Banzai Runner, the Movie

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DeTomaso Appearance
A yellow 1972 Pantera is the feature vehicle throughout the second half of the movie. It’s a pre-L and it’s the only car fast enough to keep up with the lead bad-guy’s Porsche 928. There’s a race between the Pantera and the Porsche at super-illegal (super-phoney) speeds. Then, there’s a chase which ends in a fiery crash of the Pantera. No actual Pantera was harmed in the making of this movie.


Movie Description
Combining the pulse-pounding film traditions of the renegade cop and high-speed automotive action, “Banzai Runner” stars Dean Stockwell as Billy Baxter, a California state trooper who is frustrated in his attempts to stop a group of jetsetters addicted to the thrill of racing their luxury sports cars through the desert at speeds of over 200 mph. Stockwell plays an ex-cop seeking revenge when his brother is carelessly killed by a group of “Banzai Runners,” rich men who drive exotic cars at breakneck speeds and live above the law. He gets his chance when it is discovered that these jet-setters might be transporting cocaine, and goes undercover in a no-holds-barred match of speed and aggression.

Behind the Scenes & Special Effects
Very few of the chase scenes were filmed at actual speed. For the most part, the high speed scenes were faked by speeding up the film rate. The scenes of the speedometer passing 180 and 200 mph were done at North Hollywood Speedometer on Lankershim Blvd. There they put the cars up on their speedometer tester and accelerated to the necessary speed. Some of it was done on a bench as well.

Cinematographer Tom Callaway and Stephen Stanton were originally hired to destroy a car and do some pyrotechnic work (bullet hits, ricochets, etc.). The trick was to do this work WITHOUT damaging the vehicles – and with a very tiny budget.

The Pantera crash was done using a combination of the full size vehicle (#4033) and miniatures. The Pantera (#4033) was driven through some road barricades that were made out of very lightweight Styrofoam, held together with toothpicks so they would fly apart easily without damaging the car. It was driven through the barricades fairly slowly and the camera was under-cranked (fast-motion) to make it look as though the Pantera was going much faster. The special effects team anticipated that the production would have some kind of junked out yellow car to destroy at the end of the movie, but they couldn’t afford it. Remember, this was a LOW budget film. So, they threw some shrubs on the ground and blew them up!

Two Pantera miniatures were used for the special effects. The first one was just a battered wooden frame about two feet long covered in sheet metal and painted yellow. There are several reasons why it looks so bad. First, it was a cheap crappy model. It was only supposed to be used in the one shot when the car is on fire. Second, the scene was filmed in the desert near California City where it got so cold at night that the motor on the hi-speed camera froze up and couldn’t be used. Filming miniatures at hi-speed (slow-motion) and at eye level helps make them look “real.” Anyway, that shot had to be filmed using the production camera on a tripod looking down at the miniature. The end result was… well, you’ve seen it!

Once they began editing the sequence together they realized the crash didn’t look convincing, so they called Special DeeFX back and gave them a Pantera model from a dealer, and wanted them to drive it off the road in miniature. It was a monumental endeavor to construct that sequence again in miniature. Again, no high-speed cameras were used, and the shots suffer for it.

The burning bush from the first shoot didn’t look convincing (shocking!), so the scene had to be re-shot with another explosion. When the special effects crew got out to the location, again NO JUNK CAR! So, they dug a big hole in the ground, threw in shrubs, balsa wood, Styrofoam (anything they could get their hands on) and filmed a really BIG explosion of no car blowing up.

Another interesting trivia fact is that the special effects crew had to construct a rear wing for the white Porsche 928, because the owner wrecked it during filming. It was some kind of European import that couldn’t be found over here, so they got another white Porsche and the special effects guys quickly cut a new wing on the spot out of Styrofoam for the movie.

All in all, production was a lot of work and involved lots of freezing night shoots until dawn. I’m told the crew was ready to sleep for a week when it was over. And, Tom Callaway liked the Pantera so much he eventually bought one for himself.

