Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Sea of C-Level Steven Seagal (part 1 of 2)

Oh, Steven Seagal. Actor. Martial artist. Self-described national hero and self-styled lawman.

Also asshole. Respondent in sexual harassment lawsuits. Terrible actor. And entertainer of a great many moments in the young lives of my buddies and me.

By no means is he either a cinematic gem nor a national treasure. But dude made some pretty awesome late-80s/early-90s entries into the action/martial arts genre. Not only that, but prior to his appearance on the scene, no other martial arts movie actor (to my knowledge) was a real-life practitioner of aikido, the Japanese martial artform that depends upon redirecting and diverting an opponent’s energy away from the assaulted so as to put the attacker both off-balance and, eventually, defeated. Not only is it incredibly effective in the hands of the right user, it looks GREAT on-camera, especially when performed by a seventh-degree black belt in his physical prime jousting with trained stuntmen to create some of the most realistic, joint-busting and limb-crunching fight scenes this side of the Pacific. Like this one.

Not only does staged aikido look cool, it’s also incredibly graceful as a combat style. Unlike karate and artforms practiced by the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, aikido is fluid and relies upon using an enemy’s own energy against him rather than meeting it with superior force. I’ve studied martial arts for over 25 years, but I would NEVER want to get in a fight with Seagal.

Seagal, a rather unlikely movie star, happened to come on the scene at a rather propitious time for both martial arts in popular culture and action movies—and the marriage of the two. He was helped along not only by his undoubted ass-whomping skills and unconventional looks, but by a certain charm and a definite I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, which included his fashioning his own narrative about being a former CIA agent —an assertion that was both debunked and borrowed from his first film, Above the Law.

As mentioned, I’ve been a karateka for the better part of my life, inspired initially by—and I’m totally serious here—The Karate Kid movies. My late Isshinryu Karate sensei turned us on to Seagal and Van Damme not because they were “good” films but because they demonstrated badass martial arts styles that were both foreign to my studies and superior to my own abilities. It gave me something to shoot for: One day I’ll be a martial arts actor/director too!

Alas, life has gone another way. As it has for the martial arts/action genre, which was largely a phenomenon of its time, as were “serious” action movies in general (Lethal Weapon, Predator, etc.). It holds a special place in my moviegoing psyche and history, as it does for my buddies, who were there with me in those crucial preteen and teen years.

It’s sometimes fun to go back and revisit the “classics,” not necessarily because they’re examples of quality cinema but because they represent a time in our lives that was simpler, freer, younger and uncomplicated.

Before jobs.

Before girls.

Before women.

Before life!

As strange as this may sound, there actually is a certain hierarchy of “good” Seagal movies versus the shit that came later. To explain, as far as entertaining examples of the genre, Seagal had four early films (Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death and Out for Justice) that were both fun and “quality” examples of martial arts/action cinema. Not too ridiculous and not too self-knowing, and flirting (barely) with legitimacy. Seagal’s career as a “legit” actor peaked with Under Siege in 1992, which was basically Die Hard on a battleship—and arguably the best of the Die Hard clone mini-genre.

Thereafter, it was pretty much over. His career descended into lame-o retreads of past formula, complicated by the fact that Seagal was putting on more and more weight and getting sloppier in his choreographed fights, which relied ever more heavily on stuntmen and fast editing versus the slick fight dance of the early films. As with Van Damme, Seagal stalemated not only with age and declining, increasingly self-aware product, but also with an audience that had grown more sophisticated and sought out protagonists who were morally ambiguous operating in a grayer world than that inherent in the traditional good-versus-bad paradigm that goes all the way back to John Wayne.

Enter the conversation that I am about to elucidate. A few weeks back one of my buddies from those glory days, Chris, sent to his brother Steve, myself and our friend Craig an invitation to attend a Seagal retrospective being held at the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Ave. in L.A. Alas, despite returning to the Left Coast several times per annum, I haven’t lived in L.A. full-time in almost three years; Chris was busy that day; Steve had other plans; and Craig, well…see below.

Here’s just a little bit about the participants:

Chris and Steve: Long-standing buddies of mine from my hometown in New Jersey, with whom I grew up. We used to hang out at their mother’s house in Flemington more or less every weekend between 9th and 12th grades and watch action movies and make our own sketch comedy “show” with various family camcorders. Their tastes tend to be similar to mine as far as the action/martial arts genre goes and legit cinema both. They too once studied karate.

