One of the great joys of being a fan of cinema is discovering some flick you did not even knew existed and falling instantly in love with it. Much is written about how we all come to our favorite horror movies, how we rented some cassette because the cover art freaked us out, or we read about it in Fangoria, and then it turned out being way better than we could have every expected.
I think this happens more with horror movies because you can make a good flick with five kids who don't leave an isolated cabin as long as you keep it moving and sling enough liquids and solids onto the wall. Action is tougher. When we go into an action movie we expect a certain amount of, well... action. You can't cut the action from an action movie, and action scenes cost money. There's no getting around that. But as it has been proven time and again, the challenges of low budget filmmaking never stood a chance against ingenuity, teamwork, and a relentless belief that anything is possible regardless of budget.
Such is the case with 1973's Shot (aka Death Shot on VHS).
I was completely unfamiliar with this film. The VHS cover does not jangle loose any memories, but that's not to say I didn't see it on display in various vid-shops back in the day. (It seems to have all the ingredients I like on the covers of my action flicks- crazy artillery, muscle shirts, bandanas, lady's legs, cash and cocaine!)
I discovered it recently via a Vinegar Syndrome blu-ray $10 sale. The description was just enough to pique my interest. Plus, I'll buy just about anything for $10.
Shot focuses on two slovenly brutish 70's cops who are after a drug kingpin who controls the Illinois weed distribution. Again, 1973. It was a different world. "Weed Kingpin" was a vocational option back then. Don't let the details distract you from this fantastic little flick.
Ross (Richard C. Watt) and Wilson (Charles Russell) are the rough and tumble, sweaty and hairy cops who hit equally sweaty and hairy Blasi (Frank Himes) and the Weed Syndicate (stop giggling) with everything they've got.
Ross and Wilson- busting the Weed Syndicate with sweet , sweet 70's era porn-staches
When they convince space-case Shelia (Margaret Uharik) to be an informant for them, Ross falls for the angel with broken wings. (Gin-soaked, sweaty, hairy, smoldering cigarette-style lovemaking soon follows.)
Blasi teams up with a fat, giggly politician who tells news crews he wants to get smack off the street while in fact being the very guy who isputting smack on the streets. He's a jolly sort with a cache of women who feed him steak. He has enough power for Blasi to control all the weed in Illinois.
In the big showdown, Ross and Wilson face down Blasi and his gang of long haired street freaks. There is little hand to hand combat, as Ross and Wilson are hardboiled 70's cops who prefer to shoot first and ask questions later. (In one scene, we see Ross's preferred reading material is Mickey Spillane's I, The Jury and a Dirty Harry novel.)
Everything about this movie worked for me. From the long French Connection inspired car chases to the stunt dummy that screamed as it plummeted six stories, only to switch out for the actor who looked like a dropped bag of spaghetti sauce splattered all over the street after the fall.
The bullet hits are insane, almost Shogun Assassin-esque in volume and spurtage. Giant balloons of the red stuff detonate in chests, backs and other body parts. It's nasty, and Ross and Wilson do spill blood all over the snow covered streets.
Blood on the snow for another punk
Shot was made by students at the University of Illinois for roughly $15,000. It could only have been made for $15,000 by students because they would be the only people to have no idea that you can't make an action movie with this many helicopter shots and stunts and effects for $15,000.
Mitch Brown directed, and he directed this sucker during the wintertime, which puts the action in the falling snow for more than one foot chase. (Actors are not acting like they're cold, they're cold!)
Cinema was changing in the early '70s, as the first generation of film-fans- people who grew up watching movies- began making movies. Filmmakers were influenced by the films they watched and while they would lean on certain ideas or even plots from earlier movies, they always added their own spin. Shot is no different, coming as it did between Dirty Harry and The French Connection and the later films in the Dirty Harry series as well as the Death Wish films.
After the '60s, gone were the days of the hero cop that filled the big screen. Now we had vigilante cops, bad guys with badges bringing down justice on bad guys without badges. Shot takes its inspiration from those earlier films but raises the stakes with two hothead, lone wolf vigilante cops working together. (Ruggero Deodato would later explore this idea with his 1976 police thriller Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man / Uomini si nasce poliziotti si muore.)
This seems like the first and only flick most of the cast and crew ever worked on, and for a student project I think that tracks. I'm sure no one involved ever dreamed their little student film (which did get released and seen) would still be being talked about in 2023. (I'm sure they thought we would have been too busy flying our space cars to the robot factories to work 20 hours a day than to have time to sit down and watch their little fifty year old movie.)
The one person who did go on to have a really great career in cinema was actor Charles Russell, who at some point changed him name to Chuck and then directed one of the greatest sci-fi/horror remakes of all time, 1988's The Blob. (No, I did not recognize him and I was shocked to realize it was the Chuck Russell playing Wilson.)
Blasi catches his breath during the climactic foot chase
For me, everything about Shot was a delight. I loved the relentless energy and scummy, second hand smoke smell that came off my flatscreen, and the homemade-in-our-hometown feel of the production. It has a gritty realism and earnestness that is hard to resist. It was a part of a changing American cinema and now fits in perfectly with how action movies and action heroes were changing at the time.
I put it up there with other low budget action movies like Gone in 60 Seconds (1974), Action U.S.A. (1989), Miami Connection (1987) and New York Ninja (2021) as action movies that defy the odds and deliver the goods more through ingenuity and spirit than with piles of money.
Shot is easily found on Tubi. There a couple movies with that name. Look for the one with that charming hand drawn artwork from the flip side of the blu-ray artwork pictured at the top of the blog. (I don't remember anyone getting their head blown off and intestines coming out, but you have to love that artwork, man.)
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