Savage Instinct

Director: Patrick G. Donohue                
Deborah Sweaney, Rodger Arilson, Mike Donohue

(Special thanks to Mike over at Dante's Inferno for providing this movie!)

One thing the makers of low budget and big budget movies both find in common is that making a movies is tough work. If you don't have that much money and resources, you have to rack your brain in order The latest "Hellraiser" movie didn't have a big enough budget to complete Pinhead's makeupto figure out how to film everything you want. And though you may have more money and resources on a big budget movie, big budgets bring more things on the set to figure out and master, more so, since the audience is expecting more from a big budget movie. It goes without saying that just about anyone working on any kind of movie would want to cut their workload as much as they could. Even your typical screenwriter would, I'm sure, like to not be pressured to write characters with depth, backgrounds explanations for events and setting, and a constantly evolving plot that has at least one foot planted in plausibility. It's pretty likely some action directors would like to have his movie be a string of action sequences - after all, the stuntpeople essentially do all the work setting up these sequences. Plus, he wouldn't have to worry so much about making the characters and story attractive to the audience.

However, I'm also sure they know what we, the audience, know - that movies that are made more or less in this fashion are almost always terrible. Like it or not, the audience wants strong characters and interesting and attractive premises, otherwise they simply won't care about what's going on. Yes, care is needed to execute the action sequences themselves, but the audience needs to be persuaded to plant a personal stake. If we don't know what's going on, or if we don't give a flip about the people involved, even superbly directed action will have the audience asking, "Why bother to go to all that effort for so little?" Still, that doesn't stop a lot of filmmakers from going the easy way out, and that's why there are so many Z movies out there. One such Z movie filmmaker is Patrick G. Donohue, the director behind the legendary trash actioner Kill Squad, as well as the movie being reviewed this week, Savage Instinct

When Donohue directed Savage Instinct, possibly due to the fact that he had the extra job of being the screenwriter, he went with this easy way out - with a vengeance. Think you've seen thin characters and plots that are barely there? Well, wait until you see this movie. Until the action kicks in, there is practically no development to any of the characters, and the almost non-existent story that is feebly released is simply that of putting a protagonist in the wrong place at the wrong time - the rest of the movie is essentially one long chase. Yet - and this is where the movie separates itself from the rest of the pack - it manages to work. It You should always use a tissue if you are going to sneezeworks, because Donohue obviously knew what a terrible excuse for a movie this was, and decided to have some fun with it. Not by directing everything in an obviously har-har manner, but choosing to give the movie a tone that was hilarious yet with everything subtle and understated for the most part - kind of how parts of some Troma movies like The Toxic Avenger come across. To make an intentionally bad but hilarious movie has been tried many times before, but it rarely succeeds... hey, it's just occurred to me that since it takes a certain kind of genius to do that, trash director Donahue therefore has to be some kind of film genius. The mind boggles.

You better pay close attention to the first four minutes of the movie, since this part of the movie contains practically all the information about the villains, not just what kind of people they are, but what they are up to. On second thought, you probably won't have to pay that much attention. The movie opens with the villains at work in some coke lab; we instantly know they must be experts, since they are handling and packaging all that coke with their bare hands and without masks. One guy has been secretly sampling the coke, but he's apparently been able to hide it for a long time by pretending he has a cold, constantly wiping his nose and snorting. But his co-workers finally figure it out, and they pounce on him. Their bald leader "Mongo" dispatches him with his favourite method of execution, wearing a spiked headband and braining the cokehead. "One more week, and this band will have all the money it needs!" he subsequently tells his cheering partners in crime.

And that's pretty much all we ever learn about the bad guys.

We then cut to somewhere nearby in this somewhere land, at the "Real Estate" real estate agency. A sleazy real estate agent named Cecil prepares to drive out into the boondocks show a Mrs. Morris a piece of property. As they drive out, the screenplay does make a stab at developing her character with a slick conversation Cecil initiates in order to have her warm up to her:

CECIL: So Susan, you said your husband passed away?
SUSAN: Two years ago.
CECIL: That's too bad.

And that's pretty much all we ever learn about this movie's heroine.

Along their way to the property, they get a flat tire, and while Cecil is changing the tire, Susan wanders off a little and sees the bad guys at their ranch loading up a truck. What she doesn't know is that they also see her, and they somehow come to the conclusion that she knows what they are up to. So their first priority now is to dispose of her, which they start trying to do almost immediately afterwards. (Just eight minutes into the movie, not counting the opening credits, and the central conflict is already starting to go - how's that for speed?) They quickly get rid of Cecil, but Susan manages to get away - for the moment. After spending much of the movie being pursued, captured, pursued again, captured again, pursued once more, and captured once again, Susan finally decides she's had enough, and starts to makes plans to fight back against these brutal thugs. How does Susan suddenly turned from a frightened fugitive to a determined fighter? As one of the thugs subsequently puts it, "Because she's pissed!"

