Saturday, October 29, 2022

Marauders (1987)

Directed by:
Mark Savage

Did the world really need another “youthful 80s punks go on a rampage” exploitation flick? As far as I'm concerned, not really. Even the ones that are directed, produced and acted with some skill still tend to rub me the wrong way. What we typically get in this subgenre are films that are one-sided, reactionary, comically over-the-top (yet still want to be taken seriously) and dripping with conservative middle-aged bitterness and paranoia. The teenage thugs are seldom given proper characterization and are painted with a broad brush as unruly, obnoxious, physically and sexually violent, crude, murderous, drug-addled, foul-mouthed, cartoonish and ultimately unreachable. The only way to change them is to kill them. Meanwhile, the adults are typically shown to be the moral center and voice of reason, as if these teen “monsters” just emerged out of the Earth as some fully-formed evil monolith as opposed to being a byproduct of their environment or abuse inflicted upon them by adults. There's a good reason these movies usually turn out like this, I think: Most were made by middle-aged or even older adults with a subconscious fear of the younger generation and their differences. These films tend to try to discredit, undermine, stereotype and punish the youth, at least the ones who aren't obediently following in the footsteps of the “proper” adult characters.

What initially interested me most about Marauders was that this was one of the few "killer punks" efforts from this time not made by people three decades past their teen expiration date. This is not violent teens seen through the eyes of adults but violent teens seen through the eyes of their own peers. The director and most of the cast and crew were in their teens or early 20s when this was made. This was also done completely independently on a next to nothing budget. Now none of that means this is going to skirt right past the moralistic fear porn trap the other films in this category almost always fall into, or offer up much of note, but it does at least offer up the potential for a fresh take on the subject matter.

We're first introduced to two teen delinquents, both of whom fit the usual exaggerated criteria of other 80s violent punks and both of whom manage to make us thoroughly hate them after about 30 seconds of screen time. J.D. (Zero Montana), his kid brother and his mother are all involved in some kind of robbery-murder scam. J.D. lures victims to their home and his mother lets him get away with torturing and killing them so long as she's allowed to keep the money. When she threatens to go to the cops, J.D. hits her in the face with a shovel, ties her up and kills her. Punk #2, Emilio (Colin Savage), is sick of his crying baby and wife's nagging about how irresponsible he is. After punching his wife unconscious, Emilio then takes care of the nagging issue by shooting her in the head (in broad daylight and right on their front porch!) during an argument over car keys. Not surprisingly, these two nutjobs are best buds. Also not surprisingly, absurd story details like those just outlined make the film impossible to take seriously from the get-go.

Meanwhile, virginal schoolgirl Becky (Megan Napier) is dating a scrawny shitheel named David (Paul Harrington). She's young and naïve and thinks she's in love. He's banging any girl he can get his hands on. Unbeknownst to her, David has been bringing a new girl to a secluded family cabin once every week, where he coerces or forces them into sex before dumping them and moving on to the next target. His sights are now set on Becky. Before picking her up for their country getaway, David has a run-in with a drunken J.D., hits him with his car and then gives him the finger before driving off. That prompts J.D. and Emilio to hunt him down for revenge. They follow David and Becky to the country and commit one crime after another on their trip.

Broke and unable to pay for the gas, the thugs kidnap the female gas attendant at gunpoint and throw her from their moving vehicle. They steal booze from a liquor store, punch a kid in the face after asking for directions and destroy David's car with a sledgehammer. A female walking alongside the road is chased through the woods, thrown on the ground, punched, kicked, spit on, hit with a tree limb, raped and then has her corpse stuffed inside a wrecked car. As their victim count climbs, an ever-growing angry mob of people congregate and start looking for them. While that's all going on, David proves to be just as scummy as J.D. and Emilio; repeatedly calling his date stupid, trying to ply her with alcohol to loosen her up and, after she rejects his advances a few times, slapping her in the face, holding her at gunpoint, trying to force her to strip and threatening to rape her if she doesn't comply.

Seeing how none of this is believable for a second and the young filmmakers aren't striving for any kind of social commentary (their true intentions are made obvious when The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave get name dropped), this must be judged solely on how it works as an exploitation film. On those terms, the results are mixed. Though there are some nicely effective / gritty scenes in the first half of this barely 70 minute effort, once it settles at the cabin, we're left with a bunch of annoying, unlikable characters shrieking profanities at one another for an extended period in between frantically running around in the woods. It becomes pretty tedious.

I did appreciate the fact there's no attempt to legitimize any of this with moral grandstanding and the fact this isn't equating punk with criminality like so many other films of this stripe (at least balancing it out by making the preppy kid from well-to-do parents just as bad), but the best thing going on here, quite surprisingly, is the visual presentation. Though shot on video, this has some of the best cinematography and most creative camerawork you'll find on this particular medium from this particular era. The fluidity of the camera movements, well-done shot framing and dissolves and smoothness of scene transitions all far exceeded my expectations. Same cannot be said for the occasional sloppy use of freeze frames, which seem more a means of editing necessity than a conscious stylistic choice. Still, the overall direction certainly shows some promise.

Though usually listed as a 1986 release, the copyright date in the end credits is 1987. I could find no evidence of a theatrical or home video release anywhere in the world until the 2006 DVD from Subversive Cinema, which is no longer available. It came with an hour long documentary on the production as well as a commentary track. The now-defunct outfit also released other films from the same director. Much to my horror, I discovered that Subversive's former url (subversivecinema.com) has been taken over by "The Church of Peace" (!!), a Wisconsin-based congregation that won't let you in the door unless you're either wearing "your Sunday best" or "a clean pair of jeans and a sweater or polo shirt".

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