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DIRECTED BY: Donald G. Jackson
FEATURING: Suzanne Solari, Jeff Hutchinson, Shaun Michelle, Katina Garner, Sam Mann
PLOT: During the Second Dark Age in the City of Lost Angels, a holy order of avenging roller-skating nuns battle evil mutants.
COMMENTS: It’s extremely important not to overthink Roller Blade, because Donald G. Jackson, the Z-movie legend who thought up the thing, absolutely did not overthink it. This is, after all, the man who dreamed up “Zen Filmmaking,” a commitment to scriptless, why-the-hell-not productions that make everyone else look as obsessive as . So let’s try and embrace the spirit of Roller Blade and just get to the heart of the matter.
This is a film that is made up almost entirely of lunatic choices. Placing the fate of humanity in the hands of a group of nuns on roller skates who wield switchblades that heal the wounded should clue you in, but Jackson happily goes further. The forces of good all speak in faux Shakespearean patois, even the highway patrolman who is the sisters’ only ally. The villains, meanwhile, consist of a man in a steampunk luchador mask and his mini-me, a wrinkly puppet that looks and acts like a bleached Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. (Speaking of which, one of the nuns is an actual dog.) The voice of wisdom is the order’s mother superior, a wheelchair-bound sage with a Latka Gravas accent and a propensity for astounding cosmic aphorisms like “The Cosmic Order of Roller Blade is the only force on Earth where all weapons and battle techniques are converted into tools of love” and “My visions have shown me a new world where it will one day be easy to trust every beast.”
The nuttiness extends to the filmmaking as well. The opening credits intercut incomprehensible images of women dressed like garden gnomes, a writhing woman enduring a restless slumber, and a group of hooligans on the attack, all to the tune of bombastic music cues that crescendo long before the list of names is complete, meaning the score has to keep restarting. With no natural sound, everyone is dubbed in the fashion of a Japanese monster movie, and the filmmakers are so committed to not showing moving lips that one character manages to play harmonica through a bandana.
And let’s not overlook Jackson’s commitment to crowd-pleasing nudity. Early on, three of the sisters are kidnapped and forced to engage in a naked catfight. When they are later rescued, they are brought back to the sanctuary to step naked into a recuperative hot tub and rub each other back to health. A character quickly peels off her bodysuit after being splashed with acid, and later kneels before a dying man to bless him with her uncovered body. Jackson has an audience in mind, and he’s prepared to fulfill their expectations.
It’s fun to list all that is quite nuts about Roller Blade, but the movie is actually less than the sum of its parts. It’s very slow, nobody’s motivations are entirely clear, and the tone is wildly inconsistent, swinging from broad comedy to awkward earnestness at random. So there’s no argument that there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, but it never really coheres into anything watchable. It’s just Jackson coming up with ideas and immediately finding ways to film them. An impressive accomplishment, but an iffy product.
Creatively, it might be a mess, but Roller Blade was a financial smash, grossing $1 million off its $20,000 budget and earning Jackson the right to make the iconic Hell Comes to Frogtown. But his heart never strayed far from his humble beginning chronicling the adventures of bodacious babes in roller skates. Although he didn’t make good on the promise of the closing title card (advertising Roller Blade 2: Holy Thunder), he eventually helmed four sequels, each of which has a reputation for being strange. Donald G. Jackson wasn’t skilled, but he had audacity, and given how many times we’ve seen the reverse, his is a career to salute.
Roller Blade has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and is available on vintage VHS only. At this writing, it can be found on Tubi, however.
A BRIEF HISTORICAL NOTE: Despite what the title might imply, no one in this movie who skates (and nearly everyone does) wears the inline skates of the title, but rather classic roller skates. That is because the product bearing the trademark “Rollerblade” was first commercially available in 1987, the year after this movie came out. I’m not saying that the movie inspired the mode of transport, but it does explain the confusing lack of Rollerblades in Roller Blade. 366 Weird Movies: out here doing the hard work so you don’t have to.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
(This movie was nominated for review by Phoenix. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)