The Film: 4/5
Vic Reeves (Clu Gulager) was once a respected, in-demand actor on both the big and small screens. A veteran of countless crime films and westerns, Vic now spends his days scrounging for acting jobs wherever he can get them and living off his meager earnings in a rundown suburban house with his beloved dog George. Late one evening he receives a surprising phone call from filmmaker Tony LaSalle (Tom Gulager), who wants Vic to come read for a role in his newest movie. Vic bristles at the thought of going through the audition process after his many decades in show business, but his mind quickly changes when LaSalle sends him a copy of his script and he realizes the role being offered could be the comeback of which he has long dreamed. Vic throws himself into preparing for the audition and goes as far as to employ make-up and hair products to cover the affects of old age on his once-youthful appearance. When tragedy unexpectedly strikes, the already nervous Hollywood pro is forced to channel the years of neglect and disavowal he has endured from the industry that once welcomed him with open arms to give the performance of his career, and his life.
The first scene of Vic is one of the most interesting in the entirety of its 35-minute running time. As the title character, an aging former TV and film star reduced to bit parts in Z-grade horror flicks, Clu Gulager lies helplessly on an operating table while having his guts ripped out by a psycho whose face is concealed by a surgical mask. The maniac is played by Sage Stallone, who concocted the story (later fleshed out into script form by actor/screenwriter Will Huston) and directed Vic over seven years ago, and he is literally dissecting his leading man as Gulager screams in agony. Though it all turns out to be a scene from some disposable slasher flick the moment speaks volumes about the main character of Vic Reeves and the great actor playing him. Clu Gulager isn’t just acting here; he is Vic Reeves. Vic has been put out to pasture by a system that adored him in his prime, but now that the venerated actor has aged horribly can no longer see him as anything but another tired old man. He still has the same talent and spirit that made him a star back in the day. It’s just that, to paraphrase a famous quote from Billy Wilder’s equally famous Sunset Boulevard, the pictures have gotten smaller. Hollywood has always been ageist when it comes to the actors and behind-the-scenes talent, and unless you were a huge star and had enough money saved to enjoy a well-deserved retirement you has no choice but to take whatever part was offered to you just so you could make your rent and eat a decent meal once in a while. It’s a sad and demoralizing truth to face for anyone contemplating an acting career, and it will likely never change.
Stallone never directed another feature before he died of a heart attack at the young age of 36 on July 13, 2012. His death not only left a gigantic hole in the hearts of his family and friends but it deprived cinema of a unique and refreshing filmmaking voice. Even if he had never made Vic, Stallone would still be a hero to fans of underground exploitation movies as the co-founder of Grindhouse Releasing, the company that helped bring fully-restored action and horror B-movie classics such as The Beyond, Cannibal Holocaust, and An American Hippie in Israel back to theater screens and home video. The oldest son of action movie icon Sylvester Stallone, Sage’s many years spent hanging out on film sets helped him develop an interest in becoming a filmmaker and a healthy respect for the legendary character actors who rarely took the spotlight but were often the most memorable aspects of those movies. Outside of a video interview featurette for the 2005 DVD release of Holocaust Stallone had not called the shots on his own project until he made Vic. With Gulager’s son John (a director in his own right with films like Feast and Piranha 3DD to his credit) on hand as his cinematographer, he directed with a calm and steady hand and his passion for cinema infuses every frame of the film. Stallone threw in a few callbacks to his love for the grindhouse in several scenes, such as having Vic watch part of Zombie Holocaust (better known as Dr. Butcher M.D. - Medical Deviate) on television in one scene, or playing a few seconds of the song “Jackknife” from Duke Mitchell’s violent late 1970’s gangster epic Massacre Mafia Style (which will hopefully be receiving its long-awaited release on DVD and Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing soon) while characters are conversing in another.
Clu Gulager has carved out quite a career as a dependable character actor in film and television since starting out nearly sixty years ago. He is one of many to prove the validity of the old maxim that there are no small parts, but only small actors. Whether he was playing a dashing cowboy, a wild-eyed psycho, or a befuddled white bread father figure, Gulager always brought his A game to the role. He knows when a certain scene calls for him to be tender, sympathetic, and angry, but he saves his best for the brilliant finale when Vic auditions for LaSalle (played by another of Gulager’s son, Tom) and his producer (Gary Frank, Family) and casting director (Carol Lynley, The Poseidon Adventure). In those short few minutes Vic comes face to face with his personal demons and delivers a performance that no one in that office will soon forget. Gulager has always been good, but here he is simply great, worthy of an Oscar you might say. Though Vic is mostly Clu’s show Stallone fills out the supporting cast with brief but notable turns from other veteran actors. The late John Phillip Law (Danger: Diabolik) can be seen as one of the performers auditioning for the same role as Vic, as are Peter Mark Richman (Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan), John Lazar (playing a character with the same name as his Beyond the Valley of the Dolls villain Ron Barzel), and Richard Herd (Seinfeld). Gulager’s late wife Miriam Byrd-Nethery has a touching cameo as a pharmacy cashier who flirts with Vic and gets the old timer’s juices flowing, and his daughter-in-law Diane Ayala Goldner (Hatchet III) also appears as another cashier at the same store. Gregory Sierra (Deep Cover) has an amusing bit at the beginning as the director of the schlock horror flick Vic gets killed in and Robert Jayne (formerly Bobby Jacoby) of Tremors and its sequel and TV spin-off plays an adoring fan of Vic’s.
John Gulager also worked on the editing with Stallone’s Grindhouse Releasing partner Bob Murawski (an editor on the three Sam Raimi-directed Spider-Man movies and Oz the Great and Powerful), and the two trim each scene to keep things proceeding at a fine pace without allowing them to get bogged down in needless excess. The marvelous minimalist score is credited to the great Franco Micalizzi, composer for some of the Italian cinema’s best contributions to exploitation including Beyond the Door, The Visitor, and Rome Armed to the Teeth/
Vic was shot on 35mm film with a Panavision camera and processed in Technicolor. The 1.85:1 widescreen picture carries over to DVD very well with warm, muted colors and softened visual detail. It’s backed up by an excellent English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track that does its job well but seems inappropriate for a film with such an undemanding soundtrack. Spanish, French, and Italian subtitles are also provided.
The best extra is a 14-minute interview with Gulager conducted by an off-camera Stallone. With clips from the film playing behind him, the veteran actor discusses his enthusiasm for playing the role of Vic Reeves and shares his thoughts on the business and craft of acting. He also talks briefly about the importance of working with his sons and daughter-in-law on the production. The tone of the interview is warm and candid, and Gulager is as wonderful being himself as he is playing Vic. The remaining supplements are text biographies of Stallone, Gulager, and several members of the cast and the “Vic Montage”, a 2-minute compilation of highlights from Clu’s acting career from his many western parts to later performances in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge and Return of the Living Dead.
Vic is a remarkable short drama that is both touching and brutally honest about the struggles most filmmaking professionals have to endure to maintain a career in show business. Clu Gulager’s heartbreaking performances and Sage Stallone’s assured direction are all the more tragic in that these two men with a deep and abiding love for cinema will never be able to work together again. All the same, this is a sweet little gem that demands your attention. Highly recommended.