Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Code Red DVD

Who needs a plot when you have stunts, magic and heavy metal! Sure it might help, but is it necessary? According to Brian Trenchard-Smith the answer is a resounding, HELL NO! Why bother thinking up some absurd reason to send a guy repelling down a cliff, when you can just push the damn bloke over one, simply because it looks cool. And boy does it ever.

I can't imagine anyone being able to walk away from STUNT ROCK and not feel a deep and admiring respect for its star attraction, Grant Page. A stunt coordinator whose repertoire includes MAD DOG MORGAN, THE MAN FROM HONG KONG and MAD MAX, Grant pretty much just plays himself, an Aussie stuntman with nerves of solid steel and a set of balls plated with titanium. Traveling to Hollywood, California to do stunt work on a new television series staring Monique van de Ven, Grant hooks up with his “cousin”, Curtis Hyde, a magician who plays the Lord of Darkness in the extravagant stage show of the hair metal outfit, Sorcery. When he’s not lighting himself on fire, getting hit by cars or showing his cousin how to repel down 10 story buildings, Grant spends his time laying down a little charm on a local news reporter played by Margaret Gerard, director Brian Trenchard-Smith's future wife. Convinced she has just stumbled onto the next big thing, a world where mystical metal and high flying stunts collide to form a meaty stew of unadulterated awesomeness, the plucky reporter begins to take a shine to the rugged stunt man, despite her initial reservations of falling for someone who repeatedly, and willingly, puts himself in harm's way.

STUNT ROCK may not have a riveting narrative but it’s spellbinding nonetheless. The picture is basically a concert film gift wrapped in stunt footage. There is a thin veil of a plot that ties around everything like a loose bow, but in no way is it a requirement to follow, as it serves only to provide a reason for Grant to travel to the U.S. and engage in conversations about his various escapades. Wrapped around various clips and outtakes taken from previous Trenchard-Smith/Page collaborations, is concert footage featuring the band Sorcery, a heavy metal outfit populated by magicians with ridiculous quaffs of hair. Late 1970s, arena metal is not exactly my cup of tea but when accompanied by a guy dressed up like Merlin the Magician, locked in immortal combat with a Lucifer- like demon of the supernatural, well, you’ve just gained my undivided attention. While Sorcery sings about fire, steel and the mystical days of yore, Merlin (Paul Haynes) and Satan (Curtis Hyde) engage in displays of slight of hand, impaling one another on swords and blowing each other up with fireballs. As stage shows go, it’s damn impressive and pretty fun to watch, particularly when you consider the time period in which it was shot. That said, STUNT ROCK is Page’s show. Charismatic as the day is long, seeing Page in his element, reminiscing fondly on his past endeavors and brushes with death makes for a brilliant way to spend 90 minutes.

If the picture has any hindrance it is that its theatrical trailer is simply too bad ass for its own good. In the history of coming attractions, STUNT ROCK’s original trailer should without question be considered for placement in the top 20, if not the top 10. It’s an experience unto itself, providing a ballyhoo sales pitch of such tremendous force that it seems almost inevitable that the picture it’s promoting would fail to live up to such a hefty promise.

Brian Trenchard-Smith started out producing specials for television – one of which, “The Stuntmen”, is found on disc two of this release – before stepping into feature films, where he has since staked out quite the auspicious filmography, helming such pictures as DEAD-END DRIVE IN, THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, LEPRECHAUN 4: IN SPACE and BMX BANDITS, which featured a very young and curly-haired Nicole Kidman in one of her first theatrical roles. Although centered around Grant Page and his illustrious career, STUNT ROCK's Nordic backers required that Trenchard-Smith include one of their own rising stars, Monique van de Ven, in a staring role along side Grant. Monique, who was once married to SPEED director Jan de Bont, gained popularity in her homeland with her first film TURKISH DELIGHT, which co-stared Rutger Hauer and was directed by Paul Verhoeven. A catching beauty, Monique turns out to be more than capable at keeping up with Page, a point which she proudly proves by performing her own death defying stunt toward the films finale. Other players of note include LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL director, Richard Blackburn, who plays Monique’s slime ball agent, and the late funny man Phil Hartman, who is seen only momentarily as a background player.

Presented in a two disc set, Code Red managed to dig up the original, thought to be lost vault elements in which to forge their 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Supervised by Trenchard-Smith the film is a clever patchwork of early 16mm stunt footage shot in Australia, and 35mm concert footage, shot in L.A. As such, clarity tends to vary depending on location. The 16mm footage is often shown split screen, so as to leave no inch of the screen absent of action. The result is entertaining and works quite well but detail is often noticeably softer, as is the insurgence of grain. Footage shot in the States fairs better, however, the bright concert lights used during Sorcery’s set, while vivid, tend to blind out the ongoing action. Audio is presented Mono and does an even-tempered job of balancing dialogue with the hard rocking tunes.

Code Red went all out for this release, amassing a throng of extras, some of which are every bit as entertaining as the feature itself. Disc one kicks off with two audio commentaries, the first of which features director Brian Trenchard-Smith, leading man Grant Page and his on screen love interest, Margaret Gerard. The second commentary also features Trenchard-Smith, along side producer Marty Fink (CORNBREAD, EARL AND ME) and co-star Richard Blackburn. Both tracks provide a multitude of remembrances and recollections, most often from Trenchard-Smith, however the first commentary is preferred as it is the only modern extra on either disc to feature a contribution from stunt man extraordinaire, Grant Page. Brian Trenchard-Smith pops up again headlining a quartet of on camera interviews. Running just over 30 minutes, Brian again recalls how the picture came to fruition as well as the numerous cast and crew members that helped make it a reality. Smokey Huff, lead guitarist for Sorcery, offers a history lesson for the band as well providing several humorous anecdotes from the film's shoot in an interview that runs just short of 30 minutes. Both Marty Fink and Richard Blackburn’s interviews make for a combined total of eight minutes in length, with the most interesting insight from both being Blackburn’s discussion of LEMORA, as well as his one episode from the television series “Tales from the Darkside”, Miss May Dusa. Bonus features for disc one are rounded out by audio from a telephone interview between Trenchard-Smith, his wife and Sorcery drummer, Perry Morris, as well as the aforementioned, kick ass, original trailer.

Disc two of Code Red’s exciting two disc set features “The Stuntmen”, an early documentary by director Trenchard-Smith, miss-titled on the back of this release as, “The Stuntman”. Presented full frame with a runtime of 48 minutes, I found this doc to be every bit as entertaining as the feature it supplements. The documentary features stuntmen Bob Woodham, Herb Nelson, Warren Campbell, Grant Page and Graham Mathrick, to name a few, as they repel down cliffs, get blown up, crash into cars, get lit on fire, you name it. The feature brought back a great nostalgic 1970’s vibe that I haven’t felt or seen in a dog’s age. I kept thinking that if only they would pan the camera around, they might catch Leonard Nimoy filming an episode of “In Search of…” Bonus features continue with a series of Q&A sessions taken in September of 2008, in Austin, Texas. Filmed within and around the famed Alamo Drafthouse, during the annual Fantastic Fest, Trenchard-Smith answers questions posed from fans before screens of THE MAN FROM HONG KONG, TURKEY SHOOT and the Ozploitation documentary, NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD, which I can not recommend highly enough! A promotional reel used to sell the picture at Cannes leads, as well as host of trailers - THE STATUE, BRUTE CORPS, FAMILY HONOR, THE VISITOR, DEVIL'S EXPRESS, THE INTERNECINE PROJECT, TRAPPED and CHOKE CANYON - flesh out another enjoyable release from Code Red.
(Jason McElreath)