Saturday, 1 October 2011

John Stamos

Back in 1986 a movie poster proclaimed “Stamos: the new breed of hero!” The film was Never Too Young To Die and that man was John Stamos. Nobody seemed to notice and an action hero was not born.

Along with the likes Rob Lowe and Richard Grieco, Stamos was one of Hollywood’s beloved bad boys in the 1980s. Most famous for playing warm-hearted Uncle Jesse in 192 episodes of family sitcom Full House (between 1987 and 1995) alongside Bob Saget and the growing Olsen twins, his action adventure was consigned to obscurity and has never been released on DVD.

Recently unearthed by Phil Hobden over at the Filmsploitation podcast, the film cast Stamos as Lance Stargrove, a handsome college gymnast drawn into a web of intrigue when his father’s killed. If the hero’s name isn’t enough to pique your interest then what if I told you that his father is a spy played by one-time James Bond George Lazenby!

Still not convinced this is a must see? Well, the villain of the piece is a homicidal hermaphrodite played by Gene Simmons!

Simmons made for a stern, cool antagonist in the Tom Selleck film Runaway (Michael Crichton, 1984) - that’s the one where he had the big gun with heat-seeking bullets and an army of mechanical spiders - but here embraced camp with the kind of vigour unseen beyond his performances with KISS. He doesn't chew the scenery, he rapes it!

He's Velvet Van Ragnar, a bar performer and the leader of an army of street punks. Their outfits must have been left over from all the Mad Max ripoffs that were being made at that time. There were a hell of a lot of those.

If you thought The Joker in The Dark Knight (Christoper Nolan, 2008) was crazy, you have to see Ragnar in action. He cackles maniacally and kills people with a razor sharp middle finger nail!

The greatest irony of Never Too Young To Die is that it isn’t played for laughs. There are light-hearted moments scattered here and there, as they were in many similar films of the period, but rarely has a hero encountered such an insane and deranged nemesis.

Never Too Young To Die is one of those “everything but the kitchen sink” movies. Combining themes from several popular genres with no regard to logic or a consistent tone.

At one point a Conan The Barbarian lookalike charges into a barn to attack glamour icon and love interest Vanity, who puts her back to the wall, presses a button to make it spin around and emerges with a machine gun.

Another absurd moment is when Stamos chases Vanity as she drives a Corvette down a desert road and the pair are in turn pursued by the Mad Max goons.

Gymnastics, spies, barbarians, a hermaphrodite villain... quite how a film with so much cult potential has stayed so obscure is a mystery. Of course it goes without saying that it's bizarre and cheesy, but isn’t that what the 80s were all about? Isn’t that what we love in retrospect?

Simmons completed an action villain trilogy by starring opposite Rutger Hauer in Wanted: Dead or Alive (Gary Sherman, 1987) but Stamos was rarely the bad boy on the big screen. He played the romantic rebel in Born to Ride (Graham Baker, 1991) but his career did not involve the handling of any more firearms. His most notable roles since his Full House days have been in ER and Glee.

Not only is Never Too Young To Die notable for its absurdity but is also notable as perhaps the first teen-friendly spin on the James Bond formula. It’s impossible not to see in it the blueprint for much more successful films such as Teen Agent (aka If Looks Could Kill, William Dear, 1991), Stormbreaker (Geoffrey Sax, 2006) and Abduction (John Singleton, 2011).

All of those are obviously very tame in comparison; although Mickey Rourke was pretty weird in Stormbreaker he’s no Gene Simmons.

Perhaps it’s Albert Pyun's equally obscure Spitfire (1995) with which it shares the most DNA.

Thanks again to Phil Hobden!