One of the things that’s confusing about Donald Jackson’s filmography is the sheer number of duplications under different names. For instance, Max Hell has three different editions, the original, the Zen rough cut and the speed cut. But Max Hell : Frog Warrior is in of itself a recut version of Toad Warrior (The third entry in the Hell Comes to Frogtown series). Likewise, “Legends of the Roller Blade Seven” and “Hawk : Warrior of the Wheelzone” are both recuts of The Roller Blade Seven.
Then there’s films like Guns of the Chupacabra 2 and Return of the Roller Blade Seven. Both of these aren’t entirely new films, but rather productions stitched together using mostly unused footage that had been shot for their predecessors. The force behind much of these remixes is Scott Shaw.
You can’t really have a discussion of Donald Jackson without talking about Scott Shaw, particularly when discussing the final age of Jackson’s career. Shaw first came on Jackson’s radar through a head shot of him holding a Samurai sword. Shaw dosen’t remember sending it out and Jackson couldn’t recall how he got it, but the imagery struck him. this isn’t a surprise considering how often these or similar blades ended up in his films. He cast Shaw in his third Roller Blade film; The Roller Blade Seven and so began a long if (according to Shaw) tumultuous relationship that would last until Jackson’s death.
All the way back to his first movie, we can see that Jackson was always a little loosey goosey as far as structure and planning. Scripts were always optinal. With Shaw he took this to it’s furthest extreme, together creating what Shaw would title “Zen Filmmaking”. a process where no script was used. A style that was all about being in the moment, all about doing what came naturally and letting the scene lay out in an improvisational manner as it would. It’s the method Jackson would use for all his remaining films, most produced with Shaw.
Shaw chronicles the making of several of these films on his website and always stresses that Jackosn would stab him in the back, never pay him and take advantage of him. I’m not sure how much of that is hyperbole, how much is just the way Hollywood works and how much is an accurate reflection of the time. I get there were hard feelings, but at the same time, Shaw and Jackson were partners for the rest of Jackson’s life. In many ways, this is the final comparison of Jackson to Ed Wood, only this time it’s inverted. It’s Jackson in the Bela Lugosi role and Shaw in the Wood role. Jackson would shoot bits of various films for years, some of The Guns of El Chupacabra one day, some of Toad Warrior another day, some of Armageddon boulevard another day, then back to Chupacabra. Shaw kept with him, helping him out, acting and humoring him. In 1995, Jackson was diagnosed with Leukemia. Doctors gave him six months. Jackson disagreed with them for another eight years, filming the entire time. If he was going to go down, he was going down with his trusty Bolex camera firmly clutched in his fists.
When Jackson finally lost his battle with cancer, he gave all his film rights over to Shaw rather than leaving them to his wife and family. This enabled Shaw to continue editing and releasing Jackson’s films after his death. In some ways, it was Jackson’s apology for treating Shaw poorly financially, but to Shaw’s credit, it was a good choice. He’s been the best protector of Jackson’s legacy we could have hoped for.
That said, there’s some films where we see more of Shaw’s influence over Jackson’s, and I want to highlight two of those here.
Ride with the Devil (Aka : Ghost Taxi)
Julie Strain dances in hell looking a lot like Bettie page wearing a spider webs, while bandana dude talks about a cab ride in Scott Shaw’s dreams in jail.
This combined with the good lighting, interesting concept and a reasonably full cast had me really anticipating this one. But it’s important not to forget that this is one of the Zen film collaborations with Scott Shaw – something is painfully reinforced by the fact that the credits are not on screen, but rather READ to the audience by two cast members.
Bandanna boy emerges from the credits pontificating on a variety of random subjects while Shaw listens, a blank expression on his face. Occasionally he runs out of things to say or has to take a breath and that’s when they cut to insert of the devil girls just kind of inhabiting the Earth – showing the Devil’s influence here. It’s still all part of Shaw’s dream, it turns out that he is not actually in jail, but rather in hell and the Devil in a three piece suit comes to him with a proposition. Bring the Devil thirteen souls by dawn and he’ll let Shaw go free.
We’re taken over to a bar where the local hooker is listening to the house band and getting ready to call it a night. The Devil in a three piece suit is tending bar and suggests she calls a taxi. The hooker regales Shaw about tales about her favorite regular… A guy who one day just disappeared. His next fare is a cokehead just back from Mexico talking about his adventures. “It’s like the old west back there, action! L.A. has almost become a police state.”
