It’s been ten years since the world premiere of a film no one had ever heard of and very few people have ever since seen. Seemingly out of thin air, a movie named as if by some Hollywood action film title generator popped up in no less than five Los Angeles movie theaters, including the long gone, highly respected Laemmle’s Sunset 5. Without any sort of television, print or radio advertisements, the Sunset 5 was sold out at a midnight screening and for all of 80 minutes the audience in attendance was electrified.
“Created,” produced, executive produced, edited, scored, directed, etc., by the improbably named and enigmatic John S. Rad (who’s also billed as the “screenplay writer”), Dangerous Men is less a movie and more of an experience. Not unlike, say, a schizophrenic daydream, a Dadaist endurance test or a collective of filmmakers who, for kicks, decided to each direct a random scene blindfolded and then throw them up in the air, only to splice them together in whatever order they’re picked up from the floor:
(Spoilers – if you wanna call events haphazardly strung together spoilers – follow)
Devoid of any panache, sense of continuity or coherence, Dangerous Men starts off with an almost subliminal rat-tat-tat of sound and images as though the audience is taking part in some sort of anti-cinematic visual and auditory experiment. The goofiest yet catchiest synthesized score in the history of cinema. A wife we’ll never see again spouting the kind of tone-deaf dialogue we’ll be privy to throughout. A couple at night having dinner while what seem like flood lights shine on their faces in a scene where the soundtrack sounds like it’s on mute when they’re not talking. The word “unity.” Yup, that’s it, the word “unity.” A robbery taking place at a liquor store where its owner holds on dearly to a blood squib as she’s struck by fire from machine gun that sounds like a pistol. That’s all just in the first five minutes.
Throw in bikers who look like Shel Silverstein. A forehead tattoo that morphs from scene to scene. A father who looks two years older than his daughter. A knife being held in a butt crack. A micro subplot involving the plight and inner conflict of a naked, would-be rapist with a pseudo-British accent who drives a pick up truck while wearing a business suit. Stock footage of a train while a typewriter is being heard on the soundtrack. The beach as a metaphor for male fascism. Acid-wash grandma jeans everywhere. Sprightly music played on the soundtrack while someone’s shadow is getting stabbed to death. A police file that includes glamour shots in place of mug shots. The set of a TV news program that looks like it was rejected by a junior high school play. Foreplay that involves rubbing of the knees. A woman literally running away from home. Another woman who’s blind and sewing patterns on a quilt while watching TV. Those aren’t even the most outlandish parts. In a scene that’s become equal parts notorious and legendary, a police Chief who seems to age ten years from scene to scene talks on the phone while reading what’s clearly a copy of the script sitting on the desk in front of him. His lines are highlighted. The madness, er, radness, ends with Black Pepper, the blonde, curly-haired, Viking-looking leader of a biker gang whose only crime seems to have been enjoying copious amounts of belly dancing.
Once you get past the stream-of-consciousness of the editing what emerges is a plot that sounds straightforward enough, even foolproof: A woman’s fiancé is brutally killed, causing her to snap and setting her on a path of vengeance against men. Meanwhile, her fiancé’s brother, a cop, searches for both the killers and the unhinged woman. It’s a compelling plot drowned in a perfect storm of non-sequiturs, bad acting, no direction directing, and surreal plot twists. A perfect storm that seems almost too elaborate to not have been done intentionally. Dangerous Men is not just a brilliant, bizarre and hilarious corruption of the action movie or the female revenge fantasy but also an exercise in watching a movie without any seeming regard for such things as placement of the camera, lighting, sound, editing, dialogue or costume and set designs.
Depending on your source (including cryptic answers from interviews with the director himself), Dangerous Men either started production in the late ’70s or mid-’80s and due to personal problems was filmed on-and-off right up to the mid-’90s with new characters and plot points added along the way. Presumably wrapping up sometime in the early aughts, the film was finally premiered on September of 2005, reportedly making a total of $70. Two months later, it was shown to packed houses and went off to make the rounds in film festivals shortly thereafter. Since then, it’s been impossible to see. For the exception of a couple of LA screenings over the years, there’s been no wide release. No home video release. So well-guarded must be the print that internet searches over the years have yielded not one link to an unauthorized rip, youtube upload or bootleg physical copy. Nothing anywhere. Nada. Zilch.
Thanks to Drafthouse Films, Dangerous Men will be getting a national theatrical re-release this week, a VOD release next month and a home video release next year. The timing couldn’t be more apropos.
Sporting a look that might be deemed as proto-hipster, Rad now seems like a man ahead of his time who was making a homage to bad ’80s film cliches (awkward sex scenes, inane action sequences, asinine dialogue), not a man who was out of touch with film making circa 2005. Think this year’s Kung Fury and Turbo Kid or the current crop of slasher throwbacks. All hip, knowing tributes to ’80s cheese right down to their synthesized scores. Without knowing it, Rad was all over that fad ten years ago, but without the tongue-in-cheek, winky-wink irony or shortcut green screen that’s par for the course today. Despite its limited audience, Dangerous Men has become so influential that it’s forced cult and grindhouse peddlers and aficionados to think outside the box, beyond that golden age of 42nd Street exploitation/trash/extreme cinema. It’s inspired a search for potential gems that might be buried in what’s now become the distant late ’80s and ’90s. Movies that went straight-to-video never seeing a theatrical release. Some shot on video for a very specific market. While still others, like Dangerous Men, teetering on outsider art seclusion.
Much like the making of the film itself, little is known about John S. Rad, with the most information available from an invaluable interview conducted by the LA Weekly’s Paul Cullum back in 2005, just before the screening at the Sunset 5. Born in Iran, Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad was originally, by his own admission, a successful architect before turning to cinema and making 11 movies in farsi. From the interview: “I create differently. If it is bad, it’s a bad different. If it’s good, it’s a good different. I don’t follow anybody’s technique but my own.” Sadly, Rad died of a heart attack two years after that interview and that legendary screening. He was 71. And just like that, John Rad left as quickly as he had arrived. His masterpiece, however, will finally be able to live on forever.
Dangerous Men will play The Cinefamily at The Silent Movie Theater. Shows are at midnight on Friday, November 13 and Saturday, November 14. At 8:45 pm on Sunday, November 15