Drug Panic at the Disco! Case File #148/My Year of Flops II #45 Avenging Disco Godfather (1979)
Rudy Ray Moore spent much of his life telling jokes to drunks at nightclubs. So it makes sense that when he made the leap to big screen leading man the films he made focussed monomaniacally on nightclubs.
1979’s Avenging Disco Godfather is a glorious anomaly in almost every way but you better believe it takes place overwhelmingly at yet another nightclub benevolently overseen by one of Moore’s flashily attired big machers.
The final film of Moore’s funky 1970s heyday is a work of stunning miscalculation, a glorious boondoggle that makes a number of bizarre bordering on inexplicable choices, then commits to them with sweaty, all-consuming conviction. It’s hard to know where to begin so let’s start with the film’s wonderfully wrong-headed assumption that Rudy Ray Moore, a Jedi master of profanity who turned “Biotch!” and “Motherfucker!” into beloved catchphrases pretty much the entirety of Hip Hop decided to “borrow”, did not need to swear to entertain his fans or satisfy audiences.
It was wrong. He did.
So instead of a hard R parade of lovingly written and performed profanity, unrelenting violence and overwhelming sexual content, much of it involving a naked or nearly naked Rudy Ray Moore thrusting into orgasmic beauties of various races Avenging Disco Godfather was rated PG and found Moore cutting WAY back on profanity even if he cannot quite give it up entirely.
A Rudy Ray Moore who cannot call people pepper-gut, insecure, rat-soup-eating, no business-having motherfuckers with careless abandon is an angel whose wings have been clipped.
The absence of colorful, exuberant profanity leaves a black hole the movie tries to fill with heavy-handed anti-drug sermonizing and, god help us, heavyweight dramatic acting from, of all people, Rudy Ray Moore, who somehow seems to have gotten substantially worse as an actor in the four years separating Dolemite from Avenging Disco Godfather.
As a heavy dramatic actor, Rudy Ray Moore is accidentally funnier than any comic actor , ever. Moore delivers his lines as if there’s an invisible period after every word that only he sees and acknowledges. He brings a hypnotically halting rhythm to classic lines like, “Where. Is. Bucky? And. What. Has. He. Had?” and “How. And. Why?”
Moore’s earlier films had the good sense to cast him in roles that let him do his thing and did not call for him to act at all, let alone stretch himself as a thespian. Avenging Disco Godfather, in sharp contrast, gives him a role so insanely demanding and impossible and screamingly melodramatic that it would test the gifts of a Brando or Pacino or Olivier.
Everyone involved with Avenging Disco Godfather seems to have regressed as well. Moore started out with Dolemite, a movie that bordered on outsider art it deviated so strongly from anything resembling professional filmmaking. Instead of getting better with experience his movies grew markedly worse in seemingly every way as far as competency, professionalism and production values were concerned.
Making Avenging Disco Godfather PG represents only one of a series of astonishing mistakes. The film’s attempt to capitalize on the popularity of disco and Saturday Night Fever might have made sense at the time but by the time Avenging Disco Godfather hit theaters disco was, if not quite dead, then at least ice cold.
Moore tried to exploit the popularity of disco right around the time it stopped being popular and suddenly became extremely unpopular, to the point that a white DJ felt the need to ritualistically burn disco records on the South Side of Chicago to purge the world of their malevolent influence at the notorious Disco Demolition night at Comiskey Park in 1979, just a few months before Avenging Disco Godfather’s release.
Disco had a coherent and consistent philosophy where illegal drugs were concerned. Disco thought drugs were fucking awesome, and made you feel amazing, and made fucking better and listening to music better and why not snort a big fat line of coke right now!?!
Disco’s main purpose was to give people on drugs something to do with their energy until they came down. It was music by and for people on powerful stimulants and depressants so the idea of an anti-drug disco movie makes about as much sense as a stoner movie that comes down strongly against the use of recreational marijuana.
The surreal miscalculation doesn’t stop there. Avenging Disco Godfather isn’t just a PG disco musical from a famously and wonderfully profane motherfucker released while disco teetered on the edge of death. Moore and his collaborators also had the fabulously misguided judgment to make their PG disco musical an anti-drug message movie so ridiculously over-the-top in its crazed fear-mongering that it makes Reefer Madness look like a Maria Full of Grace-like work of sublime, Neo-realistic understatement by comparison.
