The Film: 3/5
There was a time when any person who wasn't a white evangelical Republican male who wore three-piece suits and penny loafers to dinner at home and watched reruns of Father Knows Best wistful for the days when the men ran the show and the women stayed home and cooked was deemed to be a potential enemy of the state. That era would be forever known as "the Reagan Years". Movie theater screens across the U.S. were getting new action movies practically on a weekly basis where the macho white hero brought double-barreled justice to all those who dared to dress differently, listen to funny music, and pray to a god that didn't resemble Jerry Garcia in guru robes. Interracial gangs and Arab terrorist groups were usually the most prevalent villains, but then there were also wild bunches of punk rockers (or at least punk-type characters) who acted like slobbering savages and committed wanton acts of socially unacceptable behavior like face painting and extreme piercing. They were often relegated to the lower-budgeted fare polluting drive-in screens and the shelves of that new fangled invention called video stores. Some independent-minded young filmmakers like Penelope Spheeris and Alex Cox dared to make films showing those who live punk lifestyles in a more positive and realistic light, but for every Repo Man and Suburbia there were a dozen more along the lines of Savage Streets, Grotesque, and many others. At least the first Return of the Living Dead managed to do well at the box office when it was first released and build a larger audience on home video.
Punk Vacation, another video store obscurity resurrected for a Blu-ray restoration by those psychotronic archaeologists at Vinegar Syndrome, was filmed and released at a time when punks were beginning to be seen as figures of comedy and not of disturbing villainy. In a sleepy, unnamed California desert town a gang of motorcycle-riding punks lead by the charismatic Ramrod (Roxanne Rogers) arrive for an extended "vacation" and to hassle the locals. After killing a diner owner - though it's never made clear exactly how the guy died due to this movie being edited with a chainsaw - because he threatened their member Billy with a shotgun, the gang takes off into the mountains while Billy ends up the hospital after accidentally getting hit by Deputy Steve Reed's (producer Stephen Fusci) squad car. The diner owner's daughter Lisa (Sandra Bogan), who also is engaged in a relationship with Steve, first attempts to kill Billy while he's in recovery, and when that fails she grabs a gun and decides to do a little punk hunting. Soon Ramrod and her fun bunch have captured Lisa and stripped her to nothing but her white skivvies. Upon hearing of his girlfriend's predicament Steve and fellow deputy Don (Don Martin) arm up and mount a rescue mission. Pretty soon some punk blood has been spilled and Ramrod declares all-out war on Steve, Lisa, and the rest of the town, which will be waged far away from the town with more trigger-happy hicks.
Completely confused as to who the heroes and villains are in its bone-headed narrative, Punk Vacation is not your everyday average exploitation movie. The actions taken by Ramrod's gang are often in retaliation to the outright hostility they are shown by the townsfolk and the local law enforcement. It all begins when Billy tries to get a soda from a vending machine, only to lose forty cents to the machine and be deprived of a drink in the process. When he tries to get the machine to give up his soda the diner owner threatens the unarmed freak with a shotgun rather than offering him a refund or a little assistance in retrieving the drink he is legally entitled to have. It wasn't like Billy started tearing up the restaurant or bullying the guy's family. He just wanted to get something to quench his thirst and he was willing to pay for it. From there it's all downhill. The gang is off in the desert minding their own business and trying to find some peace when another armed interloper busts up their good times. They capture her and tie her to a tree with nothing but her underwear on, which is not exactly friendly behavior but they also never get violent or sexually abusive with the vengeful woman. Eventually the punks have a larger group of heavily armed mountain folk hunting them down, and our sympathies are supposed to belong to the supposedly besieged small town citizens? Rarely have I been more puzzled as to who I should be rooting for in a movie.