And that's pretty much all the plot the rest of the movie has to offer.

It goes without saying that Savage Instinct is a movie that's extremely laughable, though you might be surprised that a lot of the material that makes you laugh doesn't come across in the manner that you might be expecting. Certainly a lot of the movie is unintentionally bad, no doubt; Believe me, you don't want to knowamong other things, the instances of post-production looping are worse than in the cheesiest kung fu movies, the movie is too cheap to even put siren lights on a police car, and in one scene you can see the microphone guy peeking into the frame. And there are some details that don't make a lot of sense. For instance, I challenge anyone to make sense of the sequence where some teenage louts are massacred by a noose. Also, if the thugs were so quick to kill Cecil, why don't they also kill Susan immediately whenever they have their hands on her? (Well, I guess there is some kind of explanation with the fact that whenever they have her, one of the members of the gang - male or female - masturbate her before subsequently trying to rape her.) And there are other things, like the fact that a major drug deal is done right out in the open on a city's main street.

The fact that a drug deal is being done right out in the open is funny enough, but what really makes this scene and many other unbelievable scenes in the movie funny is the way Donohue and the actors treat it. No matter (for the most part) how silly something is, it is presented with as much seriousness as possible. Whether it is someone trying to give a deep soul kiss to Susan while she has a gag on her mouth, or when the surrounded Susan escapes from the top of a car by running on top of the heads of her attackers (!), the way these scenes are presented are so straight, you almost believe something like this could happen in real life. It also makes these scenes funnier than if they had been acted and directed in an obvious and extremely comic fashion. That's not to say that there are some broadly comic moments in this movie; for example, after Susan makes that great escape, she turns around and insults her pursuers by grabbing her crotch. But Donohue wisely makes such moments sporadic, so that the viewer won't be pummelled by this overly jokey humour, knowing that a little of this goes a long way. He also knows it far more pleasurable for the viewer to find laughs by taking a closer look at what's happening, since the viewer gets a feeling of accomplishment when he spies a subtle gag. In the sequence when Susan commandeers and drives a police car down a rough road, it's more funny to spot the energetically bouncing corpse of the sheriff behind her, than had this background gag been given a close-up shot.

Though the direction of these sequences has been given care, they still wouldn't have worked had the actors in them not bothered to perform with just the right tone for their character and the particular scene. Lory-Michael Ringuette goes for the goofy as Cecil, confidently yelling "They don't know who they are messing with!" when the thugs start harassing her and Susan. Though since he doesn't last for much longer than when he says that, I think he knew he could afford to be goofy for a few minutes. Besides knowing that, he seems to have known that too much goofiness even for a short time can be overbearing, so he's careful to straddle just a little over the line between seriousness and clowning around. His co-stars wisely play it almost completely straight, since they Chicks with guns are hot - but with axes, yeow!are in the movie for a lot more time. Despite one villain being a bald hulking brute with a spiked headband, and another bad guy wearing a piece of jewellery that strings his nose with an ear, they and their partners in crime seldom let out a big sign that they realize how silly things are; the comic material they do or say is subtle, like those previously mentioned hidden gags. As Susan, Debra Sweaney has the difficult task of first playing a mousy and panic-stricken woman, then after a impromptu MacGyver session in a tool shed, suddenly transforming into a modern day Amazon warrior(!) who throws axes and bolts at her attackers as if she's been doing it for years. It's to her credit that she manages to be so convincing in both roles, it's almost believable. The movie itself also never quite manages to be convincing, but it sure manages to be a quite amusing romp if you like this kind of thing.

UPDATE: I received this e-mail from Lory-Michael Ringuette:

"Just wanted to say hello and let you know I just read your review of Savage Instinct. Here's a couple of facts you may not have known:

1. The original working title was The Edge Of Fear. When it was first released to theaters, the title was changed to They Call Me Mucho Woman.  Then it was released on video and to cable as Savage Instinct.

2. Most of the movie was shot in the Santa Cruz mountains in northern California.

"You're right, I was going for the goofy with my character, Cecil Thorn. Are you a fan of the Little Rascals (Our Gang)? Just after I delivered the line "They don't know who they're messing with." I gave my version of the famous "Butch" face. Butch was the bully that would always beat-up Alfalfa. I don't think anyone ever spotted it, though.

"Keep your eye out for my latest feature as writer/director/actor. It's a homage to the 60's Roger Corman films, called Tele-Zombie

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See also: Bridge Of Dragons, Crack House, Skinheads