SHOT is a movie that’s not necessarily thrilling from start to finish, but that is a unique specimen and time capsule that I’m happy we, as a civilization, maintain a record of. Somehow the canister-diggers at Vinegar Syndrome got their dusty fingers on a 16mm crime epic made by film students in Champaign, Illinois circa 1973, and now all the sudden it’s on Blu-Ray with a newly restored 2k transfer. The movie is appealing not only for exhibiting the fashion and music of its era, but for having an impressive amount of production value considering its origins. Reportedly they raised a $15,000 budget with campus film screenings, but I imagine it was more a matter of string-pulling that accounts for some of this. They have an abundance of helicopter footage, a small plane, multiple police cars, many guns, and a couple car crashes. It’s no FRENCH CONNECTION (a cited inspiration), but picture yourself, like, 22 years old trying to figure out how to get access to that stuff.
The key to watchability is a solid cast of non-professional actors. Vinegar Syndrome’s promo materials call the movie “regional filmmaking” (and also “a low-key piece of regional New American Cinema”) which is a good description, but might sound like something more laughable and homemade than this. The natural performances I think graduate it to legit indie film. It’s much more professional than so many regional horror movies that I’ve seen, and that’s kind of an interesting part of it, I think. If it was after HALLOWEEN they’d be making a horror movie. If it was after RESERVOIR DOGS they’d be making a crime movie. I guess after DIRTY HARRY they wanted to make cop movies.
Of course, shaggy-haired early ’70s film students are more believable as the grass-dealing dirtbags than the cops. The lead is the goofiest character: a MacGruber-looking Dirty Harry Jr. who I don’t believe ever removes his sunglasses. In the opening scene he comes out of a theater playing THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS, complains about foreign films, then arrests a dude (this actor has got to be their film professor) for smoking a joint (and for talking like a snob). And it plays it like he’s pretty cool for doing it.
There are some scenes in a strip club, and a stripper who become an informant and love interest, but these college kids are too adorable for it to come across as genuine sleaze. Actually I think the seediest thing about it is that it’s filmed in this college town, not Chicago or somewhere, so it’s just this kind of barren area, somewhat rural but with some fast food restaurants and bars and stuff. Seems a little small time for these cops and robbers, but who knows what happens in Champaign? I’ve never been there. But I like when movies are shot in places that have barely been in movies. The only other major ones shot in this area are HOOP DREAMS and WITH HONORS.
The big villain, Blasi, does kill some people in the illegal drug industry, but mainly he’s a guy trying to get a shipment of pot, so it’s kinda funny to see him being treated like he’s Scorpio in DIRTY HARRY. If we ever manage to build a time machine, put it on the list to go back and tell these guys about legal weed.
I like the guy playing Blasi. Most of the people working for him are, like, weirdos in a van or a guy with a day job frying chicken (which we see kind of a documentary demonstration of) but the boss always wears a heavy winter coat and a tie and clearly doesn’t expect to have to make a run for it. I got some kind of joy in the climactic foot chase when he finally gave in and took his jacket off.
I think the limitations of the production lead to its biggest weaknesses as well as its biggest strength. On one hand, the pacing could be improved if they weren’t so inclined to use every inch of helicopter footage they shot. On the other hand, the grounded simplicity of the chase scene is really appealing. There’s some car stuff but it’s mostly a mad scramble, a bunch of dudes hauling ass and trying not to get shot. The actors throw themselves into it hard – they really look like they’re pushing their bodies as far as they can go, which can’t be easy in those unbreathable ’70s clothes.
The country rock-ish soundtrack is credited to Area Code 615, which turns out to not be a local band but one from Nashville. They were session musicians, and some of them had been in Bob Dylan’s band on Blonde on Blonde and Nashville Skyline. Keyboardist David Briggs had also recorded and toured with Elvis. The band released two albums – a self-titled one in 1969 and Trip in the Country in 1970. Their song “Stone Fox Chase” was the theme song for The Old Grey Whistle Test.
I don’t think SHOT got a real theatrical release, but at one time it was released on VHS under the title DEATH SHOT, and with this wonderful painted cover art that does not specifically depict any images, characters or objects featured in the actual movie. Except for money, I guess. And a gun. And a door frame, maybe.
Oh, but this one that’s in the IMDb gallery is even less accurate:
I have no idea what those photos are from but it is not this movie or the era of this movie. Also, this reminds me to add “if it was after RAMBO they would’ve made a shirtless headband uzi commando movie” to the list.
A while after watching this I heard director Chuck Russell (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, THE BLOB, ERASER, THE SCORPION KING, I AM WRATH) on Post Mortem with Mick Garris, and he mentioned being in a movie called SHOT while he was in college in Illinois. Sure enough he gets third billing under the name “Charles Russell.” Apparently he’s the guy who gets shot and falls down some stairs. He says he practiced the stunt for months and everybody thought he really fell down the stairs when he did it. If this is covered on the extras I missed it.
Unfortunately many of the filmmakers didn’t really continue in the industry. Director Mitch Brown’s only other credit is as writer and co-producer of IN DANGEROUS COMPANY (1988) starring Cliff De Young and Tracy Scoggins. But producer/editor/aerial photographer Nate Cohn did produce some other things, most notably ZULU DAWN (1979). Cast member and casting director Fred Rubin became a writer and producer for sitcoms including Diff’rent Strokes, Archie Bunker’s Place, Night Court and Family Matters. Camera operator Peter Crombie became an actor and appears in RISING SUN, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, SE7EN and Russell’s THE BLOB.
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.