Jim Vorel and Kenneth Lowe are both connoisseurs of terrible movies. In this occasional series, they watch and then discuss the fallout of a particularly painful film. Be wary of spoilers.
Jim: What do you picture in your mind when you think of a mid-’80s action B-movie, Ken? Scantily clad women? Fistfights? Plenty of gunplay, certainly. Dangerous Men has all of those things in them…but at the same time, it contains ever-so-much more (and less). You had never seen this masterpiece of incoherence before, so I’m really curious, in the immediate aftermath of watching it, how it’s affected your mental faculties.
Ken: It was so baffling and laugh-out-loud riotous that I may have been deprived of my ability to speak Spanish or calculate the hypotenuse of a right triangle. I truly have no idea exactly what it is I just saw. To describe this film is to shout in nonsensical superlatives like “KNIFE-ASS!”
Jim: Well, in most respects, Dangerous Men is a feature film. As in, they had cameras, and they pointed them at things that were happening. But that’s just about where the comparisons to normal movies end. Most of this is the fault of one John S. Rad, the director.
Ken: I went into this production totally blind in the hopes I would be delightfully surprised or horrified at what I saw. Because I’ve emerged with a burning desire to demand to know who is responsible, maybe you’d better tell me about Mr. Rad. I feel like there’s a long, shady story involved.
Jim: Oh, there certainly is. Rad (who passed away in 2008) was an Iranian-born guy who apparently lived in opulence before the 1979 revolution. When the Shah fled, Rad took his family and moved to California, where he worked as an architect, but his passion was to create an action film that, I shit you not, he claimed would be “bigger than E.T.” In 1984, he started filming Dangerous Men. He then worked sporadically on the movie for the next 26 years, and it had a final, proper “release” in 2005 when he paid a few theaters in L.A. to play it for a week. The whole time, he reportedly thought that Dangerous Men was going to make him famous. You can see him being interviewed in the flesh below in what I’m pretty sure if the strangest TV appearance in history.
Ken: That’s the saddest story of an immigrant refugee I’ve heard since the one that ended with “and then he had a son named ‘Ted Cruz.’” I have to profess bafflement that Rad wasn’t the star of the production, too, since every other credit here seems to be his. He sure got a lot of mileage out of that music he wrote. It repeats more than a Nintendo game’s.
Jim: I have had the exact same thought about Dangerous Men—it’s almost astounding that, in addition to producing, directing, editing and composing, Rad also didn’t cast himself as the star of the film. It’s certainly not because he had any qualms about casting non-actors to fill all the roles, because every role is filled by the worst non-actor on the face of the Earth, backed by Rad’s ever-cycling two-song soundtrack. Tell us about “Mina” (Melody Wiggins), who is ostensibly the protagonist we spend the first chunk of the film with.
Ken: She’s certainly the most unlucky woman ever to be exploited in a cheesy ‘80s sleaze-fest. And I think…I think...she’s the protagonist of about 40 percent of this movie? We’re introduced to her in the most confusingly edited intro imaginable—after we open with the title exploding, of course. She’s dating the brother of a cop, a guy who seems to have a really tenuous grasp on English diction, and she also has a father who is roughly the same age as her. She and her fiancé go for a romantic stroll on the beach, where two bikers decide to kill him and rape her, and only succeed at one of these things. Just describing her is skipping over a lot of the cinematic masterpiece that is the thrilling opening ten minutes of John S. Rad’s movie, though.
Jim: The world is not kind to Mina. She just wants to walk on the beach with her fiancé, and 30 minutes later she’s in a seedy motel with a gigantic, bald biker—whose friend also just died, along with the fiancé—and she’s feigning sexual interest in him to distract him long enough to stab his butt to death. Which she does, repeatedly.
Ken: WITH A BUTT KNIFE, JIM. SHE HIDES THE KNIFE BETWEEN HER CHEEKS. THAT HAPPENS IN THIS MOVIE.
Jim: Butt knifes, belly dancing, rapists and knee-focused eroticism. It’s all in Dangerous Men.
