Saturday, August 21, 2010

PUNK VACATION (1990)

You know how socialite families would squeeze out a fucked up looking kid, and then stuff them up in the attic to avoid town ridicule? Well, owning “Punk Vacation” is similar to buying a house with a hideaway mutant inside. As the seller hands the deed over you mention that you have more doors than you do keys. With doomish intonation proportionate to their grave expression, they utter, “some doors are best left unopened” before they pull away.

Any logical man would leave that shit alone. You hear the occasional moaning and shuffling from beyond the door, but fuck that, right? The man said stay out of the fucking attic. But then there comes that dark and rainy night. You’ve been drinking since eleven a.m., so you’re totally combative. And you’ve seen this episode of "Forensic Files" like a billion times. These conditions ultimately align to create a destructive curiosity. The next thing you know, you’re kicking the shit out of the attic door. Within minutes, there you are, lording over some emaciated snot bag with a club foot, more Charlie Brown than Castle Freak. Not as bad as what you'd been picturing in your pickled brain.

There isn’t a whole lot of information on “Punk Vacation” floating around out there. Whatever reviews you will find go out of their way to discourage you from wasting time on the movie. In fact, some of the reactions are downright venomous. I know it’s uncharacteristic of me to buy into the opinions of others, but for some reason it rubbed off on me. Most likely it was the low volume of consistently bad reports that initially turned me against the film. If I’d found fifty bad reviews that would constitute a popular opinion, which I never trust. In the case of “Punk Vacation,” I found six or seven at max. A small number of consistent reviews is always way more reliable than a thousand assholes all shouting the same thing.

I’m terminally hopeful guy. I really try to give people the benefit of the doubt. Now, look at that box. That shit doesn’t scream high art. You’d think the man who plucks that thing off the shelf would have adjusted his standards according to the presentation. You’d think he’d have a sense of humor. On the mean streets of slum cinema, rare is the oyster that looks like a fucking turd. Do you go to bars, pick up fat chicks, and then get angry when you find out they’re still fat when they’re naked? I mean, it’s okay to be angry at fat women in general, but that’s neither here nor there. My entire point is, if this box screams Fellini to you, your tongue should divorce your brain.

So, it took boredom for me to let this thing out of the attic, and once again, I regret ever listening to anyone. What I found was not so beastly. I’m not going to try and sell you some bullshit line. This is not a good film. I think we’ve established, though, that a film doesn’t have to be good to entertain, and "Punk Vacation" most certainly manages to be compelling.

This thing is vacant of the obvious flotation devices, such as gore and tits, which is probably enough to turn off a lot of the people I know already. In fact, the thing that makes this movie great isn’t obvious at all. Tonally, this thing is a huge fucking mess. It almost has no direction. In fact, the script almost feels like a stream of consciousness confined to a basic plot. Imagine the story itself represents an empty canal, but the parameters are filled not with water, but with Jello, mustard, and Astroglide. Why? I don't fucking know. Blame drugs. Blame a concussion. All I know is that the ultimate concoction is too weird to turn off.

Straight away, the story begins total revenge flick primer, but by the end the whole thing feels like "Police Adademy." In between these points you get a Jekyll & Hyde mash-up of near horror and sophomoric comedy.

One thing I don’t think a lot of people can get past are the punks in the film. They’re actually no more punk than the gang in “Class of 1984,” except those guys did drugs, raped pregnant women, and went to Teenage Head shows. Apparently if you have Fear on your soundtrack, you can get away with all the New Wave faggotry you want. Unfortunately, the one validating element this piece of Punksploitation lacks is actual punk rock.

The basic premise of the film is absurd to begin with. Come on, Punk Vacation? That’s like the homeless going on a camping trip. What the fuck do a bunch of jobless drunks need a vacation from?

So, the punks retreat to a rural community, where they murder the owner of a diner and traumatize his pubescent daughter for kicks. A deputy interrupts and apprehends one of the punks played by Rob Garrison, whom you may recognize from "The Karate Kid" as Tommy, the guy who screams the immortal line, “get him a body bag” as Daniel writhes around on the matt like a pussy during the film’s finale.

The diner owner’s older daughter craves vengeance against these hooligans, and just when you think we’re in for some small town justice, they shift focus from the locals to the punks, who are kind of child-like and charming. A few scenes create an odd sympathy for the supposed antagonists that you rarely ever see in any film. It's actually kind of reminiscent of the gang in "The Born Losers," who are rapist scum, but the scenes with Danny's abusive father and his infant son humanize him to the point that it creates the occasional lapse in perceiving him as a total monster.

The rest of the plot revolves around the capture of the diner owner’s daughter, her violent rescue, and the punks’ attempts to liberate Garrison from the local hospital. Humanizing the villains completely destroys their mystique and menace, and whatever tension the writer sought to erect through the craven murder we saw at the film’s onset goes completely flaccid. Toward the end of the film, the punks are kind of bumbling, and are almost as comedic as the town's redneck contingent.

I can’t call “Punk Vacation” a good movie. I do think it’s a compelling piece of film making, though, due mainly to its absolutely schizophrenic nature. As a piece of punk rock culture, though, it has absolutely no value. As a slice of cult cinema, it has tremendous worth and deserves to be appreciated by connoisseurs of the obscure.

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