Craig: A native Southern California whom Steve met in film classes at USC. Fiercely loyal to whatever cause he chooses and to his friends. This can sometimes be to his own detriment as Craig can be a bit like a pit bull: Once he bites down, he refuses to give ground, even when his defensive propositions have been soundly debunked—as we shall see. His movie tastes tend to veer more toward arty European fare, i.e., he’d rather take in a Fellini or Bergman film on a Friday night versus a Bruce Willis low-budg actioner. Which is fine, but the latter is far more fun with company; there’s a time and place for “serious” film fare, but not with your buddies (usually).

What follows now is Chris’s initial email informing us of the event, followed thereafter by my reaction to the event—excitement tempered with regret—and the snowball that began from there.

I’ll be back with editorializing as we go along (seen in bold and prefaced by my initials).

From: Chris
To: Eric, Steve, Craig
Tue, Jun 10, 2014 04:36 PM

Heavy Midnites Presents:
SEAGALOGY: A Steven Seagal Marathon
(co-hosted by Vern!)
Saturday, June 14th | 5pm

Co-presented by AIN'T IT COOL NEWS

ORDER OF FILMS (start times VERY approximate):
1) Hard To Kill - approx. 5:15pm
2) Under Siege 2: Dark Territory - approx. 7:30pm
3) Out For Justice - approx. 10:00pm
4) On Deadly Ground - approx. midnight

Steven Seagal: aikido instructor, environmental activist and movie star. He writes, directs, plays blues guitar, creates energy drinks and is a reserve deputy sheriff. He might be an authority on antique samurai swords, and may have even killed for the CIA. For three decades he's left an indelible and deeply personal mark on action cinema, igniting screens with his unique blend of machismo and mysticism. And now, those fist-pumping hits are coming to Cinefamily for a take-no-prisoners, one-day-only 35mm blowout!

But that's not all: we're flying in cinematic outlaw/bestselling author/legendary film scholar Vern (the man who literally wrote the book on Seagalogy) for his FIRST-EVER public appearance to help better explain the man, the myth and the magic behind your favorite dealer of swift, lethal moves. Plus we'll have special guests, vintage trailers and more fun 'n games than should legally be allowed, all to celebrate Heavy Midnites' 2nd anniversary!

Tickets - $20/$10 for members

From: Eric
To: Chris, Steve, Craig
On Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 4:40 PM, auteur2000@juno.com<auteur2000@juno.com> wrote:

Dudes, I so wish we could go to this together, if only for irony's sake.

That said, I think the actual lineup is a bit weak and seems to have been programmed solely based on who from the industry they could get to show up.

I mean, c'mon, the EDITOR of Out for Justice?????

They should have just done the "best" of Seagal marathon and called it a day:

Above the Law
Hard to Kill
Marked for Death
Out for Justice
Under Siege

Nothing post-1992.

Tue, Jun 10, 2014 07:05 PM

Hard to Kill and Out For Justice are both solid B-pluses, maybe even A-minuses.

Out For Justice has the fight in the pool hall, maybe the quintessential Seagal set action piece. Plus there's the subplot with the abandoned dog and the awesome scene where he tells the story about the old man who used to walk around the neighborhood sharpening knives and scissors for five, ten cents a piece and how at some point times change and people don't need the knife sharpener man anymore and his ex-wife realizes that he's talking about his father.

In Hard to Kill he trains on that wooden plank and woos Kelly LeBrock. Plus he tells that Senator he's gonna take him to the bank. THE BLOOD BANK!!!!

But On Deadly Ground and Under Siege 2 both suck.

And how they can have a Seagal Film Festival without Marked For Death is incomprehensible.

On Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 4:48 PM, Chris wrote:

True that! To use an 90's expression. On Deadly Ground sucks... and not in a good way.

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 12:08 AM

I'm bummed I'm going to miss this night. It sounds like a lot of fun. And I need to see these movies. My Dad is probably frustrated in the great beyond that his son still hasn't seen HARD TO KILL and MARKED FOR DEATH. I have to rectify that pronto. Maybe we'll show those movies at the wedding.
. .

But you guys kill me. ON DEADLY GROUND is jaw droppingly bad. But it is also jaw droppingly brilliant. I laughed my ass off.

I know I'm not going to convince you fellas with your strange New Jersey laws about what constitutes legit and not legit.

But ON DEADLY GROUND is legit "so bad it's good".

