Saturday, May 9, 2009
DEATH RING (1992)
A survival contest winner finds himself - and his fiancee - kidnapped to be prey for a bunch of bored millionaires on an isolated island. (Basically, Richard Connell's "The Most Dangerous Game" on a $5K budget.)
Starring NORRIS, SWAYZE, and MCQUEEN!!!!! But not the guys you're thinking of. MIKE Norris, DON Swayze, and CHAD McQueen. I was told that this movie would be "inspiring" and "life-changing," and indeed it is.
Ex-military McQueen wins this 10-speed biking/rappelling competition held in like Griffith Park, attracting the attention of rich and freaky Billy Drago, who kidnaps McQueen and his fiancee while they're at the batting cages and deposits them on his secret island lair that has been outfitted for big, big game hunting. Fiancee is held captive in a bedroom that suspiciously resembles an amateur porn set. Her guards, Drago's henchwoman Miss Ling and two backless black leotard wearing escapees from a Robert Palmer video, threaten Fiancee that if she doesn't get dressed for dinner, they will make her. It's a beautiful inverse of those women-in-prison movies where they threaten the ladies with nonconsensual UNdressing.
Sadly there is no girlfight. But the dinner - at which we meet a rainbow coalition of manhunters (not that kind of rainbow, not those kind of manhunters...yet) - more than makes up for it. McQueen finds out he is the big game, Drago smells Fiancee's hair, a guy gets his hand stabbed with a fork, and there is a fight to the death composed solely of close-ups.
Meanwhile, ex-Vietnam heli pilot Norris rejects his gratuitously topless girlfriend in favor of filing a police report on behalf of his buddies and researching a suspicious tattoo seen on one of the batting cage captors: two triangles, one on top of the other. Relatedly, Drago heroically contributes to a long tradition of fey villains whose male femininity is supposed to tap into subconscious social fears about sexual boundary crossing...Z-Man/Superwoman, Frank N Furter, It Puts The Lotion In The Basket, The Joker in nurse drag. Also, he keeps his head tilted the entire movie. He can't even keep his NECK straight! That's right, I said it. Between the forced girl-on-girl clothing, the triangles, and the bi/trans what-have-you, this movie is a Queer Studies goldmine.
Back to Island Of The Creepy Dolphins, where Drago awards the culturally diverse hunter dudes their ethnically-appropriate weaponry - the Indian guy gets the spear, the Chinese fellow gets the throwing stars, etc. And then the culturally diverse hunter dudes start their ethnically appropriate preparations for the hunt - the Indian guy squats by a campfire with a bowl of something, the Chinese fellow meditates, the white man gets down with the Oriental meditation, etc.
And then the hunt is up! McQueen makes short work of the first few would-be assassins in some (finally!) fully framed hand-to-hand combat while Drago and Miss Ling listen in via radio and dry-hump to the sounds of struggle. McQueen periodically updates Drago on his progress: "The Iceman has melted," "Your Mr. Chin is now Mr. Dead." At some point McQueen falls into a cave. And there he meets last year's surviving prey, Swayze, who sports the most all-consuming mullet that ever there was. EVER. EVVVVVVER.
The two team up to kill everybody. Norris choppers in to drop two grenades on the scene. One of Drago's guards fires a really small gun at the aircraft. Fiancee is trapped in the house, tied to the dinner table in what would be by all standards totally ineffectual bondage. Miss Ling slips her the tongue (where is that Queer Studies grad student?), McQueen and Drago face off (spoiler alert: Drago dies), McQueen releases Fiancee and they run to the chopper, then McQueen goes back in the house to claim his prize: a butt-ugly DEATH RING, yes, the thing this movie is named after, allotted two mentions of approximately eight seconds of screen time total. On his way out, he is surprised by a not-dead-yet Miss Ling, who prepares to do him in, when she herself is killed by...okay, I'm not going to say it as an attempt to preserve at least some intrigue here. But I will say that, fabulously, it makes absolutely no sense.
Hands down my very favorite moment of this movie is when Drago whips out his sawed-off shotgun based crossbow...that shoots PUB DARTS. DUDE. HOW CAN YOU FUCKING TOP THAT. HOW. I ask you. I may have to stop blogging just because of this.
Special thanks to Gene (pronounced with a hard G) for the hard-sell and the loaner.