Critics left Road House for dead when the film debuted in 1989. The Patrick Swayze action movie was called “ill-conceived” and “ludicrous” and nominated for five Razzies; it now scores a dismal 36 out of 100 on Metacritic. But something about Road House struck a chord with viewers over three decades. It wasn’t just the absurd premise (an elite martial artist moonlights as a small-town-Missouri bouncer) or its god-tier quotability (“Pain don’t hurt”). The film grew to massive popularity as friends gathered around the TV to watch it — over and over and over.
“It’s a very watchable movie!” Collins tells MEL — even the censored version, which became one of the most frequently shown movies on TV. By watchable, he means it’s actually very well made. “Between the two editors and the cinematographer, you pretty much have a super team of all the action films of the ’80s and ’90s. They came from Basic Instinct, Total Recall, Die Hard and more.”
Thirty years later, Road House is now a regular at the top of “so bad they’re good” movie ranks. Collins says outlets like Rifftrax that make fun of Road House for being the good kind of bad deserve credit for keeping the movie in front of audiences.
“Part of Road House’s appeal, I think, is the cliche of the ‘mysterious wanderer’/‘lone gunslinger’ done pretty much straight-faced as a world-famous bouncer,” says Mike Nelson, former host of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and co-founder of Rifftrax.
“On its face, it obviously sounds like a Vince Vaughn or Will Ferrell over-the-top comedy, but nope. It’s just got that magic combo of stupid, watchable, quotable, laughable,” Nelson tells MEL. “I’ve always said, you could throw a great house party and suddenly notice that all your guests were wandering away, and when you went to find them, you’d discover your entire party crammed into a room where someone saw Road House was on TV.”
Of course, plenty has been written about Road House and what a ridiculously bad and/or good movie it is. But what brings us here today is a single scene that encapsulates that very phenomenon. As much as the movie has echoed through pop culture, so too has this clip. It’s been recreated and referenced time and time again, and will surely echo throughout pop-culture history as one of the most memorable fight scenes ever filmed.
It is… the throat rip.
A simple refresher: Patrick Sawyze’s character, Dalton, finally matches up against his unspoken rival, Jimmy, played by Marshall Teague. Jimmy is sort of the Darth Vader of the film; he’s the lead henchman of the main bad guy, Brad Wesley.
This brutal hand-to-hand combat by the river helped launch Road House into the cult-hit stratosphere. But what was going on behind the scenes?
“Same town, new story, huh, pal?”
Collins: It’s legitimately one of the best fistfights that I’ve seen. Not in a funny way, or an ironic way — it’s a legitimately great fight scene. Having read a bunch about it, they were very serious about it, which was kind of Patrick Swayze’s thing — and one of the things that makes the film so endearing. From him on down, no one has their tongue in their cheek while making this movie.
Marshall Teague, “Jimmy”: First, let’s talk about the two people who helped put this together. Benny Urquidez, the fight trainer, retired from fighting 52-0 and I don’t think many people got that kind of record. And then you had Charlie Picerni, who is one of the premier stunt coordinators and second-unit directors. If memory serves me right, it took five nights, five and a half hours a night. We did 71 takes, maybe 72, of that fight down on the river.
Charlie Picerni, Stunt Coordinator: I had Marshall Teague, who was a martial artist, and Patrick, who was very coordinated, being a dancer. I had my son doubling Marshall just for the motorcycle sequence where he was riding away and Patrick dives on him. But from that point on, those two guys, Marshall and Patrick, did their own fighting. It was fantastic.
Teague: They had offered the role to Scott Glenn, who turned it down. But when I interviewed for the role, [producer] Joel [Silver] said, “I understand you like to fight, or at least I know you like to fight, because it’s what you’ve done.” And I was like, “Well yeah, I’ve been martial arts most of my life and had a law enforcement background.” He said, “Fine, you’re hired. You start in two weeks.”
Collins: There is an interview where Swayze is talking about growing up in Texas, where guys go out and get drunk every night and look to beat some people up or get beaten up, it doesn’t really matter which — and he’s really comparing it these images of masculinity that he had put in front of him in his youth. So he’s taking it very seriously when he makes the film. They both were.
