Archive for April, 2010

"Scream" Movie Poster

Let’s get one thing clear right off the bat : this movie has nothing whatsoever to do with Wes Craven’s postmodern revisionist slasher series that took the cinematic world by storm (for reasons your host still can’t quite fathom) in the late 90s/early 2000s. They share a title, but that’s it.

In point of fact,  writer-director Byron Quisenberry’s 1981 feature debut (he would go on to helm exactly one other film, something called Big Chuck, Little Chuck in 2004), Scream, also released under the equally nonchalant title of The Outing, bears little resemblance to any slasher before or since.

In the beginning, there were dolls

We open with a long, slow dolly crawl across a mantle in some unknown house in some unknown place. We see a series of dolls, some in various states of decapitation, a clock chimes, and we see an oil painting of a ship at sail on a stormy sea that’s dated 1891. We also get some voice-over from some unseen and unknown narrator about a sea captain, and the (sort of) cruel fate he suffered at the hands of  the”company men” who ran the ships. Then the clock we hear chiming is shown just as it strikes midnight, one of the dolls moves its eyes, and we’re gone from wherever it was we were.

The cast don't know what's going on, either

Next thing you know, we’re observing a group of folks (friends? business associates? it’s never really made clear — some appear to know each other, some are even related, as is the case with a teenage girl and her grandfather, but most don’t seem to know each other at all, so I guess it’s just one of those random “adventure tour” groups) on a rafting trip in what we’re later told is Texas (even though the film itself was shot on the old backlot at Paramount studios in Hollywood that they used for their westerns).  Tired from a long day, the group pulls in to shore on the lake/river/whatever and decides to find a place to camp for the night.

Walking just a bit inland, they find an old abandoned ghost town and decide, as you an I would I’m sure if we found a ghost town, that this looks like a pretty good place to spend the night. The two tour guides and their charges (one of whom is portrayed by John Wayne’s son, Ethan — the only other actors you might recognize are the aforementioned kindly grandfather, who appeared as the ancient bellhop on Twin Peaks that found agent Cooper lying on the floor and asked him what he was doing down there before taking forever to get him a telephone, and one-time John Ford regular Woody Strode, who isn’t part of the tour group but we’ll get to later) set to work rustling up some grub, drinking a few beers, fixing coffee, and getting their sleeping bags spread out on the floor of what appears to have one been a saloon.

Then the killings start. I guess. It’s hard to say for sure who’s doing the killing, although the rather haphazard script tries to play the traditional “whodunnit?” angle of making you wonder which member of the group is killing off the others.

Now, in their defense, Quisenberry and his cohorts weren’t filmmakers per se — they were stuntmen, who hustled up a little bit of a budget and were given free use of the old Paramount backlot to see if they could come up with a quickie slasher flick to make a few bucks since the early 80s slasher craze was in full boom at the time. Every major distributor, including Paramount itself, took a pass on the finished product when they saw it, but they managed to secure some limited fly-by-night independent distribution anyway, which is a testament to their perseverance.

But not to their skill. Scream plays out like exactly what it is — a low-budgeter made by some guys who had no clue what the fuck they were doing. But, again, to give credit where it’s due — by dint of sheer ineptitude and inexperience, they ended up coming up with a movie that, while in no way especially good, is certainly different enough from other similar fare to maintain interest throughout, even though, in fairness, it’s often crushingly,  even mind-numbingly, dull.

There’s a lot of sitting around and doing nothing on display here. There are pointless arguments with incredibly hokey dialogue. There is precious little by way of actual suspense. No compelling reason to actually give a shit about any of these characters is ever offered. In some cases, we never even learn their names.

In short, when they start dying, you really can’t be bothered to care. And it’s not only the blandness and sub-one-dimensionality of their portrayals that “achieves” this result — the nature of how they meet their ends contributes to this lethargy, as well.

Your standard "Scream" kill-shot

More often than not, we see a weapon or other implement hanging on a wall, we see an unseen hand begin to remove it, and then we see a dead body — that’s it. The bloody weapon might get hung back up. We might see some smoke in the darkness. We might see a long-distance shot of the corpse. And then again, we might not see any of that. One thing we definitely don’t see much of, though, is the person actually getting killed. There’s next to no gore on display here, just as there’s no T&A to make things at least dimly interesting, either.

In short, we’ve got a near-bloodless, near tit-less, near ass-less slasher flick that nonetheless racks up a semi-respectable (seven by my count, but the ambiguous nature of the ending leaves open the possibility of more) body count.

Woody Strode as the (sort of) Answer Man

As for exposition, there’s precious little of that, as well. The mysterious nature of the weapons being removed and almost floating toward their targets leaves open the possibility of a supernatural explanation for the murderous goings-on, but only when a mysterious rider (played by Western sorta-legend Woody Strode) comes into the ghost town on his horse with a Rottweiler a few steps ahead of him in the mist, shows the group one of their number that had gone out to find help but ended up dead (his covered body is slung over a second horse),  summarily dismounts, goes into the saloon, sits down, and lights up his pipe do we get the closest thing we’re ever going to get to an explanation here.

“Me and the captain, we came here when they gave him nary another ship. They were cruel men, them that run the ships. Company men.”

So, he was the narrator we heard at the beginning. Him and the captain came here (to the middle of Texas?) when the captain got put out to pasture. Company men are bad news. And that’s all we find out before he rides out again.

More people get killed in equally ineptly-staged ways. More scenes play out in such near-total darkness that it’s impossible to tell what the hell is going on, not that it really matters because you won’t care anyway. And then we get a kinda-bloody sickle sitting on the saloon floor and it’s never made clear if everybody’s dead at this point or what. But things are definitely over. How do we know this?

