More than a lot of Jackson’s films, Raw Energy starts off feeling very MTV, with an exclamation title card reading “play this flick loud”.
Raw energy is a difficult film to place… It was actually one of the last ones I watched, and the final one I bought. I had some nervousness about this one because it sits right on that edge of post studio era and Zen film era… It could really belong to either one. It’s definitely early Zen filmmaking, it’s even listed as such, but the movie was shot before Scott Shaw really got involved with Jackson. There seems to be more intent to this film, despite Jackson using his Maximo T. Bird Pseudonym. Jackson still has a plan here and isn’t just setting up a camera, rolling film, and “let’s see what happens”.
William Smith then introduces the movie as it’s narrator. He’s standing on a beautiful stone rooftop with the Hollywood sign in the distance as a masked blonde in leather with a katana hanging from her belt films him using Jackson’s old Bolex camera.
“What we have heard of celebration on the cinema!” (Cinema about a serial killer that is) “Are you ready for a few days of raw energy???”
I’m not, but lets go anyhow.
Raw Energy is less of a film and more of a series of vignettes separated by title cards announcing the next chapter. The first one is “Scream of the Succubus”
We get two images intercut, We have Robert Rundle‘s character of Bo Stompkins on a bed, alternately being serviced and choked by a a succubus. It then flashes to Stompkins in his bathroom shaving his head as the Succubus and another naked woman (later revealed to be his girlfriend Crystal, played by Amanda Rushing, ) look on. It’s all overlaid by loud pop techno.
We move onto “Jumpstart Heart”
It’s a typical Jackson set, a large canvas draped over his office walls. Stompkins is now playing with guns next to his girlfriend, and has a large pentagram drawn on his chest in sharpie. He expresses a preference for knives and shows that he’s got everything he needs.
“I got shells and a bandoleer, even a chainsaw!”
Crystal, equally crazed, says she wants little trophies from his mass murderer – things like hearts and stuff. Maybe an eye.
That’s enough exposition, it’s time to cut back to William Smith ranting on the roof before delivering us into the next segment “The Hollywood Hills Have Spies”
Stompkins and Crystal gaze over a stone barrier, still stoned on acid and talking about the crummy rich people below. It almost feels like now they’re trying to homage Natural Born Killers (Which hit theaters a year prior). They pull a gun, and run down to kill somebody that they’ve seen on TV. (it’s Donald Jackson of course – I don’t think I’ll ever seen him in a bandanna before!). They pull him out of his vehicle and throw him to the ground, then steal his car and go to his house. They are greeted by a girl in a sparkly dress, Jackson’s secretary. No, wait. According to the credits, she’s his Sexretary. Our psychos force their way into the house using the gun, then welcome in one of the local hookers. Crystal finds some hidden pot, and then Stompkins force the girls in the house to watch the girlfriend go down on the him. After a few seconds of unconvincing head bobbing action, Crystal makes her way into the kitchen and starts to dance on the counter with a knife, then forces one of the girls in the house to do an awkward striptease on top of the kitchen counter.
The next title card is “Natural Born Blonde”, and cuts to the Stompkins and Crystal working out in an outdoor gym while they wear camo. The whole scene is brief enough to be an establishing shot before moving on to another title card “Bloodwiser”.
It suddenly occurs to the Stompkins and Crystal that it would be a great idea to get married so they go find the local minister. It happens to be Reverend Bloodwiser (again played by Donald Jackson),who is currently chanting a mantra (Fugi, Kodak, Agfa, Target) over a Bible laid across an empty Budweiser box. They brandish their guns at him.
“We came here to get married, a special day! Wedding day! Shotgun wedding!” They convince him to marry them for $700 and a quick flash from Crystal.
He performs the wedding and we move on to “Wicked Messenger”
Stompkins and Crystal are chilling in a trashy bedroom. There is an Iguana there watching them and Stompkins starts to think they have bad luck following them
“It all started when we met that preacher – we shouldn’t of done that. We shouldn’t have let him marry us because I think he was the devil.” The psycho cocks the gun and puts it to his chin.
