Summer of ’84.
Photo: Gunpowder & Sky
The writing and directing trio known as Roadkill Superstar have described themselves as “a three-headed beast.” But you’d be hard-pressed to find a more approachable, exuberant group of filmmakers than François Simard, his girlfriend Anouk Whissell, and her brother Yoann-Karl Whissell. Together, the three have made more than 20 short films that serve as a wild road map to their broad cinematic tastes; watching them feels like traveling back to an earlier era, when exploitation and kung fu and grind house films and synth-soaked slashers were the cinema du jour.
Their first feature film, Turbo Kid, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015 and followed the raucous, gory adventures of a young boy surviving in a dystopian wasteland with only his BMX and his lovingly preserved pop-culture artifacts to keep him entertained. This weekend, RKSS will see the release of their first feature follow-up to Turbo Kid. It’s a surprisingly twisted homage to those 1980s serial killers–in-the-suburbs movies, and it’s called Summer of ’84. It follows a group of teens trying to solve a string of murders in their town by surreptitiously investigating a local police officer, and while it doesn’t have the bombast of Turbo (which the trio is working on a sequel to right now), it does serve up all the nostalgia porn you’d hope for in a Roadkill production.
“We share a brain. It’s fucked-up,” says Yoann-Karl, almost bursting with enthusiasm, which is how he says most things when he’s talking about movies. “We want to do sci-fi. We want to do straight horror. We want to do kung fu. We want to explore in genre. We want to have fun. We love so many things!” Given the trio’s unique commitment to old-school genre sensibilities, Vulture sat down with Simard and the Whissell siblings, who have been working together for almost 20 years now, to assemble the ultimate RKSS movie playlist.
Watch more than one RKSS production and you’ll long for the days of simple cinematic action pleasures like Commando and Missing in Action — a world free of irony, and one in which Chuck Norris was a paragon of heroic brawn. Here is a selection of the group’s most formative films in the genre.
Dead or Alive (1999)
Synopsis: A detective starts a gang war in an effort to bring down a massive criminal underground.
Simard: “I didn’t know you could do that. You can just flip the script and go all-out crazy, and everybody was going nuts screaming and I’m like, ‘All right.’”
The Killer (1989)
Synopsis: John Woo’s classic about an assassin trying to get out of the hit man life who will have to take on basically all of law enforcement and his former employers to try and make a peaceful life for himself.
Simard: “It’s one of the best action movies ever made.”
The Legend of Drunken Master (1994)
Synopsis: Jackie Chan returns as Wong Fei-hung, the master of “drunken boxing” who becomes a one-man wrecking crew after he’s knocked back a few drinks. And this time, he has some precious stolen artifacts to recover.
Yoann-Karl: “The best Jackie Chan film.”
Synopsis: John McTiernan’s movie about a group of elite American soldiers who go into the jungles of Central America to hunt down a monstrous extraterrestrial.
Yoann-Karl: “I mean, that’s such a great sci-fi action film. And so many lines are perfect. All the actors are not overplaying it. Nobody’s sarcastic. They believe in their universe and we all believe that this six-foot-five Austrian, Arnold, is an expert in the American army. It’s so good.”
The Prodigal Son (1981)
Synopsis: The slacker son of a wealthy man realizes his father has been paying his opponents to take dives in competitive fights, so he seeks out a kung fu master who will teach him martial arts.
Anouk: “I think that’s when I fell in love with kung fu movies.”
The Raid 2 (2014)
Synopsis: After surviving one of the most deadly villain barrages of all time in the first Raid, a Jakarta cop must now go undercover in a massive criminal organization to take the whole thing down.
Simard: “I just watched the kitchen scene, because it’s one of the best fight scenes of recent times, and I have chills just watching it. I would love to do a kung fu movie at one point.”
Even though the RKSS team swears an allegiance to fun and specializes in outlandishly entertaining projects, they also love a good unhappy ending. Confronting pain and suffering is actually a key part of the team’s films, so naturally, we had to get a list of their most formative films that will totally gut you.
Synopsis: Director Michael Haneke’s painfully beautiful romance about a husband who cares for his wife following a stroke, vowing to keep her from living her life in a hospital.
Yoann-Karl: “It destroyed me. I thought it was such a brutal film. It’s so dark. It’s so bleak.”
Synopsis: A criminal enforcer has his life turned around when he meets and falls in love with a young girl, but leaving behind his violent past will be more difficult than he could have ever imagined.
Yoann-Karl: “It’s such a good film. At Fantasia, where we were at the world premiere, we heard that people [were] trying to hold up their tears and sniffing. Except one person who is bawling, and it’s me. I’m ugly crying and not able to breathe in. Like, I couldn’t get my breath back. I was crying so much. That film crushed me so hard that I had difficulty to talking about the film for hours afterwards without tearing up.”
The Dog Who Stopped the War (1984)
Synopsis: This family Christmas film about a neighborhood snowball fight doubles as a message film about the horrors of war.
