Straight to Hell (1987)

R | 86 mins | Comedy, Western | 26 June 1987

Director:

Alex Cox

Writers:

Dick Rude, Alex Cox

Producer:

Eric Fellner

Cinematographer:

Tom Richmond

Editor:

David Martin

Production Designer:

Andrew McAlpine

Production Companies:

Initial Productions, Commies From Mars
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HISTORY

Screenwriter-director Alex Cox began Straight to Hell while completing post-production on his second theatrically-released feature film, the British picture Sid & Nancy (1986). As noted in the Feb 1987 edition of LA Style, Sid & Nancy featured a title song called “Love Kills” by rock ‘n’ roll musician Joe Strummer of the band The Clash, and his record label hired Alex Cox to direct a music video for the tune in Almería, Spain. The location reminded Cox of his passion for Italian Spaghetti Westerns, many of which were shot in Spain, and he revisited a treatment he wrote called The Legend of Paddy Garcia in the hope that he could make his next feature in Almería. The narrative was based on songs by the English-Irish band The Pogues, and got its title from the tune “A Pistol For Paddy Garcia” on the 1985 album, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash.
       Contemporary sources, including the 15 Nov 2010 LAT and the 19 Nov 2010 LA Weekly, as well as Cox’s 2008 autobiography X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker and a 2012 biography of The Pogues called Here Comes Everybody, reported a slightly different origin for the film. On 7 Aug 1985, Cox sponsored a rock concert fundraiser for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua that was resisting U.S.-backed Contras in a violent civil war. The Pogues, Elvis Costello, and Joe Strummer performed at the Fridge nightclub in Brixton, England, drawing a crowd of approximately 4,000 supporters, and earning a sizable contribution ... More Less

