Straight To Hell, Indeed

March 12, 2009

For several years, I worked in a very large record store. One of the perks of the job (aside from cocooning oneself from reality) was free rentals from our video department.

One night, after working a closing shift, I was perusing the “midnight movie” section, and locked onto a spine that read “Straight To Hell.” I pulled it from the rack and the cast drew me in.

Joe Strummer.

The Pogues.

Elvis Costello.

Dennis Hopper.

Grace Jones.

I recognized the director’s name – Alex Cox. He had directed Repo Man, a strange little film involving aliens, punks, and Harry Dean Stanton mentoring a young Emilio Estevez in the arts of the titular profession. The film was a must-see for teenagers in the ‘80s.

Straight To Hell opens with a botched bank heist by a gang including a pre-celebrity status Courtney Love. They end up fleeing to a bizarre, desert town right out of some Sergio Leone flick which is run by a gang consisting of members of The Pogues and The Clash’s Joe Strummer.

(it’s been well over fifteen years since I’ve seen the movie, so some of my details might be off)

The entire population of townsfolk is all whacked out on caffeine, swilling coffee like whisky which is served by Elvis Costello as some kind of butler.

There was also a hot dog vendor/troubadour.

Supposedly, the movie came about following the collapse of a scheduled tour in Nicaragua by Costello, Strummer, and The Pogues in support of the Sandinistas.

Since everyone now had an open schedule, they headed for Spain under the guidance of director Cox and made a movie.

Though I didn’t know that back story at the time, the surreal, spaghetti Western setting and Pogue Shane MacGowan in all his orthodontically-challenged glory had me expecting much.

I was certain that I would see one of the most entertaining things in the history of cinema or such an unmitigated disaster that it would still be one of the most entertaining things in the history of cinema.

It failed to achieve either inspired extreme.

Instead, I yawned a lot and the movie seemed to last longer than the time Paloma and I decided to watch the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy in just one sitting (me being pretty much unfamiliar with the Tolkien epic).

And, when Straight To Hell ended, I had pretty much the same reaction I would have years later at the conclusion of Frodo’s road trip (or Mr. Frodo as that sycophantic sidekick kept calling him).

I just kind of stared at the television screen, slack-jawed and inert.

At least Straight To Hell had a cool little soundtrack.

The Pogues – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Yes, it’s The Pogues doing Ennio Morricone’s classic theme. Actually, it reminds me more of the style of Big Audio Dynamite (who were led by another member of The Clash – Mick Jones) than The Pogues.

Pray For Rain – The Killers
If I recall correctly, The Killers played over the opening credits of Straight To Hell. The song is stellar, but things went downhill from there.

Joe Strummer – Evil Darling
Evil Darling is one of two songs by the late, great Joe Strummer featured in Straight To Hell.

Zander Schloss – Salsa Y Ketchup
I mentioned that there was a hot dog vendor/troubadour in the movie. Well, that part was played by Zander Schloss of The Circle Jerks. Throughout the movie, the MacManus Gang which runs the town torments him. “Lets make that Weiner Kid sing his song. Wanna?”