Ken: At least part of this movie, anyway, is about Mina encountering piggish men and then murdering them. But once she sweet-talks her way to getting that gigantic bald biker vulnerable so she can kill him, she escapes and tries to hitch a ride with a man who might or might not be pretending to be British. He does not have a thought he doesn’t verbalize for our convenience and fully 20 percent of this film’s runtime belongs to him, it felt like. I feel as if describing this one episode will tell you a lot about this movie, so maybe you should try.
Jim: OK, well the first thing to understand is that this man is a male within the world of Dangerous Men, and that means he is a rapist. Every man driving a car down the road in this film is a violent rapist without any regard for their own well-being, so as soon as Mina falls asleep, he immediately drives her deep into the desert, wakes her up and points a gun at her. But because all the rapists in this movie are also insanely gullible, he falls for her “you don’t need that gun, let’s just have some coitus in the front seat of your truck” routine, and she immediately outsmarts him. She then kicks him out of the car, forces him to strip, takes his clothes and speeds off. Any other film would just move on from there, content that karma had been carried out. Dangerous Men, on the other hand, keeps following this would-be British rapist around for the next 5-10 minutes as he wanders around the desert in the buff, singing and dancing and suffering a complete mental breakdown.
Ken: While holding handfuls of desert brush over his privates, Jim.
Jim: I thought that paragraph was probably long enough, but yes. It’s like a Monty Python bit in many ways.
There are few things more compelling in cinema than following a nude, middle-aged sexual predator around the desert as he babbles to himself.
Ken: In any case, this sets Mina on a path toward, I guess, retributive murder for all womankind. She solicits the advice of a prostitute on how to be a “lady of the night,” and then goes around killing guys. This is sometimes edited with no explanation for why they might deserve it. One guy appears to be guilty of no crime more terrible than having a ‘70s porno mustache, and we slam-cut to him being knifed to death.
Jim: I like how she basically operates as what I’ve dubbed a “reverse prostitute.” She prowls around in a car, sees seemingly random men hanging out on street corners and then beckons them to her car. And then murders them. She’s also shocked and appalled when news reports start surfacing that the police are hunting for her as a serial killer. Like, she seemingly never considered that this would be a possibility. But it leads into the second major chunk of the film.
Ken: Is it the second major chunk, or is it an entirely different film, Jim?! Because at some point we just stop seeing any scenes with Mina, after she gets nabbed by a policeman who has a badge that says, no joke, “Policeman POLICE” on it. Then the perspective of the film changes over mostly to her dead boyfriend’s cop brother, who we’ve already witnessed breaking up the world’s most poorly acted convenience store robbery, and who for some reason is pursuing the biker gang his brother’s murderer belonged to, even though his brother’s murder was avenged in the first 15 minutes of the film and my head hurts.
Jim: Asking whether the first and second halves of Dangerous Men are actually the same film is like asking if various components on a hamburger all constitute “a sandwich” together if they were prepared in separate locations and possibly in different decades—I can only say “maybe.” The hero cop, who is listed in the credits only as “Police Detective,” becomes our second major protagonist, but I realized while watching the film this time around that this is because these scenes were probably filmed an astounding 11 years after the originals from 1984. I realized this during one of the incredibly dull police station scenes, because you can clearly see a big calendar behind the black detective that says “December, 1995.”
Police Detective in action.
With that said, the two halves actually look impressively similar—which is to say, equally bad.
Ken: One wonders if John S. Rad insisted on period-accurate clothing and mannerisms throughout. Releasing this dud in 2005 does mean he missed the ‘80s resurgence by a good decade, though, which might be the true tragedy here. Anyway, astoundingly, Police Detective isn’t even the guy who closes out the movie. After he tails another mean biker to a bar, bribes the barkeep $300 for sketchy info and then saves another woman from another rape by this biker, he manages to track the leader of this gang, “Big Pepper,” to his secret lair—a very cramped two-bedroom house.
A house which he never enters, because the movie then switches to the perspective of other cops and then the crusty old police chief we’ve barely met.
Jim: Whoa whoa whoa, Ken. I think you’re vastly underselling the greatness of our new chief antagonist here—and it’s “Black Pepper,” by the way. He looks like a cross between a surfer and hair metal performer in a black tank top, overalls, platinum blonde hair and reflective sunglasses, and he’s introduced in what is probably the last 15 to 20 minutes of the film. But technically, it’s his gang that killed Mina’s fiance back at the beginning, so it all ties together, you see?
