FANTASTICA Presents: Inside The Cult of Craig R. Baxley, The Prophet of Action CinemaFearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
While typing up this week’s entry of FANTASTICA Presents, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps the reader might not know who Craig R. Baxley is. Of course, it was a fleeting thought that should have no merit in the real world, but in the off-chance that someone has been living some bizarre alternate reality where Craig R. Baxley isn’t a part of their immediate cinematic language alongside the likes of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stanley Kubrick and James Cameron, I might as well attempt to provide an explanation. And really, there is no better fitting explanation towards the work of Craig R. Baxley than to say that the stuntman-turned-director is nothing short of a Prophet of Action Cinema, whose contributions to the genre should not only be celebrated but worshipped as a higher power of adrenaline-fueled ascents into explosion-laden nirvana.
But if you doubt that Baxley’s work is anything but absolutely fucking awesome, don’t take my word for it. Let the work speak for itself: his officially credited stunt work includes ROLLERBALL, S.W.A.T., ROOTS, THE BIONIC WOMAN, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, THE WARRIORS, NIGHTWING, THE LONG RIDERS, REDS, THE A-TEAM and PREDATOR, with dozens of other uncredited stunts to his name as well. His other credits include second unit directing on PREDATOR, THE A-TEAM, THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and REDS and acting on KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER. But perhaps his greatest talent came in feature film directing, starting his career with a four year stretch that wielded three of the greatest action films of all time: ACTION JACKSON, DARK ANGEL (a/k/a I COME IN PIECE) and STONE COLD.
If you have not seen any or all of those three films, I strongly advise that you stop reading this article right now, purchase them on Blu-ray with overnight shipping and enlighten yourself to that pristine body of work. Between those three films, American Action Cinema has not seen such a passionate commitment to insanity, complete with the practical stunts, explosions and set pieces to go along with it. You want a motorcycle crashing into a helicopter? You got it. You want a skull-smashing fight scene set in a sleazy roadside strip club? Way ahead of you. You want to see a man launch his body into a speeding car, causing said car to get hit by a truck and then beat the shit out of everyone in the wreckage? It’s all there. And the best part? All three instances are from THE SAME MOVIE.
And if the pure insanity of those sequences isn’t enough to sell you on those films, perhaps you might want to consider the all-star casts of his films, which would make the line-up of THE EXPENDABLES weep bitch tears. In ACTION JACKSON, you have Carl Weathers (ROCKY), Vanity (THE LAST DRAGON), Sharon Stone (BASIC INSTINCT), Craig T. Nelson (POLTERGEIST), Bill Duke (COMMANDO), Robert Davi (MANIAC COP 2), Thomas F. Wilson (BACK TO THE FUTURE), Miguel Nunez (THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD), Jack Thibeau (LETHAL WEAPON), Sonny Landham (PREDATOR), Nicholas Worth (SWAMP THING), Al Leong (DIE HARD), Ed O’Ross (THE HIDDEN) and Mary Ellen Trainor (THE GOONIES). In DARK ANGEL, you’ve got Dolph Lundgren (SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO), Betsy Brantley (SHOCK TREATMENT), Sam Anderson (LOST) and Brian Benben (DEER WOMAN). And in STONE COLD, you’ve got Lance Henriksen (ALIENS), William Forsythe (THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), Sam McMurray (C.H.U.D.) and NFL star Brian Bosworth.
But even if the facts I’ve laid out for you haven’t convinced you, I will dare to offer you an undeniable reason why Craig R. Baxley is an action director like no other: sheer, indomitable spirit. His experience as a stuntman forged a determination within Baxley, giving him the confidence to not only create stunt-laden madness on the big screen but carve out a fucking great time in between those stunts. To Craig R. Baxley, there isn’t a single one-liner or pun that isn’t approached with the same level of care and pure cinematic passion that can be seen in the work of Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Combine that spirit with a go-for-broke attitude and a desire to make your audience cheer with excitement and happiness around every turn, and not only do you get work that pits hero vs. villain, but action cinema that pits good against evil with stakes and destruction of biblical proportions.
Simply put, Craig R. Baxley made action cinema that made up for its lack of brains with an abundance of heart and soul, providing old school thrills that have become so foreign in the age of CGI and building-busting set pieces. And while Baxley went on to make the really-quite-enjoyable horror efforts of ROSE RED, THE DIARY OF ELLEN RIMBAUER and KINGDOM HOSPITAL, as well as one of the best direct-to-video sequels ever with SNIPER 2, the work of Craig R. Baxley is simply too goddamn fantastic for the age of Jason Bourne and Bryan Mills. Visually speaking, Baxley’s directorial endeavors speak the same cinematic language as the likes of DIE HARD and LETHAL WEAPON, but for whatever reason, Baxley’s films look upon those action classics and decide to up the testosterone tenfold. In a way, it’s poetic in Baxley’s sheer lack of giving a fuck, in which alien drug dealers, kung fu Craig T. Nelson and biker assassins can coexist in a singular, trailblazing celluloid universe. And for that, any self-respecting action fan should worship at the altar of Craig R. Baxley, whose work will go on in the annals of action history even after we have all left this mortal coil.