Straight to Hell (film)

Straight to Hell

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Alex Cox
Produced by Eric Fellner
Written by Alex Cox
Dick Rude
Based on Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot!
by Franco Arcalli
Giulio Questi
María del Carmem Martínez Román
Benedetto Benedetti
Starring Dick Rude
Sy Richardson
Courtney Love
Joe Strummer
Dennis Hopper
Xander Berkeley
Grace Jones
Elvis Costello
Jim Jarmusch
Music by Pray for Rain
Cinematography Donald McAlpine
Edited by David Martin
Distributed by Island Pictures
J&M Entertainment
Release dates
  • 26 June 1987 (1987-06-26) (U.S.)
Running time
86 minutes
91 minutes (2010 director's cut)
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget US$1,000,000 (estimated)
Box office $210,200

Straight to Hell is a 1987 independent action-comedy film directed by Alex Cox, and starring Sy Richardson, Joe Strummer (frontman of The Clash), Dick Rude, and Courtney Love. The film also features cameos by Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Elvis Costello, and Jim Jarmusch. Band members of The Pogues, Amazulu, and The Circle Jerks are also featured in the film. The film borrows its title from The Clash's 1982 song of the same name.

The film has been called a parody of Spaghetti Westerns,[1] and concerns a gang of criminals who become stranded in the desert, where they stumble upon a surreal Western town full of coffee-addicted killers. The film is based on Giulio Questi's Spaghetti Western film, Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967), which Cox was given permission to adapt.[2]

Straight to Hell received few positive reviews upon release, and was not a commercial success, although it later gained something of a cult film status.[3] A soundtrack was also released. On 14 December 2010, an extended cut of the film, titled Straight to Hell Returns, was released on DVD, featuring additional footage and digitally enhanced picture quality.[4] This version of the film, under the collaboration of Alex Cox, was also screened at several cinemas as part of a midnight movie theatrical run.


The film opens with three hitmen, Willy, Norwood, and Simms (played by Dick Rude, Sy Richardson, and Joe Strummer, respectively) who are staying in a posh Los Angeles hotel. After failing a job, they take off in a car with a whiny pregnant woman named Velma (Courtney Love), who is in on their scheme. They then flee to Mexico to escape the wrath of their boss, Amos Dade (Jim Jarmusch), and rob a bank along the way. While driving through the desert, their car breaks down due to Simms having filled the gasoline tank with diesel by mistake. They bury their suitcase of money in the desert and begin to walk.

Night falls, and they come upon a town in the middle of the desert, where they see a demolished car with a corpse inside. They then enter an empty bar, where the three men get drunk and Velma angrily pesters them to leave. As they exit the bar, the wrecked car has vanished, but the men are too inebriated to notice it. The group camps out for the night, and the following morning, Velma witnesses several trucks of lively cowboys enter the town, carrying espresso machines with them. Much to the dismay of Velma, who insists they keep a low profile and leave, the three men enter the town, which is now full of townspeople, and go back to the bar.

There, they are confronted by a gang of cowboys addicted to coffee (The Pogues), and a shoot-out ensues, but they are ultimately welcomed by the townspeople. The bizarre townspeople include a couple who own a mercantile full of piñatas, a man running a hot dog stand, and countless cowboys and prostitutes, among others. The head honcho of the town, Tim McMahon (Biff Yeager), invites the gang to a party that evening. The following day, Tim McMahon's elderly father is pushed off of a building by his relative Sabrina McMahon (Kathy Burke) and dies. The entire town has a funeral procession for him, and at the funeral, a friend of Amos', named Whitey, shows up looking for the hitmen and Velma.

The town seizes Whitey for being a "stranger", and accuses him of the murder of the McMahon grandfather. During the burial of the grandfather, his hand comes up out of the dirt and grabs the priest's ankle, and the priest shoots into the ground, killing him. Meanwhile, on the gallows, Whitey begins to tell the town the truth about Amos and the hitmen, but is hanged before he can tell his story. A man named I.G. Farben (Dennis Hopper), who claims to be a house manufacturer, enters town with his wife Sonia (Grace Jones) and introduces himself to the gang and the rest of the townspeople, advertising his company. The next morning, Simms sees Amos' car enter the town, and tries to get a drunken Willy and Norwood to leave with Velma.

A series of shootouts begin between the townspeople, Amos' crew, and the hitmen, and I.G. Farben and Sonia provide high-grade weapons for the killers. Tim McMahon joins Amos' team after having wrongfully hanged Whitey, and everyone begins to turn against each other. As Simms and Willy run into the desert, a shootout ensues with the town priest. They reach the spot where they buried the money, and Simms shoots Willy as they are trying to lift the suitcase out of the ground. Simms then hears Velma laughing, and turns around only to be shot by Velma and one of the townsmen. After Velma shoots Simms several times, the townman with her is shot by Tim McMahon. Tim and Velma then take off arm-in-arm with the suitcase of money, while Simms and Willy die.

Meanwhile, in town, chaos has ensued, and the town hardware store is set on fire. Amos is shot in the head, and virtually everyone in the town is killed, aside from Norwood and several prostitutes. Tim and Velma leave the town in a truck with the suitcase of money, but accidentally drive off of a cliff when their brakes go out, and die as the car explodes in mid-air. Norwood leaves town with the prostitutes, and the film ends with Farben Oil Company trucks entering the town to drill for oil.

