The Stranger

Director:Fritz Kiersch                     
Kathy Long, Andrew Divoff, Eric Pierpoint

Somewhere in the American southwest lies the small town of Lakeview, deep in the desert. The citizens of the dying town are terrorized and harassed by Angel (Divoff) and his motorcycle gang. The townspeople are either too scared to try to stop the gang by getting outside help, or they regard the gang as a necessary evil, since they bring in business to the community. The sheriff (Pierpoint) has lost his nerve to take a stand, ever since the gang killed his fiancée Bridget over a year ago when she took photographs of the gang and tried to send them to the F.B.I.  Then unexpectedly, the title figure comes to town - a five-foot woman in a leather pseudo-dominatrix outfit (complete with whip) riding a motorcycle - though not before karate-chopping and breaking the necks of two biker cretins belonging to Angel's gang at the gas station outside of town. Once she gets in town, she decides to stay for a few days. Yes, this movie is an unabashed rip-off of High Plains Drifter, with a dash of the Australian movie Shame. It is frequently both silly and unbelievable. You know what is going to happen before it happens. I enjoyed it a lot.

Huh? Let me explain. One of my favorite genres is the western. The Stranger is a western with very little rewriting to set it in modern times. So we have the standard western conventions like the town's cowardly citizens, walking down the dusty main street for a showdown, and a fight in a saloon. Just having those scenes made me eat it all up. But more importantly, all these conventions were also done very well - either they were professionally done, or redone with a twist to make them feel new.

Certainly, the fact that the central character is a woman already gives this concept a new twist. Ms. Long overall does a good job as the unnamed character; not only is she skilled at martial arts, but shows her skills at things like tossing a wrench into a biker's throat, blowing up a motorcycle (which sends the biker's body flying quite high into the air), and various other ways of extermination. The sheriff is fascinated by her, because she looks exactly like his dead fiancé Bridget. Is the stranger Bridget? A look-alike? A ghost? We're never told, though there are a few hints along the way.

The one area where Long does not convince is when she vocally gets down and nasty. Though her acting is acceptable in the non-action scenes, she is not convincing when she growls lines like, "Don't call me BITCH!". Still, it could have been far worse - imagine if Traci Lords or Anna Nicole Smith were cast in this role. With subsequent roles, I'm convinced that Long could have a healthy-enough career to be as well-known among B-movie fans as Pam Grier or Cynthia Rothrock.

Let me tell you: seeing Long walking down that dusty main street while the score blares out "Ooh Oooh Oooooh..." a la Ennio Morricone.....well, that's the stuff dream B-movies are made of. It is obvious that Kiersch has a great love and respect for the western, crafting a look that's both slick and sun-dried. We can feel and taste the atmosphere. And he's created a heroine that, though with a murky past, is a heroine that we root for and applaud right from the beginning to the end. (Not to mention he's dressed his heroine in a tight leather suit - EEEE-OW!!!!!!!)

One quibble I have with the movie: why tease the viewer by giving the heroine a whip if she is never going to use it?

UPDATE: Michael Waller sent this along:

"Just finished reading your review on The Stranger  after reading the Lone Hero review, and the name Kathy Long sounded familiar. It turns out that Kathy is a five time Women's World Kickboxing champion and a professional female boxer.  Not only that, she was the stunt double for Michelle Pfeiffer in "Batman Returns", was in Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Rage and Honor with Cynthia Rothrock, and more recently has been on Walker, Texas Ranger.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Bury Me An Angel, Ice, Ebony, Ivory, And Jade