As you might well imagine, the quest of a trash movie fanatic is frought with danger. For every nugget of 70s Eurotrash gold you unearth in a 50-movie budget pack, you're likely to suffer through a dozen or more movies so terrible that even laughing at them is impossible. For every candy-colored goretastic brain-burner from the 80s you stumble upon, you trip over that many more shot-on-video disasters with all the technical skill and enjoyment potential of a public-access broadcast of the local school board meeting. Sometimes you spend weeks and many dollars slogging through pile after pile of cinematic excretia, until the very hope of actually enjoying a movie again starts to look like an impossible dream.
But then the magic happens: you come across a thing of such gleeful, over-the-top batshittery that it bypasses your brain's logic- and taste-containing crenelations and strikes deep into the movie-watching pleasure centers, flooding your system with trash-movie endorphins and reminding you why you put in all that time in the first place.
So thank you, Executioner, Part II. Thank you for reminding me what it's all about.
By 1984 the heyday of the grindhouse phenomenon may have been well past, but thank God nobody told director James Bryan (Don't Go in the Woods, Lady Streetfighter) before he turned out this gritty, low-budget, and completely INSANE paean to vigilante justice. From its hamfisted stabs at social relevance ,to its earnest but clubfooted acting, to its sometimes shocking displays of slimy deviance, The Executioner, Part II is a movie that succeeds by getting everything WRONG. If you can't understand the zen truth cocooned in that little exploitation koan, well then, this is not the movie for you.
The Punisher and First Blood: in a 1980s Los Angeles where crime is rampant and hobo-patterned red bandannas are ubiquitous, the people cower in their homes, praying for a savior. Police lieutenant Roger O'Malley (Christopher "I'm trying to be tough guy like my dad AGAIN" Mitchum) spends his days hanging out with musclebound mechanic war-buddy Mike (Antoine John Mottet), to whom Roger owes his life since Mike pulled his ass out of the fire in 'Nam. As a small business owner, Mike is paying protection to crime lord Mr. Cassalis (Dan Bradley, maybe? imdb is unclear), an incredibly oily character known to local hookers as "The Tattoo Man," since he gets off by cutting his sexual partners with a knife and burning them with cigarettes. Meanwhile O'Malley's daughter Laura has become hooked on the drugs (probably because her old man's never around) and her dealer Pete wants to turn her out as a prostitute in exchange for keeping the supply end up.
Against this seedy background, a vigilante dressed in black stalks the night. Actually he stalks broad daylight too, rescuing women from rooftop bandanna-gang rape by cutting the punks' throats with broken bottles and sticking grenades down their pant legs! Dubbed "The Executioner" by gadfly German-American reporter Celia Amherst (Renee Harmon, the model on which Ariana Huffington must have based her entire personality), the vigilante is bringing the crime rate down in LA through outright terrorism, much to the dismay of Mr. Cassalis and his pet Police Commissioner (a never-been-more-blustery Aldo Ray). While Celia sings the Executioner's praises on television and urges the police to leave him alone and let him keep blowing punks up, O'Malley is assigned by his corrupt boss to bring the Executioner in, dead or alive. But when Mike starts displaying increasingly erratic behavior, the lieutenant wonders if his old friend has found a novel way of dealing with his absolutely monstrous case of PTSD.
The Executioner, Part II is *not* a sequel; The Executioner, Part I does not exist. The best anyone can figure, the filmmakers and production company hoped to capitalize on the success of another movie, likely 1980's similarly themed The Exterminator. Why they didn't just go all out and call it Dambo 2: Mike's Revenge is beyond me, but the point is moot. (It's not really a spoiler to reveal Mike as the titular vigilante--while the director does try to inject a little detective mystery into the proceedings at the beginning of the movie, that effort is quickly abandoned once Mike starts having his incredibly over-the-top flashbacks to Nam.)
The joy in this movie lies more in its individual parts than in the overarching whole. For instance, early on Mike and Roger are having a beer at the garage when they notice a gang of thieves stripping down Mike's Executionermobile outside. The leader of the gang is a smartly dressed thug rocking the blond hair/black beard look, dressed in tight jeans, a white button-up shirt knotted at the navel, a black leatherette vest and the required red neckerchief. (Only in the early 80s could THIS guy be the gang leader; the lowest Shark or Jet would laugh him out of the rumble for his fashion sense.)
