“Straight to Hell Returns” – Alex Cox and Jim Jarmusch at the 92Y Tribeca

This entry was posted on 4.03.2011

Straight To Hell Returns

film poster of Straight To Hell Returns

I am not even entirely sure how many people expected the return of “Straight To Hell”. Back in 1987, when Alex Cox‘s third feature first came out, it received some pretty bad reviews. It stands at 5.5 stars on IMDB right now – a data base which is notorious for even giving bad action movies at least one star more. But this is probably why some people are amazed that the movie is back – because it always stood out. “Straight To Hell Returns” is out on DVD now, and Alex Cox presented it at the 92Y Tribeca on Thursday.

It’s hard to explain the story of the movie – because it hardly has any story. A bunch of gangsters (Dick Rude, Sy Richardson and Joe Strummer) fail to kill somebody. After a – partly successful – bank robbery they hide in a little desert village which is ruled by the MacMahons (who are played by Biff Yeager and the Pogues). Four days go by, mostly filled with drinking and occasional killing until the final shoot-out.

Clash singer Joe Strummer and the Pogues are not the only “famous” persons who appear in “Straight to Hell”. A very young, pregnant and chubby Courtney Love plays the wife of Norwood (Richardson). Elvis Costello is the butler who makes sure that the gangsters get their regular coffee breaks. Dennis Hopper, Jim Jarmusch and Grace Jones also have (surreal) guest appearances.

“Straight to Hell Returns” gives the original movie a nice “face lift”. It is more colorful, the sound is much better, Alex Cox added deleted scenes and skeletons in a few scenes which cannot be explained without spoilers. Even if you have seen the spaghetti western back when it first came out or when it was released on DVD – it is worth revisiting.

Alex Cox (left) and Jim Jarmusch

Alex Cox (left) and Jim Jarmusch (picture by Michele Stork


The screening of the movie on Thursday was followed by a discussion between Alex Cox and Jim Jarmusch – it was much more than the regular 20 minute long, “only one more question, please” Q & A one might be used to. A very energetic, very lively Alex Cox and a mellow Jim Jarmusch talked for more than one hour about the filming of the movie, about Joe Strummer, other projects and about financing films these days.

“Straight To Hell” originally was never planned. Alex Cox’s idea was to go on a rock’nroll tour with The Pogues, Joe Strummer and Elvis Costello in South America and Nicaragua – a tour that never happened. Instead the idea of a feature film came to life. “Strummer used to go to Almeria on his holidays,” Cox explained. “He and I were the big motivators to go into a spaghetti western.”

The director had three days to write a script. “We stole the story from an Italian western” (with permission by the way). A lot of ideas apparently developed spontaneously though. The location has been used before – it is the same as in Charles Bronson’s “Chino”. “Bronson is very small, so they built very small doors,” Cox remembered.

Alex Cox was very lucky with his casting. Some of them have been in “Repo Man” or “Sid and Nancy”, his two earlier features. Grace Jones had just finished another movie in Madrid and came down to Almeria for one day. “It was exciting for her to be in a scene with Dennis Hopper. We gave her 100 dollars for that.” And Jim Jarmusch had been in France before. “I came down with an overnight train,” Jarmusch remembered.

Strummer, who was extremely in character (he kept his suit and the fake guns on all the time), and Rude tried to convince Jarmusch into sleeping in those old cars on the set. Thanks, but no thanks – that was a little to rusty for him. Jarmusch also remembered how the Pogues came to him every morning to hide their alcohol, so they could get a vitamin b shot from a nurse.

Courtney Love on the other hand wasn’t very popular: “Courtney was a handful, even back then,” Jarmusch said. “She annoyed the boys, because she never shut up,” Cox added.

Jarmusch loves the movie which has some classic scenes – his favorites are when Strummer combs his hair with oil and the final dialogue between Strummer and Rude. There are way more amazing scenes though – when an innocent guy gets hanged for the death of grandpa for example. And don’t forget: the three gangsters basically are a blue print both for “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction”.

That might explain why the 92Y Tribeca was sold out on Thursday, and why movie fans are (and should be) excited about the DVD rerelease. “Straight to Hell”, which got a very short release in 1987, clearly was ahead of its time. It’s a cult classic by now.

(We couldn’t resist chatting briefly with Alex Cox afterwards who signed a cool looking movie poster and the DVD for us. I would have liked to ask Jim Jarmusch about his next project, but he stayed behind in the theater, and I didn’t want to disturb him.)

Straight to Hell Returns on Amazon

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