The 1987 monster truck movie Rolling Vengeance should be an exciting action thriller fit for midnight screenings. Unfortunately, it fails to impress due to an uneven tone and an excruciatingly long wait to see the monster. Even with a memorable performance from Ned Beatty as a pompadour sporting hillbilly, the film ultimately falls short with too much character drama and not enough monster truck mayhem. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray provides a respectable A/V presentation for this calibre of film but offers minimal special features. Recommended for fans.
“A trucker gets mad, he gets into trouble.”
Revenge films are a dime a dozen. You shoehorn into the script whatever you need to provide an emotional hook before supplying your vigilante with a weapon. Dream up interesting ways for people to receive their due, sprinkle in some subtext, and BAM! you’ve got a winner. Films like Death Wish (‘74), Rolling Thunder, and John Wick instantly come to mind. In Rolling Vengeance the vigilante justice isn’t dispelled with a gun or a knife or even some sweet gun-fu but with a ferocious DIY monster truck. On paper that sounds like a solid idea, but overworking high concept ideas can often get you into trouble.
Big Joe Russo (Lawrence Dane) and his son Joey (Don Michael Paul) run a small trucking company delivering booze for a strip club/used car lot run by the town bossman Tiny Doyle (Ned Beatty). After Joey accidentally damages some inventory, Tiny sends his belligerent sons to teach the Russo boys a lesson in respect. Things take a turn when his hell raising kids take to the road in hopes of scaring Joey’s mom and sisters. The hooligans ram the family’s car into oncoming traffic killing them instantly. When the boys escape any legal recourse for their actions they come for Big Joe and eventually Joey’s girlfriend Misty (Lisa Howard). When a couple broken bottles of Jack Daniels escalates into total war Joey takes to his workshop to craft a fire breathing instrument of vengeance.
The premise alone was enough to get me excited about this film! I’m a complete sucker for dirty vigilante justice. The artwork alone would have guaranteed a rental from me back in the day. Unfortunately, for much of Rolling Vengeance director Steven Stern focuses on the brutal drama unfolding in front of Joey rather than awesome stunts and explosions. Sorry 1980’s Bruce! So much effort is spent developing a vengeful spirit within this innocent midwestern kid that when we get a chance to see him express it through a monster truck it’s not as fun as it should be. Nearly an hour passes before we get a look at it crushing cars and smashing conveniently stacked boxes. The vehicle stunts are well executed for such a low budget production but lack the raw energy you’d expect from them. Stern’s interest is in character building which for a film like this is a tough sell. The informative commentary track included on the Blu-ray points to several rewrites during production that changed the film’s course drastically. Sadly, it plays almost like a made-for-tv movie if you cut out the sexual violence and nudity. That being said Rolling Vengeance is still an entertaining low budget action film with some memorable moments and characters.
The film is well cast with veteran actor Lawrence Dane turning in a solid emotional performance in an otherwise uneven film. Don Michael Paul is mostly forgettable which for the lead role is disappointing. However, Ned Beatty steals the show with his hillbilly greaser villain. The character is perfect right down to his outrageous pompadour and leather jacket. It’s a shame this man wasn’t in a better movie. Thankfully the real star is the monster truck. Seeing Joey’s death machine crushing cars and running down rapists is the reason we’re watching this, right? I’m all for the soul crushing drama of a teenager losing his innocence after the death of his family, but when those tires start spinning I’m glued to every frame.
Rolling Vengeance is almost the perfect midnight movie. From the ramshackle strip club to the gap in Ned Beatty’s teeth to the fire breathing monster truck it’s got something for everyone! The confusing tone and execution are easily forgotten when the truck starts rolling. High praise to Kino Lorber Studio Classics for resurrecting this forgotten gem of an exploitation movie. It’s not all breasts and blood but when you’ve got a fire breathing monster truck who cares, right?
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Kino Lorber Studio Classics unleashes Rolling Vengeance on Blu-ray with a BD-25 Region A disc housed in a standard keepcase with a studio catalog booklet. The disc opens to the KL Studio Classics logo before landing on a static Main Menu screen with typical navigation options. When you hear a thundering 80’s rock ballad you’ve made it.
The 1080p 1.85:1 AVC encoded image fluctuates between a moderately crisp presentation and that of a soft lensed erotic feature. Though some nudity is present in the film, too often the feature veers into this soft glow aesthetic for most dialogue driven scenes. It’s rather distracting to say the least. Colors appear muted with a consistently hazy image. Noise, dirt, and specks are also present throughout the feature. For an 80’s B-movie the visual presentation is exactly as I’d expect it to be.
Rolling Vengeance rides onto Blu-ray with a DTS-HD 2.0 sound mix that doesn’t keep up with the film’s visual excitement. It does a respectable job of handling dialogue, effects, and the rocking music tracks but, like your 4 cylinder SUV it struggles to keep up. Dialogue is often recorded low and is frequently lost in a sound mix which makes for a frustrating experience. Hiss is pronounced at times and evident throughout the feature. I suggest keeping the volume turned up to make sense of the hillbilly vernacular and to soak up the 80’s rock ballads.
Audio Commentary: Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation.com & Film Historian Jason Pichonsky provide an insightful commentary detailing the film’s complicated production, casting choices, and issues with writer Michael Montgomery.
Interview with Laurence Dane (HD 9:45) Veteran actor Laurence Dance details his acting process and talks at length about his experiences making the film.
Rolling Vengeance (HD 1:51)
Stone Cold Dead (HD 2:27)
Cop (HD 2:06)
Steele Justice (HD 1:36)
An Eye for an Eye (HD 1:52)
Original Gangstas (HD 2:14)
Avenging Force (HD 1:18)
Steven Stern’s Rolling Vengeance presents an all too familiar revenge plot paired with a spectacular DIY monster truck. It has all the right elements for a wonderful B-movie filled with humor, violence, and a memorable villain. If you can get through the uneven tone you’ll have a great time watching this film in all it’s cheesy grandeur. Kino Lorber has resurrected this cult classic on Blu-ray with a respectable A/V presentation and a commentary track worth checking out. Recommended for fans.