Special Effects Gallery
Stephen Stanton worked on the special effects for Banzai Runner, and many other movies. Visit the “banzai gallery” on his website, Special DeeFX! to learn more.

Press Kit
Banzai Runner Press Kit, from First Look Media and Overseas Film Group.


Who is in the photo as Billy Baxter’s deceased younger brother?

Answer from, “Ask the Answer Bitch”

Last, if the movie falls into a lower-budget category, the dead person enshrined on the mantelpiece is often a member of the director’s crew or family.

“Strange,” Thomas muses, “but even with an experienced prop master around, it always seems like we forget the picture! In one film I did, Banzai Runner, we needed a photo of Dean Stockwell and his fictional younger brother, who had been killed.”

“We used a photo of Dean holding a football and standing next to our cameraman,” Thomas says. “Nobody got paid for that photo. It’s just one of those things, you know? You need it, and you just do it.

“It’s similar to those times when you need an extra and you haven’t got one handy. If you can’t find someone walking down the street where you’re shooting, grab someone from the crew.”

Movie Reviews
“…Stockwell is convincing both behind the wheel and in dramatic scenes…”

  • Variety, 06/24/1987

“Its not that great of a movie, but its got some cool cars, including a Lamborghini Miura and of course, a Pantera, a pre-L. The chase/race seen is actually shot quite bad. A lot of the shots are simply footage played twice as fast so it seems like they are driving faster than they are, which makes their corner turns seem like they are running on rails. They also push the Pantera to 200mph, which all know is not possible (stock-wise).”

  • Matt Bradley, DeTomaso Mailing List, 03/08/2001

“Banzai Runner” is without doubt a “B” movie with a definite “made for television” feel. But, it’s got my Pantera in it – Cool! It’s very predictable and full of corny lines, but fun none the less. I expected a lot worse from what I’ve heard about the move, but I was pleasantly surprised. To quote my wife after we watched it for the first time, “It wasn’t that bad. We’ve seen a lot worse.”

  • Garth Rodericks, 09/25/2003

This evening, courtesy of Netflix, I’ve seen “Banzai Runner” and now consider myself a full-fledged member of the Pantera community! Man that was a bad movie, but it was worth seeing the few minutes of film footage that had our car in it.

Geez, I bring in another movie like that and my wife will have me sleeping in the garage. I guess I should’ve popped for “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

  • Tom, Denver, CO, DeTomaso Mailing List, 12/08/2003

Additional Reviews
Daily Reviews; Rotten Tomatoes; Yahoo! Movies

Where are they now?
Dean Stockwell

John Shepard

Billy Drago

Additional Information Request
Do you know anything more about the making of the Banzai Runner? I would love to hear about it. Please contact me if you worked on the making of the movie, heard stories from the former owner of the Banzai Runner Pantera about his experience making the movie, or helped with stunt rigging or special effects, such as the speedometer scenes. Second-hand accounts are fine too.

Cardboard Promotional Piece
I would like to find the cardboard promo piece described in the email message below. If you have one or know where I could find one, I would be interested in purchasing it.


I don’t know if you are aware of it or not, but did you know there was a really cool collectable of the Banzai Runner movie?

I live in a small town in New Mexico and back in the late 1980’s when the Banzai Runner movie first came out, I went to our local video store to rent a movie. As I walked in, a large (I would estimate 4 1/2′ tall) advertisement cut out of cardboard caught my attention. The reason being is that it had the unmistakable image of the rear end of a Pantera and a Porsche 928. As I recall, it wasn’t rectangular but the outer edge of the sign followed the shape of the cars. It all sat on a cardboard support. What it was of course, was the same image on the cover of the video itself (which I HAD to rent :o). Anyway, being a Pantera memorabilia collector I told myself that I had to go back to try to buy the sign from the video rental store. When I went to turn the video back in, I asked about it but they had already disposed of it! I couldn’t believe it!

Anyway, I thought I would let you know that it is out there and would really look fantastic sitting next to your car.

If I ever stumble across one, I will sure let you know.

Best regards,

Jim Demick
Ford Automotive Supercar Treasury
Specializing in the DeTomaso Pantera

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