My favorite time of year, film-wise, is to catch up with what the lovely programmers at Toronto After Dark have discovered in a year’s time. I can’t imagine how many films their small team has to go through in order to find a film like the cinema-gem I’m about to mention. So, before I begin, congratulations Toronto After Dark: the presentation of your festival thus far has exponentially increased over the years, and the films, as per usual, are both impressive and a ton of fun to experience - especially in your audience. Long live cult-cinema.
This film is set in a post-apocalyptic, American dystopia. Bounty killers are celebrated figures, licensed to kill white-collar criminals whom ruined the nation through greed and scandal; and as this is based on a comic book, written by the director himself, the bounty killers essentially function as cowboy superheroes. While many reviewers have said “Think Mad Max,” I’d guide you completely away from this. Particularly because I enjoyed this film much more than I did Mad Max, but also because most the tropes you’ll see in this film are heavily classic Cowboy/Western driven. It’s unfair to compare the two just based on the premise of post-apocalypse and desert settings.
The characters are what make it so much fun, and feel almost like something Russ Meyer would have written; or any other exploitative, spaghetti Western from the mid 60s-70s. Irony is constant, and the thrills are equally exciting as they are comedic. The Cowboy protagonists Drifter and his goofy side-kick are present, and keep the film moving; the one-liners and gorey deaths are definitely present as well; and the villains are driven to coerce and have the characters conform to a business-friendly life, which I found incredibly funny. Minor roles played by Gary Busey and Eve were certainly also a nice touch.
Mary Death, a quintessential character to this film’s success, is independent, aggressive, sexually-driven, and iconic (given her signature outfit, with an incredible back-story to go with it). She chases Drifter throughout the film: throughout this, you’re left confused as to whether or not she plans to kill or sleep with him. Unfortunately, the male-gaze throughout this is heavily dominant. When speaking to Henry Saine about this, essentially, his response was “It’s the nature of the beast,” which is something I suppose you have to accept if you’re going to enjoy this film. In fact, if you’re willing to get past the constant objectification of Mary Death, one can definitely note how the genre has progressed to fit a modern day audience’s needs, which aren’t actually that bad if tailored to match cult-fan beliefs. The exploitation genre is based on referencing other art of its time, not holding back, and essentially giving the viewer what they want. For example, one primary trope of classic grind-house films is the punishment of women for sexual deviance. I won’t ruin the ending of Bounty Killer for you, but I can definitely say it’s not pro-monogamy, and Mary certainly responds to Drifter in a way that left me laughing after the film – pretty much for the entire night.
If you’re willing, this film is incredibly fun. I definitely plan to watch Bounty Killer again, and from what I heard over drinks: you’ll be seeing it in Best Buy very soon.
Extra facts from Henry Saine:
- Bounty Killer was shot in 18 days.
- Credit is due to the production team of SkyFall , who donated camera equipment and vehicles after finishing shooting their film early.
- There were 0 deaths in the creation of the film.