Hawk : Warrior of the Wheelzone is basically a remix of The Roller Blade Seven (and of course Roller Blade Seven was almost unwatchable to me). This was an attempt to make it more coherent partially for re-release and partially as a response to the renegade producer Tanya York’s unauthorized re-edit that she released as “Legends of the Roller Blade Seven”
I have to admit, the recap on this film is interspersed with a more informative prologue, using clips from the movie that help me understand better what’s going on. Also the music is better. Just fifteen minuets in I can already see a big difference. It’s still absurd mind you. It’s still a movie about leather clad nuns and roller skating ninjas, but I also feel more like I can follow the story…. though I wonder how much of that is just Stockholm syndrome from watching the first one.
Hawk is recruited to go rescue a psychic who has been kidnapped by the evil Pharaoh Joe Estevez. As Donald Jackson’s priest character tells him “You will meet many along the way. Some are angles, some are devils. Sometimes the angels ARE the devils.”
Hawk begins his mystic journey through the desert on his rescue mission, traveling through the desert. Did I mention that there are roller skating ninjas in the desert? Ninjas of all sorts tend to be a Jackson staple. Expect to see more of this as we go along.
While on his journey, Haw encounters a salvage marble yard, the home of Karen Black’s “Psychic (or Not)”. When Black appears on screen it almost legitimizes this as more than just a patchwork piece, but she uses her role to wax philosophical and make out with Scott Shaw.
Joe Estevez chews the scenery as Saint O’Fender. Frank Stallone wears armor. Then the clown appears, complete with background music from The Invisible Man’s banjo.
That’s kind of the problem. The film seems to start with a story but the middle devolves into a random, Zen mess.
I’d honestly been dreading this, but it really is an improvement. (I know I keep saying it, but such is my shock. It’s like, did they deliberately use the WORST takes and just toss them into a blender instead of an AVID?) This time around it feels more like a road movie rather than just an acid trip. At least most of the time. The clown and banjo player are still incomprehensible to me, along with the dancing in the desert and that’s where it really starts to fall apart again but at least it’s more linear. The production values still come off as amateur though, even if Karen Black is there kissing Scott Shaw. The 80 minuet running time makes it more manageable as well, although there’s probably another fifteen minuets that could have been dropped. And that’s the thing, it isn’t necessarily BETTER, is just makes a teensy bit more sense. If you’re going to brave this series, I highly recommend swapping this out with Roller Blade Seven and watching this instead.
The movie starts off with the familiar giant white on black credits, and this time has bongo music playing over them.
Good news here though, the bongo player is a narrator and that almost promises us a more coherent story. I feel so cheated though, because the flashbacks done in the first ten minutes probably make more sense on the entire last film, encapsulating Roller Blade Seven perfectly and with no clowns. It explains that Stella Speed, the roller skating chick in red, was under a spell that kept her from drawing her sword… Something that was never quite clear before and that I complained about constantly.
After the death of his wife, Hawk, the hero, seeks out Saint O’ffender, battling through reused footage to reach him as the narrator plays the bongos in the background. Joel Estavez’s Saint offender is weird cross between Martin Sheen and Eric Roberts… Slimy and yet the sort of guy you just can’t take seriously. Still, this is really his film. he has the most lines and the is the real focus, chewing his way through the scenery every chance he gets. While he tempts Hawk, is marauders cause havoc in the Wheelzone.
“Desire is a fools cup of tea”
As you can see, the dialogue hasn’t improved – if anything it’s gotten worse. So has the dubbing. We’re back to that weird method from the first movie where they try and hide peoples mouths because they know they can’t possibly match up the lips to the words. Then again, there’s other times where they don’t even bother – it’s just words coming from a character who’s mouth isn’t even open.
Scott Shaw once related a story that may just shed some light on the sound issues.
“Don made one of the cardinal mistakes of filmmaking while we were at the original editing facility. He arrived one morning. With him was all of our original audiotapes from the production where we had recorded our dialogue. We were recording our sound for the film on the then new DAT tape system. He went to the bathroom en route to the studio. There, he forgot the tapes. They were all in a paper bag. I was already guiding our editor when he arrived at the editing studio. He sat down for a time and then remembered he forgot the tapes. He went back to the bathroom to get them but they were gone. Someone had stolen them. He, of course, massively freaked out. We searched for them, asked people for them, put up notes, but nothing. They were gone. That was all just part and parcel to the RB7 experience. The only thing that saved us was the fact that we had much of the dialogue recorded on our ¾ inch edit tapes.”
