Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Rolling Vengeance (1987)

Poster for Rolling Vengeance (1987)Rolling Vengeance (1987) by #StevenHilliardStern

w/ #DonMichaelPaul #LawrenceDane #NedBeatty #LisaHoward

A truck driver builds a special truck to get revenge on the rednecks who killed his family.

“Always use the right tool for the job.”

#Action #Revenge #Canada

Perusing the shelves of my local video stores, I would often see VHS copies of both Rolling Vengeance (1987) and Rolling Thunder (1977). I knew that one of them was supposed to be good, but which one was it…? Unsure, I would often pass both of them up and rent something else. Eventually, I figured out that Rolling Thunder was the more admired of the two – and it is indeed a very good movie. But any title that includes the word Vengeance is automatically appealing to me. So, when I found a reasonably priced VHS tape of Rolling Vengeance in a bargain bin, I grabbed it and headed for the till.

The first time I watched it, I think I was a little underwhelmed. It was okay, but I didn’t think it was anywhere near as good as Death Wish (1974) or Rocky (1976).

Review excerpt of Rolling Vengeance (1987)Why would I compare it to those movies, you ask? There’s a review on the box that says “Compelling… echoes of ROCKY and DEATH WISH.” — and this was from Variety!

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the movie. I just didn’t think it was a classic – or a Not Quite Classic. It was just okay.

A few years later, a friend of mine watched it and was so impressed he digitized the tape and made a DVD copy for me (not knowing that I already had the VHS). This was before the movie had seen any kind of re-release on DVD, so the old VHS tape was pretty much the only way to see it.

“You’ve got to watch this!” he told me.

I thanked him and took the DVD home. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was even going to keep it. After all, I had the VHS tape in my collection. And it wasn’t one of my favourite movies. And I hadn’t had the urge to even watch it a second time. But, my friend had gone to the trouble to make me this disc – and he really wanted me to watch it – so, I decided to give it another shot.

I’ll be damned if I didn’t like it more the second time! I suppose my expectations were lower. I wasn’t thinking that Rolling Vengeance was going to be another Death Wish. And it still wasn’t THAT good, but…

Fast forward a number of years, and I got the chance to purchase Rolling Vengeance on Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber. Why would I do that, you might wonder. I already had the VHS tape and a bootleg DVD. And it wasn’t even one of favourite films.

Well, it’s complicated. For one thing, it’s a Canadian production, which automatically makes it interesting to me. I have a significant collection of films that are sometimes referred to as Canuxploitation. One of my favourites is Rituals (1977), which was produced by Lawrence Dane, who also stars in it. I wrote about it a while back, and in fact appeared on an episode of Rotten Apples FIlm Reviews with New York City Guerrilla Filmmaker Séan Weathers in which we discuss the movie at length.

Lawrence Dane is in Rolling Vengeance

Also in the cast is Ned Beatty, who is known for, among other things, his performance in Deliverance (1972), which is another movie I love. Rituals has often been compared to Deliverance, so seeing those two actors together in Rolling Vengeance is a cool and slightly surreal experience.

But, of course, the biggest reason why I would decide to upgrade Rolling Vengeance to Blu-ray (aside from the wicked sale price), is that I am still a sucker for a great title, poster, and tag line – and Rolling Vengeance has all of those things. Even when a movie has disappointed me in the past, I can be compelled to watch it again by my imagination of (and desire for) what the movie should be – even when I know that it is not. It also helps if I can’t remember it too well. 

It’s kind of like re-watching a movie in which your favourite character dies and hoping that it doesn’t happen the second time. “No, don’t go in there!” you might shout at the screen, as if you can somehow help the doomed fool. Sadly, it never seems to work.

The good news is that my third experience of Rolling Vengeance proved to be the best so far. Perhaps the beautiful high quality Blu-ray had something to do with it. But actually, I think I am just appreciating it more and more with each viewing. What I noticed this time, is that stylistically it really fits in with some of my favourite ’80s action movies. The soundtrack music, the over-the-top villains (including Ned Beatty in what must be one of his most outrageous performances), the monster truck –

Okay, that’s actually one of the most unique things about it. Most of my favourite vigilante movies involve ordinary weapons like, oh, say a handgun. The hero in Rolling Vengeance chooses a custom built monster truck to dispatch his local scumbags. And it’s pretty damn cool.

I suppose the closest ’80s movie I can compare it to would be The Gladiator (1986) by Abel Ferrara, in which Ken Wahl plays a vigilante who goes after bad drivers in a souped up pick-up truck. But they are very different movies.

Watching Rolling VengeanceI also felt echoes of Savage Streets (1984) and Class of 1984 (1982), which are two of my personal favourites. In all honesty, Rolling Vengeance never quite reaches the heights of those movies – but it’s not for lack of trying. And it manages to comfortably reside in the same neighborhood, which makes it a worthy alternative to consider on a day when you feel like ’80s vigilante action, but maybe not something you’ve already watched a couple of dozen times.

I can now say without a doubt that Rolling Vengeance (1987) is 100% certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema. And considering that it seems to get better every time I see it, you can be sure that I will be screening it again on some wonderfully nostalgic1980s infused #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn