Never Too Young to Die (Gil Bettman, 1986)

“… explosions, one-against-a-hundred bazooka battles, and chases …” – LOS ANGELES TIMES

Drafthouse Films LogoAction: Bond style.  Beauty: Vanity style.  Hero: American style.  Never Too Young to Die stars teenage idol John Stamos and the sensually exotic Vanity as two of the most dynamic secret agents seen in years.  Gene Simmons plays the super-villain who plans to take over the country, and finds his plot blocked by Stamos and Vanity.  The two suddenly find themselves the targets of the vicious Simmons, and must take on the maniacal hermaphrodite.  The resulting battle of the “sexes” blows the lid of the evil plan, and Stamos joins the ranks of the American Hero.  Powerful heavy-metal music, state-of-the-art weaponry, and the explosive chemistry between two of the sexiest stars on the screen blend to make this exciting action flick an automatic winner!

Special Features:

Stargrove Edition – Package Includes:

  • Never Too Young to Die on Blu-ray or Standard DVD featuring over 2 hours of bonus material
  • High quality 720p HD Digital Download of the Film Available on Street Date
  • Instant Download of the 7-track Never Too Young to Die Soundtrack including Tommie Lee Bradley’s theme “Stargrove”
  • 27″ x 40″ Reversible Poster
  • Limited Edition “DUNBAR” Tank Top

Never to Young to Die is like some mythical creature or urban legend.  Its synopsis sounds too good to be true; its cast too fantastic to exist.  The fact that the film is not better known and doesn’t have a broader cult following seems to prove that it can’t be real.  Surely such a film would be notorious, right?  How could fans of so-bad-it’s-good cinema not anoint Never Too Young to Die to cheesy royalty?  Yet, it is true and, like the film itself, there seems to be no explanation for it.  Never Too Young to Die has been lost to official release since its initial VHS cassette and Laser Disc versions and the cinema-viewing world has seemed comfortable in their ignorance.  Leave it to Drafthouse Films to change all that and launch Never Too Young to Die to the dizzying heights of 1980s hair-sprayed awesomeness.

John Stamos, fresh off an Emmy-nominated run on the soap opera General Hospital and ready to become America’s next great action star, plays Lance Stargrove, a high school gymnast with daddy issues compliments of his often absent, oil company-employed father Drew Stargrove (George Lazenby).  In fact, Drew is a secret agent embroiled in protecting California’s water supply from poisoning by a terrorist group led by hermaphroditic arch villain Velvet Von Ragnar, played of course by Kiss bassist Gene Simmons.  Ragnar is flanked a tech expert played by Robert Englund and leads a group of post-apocalyptic, Road Warrior-esque marauders, despite the complete lack of an apocalypse to be post- from.  When Drew is murdered by Ragnar, Lance discovers his dad’s secret past and comes into the possession of a computer disc with security codes that protect the aforementioned water supply.  Lance teams up with his father’s foxy partner, Danja Deering (played by ex-Prince girl Vanity), and, with the help of his gadget-making roommate Cliff (Peter Kwong), sets out to foil Ragnar’s evil plans.  As it turns out, the transition from trampoline-hopping gymnast to expert marksman and martial artist is quick and seamless, and Velvet finally meets his/her mulleted match.

Never Too Young to Die is precisely the kind of film that frequently fails to live up to its own promise.  That cast, those roles, that plot – it all seems too good to be true.  Yet, Never Too Young to Die doesn’t disappoint.  The movie consistently chooses excess and gloriously oversteps at each turn, reaching for action movie grandiosity and spilling over into outlandishness and absurdity.  This naturally begs a host of tantalizingly pointless questions.  How is poisoning the water supply a step towards world domination?  Why is the disc with the water system codes not simply destroyed?  Is Cliff the adult embodiment of Data from The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985)?  Why is Ragnar’s mohawked punk-powerhouse named, of all things, Pyramid?  Why is Danja’s seduction of Lance conducted like a blunt weapon?  Why does Lance try to resist Danja through compulsive eating?  How do two objects thrown from the same position travel in opposite directions when they collide?

Of course, the most intriguing conundrum is Velvet Von Ragnar.  Credit Simmons for not holding back in his performance of the hermaphroditic madperson.  With his name-recognition and established persona, the Kiss bassist could easily have dialed it back out of concern over his image.  Always the show-biz ham, Simmons thankfully doesn’t and, in doing so, becomes the straw the stirs the drink.  Granted, Simmons’ preparation for the role seems to have been limited to a general understanding of action movie villainy and repeat viewings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman, 1975), but the result is as gloriously ridiculous as imaginable.  Whether it’s a Vegas-inspired rock performance while wearing the same outfit Lynda Carter wore while performing with Kiss on the TV show Encore! or threatening with a single, plastic fingernail as if it were a poison-soaked katana, Velvet is a constant source of outlandish entertainment.  And if witticisms like “turdballs” and “scumbuckets” can’t convince that Ragnar is a legitimately threatening master villain, certainly the predatory erotic energy he/she directs at Lance should inspire some appreciation, particularly when it figures so prominently in his/her final battle with young Stargrove.  Their final showdown, full of vacillating gender stereotypes, unexpected wardrobe malfunctions, and the most ridiculous psych-out committed to film, is a truly unforgettable cinematic experience.

Never Too Young to Die 1It’s still bewildering that Never Too Young to Die isn’t more widely appreciated, even amongst cult and trash cinephiles.  Drafthouse has shown their love for the film, featuring it as a Terror Tuesday title at their theatres and hailing it with the following description:

This crippled epic is a flooring example of defiantly defective action filmmaking.  Not only does it require nothing from its audience, actors or crew, but it compels you to punch a hole in your forehead, remove your brain and set it on fire in a celebration of unbridled 12-year-old adrenaline, as every creative standard is compromised in the name of undiluted entertainment.

With an endorsement like that, how can the label resist releasing Never Too Young to Die?  And with a bounty of cheesy ’80s action flick posters to fill an insert booklet and ensure reversible cover art, Drafthouse Films’ next spine number is all but handed to them.

Never Too Young to Die 2Credits:  Never Too Young to Die has the benefit of being largely cast by performers with a genuine sense of humour about their careers.  In fact, John Stamos has even tweeted references to NTYTD!  One would hope that Stamos, along with Simmons, Englund, and Lazenby, would be happy to reminisce about their abortive experiment in action cinema, and we trust that each of these charming actors would provide some entertaining insight and quality riffs on the project.  Gil Bettman still directs, while also teaching and writing on the art of directing.  Bettman in no way shies away from his involvement on Never Too Young to Die and so we can only hope that he’d be willing to provide a director’s commentary in the same spirit and good humour that Drafthouse Films and its clientele approach such films.  The back cover summary is taken directly from the VHS release of the film.  You have to love that testimonial quote that contains no laudatory statements whatsoever.  And if you doubt the sincerity originally intended with NTYTD, check out that ET piece on the movie.  Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to Eyesore Cinema in Toronto.  Eyesore is a regular stop when we’re in Toronto and is a wonderful source for the wild and the weird.  The video store has been responsible for providing access to various past (and future) Make Mine Criterion! selections, but Eyesore introduced us to Never Too Young to Die specifically and for that we are eternally grateful.

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