After a nuclear holocaust in 1957 turns the United States into a barren wasteland, Las Vegas becomes one of the last great cities on the continent. Now that the last heir to Elvis Presley has passed away, the city is looking for the next person to crown as king. A sword swinging guitar player named Buddy is looking to make that dream a reality for himself but his reputation proceeds him and now has to fend off attacks from every direction. Even ones from Death. To make matters worse, Buddy now finds himself watching over an orphaned boy as the two try to make their way to Las Vegas.
After watching the movie "5 Shells" I felt like revisiting an old favorite of mine that I discovered on late night television called "Six-String Samurai". What inspired the revisit is that both movies deal with characters wandering post-apocalyptic landscapes with a "Wizard of Oz" theme tied into the story. It's been a few years since the last time I watched "Six-String Samurai" but it's one that has always stuck with me because of it's wild and campy nature along with a badass Buddy Holly samurai, who is either shredding people with his katana or shredding the guitar with good ol' fashioned rock-and-roll.
"Six-String Samurai" is set in an alternate universe in which the Russians destroyed the United States in 1957 with nuclear missiles. Now the country is nothing but desert, toilet water is a commodity and one of the last great cities is Las Vegas. Unfortunately the only heir to Elvis Presley has died so a new king of rock-and-roll is waiting to be crowned and every wannabe musician and scumbag heads to the city. Buddy, the legendary 'Four Eyes', heads to the city with his guitar in one hand and his katana in the other with plans of becoming the next king. Plans change for Buddy though when he picks up an orphaned boy along the way and is stuck facing many challengers, freaks, mutants and even Death himself.
The reason "Six-String Samurai" has achieved cult status and why I ended up falling in love with the movie when I did is because it's a fairly ridiculous movie. It embraces its campiness. Whether it's seeing Buddy taking on a team of knife-wielding bowlers, a bunch of cavemen, a division of the Russian army (in which a commanding officer has this exchange with one of his soldiers: "Why don't we just shoot him?" "We haven't had bullets since '57.") or having a 'spinach monster' show up in the freakin' middle of the movie. There is a genuine samurai tale woven into the plot but the movie is never afraid to be over-the-top and play something for laughs and be outlandish. It's even willing to poke fun of itself, as noted through that little exchange between the Russians.
However, where this use to be the reason I loved the movie -- it's ludicrous and schlocky nature -- I've come to realize it's also the reason why the movie isn't as good as it could have been or should be. "Six-String Samurai" throws everything into the mix: there's the "Wizard of Oz" references (to a point where even a character melts after having water dumped on him), a samurai film influences, spaghetti-Westerns as well, post-apocalyptic film clichés, music and culture references, etc. The list goes on and on. It's a movie where they threw in everything and the kitchen sink as well.
Sure, it helps the entertaining nature of the movie by having there be so much material and enough references that would make Tarantino's head explode. The problem is that there's ultimately nothing to latch on to. Not even characters. Buddy is a great hero character but he's ultimately lost to the time being split between his character and the nameless-boy. It could have been a great film by simply combining the Western and Americanized-samurai film together, along with the concept of music being one of the most important things in the movie's wasteland. Hell, the clever writing that integrated so many historical musical names and styles was more than enough to carry the weight of the movie. Sadly though, it's something else that was thinned out to make room for all the other things they wanted to include in the movie.
But I digress, i f the movie had done less and narrowed it's vision on what it wanted to do and what kind of story it wanted to tell, would it have been a better or as memorable of a movie? Naturally I would say yes because that would mean that I'm right in my opinions and, quite frankly, I'm always right, goddammit. However, the reality says otherwise. The reason "Six-String Samurai" is a cult movie is because it offers a bit of everything and manages to keep itself entertaining instead of being a muddy mess. It has a great central character and enough golden moments that allows the movie to shine but I can't help but wonder how much better it could have been with a bit a more focus.
Wondering aside, it's still a fun movie that I enjoy turning on from time to time even though my fandom for "Six-String Samurai" is weighing over the years. It still remains an enjoyable post-apocalyptic movie that offers something a little different from the norm. It's probably not a movie older cult fans can get into because of the movie's light nature (even though Buddy kills a shit load of people with his sword, you never see any blood) but it is a great one for the family if there's a budding cult-fan in your life.