Wired to Kill (1986) Retrospective

It is 1998 and the city of Los Angeles has been quarantined off after a plague wiped out 120 million people in the country. Law and order no longer exists, but disease, violence and immorality are running rampant. A young man and his family are being terrorized by a local gang and nobody will help. When the gang kills his grandmother and breaks his legs, the computer savvy cripple goes on the defensive and sets booby traps around the neighborhood. It is war and the traps kill the gang members one by one in the most bizarre and vicious way imaginable.

“Wired to kill is an original premise,” insists Schaeffer, an occasional science-fiction author and painter. “It isn’t post-nuclear holocaust with a motorcycle gang chasing people across the desert. Wired to Kill isn’t just about guys with spikes on their wrists, either. It’s an avant-garde action film with horrific overtones.”


In a way it’s a social comment on the fact that individuals can stand up and make a difference … and hence, the slogan of the film, which is “If you want history, you’ve got to make your own.”

Schaeffer shot Wired to Kill in 1985 on a $3 million budget. Shooting at a devastating pace,” the independent production wrapped after a breezy eight weeks on California locations, including an abandoned industrial complex that gets blown sky high in the movie.

“It’s loosely based on those movies and they’re some bits of CLOCK WORK ORANGE and THE TERMINATOR in it as well,” said McGuire. “This is definitely a violent film, but what makes it different is the treatment of the violence. We haven’t gone to extremes to glamorize the blood and gore, and those elements never overwhelm the action. Sure there’s a lot of bombs and explosions and people get killed but none of the violence in this movie is treated in an explicit way.”

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With a shooting schedule that’s Spartan even by low-budget standards, the Wired to Kill crew literally ran from scene to scene. The editing process, which McGuire described as a lot of quick cuts aimed at the MTV generation, is in keeping with what Schaeffer said are the demands of a 1980’s movie going audience. “The present generation has been raised on television and rock ‘n’ roll,” he said.

“They’ve come to absorb images and information in a space of a few seconds. We edited with that audience in mind.”

Much of the special effects in Wired to Kill were natural effects courtesy of a closed, deserted and decaying steel mill in Fontana, California that served as the gang’s hideout and much of the storyline’s deteriorating landscape. “It was 10 miles of twisted pipes and rusting, littered pieces of steel,” said McGuire. “It was kind of like the spaceship set from ALIEN, and it would have cost a fortune to create. Lucky for us it was just laying there.”

It was on this site that the film’s major man-made special effects scene took place. The gang, in a modified transport vehicle called a Euk, crashes into a 2000-ton tower (in actuality a steel blast furnace that was built at the steel mill during World War II), knocking it down. This effect, accomplished with the aid of outside explosives experts, and others in the film were designed by Peter Chesney of Image Engineering.

“We have a number of special makeup effects, promises writer/director Schaeffer. “In one scene, a booby trapped Walkman sends an electric shock through a guy’s head when he puts it on. Michele built a mask in which the eyeballs popped out. Another fellow’s face burns down to a skull, and yet another snorts acidic cocaine that makes his face foam up. The terminal enema-a villain sits on a motorcycle and a massive blade pounds up was also particularly creative. But each death is tongue-in-cheek, besides being uniquely gruesome. We did things that others would say are too farfetched.”

One of those items, the robot Winston, was designed with some specific goals in mind. “We didn’t want to end up with a robot that was a clone of R2D2,” said McGuire. “We wanted something that wouldn’t grate on people’s nerves and that would look like something that a kid who was a genius would make. This thing has a believable look to it.”

Michelle Burke
Michelle Burke

Michelle Burke, who won an Academy Award for her makeup work in the film QUEST FOR FIRE, contributed bizarre tattoos worn by gang members and lifelike death masks for the movie’s more violent moments.

American Distribution Group plans to released Wired to kill in late summer/fall 1986. Schaeffer feels confident that his violent actioner will find its target teen audience, even if it’s a story that has been done countless times before.

“There’s never a 100 percent original idea in a movie any way,” he observes. “Everything is derivative of something else. But Wired to Kill looks right into the audience’s eyes and doesn’t blink. Many films give up when it comes to the punchline, they’re not brassy enough and don’t go all the way. Our film doesn’t pretend to be any. thing else. Wired to kill is as unrespectable as can be, it’s a pure revenge story. In that way, we are original.”

Francis Schaeffer
Francis Schaeffer

Interview with Francis Schaeffer

 It seems the film is literally about good versus evil.
Francis Schaeffer: The plot is an allegory, a twentieth century version of Homer’s “Odyssey” – it’s as simple as that.

You have the forces of fate and evil arrayed against our heroes. Are they going to run away or are they going to stay and make a stand? ‘Steve’ and ‘Rebecca’ exercise their rights as human beings to make moral choices and change history. That’s what this movie is about. They are individuals asserting their rights to remain human and to function as humans, even though there are inhuman forces around them. It’s the same as the individual story of today of someone who refuses to bow, say, to the pressures of a deteriorating neighborhood. It’s the local grocery store owner who says, “I’m not moving out of this neighborhood. I was born and raised here and I’m simply not closing my store and boarding it up just because there’s some punks on the corner who keep robbing my store. I refuse to. I’m gonna draw the line and take a stand.” He’s saying “LET THEM MOVE!”

