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Carjack

jackson2.jpgCarjack is similar in theme to the Charlie Sheen movie The Chase, but with a much lower budget and more talking rather than action. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Jackson seems more interested on what’s going on in people’s heads rather than trying to piece together a high speed action flick that he couldn’t possibly pull off on his meager budget.

The idea was born from a new report Jackson recalls. “Tanya York by accidently caught me one day, whoever was going to give her a ride to the new office didn’t show up, so I was here cleaning out the office and I gave her a ride and we heard the news on the radio and they’re talking about a carjacking. And she said wow what a great idea for a movie. And I said yeah, let’s do a carjack movie!” Because this is the post-studio era though, the budgets were lower. “She said what would it cost? Shot on film or shot on video? I said shot of film? About fifty thousand dollars. Shot on video, about ten thousand. So she gave me seven thousand dollars. I put five thousand in my pocket, I spent twenty five hundred on the movie, the movie made seventy five thousand dollars.”

For a direct to video movie, it was obviously acclaimed.  The credits actually open with “Winner at Winnetka film festival”. However, Jackson still wasn’t using his real name on it. “I did it under the name Maximo T. Bird, because I didn’t want to get a reputation for making video movies. I wanted to keep my name for the 35mm films I was making.”

The original is out of print, but Scott Shaw offers a version on his website. I noted that in this re-released version, Scott Shaw has rejiggered the credits to add his name as producer, and pasted in the redone title logo “Jacked”. Still, once we get out of these white on black opening credits into a sort of washed out video and I know I’m in the right place.

Jill Kelly comes down the stairs and heads to her car, and is immediately tied up and tossed in the back seat, The long-haired carjacker, played by frequent co-writer and index.jpgJackson bit player shaggy Mark Williams, taking off with her in tow.

She pleads for her life, but he tells her that he is in charge and he’s taking her somewhere nice.

“Nice car, I wonder how fast it will go before I blow out the engine…”

He’s chatty for a carjacker, pontificating about the spirit of cooperation and learning to be more flexible. He spits out a threat about a quick attitude readjustment which seems awfully rapey.

The girl reveals that she was on her way to an audition, and that she is an actress who is trying to be a singer. Our carjacker finds this amusing. He’s even more amused when she reveals that her day job is as a phone sex operator. The carjacker challenges her – “go-ahead, turn me on.” and then forces her to demonstrate.

The conversation goes back and forth, occasionally punctuated by exterior shots of the car driving. There is enough movement back and forth to keep things visually interesting.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No.”

“Well you’ve got one now!”

He tells her he’s taking for someplace nice, like a nude resort – where she can get a nice tan! Every word out of his mouth he was slimy and tinged with threat.

Deep in the woods, the car rules to stop and the carjacker looks over his shoulder in a grimace announcing “We’re here.”

He comes to the back door with a pistol pulling out the girl and dragging her out into the secluded path. The camera follows them shakily; it’s obviously not a steadicam but rather a handheld video camera being operated as best as possible on the uneven ground. The carjacker forces her to the ground and a shot rings out – he returns to the car alone. At about twelve minutes in, it seems like an excellent way to kick off the film and a great introduction to our villain.

Except, he’s not our villain. This isn’t actually part of our film. It’s almost as if Jackson went out and shot a short as proof of concept and grafted it onto the beginning to hit feature length.

We cut to what I can only assume is a flashback of Jill and her friend Steve sailing a small motor boat. Steve is played by Kelly’s husband, the porn actor Cal Jammer in what appears to his only role outside the adult film industry. They quibble and scrap, it’s obviously a strained relationship. Steve keeps complaining that she’s just like Bobbie, her best friend and his wife.

“Why are you so mean?” the girl asks. Steve turns on her, angrily.

“I’m not mean, I just run the ship, give the orders and do you know why?”

“Why?”

“Because somebody has to!”

He finally gives up in pissy exasperation and accuses the girl of ruining the entire day, then turns the boat to head back to dock.

The sound mix is uneven during the scene, but the background music gives it a beautifully intense and wistful atmosphere.

4Elsewhere, Bobbie is attending a pool party. Her friends sit at a table under an umbrella, chatting behind Bobbie’s back about Steve and how he’s a rough customer, who tends to beat her up. They’re all in bathing suits, and Bobbie is changing, but when she comes out, there are visible bruises on her thigh. The other girls notice and in embarrassment, she rushes to leave. Heading out and jumping in her jeep, Bobbie heads off to pick up Steve. She’s delayed when she stops for fuel – and this infuriates him. Bobbie is visibly terrified of him as he unloads about his day, and suspiciously questions her about the pool party. He is controlling, refusing to let her get a job and insisting that her job is to take care of him. Finally, it’s too much… when they arrive at their home, she stops at the curb just long enough for him to get out and then guns the engine, dashing away in the Jeep.