That surreal miscalculation extends to the drug the filmmakers chose to not only dramatize but to depict as the single greatest threat in the human history as well as a force so evil, so sinister and destructive that it literally comes straight from the devil: Angel Dust, AKA Sherm, AKA Wack, AKA PCP.
Moviegoers at the time of Avenging Disco Godfather’s release were at least familiar enough with alcohol, marijuana and cocaine to have at least a vague sense of what they did to the minds and bodies of people who use and abuse them. The same could not be said of Angel Dust. It was an unknown quantity so movies like Avenging Disco Godfather could let their imaginations run wild imagining the most gothic, ghoulish scenarios possible. PCP makes you want to cook and then eat your baby! It crazies up your frazzled brain to the point where you hallucinate that you’re in a zombie basketball game! It makes you see your dead mama and drives you crazy FOREVER!!! There’s literally no end to its evil power!
There’s nothing funny about addiction or drug overdoses or the calamitous effect drugs can have on a community. When the effects of drug abuse are so preposterously over-dramatized that they lose any connection to reality, however, it is often extremely fucking hilarious.
And then, of course, at some point in your nightmare Angel Dust trip you will literally dance with the Angel of Death, a ghoulish phantasm representing the Satanic evils of PCP, in a losing battle for your soul, life and sanity.
The Angel of Death figures so prominently in this “fun” PG disco musical that she’s credited by name in the opening credits (“Pucci Jhones as The Angel of Death” is just one of a number of amazing credits in this and Moore’s other vehicles) but considering how much time she spends onscreen cackling maniacally in her haunted house get-up she probably deserves costarring billing: Rudy Ray Moore is the Disco Godfather and Pucci Jhones IS the Angel of Death in Avenging Disco Godfather and The Angel of Death.
Instead of sticking to his winning formula Moore decided to make a crazy, PG-rated amalgamation of The French Connection, The Exorcist, Saturday Night Fever and the Japanese cult horror movie House that cast him not as the usual badass outlaw but rather as the ultimate square, a fucking COP of all things, (ambiguously retired) who retired from the force to run the Blueberry Hill disco and serve as its resident impresario, the boogying, badass, bizarrely naive Godfather of the Disco.
Yes, the Disco Godfather, AKA Tucker the ambiguously retired cop, is living the sweet life until his beloved nephew Bucky (the towering Julius J. Carry, otherwise best known as the heavy in The Last Dragon) has an angel dust freakout at his club. This leads the Disco Godfather on a fact-finding mission to learn more about the new urban plague known as “Angel Dust.”
In Avenging Disco Godfather Moore plays a man who has somehow spent his entire adult life in the police force and/or disco nightclub scene without knowing anything about drugs. Why would he? He hangs out exclusively with cops, professional dancers, funk musicians and disco freaks, all famously sober individuals.
Tucker famously spends much of the film angrily demanding to know what this “Angel Dust” is but he seems oblivious about more than just this cultural genocide in dipped cigarette form. I suspect there’s a draft of the script with the following exchange:
Disco Godfather: Bucky! What is this ‘angel dust?’
Bucky: Don’t jive me, Disco. It’s a drug.
Disco Godfather: Bucky! What is a ‘drug?’ And are these ‘drugs’ killing our children?
Bucky: Are you kidding me? A drug is something you take that makes you feel good, like the alcohol you sell at your club.
Disco: What!?! Bucky, what is this ‘alcohol’ and is it true that this deadly poison is being sold out of my very own club?
Bucky: I literally just told you that. I am the very recent source of the information you are now asking me to confirm. C’mon, man. Alcohol is booze, it gets you drunk.
Disco: Bucky! That’s it! Tomorrow we begin a campaign against this ‘alcohol.’ We’ll call it ‘boo to booze’ and “Hell No to Alcohol!” and get all of the politicians, athletes and clergymen on board!
This leads the Disco Godfather to wage an all-out war on angel dust and the parasites behind it that prominently involves montage sequences where the Disco Godfather beats up or hassles all manner of sloppy-looking drug addicts and a rally where an anti-PCP activist flubs adorably and says, “Wack the Attack” instead of “Attack the Wack” despite LITERALLY STANDING IN FRONT OF A GIANT SIGN reading “Attack the Wack” that serves as a subtle reminder of how the phrase should go.
It’d be like if you made an anti-drug movie five years later, and had a character lead a chant of “No say just! I mean, just say no! Just say no! Say no just!” and kept it in on the basis that anyone could make that very natural mistake and lead a chant of “No say just!” at a big anti-drug rally without anyone noticing.
