stock clerk

Repo Man (film)

Repo Man is a 1984 cult film directed by Alex Cox. It was produced by Jonathan Wacks and Peter McCarthy, with executive producer Michael Nesmith, and stars Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton.


Otto Maddox (Emilio Estevez), an alienated young punk rocker living in mid-1980s Los Angeles, is fired from his menial supermarket stock clerk job. At a party, he finds his girlfriend having sex with his best friend. He soon finds that his pot-smoking, ex-hippie parents have donated his college savings account to a televangelist, supposedly to supply Bibles to El Salvador. Depressed and broke, Otto falls in with Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) a seasoned repossession agent, or "repo man", working for the disingenuously named "Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation", a small-time automobile repossession agency. While repelled by the concept at first, Otto's opinion is rapidly changed when he is paid cash for his first "job."

Otto soon learns that "the life of a repo man is always intense." He enjoys the drug use, real-life car chases, the thrill of hot-wiring cars and good pay. His old punk rock lifestyle seems boring by comparison, and he begins to develop a rapport with his fellow repo men as well. When he returns to a punk club to see a lounge act (played by real-life hardcore band Circle Jerks), he is amazed at how terrible they now seem.

Soon, Bud, Otto and competing repo men all over town are searching for a 1964 Chevrolet Malibu from New Mexico, ludicrously overvalued at $20,000 (about $41,000 in 2007 dollars); this vehicle, unknown to them, contains something mysterious and dangerously powerful in its trunk, also sought by a strange female FBI agent, Agent Rogersz (Susan Barnes) and her staff.

The film draws on the experiences of director Alex Cox, who worked briefly as a repossession agent in Los Angeles, but soon deviates into the surreal with aliens, the CIA, punk rocker thieves and other strange characters and situations, all amid a long string of running gags and almost-impossible coincidences.



Repo Man was voted as the 8th best film set in Los Angeles in the last 25 years by a group of Los Angeles Times writers and editors with two criteria: "The movie had to communicate some inherent truth about the L.A. experience, and only one film per director was allowed on the list". The film was also ranked #3 on Entertainment Weekly magazine's "The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since '83" list.


1985 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (Saturn Awards)

Repo Man was ranked #7 on Entertainment Weekly's "Top 50 Cult Films of All-Time".

Notable motifs

  • References to "plates", "shrimp", or "plate of shrimp" throughout, for example a poster advertising "Plate 'o' Shrimp, luncheon special" can be seen in the window behind the payphone used to phone Marlene after the Rodriguez Brothers acquire the Malibu.
  • In the hospital scene, a "Dr. Benway" and a "Mr. Lee" are paged. Both are characters from novels by William S. Burroughs.
  • "Dioretix", a pun on L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics and the term diuretic.
  • The dangerous glow emitted from the trunk of the Chevy Malibu may be a homage to the bright, glowing contents of the mysterious box in the 1955 film Kiss Me Deadly directed by Robert Aldrich. A similar device can be seen in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.
  • Food and beverages throughout the movie appear in generic white containers with blue-lettered labels reading among others, "Beer", "Drink", "Dry Gin", "Food (Meat Flavored)", and "Tasteeos". This style of labelling was actually used by Ralphs Grocery Company in southern California for their generic products. Ralph's donated some of the props for the movie.
  • Car deodorisers shaped like evergreen trees are placed in most cars. These items were one of the few sponsored items (along with Ralph's generic goods above) in this movie and hundreds of these deodorisers were donated to the filmmakers for this movie. It is mentioned in the DVD commentary track that these air fresheners were actually unscented, and it is suggested that they were only given to the film because they were defective (and thus, unsaleable). Miller, the mechanic-philosopher, also noted the pervasive presence of the scented pine tree deodorisers in repossessed cars, telling Otto, "You'll find one in every car. You'll see." Later in the film, one even appears on a policeman's motorcycle. They can also be seen hanging from the ceiling in the scene at Miller's house.
  • Many of the "repo men" of Helping Hand are named after brands of beer popular in the US or allude to beer: Bud, Oly, Lite and Miller.
  • Quite a few Los Angeles-based punk rock musicians are cast in roles large and small, including: Dick Rude and Keith Morris (with his band, the Circle Jerks) as well as the Untouchables (as the scooter guys). Also cast is Los Angeles club maven, Rodney Bingenheimer (a.k.a. "Rodney on the ROQ") in a cameo appearance as a club owner. Bingenheimer's name is spelt "Benegenheimer" in the credits. The Circle Jerks perform as a very poor lounge act (the source of Otto's lament, "I can't believe I used to like these guys!") as they grind out a slow, "swinging" lounge version of the normally raucous "When the Shit Hits the Fan", complete with scat singing. Circle Jerks bassist Zander Schloss plays Kevin, a friend of Otto's who works with him at the supermarket and has numerous appearances throughout the film (see above).
  • Posters for "Harry Pace for City Council" in the background throughout the film. (Alex Cox has said that "Harry Pace" was an indirect reference to "happy face.") Leila (played by Olivia Barash) wears smiley face pins, and her watch also has this design on the face. Otto is wearing a smiley face pin when he spots the Chevy Malibu. The doctor's jacket Otto steals in the hospital also has a smiley face badge on the lapel.
  • As Bud and Otto pursue repossession opportunities throughout the seedier parts of Los Angeles their path seems to continually follow or intersect with that of Otto's punk friends. On more than one occasion, Bud and Otto visit a convenience store just after (or during) a robbery committed by Duke, Archie and Debbi.
  • In the party scene at a local bar where we see the repo men's wives, several of the wives are played by drag queens.


The soundtrack features now-classic punk rock tracks by Black Flag, the Circle Jerks, Suicidal Tendencies, Iggy Pop and others. Producer Mike Nesmith has a small cameo role (a mock TV commercial taken from his video production Elephant Parts).

It was meant to capture an angry spirit and features a collection of punk bands of the time.

  1. "Repo Man" performed by Iggy Pop – 5:11
  2. "TV Party" performed by Black Flag – 3:50
  3. "Institutionalized" performed by Suicidal Tendencies – 3:49
  4. "Coup d'État" performed by The Circle Jerks – 1:59
  5. "El Clavo y la Cruz" performed by The Plugz – 2:56
  6. "Pablo Picasso" performed by Burning Sensations – 4:01
  7. "Let's Have a War" performed by Fear – 2:29
  8. "When the Shit Hits the Fan" performed by The Circle Jerks – 3:11
  9. "Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)" performed by The Plugz [Spanish] – 1:46
  10. "Bad Man" performed by Juicy Bananas – 4:59
  11. "Reel Ten" performed by The Plugz – 3:09
  12. Tributes

Indie-rock label American Laundromat Records has announced plans to release a tribute to the film in 2008 with some of their favorite artists covering the classic punk-rock tracks. At the suggestion of Alex Cox himself, the tribute will include a bonus track "Burning Down The House" by Talking Heads. The song was supposed to appear in a scene of the original film but the scene was cut due to song clearance issues.


A semi-sequel titled Waldo's Hawaiian Holiday, also written by Cox, was released as a graphic novel in March 2008 after funds could not be raised for filming. The novel is published by Gestalt Publishing and is illustrated by Chris Bones and Justin Randall.


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