Screenwriter-director Alex Cox began Straight to Hell while completing post-production on his second theatrically-released feature film, the British picture Sid & Nancy (1986). As noted in the Feb 1987 edition of LA Style, Sid & Nancy featured a title song called “Love Kills” by rock ‘n’ roll musician Joe Strummer of the band The Clash, and his record label hired Alex Cox to direct a music video for the tune in Almería, Spain. The location reminded Cox of his passion for Italian Spaghetti Westerns, many of which were shot in Spain, and he revisited a treatment he wrote called The Legend of Paddy Garcia in the hope that he could make his next feature in Almería. The narrative was based on songs by the English-Irish band The Pogues, and got its title from the tune “A Pistol For Paddy Garcia” on the 1985 album, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash.
       Contemporary sources, including the 15 Nov 2010 LAT and the 19 Nov 2010 LA Weekly, as well as Cox’s 2008 autobiography X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker and a 2012 biography of The Pogues called Here Comes Everybody, reported a slightly different origin for the film. On 7 Aug 1985, Cox sponsored a rock concert fundraiser for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in Nicaragua that was resisting U.S.-backed Contras in a violent civil war. The Pogues, Elvis Costello, and Joe Strummer performed at the Fridge nightclub in Brixton, England, drawing a crowd of approximately 4,000 supporters, and earning a sizable contribution for the Sandinistas. Encouraged by their success, Strummer proposed a music tour of Nicaragua, in which the bands would show solidarity with the FSLN and raise money for their cause. He was a longtime supporter of the revolutionaries, naming The Clash’s fourth studio album Sandinista! (1980). In addition, Cox was planning to shoot his next feature, Walker (1987, see entry), in Nicaragua, and producer Lorenzo O’Brien was already making contacts in the country to secure locations.
       While O’Brien worked on setting tour dates, Cox and Sid & Nancy producer Eric Fellner tried to finance the production with home video presales, believing the popularity of the musicians would guarantee investors. However, record companies were not convinced of the project’s economic viability, and were reportedly reluctant to lend their names to a product that supported Nicaragua’s revolutionary government. When Fellner reckoned it would be easier to raise money for a feature film, Cox proposed the idea to Strummer, who was eager to go back to Almería after the “Love Kills” video. Elvis Costello and The Pogues were already available, since they had blocked off the month of Aug 1986 for the Nicaragua tour.
       The film was partially cast, but lacked a completed script, so Cox contacted writer-actor Dick Rude, who had worked on his breakthrough hit Repo Man (1984, see entry). Hoping to exploit the talent and celebrity of Joe Strummer, the writers transformed The Legend of Paddy Garcia into Straight to Hell in three days, naming it after a song on the 1982 Clash album, Combat Rock. In his autobiography, Cox reported that Straight to Hell was modeled after the 1967 Italian Western Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
       According to LA Style, the film was written to incorporate as many actors as possible from Cox’s previous releases, including players from Sid & Nancy, as well as Harry Dean Stanton and Emilio Estevez from Repo Man. Stanton was replaced by Dennis Hopper in the role of “I. G. Farben,” and Estevez dropped out of the project due to another commitment. Estevez and Tom Cruise, who were cast in cameo roles as “Jarheads,” were replaced with John Cusak and Tim Robbins. When Cusak and Robbins arrived on location, Cox ordered them to receive military-style “buzz cuts,” removing most of their hair, and the actors objected. A stand-off ensued, in which the men offered to wear helmets or wigs, but Cox would not back down, and the actors were replaced by key grip Sean Madigan and third assistant director Paul Wood. Although a 22 Aug 1986 DV production chart listed Steven Berkoff and Iggy Pop in the cast, they do not appear in the final film. According to Cox’s X Films, Iggy Pop was set to play “Mr. Dade,” but declined the role at the last minute.
       The “McMahon” clan, which is portrayed by members of The Pogues, was named after the band’s moniker, “Pogue Mahon,” a Gaelic profanity. The phrase was later used by the band in 1996, as the title for the Pogues’ seventh record album. The character name “I. G. Farben” was a reference to the German chemical company that provided the pesticide Zyklon B for concentration camp gas chambers during WWII. According to Cox, the name also appeared on a fraudulent identification card belonging to Harry Dean Stanton’s character, “Bud,” in a scene cut from Repo Man.
       Principal photography began on 4 Aug 1986 in Almería with a $1 million budget. The cast and crew took up residence at the Almería Gran Hotel, which was used as a location for the opening sequence interiors and exteriors. The bank robbery was filmed in Benahadux, and town scenes were shot on an existing movie set called Llano del Duque, which was built for a 1970s Charles Bronson picture. Production ended one week behind schedule, on 31 Aug 1986.
       Straight to Hell was released to generally negative reviews, including the Sep 1987 Box barb: “One of the worst films of this or any year.” Box-office receipts amounted to only $16,000 in its first week of release in New York City and Los Angeles, CA, according to the Sep 1987 Box review. However, Straight to Hell became a cult classic, particularly among punk music enthusiasts. In Nov 2010, it was reissued in several theaters with the addition of over four minutes of previously deleted footage, re-titled Straight to Hell Returns. The screenings marked the release of the film on DVD, with digital enhancements, corrected color, and added stop-action animation.
       Composer Dan Wool is credited as Dan “Wul.”
       End credits include “Special thanks to: Guilio Questi; Chris Blackwell; Jesse Beaton; Charlie Davies; Louise Gow; Pat Joseph; Martin Bullard; Beresford, Lowe & Company; Wild & Willing; The Travel Business of London; Neil Grigson; Banco Central; Paul Dias; Mr. Polo of Francisco Cabeza Freight Agents, Malaga; Eric Barrett; Sapex Scripts; Mark Miller Mundy; Dan’s roommates; Rob; Jake Rivera; Cecilia Montiel; Nicky Hart; Stephanie Mann; Gran Hotel; La Reja; Hotel San Jose; All the bars in Southern Spain (too numerous to mention).” End credits also state: “Karl’s disco-weiners now on sale in the foyer,” and, “Shot on location in Almeria, Spain, by Initial Pictures Limited, 22 Golden Square, London, England.” The credits end with the title card: “Coming soon… Back to Hell.”
More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
Sep 1987.
---
Daily Variety
22 Aug 1986.
Daily Variety
22 May 1987.
---
Hollywood Reporter
1 Jul 1987
p. 3, 14.
LA Style
Feb 1987
p. 61, 63-64.
LA Weekly
6 Feb 1987.
---
LA Weekly
19 Nov 2010.
---
LAHExam
1 Jul 1987
Section C, p. 1, 6.
Los Angeles Times
1 Jul 1987
Calendar, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times
15 Nov 2010.
---
New York Times
26 Jun 1987
Section C, p. 8.
Variety
20 May 1987
p. 104.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Island Pictures Presents
An Initial Pictures Production
Of a Commies From Mars film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
3d asst dir
Unit mgr
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
Exec prod
WRITERS
Scr
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Focus puller
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Clapper/Loader
Key grip
Stills
Cam and lenses by
Genny driver
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
1st asst ed
2d asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Const crew
Const crew
Const crew
Const crew
Const crew
Const crew
Prop master
Prop buyer
Prop asst
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost asst
Cost asst (U.K.)
Cost trainee
Long coats
MUSIC
Mus by
Mus co-ord
Emulator programming and oboe
All Pray for Rain titles prod by
All Pray for Rain titles prod by
SOUND
Boom op
Sd asst
Dubbing ed
Dial ed
Footsteps ed
Dial asst
Dubbing mixer
Asst dubbing mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff tech
Spec eff asst
Spec eff asst
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Make-up
Make-up asst
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Sex and cruelty consultant
Unit runner
London liaison
Asst to prod
Loc transport mgr
Prod secy (Spain)
Prod office runner (U.K.)
Prod office runner (Spain)
Prod accountant
Asst accountant
Scr supv
L.A. prod
L.A. prod
Pub, PSA Public Relations Ltd
Business bits
Unnatural acts researcher
Chief caterer
Unit driver
Unit driver
Unit driver
Unit driver
Unit driver
Freight by
Completion guarantee supplied by
COLOR PERSONNEL
Processed by
SOURCES
LITERARY
SONGS
"Yakety Yak," written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, performed by The Coasters and Dick Rude, Joe Strummer and Sy Richardson, © Carlin Music Corporation
"Ambush At Mystery Rock," written by Joe Strummer, performed by Joe Strummer and The Bug Out Gang, copyright control
"Delilah," written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, performed by Fox Harris, © EMI Music Publishing Ltd.
+
SONGS
"Yakety Yak," written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, performed by The Coasters and Dick Rude, Joe Strummer and Sy Richardson, © Carlin Music Corporation
"Ambush At Mystery Rock," written by Joe Strummer, performed by Joe Strummer and The Bug Out Gang, copyright control
"Delilah," written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, performed by Fox Harris, © EMI Music Publishing Ltd.
"Big Nothing," written by MacManus, performed by The MacManus Gang, © Plangent Visions Ltd.
"3 Deadly Cars,” “Spoiles,” “Save My Baby,” “Body Parts,” “Kill ‘Em Again,” “Long Coats,” “The Suitcase,” “Long Coats,” “Coffee Trap,” “Burning Down The Store,” “Mercy Killing,” “No Brakes,” “Love Swell,” written by Dan Wul, performed and arranged by Pray for Rain, Copyright Control
“The Killers” (Opening Titles), “Fan Out,” written by Dan Wul, performed and arranged by Pray for Rain and Zander Schloss, Copyright Control
“Blood Sausage,” written by Zander Schloss with Dan Wul, performed by Zander Schloss and Pray for Rain, Copyright Control
“Salsa Y Ketchup,” written by Zander Schloss, Joe Strummer, and Miguel Sandoval, performed by Zander Schloss and Pray for Rain, Copyright Control
“Sado Sausage,” “Insipid Sausage,” written by Zander Schloss and Dan Wul, performed by Pray for Rain, Copyright Control
“Sexy Sausage,” written, arranged, and performed by Zander Schloss, Copyright Control
“Widdle Binky Boo,” “High Fives,” “Smoke,” written by Zander Schloss and Dan Wul, performed and arranged by Zander Schloss, Copyright Control
“Happy Hour,” “Bolero,” written by Fearnley, performed by The Pogues © Stiff Music Ltd.
“Night On A Bare Mountain,” written by Mussorgsky, arranged by Fearnley, performed by The Pogues © Stiff Music Ltd.
“Flamenco,” written by Fearnley/Finer, performed by The Pogues © Stiff Music Ltd.
“Long Cool Day In Hell,” “Tango,” “Quiet Day In Blanco Town,” “Obsession,” written by Finer, performed by The Pogues © Stiff Music Ltd.
“Bounty Hunter,” “Hot Air,” “Sexy Bongo,” “Long Coats,” written by Ranken, performed by The Pogues © Stiff Music Ltd.
“Rake At The Gates Of Hell,” written by MacGowan, performed by The Pogues © Stiff Music Ltd.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
26 June 1987
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 26 June 1987
Los Angeles opening: 1 July 1987
Production Date:
began 11 August 1986
Copyright Claimant:
Commies From Mars, Inc.
Copyright Date:
13 July 1998
Copyright Number:
PA957459
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
86
Length(in feet):
7,760
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
United Kingdom, United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