“I think everyone should try suicide at least once in their lives”.
Crystal object to this and tells him to put the gun down or she’ll kill herself. The iguana continues to watch (and judge). They discuss Angels and Demons, the psychos convinced that the devils are real, and we get flashes of Reverend Bloodwiser as well as the succubus from the first segment.
That’s when a guy in a suit walks onto the bed.
The suit tells them that they’ve both been fucking up but he forgives them, because they’re absolutely crazy.
This doesn’t sit well with Stompkins, especially with all the talk about Angels and Demons. He demands to know whether the suit is good or evil.
“I’ve got magic powers in my head,” Stompkins warns him.
“You’ve got magic powers in your ass,” the suit retorts.
The suit has a deal for them. Nothing so pedestrian as a soul though. He’s interested in owing their deeds. All it requires is a signature and then the suit has rights to what ever they’re doing. The iguana continues to watch very closely.
We’ve gone too long without an interjection from narrator William Smith and the girl in the dancing leather bikini on top of the roof. He rants for a couple minuets before proceeding to the next segment – “Rolling Freedom”
We have two girls pushing a man in his wheelchair, covered by a flag. One of them is the Crystal and, one of them is Jackson’s Sexretary from earlier. This is our introduction to Joe Bob Gunn, played by Jackson regular Jim Whitworth. The women get him into their car and drive off into Hollywood. The Sexretary is still trying to find out what happened to Donald Jackson, demanding that Crystal tell her. She’s also a bit perplexed by Joe Bob and want’s to know what happened to the other guy? “He’ll be back soon enough,” Crystal assures her.
The next section is “Carnival of Dreams” and starts with them pushing the wheelchair across Jackson’s favorite bridge of broken dreams. But then we cut to Crystal and Joe Bob (when he could still walk) spending time in a rollicking nighttime carnival lit by flashing neon and fluorescent lights. The scene cuts back and forth between the two sections, highlighting Joe Bob misery, crippled and melancholy staring out from the bridge.
William Smith comes back in to explain to us where Bo Stompkins has vanished to. It turns out that that he joined a cult. Smith explains that Stompkins got himself involved with the preacher and things seem to be okay… until television got a hold of them. You see, it wants to get into your dreams, that’s when you meet the Dream Ranger.
Once Stompkins discovers Crystal has left him for the crippled Joe Bob, he’s ready to kill them both.
He shoots targets at the wilderness with his fellow cultists, but is tormented by images of the girlfriend and her new boyfriend. It doesn’t take too long though, before Stompkins gets distracted by one of the girls of the cult, a “Target Range Sweetheart” as the next title card tells us.
Around this point in the film the exposition gets strange. It’s rambling and attempting to sound intellectual, but falling flat. It doesn’t help that they don’t have Scott Shaw’s books to crib from this time around. The entire sequence here seems to just be an excuse for Jackson to take the crew out into the wilderness and indulge his love of firing guns. After shooting the other cult members, they take off and the title card shifts to “Crystal Reflections”
We are back with Crystal and her new boyfriend. She’s kind of making plans, and explaining to Joe Bob about how she and Bo were married. For some reason, she seems really eager to have the two men meet. You know what you get when you mix the ex and the current boyfriend? (Don’t worry, the next title card tells us).
The meeting doesn’t go particularly well. The psycho and the veteran don’t take to each other at all, and Stompkins doesn’t want Joe Bob around. Everyone pulls out guns and we get the most awkward looking Mexican stand-off I’ve ever seen. Stompkins tackles Joe Bob out of his wheelchair and they roll around on the ground punching and wrestling – occasionally Joe Bob forgets he supposed to be crippled. Crystal decides to go with Stompkins and shoots Joe Bob, covering him up in the flag he’d been using as a blanket on his legs. Stompkins gleefully wheels a giggling Crystal away in the wheelchair.