Jackson manages some remarkable overhead shots of the cars, from his vantage point on his favorite bridge. Ahead Bobbie notes a begger with the sign that says please help – and she stops to give him money, but at that moment he pulls a gun and shot her into the passenger seat, taking off with her in the car.

3She tries to bluff her way out of the situation with the usual pleas of “I have children”, “It’s my husband‘s car”, but the carjacker, a man named Ernie, isn’t buying it.

“Needs an oil change,” Ernie notes from the sound of the engine.

“I don’t know about that,” She replies. “My husband takes care of that.”

“Well not lately.”

He promises if she is patient he’ll let her go, Notes that she’s got plenty of fuel, that’s good.

Bobbie tries to challenge the carjacker asking how she knows if that gun is even real. He tells her that it’s a 357 Magnum, but she keeps asking if it’s actually his gun. It feels almost like the line was repeated from multiple takes, and it starts to get annoying – it’s obviously annoying to the carjacker as well because he suddenly asks what time it is.

“4:15,” Bobbie informs him.

“That’s good! Now let’s see how long you can keep quiet!”

She only makes it 15 minutes and the carjacker declares that he has won his own bet, because he has never met a woman who could keep quiet for an entire hour! Music builds up in the background, it’s a keyboard trying to create tension – but this isn’t John Carpenter, and it ends up being clunky and overpowering.

The carjacker takes her out to a barren area just outside the freeway and then lets her out of the car, but quickly thinks better of it once she starts to sprint and chases her with a gun. It’s a sequence that might make more sense if somebody had included a line about going to the bathroom or something – as it is, when she cries “I did the wrong thing didn’t I?” I’m confused as to what thing she was expected to do or why he let her out of the Jeep in the first place. In any event, Ernie the carjacker doesn’t trust her anymore and now he forces her to drive while he keeps his gun carefully trained on her.

She tries to calm him down with soothing tones and questions about the destination. For now, he’ll be content with some food. He takes her cash and they pull in to a supermarket. They bicker back-and-forth like an old married couple about what to buy; she wants natural food where as he is only interested in quick energy – water versus Pepsi, fruit versus cookies. His exuberant surprise over discovering a bottle of Pepsi Clear dates this film even more than Bobbie’s spiral perm.

The Jeep makes its way into the desert, surrounded by rocks and sand and cactus. They pull to a stop and hike through the wilderness, shopping bags held tight, then eat sitting on a log. It feels more like a teenage picnic then the kidnapping.

“You’re not such a bad guy after all,” Bobbie says matter of factly. “Have you ever done this before?”

“Eat an apple?”

“No, kidnapped someone!”

“That’s not what I’m doing,” Ernie replies. “I’m just trying to get out of town… And you’re helping me.”

“Can I have my apple back?”

Slowly, Ernie the carjacker draws Bobbie out and gets her to confide in him. She tells him about how she can’t do anything, how she wants to be a teacher but the Husband won’t allow it and how unhappy she is. She wistfully reminisces about how she misses her sorority days doing ‘shrooms, weed, and ecstasy.

Ernie and Bobbie find a couple magic mushrooms out there in the wilderness and they eat them together. They get giggly and Bobbie declares that she wants to go to Vegas. Mushrooms spin in the camera and the two of them are shot silhouetted like lovers with strobing circle dissolves coming in and out and lights blinking, flashing over their faces. Ernie talks about doing mushrooms in prison.

“The walls would talk to me in the bars would melt. We would laugh all night long and play tricks on the guards.” The ramblings almost get spiritual – it’s a foreshadowing of a lot of the mysticism that Jackson will inject into his films later on. The trip starts to go 6bad as they wonder if they ate the right mushrooms – surely they didn’t eat the deadly once did they? They couldn’t have! They’re tripping out aren’t they?

We cut to a cheap hotel – the ‘shroom trip has worn off and the tables have turned. Bobbie stands with a gun pointed at Ernie. He tells her it’s useless. The gun is not loaded.

“I took you because you wanted to be taken. You can trust me”

Bobbie is falling out of love mode and back in to victim mode and there is resignation as she walks off camera to change clothes. She makes him closes eyes when she changes and when he opens them she is holding a small Walther pistol pointed at him, one that she assures him is loaded.

