A young man named Kid, in a dusty two-piece suit and with a bullet wound in his arm, walks across an astoundingly stark and shimmering desert carrying a metal suitcase and a machine gun. After collapsing from exhaustion, his body is eventually discovered by Mr. Dump who opens the suitcase to find a vinyl 45-inch single and a pile of stolen money. His initial plan is to take the money and run, until Kid gains consciousness and forces Mr. Dump at gunpoint to take him with him and remove the bullet from his arm.
Mr. Dump reluctantly drives them back to his refuge, a desolate and squalid mining town whose only other occupants are Mr. Dump’s deranged and psychotic wife and their mute, feral daughter. Refusing to remove the bullet from Kid’s arm, a power struggle between the two men ensues as Mr. Dump desperately tries to exploit the situation for his own means. That is until the mysterious Mr. Sunshine arrives to split the cash and settle old scores. As night turns into day, the situation increasingly escalates towards unhinged paranoia and extreme violence, with any chance of hope obscured by blood, dust and the intrusion of bleak reality.
Although Roland Klick’s Deadlock (1970) may have taken its cue from Spaghetti Westerns and classic American crime movies, it’s also fair to say – like the best cult movies of the 1970s – that it takes place within a universe of its own making. Much like Kaneto Shindō’s Onibaba (1964), its small cast of tormented and tormenting characters never leave the confines of their isolated location, with very little indication of an outside world. It’s almost as if a group of classic archetypes have broken free from their own movies and found themselves lost within the last film at the edge of the earth.
Klick uses the sparse surroundings of Israel’s Negev desert to great effect, creating a crumbling portrait of arid decay and brutal, unforgiving desperation. His inventive framing and overtly stylistic compositions give the film a dreamlike quality – with the occasional moment of controlled psychedelic surrealism – without bubbling over into nonsensical self-indulgence. Add to this the superb film score by Krautrock legends Can and you’ve got yourself an incredibly unique and unforgettable piece of German cinema. In fact, the way in which Klick lets the Can track ‘Tango Whiskey Man’ slowly imbed itself into the narrative (it’s the single hidden in the suitcase with the money) is one of the clever touches that gives the film a certain charm.
Despite Klick’s ambitious experimentalism, he never gets sidetracked and thankfully refuses to neglect certain genre expectations, with a plot and place that’s as firm and gritty as the landscape on which it takes place. A thrilling, entertaining and distinctive example of B-movie pragmatism delivered with artistic scope.
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