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The Annihilators
(1985)
 

Director: Charles E. Sellier Jr.   
Cast:
Christopher Stone, Andy Wood, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs


When The Annihilators was first released, it got an incredibly vile response by the few critics who saw it. In describing it, they used words like, "nasty", "repellent", "grotesque", and other similar words that suggested the movie was filled with extreme and sadistic violence(*). Naturally, reading those words made me very curious about the movie. Therefore, I arranged with Mike from Dante's Inferno to send me a copy so I could finally watch it once and for all, and see what the fuss was all about. Now having watched the movie, my first thought is why on earth critics screamed about the movie's violent content. Yes, there is violence in the movie, but there's hardly a drop of blood to be seen, not that great of a number of deaths as you might think, and the violence that is actually inflicted on the characters is directed in an extremely lackluster manner. In fact, that last part is how the entire movie is executed.

The movie opens in Vietnam during the war, which looks remarkably like the countryside near Atlanta, where afterwards the rest of the movie takes place. Five soldiers go out on a mission that's to essentially blast the crap out of the Viet Cong, and to give the movie the necessary large opening action sequence to try (unsuccessfully) to keep the theater patrons riveted in their seats. That's the only reason I can think of why this sequence is here, because it doesn't give us any background information on these characters that we'd need to know later. True, in this sequence one of the characters is shot in the back, resulting in him becoming a paraplegic. But when we see him later in modern-day Atlanta in a wheelchair, we'd be able to figure out why he was in a wheelchair without the opening sequence. It is mentioned here that he was a Vietnam vet, so we could put two and two together. The opening sequence isn't needed either to show his buddies had combat experience, because they both verbally mention it as well as showing it.

Joe (the ex-soldier in a wheelchair) now lives in an especially run-down neighborhood in Atlanta, so run down, I don't understand why he and his neighbors continue living in such crappy buildings. It looks as if the producers filmed in an abandoned neighborhood or something, because of the literally crumbling storefronts. There's a weird feel in the air each time the characters walk around this neighborhood - though we see Atlanta skyscrapers in the background, the feel seems to suggest that there is no other life elsewhere in Atlanta, only in this neighborhood. Maybe this weird feel is what's caused certain individuals in this neighborhood to become criminals, explaining why there are several gangs (with names like "The Turks" and "The Rollers") terrorizing the neighborhood and the innocent residents. The most powerful gang is lead by a fellow with the curious name "Roy Boy". Roy Boy and his gangs are pretty strange fellows; their gang is clearly a street gang, walking down the streets gather "protection money" and mugging people, but all the members of this gang are clearly over 30. If they were a motorcycle gang, I could possibly swallow these kinds of activities, but I can't picture a middle-aged gang hanging around the street corners.

It'll probably come as no surprise that Roy Boy's boys (say that five times fast) and Roy Boy himself visit Joe's store one day to inflict the expected mayhem, with Roy Boy himself cutting off Joe's finger before hitting him on the head with a meat tenderizer. This sounds vicious, but it's executed in such a passionless way that it has the impact of a wet noodle hitting you. Part of the reason is that Roy Boy is such a boring villain, never acting or looking mean enough. He isn't in the movie that much, and when he appears, he is apt to just spit out one or two lines of dialogue indistinguishable from other movies of this kind. Without a strong villain, the subsequent arrival of Joe's ex-soldier friends for revenge seems in a way pointless, for it almost seems like their plan isn't worth it. Certainly, none of the actors playing the soldier protagonists seem that interested in the situation; Stone, playing the team's former sergeant, is lacking a leadership quality that's needed for his performance. Jacobs' role here not only gives him the requisite product plug (holding up a soda can at just the right angle), but gave him the chance to start his classic method of acting in the manner of a frightened animal looking into the approaching headlights of a car, which he later reprised in Chance.

Where are the police in all of this? If this neighborhood is in so much trouble, couldn't they at least increase the patrols in the neighborhood from none at all? One cop gives the only explanation at one point of the movie, saying, "The courts have our hands tied. Nothing we do sticks." Bulls**t. The cops had plenty of evidence at the crime scene. For one thing, if they had dusted the tenderizer for prints, they could have traced it back to Roy Boy, who they would probably already have on file. Why don't the citizens go to the press, or file a class action lawsuit against the inept cops?

I know we're not supposed to think of such questions when watching an actioner of this kind. Had the movie been entertaining in its trashiness, I wouldn't have bothered to ask. Whether these questions come up depends on how well made the movie in question is - and The Annihilators isn't well made, either on the technical side or how much of the goods are delivered. The movie is shot in a manner that makes everything look as ugly as possible, and with everything executed in as flat a tone as you can think of. The atmosphere is just as flat, with characters sitting around with lengthy pauses between their few lines of dialogue, interrupted with that familiar plink-plink-plink '80s synthesizer music mixed with Jan Hammer hums. When the characters do speak, frequently it sounds like how people shot with camcorders in big rooms sound. If you don't care about that stuff and just want the goods, you'll still be disappointed. It takes a long time for any real mayhem to start, and when there's the first big shoot-out between Roy Boy's gang and the heroes, only two people get killed. (Though a panicking gang member does says, "We've got bodies shot up all over that alley!", we don't actually see this.) Even in the climax, the poorly directed action still has the feel of more wet noodle attacks. The biggest action the director gets is when a train in the background enters the scene, which in fact happens several times in the course of the movie. If you want a sleazy, hilarious, and action packed urban warfare movie, then I suggest you skip The Annihilators and watch the very entertaining Death Wish 3.
 


* Part of this may come from the fact the movie involves vigilantes, and I've noticed over the years most critics, for some unknown reason, seem to have a real problem with vigilantes in any kind of movie. Curiously, these same critics don't seem to mind when they see a movie with policemen doing the same things as these vigilantes.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Chance, Escape From El Diablo, Fast Money

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