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It’s easy to recognize what is a “bad” documentary, you find yourself bored or completely uninterested. Even a subject that you might have infinite interest in can be made into a dreary eyed swallow of Excedrin PM if it lands in the wrong hands. On the other side of the documentary coin, an effective documentary can transcend what can be done by mere Hollywood style storytelling and moviemaking and not only educate you, but enlighten and entertain in a much more resilient manner even subjects you think you have little or no interest in.

Every once and again I see a project that reminds me that the documentary might be the greatest type of filmmaking, overlooked generally by the masses, documentaries do something when they are well executed that no other art form can do as effectively…show you the real, true human condition. There’s a list of great ones for sure. VERNON, FLORIDA, HARLAN COUNTY, USA, HEARTS OF DARKNESS, GATES OF HEAVEN, I could go on and on with favorites. Instead let me add another to the list of great ones and on top of that, a quite obscure one. THE DEVIL AT MY HEELS traces the five year ordeal of “The Mad Canadian” Ken Carter in his quest to jump a country fucking mile in a rocket car. That’s right Carter is a daredevil, the plumb crazy kind, and his beyond-obsessive drive to jump his rocket-powered car across the St. Lawrence River from Canada to the US, not only sucks you along for the ride, but you’ll find yourself wondering if poor fucking Ken Carter wasn’t the actual basis of Murphy’s Law as you weep into your Moosehead. Most of you pussies get heart palpitations just trying to enter the highway off the exit ramp. Ken Carter eats spark plugs and poops axel grease. Okay, maybe not but you get thepicture. Ken Carter is either very brave or too stupid to be scared.

Ken Carter was one of those guys who made his living as a sort of modern era (60s - 70s) version of an old fashioned barnstormer. Instead of bi-planes and crop dusters, Carter and his ilk were the guys who’d show up with a cache of ragged out old Chevys, set up a ramp and thrill corn-fed audiences with feats of both courageousness and stupidity. You know the type, the “jump 12 wrecked cars, meet you at the ER for autographs” sort of gimmick. But Ken Carter was more than a little bit different. No, he didn’t have spongey, rubber bones or anything fun and functional like that. He’d stay on the road constantly, traveling town to town, working for peanuts, doing everything from the actual driving to training others crazy enough to get into the game and even performing as Master of Ceremonies during his own shows. Ken Carter liked his lifestyle and stuck with for 20 years doing it, needless to say that’s a long time in the world of breaking your ankles and concussing for a living. Strange thing, Carter made a pretty good one (a living) doing just that shit.

Something happened about the same time as Carter was touring through Canada with his daredevil show. That something was another daredevil, maybe the King of Daredevils, Evel Knievel. Evel began capturing sports broadcasts, news headlines and even Hollywood. Folks were into this whole daredevil thing and Ken Carter used Evel’s success to help bolter his business, making the tricks more extreme and the show bigger and reaping more rewards from doing so. But of course, deep down Ken Carter felt he was possibly a better daredevil than this so-called King of the Daredevils…and so maybe, just maybe, that’s were this insane idea of Ken Carter’s took root. He wanted to be recognized as “the best.” Comparisons with Evel Knievel were inevitable and appropriate. Carter was obviously much less famous, but they came from similar backgrounds, both suffered massive amounts of fractures and injuries for their 'art', both were self-publicists of the grandest order. Knievel, trim, handsome, rugged, and bitchy, a made to order California-style superhero. Carter, slightly deluded, cross-eyed, overweight and gimpy, a Canadian live action version of your neighbor who mows his lawn in one of those VelcroTM waisted, bath towel, cover-up, wrap-arounds. They also both tried to cap their off their daredeviling careers with jumps that simply would not be allowed in this day and age and quite frankly you wonder how they convinced anyone it was legit back then...Knievel, Snake River Canyon, Carter, the St. Lawrence Seaway. So that’s were the story begins.