He tries to play to her sympathies, explaining he just needed to get out of town – he’d broken parole and the cops are looking for him. Ernie is adamant; he can’t go back to prison. Bobbie doesn’t care, she’s tired of men hurting her and no one is ever going to hurt her again!

Ernie gets the pistol away from her and talks her down. She succumbs to her Stockholm syndrome and heads to the bathroom to change. He tells her she is beautiful, and they start softening again. He lays on the bed reading Gideon Bible, and even gives her back her gun. She asks why he was in jail and he tells her the story of getting talked into a robbery- he drove the getaway car. The two of them drown their misery is in a bottle of wine.

They talk about compromise, high roads and low roads and trying to find the middle ground. Ernie shakes head because he doesn’t think it’s supposed to be this way, the Bobbie reassures him that that’s just life. They almost kiss, but she takes the bottle instead. They decide to trust each other and go to sleep for the night, her in the bed and him in the chair. Bobbie tosses and turns, and opened her eyes to watch him sleep… She props herself up on a pillow and ask him if he’s asleep. He replied that he isn’t and she asks if he’d be more comfortable in the bed. Ernie cautions her that if he were to get to bed she might find out that he’s like all the other guys cause trouble in our life. He ends the conversation by asking what time it is.

“It’s 2 am.”

“Good,” He replies. “Now let’s see how long you can keep quiet.”  With that, he falls asleep in the chair.

Ernie wakes and notices Bobbie’s bruises, then suggests they should kill her husband for being abusive, but she changes the subject by pulling him in for a kiss. The sun rises over the motel and the Jeep pulls away, getting back on the road.

5Bobbie is in good spirits, happy to be out of the tiny hotel room – such a change from the big bedroom she is used to at home. It wasn’t much different to Ernie though, who lives in an old mobile home. Bobbie teases him playfully about never looking back, and it angers him – he’s not looking to build a life with her even though she already has their future planned out in her head. Ernie puts Bobbie out of the Jeep on the side of the road and drives off.

He only makes it a few feet down the road when the Jeep is stopped and Mark Williams, the carjacker from the beginning of the film (Have to connect that opening sequence somehow!), gets him out of the car and shoots him. Bobbie witnesses it, terrified. Now it’s her turn. She stops a passing motorist (a cameo by Donald Jackson) pulls her gun and carjacks his vehicle. The fuel doesn’t last long though, and she finds herself stranded by the side of the road.  She closes her eyes for a moment imagining the drive back home. Husband Steve has already moved on to one of Bobbie’s friends, but not for long. She drives her carjacked vehicle back and catches them in the act with her gun, blowing off Steve‘s head before pumping another bullet into her friends heart.

Bobbie crumples on to the couch, becoming aware of what she’s done. She turns the gun over and over in her hands, then closes her eyes.

When she opens them again she’s back at the car she’s stolen, still out of gas, still stranded. In the distance, police sirens ring out.

The movie is typical of Jackson’s post studio career – an interesting idea, with fair actors, shot on inexpensive cameras.  Jackson was well aware of the stigma attached to shooting on video, and evasively sidestepped it. “When the buyers at the American film market asked ‘what did you shoot on?’, I said Fuji. Because it was fuji stock- it was fuji high 8 tape. But no one complained because it was lit properly. It was exposed properly, so I tricked them. I fooled them.” It actually makes me wish he’d done more crime films. Between this and Kill Kill Overkill, he’s got an interesting angle on it. The movie benefits from two stars with experience. Bobbie is portrayed by Deborah Flora in her first role. She’d go to soap opera work on St. Charles and Passions. Opposite her is Larry Kelsey (referred here as simply “Kelsey”, one name – just like Cher.) who had been kicking around Hollywood for a while taking small roles on television productions like Hunter and the Red Shoe Diaries, as well as being a veteran of several Jackson films like Return to Frogtown and Roller Blade Warriors.

I noticed that Randall Frakes is credited with the music for this movie – that’s a surprise because he was generally a writer on such productions (though Jackson was shifting more towards Williams around this time period), but in this case Jackson takes all the credit for story and script. The credit also has a curious inclusion of spirit guides and spirit friends that are given thanks to. This is something that I’ve never seen in any other Jackson film. It’s not the sort of thing he ever talked about in interviews, but it signals his burgeoning interest in the eastern philosophies that he would mix with his own Judeo Christian theology. The credits end with helpful hints about always locking your car door and never picking up strangers.

WHAT WILL YOU DO WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU???

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