Vietnam Vets Must Save South Point
DIRECTED BY CHARLES E. SELLIER JR./1985
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JULY 9, 2019/KL STUDIO CLASSICS
In brutal 1985 Atlanta, multiple gangs of warring thugs are laying waste to the part of town known as South Point. Motivated by fear, the tight-lipped denizens of the area feel powerless to stop the tide of oppression. For an aging team of combat hardened military trained specialists who find their way into this situation, it’s as though the Vietnam War never ended. Maybe it’s time it did… at home. (Cue paramilitary music and opening titles that appear to the sound of machine gun fire).
Following a Vietnam War flashback prologue in which we get to see how tight-knit this crew once was, we move forward in time to “Atlanta now”, specifically the garbage-burdened neglected suburb in question. When a wheelchair-bound member of the central platoon from the old days is brutally murdered by the kind of muscles n’ mullet hammer-wielding psychotic that were so common in 1980s movies such as this, these one-time warriors know what they have to do. It’s time to get the crew back together and take out the trash.
None of it makes all that much sense, but what do you want from me movie that’s part Death Wish, part A-Team? Directed by prolific low-end director Charles E. Sellier, Junior (known as the “four wall king“, for having perfected the practice of renting out the theaters in which his films are shown, allowing him to recoup all the profits), The Annihilators attempts to earn it’s R-rating on an obvious shoestring. Gore has its moments as multiple characters get impaled in the gut (one being a grim end to a particularly exploitative sexualized assault sequence), though strangely enough, the copious amounts of gunfire never seem to penetrate any of the parked vehicles the characters are hiding behind when hit.
Aesthetically, there’s simply nothing to celebrate. The setting is drab and ugly, the cinematography is thoroughly unremarkable, the framing is utilitarian at best, and even the actors fail to stand out. Consequently, the range of appeal for a movie like The Annihilators lies somewhere between that of hazy nostalgia for the film itself and its murky bargain-basement notions of dignity for Vietnam vets years after the fact. (Seizing on what worked in the moment for First Blood Part II: Rambo– and was widely copied). That awesome looking semi-apocalyptic poster with the painted muscle men, one in some sort of cool mask? No reflection whatsoever of the actual movie.
The cast operates in earnest, though thanklessly. The pool of greying character actors in lead roles, such as Jim Antonio, Sid Conrad, Gerrit Graham, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Paul Koslo, bring what they can to this urban warfare bit of muted sensationalism. Unfortunately, the dearth of Sandy-haired similarly garbed white dudes more or less blends together at times. With no central compelling presence of a Charles Bronson or a Chuck Norris, this ensemble of would-be Chucks leaves us wanting.
Why a Blu-ray “special edition” of The Annihilators? Ask Kino Lorber, which has seen fit to make it available as part of their wildly prolific Studio Classics line. Fans, if there are any, can celebrate the HD transfer and crisp audio, as well as the handful of thoughtful bonus features created for this release. Among them are a ten-minute video reflection on the career of director Charles E. Sellier, Jr.- someone who poked around primarily in family fare and UFO exploitation television specials. If it’s true that Orson Welles, after a lengthy conversation with Sellier, told him “Young man, you are light-years ahead of the rest of the industry”, it’s hard to imagine that the compliment wasn’t also more of a barb at said film industry.
Additionally, cast member and former Welcome Back, Kotter Sweathog Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs is on hand for a terrific little remembrance of making the film. Aside from that, there’s a quick comparison video demonstrating the two-second difference between the trimmed UK cut of the film, and this uncensored version. And yes, it’s that aforementioned terrible sexualized assault scene. More fun than that is the reversible cover art. Yay, reversible cover art.
The Annihilators, presenting itself as the kind of vintage relic to be watched at night ironically, fails to meet even that bar. There’s simply no ineptitude about it. But, being that it’s also devoid of exceptionalism, it simply just kind of “is”. And now, for any weekend warriors who may care to take it on, it is on Blu-ray.