Teague: A literal roadhouse was an everyday occurrence in the military. You’d be going to different ports, and the next thing you know, the Marine Corps and Navy or the Army’s in there and a fight breaks out. And then all of a sudden you’re getting to do a movie called Road House, and I’m sitting there going, What is it about this environment that just rings a bell?
Benny Urquidez, Fight Trainer: Marshall Teague’s moves were very military-esque. Very hard and right-to-the-point. That’s what his character was about. And Patrick, he moved like a cat, a real catty type of motion.
Picerni: Marshall would come up with some idea, or Patrick would come up with some ideas, and that’s how you put a fight together. Patrick had ideas of what his character would do, so I’d put that together and make a sequence out of it.
Teague: It wasn’t perfect. We were just trying to get an idea of fighting styles, what we could do and how we could do it in rounds, like a fight. We’ll say this section is round one, this section is round two, etc.
Picerni: So you scout the location. We knew it was by the river, with the sand. I picked out the spot where the motorcycle was coming from, the stunt double to bulldoze Marshall off the bike, then continue the fight.
“It’ll get worse before it gets better.”
Teague: The funny thing about the fight, though, is the first night going into this.
Buddy… I’m going to call him Buddy because I love him. Patrick, my friend. His friends call him Buddy.
When the movie started, I came in and Buddy and I didn’t say a word to each other. I mean, not a word. Not good morning, not anything. For the first two weeks of filming. Not a word. We hadn’t filmed a single scene together prior to the fight.
I think we both secretly didn’t want to come in and be friends. You could call it Method, but it wasn’t spoken or agreed-on. We just didn’t speak to each other.
Picerni: I use real stuff from my own life in movies, because I like it to be real. It can’t be Hollywood. It’s got to be real. I choreograph what I would actually do in that situation. Writing is one thing, but making it come to life onscreen is another.
Urquidez: The camera picks up everything, so if they didn’t think they could do the moves, you’d be able to see it in their eyes.
Teague: So the first night of the fight, I’d heard a rumor that people were telling Buddy that I was this guy who thought he was weak — which didn’t happen. And then the director was telling me, “Marshall, you may have to get him irritated to get him into the fight.” And I said, “That’s not a problem, I can do that.”
So the first night of the fight, he kicked me once, and I looked down to where he kicked me and said, “Wow, that was, like, nothing.” And of course he got a little miffed.
Teague: And so we rolled again, he kicked me again and I caught his foot and kinda pitched him off of me. I looked at him and said, “If that’s the best you got, this is going to be a lousy fight.” I was being an antagonist a little bit, but these are the first words we spoke to each other.
Picerni: Marshall was a good martial artist, and Patrick was very graceful and physical; he wanted to be a stuntman, and he could’ve been, that’s how good he was. Marshall, he got a little cocky with me at times, so we got into it a few times — just a standoff. But I like Marshall, he’s a great guy.
Teague: Buddy got up and he was as red as a fire engine. He just looked at me and said, “Roll camera.”
Picerni: When Patrick made any move, he made it with authority and confidence; nothing was whimsical. Then along comes Marshall Teague, and now we’ve got a pretty even fight. And that happens in life. You can’t beat everybody. You look to those little points that stand out in a movie.
Teague: I knew what was about to happen. Buddy had locked on target. And he knew I was locked on target. Whatever happens is going to happen.
Of course, they rolled camera and he kicked me so hard I butt-skipped about 10 feet across the ground. I mean, he just laid one into me. I was a little aired out. I looked at him and smiled and said, “Now that’s a kick. That’s a kick.”
Urquidez: Let me tell you, it was a pretty solid fight.
The good part is Marshall was able to take good impact. And Patrick, too, he took some shots as well. They both traded shots pretty good.
Teague: Buddy comes to me, offers his hand and says, “You like this shit, don’t you?” I say, “No, I love this shit.”
He says, “What do you say, let’s not cheat the audience for a change. Let’s bring it. Try to leave the head and faces alone as much as possible because we still got a movie to shoot. What do you say let’s just rock ’n’ roll?”
I say, “You came to the right place. Let’s rock ’n’ roll.”
Urquidez: We’re doing picture fighting, so hits to the face were picture shots, not real hits. But the body shots, kicking Patrick to the tree, that’s a thrust kick, those were solid hits. Real hits.