Director Robert Fortier (notable only fo rthis project and teh fact he might directed one of the few Keanu Reeves films no one has ever seen ONE STEP AWAY) was damned lucky enough to be involved with Ken Carter at the inception of the idea to jump from Canada to the United States and to find a little scratch to fund the documentary on Carter’s vision. Little did Fortier what a story he was in for over the next 5 years of his life. The optimism, wide-eyed eagerness and naivete’ is evident during the first moments of the film. As the narrator tells us, “Ken Carter jumps cars for a living, and people like to see him do it. They come for the thrill of watching a man risk his life, watching a man fly a car and crash at 50 mph, Ken Carter’s been dong that for 20 years…. Three times a week.” Carter talks in a large boisterous way about his past as a journeyman daredevil, his meager upbringing in the slums of Montreal, the long hours, bad luck and general everyman side to what he does for a living. Initially this looks like one of any number sports stories about a guy winning out over adversity, a rags to riches journey into sports herodom, and that is no doubt the story Ken Carter thought he was making and starring in for Fortier’s camera. It’s apparent Carter thinks highly of who he is and what he has achieved and he exudes a confidence when he talks of his plan to jump a mile in a rocket powered car, so much so he convinces others that it can be done. First step, Goddamn it, he needs a car. Not just any car after all, he is gonna need a rocket to fly a mile across a river remember, and although the AMC Pacer dealerships in Canada are great, they don’t carry a rocket fueled model on the lot. Ken Carter was used to jumping junkers at the air rarely ever reaching 70 mph with a stiff breeze at his ass, to jump the river into the USA, he’d need to reach a speed of around 280 mph. So Carter has to get a little huckster-style salesmanship going to help raise the capital to get this fancy flying rocket car specially built. Ken drops his last $30,000 into a rocket powered funny car. Whether it be stopping in the downtown streets of Montreal to fire up the rocket engine or in front of a grandstand full of gap-toothed fair goers, Ken puts on a show starting up the car to flurried applause and talking about his future feat. Ken, of course, knows this car can’t make the jump it will take a car much more substantial, but he doesn’t tell the press that, he needs to raise some interest and with that interest he needs cold hard cash. Finally, he gets a front page story proclaiming his quest as the “Greatest Daredevil Stunt of All Time!” For the next year Ken tries his damnedest to raise $250,000 to get moving on the project, hitting up every promoter and nutjob in Canada and L.A. he could think of…net gain $0

The allure of THE DEVIL AT YOUR HEELS builds slowly. Ken trudges forward, finally convincing a sports agent that the idea is sellable. ABC Wide World of Sports seems interested in filming the event, they sign a contract for $250,000 and Ken has leased some land and broken dirt to build the ramp. Ken delivers a rather poignant speech about positivity and “Keeping On Trucking.” The ramp is a 1,400 foot runway which climbs to a height of 80 feet. The construction foreman is a little worried, it’s raining it’s ass off. Basically they get down to a 4 week window, it keeps raining. Ken also has builders working on the car that will make the jump. It’s never been done before, the cost of the car will be $100,000. Ken himself, must also get ready for the jump, he does looped-de-loops in a stunt plane to get used to the almost 3 Gs he’ll be pulling when he leaves the ramp. Ken throws up…”from the turbulants” the pilot says. “Other than that Ken assures us, “it was a magnificient ride.”

With about 2 weeks left before the event is set to air, it hasn’t stopped raining and ABC execs are pissing pickles, they send Evel "fucking" Knievel down to assess the progress of the construction and to meet Ken. Evel of course, makes comparisions to Snake River constantly and generally is petty negative about the whole affair. Ken talks mostly bullishit about wind, dirt, and whines a lot about the weather assuring everyone that they will get it done. Evel says to Ken, “Looks like a dangerous jump to me boy…” He then tells the news crews, “This may be the daredevil stunt to end all daredevil stunts.” It airs on Wide World of Sports that weekend. Ken watches if at home. The world’s most popular daredevil is talking about him on national television. As Ken watches, he reminds us he’s “always believed Knievel is the second best daredevil in the world. Right behind me.” Ken is speaking of himself, not actually me, although I'll admit to being something pretty special when it comes to daredevil feats. Whether it's when I jumped 5 people (one of them was a kid named Topper Wilburn) on my bike over a plywood ramp on Clayton Avenue when I was 10 ormy bizarre savvy for ejaculatory trajectory, I never fail to impress.

Ken continues to ready himself for the jump. He’s used to jumping cars but never at over 250 mph. So he needs to see what it feels like to drive that fast. Carter borrows Lew Arrington's rocket funny car, Carter had never truly been over 90 mph before in his whole life and Arrington seems more than a little nervous about this guy borrowing his $30,000 plaything. To make things even worse, poor Ken doesn’t bring his own fire suit or helmet to the track and has to try and fit into the nearly 6 inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter Arrington’s jumpsuit. And we are spared none for the agony. And once the suit is on, Carter can't even squeeze into the cockpit, so he strips off his borrowed firesuit, takes off his shoes squeezes in and promptly goes 255 mph in about 4 seconds. A 255 mph rocket driver in jeans, T-shirt and sock feet! This Ken Carter has moxie! Lew Arrington, seems to be overjoyed, Ken Carter didn’t destroy his car.

As time closes in it’s apparent, with the rain, the construction is not going happen in time. Oh, and the car back in Chicago, isstill not done. Well, not done isn’t quite the right descriptor. The fuel tank explodes everytime they test it. Is Ken Carter’s dream gonna suit ABC’s needs? Take into account Evel has basically labeled Ken’s endeavor as misdirected, foolish, ill-prepared and dangerous. Unlike the reality hungry TV hounds today, ABC wasn’t crazy, no doubt, about seeing a person potentially die on Sunday afternoon television. The network pulls the plug.