Anouk: “This is a very important one, and in Quebec for kids from our generation, this is one I really think inspired us. It’s a movie for kids but they were ballsy at that time.”
Simard: “That movie did fuck our childhoods. I think all French Canadians remember that movie.”
The Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
Synopsis: This Japanese anime follows a teenage boy who is left to care for his younger sister after an American firebombing rips their family apart. They must fight to stay together — and alive.
Yoann-Karl: “It is going to destroy your soul.”
The Virgin Suicides (1999)
Synopsis: Sofia Coppola’s brooding, gossamer-wrapped drama about a group of teen girls in the suburbs who are trapped under the rule of tyrannical conservative parents.
Anouk: “I like watching that movie, but I feel crushed every time.”
Of course Simard and the Whissells were heavily influenced by classics like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Their films are valentines to movie fans who grew up worshipping at those genre altars, but here are a few notable sci-fi entries — classic and otherwise — embedded deeply in their geek DNA.
The Abyss (1989)
Synopsis: An American search-and-rescue team has to go deep underwater to try and salvage a wrecked submarine, but what they find under the surface is anything but human.
Yoann-Karl: “I love that film, but it’s terrifying. Just the concept of that freaks me out!”
DeepStar Six (1989)
Synopsis: The crew of an underwater military base have to defend their outpost from an attacking sea monster.
Yoann-Karl: “It’s underwater. It’s a creature-feature and is exactly like Alien. It’s cheesy and everything, but it’s my favorite Alien rip-off.”
The Thing (1982)
Synopsis: The John Carpenter classic about a group of people trying to survive in an Antarctic outpost after an alien organism starts consuming people and taking over their bodies.
Yoann-Karl: “It’s the greatest horror film ever made. How well-written the characters are, and how well he played with paranoia. And that ending. The ending of The Thing is one of the greatest endings of any film.”
As much as they treasure seminal works like Indiana Jones and Alien, team RKSS would not be who they are today without a robust respect — and a staggering appetite — for amazingly terrible movies. Here are a few of their most ridiculous favorites that, as Simard says, “You need a lot a friends and a lot of beers to get through.”
Vampire Raider: Ninja Queen (1988)
Synopsis: Godfrey Ho was a prolific director, and a lot of his films involved ninjas. This one pits a group of evil ninjas who are trying to take over a hotel business against a group of good ninjas trying to stop them.
Yoann-Karl: “That one spliced two films of the Philippines with one of his films. Like, you have some old-school China-style vampires, with jumping. You have ninjas. You have stuck couples jumping on a boat that doesn’t link to anything. It makes no sense. Nothing connects. It’s so good.”
Simard: “If you saw our Ninja Eliminator short it’s based on [Ho’s] filmography.”
White Fire (1984)
Synopsis: We’ll let the directors handle this one …
Simard: “White Fire is about the biggest diamond in the world. It’s so big, if you look at it, you catch fire. That’s why you call it a White Fire. They drop that plot point about 20 minutes in. Then it comes back at the end and you go, ‘Oh, right, the diamond!’”
Yoann-Karl: “It turns out that one of the guys is in love with his sister, and she gets killed because of the white diamond. That’s where the white diamond gets dropped from the story. Now it’s the quest of that brother to find a girl that looks like a sister so he can make her fall in love with him and force her to have surgery to look exactly like his sister so he can finally sleep with his own sister. It’s absolutely brilliant.”
An essential piece of the big, crazy puzzle that is RKSS is horror, and you can see their love for the genre seep out of Summer of ’84. From the beloved genre beginnings of Peter Jackson to classics of Canadian thrillers, here are a handful of the group’s favorite horror films.
Bad Taste (1987)
Synopsis: This early Peter Jackson film finds a group of aliens invading a New Zealand town to harvest humans for food.
Simard: “That’s where I got that little spark and I said to myself, ‘I want to do that in life.’”
The Beyond (1981)
Synopsis: A young woman who inherits a hotel learns that it was actually built atop a hellmouth.
Yoann-Karl: “Sure, Fulci’s actors are not as good as the actor from Argento, but the concept, the ideas, the gore — they’re entertaining from beginning to end, and his masterpiece is The Beyond.”
The Gate (1987)
Synopsis: A pair of young boys accidentally open up a gateway to hell in their backyard, thanks to a deep hole in the ground.
Yoann-Karl: “I think The Gate is one of our favorite horror creature-features from Canada.”
Synopsis: A stripper enlists a few criminals to help her get vengeance after she is brutally raped.
Yoann-Karl: “It was directed by Denys Arcand. He did The Barbarian Invasions so he won an Oscar for Best Foreign film, but he did a full-on hard-core exploitation rape and revenge. It’s great. It’s smart. It’s intelligent. It’s hard-core and it’s brutal, but she gets revenge.”
Synopsis: Of course the horror legend John Carpenter’s seminal slasher was a key inspiration for the RKSS gang.
Yoann-Karl: “Went in the basement alone. Watched it, frozen. Changed my life.”