Auxiliary Magazine would like to introduce its newest writer and column; Adam Rosina and Unaussprechlichen Kulten, respectively. A new column that looks far too deep into the morgues and mausoleums of of cult cinema for those amazing but unsung movies that just refuse to die.
Six String Samurai is a mish mashed, convoluted mess of a film. It’s also wildly entertaining, if you’re willing to overlook its flaws. Shot by writer/director Lance Mungia, turning in his only feature-length directorial credit (unless you count The Crow: Wicked Prayer, and I don’t), and released in those “anything goes” days of 90s indie cinema. Six String Samurai stars actor/martial artist Jeffrey Falcon (also known for his roles in, well, nothing anyone’s ever seen) as a sword-swinging Buddy Holly look-alike journeying across the wasteland on a quest to become the King of rock n roll. Along the way it offers its own take on post-apocalyptic fiction, incorporating elements from such diverse sources as the western genre, Japanese chambara films, bad sci-fi movies, and the modern fairy tale. Which is not to say that the filmmakers simply cut and pasted the best parts from other works to create this film, but rather brought together many different kinds of genre fiction and made it their own.
Here’s the setup : In the alternate history setting of the film, the Reds let the nukes fly back in ’57, taking the war from cold to white hot. When all was said and done, the only major city that still stood was Sin City. Elvis Presley took control of the city, rechristened it “Lost Vegas”, and ruled it with the power of rock n roll. As the film opens, the King is dead and his crown’s for the taking. All musician/warriors (apparently in this world the two professions are synonymous) journey to Lost Vegas hoping to become the king of rock n roll. The race then begins between our protagonist Buddy (played by Falcon, who also co-wrote the script), a katana wielding ’50s rocker, and Death, a thinly-veiled Slash caricature cum heavy metal devil, to fight to the death for the throne of all that is rock. Along the way Buddy picks up a seemingly useless whelp of a child sidekick (referred to simply as “Kid” in the credits) and weaves in and out of a series of misadventures that will blow you away simply with the variety of genres they spoof. Monsters, midgets, astronauts, commies, cannibals, bowling team/street gangs; you name it, this flick’s got it.
There’s a lot to take in Six String Samurai, which is kind of amazing when one considers the film was made for a mere $1 million. When you watch this film, it becomes clear what a feat it was to produce such an ambitious picture on such a scant budget. Props, sets, costumes; all are of an amazingly high quality for such a low rent flick. Arguably the film’s greatest asset is its star, Jeffery Falcon. He evokes the coolness and badassitude that this film surely wouldn’t stay afloat without, and any other actor would choke over the (hopefully intentionally) bad dialogue, but he just jams his tongue right through his cheek and goes for it with gusto, somehow making it work. His martial arts skills are considerable, and certainly are visually striking; honed from years of acting in b-movies so bad that one is left to imagine they were conceived as a money laundering scheme for the mob. Little else can be said of the rest of the cast, as the film demands very little of them. Justin McGuire, the child actor portraying the Kid, is asked to do little else than yell unintelligibly throughout the majority of film, which he does, to extremely annoying effect. Most of the acting in this film runs from somewhat serviceable to inducing physical pain onto the viewer. The Pin Pal gang member’s delivery of the already bad-on-paper line “Nice tuxedo. Nice tuxedo to die in!” certainly comes to mind as an example of the low end of acting talent one might find in this film. On the bright side of things, the actors portraying the cannibal family turn in some of the funniest work in this whole film, and the scene as a whole is a standout.
While an original film for its genre-fuck, melting pot mentality, this is very much a film that wears its influences on its sleeves, for better or for worse. Indeed, Six String Samurai is such a blatant hodgepodge of images, themes, and styles from works it reveres and seeks to emulate that one must address all the sets of shoulders Mungia and Falcon had to stand on to get to this point to discuss the film properly. Of course the Road Warrior comparison is an easy one to make on the surface, but the tongue-in-cheek comedic approach present here is miles away from the gritty tone of said Aussie flick. El Topo comes to mind as well. Certainly the image of a lone wanderer making his way across a desolate landscape, umbrella in hand and child in tow means to aesthetically if not spiritually pay homage to the same memorable image in Jordorowsky’s film. And spirit is ultimately what these two films share more than anything; Six String Samurai certainly captures the mood of the bizarre and the surreal that El Topo evokes, albeit stripped of the heavy symbolism and philosophical subtext present in that film. Indeed, this is very much a stripped-down and dumbed-down El Topo, with the action turned up to 11. The cinematography and pacing are highly reminiscent of director Robert Rodriguez’s work, especially in the style present in the film El Mariachi. The camera work here is actually remarkably competent for a first time director, some shots surpassing the level of proficiency Rodriguez displayed in his first outing. The fight choreography and the way it’s shot is more reminiscent of the style used for the gun fights in Rodriguez’s Desperado, itself a style that heavily borrows from John Woo during his Hard Boiled period. Above all others though, Six String Samurai pays quite deliberate homage, through similar thematic elements and imagery, to one film: The Wizard of Oz. At the beginning of his journey, Buddy is urged by a midget to “Follow the yellow brick road.” Later, Death is dispatched in nearly the exact same way the Wicked Witch met her fate at the climax of the film. And when the film finally gives the viewer a glimpse of Lost Vegas, the matte painting depicting the city is a dead ringer for the Emerald City in Oz. As these and other similarities continue to crop up throughout the film, it drifts away from homage territory and further into that of dramatic reinterpretation.
Six String Samurai is far from a perfect film. It suffers the likes of bad dialogue and less than stellar acting by nearly all but the lead, and he isn’t tasked with much more than kicking copious amounts of ass and delivering the occasional one liner. The small budget is put to good use, but not to such an extent that you ever forget you’re watching a b-grade flick. Also, sometimes the kitchen-sink approach to genre-blending on display here gives the series of vignette-like misadventures one encounters in this film give the overall picture a disjointed, incoherent feel. But when this film is banging on all cylinders, it’s a sight to behold. The action is top notch, with the swordplay reaching Kill Bill-esque levels of absurdity and mayhem that delivers on the entertainment end. It’s also riotously funny at times (sometimes intentional, others not). Above all it’s a wildly original piece that charms you with its inventiveness and its refusal to bow to convention. Sadly, it was quickly forgotten by both the mainstream and the underground at the time of its release, only to be cherished by its few devotees and rediscovered by those lucky enough to blindly stumble across it in video store bargain bins or on film geek forums. That being said, I urge you to go out and track this little known flick down! It’s a movie that everyone who truly appreciates gonzo art on film should give a gander, if not lend a long, slow-down-at-a-car-crash gawking stare.
– Adam Rosina