Welcome to Gut the Punks, a monthly dissection of genre films that have a loose connection to punk rock music and culture. Since the beginning of this column, I’ve wanted to cover anything by cult director Alex Cox, whether it’d be the toxic love story of Sid and Nancy, the punk rock spaghetti western Straight To Hell, or his post-apocalyptic adaptation of the Jacobean play Revengers Tragedy. Instead, since it’s The Return month here at Nightmare On Film Street, my first entry on an Alex Cox flick is about Repo Chick, the strange and cheaply-made 2009 remake (reboot? reimagining?) of his 1984 debut Repo Man.
In order to draw contrasts between the two, allow me to briefly explain the premise of the original. In Repo Man, young punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) is tricked into the repo business by Bud (the late great Harry Dean Stanton). The job involves breaking into cars and driving them to the company’s parking lot. But there’s one vehicle everyone is looking to get their hands on: a Chevy Malibu with something otherworldly hiding in the trunk. The car is repossessed by a revolving door of characters, from rival repo agents, Otto’s drugged-out punk friends, a crazed ufologist, and finally, the lot’s oddball mechanic, who, along with Otto in the passenger seat, flies the car off into the night sky like in the end of Christmas Evil. Honestly, my summary doesn’t do any justice for Repo Man. It deserves its own column in the future so I can pick apart its many layers.
In Repo Chick, Pixxi De La Chasse (Jaclyn Jonet) is a spoiled Paris Hilton-type in danger of losing her rich family’s inheritance because of her delinquent behavior, her many brushes with the law and her habit of sleeping with backup dancers. To avoid being written out of the will, she agrees to get a job working for a repossession agency. Since the 2008 housing crisis, the repossession game has become a lucrative business, now that they’ve moved on from cars to foreclosed homes. Pixxi is surprisingly good at her job and has a talent for chasing deadbeats away from their lodgings. Having accomplished so much in so little time, Pixxi sets her sights on repossessing the White Whale: a missing old locomotive.
There’s a hefty reward for finding the train, and Pixxi is sure she’s seen it pass by several times in the rail yard. She tracks it down and finds out it’s being used to host an upscale party. Only the wealthiest of elites are invited on board, but Pixxi is able to sneak on by dropping her family name. But the party hosts turn out to be eco-terrorists who have loaded the caboose of the train with nuclear warheads that mysteriously disappeared after the Cold War. They threaten to destroy all of Los Angeles unless the President bans golf across America and all government officials go vegan. It’s up to Pixxi to fight the kidnappers and save the people of Los Angeles.
“[…] determined to sneakily expand the Repo Man universe, [Alex] Cox wrote the “non-sequel” Repo Chick.”
Since Universal Pictures owned the rights to Repo Man, making a direct sequel without the studio’s participation wasn’t in the cards. Alex Cox had burned his bridges with Universal in 1988 having used millions of the studio’s money to make the box office flop Walker. Universal didn’t want any part in a film that was filmed in Nicaragua with the cooperation of the Sandinista government, the socialist party President Ronald Reagan was trying to take down in the Contra War. As a result, they refused to promote it, and in Cox’s words, he was “blacklisted” in Hollywood.
In 1997, Alex Cox penned an unofficial sequel to Repo Man called Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday. In the story, Otto (renamed Waldo for legal reasons) returns to Earth after spending a decade on Mars. Back on Earth, Waldo is offered a free trip to Hawaii, but on his way to claim his tickets, he uncovers a Martian plot to imprison humans in Los Angeles. Waldo never ends up going on vacation and returns to his job as a telemarketer. The script collected dust for years, until it was picked up by a group of Texan nobodies who attempted to film it with no money and no permits. Their exploits are documented in the making-of A Texas Tale of Treason. The film never got off the ground. Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday was later adapted in 2008 into a comic book by Chris Bones and Justin Randall.
Still determined to sneakily expand the Repo Man universe, Cox wrote the “non-sequel” Repo Chick. The main similarity between the two films is they involve a protagonist getting into the repo business, leading to them searching for some sort of MacGuffin vehicle that holds some kind of mystery in its rear section. Whoever dares open the trunk of the car or enters the caboose of the train is instantly vaporized in a flash of green light. Both the car and train are being tracked down by faceless government agents, who offer up a reward for its discovery. Cox also brought back some of the Repo Man cast members to play different roles than their previous ones, including Miguel Sandoval (Jurassic Park), Del Zamora (True Blood), Tom Finnegan (Road House), and Circle Jerks bassist Zander Schloss, to name a few. Repo Chick didn’t have any returning characters, but Universal still threatened to sue Cox when they caught word of the project.