Go back and read the Cinefamily write up. Cinefamily calls it the best
one. Even the dude who wrote the autobiography on Seagal calls it the
most defining Seagal moment.

SOUTH PARK referenced it in a classic episode. Why? Because at least a
certain number of people would get the reference. Why? Because people who know brilliant so bad they're good movies know ON DEADLY GROUND.

Barry and I watched that thing, jaws on the floor, after midnight. Oh. . .I'm feeling happy just remembering it now. . .the vision quest. . . Michael Caine making some crazy reference to Vietnamese hookers as an oil rig blows up. . .the FULL METAL JACKET guy appearing in the middle of the movie. . .

Let me just leave it at this. . .in being so rigid about ON DEADLY GROUND you guys are denying yourselves a really good time. Don't take my word for it. Ask Kenney. Ask someone you trust who loves movies of all stripes.

ON DEADLY GROUND is classic gold. And you can take that all the way to the Blood Bank.

EFA HERE: Gauntlet officially thrown. It’s important to note that Craig has only ever seen On Deadly Ground, Seagal’s solitary directorial effort, and not the early classics. This does not sit well with the three of us, but to each their own opinion.


Wed, Jun 11, 2014 07:03 AM

Says the man who had never seen a Seagal movie before...

I like early low-budget ones. The later bad are just bad. Next you're be recommending The Glimmer Man.

Sent from my iPhone

EFA again: OK, here’s where it starts to get crazy. Steve tends to take movie discussions VERY personally. When he doesn’t like something, he is like a rhino in a china shop and refuses to back down until all know he has traipsed upon and destroyed—quite often to the enjoyment of all around. (To wit, when we commiserated following the opening of the execrable Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Steve carried on as follows: “In Raiders, you like that monkey, but they had the courage to kill that monkey! Whereas in this piece of shit Shia LaBouf is swinging around on vines with CGI monkeys?!”)

I don’t want to oversell it. Just read on.

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 10:24 AM

Craig. Please don't reference Hard To Kill. Quite frankly, you haven't earned the right.

And Craig, you know I love you, but with all due respect, you, Barry, the Cinephile Family, and the douche who wrote that book need to pull your collective heads out of your asses.

Anyone who knows Seagal movies will tell you that Marked For Death is where it's at, followed by Out For Justice and Hard To Kill. On Deadly Ground may be the last watchable one, before he got too fat to do his own moves, but it's so far down the list that it shouldn't really be mentioned.

Now I know you and Barry's jaws dropped when you saw it, and it was a fun and successful Movie Club Night, but that's kind of like someone telling you they just saw Rumble In the Bronx and it blew their mind because they had never seen fights and stunts like that and it's also funny and then there's this gag reel at the end, and you're thinking, "yeah, I get it, if you've never seen a Jackie Chan movie before I guess you would be blown away, but I've seen Drunken Master 2 and Project A so forgive me if I wasn't blown away by Rumble in the Bronx." It's like someone telling you Donnie Brasco is the best gangster movie ever made and then finding out they've never seen Goodfellas or The Godfather. It's like the other day when [Girlfriend] and I watched Moonrise Kingdom and she was impressed by the look/costumes/music/editing/etc. and I was like, yeah, I've seen it all before, but I can see why you were so taken by it.

It's like if one of your friends was having a Charles Bronson movie night and they were showing Murphy's Law and Mr. Majestik, but not Death Wish 3 or even 10 to Midnight or Chato's Land.

You're right about one thing: On Deadly Ground is jaw-droppingly bad. But it is not jaw-droppingly brilliant. I get it, there's the scene in the beginning where he beats up the oil worker who's making fun of the Eskimo (or is it Alaskan Inuit, I'm not sure about the correct nomenclature), who then says he needs time to change, and then there's the weird vision quest scenes, but there's nothing in that movie that compares to the pool hall scene in Out For Justice, or anything in Marked For Death.

It's not a weird New Jersey thing. You say ask Kenny? I don't need to. I showed him the line up when I found out about it last. He's not interested. Not with that line-up, and that's specifically because of On Deadly Ground. He can't stand it. Recently he went on an internet date with a girl who was obsessed with Steven Seagal movies. He asked her which was her favorite and she said, "That's easy. It's gotta be Marked For Death." (I'm not making that up.)

