Skip Tracer, a 1977 Canadian film about debt collectors, shares some striking similarities with Alex Cox’s 1984 cult classic, Repo Man. The roots of Repo Man date from the late ‘70s, the same time period Skip Tracer was released—could Cox have been swayed by it?
The work of first-time writer/director, Zale Dalen, Skip Tracer was conceived during the era of “Canuxploitation”. The term “skip tracer” refers to someone who tracks down people who haven’t paid their debts. The movie concerns a cold-blooded collection agent, John Collins (played by David Peterson, in his film debut). The character has no feeling for those who are experiencing financial difficulties, and hounds them without mercy. Eventually, though, John begins to feel empathy for these people, resulting in an identity crisis.
Aside from fact that Skip Tracer and Repo Man are centered around a debt collector—an uncommon protagonist in film—the most obvious similarity is the mentor/mentee relationship. In Skip Tracer, John is paired with Brent, a younger employee looking to learn from the finance company’s “man of the year.” Fans of Repo Man know there is the similar team-up of Otto and Bud, though Otto is certainly more resistant to the idea. The lead characters also question the profession in both pictures.
Repo Man began as a graphic novel while Cox was a film student at UCLA. Around this time, Skip Tracer was making the rounds on the festival circuit, receiving a theatrical release stateside in January of 1979.
While Repo Man is a brilliant film, Skip Tracer is not. At the time of its initial release, the Canadian press generally gave the film high marks, even when citing some of the picture’s flaws, as it was seen as a strong first effort by Zale Dalen. American critics weren’t nearly as kind, noting that the acting was unconvincing and Dalen’s character study only scratched the surface. I gotta say, the slow pacing doesn’t help matters either. After hearing good things about it recently on a podcast, and reading positive assessments online, I really wanted to like Skip Tracer, but it didn’t live up to the hype.
I will say I enjoyed parts of the picture, including the scene in which John and Brent repossess a car. It not only brings up the question of whether Alex Cox knew of Skip Tracer while he was writing Repo Man—which is just fun to ponder—it’s also an entertaining bit. I literally laughed out loud when John, attempting to get away from the owner of the vehicle, does a backflip over the hood of the car.
Skip Tracer came out on VHS under the name Deadly Business. The cover art for the release implies the film is sleazier than it actually is.
There has yet to be a DVD or Blu-ray of Zale Dalen’s 1977 picture.
Here’s the trailer created for a recent 35mm screening of Skip Tracer:
A rip of the Deadly Business VHS:
As for whether or not Alex Cox was inspired by Skip Tracer, I could only find speculation. What do you think?
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Just like ‘Mad Max’ but it sucks: Watch the spectacularly bad 1981 cult film ‘Firebird 2015 A.D.’