Teague: I’ve had great fights with people. Chuck Norris is a dear friend, and we’ve fought many times over the years, but this was different. It’s in a field all by itself. The raw emotion was literally caught on film.
Urquidez: Matter of fact, when Patrick jumps on Marshall after he was driving the bike, they both rolled down onto a little hill of sand and dirt and jumped up to do close combat. They were going into the chokes, the judo shoulder-throw to the ground. That’s when it was getting heated up. It really started getting heated.
Teague: The next thing I know, everybody — and I do mean everybody — was piling on top of Buddy and me. And they’re all, “Hey, just cool off, guys! We’re just shooting a movie here!”
Urquidez: We had to jump in and stop it because they were so into it they were starting to throw real shots.
Teague: Buddy and I are just sitting there, our faces in the dirt. We’re like, “Get off of us, would ya? We know what we’re doing. Just let us do what we do.”
I mean, they thought we were going to kill each other. There were maybe nine guys piled on top and holding us down, and we’re both like, “What in the heck are you doing?”
Urquidez: We had to stop it because of the principle of the whole thing. If either one of them got hurt, it would’ve stopped the whole movie. And we definitely couldn’t afford that, you know, so especially when they started getting into it, we made sure we choreographed just enough moves to make sure they didn’t get too carried away.
Teague: Buddy got up and spat dirt out of his mouth. He said, “Guys, this is what you came for. Let us dance, it’s what we came for.” And from that point on, they finally realized that that was the way this was going to go.
Collins: Patrick and Marshall really didn’t pull any punches, literally, until they realized they kind of had to go easy because they were messing each other up pretty bad. And it shows. It’s very intense and well-choreographed.
Teague: They’d look at my eye and say, “Did makeup put that blood on your eye?” And I’d say, “Nope, Patrick put that blood on my eye.” That log that I broke across his ribs — that wasn’t in the script. That cracked his rib. He cracked my eye socket so I cracked his ribs.
It wasn’t until after, I’d be like, “Wow, dang, man, that hurt,” and he’d be like, “Yeah, well, that log didn’t feel great either.” “Well, okay, we even?” “Yeah, we’re even.”
Collins: After the first night of filming the fight, they realized, “We can’t go as hard as we’ve been going — we won’t be in physical shape to do it if we keep whaling on each other.” They had a whole movie to film.
Teague: I always like to tell people, “We went to a fight and a movie broke out.”
Collins: Watching it, it really feels like these guys are in the best physical condition of their lives, and they really gave it their all to sell the idea that this was a fight for life or death. Which, again, is in contrast to the fact that this is a movie about a famous bouncer who comes to town to save it from the guy who brought the JCPenney to the area.
That is funny, but the fight itself is not. With one exception.
“I used to fuck guys like you in prison”
Picerni: All it said in the script was “fight,” which is common. I worked on Starsky and Hutch and eventually the writers would just put in the script, “Fight scene choreographed by the stunt coordinator.”
Teague: [Producer] Joel Silver was standing on the sideline, [saying], “Think of something obnoxious that’d really piss someone off and say it.” He’d be on the phone with people, going, “I need something raw, something that’d just piss people off.”
So I just said something.
The first was “Damn, boy, I thought you were good.” And then the infamous line — it just kinda popped off the top of my head.
And of course, the next thing you know is [Silver saying], “I like it! Keep it!” So it just kinda happened in the moment, and it worked.
Collins: If he improvised that — which, knowing him, there’s no reason not to believe him — it’s right up there with the greatest improvised movie lines of all time. [Editor’s note: Director Rowdy Herrington says producer Joel Silver wrote the line.]
“You talkin’ to me” from Taxi Driver, or Han saying “I know” to Leia’s “I love you.” I mean, that’s next-level shit, man.
Teague: I was in the Atlanta airport once, and I hear, “Hey! You!” [A guy] shouts that line, the prison line, in the middle of C Concourse. Everyone stops and looks, and he goes, “Killer movie, dude!” and walks off.
That happens all the time. The fans of Road House are great.
“Nobody ever wins a fight”
Teague: Our last couple of takes… at this point, you don’t even remember how many takes or angles they’ve shot. You’ve just figured they’ve shot the actual fight 72 times. Buddy and I were leaning into each other. We looked like two teepee poles, he was holding me up and I was holding him up, breathing and sweating. And of course Charlie would come up and say, “Hey, guys, you got another one in ya?”