I could ask my uncle, who loves old Seagal movies, but I know what he's gonna say. He probably can't remember which movies are which and what scenes are in which movies, since they can run together, but I know he'd talk about scenes from Out For Justice, and maybe the deli fight scene in Above the Law, but I know if I asked him about On Deadly Ground, he would say, "which one's that? the one on the oil rig, yeah that one sucked."

But what about the Cinefamily? Surely their tastes in the so-bad-it's-good world are unparalleled, right? Well by calling it the most Seagal-movie of them all, it shows that they haven't done their due diligence either. Maybe while we were spending our teenage summers watching Seagal movies and other bad 80's and 90's martial arts taped off HBO, they were watching 70's underground, avant-garde cult classics (not that there's anything wrong with that, it just doesn't make them experts). I'm not going to tell them which is the best Jodorowsky movie, since I've only seen one, but I'll thank them kindly not to try to tell me which is the best Steven Seagal movie, because I've seen them all (or at least every one until about 1999/2000, after which they don't count as he's barely in them).

I mean, they're right about one thing. It is the most stupefying Seagal movie (you might even go so far as to say the most Jodorowsky-esque Seagal movie) so maybe it fits better in their wheelhouse and in their audience's wheelhouse. But taking stupefying Seagal over legit badass Seagal is like someone telling you that Hudson Hawk is a better Bruce Willis movie than Die Hard because Hudson Hawk is do mind-numbingly bad. Your response would be, "that's just stupid."

What about the guy who wrote the book? I don't know anything about him except that he goes by a one-word name and used to write for Ain't It Cool news, which to be honest doesn't hold any water in my book. My guess is he saw some sort of cache value in writing a wink-wink-nudge-nudge anthology of Seagal movies, but that he's not a bona-fide fan. My proof? Simply that he calls On Deadly Ground Seagal's defining moment. That gives away his true colors. Any real fan would disagree. He's simply in this for the hipster value.

Look, you guys can like what you like. And Cinefamily can put on a "Steven Seagal marathon" that chooses On Deadly Ground over Marked For Death. But it won't be aimed at true Seagal fans, fans who grew up watching him crush limbs and break faces. It will be a hipsters entree into the world of Steven Seagal. And I guess that's why I'm so peeved about the whole thing. They can have Chuck Norris. His movies mostly suck anyway, but now they're trying to claim Steven too.

And that just sucks.

From Steve:
Wed, Jun 11, 2014 10:33 AM

Also, I happen to have Kenny right here.

So, so, so he says:

"I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work. You mean my whole phalacy is wrong. How you came to give opinions on Steven Seagal is perfectly amazing."

On Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 10:53 AM, Eric F Althoff <auteur2000@juno.com> wrote:

Craig you know we love you but On Deadly Ground just doesn't work despite the oil painting. I guess it helps if you go back in time to 1992 and watch those early seagal flicks with us in New Jersey, at which point you'd understand why ODG was such a letdown. It has a few good moments but it's past the era of classic Seagal.

And I might add he hasn't directed a film


Sent from EFA's mind

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 11:21 AM

I suggest we settle this debate with a movie marathon. The first four films... Above the Law, Hard to Kill, Marked for Death and Out for Justice. I think we should all be able to agree that Under Siege (a lot because of Tommy Lee Jones and Gary Busey) is legit. And we already watched On Deadly Ground together.

I'd like to add one thing to what Steve and Eric said.

I just recall tremendous, tremendous disappointment when going to see On Deadly Ground as a teenager. Here's why... the first four movies we watched on VHS with Eric. Did they come out in theaters? Maybe... but not in a theater near us... or we were too young. Then he makes a legit movie that actually played in normal theaters with a decent director/budget/cast. And that movie is a hit! Puts his name on the map. He could do anything after Under Siege. Anything!! So what does he do? He decides to direct his next one himself and include a bullshit environmental message. And the way I recall it... he was already getting a little fat so it was also lacking the bad-ass action of the previous movies.

What little camp value that it had when we watched it at Movie Club did not make up for my teenage disappointment. It was like going to see the Crow 2. But worse.

Okay... maybe not worse than the Crow 2.


EFA here: For some background, On Deadly Ground opened in early 1994, during one of the absolute worst winters on record. We used up so many damn snow days that year that we finally got out for the year like the absolutely end of June! The roads had just cleared enough for us to drive to Somerville, New Jersey, to see On Deadly Ground, so my mom drove me to Chris and Steve’s place. Their driveway so still snowed under that they had to trudge through a foot of snow across their yard to my mother’s Toyota 4-Runner. We got to the theater—young, hopeful, high on previous Seagal movies—only to be crushed.

