Vintage Movies: “Repo Man”

MAGNET contributing editor Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 100 titles—from the ’20s through the ’80s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.

Repo Man (1984, 92 minutes)

A dayglo roadmap of New Mexico flashes on the screen, accompanied by Iggy Pop’s bone-crushing punk version of the “Repo Man” theme. This must have been how teenagers felt in 1954, hearing Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” over the opening credits of The Blackboard Jungle, an exhilarating validation of music uniquely their own. Most of Repo Man‘s soundtrack features the electrifying punk/surf/Chicano hybrid of L.A. combo the Plugz.

The map shows the progress of a ’64 Chevy Malibu, making its way from onetime nuclear test-site Roswell, N.M., to Los Angeles. A motorcycle cop pulls the car over in the Mojave desert for erratic driving. “What have you got in the trunk?” the cop asks the obviously impaired driver, wearing sunglasses with one lens missing. “Oh, you don’t want to look in there,” mutters the professorial J. Frank Parnell (Fox Harris), humming to himself. The cop opens the trunk, is bathed in excruciating light, then is instantly atomized. Oblivious, Parnell continues driving west, leaving behind only a pair of smoking police boots.

Two teenagers are stocking shelves in an L.A. supermarket with generic cans of sliced peaches. One of them, Kevin (Zander Schloss), is absent-mindedly singing a current TV jingle: “I’m feelin’ 7-Up.” Otto (a buzz-cut-wearing Emilio Estevez) protests by slathering a sticker from a price-gun over a lens from Kevin’s glasses. “It’s been brought to my attention,” says his boss to Otto, “that you’re not paying attention to the way you space the cans.” Otto says, “Fuck you!” to his boss and shoves Kevin into a stacked pyramid of canned peaches before stomping off.

Now out of work, a depressed Otto sings Black Flag’s “TV Party Tonight” (“We’re dedicated to our favorite TV shows: Saturday Night Live, Monday Night Football, Gilligan’s Island“) while kicking a can down a street in the nasty part of town. Sitting in a car parked next to a junkyard, Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) hollers out, “Hey, kid, you want to make 10 bucks?” “Fuck you, queer!” answers Otto. “You got me wrong, kid,” says Bud, explaining he has to get both his cars out of “this bad neighborhood” and offering Otto $25 to drive the other one.

Back at the office of Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation, a grizzled veteran laughs at Otto’s name. “Auto parts?” he says, tossing the kid a brew. “I ain’t gonna be no repo man,” says Otto, now wise to their game. “Too late, you already are,” says Marlene, the secretary, slipping him some cash. “How much do I get paid?” the neophyte asks Bud. “You might make five grand for a $50 thousand Porsche. It helps if you dress like a detective, kinda square. That way people think you’re packin,'” Otto asks, “Are you packin’?” Bud replies, “Only an asshole gets killed over a car.”