Ill-fated outlaws Norwood, Simms, and Willy botch a heist and escape in a getaway car with Norwood’s pregnant wife, Velma. Fearing retribution from their menacing boss, Mr. Dade, the gang drives to Mexico, where Simms accidentally fills the car with diesel fuel while Norwood and Simms rob a bank. As they flee with a briefcase full of cash, the car breaks down in a remote desert. The outlaws bury the money and walk to a mysterious, semi-deserted town, where they get drunk at a saloon and make camp nearby. The next morning, Velma ventures back to the village and learns it is populated by nefarious, caffeine-addicted outcasts, who rejoice in their latest acquisition – a pilfered espresso machine. Despite Velma’s warning, Norwood, Simms, and Willy saunter into town, looking for more beer to cure their hangovers. There, a gunslinger named Rusty Zimmerman attacks the reigning McMahon clan by taking two McMahon brothers hostage, but Norwood’s gang comes to their rescue, killing Zimmerman and his henchmen. The outlaws unwittingly become local heroes, and they are welcomed to the community by the McMahon brothers’ older sibling, Frank McMahon. As the town’s top dignitary, Frank McMahon honors his guests with a celebratory feast, and the men indulge in alcohol and prostitutes. Losing composure, Willy accidentally exposes the secret of their buried cash to one of the girls, but he does not reveal its exact location. The prostitutes set upon a fruitless mission to seduce Willy and Simms, hoping they will take them to the loot. The next day, the town’s wheelchair-bound patriarch, Granpa McMahon, is killed by his caretaker, Sabrina. ... +