And it’s one of those, “Well, how about it, Buddy?” And he’d say, “I’m good, how about you?” I’d say, “I’m good, let’s go.”
Urquidez: So Teague did a submission hold behind Patrick, and Patrick popped down to one knee and went into a shoulder-throw. Teague went for a ball kick right to his head, which drew Patrick backward.
Picerni: So you know Marshall is beatin’ the hell out of Patrick, but at a certain point Patrick’s gotta come back. It’s an old thing, you look at any movie, Rocky, Champion — the audience is just waiting. “When is the hero going to come back? When is he going to win?” Without a turning point, there isn’t a climax, but you’ve got to tease ’em.
Urquidez: Marshall was doing power shots and martial arts, and Patrick was doing a lot of scissor kicks, spinning wheel kicks, jump ball kicks.
Jerry Trent, Sound Artist: For all the kicks and punches, we’d use boxing gloves and sometimes punching bags.
Picerni: Patrick’s going back and back, and finally Marshall does a big axe kick. Patrick side-steps it and so Marshall catches his foot right in the fork of the tree —which wasn’t in the script either.
I’d figured the tree there would work out perfect for the turning point when I scouted the location. If I didn’t have the tree there, I would’ve had to do something else: Marshall [would] do an axe kick and Patrick would side-step it or block it. But the tree came in so handy. It was unique, it just felt perfect.
Picerni: Then Patrick kicks him in the cojones…
Teague: I did not have a cup. Buddy was exceedingly accurate. I asked him to lay it on the inside of my leg, and if you see it, it looks like he kicks me right in the nuts. But he actually inside-kicks on the leg. It was very easy to just double over, because you felt the kick. I felt a lot of his kicks.
Picerni: And that’s the turning point. Patrick takes over and we move to rip out the throat.
Teague: Over the course of shooting that scene, Buddy and I developed a personal trust that I have yet to find again since. There was something very special that I cannot put in words, other than saying that we became friends unlike any other we’d ever had in our lives.
Since he passed, rarely a day goes by that I don’t walk by a picture and look up and remember that moment, how special it was and how special he was. And how much I treasure being a part of his life after that, sharing a lot of things and going places together… I just love the guy. I love him. Those words I can say. I love the guy.
“When a man puts a gun in your face, you’ve got two choices: You can die or you can kill the motherfucker.”
Collins: The [throat-rip] moment’s reputation spread [in real life] in much the same way it does within the film. When the bouncers first realize Dalton’s showed up at the Double Deuce, they’re like, “He killed a guy once, ripped his throat clean out.” And the other guy goes, “Bullshit.”
Nelson: After every bananas thing that’s happened — Ben Gazzara getting rich off extorting an auto-parts store, the dressing-down and beating-up of O’Donnell because “he’s a bleeder,” and the monster truck crushing an entire dealership — you’d think there’d be no place [left] to go.
And then… throat rip.
Collins: The throat rip “looms large in his legend,” to quote A Hard Day’s Night. It’s a really gripping act of violence, no pun intended. But you know, in America’s Next Top Model, they always talk about having a “signature walk.”
And this is Dalton’s signature walk, ripping people’s throats out. And it’s a pretty unique signature, too. It distinguishes him as an action hero. You don’t see John McClain do that. That’s Dalton’s thing.
Nelson: It had to be something mythical, something that has only happened in the imagination of fifth-grade boys. Also, it had to be completely antithetical to the code of our peaceful warrior hero.
Picerni: So we go through the whole fight, do all the coverage, and go right to the end when he grabs the throat. The throat rip itself was all a set piece, which is to say, it’s all at a set angle where the prosthetic is on and everything perfectly aligned for Patrick to rip his throat out. It was delicately attached. Marshall couldn’t move around much with it on.
Teague: Believe it or not, it’s the last thing we shot on the last day of filming all that fighting, which meant we were running out of time — the sun was coming up.
[Makeup] put that throat on me in 12 minutes. They were so good, they came in and built this thing [so] that Patrick could do a reveal and it would look as gory as it looked.
