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The Junkman (1982) April, 30th 2023

In 1980 John Landis set the record for most destroyed cars in a movie with The Blues Brothers. Two years later, the architect behind 1974’s Gone in 60 Seconds would write, direct, star, and destroy 150 cars in a vanity project (disguised as a sequel) bent on breaking that same world record. The man was H.B. Halicki, the movie, is The Junkman.

The Junkman is a semi-autobiographical film focused on the mysterious assassination attempt on Harlan Hollis, a car stuntman turned millionaire movie producer/classic car & toy collector. Days before his new film premieres Hollis is waylaid in route to the tastefully named ‘James Dean classic car festival’ by would-be assassins. These guns for hire chase him off the road, shoot his car, and drop explosives from a dive-bombing airplane. That exhilarating sequence begins 15 minutes into the picture and ends around the 50-minute mark. The majority of The Junkman is one extended explosive chase scene full of insane stunts, hilarious gags, and innovative cinematography.

Despite surviving the initial assassination attempt the public presumes Hollis is dead. The very much alive Hollis devises a plan to discover who’s behind these heinous acts with the help of his closest confidants and a couple of TV journalists he met no more than a day before. It’s not long before he’s discovered and begins another prolonged (but awesome) chase scene in which even more cars are destroyed. This scene culminates in The Junkman‘s climax and incorporates an unlikely sponsor/getaway vehicle in the form of the Goodyear Blimp. Hollis jumps into the blimp and directs the pilot, whom he met no more than a day before, to drop him off at his movie premiere. What else is a blimp pilot going to do in the offseason? Once at the premiere, Hollis discovers his brother-in-law orchestrated the botched assassination in an attempt to inherit the rights and profits of Hollis’ films. Their final confrontation atop the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles reveals the brother-in-law’s endgame, to detonate a car bomb at the theater killing anyone who might share in his inheritance like the film producers or perhaps Hollis’ daughter. The Junkman wouldn’t be a vanity project if Hollis isn’t portrayed as a larger than life hero, which is exactly why he knocks his brother-in-law off the Cinerama Dome to his death. Problem solved, hero established, now let’s enjoy the premiere! But… the bomb still needs to explode and they’re running out of time! So they throw it into the parking lot and blow up a few more cars to pad the world record.

Besides being an almost nonstop series of explosions, The Junkman is densely packed with Looney Tunes cartoon jokes and phenomenal cinematography. I love this movie so much, I just can’t help but list a few of my favorite bits. During the initial crash sequence, a man who narrowly survived his own car’s destruction races to the back passenger door throwing it open to reveal his prize-winning pig Farrah is safe in the back seat. That’s not all folks because the film revisits this tiny porker’s comedy Bacon-Bits throughout the 40-minute chase sequence whenever it can.

Later in the second chase sequence, an elderly woman’s just bought a new car at a dealership, right down the road from where Hollis and his pursuers are racing. She carefully enters traffic and slowly drives herself, and her expensive new car home (presumably). Unfortunately, that’s the exact moment Hollis and his assassin catch up to her and destroy her new ride, cleaving the back half of her vehicle from the front. Unfazed by her experience, the old woman lays on the horn and floors the accelerator lurching her half-a-car forward after Hollis.

There’s even a scene revealing Hollis has a secret room hidden in his garage that’s revealed only after twisting a hood ornament/activation switch atop the banister, like Adam West or the animated Spider-Man would have.

The Junkman is an incredible example of what driven creatives can accomplish with meager budgets and guerrilla filmmaking, but it’s not a movie you watch for the plot. The Junkman reminds me of Death Proof, a schlocky movie primarily focused on exciting car stunts with a dumb script. That’s exactly what makes The Junkman our best ever thrift-store movie find (sorry Prayer of the Rollerboys).

I cannot recommend The Junkman enough, its nearly a nonstop thrill ride interrupted by a few dull moments of plot and character development. Unfortunately (at the time of publication) The Junkman is not streaming on any big subscription service. You can find full movie rips on Youtube but the quality is low. I hope more people discover and enjoy The Junkman enough to get a boutique Blu-ray company like Vinegar Syndrome interested in producing a 4k restoration for the home video market. That would be a massive win.

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