The murderous (I guess) Captain

Because next thing you know, we’re back in the house from the beginning, and back at the mantle, and “treated” to a long, slow crawl that shows the decapitated dolls, the chiming clock (it’s midnight again) and a new painting, this time a portrait of the unnamed Captain, dated 1891. And once again we hear the flat, but admittedly smooth, monotone of Woody Strode telling us:

“Me and the captain, we came here when they gave him nary another ship. They were cruel men, them that ran the ships. Company men.”

I just don’t know, friends. I guess the murderous spirit of  “the Captain” haunts the ghost town he came to when the company men clipped his sea legs and if people show up there, he kills them. But it sure could have been a lot more, well — clear, I guess. Especially for the victims. Call me old-fashioned, but if you’re gonna get killed, I’d like to know at least who is doing it, if not why.

"Scream" DVD from Code Red/ Media Blasters

Scream had a long, torturous path to its recent DVD release. Originally announced by Code Red, who assembled the extras, it was canceled due to low pre-orders, but appeared about a year later as a joint release from Code Red and Media Blasters, under their Shriek Show label. The print has some flaws, explained by the fact that it was shot in 16mm but blown up to 35mm for theatrical release, so there’s some understandable graininess to the image throughout. The digitally remastered anamorphic transfer does look as good as it probably can, though, all things considered. The sound is remastered mono is suitably crisp and clear. As far as extras go, there’s a theatrical trailer, a TV spot, a selection of other Media Blasters trailers, and then one giant missed opportunity in the form of the feature commentary.

Scream is a movie that has perplexed horror fans for years, and exerted a kind of strange allure over those who actually knew about it. Simply put, people want to know more — specifically, what the hell were these guys thinking? Unfortunately, in the commentary, writer-director Quisenberry proves to be somewhat untalkative, with Bill Olsen of Code Red and moderator Marc Edward Hueck literally having to pull information out of the guy. The best explanation we ever get for why the killings are so bizarrely staged is “we were going for a European thing,” a pretty unsatisfactory fallback explanation that Quisenberry resorts to on numerous occasions. When the dead air gets to be too much, Olsen and Hueck literally change the subject to completely unrelated matters just to get this guy to actually talk about anything. When the subject comes back to the movie itself, though, Quisenberry obviously can’t remember that much about what they did or why they did it and can’t really be bothered to have his memory jogged too often. So anyone watching the commentary hoping for some concrete answers is going to come away understandably disappointed.

But maybe it’s for the best, since the most obvious explanation, “we had no idea what we were doing,” just isn’t going to cut it for many hardcore horror aficionados at this point even though it’s probably the God’s-honest truth.

I can only recommend Scream for true slasher junkies and those who seek out cinematic curiosities for their own sake. It plays by its own set of rules and it’s quite clear those rules are being made up as they go along. There’s next to no onscreen bloodletting, there’s no nudity, there’s barely any foul language, there’s no “final girl” — the list of standard slasher ingredients that it just outright ignores is endless. Quisenberry makes clear that they weren’t actually trying to make anything here but a standard horror flick with a little bit of a supposedly “European” feel to it. What they ended up with is something entirely different, and entirely unlike anything else you’ll ever see.

It’s just that most people really won’t want to see it.

German VHS Box Cover for "Killer Workout," Under the Alternative Title of "Aerobicide"

I know what you’re thinking already, my friends — -can any movie possibly be as good as that cover? For that matter, can any movie possibly be as good as good as this cover —

French VHS BoxCover for "Killer Workout,"Also Under the "Aerobicide" Title

The answer in this case is an emphatic “hell yes!”

If you’re a lover of B movies, and slashers in particular, writer-director David A. Prior’s 1986 offering Killer Workout, also released (as if you hadn’t figured it out by now) under the if-anything-even-better title Aerobicide has everything you’re looking for and then some.

Gratuitous nudity? It’s in there.

Gratuitous violence? It’s in there.

Bad 1980s hairstyles? They’re in there.

Even worse 1980s soundtrack music? It’s in there, too.

Lots and lots of cheesy-in-a-seriously-hot -way chicks in tight workout leotards? In there by the score.

What, then, is honestly missing from this flick? Absolutely nothing. It even had a reasonably coherent plot with a semi-involving little murder mystery at its core, not that you necessarily need that given all the other sheer awesomeness on display here, but it’s a nice plus.

One reason you're watching this movie ---

From the very opening scene, you’re guaranteed to be hooked : a rather shapely young lady arrives home at her apartment and checks her answering machine messages to find that she’s flying to Paris tomorrow to shoot the cover of Cosmo magazine! Her agent (or whoever it is) warns her not to have any tan lines, though, so she heads to her favorite tanning salon and strips completely naked to lay out and soak up that UV goodness. Once she closes the bedcover (or whatever it’s called), though, a horrendous malfunction traps her inside and the heat cranks up past max. Does she live? Does she die? All will be revealed, even though we spend the first 3/4 of the movie wondering just what the fuck any of that had to do with anything.

and another ---

Next we jump ahead to the present day (although the events in the pre-credits opening sequence could well have happened the night before for all we know at this point) we’re at a typical 80s aerobics studio owned by a lady named Rhonda (Marcia Karr) that’s called, unimaginatively but admittedly appropriately enough enough, Rhonda’s Workout. Rhonda is stuck leading that day’s group session (filmed in lovingly close-up detail) because her perpetually untrustworthy employee  Jaimy (Teresa Van der Woude) is running late yet again, She gets there in time to clean and lock up and gives Rhonda essentially no excuse whatsoever for her tardiness (the condoms that drop out of her purse in the parking lot clue us in, though) but promises it will never happen again for what we can tell is the umpteenth time.

