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Off Topic: A Movie So Bad, It's Good - The Legacy of Road House

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There is a movie house near downtown Seattle, the Central Cinema, that runs cult favorites every day while providing an excellent selection of beer, wine and food right at your seat. I could pay $12 for a 1st run movie at the local Cineplex (one in which I probably won't like), or I can plop down $6 for a movie I already know I like with the added benefit of drinking a couple of beers at the same time. The Central Cinema screens such classics as Top Gun, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Planes, Trains and Automobiles (usually around Thanksgiving), along with an assortment of theme nights and much, much more.

Anyway, on Friday I had the pleasure of re-living a glorious period of American film making: the late 80's. For the first time since I heard of the Central Cinema (maybe two years ago), they were running Road House.

My DVD collection at home contains both Road House and (ahem) Road House 2: Last Call. (You didn't know there was a Road House 2, did you?) To be honest, the best thing about Road House 2 is the bonus features on the DVD, which include interviews with the original Road House cast and a "What Would Dalton Do?" feature with real life bouncers. That alone is worth the $9.99 price at Wal-Mart.

To make a long story short, I'm a Road House fan due to the film's ability to fit neatly into the category of a movie "so bad, it's good". Several years ago a I wrote a piece on the wonders of Road House (below). Enjoy.

Bar Fights, Mullets and Monster Trucks: The Legacy Of Road House

The year was 1989. Communism was in its last throes and the decade of the 80s, a decade most notable for Miami Vice, Mr. T., Reaganomics and ending the Disco era, was winding down. Out of this darkness came beacon for American pop culture. Out of the neon, the pastel colors and the Topsiders came Road House.

Road House isn't just a movie about a guy kicking the crap out of a bunch of henchmen at a bar in a small town in Missouri... okay, it is about that. But it's also so much more. Road House is mullets of various shapes and sizes. Road House is advanced martial arts showcased in a environment of beer cans and pool tables. Road House is using a Bigfoot in order to destroy a local car dealership. And finally, Road House is a philosophical journey into our inner soul.

Road House is not a movie. Road House is a film.

Below is a journey through the complex world of bar fights, mullets and monster trucks.

Road House 101: Basic Terminology

Cooler: A security supervisor, or "head bouncer". Typically, a cooler will have a tremendous amount of experience in the business and possesses superior conflict resolution skills. Holding an advanced degree in Philosophy is also considered a plus, although not required.

Bigfoot: In Road House, one of primary modes of transportation for Brad Wesley's henchmen is a Bigfoot. Bigfoot is universally regarded as the definition of a Monster Truck. While many would find this mode of transportation ludicrous in today's world of $3.85 a gallon gasoline, back in the 80s (when gas was around $1.00 a gallon) driving a Bigfoot to work was as common as people today driving a Honda Accord.

1988 Eagle Premier: If it's the late 80s and you want to drive in luxurious conditions, this was the car for you. In Road House, if the henchmen weren't driving around in the Bigfoot they were driving around in this quintessential car of the late 80s.

It is widely, and incorrectly, believed that no Eagle Premiers made it through the 1990s unscathed. I can personally attest that this urban legend is patently false. As recently as 2006, a dark blue 1988 Eagle Premier was seen in the North Seattle area. Various parts of the vehicle were held together with duck tape, and rolling down the window on the passenger side was considered an irreversible act, but the car still ran and was a living tribute to the glory of Road House henchmen transportation.

Chicken Wire: While the definition of 'chicken wire' seems straight forward (it's used to keep in chickens, right?), in the world of Road House nothing is as it seems. At the Double Deuce, chicken wire was the primary instrument utilized in order to protect Jeff Healy and his band from beer bottles, cans, chairs, tables, pool cues, automotive parts, small children, and any other objects that the patrons decided to throw at them. However, due to the fact that chicken wire was designed to restrain chickens, and not items such as shards of glass, it proves to be a fairly useless deterrent.

Memphis: Killing a man by ripping his throat out with your bare hands.

Whenchmen: Brad Wesley's Henchmen. Other commentators have referred to these guys as 'goons'. A 'Goon' is a guy sent into a hockey game to separate the head of the other team's star player from his body. Whenchmen do the dirty work for their boss in small Midwestern towns.

