One lazy summer day, my plans fell through. Take my hand and mourn with me! You see, I was 16 years old and I had failed my driving test (a huge blow to my gigantic ego) so I was pretty much stuck. I might as well have been 12 years old in my worthlessness (as you’ll soon see). It feels so wrong not being able to do jack squat on a Saturday when your buds are out doing God knows what and giggling maniacally at the very mention of your name. Friend 1: “Should we call Dicky?” Friend 2: “Har har, that’s a larf. Let that loser soak in his own loser juices until Hell freezes over.” Wow, some friends! Am I right or am I right? Paranoid delusions aside, I was having a pretty lame day.
I tried but couldn’t sleep in. I called my friend who was to be my ride to whatever event was going on that day and found out about the cancellation. I called some other friends that I couldn’t reach (no cell phone in 1993, y’all). I found out there was no food in the house. I called my mom to see what she was up to and found out she wasn’t going to be home until later that night. My dad had been dead a month or two so his ghost was kind of lingering around the place but was no help whatsoever. Oh yeah, one more thing: I had stupidly dumped my girlfriend a few weeks before but don’t think I wasn’t tempted to call her to try and patch things up (at least so I could get a ride somewhere).
So I did what any lame-brained teenager would do. I poured some Ragu pasta sauce into a bowl, heated it up in the microwave, threw in some chunks of cheddar cheese, and ate it with a spoon. Sounds delicious, right? Well, I thought it was. See, there was no macaroni and cheese in the house so I didn’t really know what to do with all that pasta. To give you an idea of how dumb I was, I had no idea how to prepare pasta for myself. Macaroni and cheese? No problem! You boil the macaroni and then add the sauce. Simple. But what about pasta? How does that shit get magically transformed from its hard form into its soft form. I shit you not, dear reader, I had no clue.
So I turned on the TV and there was a movie called Repo Man about to start on TV. To this day, I can’t remember what channel was showing it. It may have been TNT or something. It was definitely a channel that edited out cursing, that’s for sure. But anyway, I had never heard of this movie before so I just left it on. Suddenly, the punk rock credits kick in and I was glued to the spot. In the desert, a cop pulls over a guy named J. Frank Parnell driving a 1964 Chevy Malibu. The man is singing to himself and is almost totally oblivious to this cop’s presence. The cop knocks on the window and asks to see what’s in the trunk. J. Frank Parnell says “Oh, you don’t want to look in there.” The cop takes the keys and walks around to the back of the car. As he opens the trunk, J. Frank Parnell’s eye, reflected in the rear view mirror, widens with anticipation. The cop is instantly vaporized. The car speeds away leaving only the cop’s smoking boots and his lonely motorcycle behind.
That is how Repo Man begins. Basically, every scene will knock your socks off. This is what I discovered, eating spaghetti sauce, and cheddar cheese. I can’t imagine a better film for a boring Saturday morning. Nearly every frame of this movie is hilarious, quotable, and just supremely awesome. Since then, I have watched this film more times than I can remember and can quote pretty much every line for you, if you’d like. No? Okay, I won’t. “You wanna be a hero or rather be a chickenman? You ever see a farmer’s wife?”
Okay, the movie is actually about a loser punk named Otto (played by Emilio Estevez) who is full angst and can’t hold a job to save his life. After his “best friend” steals his girlfriend from him at a party, Otto goes on an all night drinking binge. While walking home the next morning, he is approached by Bud (Harry Dean Stanton), a repo man who tricks Otto into helping him repossess a car. At that very moment, he is hired by the “Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation”, a sleazy repo outfit. Otto quickly discovers that the life of a repo man is a dangerous one. He gets a new girlfriend, Leila (Olivia Barash), a member of UFO (United Fruitcake Outlet) who is desperately searching for some proof of life from outer space.
When word comes down that there is a Chevy Malibu worth $25,000, every repo man in the city and various government agencies goes after it. What’s with this mysterious car? Are there decomposing aliens in the trunk? Is that a crazed scientist behind the wheel? This is Repo Man and it's all you ever needed to know about the 1980s.
Obviously, Repo Man made me aware of both Harry Dean Stanton and Tracey Walter, two gentlemen who rule the Earth as brilliant character actors but the film’s other major accomplishment is introducing me to the amazing Fox Harris as J. Frank Parnell, the man with the aliens in his trunk, inventor of the neutron bomb, and victim of a (probably) botched lobotomy. I tell ya, this actor is so over the top in his scenes that you can almost feel him burning right through your fucking television. Harris made a few appearances in some pretty decent B movies and just about every one of those appearances is totally unforgettable. The guy died in 1988 and his picture can be seen next to the term ‘underutilized’ in the dictionary. He did get his chance to shine in the totally bonkers Dr. Caligari and the obscure horror anthology Dark Romances (among other things).
So what did I learn on that fateful Saturday? I learned that eating nothing but pasta sauce for an entire day can give you massive amounts of life-altering heartburn. I learned that Ecco the Dolphin gets way too difficult after a while so just give up. I learned that life is long and boring and that Repo Man will only get you through 90 minutes of it (or 2 hours if it’s on network TV). I eventually bought the movie on VHS and played it for everyone who would sit still long enough to enjoy it.
A few years later, I dated a girl whose family ran a repo lot. The first night hanging out with her and her folks, her mom asked me if I had ever seen Repo Man. I, of course, said yes and they didn’t believe me! Well, after I telegraphed the dialogue for the first 10 minutes of the film, they conceded that I did indeed have proficient knowledge of Emilio Estevez’s finest work. Somehow, that nerdy act got me the girl and even earned the respect of her family. How many times has a movie done that for you?