In the showers after class, though, a fetching young lass is murdered gruesomely with a giant safety pin, and when Jaimy finds her body stashed away in her locker while pursuing her decidedly unglamorous cleaning duties, she screams and screams and screams and next thing you know the cops are there, led by Detective Lieutenant Morgan (David James Campbell, who’s got the 80s moussed-hair look down every bit as well as any of the women in the flick), who hard-assedly (think I invented a new word there) interrogates Rhonda, Jaimy, and anyone and everyone else associated with the club.

and another ---

With no real leads to go on, his investigation grows more urgent — and he grows more stereotypically belligerent — as more people associated with the club all start turning up dead in and around Rhonda’s joynt, all despatched in the same manner — by giant bad-ass motherfucking safety pin.

To complicate matters, Rhonda’s absent silent partner in her operation, one Mr. Erickson, send in a new male employee named Ted (Chuck Dawson), who seems to have a habit of snooping around in Rhonda’s file cabinets.

Who is he? What’s he really up to? Again, all will be revealed, because unlike a lot of B-movies, every loose plot strand in this one is explained in at least something like a satisfactory fashion.

and, of course, yet another.

Mostly, though, it’s the details that matter in Killer Workout, and I’m thrilled to say it gets them all right. Inventive and gruesome kills, big hair, bigger boobs, cheesy period fashions and hair — we already went over our little checklist of everything that could possibly make this movie awesome, so you already know they’re all present and accounted for. And you can add barely-competently staged fistfights, scenery-chewing overacting, stereotypical gender roles, and a truly gleeful fourth-wall-busting ending to the list, as well.

You could want more from a film than that, I suppose, but why be greedy?

Workout queen Rhonda has a little message for all her fans at the end

Is Killer Workout a great movie? Of course not. But it’s definitely a great B -movie, and that’s what we’re all about here at TFG. Consequently, it earns, and I do mean earns, your humble host’s highest possible recommendation.

"Killer Workout" Advertising One-Sheet

Killer Workout is, sadly, not available as an official DVD release in Region 1, but fortunately that doesn’t stop the ever-enterprising Flesh Wound video from offering it anyway, and if you feel no moral qualms about needing to see this flick ASAP (and you really shouldn’t), then I suggest you get off your ass and go over to right away. As usual, Todd there does as good a job as humanly possible in transferring this over from the given source elements (which I assume in this case to be VHS). It’s a nicely-done full-frame transfer with an equally nicely-done opening title menu that, for all intents and purposes, looks like the “real” thing — and is probably as close as we’re ever going to get, anyway.

There are better movies out there than Killer Workout — lots of them, in fact. But I doubt you’ll have more fun watching them. If I were burying a time capsule in 1986, I’d put this in itside. It tells you everything you need to know about the era it comes from. It’s more fun to watch now than it probably was when it came out, and in 50 years’ time plopping down in front of the tube to it is gonna be an even better time.

"A Night To Dismember" Opening Titles

What would you do if you had a completed film “in the can,” so to speak, but a disgruntled lab worker at the processing facility where it was being developed set fire to the place and destroyed 40% of your movie, leaving you with just over an hour of usable footage, all from various unrelated segments of your flick?

And what if, by an even more cruel twist of fate, it turned out that the destroyed 40% was some of the most crucial material, and what you had left made little to no sense without its inclusion?

Imagine, for instance, you had a ten-minute short film about a couple who have an argument in the park that results in their breakup. You had six minutes of footage left relatively unscathed, but it was the six minutes showing them going to the park and leaving, with the crucial four minutes of argument and breakup material gone, leaving you with a “story” that looks, for all intents and purposes, like two people just walking to the park and then leaving under much the same circumstances as they arrived.

Would you just shoot the thing over? I guess that would make the most sense. But what if you were broke, since all your money was used up on the production of your little indie opus, the print itself was uninsured, so you couldn’t recoup any of your losses,  and it was due to play at a local short festival in a week or so?

Well, that’s what happened to B-movie auteur Doris Wishman in 1982, only on an even larger scale.

Despite being a key player in the exploitation movie business for nearly three decades at the time, Wishman had never actually made a proper horror flick before, with most of her efforts being sexploitationers like Nude on the Moon, Deadly Weapons, Double Agent 73, and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist — but in the early 80s, spurred on by the success of films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, slashers were all the rage, and Wishman, ever the savvy low-rent businesswoman, wasn’t about to let that gravy train pass her by.

And can you blame her? A genre that requires no big-name actors, no expensive sets, and has a guaranteed built-in audience at grindhouses and drive-ins all across the country was something no B-movie maker could really afford to pass on. As long as people were getting killed, audiences were happy, and if you made movies literally to pay your rent or make your mortgage payment, this was just too good a deal not to get in on. A license to print money!

Wishman began her first and only voyage into slasherdom the way she began all her productions — with a title, in this case the rather catchy A Night To Dismember. Then she filmed a roughly five-minute trailer, another staple ingredient in her filmmaking stew. With no completed script, no actual cast in place, and no idea where or when the movie itself would be shot, she then would shop these trailers around to potential investors in a bid to secure what she billed as “completion funds.” The movie’s budget would be whatever she was able to raise using this rather unconventional, but usually marginally successful, sales “technique.”

With these “completion funds” in place, she would then finish a script, get a cast in place, secure some filming locations (as often as not utilizing her own house as the primary scene of the action), and shoot a movie that often bore little to no resemblance to the trailer she’d shot earlier.

That’s putting it all on the line for you art, my friends, which is why I’ll always say, despite all physical evidence to the contrary, that Wishman had more balls than most of her male contemporaries.

