Having spent four years at New York University’s Film School, I’m acutely aware of the difficulties in making a movie on a shoestring budget. The goal is always to “put the money on the screen,” that is to say, put what money you do have into stuff the audience will see. But like with any large project, things don’t always go as planned, and one’s budget can be easily consumed by problems and pitfalls.
So when I see or hear about young filmmakers making their vision come to fruition with infinitesimal budgets, I always give a tip of my hat to them. In the past twenty-five years, there have been a number of low-dollar auteurs: Kevin Smith and Clerks, Robert Rodriguez and El Mariachi, Myrick and Sanchez with The Blair Witch Project and so on.
One of the earliest progenitors of guerilla-style filmmaking though was former junkyard owner H.B. Halicki and his production of the original Gone in Sixty Seconds (1974), a film I reviewed here a while back. In further celebration of Halicki’s low budget vision, I’m pleased to present you with the unofficial sequel to Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Junkman, the subject of this month’s edition of Rob’s Car Movie Review!
The Junkman was the result of a two-year-long effort by Halicki’s nascent production entity, HBH International, and was written and directed by Halicki himself. It stars Halicki, Christopher Stone, Susan Shaw, Lang Jeffries, Bruce Cameron and Dan Grimaldi. The budget was reputed to be in the neighborhood of one million dollars.
The Junkman has a unique and inventive narrative for a sequel. In lieu of simply picking up where Gone in Sixty Seconds left off as most sequels would, the film focuses on Halicki’s alter ego, Harlan B. Hollis, a former junkman who took out a loan against his business to produce and direct a car flick called Gone in Sixty Seconds.
Now a big-time producer of automotive action flicks, Harlan becomes embroiled in the fight of his life when an unknown enemy hires a cadre of hit men to kill him. Car, airplane and even Goodyear blimp chases ensue as Hollis attempts to evade assassination attempts and protect his daughter. As far as the plot is concerned, that’s about all there is.
While The Junkman is no Citizen Kane, I must confess that I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is cinematically light years ahead of Gone, which to a large degree, is convoluted and non-sensical. It seems Halicki learned quite a bit about filmmaking from his prior opus, as this film is imminently coherent and is actually quite a fun piece of silly fluff.
While the writing and acting here are typical B-movie fare, the movie is actually fairly well shot and made. But where The Junkman singularly rises above the myriad of low-budget car films are the chase sequences and the cars that co-star in the movie.
Aside from The Blues Brothers, The Junkman destroyed more cars than any other film. Over one hundred and fifty to be exact, and as a certified muscle and exotic car lover, I have to tell you that some of the crashes are hard to watch when you consider the rarity and pricing of some of those rides today.
The very first shot we see after the opening title sequence is of the front end of a glorious, Rosso Corsa red Ferrari 512i Berlinetta Boxer, which revs its flat 12 engine to a wonderful cacophony. In fact, there are a smattering of vintage Ferraris in the movie, including a scarce, and now very expensive 1970 365 GTB Daytona four-cam coupe, a 1978 308 GTS, and a superb 1974 Dino 246 GTS.
Another exotic in the picture is a rare 1974 Bricklin SV-1, a fiberglass-bodied sports car that featured electrically activated gull-wing doors. With less than 3,000 produced before the company went belly up, it’s one of the aforementioned tough to watch moments when the car is totaled in an early scene.
Other European cars in the film include a host of Rolls-Royces of various years, a 1973 Citroen SM, a personal favorite of mine, a 1975 Lotus Esprit, and a stunning example of the world’s first gull-wing car, the 1954 Mercedes 300SL.
American muscle is incredibly well represented here, with a bevy of the late sixties and early seventies Mustangs of different models and configurations (including a guest appearance of the crashed Eleanor 1974 Mustang from Gone in Sixty Seconds),second and third generation Pontiac Trans Ams, second gen Camaros kitted out as highway patrol cars, a 1967 Ford Galaxie convertible and a pair of sexy AMC Javelins. Also cool are the innumerable 1974 Dodge Monaco and Plymouth Satellite Sedan police cars scattered throughout the film. Basically something for everyone!
Halicki followed up The Junkman a year later with another car movie entitled Deadline Auto Theft before taking several years to develop an actual sequel to Gone in Sixty Seconds. Sadly, during the filming of Gone 2, H.B. Halicki was killed performing a stunt in a crash sequence. If not a great filmmaking talent, the world indeed lost a man of boundless enthusiasm, moxie and a love for cars on that day. The Junkman stands as a fine testament to his ideas, and I give it a rating of six-and-a-half out of ten pistons.