In 1979, Jahangir Salehi Yeganehrad would flee from his home country of Iran — which was, at that time, amidst a revolution — to find a new life in America. Beyond a few passing quotes, there is little information about Yeganehrad to be found online or otherwise. He is, in part, an anomaly — a myth perpetuated by the single artifact he left us with. What is known, however, is that Yeganehrad was an architect by trade who decided that America would allow him the opportunity to dive into a new form of art: cinema. Donning the perfect moniker for what would be his only creation, Yeganehrad renamed himself John S. Rad and spent the next 20-plus years seeing his only film to completion, a little titled called Dangerous Men.
Dangerous Men is everything we expect to see in an American action movie. There are explosions, there is fighting, naked women, ludicrous crime bosses, murderous bikers, the list goes on and on. The thing is, all of these elements, while familiar are also incredibly alien. The explosions are superimposed and the fight scenes donned by poorly dubbed sound effects (repetitiously used), it’s like someone had the right recipe but all the wrong ingredients. It’s the quintessential “bad” movie, but what does bad actually mean? It’s too easy to look down your nose at bad form, too easy to write off flawed attempts, and it is far too easy to engage with a film only in an ironic manner.
“I think laughing at a movie always sucks,” Fantastic Fest Programmer and co-author of Destroy All Movies Zack Carlson expresses when asked about this phenomenon. Having been an instrumental member involved in bringing Miami Connection to Drafthouse Films, Carlson is sort of an expert in the field of legitimizing “bad” cinema. He continued, “What I think is fascinating about Dangerous Men, and what makes it work, is that there is nothing else like it. It’s totally unique. If someone is going to laugh at a movie like this they should also be laughing at modern art. I mean, I laugh at modern art more than I laugh at things like Dangerous Men. There are aspects that are funny, for sure. But there are also things that are unforgettable, because there’s never been anything else like it in any other movie. There are awful movies all the time — there are even awful movies starring A-list, Hollywood actors all the time — but they aren’t special awful movies. Those are the things that people are still sorting through.”
With the ever-growing presence of film in our daily lives, all available within just a few the clicks of a mouse or a remote, the so-bad-it’s-good mantra has only grown stronger. What was, at one point in time, somewhat of a saving grace for movies otherwise thought of as trash has shifted. The distinctions between levels of bad are no longer clear. Drafthouse Films COO James Shapiro sheds light on this, “There are intentionally funny aspects in Dangerous Men, but a reason that it is superior to something like The Room, is that it has a real unique, singular quality. The Room is just bad, and we are laughing at it because it is almost intentionally bad. John Rad had this dream to make this movie. He didn’t quite have the talent that we expect to see in movies on a regular basis, but the enthusiasm more than makes up for that lack of talent. That is what really comes across and makes Dangerous Men special.” Carlson builds off Shapiro’s reponse, stating, “The phrase ‘bad movie’ requires revisiting, because we need to understand that there are different types. There are great movies that people disregard as bad, and there are movies that are genuinely bad. If that means that movies like Miami Connection and Dangerous Men are like the fast food of cinema, where sometimes you crave it and it makes you feel great when you are eating it — and maybe it will make you die faster or maybe it will kill your brain cells — but it satisfies an important yearning within you, then it has value.”
After watching (or rewatching, as most will inevitably be pressed to do), it is clear that there is something infectious about the movie. There is no pretension to Rad’s vision. It’s a pure, unbridled, and earnest film. It’s also a hell of a good time. It just kind of exists and you live inside of its enigmatic world. The plot is loose and constantly changing but (and perhaps because of that) it is never boring, never dull. Zack and James both continually speak of the movie’s singularity and that cannot be denied. Rad put every bit of himself into it, and as the film’s writer, director, producer, composer, and editor, it exemplifies the notion of an Auteur — just not in the ‘masters of cinema’ terms that we generally think of. While the film rests nicely besides other anomalies like Samurai Cop, Miami Connection, or many of Arizal’s great Indonesian, low budget action blow-outs (if you haven’t seen American Hunters or Final Score please remedy that quickly), there is nothing quite like Dangerous Men…and, if there is, I need to see it.
“With movies like this, it is somebody being driven beyond their means to accomplish something impossible and then doing it, and, even if they don’t do it at a professional level, it’s still been done,” Carlson describes of movies like Dangerous Men, continuing, “It took John Rad 22 years to do that; nobody would stick to a production that long. The most coddled, funded filmmaker in Hollywood wouldn’t spend 22 years on a project. John Rad was paying his crew in McDonalds and he got it done. That’s incredible. And, he didn’t do it the way he envisioned _— or maybe he did, we don’t know — but he still got his story told and it’s completely entertaining.”
The reasons — be it delusions of grandeur, pure passion, or otherwise — that Rad felt such a strong urge to finish Dangerous Men is not quite known. While his story lives on in his daughter’s mind, as of today’s date, I am unaware of any interviews she may have given on the subject. What we do know is that Rad sacrificed a lot in the process. “[John] got the family out of a country that was going to turn into a religious fundamentalist government. It was going to make it difficult for [their] family to have any sort of freedom. [He] gave up everything for his family, and his one dream in this country was to make this movie,” Shapiro relays what he knows of Rad’s story from speaking with his daughter.
