It was a bright weekend afternoon. With ninja like precision I crept unnoticed into my Nan’s front room and placed myself round the back of one of her armchairs. My breath held tightly, I dared to peer from my stealthy location. My uncle (in his early twenties at the time) was watching some tall guy with sullen eyes and a .45 Colt dispatch a slew of mullet styled bad guys with lethal arm breaks and colourful one-liners. I quietly winced as I tried not to give away my position, looking on in awe as the violence ensued.
A quiet moment finally arrived and I decide to try and sneak out, making my uncle unaware of my ninja-like presence. BOOM! A loud explosion goes off on the screen and I shriek as I see the sullen eyed hero carry the bloodied body of a priest through the cries and smoke. I’ve been rumbled and my mum spotted that I had been watching a supremely violent film, without approval. My uncle seemed unfazed as my mum stood in the sitting room entrance and demanded him to put on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves instead of the ultra violence that was previous playing. And so went my first introduction to Steven Seagal’s gritty bone-breaking style and Andrew Davis’s cheesy (yet rather good) Above The Law (aka Nico).
The reason I mention this is that recently our family has had a new addition to it, in the form of my nephew. As such this got me reminiscing about my childhood with my own uncle. It sounds fatuous, but since having entered my 30s I’ve been watching films that have a sentimental place in my heart.
Now that I’m an uncle I felt it was high time I revisited Above The Law (this time I thankfully did not have to hide behind a sofa to watch it). Lets also be honest, Seagal (while he has made a handful of genuinely good films) has become somewhat of a joke over the last decade. His DTV output has seen some truly awful clangers (Attack Force, Kill Switch, Out of Reach to name just a few), but for some reason I’ve always had a soft spot for his pre-DTV days as well as a few of his more recent DTV efforts. But at the end of the day Above The Law is unfiltered Seagal and paved the way for my viewing of the likes of Hard To Kill, Out For Justice and Under Siege on VHS.
As the years have ticked on I’ve started to see Above The Law as a companion piece to the 1985 Chuck Norris police thriller Code Of Silence. Both films are directed by Andrew Davis, are set in Chicago, have a gritty hard-boiled fill to their stories and star the legendary Henry Silva as the ultimate sadistic bad-guy. About a year or so ago I got chatting to my uncle about recent Steven Seagal films, I mentioned that my love of Seagal’s earlier features was because of that day I sneaked into my Nan’s living room as he watched Above The Law. He had clearly forgotten, but for me it had a lasting impact on my cinematic taste and for years I was haunted by the image of Seagal carrying a bloodied priest.
While my dad was instrumental in introducing me to the likes of Die Hard, Demolition Man, Cliffhanger, Passenger 57 and The Terminator, My uncle paved the way for my Seagal cravings. Which quickly lead to Jean Claude Van Damme viewings and the occasional Dolph Lundgren film (lets be honest Masters of the Universe is an under appreciated 80s gem).
Its Not Just About Seagal
I’ve always known my uncle to be a big James Bond fan as well (although this might have changed in the subsequent years). My uncle (along with my dear late nan) would always but on a Bond film in my younger years, one that remains a personal favourite of mine, even now, is The Living Daylights. Gruff Timothy Dalton’s first foray as Fleming’s legendary spy was the first film in the ongoing series (except possibly Moonraker) where I loved watching Bond’s exploits for a whole film. Dalton still remains my favourite Bond and The Living Daylights along with Licence To Kill, remain my personal favourite Bond films due to their grittiness and violence (which Daniel Craig recaptured with Casino Royale).
Everything I love about this film stems directly from my childhood and enjoying films with my Uncle and Nan. Even John Barry’s score and A-Ha’s theme song remains a constant fixture on my various MP3 devices. At the time of writing this am also attempting to find an original pressing of the score/soundtrack (oh and I will find that). Nostalgia is a funny thing isn’t it?
I know for a fact that my passion for film viewing and filmmaking stemmed from these moments in my childhood – these glorious VHS days. Family members can inspire and irritate in equal measure (that’s what families do), but I’ll always be glad that I snuck into that living room and watched what I wasn’t allowed to see. I’ve not looked back since. One day, maybe I’ll get to teach my nephew about awesome action films.
Actually, I hope that now, as an uncle, I am able to help inspire my nephew with whatever interest he may have in the future. If I get to be the one to buy him comics or to watch films that both me and my sister grew up with, like Back To The Future, Flight of the Navigator or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that’ll be great. But lets not tell your mum if I accidently put on Die Hard if you sneak into the front room. As I’ve grown older I think I may now know why my uncle blocked out the incident.