Set in, "another time and another place," the film combined elements of musicals, action movies, drama and comedy with a time-period that embraced both the retro 50’s and the MTV style of the 80’s.
The film starred Michael Paré, as Tom Cody, a soldier of fortune who returns home to rescue his ex-girlfriend Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), an upcoming singer who has been kidnapped by a motorcycle gang lead by the nefarious Raven (Willem Dafoe).
"Look, I know you're gonna be going places with your music and stuff and... and I'm not the kind of guy to be carrying your guitars along for you. But if you ever need me for something... I'll be there."
– Tom Cody, Streets of Fire
The film was sadly under-promoted and under performed at the box office but the film has nevertheless, achieved a cult following over the years. And while the film's ending hinted at the further adventures of Tom Cody, it seemed that was never to be.
I’ve been a big fan of the movie for so many reasons since I first saw it in a UK cinema back then. Part of the film's success is it's phenomenal cast; Michael Paré who should have become a huge star, Diane Lane looked fantastic, and Willem Dafoe as Raven was practically an audition tape to play The Joker.
The supporting cast also featured several inimitable performances including Rick Moranis trying to be tough at times as a smarmy promoter, Amy Madigan as the tough as nails McCoy, Deborah Van Valkenbergh in fine form, Bill Paxton with mad hair as a gun toting bartender, and Hollywood Shuffle director Robert Townsend as a doo-wop singer. Other unforgettable moments include a one on one duel involving sledgehammers, and some kick ass music by Jim Steinman (including the phenomenal Tonight is What It Means To Be Young).
Now, almost thirty years later, I can confirm that my love for the film is shared; so much in fact that cult director Albert Pyun (Cyborg, Nemesis, Captain America) unveils not quite a sequel, but rahter more of a companion piece to the original...
ROAD TO HELL
Forces of Geek's Man from Hong Kong takes a look at Albert Pyun’s latest
One of our favorite cult directors Albert Pyun was in Northern Ireland recently for the 4th Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival. During the festival, a number of Pyun's films were screened, including a European premiere for his latest project Road to Hell, a companion piece to a film that struck a chord with Pyun when it was first released, Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire.
Pyun’s film picks up the story 20-something years later with Michael Paré returning to the character of Cody, alongside Deborah Van Valkenbergh, Claire Kramer, Courtney Peldon and Roxy Gunn.
FOG!’s Big Mike Leeder brings us an early review
Still another time, Still another place
A soldier who has been fighting a long war is driven mad because he no longer believes in any purpose or righteous truth behind the killing. He comes home to a surreal world looking for his first and only love from his youth, believing she will rescue him from his demons. On the dark road to Edge City he encounters two seductive spree killers who oppose his efforts to find his love and the redemption he desperately seeks.
It’s been twenty-eight long years since Cody hit the road, a soldier who in his own words was 'good at shooting guns, but didn’t win no medals'; twenty-eight years since he walked out on the woman he loved the singer Ellen Aim and he's been haunted by the events of his past ever since, now he's trying to get to Edge City to attend a concert by Ellen Dream, the daughter he's never met.
On the road to hell or possibly redemption, Cody encounters two young ladies, Caitlin (Claire Kramer) and Ashley (Courtney Peldon) fresh from their own killing spree, seeking more thrills and possibly, kills on the back-roads that lead to the bright lights of Edge City.
Their encounter will change not only their own lives but also Cody's beliefs and his reasons for a reunion that's been 28 years in the making...
While I'd have loved to see a big budget glossy sequel exploring the further adventures of Cody and company, sadly that was never to be.
Albert Pyun's Road to Hell is not a direct sequel as such, but it does explore both what could have been with the characters in the 28 years that have passed since the first film in a dark turn of events, as well as in some ways reflecting on aspects of leading man Michael Paré's life and career since the first film.
Pyun has created a film with its own visual style, shot mostly against a green screen as opposed to the back-lot and cinematic wipes and dissolves of Hill's film, that both acknowledges the original movie and yet stands alone as a piece of cinema. The film at times is reminiscent of Sin City in terms of dream like quality, we know the backdrops aren’t real and yet that adds to the 'another time, another place' quality of the movie.
Road to Hell is one part long form experimental music video, one part blood splattered road movie exploring one man's choice between following the road to hell or the road to redemption.
The film is scored by a soundtrack that includes two key songs Nowhere Fast and Tonight is What it Means to be Young composed by Jim Steinman for the first film, as well as a number of new songs that provide a symphony in hell for the blood-letting and emotional turmoil portrayed on screen.
