Sunday, April 27, 2014

Punk Vacation (Stanley Lewis, 1990)

I don't think she had any lines beyond, "What'll it be?" And get this, she's only onscreen for something like ten, maybe fifteen seconds. Yet, the moment I saw Roxanne Rogers as the perpetually unamused diner waitress in 976-EVIL, I knew she had talent. While the makers of the hotline from hell movie couldn't see that she was oozing raw, uncut star power (if they had, they would have given her a bigger part), someone else might. And wouldn't you know it, the fine folks behind this particular movie obviously saw that Roxanne Rogers needed an opportunity to properly shine as an actress. (So, did they?) Oh, you better believe they did. They not only cast her as a punk in the aptly named Punk Vacation, they cast her as the lead punk. Now, in most movies that feature gangs that subscribe to the punk ethos, whether they be unruly biker punks and unscrupulous street punks, their leader is typically a man–he usually has a bad attitude, a short temper and is named either Spike or Slash. Well, in this film, a woman calls the shots. (Oh, I see, she leads a gang of girl punks.) You sexist pig. (What?) You just implied that if a woman is the leader of a gang of punks, it must be an all-girl gang, 'cause no man would take orders from a woman, right? (Okay, fine, they have one gay guy in the gang who does their hair and helps the girls put together their punk ensembles, but the rest of the gang is made up of chicks.) You are not only a sexist pig, you're a homophobic jackass. (What?) Do I even have to explain?

Check this out, Roxanne Rogers' characters name is "Ramrod." Isn't that awesome? To be honest, I thought the leader of the punks in this movie was a man. You see, while hold up in an abandoned barn, the punks keep referring to their leader, "Ramrod." Noticing a burly male punk with a strong upper body standing in a menacing manner, I naturally assumed that he was Ramrod, as he looks exactly the way you would think a person named Ramrod would look.

However, when I finally realized that they were referring Roxanne Rogers and not the burly fella as "Ramrod," I nearly lost it. Not because I felt duped, or because the whole incident exposed some mild sexism on my part. No, because I love the idea of a woman calling herself "Ramrod."

While I was getting my panties all in a twist over the fact that a woman named "Ramrod" leads a gang of unruly biker punks, I failed to mention that this movie brilliantly depicts the epic battle between punk and grunge.

As the 1980s were coming to an end, punk faced its biggest threat yet. Having survived many style-based onslaughts over the years (disco, new wave, the mod revival, ska, goth, preppies and yuppies), punk came up against the flannel work shirt. Boasting the ability to adopt various aspects from the styles it fought with over the years, punk has managed to thrive since its inception. That being said, the flannel work shirt has always poised a real problem for punk. I've seen some punks try to employ the flannel work shirt as an accessory (they usually tie it around their waste), but the garment usually ends up dominating the punk's ensemble to such degree, that even the classic leather jacket is rendered frightfully square and totally ineffective.

In Punk Vacation, they ask the question: What if a group of punks were stranded in a town filled with nothing but people who wore flannel work shirts? You think that's scary, what if I told you the people wearing the flannel work shirts were also heavily-armed rednecks?

These types of questions wouldn't have had to been asked in the first place had the flannel work shirt-wearing rednecks just made sure their vending machines worked. (Huh?) Think about it, if the dolt who runs the gas station in this movie had kept his vending machines in working order, we wouldn't be having this conversation. (Come again, I'm still not following.)

Okay, let me set the scene for you. Wait, is this a Terrence Malick film? Shots of swaying grass, eerie new age music, and water flowing down stream are what greet us as Punk Vacation gets underway. Hey, man–I thought to myself as I watched the pastoral tranquility wash over me–this is not what I signed up for. Interrupting this "pastoral tranquility" (which, by the way, was the working title of the third album by Archers of Loaf) is the sound of gun shots. Practicing firing his gun in the woods, Deputy Steve Reed (Stephen Fiachi) suddenly gets a call on the radio that the alarm at his girlfriend's father's gas station has gone off again.

Telling his girlfriend's father to either fix the alarm or turn it off, Steve manages to annoy Lisa (Sandra Bogan), his blonde, flannel work shirt-wearing girlfriend. Noticing this, Lisa's little sister, Sally (Karen Renee) tries to swoop in and woo Deputy Steve, but he doesn't even know she exists. After some time, Lisa's father becomes even more annoying than Steve, and Lisa agrees to be driven home by Steve. I don't know 'bout you, but all this talk about the inner workings of Steve and Lisa's relationship is starting to wear me out.

After Steve and Lisa leave, a lone punk on a motorcycle named Billy (Robert Garrison) shows up. Hoping to grab an orange soda, Billy is clearly disappointed when he finds out the vending machine only has cola. Despite the fact that the Billy despises cola, he deposits his forty cents like a good little consumer. Only problem is, the cola fails to materialize.

When Sally tells her father that some "weird guy" is banging on the vending machine, he immediately grabs his shotgun and confronts Billy. (Hold on, didn't he first offer Billy restitution for his missing soda?) No, like I said, he shoves a shotgun in Billy's face almost immediately. (But his vending machine was unsuccessful when it came time to produce a carbonated beverage. In other words, shouldn't Billy be the one shoving shotguns in people's faces?)

