This low-budget, post-apocalyptic homage to various films is the first time I realized that Harry Knowles, the film geek/critic who runs the Aint It Cool News movie website, has shit for taste when it comes to movies. Knowles had absolutely fallen in love with Six-String Samurai. I forget the exact words he used to describe this film, but his hyperbole amounted to nothing short of masturbation on apparently how great this movie was. In 1998, I and other film geeks were devout readers of Aint It Cool News and we tended to take Knowles seriously when he recommended a movie. After reading his review of Six-String Samurai I couldn’t wait for it to hit the local theaters in San Jose. It finally premiered in the fall of 1998 at the Towne Theater, an awesome indie art house movie theater that has since closed. I rushed off to see the film and I had high expectations that it was going to kick a lot of ass. I have to admit that after my first viewing of the movie, I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t think it was anywhere near as wonderful as Knowles claimed it to be. At best it was a cool stylish homage that contained some pretty images. However, upon seeing it recently, 12 years after its theatrical release, I finally see it for what it is….crap!

Six-String Samurai is set in a post-apocalyptic America where the Russians won the Cold War by dropping a nuke on the U.S. in 1957 and decimating the country. A city called ‘Lost Vegas’ becomes the country’s new capital and Elvis is its new king. After a 40 year reign, the King dies and the throne waits for a new king to arrive and take his place as the ruler of Lost Vegas. Enter our character, Buddy (Jeffrey Falcon), a Buddy Holly lookalike who carries a guitar and a samurai sword. Along with other contenders, he is on his way to Lost Vegas to become the new King. Along the way he saves a little boy from bandits who have just killed his mother. Alone, the boy follows Buddy and the two become an unlikely pair traveling to Lost Vegas. On their heels, however, is Death, who one-by-one kills off the competition to the throne so he can become the new King.

Don’t expect much out of Six-String Samurai. Although the concept sounds pretty cool and holds some promise for a fun and entertaining action-comedy movie, the end result is an amateurish effort that is barely one step above a student film. Jeffrey Falcon as the main character Buddy is thankfully the most interesting thing about this movie. He actually does look a lot like Buddy Holly and combined with his mellow cool attitude, his 1957 six-string guitar, and samurai sword, its fun to watch this geeky guy go karate apeshit on the bad guys. Falcon is not a particularly good actor and the filmmakers may have realized this as he doesn’t have many lines (actually none of the characters have much to say). The little boy who accompanies Buddy is ok. His acting skills range from bad to average. Other than giving out a yell anytime Buddy tries to abandon him, the boy doesn’t say anything until the second half of the movie when we discover he actually can and does talk. The duo of Buddy and the kid is an obvious homage to Lone Wolf and Cub, which I appreciated. Surprisingly, despite the low-budget the filmmakers had to work with and their apparent lack of experience in making a movie, the Buddy/kid duo grew on me by the end of the film. They were able to pull off good chemistry, but unfortunately the rest of the film couldn’t build upon this.

Six-String Samurai is mainly an homage to The Wizard of Oz. Like Dorothy, Buddy follows a path through the post-apocalyptic wasteland and desert to reach Lost Vegas, which in the final frame of the movie is made to almost resemble Oz. Along the way, Buddy encounters an eclectic array of situations and characters. Some, like the 1950’s cannibalistic Ozzie and Harriet family (see clip below), is interesting, but most is lame. I can’t completely blame this upon the filmmakers lack of creativity. I believe the film’s premise and story was too ambitious given its low budget of $2,000,000. I admire the filmmakers great location choices (mostly shot in Death Valley), which may have been meant to compensate for not having expensive set pieces, costumes, etc. Nevertheless, the restrictions presented by the film’s low budget shows and I think it hurt the movie in the end.

Two things that do work in Six-String Samurai are its cinematography and its soundtrack and score. The movie won an award for best cinematography at the 1998 Slamdance Awards and deservedly so. The film is a little deceiving at first because the opening scene is beautifully shot in a field of tall wheat grass where a fight breaks out between Buddy and a gang of bandits. The scene is intentionally given a distorted visual effect and overall it works to the point where I felt my ultimately dashed high expectations would be met. There are other scenes in the film that are nicely shot and it certainly helped that the filmmakers picked visually striking locations to shoot in.

As I mention above, Six-String Samurai also contains a nice soundtrack and film score. The Red Elvises, a Russian-American band that performs rock & roll, surf, rockabilly, reggae, and lounge music, provided most of the film’s soundtrack. Rockabilly was a popular genre of music in the late 90s and Six-String Samurai appeared to have jumped on the bandwagon by providing a soundtrack of rockabilly music. Although the genre quickly ran its course, its still a cool type of music to listen to and its an appropriate style for this movie (NOTE: The Red Elvises appear early in this movie so watch for them). More interestingly, however, is the fact that Brian Tyler composed the score for this movie. If you don’t know who Brian Tyler is, you have most likely heard his music (Rambo, Aliens vs. Predator, Eagle Eye, Fast & Furious, The Final Destination, Law Abiding Citizen, and the upcoming The Expendables). In 1998, Tyler was still an unknown and trying to make his break in the movie business. His score for this film is quite good, especially at the end of the film where Buddy finally confronts Death. Its a beautiful piece of music and an indicator of the great things to come from Tyler in the future.

Six-String Samurai is not a good movie. At one time I thought it was at least a cool film, but its coolness has worn off by now and I’m left with a piece of shit. Watching it now does make the movie look and feel like a film student project. I respect the ambitious scope the filmmakers took on in making this movie with the budget they had, but ambition doesn’t translate to a good movie.

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