Ken: Oh, Black Pepper, my mistake. Your physical description of him makes me wonder how I could’ve gotten it confused. This final chase scene, by the way, was where I began to wonder how these 79 minutes of screen time could somehow occupy the span of 20 years. As the old police chief chases this guy down—with neither Police Detective nor Mina anywhere to be seen—Black Pepper runs inside the house of a woman who is:
1. blind (interesting!)
2. sewing (OK!)
3. concealing a semi-automatic pistol beneath her sewing project
This is the world of Dangerous Men, Jim. It’s an NRA activist’s wet dream.
Jim: You forgot to add that the reason we’re now following the elderly police chief instead of Hero Cop/Police Detective is because he gets into a big fistfight with Black Pepper…and then just gets knocked out cold. Or dead; it’s not really clear. But thank god, because it gives us an ending where three different characters who weren’t in the film 20 minutes earlier share its dramatic closing moments together. Despite being on the run from the cops, Black Pepper decides to just break into this blind woman’s house to menace her, but he’s foiled by the 60-year-old-looking police chief. At which time, the film freeze-frames and the credits begin to roll, as he’s being handcuffed.
Ken: Yes, it hearkens back to classic endings in some of my favorite kung fu movies with their abrupt ending smackdowns—except nowhere near as good or, you know, cohesive. So what did we learn, Jim? Do you think this epic film is worthy of unseating E.T. as the family classic that defines our collective childhoods?
Jim: Yes, but only if you could time-travel forward from 1984 to watch it in 2005, and then travel right back to preserve the space-time continuum and wish for a sequel, Really Dangerous Men.
By the way, I really must stress how much I love this ending. So many other aspects of Dangerous Men can at least be partially explained by “Well, I shot this part in 1984, and I shot these parts in 1995,” but there’s no explanation on Earth that could rationalize why you’d have the hero of the second half of the movie get laid out by the villain, and then have that villain get captured five minutes later by a character we’ve basically never met. This is insanity. And I love it.
The honest-to-god last image you see in this movie.
Ken: I probably shouldn’t repeat what I shouted when that happened. I was filled with a combination of bafflement at what I had just seen and relief that the ordeal was over. Did your research uncover any information on how this magnum opus was received by the public?
Jim: From what I can understand, there were a handful of people who saw the movie in 2005 and immediately recognized it for the amazing cult classic that it would become, which led to occasional screenings of it at festivals. It was probably at one of these that it was noticed by Alamo Drafthouse, because they released it on DVD and Blu-ray—yes, I have a Blu-ray disc of Dangerous Men—in 2015. It actually bears a lot in common with one of the other films they released, Miami Connection, in that they’re both mid-’80s action movies by foreign-born directors. Where Miami Connection is really naively optimistic about making the world a better place, though, Dangerous Men seems to take the opinion that humanity is a virus that must be expunged.
Ken: Maybe we should cleanse our pallet with Miami Connection sometime soon, then, because this was just bizarre.
Jim: Before we sign off, I just want to add one great thing that I read. Remember the rapist—this film is full of them, so think hard—whom Mina shoots, and then pushes his car down a cliff, where it explodes at the bottom? That was apparently the Datsun of John S. Rad’s teenage daughter, which he took away from her after she dated a young man he disapproved of. She never knew what happened to the car until she saw it blown up at a screening in 2005.
Ken: Good heavens. We haven’t seen a public betrayal like that since Marjoe. Nor one as ineptly cut and sound-edited—that was quite a fake explosion.
Jim: Jesus, we never even discussed the sound editing of this movie, did we? Oh well—if you’re reading this right now and thinking about checking out Dangerous Men, consider the aural side of the movie an unexpected adventure!
Ken: The technical incompetence on display here would warrant its own separate article, to be sure. One I urge our readers to skip. I think it might be best for us to leave this movie now, Jim.
Jim: Until next time, Ken. I dare you to top this movie with your selection. I don’t think it can be done.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer, who you can follow on Twitter. Kenneth Lowe is a contributing writer for Paste. Follow him on Twitter and read more of his writing at his blog.