Wed, Jun 11, 2014 11:22 AM

Please see these two best of Seagal lists randomly culled from the interwebs:



EFA here: Chris contacted me separately to suggest the following:

On Wed, June 11, 2014 1:43 pm, Chris wrote:
Also... regarding the original event... I figured they scheduled Under Siege 2 so you could have an excuse to duck out in the middle to grab beers and bone up.

And they scheduled On Deadly Ground so you won't feel guilty about leaving early to grab beers and bone up.

Back to the group email, wherein Craig attempts AGAIN to defend his defense of On Deadly Ground…and once again falls victim to Steve’s diatribes. (As you’ll notice, Craig almost certainly sticks to his guns strictly to raise Steve’s ire—which worked precisely as I suspect he intended.)

On Jun 11, 2014, at 6:27 PM, Craig wrote:

Okay Bros. I have read all the emails and I have learned one thing:

If ever I need to somehow help you find the fire you once had (or divert you for 30 minutes while I rob your homes), I will make a comment about Steven Seagal.

Steve, your response needs to go in the New Yorker. It's an instant classic.

Let Kenny know I'm sorry I asked him to back me up. I thought he
was cool. I won't make that mistake again.

Eric and Chris, your passion is inspiring.

But I feel like you three may be like Frenchie at the beginning of ON
DEADLY GROUND when Seagal asks him "What does it take to change the
essence of a man?" And Frenchie, bloodied from the hand slap game, says "I need time."

I feel you may need time.

My argument was and still is that ON DEADLY GROUND is a "so bad its
amazing" experience that taken on its own, it is a singular and
(supremely) enjoyable experience.

Here is my one link proof:


Wed, Jun 11, 2014 06:54 PM

Out of protest I will not be watching that clip. I agree with NewYorker (or LA Weekly) submission.

Someone should make cash off this writing.

Sent from my iPhone

EFA here: Chris’s response about “making cash” partly inspired this blog. Now, on to Steve’s response to Craig’s response to Steve’s response to Craig’s initial response, wherein he actually makes analogues between watching Seagal movies and gang turf wars. I shit ye not.

On Jun 12, 2014, at 12:28 AM, Steve wrote:

Time to change, Craig?? We've had twenty fucking years!! And guess what. It ain't no better now than when we went saw it in the theater in [1994].

And you can take that to the bank. THE BLOOD BANK!!

(See, I get to say that, having seen the movie probably a half dozen times.)

Craig, with all due respect, you don't know what you're talking about.

Now mind you, I said all due respect, but if you persist on going down this road, talking about which Seagal movie is the best after having only seen one film, then the next time no respect will be given because none will be due. It's like you're some 1970s New York gang member and you're lost and you need to get back to your home turf, but between here and there is our turf. Now we're a pretty heavy crew, but we're willing to let you take a shortcut through our turf, but only if you show us some respect. And right now you ain't showing any fucking respect.

>Let Kenny know I'm sorry I asked him to back me up. I thought he was cool. I won't make that mistake >again.

Are you fucking kidding me?? He's not Freddo and you ain't Michael Corleone here. He's the fucking Godfather of Seagal-ism and you're the mortician who went to him expecting a favor. Only you didn't do it with respect, you didn't offer friendship, or even call him Godfather. And it ain't the fucking day of his fucking daughter's wedding!! It was a foolish bet, Craig, like when Ellis does too many lines of coke and thinks he can negotiate with Hansey-baby. Hey, business is business. You use a gun, I use a fountain pen, what's the difference? Well there's a big fucking difference, and you're damn right you won't make that mistake again. Cause Ellis is fucking dead!! 

Now I watched your link. I am unfazed. Six and a half minutes of shitty filmmaking culled from a roughly two hour movie? That's child's play. You want six and a half minutes of Seagal?? Well here it is. One scene. In its entirety. From one movie. Not four or five seconds at a time stitched together into some sort of Fool's Gold.

Anybody seen a real Seagal move, huh? I'm gonna keep coming back until somebody remembers.


On Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 7:58 AM, Chris wrote:

That clip was awesome! I'll be revisiting these films for sure.

I watched the On Deadly Ground clip. I'll say this... I could see why one could like it if you had never seen an Seagal movie before. It's got a couple good fights and stuff. But it's cheesy. The early Seagal movies are good in a non-cheesy way. And more percentage of fights.

