Movies are a business with many moving parts, and like Devastator, each part plays a key role. Whether it be producers (quasi-creatives and money guys), actors (dramatic, non-camera-shy guys and gals), gaffers (light guys), production assistants (beasts of burden), or even best boys (I make movies and still have no fucking idea), like a defective Jenga set – one bad piece can forever destroy a solid project. Like any good mafia crime family, there’s gotta be a boss; and at the head of the filmmaking hierarchy sits the director.
Directors are the president of the movie. Like a good dictator, they can make the final decision. When things go good and the movie rocks, they get to take all the praise. When things go bad, they’re either publicly mocked or have the option to pussy out and take a Smithee.
As a filmmaker myself, I will shamelessly toot the horn of the importance of a good director. While there are so many more key pieces and voices than just one position, they’re the ones that have to live with the choices they make that ultimately affect the project as well as the cast and crew. There is a certain type of director who can eventually reach the ziggurat of their craft and enter the status of auteur and really put their stamp on a project. Each generation has them. Hell, every genre has them. You can easily sit back and spitball names like Kubrick, Hitchcock, Wells, Russ Meyer – directors who had full authorship of their movies – for better or for buxom worse.
There is however, another level of auteur theory. An unsung group of directors who are really good at blowing shit up and inspiring hilarious patriotism. Of course I’m talking about obscure action movie directors (seeing as it’s the title of the article and all). Not everyone can claim ownership of a genre. I’m not talking about the Michael Bays of the world either. I’m specifically speaking about the guys who defined the genre tropes that are still used to this day. The guys who introduced us to the Chuck Norris’ and Billy Dragos of the world. The auteurs of the machine gun.
1. James Glickenhaus
KNOWN FOR: The Exterminator, Shakedown, McBain, Timemaster
I realize that eventually Empress Eve and Dave3 are going to figure out that I’m only writing these articles as an excuse to post a link to clips from McBain (see below).
Until that happens though I will loudly and continuously shout the majesty of the movie from the rooftops and thank the gods for James Glickenhaus. James Glickenhaus, a man who now owns more flashy cars than the entire The Fast And The Furious movie series, is the man responsible for two of the greatest shitty action flicks of all time: McBain and The Exterminator. Glickenhaus is what Michael Bay would be if he had a Troma budget.
Glickenhaus is an action movie demigod; he nails the “rag-tag group of soldiers getting back together” thing, excels at the “you crossed me and/or my family so now it’s go time” thing, and rocks the house at the “we gotta dust off this guy for one last mission” thing. But even with that said, there’s little to no clear inspiration in his work. He just seems like the type of guy who makes the movie the way he wants under any circumstance. While making McBain, I imagine he visited the fuck store on a quest to find a single fuck, but sadly they were fresh out.
Glickenhaus does several things well: he blows things up, he shoots things up, he misinterprets pop culture and world affairs, and he makes the impossible still seem impossible (you guessed it, the plane scene from McBain).
STATUS: Glickenhaus has since retired from blowing shit up and has focused on being a financial wizard. His vintage and rare car collection would make Jay Leno aroused.
2. Aaron Norris
KNOWN FOR: Delta Force 2, Braddock: Missing In Action 3, The Hitman, Hellbound, being Chuck’s brother
The importance of Aaron Norris to action movies is equivalent to the importance of water to human beings. While his director reel is stellar in itself (Delta. Force. 2), he’s a prominent writer AND producer who has helped create a laundry list of notable action films – starring Chuck Norris. That’s right, Aaron is probably as important to Chuck’s career as a good pair of action jeans.
To say Aaron Norris is a genre director rather than an action director is probably accurate seeing as his genre is Chuck Norris movies. That’s not really fair though seeing as Aaron was also a key player in the conception and direction of several episodes of the greatest TV show of all time – Walker, Texas Ranger. What would the action genre be without Chuck?