I have to wonder if that’s what happened with the scenes in this film, because the studio bound scenes seen recorded well, but anything outside – and there is a lot of footage shot outside is all terribly overdubbed. Shaw also states that there were entire scenes not used because there was no audio for them – I suspect some of those scenes are included in Return.
Because this was filmed at the same time as the Roller Blades Seven, all the actors are back – we get flashes back to Karen Black as Tarot, and even Franks Stallone gets some screen time as the black knight, alongside his grotesquely deformed minion (where is this makeup in the last movie any how? It really needed it!). Hawk fights off the temptation and the temptresses, only to find himself back in battle, face-to-face with the black knight in more reused footage.
Joe Estavez comes back to tempt Hawk again, this time through food. This movie probably should’ve called The Last Temptation of Hawk. Meanwhile, the spirit of Harks dead bride dances with her sword around the narrator as he continues to play bongos. There is a suggestion that she is in a sort of limbo, and that it was her spirit that saved Hawk from his previous temptation. She enters the feast and Hawk barely notices her in his almost dreamlike state.
Hawk, his soul in flux, left O’ffenders lair to meditate – thrusting us into a cacophony of disjointed clips from throughout the film.
About an hour in they remember they need to connect this somehow to the rest of the roller blade seriesis and attempt to do so with the debate between our wondering priest and Saint O’ffender that flashes back to the nuns are the previous film. It’s a nonsensical back and forth, occasionally intercut with unrelated film clips – when in doubt, cut to some nudity!
It’s informative though, because the wandering priest is played by our director Donald G Jackson. If you wanna get a feel for how he speaks and what it was like to be around him – this is actually a pretty good representation, and jibes with interview footage I’ve seen of him.
It almost seems like they originally shot enough footage for a movie and a half, and decided to harvest enough recycalable shots to make both Roller Blade Seven AND the Return of the Roller Blades Seven – possibly picking up a couple of extra shots of Jackson and Estivez to pad the second movie. It’s not enough, and things completely fall apart towards the end as they almost seem to be dropping in clips from both films at random, ending in a climactic sword fight between Hawk and Saint O’ffender where I think (it’s not clear) Hawk gets his wife, Stella Speed back.
It’s a bizarre swan song for the series (or is it?), and it’s easy enough to see why the two RB7 movies would be re-edited and combined several times to try and create something that would make more sense.
May the sun shine bright on your blood stain blade as you skate the pair of righteousness. All is well.
So I’ve heard that RB7 is possibly the worst film ever made. That didn’t daunt me, I’ve heard that before and I don’t usually believe it. Didn’t the Medved brother declare Plan 9 From Outer Space to be the worst film of all time? It wasn’t even the worst film made that YEAR.
I wasn’t expecting a lot. I was aware the budget had been slashed for this one. They had $30,000 and a 16 millimeter camera. This was going to be rough to make.
It was also around this time that Donald Jackson started getting thick with Scott Shaw – a musician, actor, artist and academic with a focus on eastern philosophy. Together they birthed the concept of “Zen Film making”, where no script is used. You come in with an idea, roll the film and let things happen as they will. That’s fine. It’ll be interesting and I can review anything right?
Turns out I was wrong and also Very wrong. RB7 is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen come out of Hollywood. It makes a Neil Breen film seem coherent. The only possible way to adequately review and describe this is to give you my stream of consciousness that I recorded on Facebook while watching the film.
So much danger, so much danger, SO MUCH DANGER! and then DIRECTED BY in huge white letters.
Sending his minion out to kidnap a psychic… I feel like we’ve tried this ground before.
At least the nuns have traded red and blue for black leather habits (it helps the ninjas blend in)
That’s a billy club, not a gun. STOP HOLDING IT LIKE A GUN!
You may remember me doing an article last year on a film called “Roller Blade”. It was the surprise feature screened at the Cedar Lee and it seared my eyes out of their sockets with it’s absurdity.
I had to know more. I needed to understand how such a thing could be made in the first place, much less spawn sequels.