Also. I think Craig is just arguing for the sake of arguing. He knows he's been beat. But he likes the responses.

Or if he doesn't know he's been beat... then he's an asshole. Because the answer to the argument takes under 2 hours. Just time to screen 1 flick.

Out for Justice anyone? Or Marked for Death? I can host the second half of this showdown...

Sent from my iPhone

EFA: At this point Steve leaves behind the gang turf metaphor in favor of taking up the mantle of food analogies to describe Craig’s lack of taste in Seagal-ism (no pun intended). The results are hilarious.

On Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 11:18 AM, Steve wrote:

Look, I get it. And I get why they're playing it at the Silent Movie Theater. If your normal diet consisted of Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, International Documentaries, Underground Cult Animation, and Lost Gems of the French New Wave, (not that there's anything wrong with that), then if you were to try to ease your way into the world of Steven Seagal movies, maybe On Deadly Ground would be a good choice. A little of the familiar with a little of the unfamiliar. I mean, you wouldn't want to push it, right?? Marked For Death just might be too much of a shock to the system. It'd be like a vegetarian contemplating eating meat again and going right out and wolfing down a double bacon chili cheeseburger. You gotta ease your way into that shit with some fish or chicken before tackling that kind of red meat overload with your carnivore friends. Otherwise you'll get sick.

Thu, Jun 12, 2014 11:48 AM

Just remember we're dealing with the same a-hole who will write down Braveheart in his notebook 15 times before sitting down to watch it... even though it won a ton of rewards and is gloriously violent. No time for Braveheart because he's gotta watch Loves of Blonde for the 18th time.

Hey... Craig... I'm gonna tell my kids to skip Silence of the Lambs and Manhunter and just watch the Hannibal TV show.

And skip Terminator and watch the Sarah Conor Chronicles.

And skip Predator and Alien and Aliens and just watch Alien vs. Predator. Or AVP2.

AND!! Skip Raiders and just watch Crystal Skull.

No I'm not... I'm gonna sit them down in their 15th birthday and do a marathon of Silence of the Lambs, Manhunter, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Terminator 1 and 2, Predator, Alien, Aliens and Out for Justice.

EFA: Although soundly beaten by three Seagal experts, Craig simply won’t give up the ghost. The anger and nerd rage inherent in this discussion has already boiled over and seethed all over the kitchen floor in a horrid fury stew. Best thing to do: walk away.

Nope, not my buddy Craigie. He’s taking his sharpest fingernail and poking right into Steve’s wound and twisting it even further.

But notice how he softens the blow by first offering a compliment. You’ll see!

Fri, Jun 13, 2014 06:56 PM

Steve, Chris, Eric,

Chris is right. I do love these responses. And Steve, your writing has
been incandescent, on fire. There's no way I can touch it. It's been
amazing. So I have to go for a paltry second option: try to be to the
point and sincere.

Guys, I'm the one who started off this debate in a confrontational tone.
So I have nobody to blame but myself.

And I do get all your points. But the irony is that my point really never challenged you on any of those points.

My only point has, from the beginning, just been that "On Deadly Ground" is so bad it's amazing.

Really quickly, let's just focus on that point. You might come back and
say no it's not. It just sucks. Which I think is basically your point.

So where's my proof, other than I loved it, Barry loved it, a lot of folks in our movie club loved it?

Here are just a few of many legit sites, people who also love ON DEADLY
GROUND because they think it's "so bad its amazing":


The film is listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book
The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad
Movies Ever Made.

Seagalogy author Vern considers On Deadly Ground to be one of Seagal's
defining works, writing, "It's the corniest, most unintentionally
hilarious movie of his career... But it's also Seagal's most sincere and his most ballsy," going on to claim, "You can't understand Seagal if you haven't seen On Deadly Ground."


Now, further logic, goes on to say that "On Deadly Ground" must be "so bad it's amazing" to a lot of people for the following reasons:

It made such an impression on South Park co-creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone, they referenced it in their episode "Over Logging" (and a lot of people got the reference. This couldn't have worked if nobody was watching ON DEADLY GROUND. Enough people must be watching ON DEADLY GROUND out of camp enjoyment for SOUTH PARK to feel it merited the reference it got).

Finally, let's take the most important point: ON DEADLY GROUND was a huge let down for you guys. It sucked. It basically killed Seagal's career. And you guys know he had a lot to give and he squandered it here.