Well it wouldn’t much of a genre now would it? Aaron isn’t simply a sit in a cloth back chair, scarf wearing, bullhorn holding, espresso drinking stereotypical Hollywood director. Hell no. He’s also a stuntman and usually a background extra in most of Chuck’s movies. He’s about as hands on as Werner Herzog – just in way worse (but far more action packed) movies.
STATUS: Aaron Norris is still making his unique brand of awesome. He currently has one film slated for 2015.
3. R.J. Kizer
KNOWN FOR: Death Ring, Hell Comes To Frogtown
ACTUALLY KNOWN FOR: The Dark Knight Rises, X-Men, Inception, countless other titles
R.J. Kizer is an intriguing addition to the guide and not just because he looks like the type of guy who drives a van with curtains. While most directors stayed with what they knew, Kizer strayed from his specialty to create two of the greatest bad action movies ever. See, R.J. Kizer happens to be a Hollywood sound and ADR legend boasting over 85 credits in that department.
What that means is that both Hell Comes To Frogtown and Death Ring were passion projects of his (which is why they’re way awesome, apparently). Kizer only has three additions (if you count the 1985 Godzilla movie – which I do not) but two of the three are pillars of the shitty “shoot ’em up” community. This is the guy who paired up Don Swayze and Mike Norris for crying out loud.
STATUS: This man is a legend in two fields and he’s still working…in the sound department.
4. Cedric Sundstrom
KNOWN FOR: The Revenger, American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt, American Ninja 4: The Annihilation
Cedric Sundstrom is as elusive as he is awesome – by that, I mean I couldn’t find an image of him anywhere on the Internet. But labels aside, Sundstrom gave us two stellar additions to the fabled American Ninja franchise (the latter two) which, alone, would garner him a spot in the top of the order.
What really makes Sundstrom an action movie legend is his obscure revenge-y action flick from 1989 – The Revenger. While The Revenger may not live up certain “expectations” such as being “a good movie” or being “competently directed” or even “make much sense” – it does have one of the best IMDB descriptions in movie history.
From IMDB: Mike Teller, with the help of Harry Crawford, must retrieve Mike’s wife, Lisa from the clutches of Jack Fisher over a matter of $500,000.
I like how he drops these names like we know who in the flying fuck they are. To be fair, Jack Fisher is a bitchin’ name, but still.
STATUS: Sundstrom hasn’t done anything movie related since 2003. I imagine making two American Ninja movies would take a lot out of you, so I don’t blame him.
5. Joseph Zito
KNOWN FOR: Red Scorpion, Invasion U.S.A., Missing In Action, The Prowler, Blood Rage
Joseph Zito is the man responsible for the first Missing In Action as well as the last entry in the Delta Force franchise – so the man knows how to create and effectively destroy a franchise. Check. He’s a genre director who has had cult hits in both action and horror (The Prowler, Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter).
Zito’s most notable (hilarious) accomplishment comes in the form of a different type of credit. See, back in 1979, when hooker killing was all the rage, Zito made his own version of Maniac entitled Blood Rage. While Blood Rage may not be the best movie you’ve ever seen (it is not), Zito used the pseudonym Joseph Bigwood… in his film…about a sexually frustrated recluse that kills hookers. It’s almost like he was setting himself up as an obscure action movie villain.
STATUS: Zito hasn’t made a movie since 2003. But the movie he made in 2003 was about an earthquake machine, so he still has some street cred.
1. Don Fauntleroy
KNOWN FOR: Urban Justice, Mercenary For Justice, Today You Die
Don Fauntleroy, despite having the name of a minstrel in King Arthur times, is the man responsible for making the three most competent latter day Steven Seagal movies. Unlike some other post late ’90s Seagal movies which had an out of shape, cajun speaking Seagal using stunt doubles for not only fights but also reaction shots, Fauntleroy got the Seagal we know and love to show up and kick ass.
STATUS: Still working. Logically, he’s making SyFy movies nowadays.