Driving off soda-less, Billy eventually comes back to the gas station with his friends, a gang of punk and new wave bikers (I added to "new wave" to their description because some of them seemed more new wave than punk). Now, did Lisa's father really deserve to be murdered over a can of soda? Of course not. Hold up, let me noodle with this for awhile. In meantime, please enjoy "Tell Me Girl" by Scary Thieves.

What am I saying? Of course Lisa's father deserved to be murdered. Okay, maybe not in front of Sally, but the moment Lisa's father pointed that shotgun at Billy, a precedent was set. One that stated that physical violence was an acceptable course of action to solve grievances. (Even if the issue at hand is a forty cent can of soda?) It doesn't matter how trivial the issue at hand is, Lisa's father set in motion the events that lead to his own death the instant he picked up that shotgun.

(While your rationalization is strangely logical, I don't think Lisa is going to be so understanding.)

Seconds after the murder takes place, Billy is run over by Deputy Steve as the punks flee the scene and little Sally goes into shock. Both are sent to the same hospital, where Lisa vows to avenge her father's death (she doesn't say this out loud, but you can see the wheels of vengeance turning in her brain). When her attempt to stab Billy in his hospital room is thwarted by a security guard (a lingerie catalog-reading security guard), Lisa decides to target the members of his gang, who, as she soon discovers, are hold up in a barn on the outskirts of town.

(How come the punks haven't split?) Well, according to Ramrod (Roxanne Rogers), their blonde, spiky-haired, black fishnet-sporting  leader, they ain't leaving without Billy. While some of the punks feel bad about killing a man (who one of them describes as "Gomer Pyle's grandfather") and think it's best if they hit the road (the punk haven of Los Angeles is only 100 miles away), most agree that Billy needs to be rescued. And since Ramrod rules by using consensus, the minority opinion is overruled.

In charge of keeping a look out for cops, girl punks Flo (Delta Giordano) and Shirley (Pat Briody) discuss their careers while sitting on a hill that overlooks the valley.

Even though I saw her at the gas station and in the barn (she's the one who compares Lisa's father to Gomer Pyle's grandfather), the girl punk look out scene was when I fell for Flo, full name, Florence Henderson, in the worst possible way. I mean, the dark teal jacket, the dark teal tights, the dark teal highlights in her jet black hair, she's the definition of adorable; she's the teal deal.

Including Billy, there are eleven punks in Ramrod's gang, seven men and four women. And after thinking about it for quite some time, I've decided that Ramrod and Flo were my favourite punks in Punk Vacation. Just kidding, it hardly took any time for me to decide that Ramrod and Flo were my fave punks.

Seriously, look at them!

Did you get a good look? So, now you understand, right? You do? Awesome. It's great to have you on board.

Every time they would appear onscreen I would feel this warmish sensation in my tummy.

The great thing about Ramrod and Flo is that they're nothing alike. You see, while Ramrod is  dedicated fully to the punk cause, one that involves destroying the "parasites of the military industrial complex," Flo isn't, she's merely, "misguided as hell." This lack punkish fortitude on Flo's part causes her clash with Ramrod on several occasions. A male punk named Feggy (Billy Palmieri) also clashes with Ramrod over similar issues. But I'm sure most people will agree, Feggy isn't as adorable, or as fashion-forward for that matter, as Flo.

Assembling a posse to attack the punks, the town's sheriff (Louis Waldon) is determined to kill every last one of those "yellow-bellied fascist communist pinkos." Did you notice what the majority of the posse members were wearing? That's right, flannel work shirts.

While punk would ultimately survive the flannel work shirt plague that was the early 1990s, the purveyors of hair metal weren't so lucky. Their way of life would be decimated by the flannel work shirt, as sales of hair spray, Winger albums and tight spandex trousers plummeted throughout the '90s.

A strange thing occurs during the battle between the punks and the posse. The punks started to come across as the good guys. Or better yet, the film seems to imply that it's the posse, not punks who are the real menace to society.

Anyway, I loved the way all the male punks, including the bald Venny (Wayne Chema) and the French-accented Pierre (Todd Anderson), would dutifully report to Ramrod, who during the final showdown, stood on top of a hill, binoculars in hand, like she was George S. Patton, except, of course, with way more eye makeup.

The soundtrack might, on the surface, be severely lacking in the punk rock department. But in all honesty, I actually prefer the catchy Wang Chung-esque synth punk vibe that composer Ross Vannelli was repeatedly putting out there with his score. If I was given the choice to listen to the music of Wang Chung or, in this case, music that sort of sounds like Wang Chung, or any  punk band, besides Wire and Gang of Four, I would choose Wang Chung every time most of the time.


  1. I made the Wang Chung call in my review too. Many things pass over my head, but fake Wang Chung is not one of those things.

    1. As my old Uncle Cletus used to tell me: The moment you stop noticing things that are Wang Chung-esque is the moment you should start thinking about going to see a brain doctor.