Road House Folklore

Before I get to the Top 10 lines from Road House I'd like to clear up a common misconception. There are reports circulating around the Internet that Dalton's first name is 'James'. This rumor, in my opinion, is completely unconfirmed and should be considered pure speculation, at best. At no point in the film is Dalton referred to as anything other than Dalton. We are never privy to a shot of his Drivers License, nor to the personal medical reports that he hands to Dr. Elizabeth Clay. Confirmation of this myth has never occurred. I'm not saying that Dalton's first name couldn't be James, I just have never seen any evidence that supports that notion.

The Official Top 10 Road House Lines

10. Various Characters to Dalton - "I thought you'd be bigger?"

Road House fans might believe that this quote should be higher up on the list but I find that its rightful place is at the bottom of the Top 10. It must be included but it doesn't deserve to be ranked anything higher than tenth.

9. Wade Garrett - "I'll get all the sleep I need when I'm dead."

As it turns out, Wade Garrett isn't too far away from gettin' a whole lotta sleep.

8. Brad Wesley - "Christ, J.C. Penny is coming here because of me. Ask anybody, they'll tell you the same thing!"

Brad Wesley isn't so different from Dalton, after all, he came up in a rough neighborhood on the streets of Chicago. After serving his country in Korea he decided to settle in the quiet hamlet of Jasper, Missouri, population 1,011. Once in Jasper, Brad finally realized his destiny, or calling, if you will: 'Gather unto me what is mine.' It's not just a catchy phrase to Brad Wesley, it's a way of life. And it becomes Wesley's modus operandi, the driving force behind his desire to get rich off the people of this small Midwestern town.

Dalton's confrontation with Wesley at his lakeside abode gives us our first peak into the soul of this man of Jasper. Dalton accuses Wesley of "getting rich off of this town". Wesley makes no bones about it, "and I'm gonna get richer!" But Brad also has a civic minded side to him, one that becomes quite apparent when he runs through the laundry list of improvements that he has brought forth to this rural community. The list is long and distinguished: the 7-11, the Photomat and, most importantly, an institution that completes any town: a J.C. Penny. So while we see Brad Wesley as a money grubbing crime lord and leader of a rough and tumble group of Whenchmen, we also see another side of the man. A side that is willing to give back to the community by facilitating the arrival of a national retail store that will offer the town folk a fine line of clothes, electronics, and house wares, and all at reasonable and sensible prices.

7. Frank Tilghman - "Well, it was a good night. Nobody died!"

There is a philosophy known as lowered expectations. The basic premise of this line of thinking is that by setting small, easily attainable goals, one can be convinced of success in a quicker time frame.

Dalton and Tilghman define "success" in very different terms. Dalton views the job done when the trash has been taken out. Tilghman is happy if he isn't sweeping eyeballs up after last call. Dalton digs deep into his vast Cooling experience and reminds Tilghman that "it'll get worse before it gets better"; a night where nobody dies is not the measure of success. Indeed, it does get worse. Much worse.

6. Denise - "Why won't you ever look me in the eye, Dalton?"
Dalton - "I'm shy."

Dalton's not averse to the ladies. On the contrary, his longtime friend Wade informs us that Dalton got into a little "scrap" back in Memphis after becoming involved with a married woman. So he's no stranger to strained romances. But Denise is a different story altogether as she's the main squeeze of one Brad Wesley.

If you take one thing away from Road House it should be this: Dalton is an incredibly perceptive guy. I mean, he's got a degree in philosophy from NYU, they don't hand those things out on the street corner. Living by the mantra that 'preparation is the key to success', Dalton is never caught off guard due to his phenomenal ability to "expect the unexpected." This is true with both Whenchmen and members of the opposite sex. Dalton immediately smells the scent of peril with respect to Denise and quickly implements tactics in order to ensure that he does not fall prey to her 'charms'. His solution: NEVER look her in the eye! Well, maybe 'never' is an extreme term.

Who says a philosophy degree is useless?

5. Dalton to Doc Clay (aka - the woman wearing a picnic tablecloth as a dress) - "Nobody ever wins a fight."

Dalton has the unique ability to cut through all the B.S. and give it to you straight. Doc Clay, after reading Dalton's personal medical history, becomes keenly aware of the vast array of cuts, breaks and bruises that the Cooler has suffered over the years. She comes to the logical conclusion that given Dalton's history of 31 broken bones, 9 stab wounds, 4 stainless steel screws and two bullet holes, that Dalton isn't too good at successfully completing a bar room brawl in his favor. Dalton, however, points out the absurdity of fighting in the first place. Which makes you wonder: if Dalton is so aware that nobody wins a fight shouldn't he avoid the fight and the 31 broken bones, 9 stab wounds, 4 stainless screws, and 2 bullet holes that come with it? I'm just saying.