But that doesn't mean that it isn't "so bad it's amazing". Take for
instance CRYSTAL SKULL. Nobody is watching that. It just sucked. And
that was also a huge let down. Or PROMETHEUS. That too sucked. But
nobody's really having huge PROMETHEUS movie clubs or Cinefamily nights.

But ON DEADLY GROUND is slowly becoming one of those movies that rep
theaters and programmers with a sense of humor program. Hence why it's
going on at CINEFAMILY.

Guys, it's my fault that I started this whole exchange confrontationally. But I do really think ON DEADLY GROUND is a lot of fun. And a lot of other people do too.

I just want to extend a real olive branch here: if you can let go of the anger you felt at what a let down it was for you and just watch it again, I think you'll have a blast. How could you not? The movie has everything: a vision quest, Michael Caine, Billy Bob Thornton, Lee Ermey spouting non-sensical lines, Seagal asking "what does it take to change the essence of a man?".

I never argued that ON DEADLY GROUND was better than the movies you
reference. I never argued that the only Seagal movie anyone should ever
see is ON DEADLY GROUND. You guys keep setting up fake arguments I never made and then knocking them down like you scored points.

Now, I'm going to go out and immediately watch MARKED FOR DEATH, OUT FOR JUSTICE, and HARD TO KILL.


Me <auteur2000@juno.com>
To: Craig, Chris, Steve
Subject: Re: One link response to this ON DEADLY GROUND debate
Sun, Jun 15, 2014 05:40 PM

Craig, I would love to hear your opining once you have seen "Hard to Kill" and the other early Seagal vehicles as a basis not only for comparison but also education and elucidation on the early 90s phenomenon that he spawned.

As far as ODG goes, I'm afraid we shall have to agree to disagree. But I still love ya, of course!

"Fire Down Below," the one from 97 where Seagal plays with his bluegrass band *onscreen*, is even more laughable (but not in a good way). It has Kristofferson as the villain, which is about all that can be said for it.

Happy Father's Day, gents, to guiding men in life both biological and otherwise (mostly otherwise).


EFA here: Steve once again takes the bait, and once again resorts to such far-reaching metaphors as comparing Seagal-ogy not only to beers but now to white zinfandels. Couldn’t make it up if I tried.

Fri, Jun 20, 2014 12:49 AM


Craig and I watched the USA/Ghana world cup game this week and did briefly discuss this conversation.

Here's the thing. I know four legit Steven Seagal fans including myself. Four out of four were excited when they found out about the Seagal marathon. Four out of four were then disappointed when they found out the lineup. They were all disappointed on account of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory and more specifically On Deadly Ground, so disappointed that they lost all interest in attending the marathon. Now I know that's a matter of opinion, but there's something to be said when four out of four people who were familiar with the movies in the lineup had the exact same reaction.

I don't think I'm setting up false arguments and knocking them down. Like I said, the lineup for the Seagal marathon sucks in my opinion. They have two good movies and two shitty ones. And I feel strongly about that, and I consider that to be an expert opinion considering I saw both of the shitty movies int he theater, and then again years later.

Now what about the Cinefamily brain trust and this Vern character? Like I said before, there's nothing wrong with him recommending On Deadly Ground for preferred viewing, but if he claims that it's the pinnacle of Seagalogy then he's not a true fan and is approaching it from a hipster viewpoint. It's not something you can prove, but it doesn't pass the eye-test. Anyone who actually enjoys Seagal movies would tell you that.

But what about it being "so bad it's good?" Here's the thing. Sure, if it works for you, it works for you. And if it works for others, then great, it works for them. But for those of us well versed in the Seagal canon (and the whole 1980's/early 90's American martial arts B-movie genre) someone telling you that On Deadly Ground is the pinnacle, or even preferred viewing, is like a wine drinker deciding to live on the edge one night, trying an over-the-top San Diego style Double IPA and then telling you it's the best beer they've ever had. Sure, a fellow wine maker might try it and agree, but a serious beer drinker would be justified in saying, "Look, I get it, it's full of hops, so much so it slaps you in the face with hops, and you think that's good, but I know this other beer that's got just as much hops, but it has the malt character and complexity to balance those hops. It's so well balance in fact, that you probably won't notice that it's 10% alcohol, so you won't even realize that you're getting drunk off one beer."