Ramrod is a rather nice young lady with strong leadership skills - one of her followers even compares her to Eva Peron - and she holds court over a gang of like-minded kids that have greater things that antisocial behavior on their minds. They all come across as worldly and literate and have the capacity to hold intelligent conversations about their futures without feeling the need to slash each other up with razor blades and bang their skulls with metal cookware. Compare that to the idiotic townsfolk who sit around their houses and diners talking about dull matters and looking down on anyone wanting to make something of their life. The town sheriff (Louis Waldon) is a stereotypical cigar-chomping, ultra-patriotic blowhard who sees the punks as Communists that should all be destroyed rather than understood. The punks aren't really punks anyhow; they dress and act like New Wave types. In other words, they are what the film industry perceived punk rockers to be in the 1980's. Hollywood had no damn clue to what to think of these kids with their loud music and black leather clothing and disdain for authority figures who spent more time harassing them than treating them like decent human beings, so they turned them into nightmarish, bloodthirsty deviants the same way groups of minorities have been dehumanized on the big screen for the entirety of the history of cinema. What we don't understand we must somehow conquer and destroy.
If Punk Vacation had focused on just the activities of Ramrod and the rest it would have ended up a more original and thought-provoking feature than what it was destined to become. I would have rather spent a greater deal more time with the punks than with the dimwitted townspeople, the biggest bunch of self-righteous armed morons this side of a CPAC convention. Leading man Fusci (credited as Stephen Fiachi), who bears a striking resemblance to Mark Ruffalo, makes for a competent man of action, but it would have been nice if he had buttoned the two top buttons on his shirt at some point in the movie because he had too much chest hair to be exposed to the world. Reluctant heroine Bogan is a wash as a character but fortunately she looks fantastic running around in a bra and panties. She can't hold a candle to Rogers' sultry, passionate gang leader Ramrod, the only real character of interest in the movie. As the sheriff Waldon does most of his acting with a cigar and a distended beer gut but the filmmakers had the good sense to give him some of the most unintentionally hilarious lines in the script. His right-wing rants against the punks are one of the few memorable things any person watching Punk Vacation will take away from it. The music score by Ross Vannelli, which sounds like the backing tracks to generic 80's bubblegum pop tunes, not so much.
The packaging states that Punk Vacation has been scanned in 2K resolution and restored from original 35mm film elements. Presented in the 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, the quality of the transfer is mostly solid with the exception of some noticeable print damage during the bucolic opening seconds. Grain content is kept at a decent level and visual details in the film that have been dulled by age and previous piss poor VHS transfers have been cleaned up considerably well. Some occasional soundtrack distortion can be heard clearly on the English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio channel, but otherwise this is a good sound mix that allows the dialogue and weird instances of apparent ADR to come across as very audible. No subtitles have been included.
Vinegar Syndrome has packaged Blu-ray and DVD copies of Punk Vacation in this set and confined most of the extra features to the DVD. The Blu-ray comes with a still gallery featuring 100 black & white and color images. The same gallery can be found on the DVD along with new video interviews with actor/producer Stephen Fusci (18 minutes) and stuntman/assistant to the producer Steven Rowland (14 minutes) where each interviewee offers answers to questions presented statically on title cards. Not the most exciting format around but Fusci and Rowland have a lot to say about the production and reception of Punk Vacation. Rounding things off is a bonus movie, Nomad Riders (82 minutes), that Fusci produced six years prior to Punk. Transferred to DVD from the only available source, a one-inch videotape master, Nomad Riders is a simplistic revenge tale extremely similar to Punk Vacation. The video and audio quality is subpar but hardly unwatchable.
Punk Vacation is far from being a good movie, but it's a pretty damn amusing and enjoyable watch and also an abnormally unique take on the concept of punk rockers as action movie villains. Subversive in its execution. Vinegar Syndrome's 2K restoration of Punk Vacation looks and sounds great for the movie's age with some informative video interviews and even a bonus movie as a supplements selection. Recommended for the most devoted of cult movie connoisseurs and those complete freaks who shun society's laws of decency when it comes to taste in cinema.