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Does the film hold out any hope?
Francis Schaeffer: Oh, very much so, because I think in our film the hero and heroine are totally vindicated. They not only win their battles, but they do so in a way that proves the individual can triumph over adversity … that you can make choices that will not only change your life but also change the lives around you.

The character of ‘Reegus’ is so educated and articulate, yet he is the driving evil force behind this insane, brutal gang. What does he represent?
Francis Schaeffer: The lesson behind ‘Reegus’ is that all the trappings of civilization don’t necessarily make you civilized, and that is what makes him so terrifying. Evil can come in very civilized forms, which is much more frightening than just violent, brutal thugs.

It’s the difference between the mindless psychopathic killer who just happens to kill every person he sees, and the premeditated, cold blooded and sadistic enjoyment of some university humanities professor who’s dismembered some kid in one room then holds a seminar on Nietzsche in the other. The mindless thug you understand. You hate him, you fear him, but you understand his actions.

“Reegus, like that professor, is art and civilization turned on its head. It’s the purest forms of evil with a human face – and that is a helluva lot more terrifying.

Is the scenario of “Wired to kill” plausible?
Francis Schaeffer: Well, I think it could be, but basically I feel you should judge a film on its own internal logic.

The point of this film is, given the basic premise of the story, is there an internal logic which holds it together?

It isn’t ‘does this film mirror reality?”. If you want reality, you can stay home. That’s reality. You don’t go to a movie to see reality, you go to a movie to be entertained and stimulated.

But can audiences seeing your film be entertained and stimulated by the extreme violence in “Wired to Kill”?
Francis Schaeffer: I would like to frame whatever answer I give on the question of violence in the film in a different sense and that is that all art – and film at its best is art – portrays human conflict.

You cannot make creative and artistic statements unless you portray human conflict, of which violence happens to be the ultimate and central point. It goes back to the Old Testament. All the great tales of human endeavor have centered around conflict and adventure, and the way that has always been portrayed has been through violence.

That is what makes it interesting. That is what makes it entertaining. It’s a very simple formula.

But in the film –
Francis Schaeffer: Wait a minute. It’s a very simple formula, but it’s not a movie formula. I don’t like this judgment of violence being something bad – something wrong — with a film, any film. If film has been accepted as an art form, then it should have the same privileges as art forms in the rest of history.

You cannot make creative and artistic statements unless you portray human conflict. Violence is an aspect of human existence. To deprive the filmmaker of that tool is to tell him that he can’t portray the human condition.

I think it’s very strange that film is singled out for being criticized as too violent, when in the area of literature and painting and theatre you’ve always had ultra-violence and nobody makes an issue of it. You don’t give an “X” rating for violence to Shakespeare, or to Milton, or to operas such as “Carmen.” There’s not even a human drama in the scriptures without violent confrontation.

From the point of view of the public, what human beings are most interested in is other people, period. And the most interesting moments of everyone’s life are life – death, birth, sex – elements that make up the human condition. You just can’t set preconditions and say “well, you know, because film is a new medium we’re not going to take it seriously and we’re going to limit what you can put in movies.”

On the other hand, the filmmaker is responsible for the total impact his or her films have on an audience. But I would like to distinguish between gratuitous violence and violence that is essential to portraying conflict.

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What would you like people to say about the film when they leave the theatre?
Francis Schaeffer: Well, I don’t know what they’ll say. What I would like the film to do is make the audience think or feel that you just cannot wish evil away. Wishing for a crime-free society doesn’t produce a crime-free society. You cannot have a society in which there is no army and no police force and no recognition of the fact that there are very brutal elements in the human race. I want people to feel when they come out of the movie that whether as individuals confronting evil, or as a nation confronting evil and the totalitarian impulse to destroy, that it takes guts to do so! They cannot be foolishly idealistic about evil — there are fine lines drawn between good and bad, right and wrong, in the moral dimensions of humankind. It is the person with their back against the wall, standing with everything to lose, who makes the moral choice to resist evil. And he or she proves with that choice why the human race is worth preserving. That’s what this movie is about!

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Directed by Francis Schaeffer
Written by Francis Schaeffer

Makeup Department
Michèle Burke        makeup artist
Peter Chesney        special effects coordinator
Tom Chesney         special effects technician
Bruce D. Hayes       special effects foreman
Circe Strauss        special effects crew (as Jarn Heil)

Emily Longstreth     Rebecca
Devin Hoelscher      Steve
Merritt Butrick      Reegus (The Gang Leader)
Frank Collison       Sly
Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister Sleet (as Tommy Lister Jr. ‘Tiny’)
Kim Milford        Rooster

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