Ken Carter doesn’t stop there though and neither does the THE DEVIL AT YOUR HEELS and the drama is only getting started. Ken has a couple more years of ups and downs trying to see this dream come into being. I found myself so involved with Ken’s goofy vision and wanting to see this happen that as it approaches really happening time after time, I felt so connected with this bad luck Shleprock that I began to get sick at my stomach as my heart raced and my palms got moist.

Weird coincidence after coincidence gets in the way, Ken hires a new crew to finish the bridge, work continues on the car, now a Lincoln Mark IV with wings and a rocket powered engine! Ken tests the car with famed drag racer designer Sammy Miller. Miller tests it at renowned Sanair dragstrip and promptly crashes it. Once repaired, Miller sticks Carter in the seat but doesn't tell him that he's upped the gas. Ken needs to travel 280, but Miller tells him he’ll be going 250 or so. Carter takes off so hard even the cameraman is blown on his ass. Ken keeps it on the track though and seems happy with his accomplishment. Sammy tells Carter how fast he was really going and apologizes to Carter under the directive “it had to be done.” Good ol’ Ken Carter takes it all in stride but needs a new pair of race ready underdrawers due to fact he has just shit his pants. Sammy Miller gets to test it again on the banks of the St Lawrence in a pre jump 'run up' in the souped up Lincoln. We are getting closer. Time marches on.

After 5 years of trial and tribulation, Ken has attracted new money folk, Hollywood types who are looking to film the spectacle, sell it to a studio, release it in theaters, sell Ken Carter dolls, stunt cars and other marketables. Ken’s financial backers decide to film the stunt without a paying audience and decide to make their money by selling the rights to the film. Ken is less than keen on that idea but relents, forever stating “The jump is the important thing.” But he adds “What the Hell am I dong here, I’m fixing to get in this car, and who knows…get dead, for all I know.” Probably my favorite line, in a film full of great ones by the crazed Ken Carter. Ken's a showman, the idea of not promoting teh thing as a big live event bums the guy out, I understand. But it's still just about the jump. As the big day approaches, the car is complete. Ken tests the ride and it’s sweet, sort of. It looks long and awkward, but can move at about 280 mph. Ken Carter’s ultimate daredevil stunt might just happen. Hell, it has to happen, the bastard can’t take much more, Hell, neither can the audience.

A huge crowd was on hand to watch the stunt. The seaway was closed for two hours, police were on the scene, fire brigades were there and divers in several boats were on hand in case of disaster. It’s a full on professional fucking production. Everything looks perfect. Then something really fucked up happens, the Hollywood crew filming the event to be sold to teh studios demands more money. It’s a stalemate, finally someone goes to the bank and gets cash but it is really late in the day. This means that the jump is delayed, Ken did not get in the car until 6:45 pm, it was already getting dark. Well, too dark to actually film anything, the window of opportunity is gone. The seaway is reopened, the police go home, the fire personnel and lifeboats all disperse, they’ll have to reschedule.

Seven days later the whole show is back again. But for all the pomp and circumstance and large crew and staff for the first attempt, it is quite a different picture this time. There were only two guys in a rubber dinghy and a guy with a 25 gallon water barrel on the back of an old tow truck. There’s a handful of gawkers and the seaway remains open to traffic. Ken Carter’s Spectacle of Daredevilishness is going to happen it looks like but no one cares. But as I watch it, amazingly I care even more! Ken wraps his rocket car around himself and begins the ordeal of psyching himself up for the jump. After being in the car for 45 minutes psyching himself up (now be honest, if you were told for 5 years that this was a bad idea that would end with you dead you might spend an extra 45 minutes praying to every available deity you could muster) rain sets in and the jump is called again. Ken is once again devastated, albeit, it’s hard tell now if he’s loosing his nerve or is just beaten.

But two days later, the Ken Carter saga takes an abrupt and unforeseen turn. The money folk decide to secretly put Kenny Powers, Ken’s, right hand man, in the car while Ken is relaxing in his nice plush Four Season’s hotel room. Ken has no idea that the jump is going ahead. Seems, like me, the producers decide that maybe Ken has lost his nerve and so they replace him with another driver. Kenny Powers, Ken’s young protege’ is even more ill-prepped to get behind the wheel and make the jump. He had never even been in a rocket fueled car but nonetheless, he’s ready to do this thang! Kenny Powers may just be the most sincere form of Judas ever put on screen. Obviously, a sort of Canuck version of a redneck, Kenny is manipulated by the Hollywood types trying to get this project completed and sold. Kenny seems like he’s betraying Ken not so much to steal his glory, but to just sort of get it all over with. At one point he tells the camera crew that it's better he make the jump that Ken because,"Well you know Ken's bones are..." Now that is great justification for scrweing your friend in the ass after his 5 year plight to make this happen eh?