Anyway, it’s 1982 and our lady Doris has just followed the MO outlined above to make this cheap little slasher flick, A Night To Dismember. She shot it over the course of a couple of weeks, mostly in and around her own house (in, I believe, New Jersey), the only “star” of note whose services she could secure on her budget was late-70s/early-80s second-tier porn actress Samantha Fox (not to be confused with the British topless “Page 3 Girl”/wannabe-pop starlet of the same name who would come along a few years later) who was looking to break into the “legitimate” film business, and the script was a fairly bog-standard little extra-gory murder mystery about a seriously dysfunctional family.

In short, a girl gets sent to an insane asylum as a teenager, gets out in her (supposedly) late 20s, and upon her release her brother and sister enact a devious little scheme to send her back to the bughouse because they don’t want her cutting in on daddy’s affections and, more importantly, his money. They figure they’ll subject her to all kinds of taunting and nightmare visions to make her question her own sanity, and hey, if that doesn’t work, they’ll maybe even kill some people and try to make it look like crazy sis must have done it. That ought to get her out of the picture.

Wishman, as ever, recorded the film without sound and shot it from a safe enough distance in most sequences so that audiences wouldn’t notice the shitty quality of the dubbed-in audio track later. When close-ups were required, she focused on eyes, foreheads, necks, nearby inanimate objects — literally anything but the actors’ mouths, just in case the sound and the images didn’t quite synch up — which they usually didn’t.

So, the movie’s done. And what’s more, it’s been sold. It’s set to play the bottom half of double-bills in various regional markets in early 1983, and as the prints make their rounds up and down 42nd street and around to various rural drive-ins, Wishman is sure to make enough to recoup her investors’ costs as well as line her pockets with at least a little bit of the change left over. After all, she’d done this  dozens of times in the past. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you’re an astute reader — hell, even just a reader with an attention span lasting longer than oh, say, five minutes — you’ll already know what went wrong. Wishman sent her print to a company called Movielab to be developed. Movielab was having some financial troubles. The paychecks for many of their workers bounced. And one particularly enterprising employee decided he wasn’t going to take this lying down — so he literally set fire to the place.

If the movie doesn't make any sense, why would a caption?

Wishman had never insured a print in her life, and didn’t do so in this case, either. So what she had left after the Movielab fire was 60% of her footage, for which no sound had yet been added, and no money to go back and try to do things over. And her movie was due to open in a couple of months.  This is when true B-movie makers bring their “A” game.

Doris went to work. First up, she edited what she had left into as close to a sensible order as humanly possible, even though, as mentioned before, a lot of the most crucial stuff was gone. Then she spliced in some footage from her promotional trailer, even though the “story” depicted there didn’t much resemble the movie she’d made (if you’ve read rather than skimmed this review, I’m assuming you’ll understand why that statement makes sense). She added in some outtake footage from other movies she’d made to pad out the run time. And she wrote and then laid out a feature-length narration track over the whole thing so that this discombobulated series of scenes, where one sequence would have absolutely nothing to do with what was on the screen right before it, would maybe, sort of, almost make something resembling, you know, sense.

Was it a successful effort? Hell no, how could it be? When you’ve got someone walking outside followed by people sitting in a room talking followed by someone getting an axe through their head, there’s only so much you can do. But the voice-over, provided by a supposed “private investigator” named Tim O’Malley, does at least put the completely unrelated events in some kind of plausible sequential order. He relates the events of “Bloody October” in 1986 (yes, the film was released in ’83, but I think Wishman was giving herself a little extra time in case the whole thing didn’t come together for a few more years — she may not have had any actual physical insurance, but narrative insurance is free) in the only way possible given what we see unfolding/haphazardly landing on the screen, the film clocks in at 68 minutes — the bare minimum to get feature distribution — and hey, Wishman got it out in enough time to ride the slasher gravy train before it petered out.

How much of a "plot" do you really need to understand what's happening here?

I’m not going to claim that Wishman accidentally found greatness with the end product here,  that dire circumstances proved to be an act of serendipity that resulted in an unheralded horror masterpiece. There’s a reason A Night to Dismember isn’t regarded as a slasher classic — it’s just not very good. But it certainly should be seen by any true B-movie aficionado. The fact that it even exists is a testament to Doris Wishman’s sheer determination and/or desperation — probably both. It exists because it has to, and in that sense it’s probably just about the most honest movie you’ll ever see.

"A Night To Dismember" DVD from Elite Entertainment

A Night To Dismember is available on DVD from Elite Entertainment. It’s a heck of a little package, considering the source, and features not only, surprisingly, a 16×9 widescreen transfer of the film, but also the promotional trailer footage (again, shot before the movie itself was actually made) and a feature-length commentary from Doris Wishman herself, recorded shortly before her death in 2002, and her longtime cinematographer Chuck Smith. This commentary is, as you might imagine, absolutely invaluable in terms of trying to actually understand the flick itself, and furthermore it’s a lot of fun with Wishman and Smith engaged in some fun bickering banter throughout (well, to be honest, Wishman bickers, Smith just sort of takes it all in good humor — but you can picture his eyes rolling almost non-stop throughout). To be honest, the movie’s a lot better with the commentary track on than it is on its own — but it definitely helps to watch it without it first, then to put it on in order to understand just what the fuck it is you’ve witnessed.

A Night To Dismember is an exercise in pure cinematic necessity. It resembles, most closely, a piece of “outsider art” or surrealism, although it certainly wasn’t intended to. It just is the way it is because it literally can’t be any other way. But here’s the irony — if somebody like David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky (n0 offense intended to either of those two truly outstanding filmmakers, I invoke their names merely because it makes sense for reasons of comparison)  set out to make a movie like this on purpose, it would be heralded as an artistic triumph. Doris Wishman makes a movie like this because it’s the only thing she can do with what she’s got and everyone says it’s a piece of crap.