He gets a young girl who accidentally killed someone and then another beat down hooker… he gets a lot of hookers. Shaw for his part though doesn’t speak much, he just lets them ramble on. The car rides are punctuated by quick inserts are devil Betty Page in hell or bandanna boy pontificating on various subjects. It all comes off as very experimental, but it ends up looking more artsy than lazy (though it does start to strain credibility when Julie Strain starts doing her Marilyn Monroe in hell schtick. Honestly, I’m not even sure if it was shot specifically for this movie or if they just had the extra lying around…) and works better than a lot of the Jackson Shaw Zen collaborations.
The thing is (and it seems like I’ve said it before), this could actually be a good film with a little more polish. The ending sees Shah tricking the Devil into being his 13th passenger and wins his freedom. Eerie lines like “That’s alright, I can wait. I have all the time in the world…” from the devil could be chilling if they weren’t so sloppily improvised. Seeing Shaw ride off, there should be a punch-the-air moment, but the pacing is so off and everything just feels flat. Moreover it’s followed by 20 minutes that are completely unrelated, nonsensical footage. It’s all shots of creepy girls dancing in the woods, poolside antics, and drunk devil girl ranting to Scott. It’s almost as if somebody just swept up the cutting room floor and said screw it, we need a little more run time.
As I frequently do, I find myself wondering how much of this was Shaw and how much it was Jackson. In this case it feels much more like Shaw film from a Donald Jackson concept. It’s missing a lot of Jackson’s signature tropes while pushing more the experimental envelope that Shaw always enjoyed doing. It’s worth seeing, but do yourself a favor and turn the movie off after Shaw beats the devil.
There’s another film that really demonstrates this era, Jackson’s “Naked Avenger”. This is the film that really signals Jackson’s shift in earnest towards that he and Scott Shaw would call “Zen Filmmaking” and seems far more Shaw influenced.
It literally starts with a numbered countdown, three, two, one, and the words “fade in” before it actually fades in (This is a Scott Shaw touch. He also frequently begins his essays like this).
The premise of this film was flimsy enough to begin with, a girl in the woods is stranded, loses her clothes and turns on her attackers who just happen to be human traffickers. It’s the epitome of a zen film with no script – basically they just walk out into the woods roll the camera and see what happens. It’s pretty much just an excuse to watch Jill Kelly wander around naked for an hour.
Back at the base, the redneck leader screams into a phone. “No fat ones this time!” The dealer arrives at a small cluster of wooden out buildings, with girls in the cab of his truck, handcuffed. The hunters come out to look her over, doing their best to be obnoxious.
“You wanna touch my gun?”
While they’re in the back getting just a little rapy, the dancers for the event are negotiating rates. This of course turns equally seedy.
Around the 20 minute mark one of the slave traders picks up Jill Kelly walking to work, and takes her to a secluded spot to check her out. After she’s been stripped she overpowers him and steals his gun, then goes wandering through the backwoods to find escape and vengeance. The camera follows behind her mostly, so you get a very good study of her back Tanlines. We punctuate these long sequences of Kelly running with scenes of the head trader making deals for girls on the phone, and occasionally another dude stalking her in the woods. This goes on for 20 minutes until the slaver finally catches up with her and demand she gives him the gun. She gives it to him alright, unloading it on him (There’s no room in the budget for fake blood though, so he just lays crumpled on the floor and she steals his jacket to cover herself up a little).
Things start to get a little disjointed here, and I suspect that they didn’t shoot quite enough footage to properly cover the film. The slaver catches Kelly one minute, then the next, she’s obviously escaped and is on foot again in a junkyard, having lost the jacket.
A gunfight ensues… I think. They basically spend long stretches of time showing each side repeatedly shoot their guns, but no back-and-forth to see who they’re shooting out or if they’re ever hitting their mark. Not only couldn’t they afford blood, there obviously also wasn’t enough money in this production for squibs.
It’s not I spit on your grave or any real kind of revenge flick (it could have been if they didn’t insist on this Zen film making nonsense). The only point of this movie might be to ogle Jill Kelly for the forty minutes (of the sixty one minuet run time) that she’s in the film. But even that isn’t particularly titillating. I think we may have just hit the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Jackson’s filmography, but then again, is it Jackson’s film? This was released two years after his death, despite being filmed around 1997. That tells me it was a Shaw edit, and actually explains the very different tone and lack of so many of Jackson’s touches.