“Blade Runner, 1982”

“Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.”

Blade Runner, 1982 (Harrison Ford), The Ladd Company

I knew I had to end my Vintage Cable Box series with, what I regard to be, one of the greatest movies ever made. Nothing can prepare you for Blade Runner after a couple of years of the standard cable television fare. Occasionally, you had the big-budget spectacles, fine examples of genre film-making, Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, but Blade Runner was unique. I only vaguely remembered trailers and teasers running on broadcast television. I never saw a preview at the movies, nor did I even see the movie in theaters. Ridley Scott had made a name for himself as a first-notch filmmaker with The Duellists and Alien after paying his dues in production design and advertising. The script and story treatments for Blade Runner floated around for a couple of years while Scott was preparing an adaptation of Dune. The Dune project fell through (and would eventually be helmed by David Lynch), and Scott was eager to start working on Blade Runner, based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

The year is 2019, and the place is Los Angeles. Our world in 2019 is a dystopian nightmare. Constant sheets of acid rain have destroyed the already-dilapidated metropolis and most humans have taken to life in “off-world colonies” (“The chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity,” the advertisements proclaim). Replicants, initially considered a form of android but then ret-conned in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 as “manufactured humans” have become a dangerous liability when confronted with their slave status and the built-in obsolescence of a four year life span. In an effort to control these replicants, developer Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel) implants memories in them, but this backfires when they inevitably crave life more than the humans who built them. Errant replicant Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer) leads a bunch of them to jump ship and return to Earth to meet their maker. Enter Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a replicant killer more commonly known as a “Blade Runner.”

Deckard is tasked with interviewing a beautiful woman, Tyrell’s assistant, named Rachael (Sean Young) who may or may not be a replicant. It seems Tyrell’s task is to either deceive authorities as to the identity of his replicants, or perhaps make his replicants believe they are human. It takes a while for Deckard to come to the conclusion that Rachael doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She saves his life when another replicant, the sub-intelligent Leon (Brion James) tries to kill him. He takes her back to his apartment and promises to keep her secret. Tyrell tells him she has no shut-off date; that she is, in effect, unique. Deckard retires the remaining replicants, but Batty proves to be a challenge. He taunts Deckard and leads him on a merry chase through the Bradbury Building. While Deckard is intent on finishing the job, Batty is fighting for his life, even as he knows his time is limited. Batty is incensed that Deckard has mercilessly killed his friends, and he tortures him for it. Ultimately, he spares Deckard’s life and perhaps Deckard has re-discovered his humanity.

Blade Runner was unfairly maligned by critics upon release in 1982, but over the years, the movie has attained an enormous cult following, culminating in the release of Blade Runner 2049 last year. In 1992, a “director’s cut” was released which removed the original film’s narration (considered by Scott to be tedious) and introduced a scene where Deckard dreams of a unicorn, making the reveal at the end of the movie (Deckard discovers a small origami unicorn in his hallway) ambiguous about Deckard’s humanity. Personally, I do not believe Deckard to be a replicant because, for me, it would make the ending of the movie and Batty’s sacrifice less meaningful. I would rather Deckard learn the lesson of his humanity, rather than believe him to be an amnesiac android. Blade Runner 2049 continues along this line of reasoning; perhaps what we value as humans is our capacity for understanding the gift of memory, and when our memories are manufactured, we will retain less of that value. Everything about this movie is perfect.

That about wraps it up for Vintage Cable Box. Again, I want to thank my readers. It’s been so much fun going back and revisiting and re-living these movies and that crazy time period, that time-line of what I saw and experienced and how it shaped me. Blade Runner just might be the most influential movie of the last 40 years, and it played constantly on cable television back in those days. Blade Runner 2049 manages to successfully evoke all of the best qualities about the original movie (and even improve upon certain aspects), which surprises me. Before I sign off, I have to thank a few people. Mark Jeacoma hosted these articles on his VHS Rewind! page. Andrew La Ganke suggested some great movies and found me a couple of hard-to-find titles. Geno Cuddy suggested Metropolis and provided a copy of the movie for me. Tony Verruso from the Vintage HBO Guides on Facebook was a staunch ally in dark times. Thanks for reading.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “Death Hunt, 1981”

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“That look on your face would turn good whiskey into sour piss.”

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Death Hunt, 1981 (Charles Bronson), 20th Century Fox

“This motion picture is based on a true story” is written in schlocky big-and-bold red titles; Charles Bronson is Death Hunt – not quite, but wouldn’t it be cool if his given Christian name were, indeed “Death J. Hunt”, or whatever? I mean, talk about the coolness factor. Here we are in the wild, white Yukon with some splendid Steadicam-aerial photography and we’re thrust into a literal dog-fight. The year is 1931, so it’s probably not illegal yet. Bronson runs afoul of the locals involved when he rescues one of the dogs involved. You get that steely-eyed Bronson trademark gaze. He gives the owner (the great character actor Ed Lauter) $200 for the wounded dog and leaves.

Lauter isn’t having any of it. He takes up arms with an Alaskan version of a posse (among them Carl “Apollo Creed”/”Action Jackson” Weathers, William Sanderson, and Maury Chaykin) to apprehend Bronson. Bronson nurses the dog back to health, feeds him and bonds with him. The heavies case Bronson’s hunting shack, but he is ready for them, and he plugs one of them. Lauter alerts the authorities (in this case, Mounties Andrew Stevens and Lee Marvin, who knows Lauter is lying) and they lead the hunt for the so-called “Mad Trapper”.

The movie’s story depends on Bronson staying one step ahead of his pursuers, which he does with aplomb. He is skillful and resourceful, but unfortunately an act of self-defense is added to his perceived list of crimes. It’s amazing to me (looking at the movie now) how quickly this narrative moves. We have to remember, the movie was made at a time when action/adventure movies didn’t have to be nonsensical, bloated epics. The editing is lean, action-oriented and economical. The scenes between Marvin and Bronson ooze testosterone. Both men have desperation in their eyes. Marvin wants an end to the violence. Bronson just wants to be left alone.

Death Hunt

When Marvin and Stevens’ caravan of vengeance-minded soldiers set out to capture the Trapper, he rigs his property with booby-traps, digs a trench in the middle of his cabin, and positions his guns at strategic points. The Peckinpah-inspired scenes of violence are well choreographed, and the liquored-up, tense dialogue of Lauter’s posse is hilarious. Marvin’s character is lost in his own idealistic past while Stevens represents a future of two-way radios and explosives.

The men constantly put each other through frenetic games of machismo, and all Bronson can do is shake his head and listen to their endless tirades. In the middle of the long Alaskan night, they blow up his cabin with dynamite, and he is forced to take to the snow, but not before cutting down most of them. Ultimately, the posse divide into separate groups, so that they don’t have to split the reward money. They kill each other off as a result of their incompetence until it finally comes down to Marvin and Bronson.

Charles Dennis Buchinsky appeared in House of Wax with Vincent Price. His first lead role was in Roger Corman’s Machine-Gun Kelly. He became a ubiquitous presence in revenge fantasies, starting with Michael Winner’s Death Wish (spawning four sequels), Hard Times as well as becoming a staple for Cannon Films (along with Chuck Norris) with 10 to Midnight, Murphy’s Law, and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.