The “actress” screws up, then catches herself, then cracks up a little at her own fuck-up, then gets it wrong, then right again and the amazing thing is that every last bit of this made it into the film. Seemingly a quarter of Avenging Disco Godfather is terribly post-dubbed in a failed attempt to cover up some glaring mistake yet this gaffe-filled monologue somehow made it in just the way it was.
And that is wonderful. Because this bizarre, blunder-filled bit of badly improvised nonsense is unforgettable and wild and absurdly entertaining in a way a competent version of this scene never could be. It’s precisely because they manage to get so many things so fascinatingly wrong that this could make a big enough impact on Madlib (one of many Hip Hop giants who have integrated their love for Moore into their art and personas) that he sampled it on the Lootpack’s big debut album.
Avenging Disco Godfather is full of other moments so exquisitely wrong they’re similarly impossible to forget. To cite an example the captain who tries to keep the Disco Godfather in line monologues that there are exactly three things in the world that piss him off, that unleash the righteous avenger hiding underneath his flashy disco exterior, and one of them is messing with his family.
What are the other two things that piss off the Disco godfather? Stepping on his blue suede shoes? Throwing away your vote on a third-party protest candidate instead of being more practical and voting for the lesser of two evils? Wearing white after labor day? That jive turkey Steve Dahl launching a crusade against disco as bogus as his own campaign against angel dust is righteous?
We never learn because the filmmakers, in their wisdom, decided to leave us hanging for all of eternity by ending the scene after the Captain specifies that Tucker is the one motherfucker who REALLY does not like people fucking with his family.
Why not just have the Captain say that if there’s ONE thing that pisses off the Godfather it’s people messing with his family? Obviously because that would make sense and feel professional and sane whereas introducing the idea that there are exactly three things on the Disco Godfather’s shit list and then never specifying the final two items is exactly the kind of wonderfully wrong, yet right choice that made Moore blaxploitation’s very best bad filmmaker.
This is a movie where the Godfather busts up a big drug party, blows a big pile of cocaine off a Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and announces that the scoundrels in attendance include ““one of the nation’s most notorious shoplifters.”
Disco Godfather does nothing further with this information, of course. It’s enough to simply drop this bit of randomness haphazardly into the audience’s lap, along with dozens more, and assume that they will do something worthwhile with this nonsense.
Only Moore and his collaborators know why they decided to make a “fun” PG disco musical with an important social message that’s also far and away the darkest and most disturbing film of Moore’s career, a bizarre, once in a lifetime cross between Z-grade cop movie action, strident anti-drug sermonizing and psychedelic horror.
In Avenging Disco Godfather, there’s nothing symbolic or metaphorical about the demons of addiction. In the movie’s surreally literal telling, the demons of drug abuse are actual fucking demons; the movie is forever cutting to a PCP-crazed woman being exorcised of her Dust demons by a dour-looking priest.
Moore was as anti-authoritarian, countercultural icon who was all about sticking it to the man but in Avenging Disco Godfather he not only is “The Man” (in more ways than one) he also works with other components of stodgy authority like the police, clergy and the news to bring down the plague of PCP.
Avenging Disco Godfather is pretty much everything but a comedy. Avenging Disco Godfather never even tries to be funny. To inject humor into an important anti-drug manifesto would be in poor taste. Because it never tries to be funny Avenging Disco Godfather is maybe the single funniest movie Moore ever made, albeit not for the reasons intended.
Onscreen and off, Moore was the underdog who won, the eccentric outsider who was too old and too short and too goofy looking to be a conventional action hero but who nevertheless told whitey to fuck off, fucked his white enemy’s wives, swore up a storm and killed people indiscriminately without consequences, legal or otherwise.
But in Avenging Disco Godfather the titular disco-dancing anti-drug zealot is subjected to such a high dose of PCP that his fragile brain may never recover. Avenging Disco Godfather ends by suggesting, bleakly, that PCP is so powerful and so strong that it can destroy even a force as powerful and righteous as the Avenging Disco Godfather.
It’s a characteristically audacious choice for a movie that proved that its star didn’t need extensive profanity or an R rating, or even to expose his naked buttocks onscreen to make a cult classic of the “so bad it’s one of the all time best” variety that’s wildly entertaining, impossibly audacious and endlessly surprising, on the tenth viewing as well as the first.
Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Secret Success
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