Many of those tracks are provided by the Roxy Gun Project, whose lead singer Roxy portrays 'Ellen,” Cody's daughter in the film.
There are numerous references to Streets of Fire in terms of music, dialogue (often referring to events and characters from the first film including revelations about one characters father, and the truth about certain relationships from the first film) and certain shots that add extra weight to certain beats if you know the reference but the film still works as a stand-alone project that won’t alienate non-fans who've never seen Streets of Fire.
Michael Paré has always been someone I thought should have been and could have been a much bigger star. He had the looks and the raw talent, and three of his first films The Philadelphia Experiment, Eddie & the Cruisers and the original Streets of Fire are genuine classics. Unfortunately, his subsequent career never seemed to serve him as well as we'd hoped.
When I had first heard of Road to Hell and the fact that it explored the character of Cody so many years later, I was very excited and waited with bated breath through the films troubled post-production period. I never expected that Road to Hell would show just how far Paré has come as an actor, and in many ways the film not only explores his character's life post Streets, but also that of Paré as he looks back on some of the decisions he made that have affected his career. In some ways you could almost say that this is Paré's JCVD as you get to see so much raw emotion in his performance that really affects the audience, as you see into the soul of not only the character but the man himself.
There are several moments in the film that really hit the spot including one pivotal scene that mirrors in many ways a key scene in the first film where his character had the chance of happiness, but chose to walk away, that really hit the emotion button even more so if you know the scene they're referencing in the first film. Paré shows so much depth and strength as an actor that I really hope opens more doors for him as he shows he's still a force to be reckoned with, he's older and wiser and looks great.
Claire Kramer best known to most FOG!’s readership from as one of the Cheerleaders from Bring It On, or most likely as Glory from Buffy the Vampire Slayer gives an incredible balls to the wall performance as Caitlin, a stripper turned killer who comes from a troubled family.
Her character is revealed to be the daughter of a certain character played by Willem Dafoe in Streets of Fire).
Kramer who Pyun revealed had recently given birth before filming began, looks great and gives a raw and wild turn. You can tell the character is psychotic from her comments to her partner in crime and the way she looks at the world, but there's something that's still appealing about her. Her partner in crime Ashley is played by Courtney Peldon who gives a solid turn as the not sure if she knows exactly what she's let herself in for.
Newcomer Roxy Gunn plays Ellen Dream the rocker daughter of the original Ellen & Cody, who has grown up to be a singer in her own right. Gunn not only provides much of the music for the film including both original material and two strong covers of Jim Steinman's classics from the first film, but also gives a remarkably strong performance in her first acting role too.
Her character being interviewed by a radio host and her performances in the studio are intercut through the film and serve in some ways as narration for the events that took place between the two films and fill in various plot points. She's got an interesting look too, managing to project the 'strong' rocker independence while at the same time coming across as vulnerable in the scenes where she's questioned about her relationship with her father and the events that are happening. Check her out at www.roxygunnmusic.com
Also making appearances in the film are Deborah Van Valkenbergh (Mean Guns, The Warriors) who reprises her Streets of Fire role as Cody's older sister, narrating scenes in the film as she is interviewed by the police about Cody's whereabouts. It’s great to see Valkenbergh and especially her and Paré together again. Also appearing are Anita Leeman playing Ellen in flashback.
Albert Pyun delivers a very different movie to what you might expect; it’s not a madcap martial arts or high octane gun-play adventure, rather a thought provoking exploration of the darker side of a hero's journey. The film explores what happens when you train someone to be a killer and then let them loose in the world. Not only is Road to Hell a great companion piece to the original Streets of Fire, but is more than worthy of standing alone and being appreciated on its own merits.
The film received its European premiere to great response at the 4th YFIFF in Belfast and saw Pyun deservedly taking home the prize for Best Film. Please don't sit down to watch this expecting it to be an action fest like Cyborg or Nemesis, or a glossy big budget sequel to Streets of Fire, this is a very different kind of movie, this is a very personal project that explores a possible what if with regards to the characters from Walter Hill's film, it’s a great companion piece but this is Pyun's Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead with Streets of Fire serving as Walter Hill's Hamlet. They're two very different films, they both work well independently but complement each-other so well.
Hats off to Pyun & his producing/writing partner Cynthia Curnan, Paré, Kramer & the rest of the cast for delivering an off the wall but utterly engrossing slice of cinematic viewing. Thanks also to George Clarke & everyone at the 4th YFIFF for inviting me to be a guest at the festival, alongside Albert & Cynthia and having the chance to see this and so many other great films at the festival.
Road to Hell is currently playing at selected film festivals and should be released either later this year or early 2013.