Go figure.

"The Executioner Part II" Movie Poster

I can hear it already — “The Executioner Part II? News flash, asshole, you never reviewed the first one!”

There’s a good reason for that — there is no “first one.” Or rather, this is it. And if you think that doesn’t make any sense, try watching this movie.

First, the particulars : in 1980, there was a solid little B-movie hit starring Robert Ginty and Christopher George called The Exterminator. Ginty played a shellshocked Viet Nam vet who came home and was disturbed by the crime that had taken over his neighborhood and his city. When a ‘Nam buddy of his is killed, leaving a grieving widow and child behind, Ginty did what ever guy in his position would no doubt do : he got himself a flamethrower and conducted a one-man vigilante war on crime. George played the cop who was tasked with bringing him in. All in all, it was a pretty solid little flick that did enough box office to warrant a sequel, The Exterminator 2, which came out in 1984.

Just before that, though — in fact just slightly earlier in 1984 —  independent exploitation producer and star  Renee Harmon (Lady Street Fighter) and her longtime friend and  and collaborator, director James Bryan (Don’t Go In The Woods) were making a knock-off flick along more or less the exact same lines : it was also the story of a severely PTSD-afflicted Viet Nam vet who returns home and conducts a one-man war against crime. The major difference was in the gimmick used to dispatch lowlife street scum : where Ginty used a flamethrower, the guy in this flick was going to shove live grenades down hoodlums’ pants.

The only problem : they hadn’t quite settled on a title yet.Their solution?  In the very best exploitation tradition, they decided to be even more blatant rip-off artists than they already were, and put their little opus out under the moniker of The Executioner Part II, even though there was no part one. Their hope was that audiences would be just plain confused enough to think tht this movie was a sequel to The Exterminator and go to see it under those mistaken pretenses.

And that, friends, right there, is enough — in addition to the absolutely awesome poster, as shown above, to make me like this movie. The film itself could suck — hell, let’s not pull any punches here, it does suck — and I would still love it anyway, which I do.

But it’s the absolute, all-encompassing way — or, rather, ways — in which this movie sucks that make me love it even more.

Technically speaking, dear readers, there’s nothing even remotely competent, let alone good, about The Executioner Part II. But unlike other Z-grade incompetent swill that is watched once, maybe not even completely at that, and then summarily forgotten about, the overall ineptitude of this film creates an aura all its own that results in a kind of purely accidental grittiness and realism that producers with a tenfold, hundredfold, thousandfold, or more like even millionfold budget would be envious of. Not that Bryan, Harmon and company are able to consistently pull this off throughout the film ,mind you, but there are enough flashes of this kind of purely accidental genius throughout that make you think serendipity played a large role in the proceedings here.

In short, you can’t — or wouldn’t consciously, at any rate — set out to make a movie like The Executioner Part II. It just happens.

The Executioner damn near executes himself (that's a gun in his mouth, not that you can exactly tell)

First off, we start out with the requisite Viet Nam flashback sequence. What exactly is happening here isn’t really clear, and frankly doesn’t really matter. War is hell, people, war is hell. There’s gunfire. There’s guys in stage high school stage play-quality army fatigues. There’ stock footage of a helicopter that looks more like a traffic-and-weather news chopper only painted black that doesn’t fire anything. Guys get killed. And it all takes place at a spot that looks more like a family vacation campground near a river than the treacherous jungles of Viet Nam. Seriously, people, the supposed ‘Nam scenes in Combat Shock looked more realistic than this, and it was blatantly obvious those were shot in an overgrown field on Staten Island.

Cut to the present day. A masked vigilante dubbed “The Executioner” by the media is taking the law into his own hands in the Los Angeles area and is doing a better job of keeping the people safe than the cops are. This pisses off two groups — the underworld crime bosses — or should I say boss — here represented by a slimy character named Mr. Casallis, known on the streets as “The Tattoo Man” (not that he’s all that inked up by today’s standards),  a vicious SOB who  runs the drugs and prostitution rackets in LA and gets his kicks by putting out lit cigarettes and sharpening his knife on the flesh of young girls — and of course the cops themselves, who don’t like being shown up by some nameless, faceless avenging hero, and wouldn’t like it even if they weren’t in for a piece of the action from Mr. Casallis’ apparently thoroughgoing operation, which of course they are, so they like it even less. Our main “contacts,” if you will, in the police department are Lieutenant Tom O’Malley (Christopher Mitchum, whose old man wouldn’t be caught dead within 500 miles of a flick like this one), a good clean, cop who apparently lost his wife quite recently and is raising his teenage daughter, Laura, on his own, and Police Commissioner We-Never-Get-His-Name, portrayed by the alway-blustery (and quite likely inebriated, if I had to guess) Aldo Ray.

Peripheral — or so we think — to all these goings-on are Lt. O’Malley’s war buddy, a muscle-bound lughead with some serious readjustment issues  who runs an auto repair shop (that doesn’t service foreign cars or automatic transmissions) named Mike (Antoine John Mottet), and savvy TV news reporter Celia Amherst, portrayed by producer Harmon with her always-present thick-to-the-point-of-near-impenetrability German accent.