The saddest aspect of it all, is that Rad didn’t live long enough to see the movie transform into the outsider, cult hit it is quickly becoming today. Rad died in 2007, two years after the film’s first theatrical release. The release, however, was a disaster. The film was shown at various Laemmle locations in the area and grossed a measly 70 dollars. But, unbeknownst to Rad, it was not a complete waste. During its run, the current Cinefamily co-founder Hadrian Belove was able to catch the film numerous times and even strike up a relationship with Rad. He made attempts to get the film a wider distribution but was never able to meet Rad’s high expectations. It was through Belove’s enthusiasm and promotion of the film, though, that Zack, James, and the rest of the Drafthouse team were eventually turned on to the film; and the rest, as they say, was history.
After three years of numerous attempts to obtain the rights, Shapiro hit a breakthrough early this year. He describes, “When I got involved, after Rad passed away, I was talking directly with his daughter. There were a lot of sporadic conversation over the years, I am not exactly sure what happened, but for whatever reason around March she really started engaging me. When we were finally signing the contract, she told me that the reason that she was ready to do this was because of how persistent about it we were. She said that the passion we had for distributing this film was equal to the passion that her dad had for making the movie. That means more to me, to be honest, than anything anyone has ever said about the movie.”
Now that the film has seen its release, it’s out Drafthouse’s control. Critics and journalists have been quick to highlight the film’s utter batshit qualities. It’s been donned the new, must-see so-bad-it’s-good movie. In many ways, it feels like the only way to really sell the film but, as discussed, this is also somewhat double-edged. One thinks back to a scene from the movie Best Worst Movie, where a noticeable distraught Claudio Fragasso laments on how he doesn’t understand why audiences are laughing at aspects of the movie that were not intended to be laughed at. Is there a danger in pushing this best worst movie logic too far? This is one of the major problems that Shapiro faced when proposing the film, and one of the reasons that he railed for Carlson’s involvement. “Drafthouse Films releases 12 films a year and most of the movies we release are incredibly niche films, It’s our job to take something really niche and try to get as wide of an audience possible. Because of this, we are often using hyperbole and embellishment to try and get people excited about the movie. You need to cut through a ton of noise to get people excited. The reason I really wanted Zack involved in the release was because I knew with [him] around we’d be able to do the film justice and the audience would be really able to appreciate the film; that we weren’t only going to be just getting the Mystery Science Theater-type group to go see this film, because that’s not what we wanted. It really became a balance. We didn’t want to call this movie one of the best worst movies ever made. We wanted to treat it with adulation and respect that it deserves: as being singular, as being a film from another dimension.”
Although Rad is no longer with us, his insane creation lives on to tell his tale. As Carlson perfectly describes, “the movie has it’s own laws. The rules of Dangerous Men, are no rules. It goes back this crazy mantra that John S. Rad lived by — which is something that his dad told him — ‘impossible is impossible.’ To him that meant you can just do whatever you want, to tell your story or live your life, you should just do whatever you feel you should do, no matter how little sense it makes to other people.” Carlson is right. When you watch Dangerous Men, you don’t try to reason with it and you certainly don’t intellectualize it; you just experience it and feel it — and when you finish it, you you’ll never forget what you see. So whether you think this is a beautifully terrible film, a masterpiece of trash, or a legitimate good time, you’ll be hard pressed to come out of a screening not feeling some sort of strong reaction. As a final thought, Carlson makes an apt comparison, “People have used the analogy that movies like this is the equivalent of what punk is in music. Where these guys necessarily don’t have technical training but they are able to convey their desires, rage, and their thoughts and feelings through this primal, savage expression. For me, that is a pretty apt correlation. These are people that are expressing themselves without the means to do so, which takes a lot more courage than to do it with a studio budget and that is what I respect about these kinds of movies. People who love this kind of stuff, we are not blind to the faults of these movies, but we are cognizant of the courage, determination, and ambition of the movies, which makes it even more fun. To me, that is just ten times better than snorting at a movie and calling it a piece of crap. It makes you feel like you are allied with the movie; it’s entertaining you, it’s making you cheer, it’s making you roll around on your couch. As much as people are laughing at Dangerous Men, they are also getting into it and feeling it and afterwards they are talking about it for days or weeks. It’s a very rare movie that can do that. There are very few Miami Connections, Dangerous Mens, and Troll 2s, and that is why these movies have been celebrated for decades because they have a power.”
They haven’t yet invented the words that can describe exactly what Dangerous Men is, all we know is that it is an unforgettable and genuinely fun piece of film that no fan of exploitation or action cinema should miss.
Dangerous Men is now playing theatrically via Drafthous Films and is set for a Early 2016 Blu-ray and VOD release.