So the drama builds, but I can’t give it all away to you, you must see how it all wraps up. It doesn’t fail to disappoint. But the whole trip isn’t just about the ending, the film works on such a very human level. Anyone who has tried and failed at anything can relate to this “normal” guy chasing that elusive “thing” that will separate him from the pack, of course, what Ken never realizes is he’s already separated from the pack just for bothering to dream the crazy dream that he has chosen. Narrated like a classic NFL film, you laugh along with some of the foibles while trying to not cry about other strokes of rotten luck Ken runs into. Ken Carter is an extreme version of any artist or creative type. His jumping a mile is someone else’s making a great film, writing a great book or painting a Sistine Chapel. Ken Carter liked to fantasize big, sort of like me and my Oprah Winfrey redundant jerk-off dream.

As a sad side note, the next year after the documentary was completed Ken Carter was performing at a local show, trying to raise money again, he attempted to jump a fairly large body of water but fell terribly short and landed in the water. It took rescuers several minutes to get him out. But he survived. Over the microphone he vowed to the crowd that he would come back the next night and jump over the water, something he most always did after any sort of crash, hoping to fill the seats again as folks went away telling their friends to come see “The Mad Canadian.” Indeed, the next night he completely cleared that body of water, in fact, he cleared the water by so much that he landed on the roof of an old dilapidated bit of grandstand and was killed. Ken Carter was a fucking daredevil, he lived and died it. RIP you crazy bastard!

A nice copy of this rarity is available through Shocking Videos. Tell 'em BOF sent ya.
Email Prof. Tread

Discuss THE DEVIL AT YOUR HEELS.

Ken is his own jumpsuit readies himself to drive a car a mile in the air.

The Candian Fire Department stands ready in case of catastrophe.

Ken Carter, a daredevil and his ramp.

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This just in...something great from Canada. Ken Carter!

Chris Wayne
The Mad Canadian at teh very beginning of his quest for daredevil dominance! Shown here in a cars some of the boys got at the junkyard that he's getting ready to jump 13 cars with...ahem.

In car camera action as he sails over teh 13 cars on way to crushing his ankle! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Cater's early days. The name on the side of the car aptly sums up his life.

Fuck off Tony Hawk, now this is extreme skateboading!

Ken likes to get the party started right, here he fires up his first $30,000 rocket powered funny car in downtown Montreal.

Ken pressing the flesh and hoping to get some backers for what will be dubbed the Greatest Daredvil Stunt ever! Of course, this was before Hollywood tried to make Ben Affleck look cool in red leather.

After a year on the road with his rocket car, Ren looks a little haggard but on the birght side he still has no backers for his feat! Wait that came out wrong.

Year two Ken is a changling but for the better, he has a potential $250,000 contract from ABC Television and has grown a vagina on his face.

The contruction foreman stands in the mud for about the 16th day straight, with about a month before Ken's first attempt at a jump John assures him "we'll get it done."

Ken, an ABC official and Evel Knievel discuss the construction of the ramp and the preparation for the jump. Ken reiterates "we'll get it done."

You guys surely remember Evel Knievel, here's his failed jump over Snake River Canyon. My Mamaw let me stay home from school they day he did it so I could watch it.

Evel file shis report to Wide World of Sports while Ken aand his family watch at home. Words like "dangerous" and "impossible" are bandied about by Evel. Words like "fuck you" go through Ken's head.

Be careful where you put the emphasis, if you say it like Funny...Car Driver it gives the insinuation Lew is a queer or something.

Ah yes, Ken Carter readies himslef to go faster than he's ever traveled in his career, over 250 mph in a borrowed car, a borrowed helmet and this nice size 32 firesuit. Ken's a 36, so he says. I'm guessing close to a 38.

Yep, Ken's gonna set a Canadian speed record her in just a second.

Uh huh, these firesuits are pretty damned important when you're setting in a tiny cockpit behind an 8.000 horsepower rocket fueled engine.

Just as soon as Ken get in the suit he'll be making a bit of history. For fat guys everywhere. Getting back into a 32.

Aw the Hell with it, jeans t-shirt and no shoes, strap Ken in boys he's got rocketing to do!

By year five Ken's vagina is takign over his face and the wear on his nerves is evidenced by his fluid retention.

My favorite the winged Lincoln Mark IV. Noe that boys and girls is big pimping. At a measely 290 mph.

Does this guy ooze Hollywood or what? Or what, you say. I wish curley perms would come back in vogue.

Ken psyches himself up for the big jump. Canada, you should be proud.

Judas in a cowboy hat and jumpsuit? Mr. Kenny Powers.
Brains On Film 2003