Killing American Style (1990) – Wholesome homestyle killing

Dodgy Synth Rock pounds, interspersed rhythmically by gunshots, as the title flashes in and out. Barely into the title cards you’ll be cheering for the American style killing to begin. Trust Iranian-American, low budget cinema legend Amir Shervan – the man behind the masterpiece Samurai Cop – to make opening credits like Street Fighter on crack. The opening of Killing American Style sets a lightning pace which drops immediately for some sleazy stripper stuff, jumping right back up again when the iconic jaw of Robert Z’Dar comes in, all set and ready for a heist. Excitement abounds from that point on, with gunfights aplenty, sweet kickboxing action, a home invasion come hostage situation, and classic Shervan narrative appropriation.


There’s a little confusion with the dates and timings amongst the bountiful, but all-too-few, works of Shervan in his now legendary Hollywood period. Killing American Style seems to follow his Billy Jack rip off Gypsy and precede his piece-de-resistance Samurai Cop, although with Shervan’s chronic lack of budget and organisation, who really knows? All that matters is that these films were made, against all odds, and are here for us to enjoy, with his catalogue slowly being gathered up and restored. Killing American Style is itself an amalgamation of hostage Westerns like John Wayne’s Big Jake and the Thriller trope of fugitive home invasion, as in Axe. No matter how original it is, or isn’t, the story is strangely creative and weirdly compelling. We cheer for the bad guys as most of the movie plays out from their perspective, though things grow conflicted as the innocent victims pile up and a young family come under threat in their own home. It might be a shock but there’s some genuine tension here – either that or I’d had one too many mojitos.


It’s pretty safe to say Killing American Style benefits from not having a great deal of dialogue, considering the pain Shervan wrought on naive, aspiring actors throughout his Hollywood years. Most of the exposition is handled capably by the slightly mulleted Z’Dar, not that there’s too much to cover. However, it wouldn’t be a Shervan film without some nonsensically rubbish dialogue, and there are some hilariously jarring lines to savour. When the sleazy John Lynch – apparently played by John Lynch, who I’m assuming was plucked from Chippendales – is interrupted while banging a prospective stripper at his club, he tells her to “keep ’em warm baby.” She replies “uhuh, I will.” As Greg Kihn says, they just don’t write ’em like that anymore. Impressively, there’s not much of the overdubbing that plagues Samurai Cop, except for a hilarious sex scene, featuring dubbed smooching noises, and covered by awkwardly pulled-up sheets.


Z’Dar’s character Tony Stone, classic name by the way, has some sort of ice-cream warehouse heist lined up. He’s wisely recruited Lynch and less wisely some various family members, including Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers‘ Jimmy Williams as a fast-talking, wise-cracking, and mentally unstable uncle. Shervan is great like that, I don’t know if it’s the cultural divide or whether he’s just drawing from his outdated influences, but the fun poked at the less fortunate, and foreigners rather ironically, is both uncomfortable and accidentally comedic. Whatever the intentions, it seems to stem misguidedly from his adopted patriotism.


Anyway, shenanigans ensue and Tony Stone and his men become dangerous fugitives, holing up at a hilltop ranch – presumably somewhere in California as that’s where everything was shot – “we can’t go to a motel, we’re gonna have to find a house!” Luckily for us this ranch belongs to the ridiculously dressed John Morgan – he of the flowing locks, Florida kickboxing champion Harold Roth, or Harold Diamond in Hollywood lingo. That guy has to be one of my favourite ‘actors,’ considering his credits with the one and only Andy Sidaris too. Oh, there’s also a small yet hilarious part for Cleveland Browns legend – and Blaxploitation star – Jim Brown, as the harried but tenacious Lieutenant Sunset. As for the rest of the cast, I assume they’re a mix of strippers and one credit wonders, many of whom have not been credited. If the plot sounds vague, that’s because there seems to be a real disconnect between what we know and what the characters know, and not in the normal way. Fortunately, action breaks out frequently and it all leads to an impressive climax, where lead rains and dudes are kickboxed.


On Killing American Style, Shervan once again relies on his regular collaborators, who I have no idea how he convinced to work with him again and again. That said, I imagine making these cheap thrill pictures could be a lot of fun. Z’dar is one, employing his physicality and speaking in a menacing whisper, and Joselito C Rescober is back as executive producer and for another bit part, this time as a Japanese doctor. I don’t know why he’s Japanese, it makes no sense. The filming is handled as usual by Peter Palian, who does an okay job considering the total lack of equipment. As a result, there aren’t many angles for regular editor Ruben Zadurian to work with, and you’ll frequently see scenes cut frantically back and forth between two shots. It was also all shot using only available light, as Shervan tends to do. The most impressive work is definitely Alan DerMarderosion’s derivative but guiltily enjoyable score. He dabbles with eclectic styles, yet remains within the bounds of cheesy, Sega style Synth Rock, and it sets a cracking pace for most of the film.


Despite coming earlier than the fantastically inept Samurai Cop, Killing American Style is a relatively well put together crime thriller, with tension and action in abundance. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of rubbish too, thanks to Shervan’s killer combination of a lack of money and a lack of ability. The guy impresses me a lot more than he should. There’s also a pretty cool cast on show, who get a chance to kick some arse and look pretty studly doing it. Just don’t blame them for the unintentionally hilarious dialogue. I hope I haven’t talked too much about Shervan, but the man is a cinematic legend whichever way you slice it, and this is a film in his true to his style. It’s a good time if you’re up for a bit of trash.

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