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Retro Review: THE ANNIHILATORS (1985)

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THE ANNIHILATORS
(US - 1985)

Directed by Charles E. Sellier Jr. Written by Brian Russell. Cast: Gerrit Graham, Lawrence Hilton- Jacobs, Paul Koslo, Christopher Stone, Andy Wood, Jim Antonio, Sid Conrad, Dennis Redfield, Bruce Evers, Millie Fisher, Becky Harris,Mimi Honce, Bruce Taylor. (R, 85 mins)

After making a fortune with his Utah-based indie Sunn Classic Pictures and creating the hit TV show THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS, Charles E. Sellier Jr. had other ambitions and gradually began to wean the company off speculative re-enactments like 1977's THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY, Brad Crandall-narrated UFO and Noah's Ark "documentaries," and more faith-based fare like 1980's IN SEARCH OF HISTORIC JESUS. There was money to be made with titles like the 1980 sci-fi conspiracy thriller HANGAR 18, the 1981 horror film THE BOOGENS, and the 1983 Stephen King adaptation CUJO, the latter finding distribution with Warner Bros. Sunn Classic would be sold to Taft Enterprises in 1980, and Sellier would move into the profitable realm of drive-in exploitation with the 1984 teen comedy SNOWBALLING and the same year's SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT. The latter would prove to be a step too far--not just for Sellier's Sunn Classic faithful but for pretty much everyone--with the killer Santa slasher movie igniting a firestorm of controversy and widespread condemnation, with Siskel and Ebert calling him out by name and calling the profits from the film "blood money." Sellier continued to follow B-movie trends outside the auspices of Sunn Classic with the 1985 New World Pictures release THE ANNIHILATORS, an instantly-forgotten Namsploitation/vigilante mash-up shot in Atlanta and just out on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber, because physical media is dead. The concept was nothing new--TAXI DRIVER, ROLLING THUNDER, THE EXTERMINATOR, and FIRST BLOOD all dealt with Vietnam vets unable to function in civilian life when they came home before the subgenre went into full "the war's not over till the last man comes home!" mode--but THE ANNIHILATORS takes a more SEVEN SAMURAI-esque approach, albeit with a budget that forced them to whittle it down to four.






Paralyzed from the waist down after being shot saving his buddies in 'Nam, Joe Nace (Dennis Redfield) now owns a small grocery store in the fictional South Point neighborhood in Atlanta (the film was shot in the city's Cabbagetown district, and the market is played by Little's Food Store). The area is overrun with gang activity, with the chief menace being Roy Boy Jagger (Paul Koslo) and his "Rollers." Where most movie gangs are fearsome youths terrifying their elders, Roy Boy and his Rollers all look to be grown-ass men in their 30s and 40s, terrorizing a bunch of people in roughly the same age bracket by shaking them down for protection money and loan sharking. Joe mouths off to Roy Boy one too many times and gets his head bashed in with a meat tenderizer (Joe has one for sale in his store, just randomly hanging on a rack with numerous other unrelated items) while his lone customer--a well-dressed woman who can't possibly live in the area--is stripped naked, fondled, and gutted with a switchblade. Joe's dad Louie (Sid Conrad) decides he's had enough of Roy Boy's reign of middle-aged terror and summons Joe's old Nam buddy Bill "Sarge" Ecker (Christopher Stone) to teach the area residents to fight and help them stand up to the Rollers. Ecker tracks down the rest of their Nam crew--accountant and comic relief Ray (Gerrit Graham), family man Garrett (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, aka WELCOME BACK, KOTTER's Freddie "Boom Boom" Washington), and hopeless drunk Woody (Lou Reed lookalike Andy Wood)--to come to South Point and take out the trash.




Christopher Stone (1942-1995)
With a bigger budget and a better director, THE ANNIHILATORS could've been an acceptably entertaining garbage action movie. But it's so inept and cheaply-made that it's really surprising New World actually rolled it out across the country (regionally; it opened in the summer of 1985 but didn't hit my hometown of Toledo, OH until January 1986). The cops--led by Lt. Hawkins (Jim Antonio)--are no help and rank among cinema's most pathetically useless. The training montage lasts all of two minutes before all of the residents are taking charge and kung-fu fighting. And in his own way, Koslo's mulleted Roy Boy is as cartoonish as Gavan O'Herlihy's Fraker in the somewhat similar DEATH WISH 3, which would be out later in the year. But despite the occasional amusement, THE ANNIHILATORS is never as entertaining--even in a bad way--as you want it to be. The title crew is likable enough (except for annoying sad sack Woody), and while he was never a star, Graham (USED CARS) seemed to be doing OK enough with comedic supporting roles in higher-profile projects (THE RATINGS GAME, THE MAN WITH ONE RED SHOE) that a gig like this seems a bit beneath him. If THE ANNIHILATORS deserves credit for anything, it's giving a tough-guy lead to Stone, a TV vet best known for co-starring with his wife Dee Wallace in THE HOWLING and CUJO (they were married from 1980 until his death from a heart attack at just 53 in 1995). Though he stayed busy until the end, Stone never really broke out and became the second-string Tom Selleck that he could've been, so even though it's pretty terrible, THE ANNIHILATORS does get somewhat of a boost from his presence. It would be the last film Sellier directed before his death in 2011 at 67. Following THE ANNIHILATORS, he switched to producing TV-movies and later replicated the Sunn Classic ethos for the post-2000 DTV era with various DA VINCI CODE and SECRET-inspired "documentaries," as well as pandering, faithsploitation drivel like END TIMES: HOW CLOSE ARE WE? and GEORGE W. BUSH: FAITH IN THE WHITE HOUSE.


THE ANNIHILATORS opening in Toledo, OH on 1/10/1986



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