Perdita Durango (1997) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

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One time I was walking through a somewhat disreputable part of Amsterdam with my girlfriend and her ten year old daughter.  No, I wasn't corrupting children. It was in the middle of the day, and the area was filled with families. Avoiding the sex trade in Amsterdam is not as easy as you might think. The X-rated stuff is integrated into the warp and woof of the city.

At any rate, the clubs have sex shows around the clock, and they post barkers outside to hawk the shows to passers-by. One particularly aggressive guy said to me, "C'mon in, buddy. Hot action. We have real fucking, not fake fucking like those other clubs." I indicated wordlessly that Linda's child was with us, and the guy said, without skipping a beat, "Hey, pal, people of all ages like REAL fucking. It's fun for the whole family."

Well, if you find the family that he had in mind, this is their family movie!

Even if you're a major movie buff, you've probably never heard of Barry Gifford, although he has indirectly contributed quite a bit to the movies of the 90s. David Lynch has made two of his books into the films Lost Highway and Wild at Heart. Gifford wrote some noir novels about the sleazy underbelly of border life, with names like: "Wild at Heart", "Baby Cat-Face", and "59 Degrees and Raining". The books all include the same basic cast of characters, mostly featuring a couple called The Sailor and Lula, so any movie about those characters (including Perdita Durango herself) is most likely based on all the books in one way or another. David Lynch stuck closest to "Wild at Heart" in his eponymous 1990 film, while the Perdita Durango movie is closest to "59 Degrees and Raining", the story which elevates Perdita from a background character to the focus of her own story. This film may share some characters and a pedigree with Lynch's Wild at Heart, but it is not stylish surrealism like a Lynch movie, nor is it smart tongue-in-cheek satire like Pulp Fiction, nor a creatively sociopathic romp into social criticism like A Clockwork Orange. Instead, it is a farcical, over-the-top gore-fest in the modern equivalent of Grand Guignol. The most similar movie I can name is Natural Born Killers.

Rosie Perez plays Perdita Durango in this film (Isabella Rossellini played the part in Wild at Heart), as a cynical hooker who finally meets her love match in the form of a voodoo priest, bank robber and grave robber all rolled into one, a guy who does a hokey Santeria act where he hacks up dead bodies and finishes by ripping out the body's heart. Most women are scared of him, as well they might be, but not ol' Perdita. She knows he's a con man, and suggests that his act is way too tame, and that he could make it more authentic and peppy with live human sacrifice.

To this end, they kidnap an incredibly "white bread" couple of Gringo teenagers. The chick is played by Aimee Graham (Rollergirl's sister). The long-term plan is to rip out their hearts while they are still alive (ala the Aztecs), then eat their flesh as part of the act. Perdita gets a trifle hacked off, however, when voodoo-boy decides to rehearse by eating Rollergirl's sister while she's still alive and naked, if you catch my drift.

After a substantial amount of rape and other physical and mental abuse, Rollergirl's sister and her boyfriend are finally deemed ready for the human sacrifice and cannibalism, so they are stripped naked and covered with feathers in preparation for the first show. Since only one of them needs to die, Perdita and voodoo-boy have a vote to see which one, and they allow the victims to participate in the referendum. The Wonder Bread twins get really ticked off at each other and start bickering because each voted for the other to be killed. Finally, Rollergirl's sister gets chosen in the tiebreaker, the show begins, and the girl is about to get her heart cut out, when some other bad guys show up at the Santeria ceremony with machine guns and start blasting away.

Perdita and Voodoo-boy and our teens manage to escape, only to get into another bloody shoot-out with some DEA guys headed up by Tony Soprano. No problem. After they escape again, they get to drive a hijacked truck of human fetuses to Vegas, where the fetuses are to be essential in testing some new cosmetics. More bad guys double cross each other, more blood spills, and  ...

Well, I'm sure you know that the various bad guys and Feds all have to figure it out somehow, using the Socratic method, assiduous logic, and especially automatic weapons. 

This film is basically an attempt to out-Tarantino the master, but it gets strangely trapped somewhere between very broad satire (ala Stone's Natural Born Killers) and a straight-out attempt to milk humor from exaggerated gore (ala the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis). The script gets funny, then it gets sentimental, and some scenes are even icily serious, as if no farce had preceded them. The movie ends, for example, with Rosie in tears, walking down a Vegas street with the sad music signaling the movie's end.

Overall, the whole show is basically an anarchistic adolescent jerk-off fantasy movie designed for the young male market. The film is sometimes racist, and generally glorifies rape and violence. I guess this was meant as satire.

Fun for the whole family.

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AVOID the Region 1 DVD linked above to the left.

As noted to the right, there was quite a bit of flesh in the uncut version, but this so-called "unrated" Region 1 version called Dance With The Devil has been censored for tiny bits of bare flesh, even though the film is disgustingly and gratuitously violent, and is unrated! The cuts have nothing to do with the different aspect ratio. In the censored scenes, the action as been snipped prior to the the part with exposed flesh. So why is it cut if it's unrated?

If you want to obtain an uncut DVD, there is a fully licensed copy available in Australia with the following features

  • Region 4 encoding
  • full screen 4:3 aspect ratio (full 35 mm frame, not a pan 'n scan)
  • no significant extra features

The DVD info can be found here. The distributor's home page can be found here. If you are thinking of buying DVDs from outside your region, read this first.

Nudity Report

Rosie Perez somehow manages to appear in this sleazebag shock and gore fest without ever baring her breasts in the "unrated" Region 1 version. She shows cleavage, wears a white t-shirt, and shows the side of her butt in a wild sex scene with Javier Bardem. In the Region 4 version, however, her nipples were seen in the desert scene, and her buns (as well as a quick flash of nipple) were seen in the opening sequence with the jungle cat.

Aimee Graham shows her breasts in two scenes, one having sex with her boyfriend, and the other being raped by Bardem.

Jessie Faller is a bank clerk with no lines, but she gets to show some big firm breasts.

There is also an incredibly ugly fat woman who shows her breasts and buns

The Critics Vote ...

  • BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary: 6.0 out of 10. It is definitely a "male youth" picture.

  • I can't find any info about a theatrical release.

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. Lame Tarantino clone for adolescent masturbatory fantasies. Juvenile, but very energetic and sometimes pretty funny.