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Straight to Hell is a 1987 action-comedy film directed by Alex Cox, featuring Sy Richardson, The Clash frontman Joe Strummer (after whose song the film is named), Courtney Love, Dick Rude, Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Elvis Costello, Xander Berkeley, Kathy Burke, Jim Jarmusch, Edward Tudor-Pole, Miguel Sandoval, Jennifer Balgobin, and members of The Pogues, Amazulu and The Circle Jerks. Its tagline is: "A story of blood, money, guns, coffee, and sexual tension."

Often viewed as a parody of Spaghetti Westerns, it is really more of an homage. While the film received almost no positive reviews, it has (like several other of Cox's films) achieved a minor cult status, largely due to its cast of musicians, many of whom have cult followings of their own. A soundtrack has been released.

Plot

The plot of Straight to Hell concerns three inept hitmen (played by Richardson, Rude, and Strummer) who, after blowing a job, rob a bank and flee to Mexico to escape the wrath of their boss (played by Jim Jarmusch). They come to a ghost town run by a gang of coffee-addicted killers, eventually leading to the inevitable bloodbath at the end. The movie has been accused of being one giant "in-joke", that few get, but those who do get it appreciate the movie for its subtle wit and absurdity.

The end of the film announces an imminent sequel: Back to Hell. It is highly unlikely that Cox ever seriously contemplated such a film, for a such movie made as a lark he certainly never could have expected it to be a substantial commercial success. Likewise almost every main character is killed at the end of the film. (It is perhaps noteworthy that the only survivors are women and minorities, with the exception of Dennis Hopper's character of IG Farben, who instigates the final battle and reaps the spoils.) Nevertheless, for the film's DVD release Cox reassembled much of the cast and crew for a short documentary called Back to Hell, in which they reminisce about the making of the film.

Production

The film was not originally intended to be made at all, and the reason for a preponderance of musicians in the cast was the result of a concert tour of Nicaraguamarker that was planned in the first place. Political problems arose concerning the support of the left-wing government of Nicaragua, and the tour was cancelled. In its place Cox decided to have the bands, and several actors he could assemble, make a movie in Almeríamarker, Spain. Cox and co-star Dick Rude wrote a script in a hurry, and the entire film was shot in just four weeks.

Alex Cox turned down the chance to direct ¡Three Amigos! in order to film Straight to Hell.

Reception

Straight to Hell's premier was held at the Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, Californiamarker. Invitees were asked to come dressed in "post-apocalyptic fiesta garb." Everyone who arrived was handed a water pistol.

The film was not well-received by critics, drawing mostly negative reviews. In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "The result is a mildly engrossing, instantly forgettable midnight movie." Hal Hinson, in his review for the Washington Post, wrote, "The action is so gratuitous, and so indifferently presented, that it's impossible to think that Cox ever truly intended it to be seen by anyone outside of the cast and crew and their immediate families."

Straight to Hell was rated "R" for violence and language. The latter reason caught the producers by surprise, as the writers deliberately refrained from including any sort of profanity in the dialogue. Even the word "hell" appears only in the title (at one point a character quite noticeably says "what the heck is going on here?"), and the insults that fly before a showdown are no worse than "go boil yer head!"

References

  1. "One such filmmaker is Alex Cox, director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. In 1987 he made his own Spaghetti Western pastiche Straight to Hell, and, more recently, has written an assessment of the genre in 10,000 Ways to Die. To this task, Cox brings a lifelong appreciation of all Westerns, as well as experience behind the camera, both of which give him a unique perspective to the genre." http://www.powells.com/review/2009_09_26


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