We get a few scenes here and there of the titular Executioner in action — in one memorable instance he saves a girl from being gang-raped by some hoodlums on a rooftop (well, okay, at least one of them does actually rape her first, so The Executioner is a little late) and shoves one of his trademark live grenades down one of the punks’ pants (every single explosion in this movie, by the way,  is represented by the exact same cut-away shot of a stock footage explosion against a completely black backdrop, which is especially disconcerting when these blow-ups are supposedly taking place in the daytime and outdoors), we’re privy to some crooked deals between the police commissioner and Mr. Casallis, we’re treated to a bit of police forensics investigation to try to match some fingerprints our guy The Executioner left on a bottle (when grenades aren’t handy in some of his fights broken bottles will do) and some of Celia’s gumshoe “edgy” reporting (she hopes the cops don’t catch our man and openly cheerleads for him on the air), and along the way there are some almost-decently staged fight sequences that wouldn’t look terribly realistic anywhere else, but in the context of their surroundings stand out as being almost exceptionally well-handled.

Mostly, though, our story focuses on the trials and tribulations of Lt. O’Malley (who might sort of be getting a little romance thing going with Celia), his drug-addicted daughter Laura (what drugs she’s supposedly “hooked” on are never specifically mentioned), and his shellshocked, PTSD-to-the-max-suffering pal, Mike.

Look, I hope I’m not giving too much away here when I reveal that Mike is The Executioner. If he wasn’t, he’d have no reason to be in this film at all. Director Bryan tries to play the coy “who is he really?” game for a little while, but gives up on it pretty quickly, which is just as well because it’s never much of a mystery to begin with.

Along the way, a couple of incidental characters really step up to the plate and make this movie special , and I only wish that the IMDB were more specific in naming who actually played them (the film itself runs sans credits) because they deserve some special recognition.

First off we’ve got a weasely customer named Pete, who woks for Mr. Casallis as a pimp and a pusher. He’s Laura’s supplier and wants to get her into “the life” in order to work off her drug debts. Pete has a liking for Hawaiian-style shirts doo-wop music and his “lair” looks more like a swinging ‘7-s bachelor pad than it does a luxurious pimp-spread. The guy is a riot in every scene he’s in. Pete’s goal, as mentioned a moment ago, is to get Laura working for him, and once he finds out that she’s a virgin, he’s especially interested, because e knows Mr. Casallis will want to “break her in” himself, and this will, of course, curry favor for Pete with his boss. to that end, he’s enlisted one of Laura’s friends to help — uhhhmmm — recruit her, which brings us to our next accidental hero of the production —

Laura’s friend Kitty is the epitome of the airheaded blond drug addict, and giggles so incessantly — hell, relentlessly — that it establishes almost a kind of hypnotic rhythm. You wonder if she can actually talk under all that laughter, but talk she does, and when she delivers lines like “I wish this was coke — ahh, heavenly coke!!!!!!!!!!!” while she’s smoking a joint you realize that her words are even more insanely warped than her deliriously over the top chuckling. She’s a scene stealer of the highest order.

These various subplots all converge when Lt. O’Malley matches the fingerprints on a glass at Mike’s garage with a fingerprint from the bottle The Executioner left behind. He goes over to Mike’s shop to confront his friend, and after Mike runs around with a gun in his mouth for awhile and talks some nonsense about having to get “Charlie,” O’Malley decides, fortuitously, that rather than arrest him he’s going to give him three hours to get his shit together. I say fortuitously because Pete and Mr. Casallis have got both Laura and Celia held hostage for entirely different reasons, and of course it’s gonna be up to The Executioner to save the day.

The Tattoo Man gets his last ink job, courtesy of The Executioner

What’s so great about all this, you may ask, given that it all sounds like pretty standard Vet-Out-For-revenge stuff? Here’s a brief rundown:

*The editing is comically haphazard and rushed and at points quite clearly not even thought through, such as a scene when Laura is on the phone with Kitty jonesing bad for her next fix of whatever the fuck it is she’s addicted to and we cut away to to a shot of not Kitty but Pete on the other end of the line;

*The sound was obviously over-dubbed in post-production and quite poorly so at that — while the actors are obviously mouthing English words throughout, the sound isn’t synched up properly in many places and it looks for all the world like the words are hitting the air after they’ve been said, which is an altogether different and more surreal experience than watching even the most poorly-dubbed foreign film — and even though the sound was added later, they inexplicably never thought to replace Harmon’s voice with one you could actually understand;

*The acting is so overblown in its earnestness that you can’t help but love it, the “gun-in-mouth” sequence mentioned earlier being but one prime example of this;

*The film is so poorly lit that in many darker scenes it’s quite literally impossible to tell exactly what is going on, and yet you never feel like you’re missing out on anything;

*The same bad guy-with-a-bandana keeps popping up time and again for no reason other than the production probably couldn’t afford anyone else even though the story would make more sense if they had gotten someone else — after all, what are the odds that the same punk would be up on the rooftop during the gang-rape scene mentioned earlier, then try to break into Mike garage, then be at a standard “gang hideout” place still later?;

*Several scenes just make absolutely no sense from start to finish, such as early on when “The Tattoo Man” shows up at Mike’s garage, Mike demands payment for some repair work he’d done to one of his vehicles, Casallis tells him he’s not going to pay, then gets into his limo and drives (okay, is driven if you want to be pedantic about it) off — if he never had any intention of paying the bill, why stop in there in the first place?;

*There are, as I mentioned at the outset, some genuinely effective shots mixed in throughout, a particular stand out being a scene when “The Tattoo Man,” waiting for Laura in Pete’s garish-to-put-it-kindly bedroom, draws slowly and menacingly on his cigarette (his weapon of choice, don’t forget);

*And speaking of that garish decor, Pete’s “love den” features a porno movie poster on his wall next to a fucking samurai sword — a sword with which Celia will get revenge on a would-be assailant later on by running him through with it until it not only goes all the way out the other end of his body but sticks into a couch directly behind his back — and then he tries to chase after her even with said couch is stuck to him!;

*All those shots of the exact same goddamn explosion I talked about before get to be really fun after awhile, since it looks more hopelessly out of place each time;

*And finally, of course, there’s Kitty. She seriously deserved a whole movie all to herself.