Yes, sequels. Roller Blade ended with a title card promising a sequel which I was assured existed. That was it, I had to know more. A quick check of IMDB showed that not only was there a sequel, there were several…but it gets confusing from there on out and it’s hard to tell what is what. We’ll get to that in a moment, but first let’s do a quick recap of the lunacy that is Roller Blade. (for a more in depth review, hit the previous article on the subject here; https://argocitycomics.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/roller-blade/)
In a post apocalyptic future a group of nuns in red and blue KKK robes do battle in the wastelands wearing roller skates and carrying butterfly knives. Led by Mother Speed and occasionally assisted by Marshall Goodman, they struggle against the gangs of punks on skateboards (because roller skates would be too establishment I suppose) and the minions of El Santo’s evil twin and his demonic hand puppet who live in the acid factory.
There. You’re caught up.
So what happened to RB2 : Holy Roller? I can’t be sure. Donald Jackson, the director and guiding force behind all the Roller Blade films, passed away back in 2003 so he’s unavailable for comment, but some interviews do remain. He was known as the Ed wood of the video age, and watching his films it’s easy to tell why. Roller Blade, made on 16mm film for about $5000 was absolutely a success. Jackson had been working for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures at the time in various capacities. They had acquired his movie “I like to Hurt people”, a wrestling documentary for fifty thousand dollars which financed his way to Hollywood. He parlayed that relationship into other work for New World, operating cameras. While he was making contacts with folks like Fred Olen Ray (Who’s son and girlfriend would both end up in Roller Blade) and James Cameron, “I Like to Hurt People” had made New World half a million dollars. Through these kind of contacts he managed to convince New World to pick the film up for distribution. When they came to him asking if he had anything else in the works, he quickly cut together a three minuet trailer to screen for the execs. They watched it in silence and then stared at Jackson, his heart lodged in his throat. Mentally the execs did their calculations. Finally one announced that they could probably move 10,000 units which would turn a profit. This occurred at a time when the video market was just beginning to take off. Roller Blade was hyped by New World as, “The First Straight to Video Feature Film”. They took out full color ads in Billboard magazine and advertised the movie in Variety – all common for a theatrical film, but at the time completely unheard of promotion for a video release. Roller Blade made them over one million dollars. New World was still a player in 1989 when the next film was made, but they weren’t a part of it. While they did fund Jackson’s next film “Hell Comes to Frogtown”, the experience was marked by constant creative differences between Jackson and the studio.
“After Roller Blade made them a million dollars I didn’t have to even show a trailer for the next film. I only had to say one word; ‘Frogtown’. They said okay and gave me a million and a half dollars.”
The increased budget and addition of star power was given in exchange for a great deal of Jackson’s creative control, and by the end, he never wanted to work with them again. He would later talk about the experience in interviews;
“I am a very hands on Director. The downfall of the relationship all stared at one point, the first day of shooting, when they had an art director creating one of the sets. When he finished, I checked it out and it all look too clean and pretty to be a part of the film. I told him about it, but he didn’t listen. He had all the arrogance of an art director and felt he had to answer to no one. So, when he stormed off of the set, I got a few can of spray paint and went and spray painted graffiti on the wall of the set. When he came back, he freaked out. He complained to the powers at New World and they had a talk with me. They told me, “Everybody has their job on a studio film. Yours is to direct the actors.” So, that was the beginning of the end.”
To complicate matters further, New World was beginning to run into financial difficulties and after striking 2000 prints of “Hell Comes to Frogtown”, the film still ended up going direct to video. When it came time to return to the Roller Blade series, Jackson was on his own. The concept of Holy Roller (More a place holder title than anything) no longer appealed to him. The concept had moved on and would now become Roller Blade Warriors.
The good news is Roller Blade Warriors was actually a better film than Roller Blade. It looks like there was enough money to invest in something better than a consumer grade camera and someone learned how to use a boom mic. There’s not really a lot of information on this film though, and Jackson doesn’t speak a lot about it in interviews – it’s always much more about his later movies, the ones that were more experimental. He explains the move from knives to swords as part of his affection for Kurosawa films.
“This was very intentional. Sergio Leone and Akira Kurosawa are two of my biggest influences. As we filmed the entire movie in a very spacious outdoor environment, I was allowed to pay tribute to these two directors and add my own style to the mix.”
An example of that style involves a story about how half way through Roller Blade Warriors, Jackson ripped up the script and winged it through the rest of production, foreshadowing his future film methods. Nevertheless, it’s possibly the best entry in the series. Roller Blade Warriors was successful enough to get a Roller Blade 3 green lit.
