by Norm Nielsen
Dangerous Men is an 80-minute film with production values so awful it’s impossible to ascertain if they are laughably intentional or laughably naive. Dangerous Men exuberantly showcases bad directing, bad acting, a bad film score, bad songs, bad sound, and bad screenwriting. Scenes feature fat men in ill-fitting white Jockey shorts, knee fetishism, amateurish fight choreography, repulsive nudity, and a female killer who hides a knife in her butt crack. In one memorable scene, a police chief obviously reads from the yellow-highlighted script on his desk while talking on a phone that is not plugged in. Different actors play the same role (presumably due to the years-long shooting schedule) while tangential subplots appear and disappear with no resolution. The film’s poster is poorly punctuated. And this is only a short list of the film’s many OMG details.
The best word to describe Dangerous Men’s storyline is incoherent with two primary plots and subplots that lead nowhere. Mina (Melody Wiggans) and her fiancé strolling on a beach are attacked by two fat bikers in a fight scene that looks like children playing. After the boyfriend is murdered, Mina goes on a murderous rampage through Los Angeles, stabbing and shooting as many pimps, johns, and rapists as possible. About half way into the film Mina’s story is abandoned and the second plot unfolds. The dead fiancé’s brother is a police detective who wants to investigate his brother’s murder. His police chief orders the cop to not get involved. “What do you want me to do? Sit on my thumbs and wiggle my toes?” the detective whines – creating a strange mental image for us already bewildered viewers. The detective of course does get involved. He hunts for the leader of the motorcycle gang responsible for brother’s death using a scantily clad portly woman as biker bait. In an unrelated scene, Mina is arrested by several other police officers in a public park. And then back to the biker gang plot, the detective learns that the gang leader is a white, bleached-blond biker named Black Pepper (why not White Pepper?) who has allegedly killed “more men than the ‘Nam war.” Black Pepper is introduced in a scene featuring a belly dancer in his living room. Police raid Black Pepper’s hilltop home and gunfights and fistfights ensue. The film ends with a freeze frame on characters introduced only minutes previously. “Whew, what was that?” you ask yourself as the credits roll.
Bad as it is, the making of Dangerous Men is also an inspirational immigrant story relevant to America’s current Dreamers dialog. Dangerous Men was written, directed, produced, and co-edited by John Rad who also created the film’s music and song lyrics (he clearly wasn’t a musician). John Rad (real name Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad) was a successful architect who had worked in film production in Iran before fleeing to America following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. According to his daughter Samira Wenzel, Rad said “Well, there’s two ways of making money in the movie industry: One is you really need to spend a lot of money, get really good, top-notch actors and actresses and be with a Warner Brothers or a Disney. Or you can be on the other spectrum.” A vanity project all the way, Rad took 26 years to finish the film having started in 1979, completed shooting in the mid-nineties, and spent years in post-production before releasing the final cut in 2005, just two years before his death at age 70. Rad financed the film out of pocket by shooting until money ran out and then later resuming production when money was available. His was a debt-free production due to ultra low-budget production values; Rad reportedly paid Melody Wiggins a dollar a day plus a McDonalds meal to star in the film. He intentionally wrecked his daughter’s car for a scene. Rad personally paid for prints, television ads, and the film’s only screening at five theaters in Los Angeles over one week in 2005. In the one-week run the film grossed $2,238 – an estimated one percent of the production costs. In 2015 Drafthouse Films in Austin, Texas bought the film rights and distributed it to midnight movie theaters; screenings sold out. Dangerous Men became a commercially successful cult film 36 years after production began. In its way, it’s a testament to an immigrant’s dream to come to America and become a film maker. Daughter Samira Wenzel summed up John Rad’s dreamer vision: “I think what he was trying to do is get a message across that nothing is impossible.”
Norm Nielsen is a Scarecrow Video volunteer and Scarecrow Project Member.