Color, 1987, 93m.
Directed by Stanley Lewis
Starring Louis Waldon, Stephen Fusci, Roxanne Rogers, Sanda Bogan, Ken Grunfeld, Karen Renee
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
One of the dirtiest secret pleasures of VHS collectors is an outfit called Raedon Video, which had a bizarre run from around 1987 into the early '90s churning out strange exploitation films you'd probably never see on a theater marquee anywhere. Stuffed among titles like Death Collector, Feelin' Screwy and Hell Spa was a baffling little number called Punk Vacation, completed in '87 but unleashed on most video shelves three years later. The idea of any Raedon title getting the Blu-Ray treatment decades later seems hard to believe, but here we are with Vinegar Syndrome's lovingly assembled special edition showing some love for a title no one could have ever possibly predicted for a destiny with 2K high definition.
In a sleepy California town a hundred miles outside of Los Angeles, a bunch of punks roll in for the night and cause trouble when one of them gets violent with a vending machine outside a diner. The owner confronts him with a shotgun and winds up dead when the gang shows up thirsty for blood, and the instigator, Billy, gets run over and sent to the hospital. The owner's daughter, Lisa (Bogan), tries to off him and then goes off on her own for revenge, only to wind up tied to a tree. The punk leader, Ramrod (Rogers), spends a lot of time yapping with her crew about getting Billy back while the local cops, led by commie-hating Sheriff Virgin (Waldon), head into the woods to hunt the interlopers down while fellow cop Steve (producer Fusci, credited as Stephen Fiaci) tries to keep things from going too far.
Most obviously, this film's entire concept of punks is pretty far removed from your usual pop culture definition; if you're expecting something to watch alongside Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, or Return of the Living Dead, well, you ain't gonna find that here. These punks instead have new wave makeup and hairstyles, with a few sporting New Romantic outfits and the thumping electronic music falling much closer into that category as well. That said, it's a genuinely weird film with some moments of utter hilarity, some of it intentional. ("You ever seen combat?" "What, the TV show?") It's especially odd seeing Waldon pop up here; a regular in films made by Andy Warhol's Factory, he got his start in quickies like The Love Merchant and The Swap and How They Make It before shifting to Warhol films like The Nude Restaurant and the infamous Blue Movie. He really has a great time here spouting off heaps of bigoted dialogue and screwing up basic facts about World War II, while the younger actors do their best with a script that feels like your average backwoods survival film with the word "punk" simply replaced for every instance of "redneck." The budget was obviously very, very low (estimated as $75,000 in the special features), with gunshots never really shown hitting any of their targets; instead you'll hear a dubbed-in "aaaaagh!" off camera or, in one amazing instance, the screen simply tinting red for a few frames to indicate someone getting hit.
Credited director "Stanley Lewis" was apparently a pseudonym adopted by a recent AFI grad who had his name taken off the film when he proved unable to deal with the budgetary limitations and had the project taken away from him. That's one of the several revelations found in the special features here, with two video interviews included on the DVD version (and an extensive gallery as the sole bonus on the Blu-Ray). Fusci kicks things off for 17 minutes covering both this and his earlier film, 1984's Nomad Riders. He cheerfully recalls shooting without permits in Westlake Village, accidentally setting curtains on fire during filming, and working with the cinematographer of Punk Vacation, Daryn Okada, who went on to Phantasm II and a bunch of comedies like Mean Girls and Baby Mama. ("It's only a felony!" is probably the best quote here.) Then producer's assistant and stunt man Steven Rowland gets 13 minutes to remember his collaborations with Fusci and some mishaps on location, such as brakes going out on a cop car. In a welcome touch, the DVD also includes the entire Nomad Riders feature as well, sourced from a one-inch video master (complete with the 1986 Vestron logo at the end). Fusci steps in as a cop again for a basic revenge action film about a gang of bikers who like to plow their bikes through people's front doors and demolish furniture with baseball bats. You also get a fight scene involving a buzz saw, a desert shoot out, and lots and lots of facial hair, big glasses, and '80s sports cars. Since this is a double feature with Punk Vacation, that also means plenty of scenes with people chasing each other back and forth through the woods, too. 100% pure retro VHS-era goodness.
Reviewed on July 7, 2013.