Every month, the Alamo Drafthouse has something that they call the Video Vortex. This is where, for one night only, they show a movie that are only available on VHS. For the most part, these movies are usually very obscure, often quite strange, and, not surprisingly, really, really bad. However, on the plus side, it only costs a dollar to get into Video Vortex and it gives people like me a chance to see films with titles like Dance or Die.
In all probability, of the 50 films that I’m reviewing in this series, Dance or Die is probably the one that nobody else has ever heard of. That’s understandable because Dance or Die is a pretty bad film and, when it was released way back in 1987, it apparently went straight to video. If not for the fact that the Alamo Drafthouse is just a few blocks away from me, I would probably never have heard of — much less seen — Dance or Die.
Dance or Die tells the story of Jason Chandler (Roy Kieffer), a choreographer who is also a recovering drug addict. Jason spends his time either choreographing a show or teaching a dance class. That’s not me being a vague reviewer. That’s me pointing out the fact that the film itself seems to be unsure just what exactly it is that Jason spends all of his time doing, beyond the fact that it somehow involves dancing. At the end of the movie, there’s a hilariously bad dance performance that Jason apparently choreographed. (I say bad but I have to admit that it’s believably bad and I’ve been involved in worse.) Are the dancers Jason’s students or are they supposed to be professionals? Who knows?
We’re also left uncertain as to just when exactly Jason was a drug addict or what he was addicted to or anything else like that. All we know is that he goes to meetings that have a definite AA feel to them and he has heart-to-heart talks with his drug counselor. He often says that he’s feeling tempted to return to his old way but what were those ways?
And another thing — if Jason’s a recovering drug addict, is it really a good idea for him to be roommates with a guy who spends all of his spare time selling cocaine out of their apartment? If I was Jason’s counselor, I’d probably tell him to find a new roommate. However, in all fairness, the roommate (whose name I never caught — in fact, I’m not sure if it’s ever stated) does tell Jason not to touch any of the cocaine.
And here’s another question for you — why do Jason and his roommate keep an aquarium in their back yard? It’s just sitting out there with a bunch of confused fish wondering why they’re not being kept in the living room. When Jason’s roommate holds an outdoor barbecue, a bunch of gangster pop up out of nowhere and gun everyone down and, sad to say, the aquarium is destroyed.
Fortunately, during the massacre, Jason was out doing whatever the Hell it is that he does all day. (For the most part, it looks like he spends most of his time driving his car. The film takes place in Las Vegas and you better believe that whenever Jason goes out for a drive, he makes sure to go by a few locations that scream, “Hey, we filmed in Vegas!”) Jason is naturally upset to discover a bunch of dead people in his house and he’s even more upset when a homicide detective suggests that maybe Jason knows more than he’s telling. But Jason doesn’t do anything crazy like move out of the house. Even after he starts to get threatening phone calls, Jason stays in the house.
It turns out that Jason’s roommate hid a file somewhere in the house. Jason spends most of the movie searching for that file and he even gets desperate enough to bring in a psychic at one point. However, the file really doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether or not Jason will be able to resist the temptation to start using drugs again. Will Jason resist his demons? Will he find love with one of the two women who are inexplicably attracted to him? And will the presence of gun-toting gangsters ruin the big dance performance?
Oh, the drama!
Yes, Dance or Die is a pretty inept film but it’s one of those films that, quite unintentionally, has a compellingly surreal feel to it. It may not work as a thriller or an attempt to explore addiction but it does definitely work as a piece of performance art. Add to that, there’s dancing! To be honest, I could have used a lot more dancing but the final performance of Jason’s dance troupe (or students or whatever they’re supposed to be) simply has to be seen to be believed.
Now, I know what you’re wondering. “Gee, Lisa, how can I see this movie?”
Well, fear not.
The movie is below!