Saturday Night Special (1994): Honky-Tonk Blues

Matty gets hot n’ heavy with Dan Golden’s cast-driven sophomore feature.

Ostensibly The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) with a redneck twist, SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL is, in fact, a superior overhaul of producer Roger Corman’s earlier dive bar drama, Kiss Me a Killer (1991); a sturdy neo-noir that the B-movie maestro plundered again for the Showgirl Murders (1996) which, like this sweaty and effective lil’ number, also stars the mighty Maria Ford. Transposing Kiss Me a Killer’s action from a scuzzy Los Angeles club to a backwater honky-tonk, Saturday Night Special finds Ford inheriting the Julian Carmen part as Darlene: a young, put-upon barmaid whose aspirations have been quashed by her older abusive husband, bar owner TJ (the incomparable Rick Dean). However, when the handsome, guitar-slingin’ Travis (musician Billy Burnette) drifts into town and catches Darlene’s eye, the resourceful pint puller spies a grisly way out… 

The second of three mostly excellent teamings between Corman, Ford, Dean and photographer turned director Dan Golden [1], Saturday Night Special might lack the lurid punch of their masterpiece, the awesome Naked Obsession (1990), and be substantially more ‘ordinary’ than the idiosyncratic Stripteaser (1995), but it nevertheless cements my own long-held belief that, combined, the four of them were a creative force to be reckoned with. Golden’s sophomore feature, Saturday Night Special is an engaging and crisply delivered yarn bolstered by Michael Negrin’s magic hour photography and James R. Shumaker’s Americana production design. Now plying his trade in TV as a set dresser, Shumaker’s other Corman credits include a couple of Bloodfist (1989) sequels and, of course, the aforementioned Kiss Me a Killer.

Given the talent operating under Golden’s deft helmsmanship, the bulk of the performances on show are excellent. Delivering some career-best work, Ford’s fiery metamorphosis from browbeaten coper to sexpot conspirator is rapturous, and Dean is hypnotic as a perversely likable brute trapped in a pattern of self-destructive behaviour and endless broken promises. Masked by a pseudonym, Frank Novak is wickedly smarmy as a devious, rat-smelling sheriff, and Golden’s Stripteaser scripter, Duane Whitaker, makes for a gloriously thuggish patsy.

Less successful, alas, is Saturday Night Special’s top-billed star, Burnette. The former Fleetwood Mac strummer had recently returned to country music prior to his casting and several of his toe-tappin’ solo cuts are played ‘live’ in the bar throughout the film’s duration. Three songs from Burnette’s 1993 ‘comeback’ album, Coming Home, were even included as music videos at the end of New Horizon’s original VHS release. Sadly, as far as dramatic range goes, the role of Travis is well beyond the debuting thespian’s limited skills and he’s bulldozered off screen by the rest of Golden’s great ensemble [2]. That said, Corman must’ve been a fan. He hired him again for sci-fi comedy Not Like Us (1995) and the Dean-housing dino-schlock epic, Carnosaur 3: Primal Species (1996).

USA ● 1994 ● Thriller ● 80mins

Billy Burnette, Maria Ford, Rick Dean, Frank Novak (as ‘Robert Van Luick’), Duane Whitaker ● Dir. Dan Golden Wri. Jonathan Banks and Dan Golden

U.S. video art courtesy of VHS Collector

[1] They would, though, all continue to collaborate with each other in various permutations across the next decade.
[2] As is Golden’s wont, said ensemble is peppered with cameos, Deborah Dutch, Don Dowe, and fellow directors Fred Olen Ray and Jeff Burr among them.

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