The next section, “Woo Woo Assassin” (no, really) starts off with a lady ninja stocking an L.A. rooftop at dusk. She leaves her katana in the stairwell in favor of a pair of guns and sneaks through white hallways dressed entirely in black. She’s not the only assassin there though, The cult girlfriend also creeps through the desolate stairwells wearing hot pants and a halter top while wielding a Luger. Luger girl gets the drop on ninja girl and takes her to the basement for the next section.
Now, in a sort of white dressing room, Stompkins is chatting up the ninja – he’s in a suit and has been doing very well these days. He and Luger Girl blindfold her. It’s more of one of the sleeping masks then an actual proper blindfold, but it gets the job done. Stompkins drips blood on Luger girl and they get busy, shooting down the assassin mid-coitus.
Next up is “Crystals Retreat” (Don’t worry, it’s brief)
Crystal is heading to the airport to skip town (presumably since Stompkins no longer has any use for her, though it’s not entirely spelled out).
“Can the plane go any faster please? Thank you!”
Back to more narration from William Smith before we return to the bridge of broken dreams to see the psycho and his new girlfriend, Luger Girl hanging out and chatting. Random disjointed imagery of an old train bridge, them walking on the tracks, her dancing against the sun, and delivering endless exposition in a tunnel. Jackson uses this opportunity to inexplicably reveal that the psycho has an illegitimate test tube baby in a formaldehyde jar somewhere in Wisconsin, proving that we are in full fever dream mode now, when nothing makes sense and imagery is all that matters.
The film ends with a final title card over silent credits (weird, by the way, that the credits are silent considering the pop techno that pervades the entire film). “Watch for Shotgun Dream Babies – Raw Energy 2”. I’m not in entirely surprised to see this, even though a sequel was never created… It’s the same technique Jackson employed on Roller Blade, announcing a follow-up even though there was no sequel yet in the works.
As Zen movies go, this is actually one of the more interesting ones. There’s a definite plot here and I feel some sense of continuity throughout almost the entire thing. It’s full of Jackson alumni and is an introduction to familiar faces. We’d see Amanda Rushing again a few years later when Jackson would team up with Scott Shaw for Armageddon Boulevard, but for her, Crystal is her one and only shot at a starring role. James D. Whitworth would show up later that year as the dopey security guard in Baby Ghost, then do one more film with Jackson and Shaw Alum David Heavener before dropping out of the industry. Robert Rundel would actually go on to do bit parts in two more films with Jackson when he wasn’t spearheading his own low budget flicks, even directing Jackson regular Robert Z’Dar that year in Run Like Hell. It’s a cast that obviously knows and likes each other and it comes through on screen. That’s not to say that the film is completely successful – it meanders as Jackson has a tendency to do, and because it’s obviously being shot over the course of several months on weekends or whenever he had availability, we see the characters growing visibly change. It’s not just the characters evolving either, you can see the story growing and changing as new concepts and imagery strike Jackson’s fancy. It ends up being interesting film though, and the non-linear sort of storytelling thats going on here might have worked if Jackson had a better (or any) plan and some semblance of a script. The biggest problem is that the characters aren’t terribly likable and it’s hard to get invested in them, yet I still found myself wanting to know what was going to happen next and where this story was going… assuming there was a narrative here at all. That’s the thing, there really was no actual story and the film is exactly what the tagline describes ; following a psycho serial killer loose in Hollywood. It’s not necessarily following the murderous antics or more interesting parts, a lot of times it’s just following his mundane everyday life and occasional head trips. It’s the essence of what could work in Zen filmmaking – and it’s exactly the sort of film that fascinates me when it comes to Jackson. This is exactly the sort of thing I would’ve liked to have seen Jackson do more of and evolve, but alas – Zen filmmaking would end up taking a very different direction. A looser direction rather than a tighter one.