouse had the pleasure of speaking with James Shapiro, COO of Drafthouse Films, and Hadrian Belove of Los Angeles’s Cinefamily, on the eve of the second theatrical release of John Rad’s film. Hadrian saw DANGEROUS MEN during its initial release in 2005 and became an instant fan, programming an early screening at Cinefamily which sparked the beginnings of a small cult of fans, and James spent three years attempting to acquire DANGEROUS MEN for re-release. DANGEROUS MEN is returning to theaters nationwide this weekend, with a VOD release planned for December.
Daily Grindhouse: When did you both see DANGEROUS MEN for the first time?
Hadrian Belove: I saw DANGEROUS MEN along with a very small cadre of lucky and devout lovers of strange cinema when it came out in 2005. We had a secret, after-hours, screening club of the Black Abba, and my partner at the time actually posted about it. He’d seen this really strange ad in the middle of the night during FEAR FACTOR re-runs, a rather mysterious advertisement that explains nothing and intrigued many. He posted on the message board and said, “Look, this is better than anything you’ve seen in our midnight movie series, this is the ultimate Black Abba screening. Everyone should go.” It was pretty unusual, as he never almost never posts. He’s not as social a creature as I am. I ended up wandering out to Pasadena to watch it with no one else in the room except for us. There were very bemused theatre managers and employees who seemed to know that something strange was going on. It was a deeply surreal experience.
For seconds, I thought it was a hoax. I thought this is too perfect and strange, and when that title card hit, it was like TIM & ERIC before TIM & ERIC. One of the great things about it that will never be recaptured is the mystery of what it is and where it came from. It’s not so bad it’s good, but it’s inter-dimensional, like it was made on a different planet. Who made it? What, why, where, how? What were their goals? It was an absolutely fantastic theatrical experience. There was a lot of buzz on our tiny message board, and I ended up going three times that week and bringing people along. Back then, you didn’t really know if a film like that was going to appear again, certainly not in a theater. Who the hell would book that theatrically in 35 and practically in private? You had the whole theatre to yourself. You could have murdered somebody in there and gotten away with it.
That led to a tiny cult over a couple years. It led to one guy in the group who ended up finding John S. Rad and doing a piece on him in the L.A. WEEKLY. I have a deeper appreciation for the importance of journalists, having personally witnessed this. Now, Paul [Cullum] has the only serious interview with John. [Who died in 2007.] If you’re looking for an interview with Terrence Malick, you end up with the same three interviews with Terrence Malick. Yes, I’m comparing John S. Rad to Terrence Malick.
DG: Having seen the film, I don’t think its off base calling John Rad an auteur.
Hadrian: That is for sure. His name sounded made up. Is this a fake ’80s movie made by a guy named John Rad? It seemed heavily ironic. It would have taken a truly dedicated genius to pull off a hoax this, and I guess it did. Like Kurt Vonnegut said, “you are who you pretend to be.”
DG: The Drafthouse Releases such as MIAMI CONNECTION and THE ASTROLOGER, as well as something like DANGEROUS MEN, while they may be inept, they’re highly entertaining. They’re not slogs like some exploitation cinema can be. What do you look for in a Drafthouse release like this?
James Shapiro: Tim League has always built the culture around Alamo, which has embraced cinema, period, and there is a really wide definition of what cinema is. You see many films in general, when you see something that’s truly singular, that’s what gets you excited. It’s not really studio filmmaking that builds that kind of excitement. MIAMI CONNECTION is sheer entertainment, THE VISITOR takes ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE OMEN, and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND and throws them in a blender, you push the button and it comes out tasting delicious. DANGEROUS MEN is such a singular film. Just as soon as you think it’s going in one direction, then it completely turns into something else, and then it completely turns into something else on top of that. It is singular, unique, outsider art, any of those definitions for a film. That’s what gets us excited about it, the sheer uniqueness.
Hadrian: DANGEROUS MEN is one of those rare instances where I was involved enough early enough to witness the viral spread almost from patient zero. The people with the finest palettes are the one who are most drawn to it. This is beyond definition, it’s hard to categorize. It kind of reminds me of the kind of free, wild, creative spirit of Turkish action, or Mondo Macabre films from Malaysia.
DG: I saw DANGEROUS MEN at Fantastic Fest and one thing I noticed was that apparently men’s style didn’t change much over twenty years.
