Sunday, February 13, 2011

La Venganza de los Punks (Mexico, 1987)

It's those goddamn punks again.

One of my favorite things about Intrepidos Punks -- for the obvious reason and others -- was the end. In that final scene, the cops are celebrating their victory over the punks when the elder police captain's face clouds over. When asked by the film's putative hero what the problem is, the superior officer replies that he fears this just concluded battle may be "only the tip of the iceberg". This ominous note suddenly lends Intrepidos Punks the air of a cautionary tale, the message being that The Road Warrior was real, and that there are actual post-apocalyptic glam-punk motorcycle gangs roaming our present day streets and highways, a threat for which we must remain ever vigilant.

And I'm certainly not one to argue that such threats shouldn't be dealt with. Because if they aren't, they're sure to come back again, just as they do in the belated sequel to Interpidos Punks, La Venganza de los Punks. In Venganza, this return is effected when gang leader Tarzan (El Fantasma) is freed from prison by a couple of his conspicuously middle-aged punkette minions. No time is wasted then before the punks' venganza is put into action. The home of Marco, the prolifically mustached cop who arrested Tarzan (played by Juan Valentin, a man who did double duty as both a popular ranchera singer and Mexico's answer to Charles Bronson) is invaded during his daughter's quinceanera celebration. As Marco, overpowered by the gang, watches helplessly, the punks rape his wife and daughter before savagely murdering them along with all of the assembled guests. Tarzan then decrees that Marco should be left alive to be tormented by his loss, and presumably also so that he can seethe with an overpowering lust for vengeance, thus guaranteeing that the remaining hour or so of the movie can be bestowed with something that has some vestigial resemblance to a plot. So, yes, anyway, "this time it's personal", bla bla bla.

I wanted to mention that, immediately after the sequence described above, La Venganza de los Punks signals its serious intentions by having a scene in which one of Marco's partners, surveying the aftermath of the quinceanera massacre, makes an emotion strangled speech in which he declares, "We are all guilty. We are all accomplices. All of us!" I wanted to pass that bit on so that you people out there who are merely reading about this movie on the internet rather than actually watching it cannot escape the blame. THIS IS YOUR FAULT. Personally, I have to admit that I lack the elevated moral sense that would enable me to understand what the hell Marco's partner -- and, through him, the makers of La Venganza de los Punks -- are talking about, if anyone even knows. Man, I wasn't even in Mexico at the time. Still, the rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves. Seriously, gaze upon the carnage and rend your garments in shame.

 I mean, seriously, fuck you guys

Anyway, Venganza then goes on to tick off a nice little catalog of "rogue cop" movie cliches in short order. Marco insists upon being put on the case, but is sternly rebuffed by his superior, who feels that he is "too close" and will turn it into a personal vendetta. Instead, the superior orders him to take some time off, to which Marco responds by angrily tossing his badge down on the desk and quitting the force. Marco then takes to the road in his deluxe pick-up truck with camper shell, and, in literally no time at all, comes upon the gang completely by coincidence, after which he surreptitiously follows them to their combination camp ground and satanic shrine.

And it is at this point that La Venganza de los Punks can really get down to the business of being what La Venganza de los Punks is all about, and that is a long series of sequences in which Marco exacts revenge against the members of the gang one by one -- male and female alike -- in a variety of gruesome ways. These include immolation, head spiking, beheading (not the same thing), poisonous animal friending, and that method so curiously beloved by homophobic movie he-men worldwide, rectal impalement. Note that, throughout this, Marco is presented as being completely in control, and never in danger of being imperiled, so that there is no element of even attempted suspense or drama to cloud our understanding of these scenes' pleasures as being anything but for their own sake. Furthermore, the punks are shown to be going through some internal power struggles of their own, which makes them even less equipped to defend themselves.

This, combined with the fact that Marco increasingly takes to his sadistic acts with a cackling, wild eyed glee, marks the second half of Venganza as being clearly an old school slasher film in the Friday the 13th mold, with the formerly intimidating punks reduced to being the hapless, bubble headed campers who continually wander directly into the unstoppable killer's trap. It's as if Venganza is, quite understandably, so in love with its own cheesy, exploitative elements that it doesn't even really care what kind of cheesily exploitative movie it is from one moment to the next, even while going from being a moralizing cop vs. the system revenge film to being a nakedly prurient, vicarious stalk-and-slasher.

As you might have already guessed, La Venganza de los Punks -- which was directed by Damian Acosta Esparsa, taking over the series from Intrepidos Punks director Francisco Guerrero -- is a noticeably more mean spirited film than its predecessor, with an even more blatant level of misogyny thrown in just to make the aftertaste that much more bitter. Still, like its predecessor, the nastiness of its ideas more often than not meets up with a harebrained level of execution. In one scene, Marco slowly pours acid over the body of a bound and helplessly pleading female member of the gang. It's an unquestionably vile scenario, but leavened somewhat once you note that the effect of the acid on her body manifests itself in the form of fizzing green foam that makes it look like she's been blanketed with Airborne tablets and doused in water -- not to mention the stratospheric yet somehow still mismatched pitch of the acting that's going on. Elsewhere, the mayhem is realized by exactly the kind of cheap, rubbery prosthetic effects that are most guaranteed to bring a smile to the heart of any debased genre fan, regardless of context.

Ultimately, La Venganza de los Punks fulfills the chief mandate of any sequel by giving us more than what had preceded it: more gore, more punks, more sex and nudity, and, most importantly -- if you can believe it --, an even more insane level of absurd costumery. Tin foil hair extensions, fin shouldered plastic ponchos, and a bearded punk dressed as a Roman centurion are among the calamities on display. El Fantasma, in particular, shows a lot of flourish in the variety of headgear he models; in addition to the mask he sported in Intrepidos, there's a bell-shaped chain mail number and, during a Satanic ritual, something that looks like a full head dunce cap rendered in multi-colored pastels.

If there was anything that impressed me about La Venganza de los Punks while watching it, it was its makers' willingness to push their formerly righteous protagonist to such grotesque extremes. That is, until they offered themselves a cheap "out" with a final twist that will quite literally make you want to kick your screen into little pieces, eat it, and then projectile vomit it out the window. I'm not gonna spoil if for you, though. After all, Venganza is a dish best served cold.


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Turning the "copper on a vengeance trip" format openly into a slasher is even somewhat clever or at least honest, isn't it? I suspect at heart most films of that particular genre want to be slashers but don't dare.

Todd said...

True. And I have to admit that starting out as a standard, moralizing cop-pushed-to-the-edge drama and then flipping the perspective like that is kind of brilliant. Perhaps I should give the makers of this movie some credit and allow for the possibility that they did that intentionally? I dunno. Maybe you'll watch this one and weigh in with your opinion. I'd be interested to hear it.

Todd said...

On a completely unrelated note, I just realized that, in that picture of El Fantasma with his dunce cap mask on, he looks like one of those M.U.S.C.L.E. figures from the 80s. You just have to imagine him as all one color.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Wouldn't be the first time an exploitation movie has ambitions, right? On the other hand, Deathwish has Bronson going around killing random punks and obviously thinks nothing of it.

I should probably take a look at it now; sounds as if I might even enjoy it.
Plus: I don't think I've ever seen anything with El Fantasma.