Picerni: It was probably fabric to look like skin with fake blood underneath. They knew what they were doing. The guy who did makeup was very good.
Urquidez: We call the throat rip a “Cobra Strike.” It’s usually going right to the collarbone or the larynx, where you sort of take the collarbone and let it spread apart. But instead of pulling the collarbone, he actually pulled the throat and ripped it out. So that was special effects. It’s not how the move really goes, but for the shot, that’s how they made it work.
Picerni: And we got it, in one shot.
Trent: The throat-ripping sound, it’s just layers. One is a slight tear, a nice shuush tear, layered on a wet, squishy shammy for the blood. Once you have the individual sounds made, the editors can add things and take them out. If they want more blood or guts, they can just add more of the wet shammy or more tear for the rip. We played around to get it to sound right, and I think it ended up perfect.
Teague: Kelly [Lynch, who plays Doc] and everyone were there and ready. The water was cold, it was very cold. And I didn’t have a wetsuit, just what we’d been fighting in.
When he finally spun and hit me, you can see in that hit, he did that spinning kick and caught me, and it was real. So I just followed suit, spun around and hit the water.
Nelson: It’s as perfect as Beethoven’s Ninth, where you get three movements of undiluted genius and then you get the “Ode to Joy.” Unfortunately, the best is the enemy of the good, and it does kind of make what comes after — the climactic battle with Gazzara and his goons — seem a little bit rote. Dare I say, the holy death of [Swayze’s] mentor, Sam Elliott, is a bit weak.
Collins: Perhaps we’ll never know the why of the throat rip. [Editor’s note: Herrington “got the idea for Jimmy’s death from a story he’d heard back in college about a martial artist tearing out an enemy’s trachea,” according to the Ringer.] It does recur throughout the film as something [Swayze] is struggling with. It’s a lapse on his part. Ripping people’s throats out is something he has to move past in his life.
And who hasn’t felt that way? All of us have been ripping people’s throats out in our own way, and we all deal with it in our own way.
Teague: Funny story. I made $500 after that scene because a buncha wiseacres were betting $20 that when I hit that water, which was 42 degrees, I’d suck air. My bet: Not only will I not come up to breathe, but I won’t come up until they say cut, so you see me floating down.
They finally said, “Ladies and gentlemen, that is a wrap on the fight, we got it.”
I held up my hands and said, “Pay me!”
“Man’s search for faith. That sort of shit.”
Teague: After that scene wrapped, it was climactic but anticlimactic too. We still had six weeks of shooting and a lot more fighting to do. But when they said cut and we were all walking back in with Kelly and Charlie, we all just grabbed and hugged each other. We knew what we did. We knew it was that good.
Picerni: I had no idea it was going to turn into a cult classic. I was just doing a thing, and before you know it, people loved it.
Teague: The movie, as I understand, was made to fail. That was the rumor, anyway. But word of mouth, from the moment it came out, spread very quickly. Road House became something they did not expect. Here we are talking about it 30 years later. It’s rare. It’s very rare.
Teague: A lot of the movie’s success comes from having a crew like no other. Everybody on the set, every single person got along and worked together. Everybody felt that they were part of it. And they knew their work was looked upon by studio to not be something big, but now they’ve seen turn into something that people still remember today. That doesn’t happen often.
Trent: We broke a lot of beer bottles for this movie, which the crew loved because they were the ones drinking the beer the night before. We smashed every one of those bottles and smashed all the chairs. We did a lot of hitting on the wire cage that the band was behind. The glass pit on the Foley stage got a lot of work.
Urquidez: The cast, the crew, we had such a good time. I wouldn’t say it was a party, but it felt like that; it really didn’t feel like work. I mean, everyone worked hard, but everyone looked forward to the work.
Teague: It was a big set full of big hearts, and we built everything. We built the Double Deuce and the barn that blows up on the river, the car dealership — we built that, then wrecked it when the Bigfoot [truck] came in and stomped everything.
Somebody told me I’m the record holder for actor killed most on film. [Editor’s note: There’s a claim Teague has died onscreen 103 times, but only five have been documented on film and seven on TV, according to Cinemorgue.]
But I’ll never forget Road House.
Was it the greatest movie in the world? No, it wasn’t the greatest movie in the world. But it was a dadgum good movie and I had a good time doing it.