Perhaps that philosophy degree is useless.

4. Dalton - "Right boot."

Dalton's slowly but surely getting the Double Deuce into a workable condition. The chicken wire in front of the stage has been taken down, the bouncers have new uniforms, Carrie Anne is living out her dreams by singing with the band in between serving drinks, and the clothes of the customers have improved by a factor of ten. Looks like the job is almost done, right? Wrong!

Brad Wesley, due to a variety of self-serving and perverted reasons, does not want this bar to be a success in any shape or form. And he's prepared to send any and all Whenchmen at his disposal to the Double Deuce in order to thwart Dalton and Tilghman's plans. On this night, Wesley sends in a trio of particularly adept Whenchmen into the bar, including one who has modified the toe of his right cowboy boot to include a deadly blade. Brilliant!

3. Steve - "What if somebody calls my momma a whore?"
Dalton - "Is she?"

At Dalton's introductory class entitled, "Bouncing and Cooling 101", Steve makes a cardinal mistake that has been repeated by law students everywhere since the beginning of time; he asks a stupid question.

There are no stupid questions, just stupid people that ask questions.

2. Morgan to Wade - "Mind your own business, dad!"

Wade Garret's time at the top of the mountain is slowly coming to a close. He's been considered the best Cooler in the business for a long, long time, but like all humans, time and age is catching up to him. His knees are a little stiffer when he gets done with a long ride on his Harley and his hair is now prominently infiltrated with gray. In short, Wade has reached the twilight years of Cooling.

Whatever we think of the aging Wade, we should not be so eager to completely close to book on his dominance in the field of Cooling. On Wade's first day in the town of Jasper he decides to stop by and visit his protege at the Double Deuce. When he arrives he finds Dalton out back where he is being roughed up by the same Whenchmen that have been a thorn in his side all movie long. Wade tries to peacefully enter the proceedings when he is informed by Morgan that a) he should mind his own business, and b) he's old.

Following this insult of Wade's Cooling prowess, he proceeds to kick ass on the assortment of Whenchmen, thereby thrusting himself right into the middle of the Dalton-Wesley war. This has dire consequences for Wade in the near future.

1. Dalton - "Pain don't hurt."

This line isn't just one of the best in Road House, it is truly one of the more thought provoking, blow your mind pieces of philosophy that has ever been uttered in the history of the American cinema.

Pain. Don't. Hurt.

Words to live by, kids. Words to live by.

Honorable Mention Road House Lines:

Wesley - "I see you found my trophy room, Dalton. The only thing missing is your ass."

Tinker - "A polar bear fell on me."

Dalton - "I don't fly. [snips his suture] Too dangerous."

Dalton - "I'm telling you now: it's my way or the highway."

Perverted Boyfriend - "Hey buddy, what are you doing? Are you gonna kiss 'em or not?
Perverted Bar Patron - "I can't."
Perverted Boyfriend - "What do you mean, 'you can't'?"
Perverted Bar Patron - "I ain't got twenty bucks!"

Red - "I got married to an ugly woman. Don't ever do that, it just takes the energy right out of you. She left me, though. Found somebody even uglier than she was."

The Cars (and Bikes) of Road House

Road House isn't just a movie about mullets and bar fights. Road House is also about some really bitchin' cars!

Bigfoot 7; aka 1987 Ford F-350 (Notice the Eagle Premier next to the Bigfoot in the photo.)

The quintessential commuter car of the 80's (at least in the hamlet of Jasper, Missouri), we see Bigfoot on three different occasions during Road House.

1. In the parking lot of the Double Deuce, late at night after Dalton and Doc are ending their first date.

2. Parked out in front of Brad Wesley's house when the henchmen come back after an unsuccessful encounter with Dalton.

3. At the auto dealership where Wesley "puts a little something down on a new car".

If Road House has a flaw, and I stress "if", it would have to be the under use of Bigfoot throughout the film. I mean, surely, Brad Wesley could have found a few more things to run over or through, like perhaps the Double Deuce itself? If he's willing to destroy an entire auto dealership because of a bouncer (er "Cooler") at a bar, why not just destroy the whole freakin' bar? Likewise with blowing up Red's auto parts store; it's obvious that was to get back at Dalton and Doc. Why not just blow up the bar? Am I missing something? You've got a Bigfoot, use it!