Let's face it, we obviously have different ideas about what makes a movie "so bad it's good." For me, On Deadly Ground doesn't qualify. Maybe that's because I'm too familiar with his other movies of the era and what kind of potential it had to enjoy it. Maybe it's also because for me, "so bad it's good" really means "it straddles the line between legit dope and illegit bad so amazingly that as a whole it is awesome." It has to have things that work, or that should have worked, mixed with things that are so head-slappingly ill-conceived that together it's magic. Death Wish 3 has that. There are good scenes, or good concepts, mixed with the laughable. The Apple has that. As bad as it it, there's fun production values, plus the fact that it very accurately predicted our media-obsessed, celebrity-worshipping society. Same with Cobra or Roadhouse. There was something in there that could have worked. There's got to be something in there that works to hold it all together. For me, just being shockingly bad isn't good enough. That weird martial arts movie we all watched (Eric wasn't there), Chinese Boxer maybe it was called, to me, as shocking and head-slapping as it may have been, it was just bad. There's was nothing in it that worked. Nothing. It was so bad it was awful. Excruciating even. But not so bad it was good.

That's what On Deadly Ground is for me. Look, Steven had no business directing, it's aspirations are all wrong, the acting/writing/execution are all just awful, but not in any way that to me actually makes it stick out in any way. To me, it's just bad. Is it especially bad? Yes. Is it shockingly bad? Indeed. But to me the best thing you could say about it is that sometimes it's "so bad it's actually entertaining." But "so bad it's good" is a level it never reaches.

Craig, your point seems to be that lots of people like On Deadly Ground so there must be something to it. Sure, look, if it works for all of you that's great, but you know what, a lot of people like white zinfandel, but that doesn't mean it's good. Not to be a dick, but it's like I'm a Seagal sommelier and you guys are wine tasting for the first time so of course you're drawn to the white zinfandel. That's fine. I get it. It's sweet. It's easy. It's a good entry. But when a fellow wine expert walks in, I know that he won't have time for the white zin, and we will open up a big bold Cabernet.

And that's what On Deadly Ground is. It's a white zin. It's easy to read. It's like a fast running, shallow stream. It looks challenging to cross, because the surface is moving so fast, but it's so shallow anyone can cross it. Marked For Death is like a deep river. It may not look powerful, because the surface doesn't look like it's moving that fast, but if you try crossing it and you'll be swept away downstream.

Craig, I'm sorry. No amount of second chances, or watching it with an "open mind" are going to change that. It just doesn't work on any level for me. And it won't for the other guys in this argument either. We prefer Marked For Death. Plain and simple. And it's not even close. And this is not a false dichotomy. It is one or the other. You can't like both. Marked For Death is simultaneously legit awesome and ridiculous, often in the same scene, sometimes in the same instant. On Deadly Ground isn't awesome in any way. You're just laughing at bad filmmaking, only it's heightened because it's bad filmmaking by a martial arts star who decided to get all environmental and forgot to kick ass.

I don't have time for bad filmmaking.

Or, to put it simply, you either like Seagal movies or you don't.

(And I get it if you don't. They're not for everyone.)

If you don't like Seagal movies, you might like On Deadly Ground.

But if you like Seagal movies, you won't (and could never) like On Deadly Ground.

There's no real middle ground. It's not a false dichotomy. Recommending On Deadly Ground is the same as poo-pooing on Marked For Death, Out For Justice, or Hard To Kill.

So I guess I think it's weird that Cinefamily put on a Seagal marathon with two movies for Seagal fans (Hard to Kill and Out For Justice), one movie for non-Seagal fans (On Deadly Ground) and then, oddly, one movie for nobody (Under Siege 2). It was a poorly conceived line-up.

But like I said earlier, part of me is glad they didn't show Marked For Death. Part of me doesn't want it to be shared. Part of me likes being able to tell who my friends are. Marked For Death is too good to be shown to a bunch of hipsters who've never seen any of his movies.


Sun, Jun 22, 2014 11:45 PM

Amazing replies here. Steve, your writing is so persuasive and
passionate, we should just stop right here. There's no way I can top it.

I will watch all these movies, including ABOVE THE LAW as Chris mentions below, and look forward to the next round of Segal Semantics.

In the meantime I move that we focus our mojo on a Thursday tie or win for the USA.

Yes, today's game was a heartbreaker. A win would have been infinitely
better than a tie. But now is the moment that true teams are made.

This is a moment early Steven Seagal would appreciate.