True Grit: Fred Olen Ray’s Fugitive Rage (1996)

Matty tangles with the B-movie wiz’s cracking action thriller.

Although he helped launch the subgenre thanks to the monumental video success of Inner Sanctum (1991) and would make more than his fair share of ‘em, Fred Olen Ray has always been pretty candid about his disdain for the erotic thriller, becoming so weary with the form that, a few early exceptions a la Mind Twister (1993) and Possessed by the Night (1994) aside, he’d typically take a pseudonym. Arriving at the fag end of a run of mostly indistinguishable crotch operas helmed under his ‘Peter Daniels’ and ‘Nicholas Medina’ nom de plumes, the fact Ray slaps his real name on FUGITIVE RAGE should clue you in. This isn’t the routine-looking T&A time-killer that certain international posters and sales sheets painted it as, whereupon the heaving bosoms of its buxom stars, Alexander Keith and Shauna O’Brien, were placed front and centre. Rather, Fugitive Rage is a lean n’ mean mash-up of crime saga, women-in-prison flick, and revenge caper — and within the context of Ray’s staggering CV, very clearly the work of man invigorated by material that offers more than just simulated bonking.    

Fugitive Rage packs a punch and it starts with a mighty wallop. A masterclass in tension, Ray expertly twists the suspense screws in a cold open that sets the film’s gritty tone, as Keith’s jaded ex SWAT officer attempts to avenge her sister’s murder by popping the crime lord who killed her in the middle of a courtroom the second the smarmy bastard is let off scot free. Of course, despite being pumped full of more holes than a lump of Swiss Cheese, the dapper mafiosa (played with relish by the ever-excellent Jay Richardson) survives and wants a lil’ retribution of his own… 

Briskly paced and shot with a strong eye for mood and texture (kudos to DoP James Lawrence Spencer), what follows is an aria of merciless action: first behind bars as Keith comes to blows with a nasty jailer (a delicious turn from Jim Wynorski regular Toni Naples) and a bevy of incarcerated beauties on Richardson’s payroll; then via a boatload of brawling and shooting once Keith cuts an early release deal with Tim Abell’s charismatic spook, which culminates in a tightly assembled siege on Richardson’s plush compound. While Fugitive Rage drops a mark for Ray’s inability to completely disguise Keith’s lack of firearms and martial arts skills [1], the actress makes up for it in terms of attitude and performance. Because as exciting and set piece-y as Fugitive Rage often is, Ray’s trump card is his laser-like focus on character. Richardson, Naples, and Richardson’s fellow Ray staple, the inimitable Ross Hagen, provide plenty of swagger and B-movie colour, but it’s Ray’s rich psychological probing of Keith, Abell, and the stunning O’Brien (as Keith’s cellmate), that propels the drama. They’re a trio of broken souls haunted by some sort of loss, be it family, friends, or freedom, and Ray — who, maddeningly, is seldom given credit for how good he is at juggling ensemble casts — captures the multiple facets of their characters beautifully. 

Also known as ‘Caged Fear’.

USA/Can ● 1996 ● Action, Thriller ● 89mins

Alexander Keith (as ‘Wendy Schumacher’), Jay Richardson, Tim Abell, Shauna O’Brien ● Dir. Fred Olen Ray Wri. Dani Michaeli and Sean O’Bannon

[1] Amazing, really, as according to a 1997 interview with Femme Fatales magazine, Keith is actually a trained martial artist: “My husband and I own a chain of martial arts schools… I’m a disciple of kung-fu, which is the equivalent of a black belt. I lived on a karate school floor for two years, seven days a week.” (Wendy Schumacher: Animal Instincts by Amelia Kinkaide, Femme Fatales, Vol. 5, No. 8, February 1997)

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