Finally, let’s go back to the title here for a minute just to bring things full circle — with the lame attempt at a confused-cash in on an earlier movie it had nothing to do with having run its course with the theatrical release, when this sucker came out on VHS they released it simply as The Executioner, since the very gimmick used to draw people into theaters would only confuse the home video renting public — after all, they’d probably want to look for Part One before they saw this one, right? And how do you explain that Part One doesn’t exist? So at least they were smart enough to realize that the very same little scam they hoped would hook audiences  the drive-ins and grindhouses would have backfired instantly in the at-the-time-burgeoning VHS rental market.

Oh, and speaking of the VHS rental market — knowing what a dud they had on their hands (but probably not knowing what a glorious dud it was), the British home video distributor for the now-retitled The Executioner adorned the back of the box they produced over there not with still from this film, but with shots they swiped from Sylvester Stallone’s first Rambo movie, First Blood. Talk about a tricky position to be in — you know that nobody will rent this thing at all if they can see what it actually is, but you hope that enough people won’t rent it so that word gets back to the powers-that-be in Hollywood about this particular little sleight-of-hand (which is the nicest possible way of phrasing “open copyright infringement and false advertising”). It’s almost like, having been  stuck the rights to a film they didn’t want from day one, they decided to cut their losses and hope to get some people to rent this thing, but not too many.

"The Grindhouse Experience Volume 1" DVD boxset featuring "The Executioner Part II"

You’ll be pleased (if you’ve got problems) to know that The Executioner Part II is available on DVD. It’s part of the 20-movie, five-disc The Grindhouse Experience boxset from VideoAsia. Actually, it’s volume one of these Grindhouse Experience releases, but as volume 2 hadn’t been made yet at the time it came out, the words “volume one” obviously don’t appear on the box. Which kinda fits with the whole The Executioner/The Executioner Part II thing, I suppose. And to take the meme even further, the discs in this box are all mislabeled — the films that they say are on side A are actually on side B and vice-versa for all five discs.

Which is pretty typical of the level of “care” VideoAsia put into these releases. As I mentioned (as in, bitched about) in my earlier review of Stryker, which appears in Volume Two of this series, these are totally crummy direct-from-VHS transfers with no adjustments made even for things like bad tape tracking. The sound is straight unremastered mono, as well. All in all, you’d have to say that The Executioner Part II, on its “merits” alone, probably doesn’t deserve any better in terms of its DVD presentation — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one seriously awesome movie in its own absolutely unique way.

Maybe even two of them.

"Splatter Farm" DVD from Camp Motion Pictures

In 1987, rural Pennsylvania twin brothers John and Mark Polonia probably had no business trying to make a horror movie. But they did it anyway. Armed with nothing but their dad’s piece of shit old-school VHS camcorder, no money, a found location, some primitive ideas for how to stage  gore scenes that they’d learned “on the job” since they were single-digits in age and first began playing with their family’s old Super-8 movie camera, and a half-assed “script,” they set out, with friend and his grandmother in tow, to become moviemakers.

The fact that we’re still talking about the results of their handiwork today, a when almost every other similar home-made horror flick never got seen by anybody beyond the people who made it and maybe a few of their friends, is testament to the fact that the shot-on-video monster they gave birth to, the aptly-titled Splatter Farm, certainly has something going for it — but what, exactly?

It’s certainly not the acting. The Polonia brothers themselves portray the film’s two leads, a couple of super- thick-rimmed-glasses-wearing late-teens  total horror geek losers named Joseph and Alan. The only other characters in the film are portrayed by their friend/co-writer/co-director Todd Smith, who tackles the role of Jeremy, a demented farm hand with plenty of secrets , some of which he doesn’t even know about, and Smith’s real-life grandmother,  Marion Costly, who plays the twin boys’ lonely and batshit crazy old aunt Lacey.

Smith, to his credit, does a pretty convincing job as Jeremy and is feaky-looking and -acting enough to creep out the average viewer. Costly, on the other hand, is simply abominable — you can’t even call what she does “acting,” it’s more like just reciting lines. You’ve literally never seen a performance this bad in your life. I halfway wonder if she didn’t have the lines scribbled down on her hands, Sarah Palin-style.

So, no, it’s not the acting that has made Splatter Farm the ultra-small-cult “classic” it is today.

And it’s not the directing, that’s for sure. This flick is credited to three directors, as alluded to before, and it looks every bit as made-up-as-it-went along as it surely was. Sure, the two brothers and their pal try to get a bit creative here and there with some different perspectives, slow-mo, and other rudimentary tricks, but none of it really works and everything they attempt to achieve stylistically comes up well short of the mark.

So it’s not the acting, and it’s not the directing. What then? The story, maybe?

Buzz! Sorry, wrong answer! The story is as stupidly simple as anything else about this fil — err, movie. It’s not a “film,” per se, so I won’t call it that. Basically all that happens is that two twin brothers get sent to live with their aunt they haven’t seen in years over the summer at her country home, where the phones don’t seem to work, the randy old aunt takes a liking to twin brother Alan (to the point where she ends up drugging him and, presumably, having her way with him), and a handyman who works around the farm likes to do shit like cut himself and lick up his own blood. Oh, and kill anyone else he can. Which isn’t really too many people when you consider there’s only one on-screen murder before the brothers themselves are in danger.