It’s at this point that things begin to get weird. Jackson hooked up with actor/musician/academic Scott Shaw during the preproduction of Roller Blade 3. The production was already in chaos, with one of Jackson’s crew interfering, staging a coup and stealing the investor. Eventually the production fell apart. However Shaw was still on board and Jackson was able to secure $30,000 for the two of them to create a pair of sidequels, set in the same universe but more far removed from Mother Speed and her convent. In interviews he made it clear that was the intent from the beginning.
“What Scott Shaw and I did with Roller Blade Seven (and the Return of the Roller Blade Seven, filmed at the same time). Though the movie was based on the same premise, it was time to take the concept to the next level — which we did.”
That next level would be what Scott Shaw would dub “Zen Film making. A method of making film without scripts. You came up with a concept, ran the camera and filmed what ever happened next. Shaw recalls the moment he coined the term –
“We were in the office, discussing the results of the previous weeks endeavor. Don was fuming as he often did. Blaming others, as he almost always did. We decide that we needed to let go of all the structure and throw all of the plans that we had for the film out the window and just go out there and film. It was then and there that I came up with the title, Zen Filmmaking. “Let’s just be Zen. This is Zen. This is Zen Filmmaking.”
Sometimes there would be some guidance needed. words and phrases would be drawn from one of Shaw’s books Essence and Time, to keep the vision consistent.
“Whenever someone wanted some dialogue to memorize we would give them the two books by Scott… These books were made up of Spiritual Aphorism. So, this really kept the film focused on the spiritual essence of life — which is really what I wanted.”
In addition to the new film making style, there would also be technical advances –
“We also invented a new type of cinematography, in association with this film, known as, “The Roller-cam.” This is where we had a masterful skater film many scenes while skating around the actors using my Bolex. This gives the film a very spiritual sense of nonstop movement.”
“The way these character developed is the essence of Zen Filmmaking. We never had any plans for any of these character. In fact, just the opposite. We gave the people a little guidance and they did the rest.”
For instance, “The costume for the character Fukasai Ninja was just something our art director, Mark Richardson had lying around. He tuned it up a little bit to better fit the movie — so an actor could roller skate in it. And, bam, the character became a big part of the film.”
Shaw for his part has contended that he was ill used in the making of these films, never taking a salary because of the low budget, but increasingly asked to do more and more including casting, production and music.
“Don suggested I go and set up the fights. I figured I had some time so I was first working with the girl and her opponent. Maybe ten minutes into the session Don walks up, “Okay, let’s shoot.” But…Here’s the thing, Don didn’t even care that the people weren’t ready. All he cared about was getting something/anything on film. So, all of those one-on-one fights you see in the film were choreographed on the spot. I told them do this or do that, and that was that.”
Shaw claims this caused a break with Jackson (which is odd considering IMDB still shows them making movies together untill Johnson’s death) and he claims, Don said on the way to his deathbed, “I really want to apologize for what happen to you on Roller Blade Seven.”. When he passed, Jackson turned over all his film rights to Shaw.
The next part is where things get tricky, because the bad feelings and politics didn’t end with that. There was interest in another entry, but both films were so highly stylized and non-linear that there was difficulty finding funding or distribution. This is when the the executive producer, Tanya York decided to take things into her own hands, editing both movies into one feature and re-releasing it under the name “Legend of the Roller Blade Seven”. It makes a certain amount of sense. Both RB7 and the Return are short films, clocking in under 90 minuets and incorporating a lot of re-used footage. However, the re-edit was in violation of York’s contract and alienated both Jackson and Shaw. Shaw took the film back and re-edited it himself, releasing it again under the title “Hawk, Warrior of the Wheelzone”. To make things more confusing, Shaw offers Lite versions of the films, unseen scene versions and his own Zen documentary on Roller Blade 3, the movie that never was. (Shaw by the way, seems somewhat disconnected from the reality of what things actually cost, offering each of these films for $25 on DVD – plus shipping. You can also get his autograph for a mere $125 on Band Camp)
For our purposes, We’ll be watching and reviewing only the “official” films and not Tanya York ‘s remix. This isn’t Blade Runner, and apocryphal mix tapes just muddy the waters further.
Quotes taken from the documentary “Donald G. Jackson : Confessions”, “The Roller Blade Seven: The Story of the Production” by Scott Shaw, originally published on Blogspot.com and “Donald G. Jackson; The Final Interview” Originally published in Trash Times, Issue #13