Upgrading from a car to a train is certainly ambitious. Unfortunately, Repo Chick’s budget couldn’t support such ambition. Cox had originally estimated that the feature would cost at least $7 million to make, but after completing the road-trip microfeature Searchers 2.0 for super cheap, he set out to film Repo Chick for a mere $200,000, the minimum budget required by the Screen Actor’s Guild. Outside of the cast, Cox cut corners anywhere he could. Most of the movie was shot in front of a green screen on a soundstage in ten days. Everything, except for the actors, is fake. The trains are models. The cars are plastic toys, with the actors digitally inserted into them. The highways are poorly-animated. Crowd scenes are populated by plastic miniatures. While the Los Angeles backdrop of Repo Man felt authentic, Repo Chick looks incredibly cheap and artificial, and it definitely takes you out of the viewing experience.
“[…] Repo Chick was probably the first in a recent line of remakes that reverse the gender of iconic characters.”
Even the punks look cheap. Pixxi is followed at all times by her friends 666 (Danny Arroyo), Eggi (Jenna Zablocki) and Savage Dave (Zahn McClarnon, Doctor Sleep), who film her every move for a documentary about her life. A punk rock look isn’t hard to fake, just get some ripped up clothes, maybe borrow a leather jacket and spike up the hair. The punks in Repo Chick, however, look like they picked their costumes out of a Spirit Halloween store, color wigs and slip-on tattoo sleeves included.
Both Pixxi and Otto live in different versions of a juvenile fantasy. By becoming a repo man, Otto can continue to drink beer, chase tail and do nothing with his life. Prior to becoming a repo girl, Pixxi was a record producer with her own cosmetics line; ventures that couldn’t be sustained without her parents’ money. They’re both delinquents in their own rights, though their fashion sense is very different. Pixxi’s style is best described as “pink-rock” or “Barbie doll-chic,” much more glamorous than Otto’s jeans and t-shirt.
Repo Chick was probably the first in a recent line of remakes that reverse the gender of iconic characters; a trend seen in 2013’s Evil Dead, 2016’s Ghostbusters, 2019’s Pet Sematary and last year’s Castle Freak. Alex Cox likely chose to make his titular protagonist female for legal reasons so Universal would not view her as some Otto knock-off. Any male actor would have imitated Emilio Estevez, but Jaclyn Jonet makes Pixxi her own unique person. For too long, women have played secondary characters in cinema, often serving as a romantic conquest for the male lead. Gender-swapping important roles in remakes guarantees an audience upon release and allows women to be the heroes or the villains, which are a lot more fun to play than the love interest.
At first I thought I wouldn’t have anything to add to the Gut the Punks Spotify playlist. Dan Wool, also known as Pray for Rain, is the main composer for Repo Chick, having worked on other films by Alex Cox like Sid and Nancy and Three Businessmen. He does good work, but it’s not exactly material for a punk rock playlist. But one artist that appears again and again on the soundtrack is Kid Carpet. His music has been described as “kiddy disco punk” for his use of Casio keyboards and Fisher-Price instruments, so I’ll be adding a couple songs from his 2008 album Casio Royale.
The movie closes with “Jamestown 2007” by Danbert Nobacon, former vocalist for English anarcho-pop group Chumbawamba. I’m going to take full advantage, and add some of Chumbawamba’s earlier pre-Tubthumping songs to the playlist, as well as a track off of Nobacon’s latest double album Mesmerica – Expect a Circus, all about the Trump presidency. Finally, due to the return of Zander Schloss in Repo Chick, I’ll be throwing in a song by Circle Jerks, specifically one written by Schloss, off of their 1985 album Wönderful.
“[…] maybe Alex Cox was trying to say something about the state of the world by making everything look like it’s happening in a Barbie playset.”
If you think about it, Alex Cox making Repo Chick using what little resources he had without the help of major studios encapsulates the do-it-yourself ethos of punk rock. There are some genuinely funny moments in Repo Chick, but its political message was completely lost on me because I couldn’t get over how fake everything looked. But maybe Alex Cox was trying to say something about the state of the world by making everything look like it’s happening in a Barbie playset. At the end of the movie, Pixxi remarks to her boss: “You ever experience the feeling that you might just be a tiny simulacrum or an avatar created by a mad scientist as part of a table top experiment?”
It raises the dilemma: is it better for a filmmaker to work independently on a passion project that’s doomed to fail from a lack of budget, or is it better for a filmmaker to work on a big studio project, yet have no creative control? Next month, we’ll be talking about a director who started off in a position similar to Alex Cox, but went on to direct big-budget motion pictures, at the expense of her soul.
For more Raucous Remake Rendezvous, make sure you’re following us on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook! And for all the best horror discussion you can find online, stay tuned to Nightmare on Film Street.
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