Straight to Hell (1987) — Punkers go western

“They look like coffee addicts to me, boys.”

Flinthart’s review: Back in the eighties, a couple of movies came out which made it seem like young director Alex Cox was on his way to Auteur City. A bizarre but visionary SF comedy (1984’s Repo Man) was followed by a well-received riff on the story of Punk Rock’s best known couple (1986’s Sid And Nancy). It was only a matter of time before Cox pulled out all the stops and wowed the world with…


Okay, so Straight To Hell is probably meant as a parody of the spaghetti westerns. And that, right there, should strike you as problematic since the spaghetti westerns frequently veered into self-parody. It’s hard to make a joke on a genre which is already aware of its own silliness. Or did Bud Spencer and Terence Hill make all those stupid Trinity films in vain?

So yeah, there’s no real way you can regard Straight To Hell as a cinematic success. If you check the reviews, you’ll find a lot of people seem to think of it as a bunch of buddies who dressed up in cowboy gear and milled around in front of a camera for a while… and that’s really not too far from the truth.

But WHAT a bunch of buddies! This film includes most (or all, kind of hard to tell) of The Pogues. It features Joe Strummer. Elvis Costello. Edward Tudor-Pole. Zander Schloss. Courtney Love. (Yes. THAT Courtney Love. What, you know another?) Grace Jones. Dennis Hopper. Jim Jarmusch – and of course, Cox’s regulars Sy Richardson and Dick Rude, who also co-wrote.

Just a note about that last. Gotta say, I think ‘writing’ might be the wrong word. The impression I get is that Cox basically just poured booze and coffee into everyone on the set, and then simply let them off the chain.

Plot? Oh, yeah. Probably. Richardson and Strummer and Rude are hit men. They screw up a job in LA, rob a bank for escape money, and flee from their boss (Jim Jarmusch) into Mexico along with moderately-pregnant Courtney Cox (whose vocal talents are showcased with an array of screeches that must have terrified dogs and killed bats for miles in all directions).

Their escape is further complicated by the fact that they mistakenly top up the fuel tank of their tragic little hatchback car with diesel, leaving them without transport in a town strongly resembling everything Clint Eastwood ever burned to the ground as The Man With No Name. This town is occupied by a gang of… uhhh… punk rockers wearing cowboy gear. Worse, the punkers are (wait for it) … coffee addicts. (We get our first clue to this when a group comes storming into the town on their pickup trucks loaded with looted espresso bars…)

After that?

Oh, come on. Look, the plot here is pretty much non-existent. Everything that happens is basically an excuse – part of the build-up to the inevitable Massive Gunfight Sequence that ends the film in the best spaghetti western tradition. But there are happenings aplenty, even though none of them really make sense, and an array of wonderfully loony characters.

So never mind the plot. If you’re prepared to sit back and just enjoy the spectacle, this movie is ridiculously fun. There are all kinds of lunatic details to appreciate, and really, who could not love a soundtrack which blends elements of Ennio Morricone with the balls-out Irish punk of The Pogues? (The theme song of the film over the end credits, ‘Rake At The Gates Of Hell’ is one of the best things The Pogues ever did: raw, rough, wild, energetic, brilliantly melodic – awesome stuff.)

If it helps, you should probably know this movie wasn’t supposed to happen. There was a music tour of Nicaragua that fell over, leaving several bands at a loose end. Alex Cox decided he’d make a movie with them, and Dick Rude apparently grunted out some kind of script in about three days flat. The actual shooting in Almeria, Spain lasted all of four weeks. That’s the kind of commitment and dedication you just don’t see any more.

Don’t let that put you off. Enjoy the gritty, grimy, lunatic farce. Watch punk rockers in long coats and caballero outfits. Listen to Zander Schloss sing his Wiener Song. See Elvis Costello force too much coffee on too-willing drinkers. Hear the most fiendish rendition of Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ ever recorded outside of a karaoke bar for the tone-deaf.

And remember: get the long coats, boys! It’s killing time!

(I’d really like to know which cinema armourer decided it was safe to trust The Pogues with a bunch of guns.)


  • Dear lord. Shane MacGowan’s teeth!
  • “If there’s one thing makes ol’ Rusty mad, it’s folks as play tricks with fruit!”
  • “Karl’s Disco Wiener Haven” is one of the truly great musical set-pieces of the era.
  • “Let us get through this part quickly, Lord… then on to the revenge.”
  • Uh-oh. Looks like grampaw wasn’t quite as dead as we thought…
  • Gotta love that crucifix: a skeleton nailed to a cross.
  • Is that a rendition of ‘Danny Boy’ or a re-enactment of da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper? Never mind. They’re both cool.
  • Wait. Camels? There’s a camel train? What?
  • “What’s she doing?” “Sucking out the poison! Whadda you think?”
  • “I’m ready for that wiener now…”
  • “Synchronize your watches. Ten o’clock.” “Ten thirty.” “Quarter past nine.” “Close enough.”
  • “Please, guys. Lemme be on your team?”
  • The cunning Fresh Coffee Trap!
  • ‘Los pistoles! El bang-bang!’ ‘Naw. You cops will have to use rocks.’
  • You can find the director’s cut of this gem on Tubi. I didn’t even know there’d been a director’s cut.

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