The end of the film announces an imminent sequel: Back to Hell, despite the fact that almost every main character is killed at the end of the film. Although the sequel was never made, upon the film's DVD release, Cox reassembled much of the cast and crew for a short documentary called Back to Hell, in which they reminisce about the making of the film.



The film was not originally intended to be made at all, and the reason for a preponderance of musicians in the cast was the result of a concert tour of Nicaragua that was planned in the first place.[5] Political problems arose concerning the support of the left-wing government of Nicaragua, and the tour was cancelled. In its place Cox decided to have the bands, and several actors he could assemble, make a movie in Almería, Spain. Cox and co-star Dick Rude wrote a script in three days,[2] and the entire film was shot in just four weeks. Cox wrote the part of Velma specifically for Courtney Love, who had starred in a supporting role in his previous film, Sid and Nancy (1986).[6] Love modeled the character after Carroll Baker's performance in the 1956 film Baby Doll.[7]

Alex Cox turned down the chance to direct ¡Three Amigos! in order to film Straight to Hell.

Release and reception

Straight to Hell's premiere was held at the Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, California. Invitees were asked to come dressed in "post-apocalyptic fiesta garb."[8] Everyone who arrived was handed a water pistol.[8] The film's premiere was a fiasco, and several people at the drive-in left midway into the movie.[6] Courtney Love was reportedly visibly upset at the premiere.[6]

The film was not well received by critics, drawing mostly negative reviews. In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "The result is a mildly engrossing, instantly forgettable midnight movie."[9] Hal Hinson, in his review for the Washington Post, wrote, "The action is so gratuitous, and so indifferently presented, that it's impossible to think that Cox ever truly intended it to be seen by anyone outside of the cast and crew and their immediate families."[10]

In the US Straight to Hell was rated "R" for violence and language. The latter reason caught the producers by surprise, as the writers deliberately refrained from including any sort of profanity in the dialogue. Even the word "hell" appears only in the title (at one point a character quite noticeably says "what the heck is going on here?"), and the insults that fly before a showdown are no worse than "go boil yer head!"

The film was released on VHS in the 1990s and was also released on DVD by Anchor Bay Entertainment on 24 April 2001, but went out of print in the following years.

2010 director's cut

In 2010, Microcinema DVD announced a new director's cut, dubbed Straight to Hell Returns. The new version features a new HD transfer, color correction that changes the look of the film, new effects, and new footage. Blood and additional violence during the shootout scenes was digitally implemented into the film which had not been there prior.[11] Cox stated that he was inspired to revisit the film by Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now Redux.[2] The DVD was released on 14 December 2010. It will also be the first version of the film available on Blu-ray.

Leading up to the DVD release, Straight to Hell Returns was screened at several arthouse theaters across the United States and Canada in October and November 2010.[5]


Straight to Hell
Soundtrack album
Released 1987
Genre Soundtrack
Length 34:45
Label Off the Track

Track listing

No.TitleWriter(s)Performed byLength
1."The Good, the Bad and the Ugly"  Ennio MorriconeThe Pogues3:45
2."Rake at the Gates of Hell"  Shane McGowanThe Pogues2:22
3."If I Should Fall from Grace with God"  Shane McGowanThe Pogues2:41
4."Rabinga"  Shane McGowanThe Pogues2:21
5."Evil Darling"  Joe StrummerJoe Strummer5:07
6."Big Nothing"  Elvis CostelloThe Macmanus Gang5:47
7."Money, Guns and Coffe"  Dan WoolPray for Rain4:08
8."Ambush at the Mystery Rock"  Joe StrummerJoe Strummer3:32
9."Salsa Y Ketchup"  Zander Schloss, Joe Strummer, Miguel SandovalZander Schloss2:23
10."The Killers (Main Title Theme)"  Dan WoolPray for Rain2:56
11."Danny Boy"   The Pogues feat. Cait O'Riordan and the cast1:43
Total length:34:45


  1. Donaghy, Gerry (26 September 2009). "From Liverpool to Cinecitta". Powell's Books. Retrieved 23 September 2011. One such filmmaker is Alex Cox, director of Repo Man and Sid and Nancy. In 1987 he made his own Spaghetti Western pastiche Straight to Hell, and, more recently, has written an assessment of the genre in 10,000 Ways to Die. To this task, Cox brings a lifelong appreciation of all Westerns, as well as experience behind the camera, both of which give him a unique perspective to the genre.
  2. 1 2 3 Koh, Michelle (4 March 2011). "Why Alex Cox Returned to "Straight to Hell"". Indie Wire. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
  3. "Straight to Hell". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
  4. "STRAIGHT TO HELL RETURNS". Alex Cox Official Website. Retrieved 22 September 2011.
  5. 1 2 Olsen, Mark (15 November 2010). "Offbeat Alex Cox film gets second chance". Los Angeles Times.
  6. 1 2 3 "Courtney Love". The E! True Hollywood Story. October 2005. E!.
  7. Love, Courtney (February 1987). "Courtney Love". Interview. p. 25.
  8. 1 2 Deans, Laurie (3 July 1987). "What on Earth Do You Wear to a 'Post-Apocalyptic Fiesta'?". Globe & Mail.
  9. Maslin, Janet (26 June 1987). "Straight to Hell". New York Times.
  10. Hinson, Hal (1 July 1987). ""Hell" on Reels". Washington Post.
  11. Hartel, Nick (14 December 2010). "Straight to Hell returns". DVD Talk. Retrieved 23 September 2011.
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