If anybody else out there has an explanation as to why Brad Wesley didn't just use the Bigfoot run over the whole town of Jasper (excluding the Photo Mat, the 7-11, and the J.C. Penny's, of course), I'd really like to know.

1989 Eagle Premier

I would have loved to have been in the creative meetings with Director Rowdy Herrington when they decided on which vehicles to put in the film. Perhaps the conversation went something like this:

ROWDY: All right, guys, the henchmen need something to drive around Jasper in. Now we could just have them drive the Bigfoot everywhere, but that would be a little too cliche, don't you think? What are our options?

CREATIVE ASST. #1: How about a Corsica? It's one of the best selling cars in the country right now.

CREATIVE ASST. #2: Or a Beretta? Those are nice. I think it won an award from Motortrend, or something like that.

ROWDY: Are you guys kidding me? That's the best you can come up with, Corsica and Beretta? The is the car the henchmen drive, it's got to scream pure evil!

CREATIVE ASST. #1: Pure evil?

ROWDY: Yes, pure evil!

CREATIVE ASST. #2: I'm not sure there are too many cars that scream "pure evil", Rowdy.

ROWDY: Look, I don't want these guys driving all over Jasper to cause death and destruction in a car your Mom would drive to the grocery store. Okay? We need something intimidating. Something mysterious. Something so scary that no one in this country will ever think about buying one and the manufacturer won't even be making it in ten years! Oh, and maybe it can be designed by some Italian dude. You see what I'm saying?

CREATIVE ASST. #2: You want something no one will want to buy?


CREATIVE ASST. #1: And the company won't even make it in ten years?

ROWDY: Exactly!!

CREATIVE ASST. #2: And you want it designed by an Italian?

ROWDY: That would be perfect.

CREATIVE ASST. #1: I got two words for you, Rowdy: Eagle, Premier.

Originally developed through a partnership between American Motor Corp. (AMC) and Renault, the Eagle Premier is the primary mode of transportation for Brad Wesley's Henchmen. The exterior was designed by notable Italian automobile designer, Giorgietto Giugiaro, while the interior contained state-of-the-art push-button technology. It's a great car for the Whenchmen due to the standard bench seats in the front and back, seating up to six individuals.

And, yes, you read the director's name correctly; the first name of the man who directed the movie Road House is Rowdy. Isn't that like the director of Rocky being named Punchy?

1988 Mercedes-Benz 560 SEC

This car is used for two things: driving Dalton to Jasper from New York ("I don't fly. Too dangerous."), and as a distraction in order for him to infiltrate Brad Wesley's compound. That's it, that's all Dalton ever does with this fine automobile.

Dalton's a smart guy; once he gets to a new town he takes his Benz, puts a car cover over it and hides it. Then he heads down to the local used car lot and picks up whatever beater he can find (1965 Buick Riviera), along with four spare tires. Watching Dalton load a entire spare set of tires into his car you get the feeling that he's done this before. The genius of Dalton's actions becomes quite clear as the film progresses.

Kawasaki KRR 250

This is the bike that head Whenchman Jimmy is riding when he lets out his epic evil laugh after torching Emmet's farm. Jimmy wouldn't be laughing long as Dalton runs him down on foot, leaps over the bike and knocks him off, and then proceeds to beat the crap out of him, finished off by Dalton ripping out Jimmy's throat with his bare hands...or something like that.

Here's a factoid that you wouldn't get unless you watched Road House on DVD with the director's commentary turned on: Rowdy Herrington came up with the idea for the Dalton-rips-out-Jimmy's-throat scene based on an urban legend that was prominent where he grew up. According to Herrington, there were rumors that a guy was killed in the next town over after someone ripped out his throat during a fight. Nice.

Harley-Davidson Big Twin

Wade Garrett rides a motorcycle...excuse me, Jasper to meet up with Dalton. For years I hadn't a clue as to what type of chopper it was, but considering the fact that Wade is dead about 30 minutes later it really didn't matter. However, through the magic of the Internet, I've found out that it was a Harley-Davidson Big Twin, whatever the hell that is.