Ill-fated outlaws Norwood, Simms, and Willy botch a heist and escape in a getaway car with Norwood’s pregnant wife, Velma. Fearing retribution from their menacing boss, Mr. Dade, the gang drives to Mexico, where Simms accidentally fills the car with diesel fuel while Norwood and Simms rob a bank. As they flee with a briefcase full of cash, the car breaks down in a remote desert. The outlaws bury the money and walk to a mysterious, semi-deserted town, where they get drunk at a saloon and make camp nearby. The next morning, Velma ventures back to the village and learns it is populated by nefarious, caffeine-addicted outcasts, who rejoice in their latest acquisition – a pilfered espresso machine. Despite Velma’s warning, Norwood, Simms, and Willy saunter into town, looking for more beer to cure their hangovers. There, a gunslinger named Rusty Zimmerman attacks the reigning McMahon clan by taking two McMahon brothers hostage, but Norwood’s gang comes to their rescue, killing Zimmerman and his henchmen. The outlaws unwittingly become local heroes, and they are welcomed to the community by the McMahon brothers’ older sibling, Frank McMahon. As the town’s top dignitary, Frank McMahon honors his guests with a celebratory feast, and the men indulge in alcohol and prostitutes. Losing composure, Willy accidentally exposes the secret of their buried cash to one of the girls, but he does not reveal its exact location. The prostitutes set upon a fruitless mission to seduce Willy and Simms, hoping they will take them to the loot. The next day, the town’s wheelchair-bound patriarch, Granpa McMahon, is killed by his caretaker, Sabrina. However, the community remains ignorant of her wrongdoing and blames Willy for the murder. His life is spared when a stranger named “Whitey” comes to town during Granpa McMahon’s funeral, and the settlers are convinced he is the killer. At the gallows, Whitey insists he is innocent and tries to reveal the true identity of Norwood’s gang. He begins to explain that he was sent to the village by their boss, Mr. Dade, but he is hanged mid-sentence, and their secret remains concealed. Sometime later, another newcomer arrives and approaches Norwood’s men in the saloon. Introducing himself as I. G. Farben, he claims to be a housing developer and says that he and his wife, Sonya, wish to turn the barren desert into a thriving suburb. However, he presents the men with a case full of weapons and disappears, warning that they must prepare for battle. The following morning, Mr. Dade arrives to capture his wayward henchmen and triggers a campaign of chaotic violence, in which most of the townspeople are killed. Simms and Willy escape to dig up the hidden cash, but Simms shoots Willy to keep the loot for himself. Just then, Velma and a cowboy fire their guns at Simms and grab the money. The heist is interrupted by town leader Frank McMahon, who shoots Velma’s partner dead. Delighted by the ruse, Velma walks away with her real accomplice, Frank McMahon, and reveals that she has plotted to abscond with the cash all along. The two believe they are victorious, but Frank McMahon loses control of their getaway car and it plummets over a cliff, killing them in the ensuing explosion. Back in town, Mr. Dade and his men complete their massacre by setting fire to a store. However, Norwood and the other survivors hold them at gunpoint. Norwood shoots Mr. Dade in the forehead and accepts a ride out of town with a band of gun-toting prostitutes. Meanwhile, developer I. G. Farben moves into town and establishes his new enterprise, the Farben Oil Company. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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