Before GREEN ROOM, before Election 2016, there was Greydon Clark’s SKINHEADS (1989), about a small gang of neo-Nazis running wild.
It starts, like so many cheap action movies, with the gang robbing a convenience store. But in this case they there’s no hero to kick their ass, and they intentionally turn their wrath on the elderly Jewish owners and a young black customer.
Now that they are murderers, they decide maybe it’s time to get out of town for a bit. Take a vacation in the mountains somewhere outside of Reno. But their rampage continues when they stop at a cafe and pick a fight with some other patrons. After Tiny (Duane Davis, UNDER SIEGE, TYSON, PAPARAZZI) accepts the challenge and outboxes the biggest, dumbest skinhead, Brains (Dennis Ott, “Bar Character,” ROAD HOUSE), their crazy leader Damon (Brian Brophy, CITY OF INDUSTRY) shoots and kills him.
The gang tries to kill all the witnesses, but Amy (Elizabeth Sagal, one of the twins from the old sitcom Double Trouble, now executive story editor of Sons of Anarchy and co-executive producer of Feed the Beast) and Jeff (Jason Culp, HICKEY & BOGGS) get away, eventually hiding out in a remote cabin that turns out to belong to Mr. Huston (Chuck Connors, TOURIST TRAP), a loner WWII vet who we saw briefly toward the beginning of the movie. He offers them shelter, some tough guy lines and his expertise in killing Nazis. But Jeff is no slouch either, he sets up some pretty cool booby traps.
It would make alot of sense for the heroes to be one of the minorities that these pricks hate. Instead they’re just white people who get along with other races. Jeff makes a pretty good speech about his murdered friend:
“You didn’t know Tiny, but he was one of the best guys I ever knew. Everybody that knew him loved him. And that scum killed him just because he was black. I’ve been floating around for years pretending like this stuff didn’t exist anymore. I can’t pretend anymore. And I can’t walk away. No more apathy. Tough way to learn a lesson.”
By the way, he says all that while setting a bear trap. If you’re an actor, consider that next time you’re trying to come up with some business to do during an emotional monologue.
For a while, the skinheads are stalking the heroes through the woods, with various inter-gang conflicts. Damon is crazier than the others and actually thinks they’re going to start a race war. Of course they have a boyish new member, who got his head shaved for the first time at the beginning, and he has concerned eyes to show he’s reluctant about everything. I understand why this is a handy storytelling trope but jesus christ, you can’t expect us to be sympathetic toward the naive newbie when it’s a Neo-Nazi gang he joins. Ah, poor guy didn’t sign up to be an accessory to murder. He just wanted to be with some bros in a van with a swastika on the side who share his violent hatred of minorities – that’s all, I swear!
It turns into a siege movie in the cabin, before the fight moves back out into the woods. Damon says “We are going to split up to find the hero and the woman,” which is the same names I would’ve had to use in this review had IMDb never been invented.
After they separate, one of them is literally crying for mommy about how scared he is, especially after seeing a rattlesnake. When Amy is cornered by the one female skinhead, Liz (Lynna Hopwood), she tries to make a woman-to-woman plea to her. But racial purity is more important to Liz than sisterhood. That wasn’t covered in MEAN GIRLS.
Unfortunately this is shoddily made, and not very exciting for a movie where a guy gets nailed to a wall and then attacked by a bear. It doesn’t in any way glamorize skinheads, but it’s definitely more about exploiting the existence of scary neo-Nazis than giving a genuine warning or offering insights into the phenomenon. But there is one part where Damon angrily summarizes his world view:
“They’re taking over the world through the marketplace. Bankers, industrialists, multi-national corporations are controlling world policy and economies. Do you think you’re getting the truth on the 6 o’clock news? We don’t even own America anymore. We are on the verge of extinction. Outsiders are buying our lands, our homes, our business, our country. I can’t even find a white man to fix my car!”
You know, take off that last line and change “6 o’clock news” to “CNN,” and this could almost be said by even some mainstream Republicans today. But they would say it like it was reasonable, not like they were the villain making a speech, the way Damon does. And we would be expected to play along as if we don’t know for sure who they’re talking about running the world, and as if refusing to share our society with people of other races is just “economic anxiety.”
As Damon (SPOILER) breathes his last breath he mutters “We will never die,” and that’s the very end of the movie. Sadly that’s more prophetic than we would like. As much as we are still dealing with racism in this country, I really did think the self-identified white supremacists like this were a rarity in this century. I was like Jeff, “floating around for years pretending like this stuff didn’t exist anymore.”
But recent events have flipped over their rocks, emboldening them to crawl off of the internet into the public. We have an uptick in swastika graffiti, the KKK throwing a parade to celebrate Trump’s victory, “white nationalists” having a convention and sieg heiling in a federal building named after Reagan, threatening letters being sent to mosques, and one of their enablers as chief strategist in the new White House (emphasis on “White”). I hope that they are just a very vocal minority and will not be seen as a constituency for the rest of the GOP to exploit like the Tea Party people were. I don’t think I’m being partisan by saying fuck these fucking guys. I’m sure the conservatives we have here agree. These guys need to pay attention to the instructions in that tune by the Dead Kennedys.
Long before SKINHEADS became depressingly timely again, it was a superb exploitation premise. Neo-Nazi skinheads were a new phenomenon as far as most Americans knew, they were in the media, and here is this idea of a badass greatest generationer taking them on. Kind of a “I can’t even fucking believe I have to deal with this shit in the year 1989″ attitude, although a “you pussies aren’t real Nazis, I already killed the real Nazis” would’ve worked too. I’d honestly love to see a remake of this, done in more of a Clint Eastwood type of way where the vet is the main character, not just the guy who helps the young leads in the second half.
But if they did it would have to be an ’80s period piece, because the remaining WWII vets are too old to kick ass. Not to disparage them – they’ve earned a break from kicking ass. But it’s worth noting that only as the war is fading from living memory are white supremacist creeps starting to slither out into the open again. Number one, being that far removed from Hitler’s atrocities and the people who were there helps them to avoid common human decency. Number two, they feel safe knowing that Chuck Connors isn’t gonna be there to stop them. They can look stuff up on IMDb too, so they know he died three years after this movie came out.
That just means we’re gonna have to be Chuck Connors.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.