The Vets run the gang off after a lengthy and moderately exciting brawl, and you'd think that'd be the end of it--but no, the Necker-Chief returns later--alone--to rob the garage, this time putting up a good fight against Mike before getting his head slammed in a car door and giving Mike the goods on Mr. Cassalis. Not enough yet? Well, your favorite gangsta and mine returns yet again later for a final confrontation with Mike in the abandoned building where the gang has its HQ. I don't know who played this role, but he lights up the screen every time he appears, so kudos.
Laura O'Malley's unfortunate addiction to weed and coke. Laura is not what you'd call "classically beautiful"--in fact, she looks more like Roger's overweight sister than his frail little girl. Despite this, Pete the Pusher finds her irresistible and just can't wait to add her to his stable of hookers, after which he plans to offer her as payment of his own debt to Cassalis. When he learns that Laura is a virgin, you can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes.
A lot of odd details flesh out the characters and add to the overall strangeness of the movie. For instance, Pete has a predeliction for Jimmy Buffet-style shirts and 60s doo-wop, and his apartment looks less like a drug den than like the set of Three's Company. He enlists the help of two of his hookers to break Laura into the business (he can't do it himself since he wants to preserve her valuable virginity for his boss), crooning to them, "Girls, meet my new CHICKAY!" However, when they find out Laura is a virgin, the whores rebel and hold Pete down while she makes her escape. His cries of "Get back here! You're letting my virgin get away!" while rolling around with the two call girls could be the end of a John Ritter sketch, the way it's staged. And his bedroom, adorned with a movie poster for Hot Teenage Assets, samurai swords, and a Black-and-Decker drill on the bedpost (?!) just amps up the weird.
Reporter Celia Amherst is another strange character--despite frilly, flower-print grandma dresses and her almost impenetrable German accent, she gets a lot of on-mike interview time for the LA Television station. She gets almost as much attention from Roger, who puts on the moves while she pumps him for information at a local bar. (The entertainment at said bar is a single dancer in a sequined top and white spandex pants, accompanied by a tinny piano--I guess the Weimar vibe makes Celia feel at home.) Celia also seems irresistible to one of Cassalis's goons, who late in the movie ties her down, pumps her full of smack, and molests her as she trips.
over-the-top flashbacks and near-verbatim "back-from-Nam" Rambo speech late in the film are highlights. But the real standout here is Mr. Cassalis, the Tattoo Man. The actor here is so slimy and imposing, so brimming with asshole confidence, I totally buy him as the type of guy who would get off on burning whores with cigarettes. His wife, self-described as the Tatoo Man's "Pussy-Wussy," is another cipher.
However, my FAVORITE character in the whole movie has to be Laura's friend and fellow dope-addict, Kitty. Blonde, giggly, irrepressible, and gloriously stoned throughout, Kitty is a bright spot whenever she's onscreen. She's introduced while smoking pot with Laura at Roger's apartment. "I wish this were coke," she snickers, toking a joint. "Oh, heavenly coke!" Then she proceeds to sing the praises of the hustling-for-drugs lifestyle, using peer pressure to convince Laura it's okay. "Kitty, I don't think I can go through with it!" Laura demurs. Kitty sympathizes: "Yeah, that's what I said at first. But as soon as the first sleazeball comes along and slips you a $20, it's a breeze!"
This last sentiment is part of the aforementioned hamfisted social relevance portion of the show: the message is, apparently, that once you're on drugs your life is hopeless and bereft of value. Early on Pete tells Laura she should go ahead and be a whore herself out: "Dope, sex--you already screwed yourself anyhow!" Kitty echoes this thought later on, in her typically mirthful style: "Listen, Laura's on drugs, like the rest of us! Once you're on drugs, just SCREW the rest!" It's actually a rather bleak point of view, meant to bolster the film's other argument: that in a world full of drug addicts and Tattoo Men, the Executioner's methods are really the way to go.
I fully understand that BATSHIT CRAZEE is not a high recommendation for everyone, but if it is for you, then The Executioner, Part II has everything that you want. Sure, it's inept and poorly put-together, but it's also as strangely gleeful and enthusiastic as Kitty on a coke-binge. Works for me! I give The Executioner, Part II a satisfied 2.5 thumbs. Check it out. And just say no to drugs.
Unless Kitty's with you. Then, what the hell--go for it.