James: We think that most of the filming took place between 1984 and 1986. Going through this process of acquiring the film, we got nine complete 35mm prints of DANGEROUS MEN. We were also given twenty-five canisters that we weren’t sure what was in them. They were all labeled either in Farsi or English: UNDER THE COVER OF THE NIGHT. We took those reels and examined them to try and figure out what this is, and we’re still not sure exactly what UNDER THE COVER OF THE NIGHT is. It could be a separate movie John made, it could just be another name for DANGEROUS MEN, or it could be a partial film that got slapped onto the end of DANGEROUS MEN, which explains the complete 180 in narrative for the last twenty minutes of the film.
DG: Are there any plans to do an official release of the DANGEROUS MEN score?
James: We’re going to make the soundtrack available. All the music in the film is original. When re-releasing films, particularly when a filmmaker has passed away, there are a lot of issues with rights and clearances. In this case we were able to license the film directly from John’s heirs. They gave the soundtrack rights to us. The cassingles that were released at Fantastic Fest were really fun — they brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.
When you’re watching the movie and the credits are rolling and John’s name is showing up over and over again, on top of that is the same musical chords playing over and over again. That gets the audience comfortable in the fact that this is just so bizarre and so unusual that people get it right away.
Hadrian: The soundtrack in a way epitomizes a lot about what the movie is –it is good in that is catchy, people clap along, it’s strange, very spare, but it’s also unique. It’s instantly recognizable within notes.
DG: What do you think drove John Rad to complete DANGEROUS MEN over the course of twenty years?
James: Here’s the thing: we know a little bit. John passed away right after the movie’s release. Hopefully we’re going to get the film to the audience he always envisioned. We talked a lot with his daughter, whose car gets pushed off the cliff in the film. Apparently, John did that because she was grounded and he was upset with her, so he wrecked her car in the movie. We’ve spoken to a few of the cast members, trying to figure out why it took twenty-six years to make this movie. The obvious answer is that it was financial, but here’s a guy who was pretty wealthy in his home country and had to leave the country to give his family a better life because of political changes. He gave up that fortune, but this was his ambition. He was this architect, and now he wanted to be a filmmaker, but he had no training. His talent wasn’t what we traditionally think of as talent in directors. He had the passion and the enthusiasm to push this movie out there despite financial hurdles and despite not having any real idea on how to make a movie. That’s why we’re looking at something so unique and singular, is because his passion, his enthusiasm for this film, just to get it done regardless of what hurdles are in front of him.
DG: What’s up next for Drafthouse Films?
James: We do have a number of upcoming releases such as KLOWN FOREVER and THE INVITATION. I do have another “Holy Fucking Shit” movie. I hope that this is going to be a tradition at Fantastic Fest: a secret screening that nobody knows that it is, fill two theaters, and there’s enough stuff out there that people haven’t seen yet that’s ready to melt people’s brains. I do have another one ready to go for 2016.
DG: Is the trend of “riffing” and the “so bad it’s good” label, slapped on films like MIAMI CONNECTION and DANGEROUS MEN, helping or hurting cult cinema?
Hadrian: It’s hurting. Public riffing without paid comedians at least, it’s certainly terrible. The phrase “Holy Fucking Shit” was coined as a response to “so bad it’s good” as a concept. The emotional response you’re having to a film like DANGEROUS MEN in my belief is that your brain cannot handle the load of what you’re dealing with. I don’t see that movie as bad — it makes me sad when people see DANGEROUS MEN and all they can say is, that was a terrible movie. There are a million terrible movies that are boring. DANGEROUS MEN has energy, variety, and interesting solutions to problems unlike any other films you’ve seen. I saw Zack Carlson introduce a movie recently, and he framed it as “Look at this as a love letter to the film. We’re laughing with this film.” Camp does not necessarily mean bad at all. In order to have true camp take effect, you have to have true affection for the material.
James: Zack wrote something during the MIAMI CONNECTION campaign: it’s not so bad it’s good, it’s so good it’s good. Zack’s argument in there, and I agree with him, is “Is this really a bad movie?” GOTHIKA is a bad movie. GOTHIKA had four screenwriters, a director, and a whole studio behind it, and they’re not able to come up with anything remotely interesting in that movie. It’s just bland. That’s terrible filmmaking. These are the kind of movies that need to be riffed on. They’re clearly trying to make something for the masses, and it’s so calculated, but it’s so terrible because it’s calculated. DANGEROUS MEN is one guy trying to make his passion and his dream come true. There is none of that in a movie like GOTHIKA.