It’s not like they slowly find this out over time, either. It’s pretty obvious that something is wrong with Jeremy right off the bat and it takes all of about five minutes to figure out that something ain’t right with Aunt Lacey, either. The bothers are left without a car about 20 minutes into the proceedings, and even though they wander around aimlessly quite a bit during the first third of the film, and as I mentioned the phones don’t work, the idea of just getting the fuck out of there on foot never occurs to them.

Then again, we’re not exactly talking about two charming geniuses here, as an early dinner scene proves. After eating a splendid supper of baked beans,  Joseph delivers one of the accidentally great lines in movie history, “sorry to ruin everyone’s dinner, but I gotta go take a shit,” after which Alan, almost flirtatiously, tells Aunt Lacey “that was a fine meal,” while the old bat caresses his leg under the table.

Say it with me, people — ewwwwwwww.

Pretty shortly after that, the fun and games begin as Jeremy decides to kill these interlopers.

So let’s see, where does that leave us? The story sucks, the direction sucks, and the acting sucks. Well, then, what about the gore?

It’s certainly plentiful, and it’s certainly sickening, and it’s certainly ambitious, but like everything else here, it’s pretty ineptly staged. The blood — and there really is a lot of it — is thin and runny and not too terribly red, the viscera and entrails are school-stage-play “quality,” and the rotted corpses that we get are pretty much obvious papier-mache or Plaster of Paris or some shit, although the real bugs crawling around the eyesockets are a nice touch.

So the gore is lame, the story is lame, the direction is lame, and the acting is lame. By all accounts, then, this thing never should have made it further than the VCR in mom and dad Polonia’s living room. And yet here we are, 23 years later, and as I said ,we’re still taking about this thing. What the hell for ?

Todd Smith as country bumpkin psycho Jeremy

I think the reason why can be boiled down to one word : earnestness. The Polonia boys and their pal wanted to make a horror movie so goddamn badly that they just went out and did it.  Not only that, they wanted to make a memorable horror movie — and Splatter Farm certainly is memorable.

Oh, sure, it’s memorable for all the wrong reasons, as I just detailed, but it’s memorable too for watching three young moviemakers try their damndest even though their reach so far exceeds their grasp you spend nearly every moment of the flick wondering why they didn’t just say “fuck it” and give up. I would have. You would have. But they didn’t. And goddamn it, you gotta respect that.

Splatter Farm wants to be the bloodiest, sickest, most nauseating mess you’ve ever seen. It wants to push every single button it can on the old tastelessness machine. It wants to make you sick. And in the hands of a Lucio Fulci or somebody like that, it probably would. In the hands of the Polonias and Smith, however, it ends up occupying a weird middle ground that you almost don’t know what to make of as a viewer.

On the one hand, you want to laugh your ass off at the Z-grade amateurism of the whole thing. And let’s be perfectly frank, there are plenty of occasions where Splatter Farm is, indeed, laughably incompetent. Too many occasions to even count, much less list, in fact.

On the other hand, the subject matter they’re covering here is so puke-inducing — necrophilia (Jeremy shoves his dick in a decapitated head’s mouth and fucks it until he climaxes), incest, cannibalism, and anal fisting (Jeremy shoves his hand up one of the brother’s asses while he’s killing him and smears the phony diarrhea-ish substance all over the hapless lad’s face), to name just a quick handful of depravities, that you really can’t bring yourself to laugh even when the production “values” demand nothing less. And the SOV camerawork gives it all a kind of cheap-documentary immediacy that a production with any sort of budget whatsoever probably just couldn’t match, which is effectively accentuated by the dilapidated farmhouse locations that seem so believably real because — well, hell, they are.

So the brothers Polonia and their pal Mr. Smith definitely want to give you a serious case of the willies — and being a waaaaaayyyy independent production they can get away with stuff that even the most amoral exploitation producers wouldn’t touch with a 50-foot pole. But their lack of technical expertise — hell, their lack of even basic competence — well, to be honest, while it makes them look inept, it conversely makes them seem like even sicker fucks then they’d come off as being if they were helming anything like a real production here. I say that because there’s no wiggle room for them here. A jive Hollywood asshole who’s gone too far can always fall back on “well, I didn’t really want to do that, but the producer (or the studio, or the ever-nebulous “audience”) really wanted us to pull out all the stops on this one.” The creative “minds” behind Splatter Farm can’t do that — they came up with this twisted shit, and even though it was obvious they couldn’t pull just about any of it off, they went ahead and gave it a go anyway. That doesn’t take much in the brains department, I guess, but it definitely takes balls.

The Polonia boys shopped this thing around to various cheap-ass video distributors for over a year and got no takers. They gave up and moved on to another project which I guess must have been slightly better, because one of those cheap-ass video distributors said they’d like to release not only that later effort, but Splatter Farm, as well. For whatever reason, the second project, the one they wanted more, never did see the light of day, but Splatter Farm did. And the rest, as they say, is history.

And now, dear friends, you can experience this SOV opus for yourself, should you so choose, thanks to the good folks at Camp Motion Pictures, who have released Splatter Farm as part of their Retro 80s Horror Collection line, which includes titles like Cannibal Campout, Ghoul School, Killing Spree, Video Violence, and other mainstays of the backyard-produced horror subgenre that kinda flourished there for a minute during the largely unfortunate Reagan years. It’s billed here as the “cult classic special edition,” and apparently the brothers Polonia have tweaked it a bit, remastering the picture as best as possible, editing out a bit of superfluous crap from another backyard production altogether that they threw in to pad the running time (yes, folks, this “special edition” is actually a little bit shorter than the previous VHS release — it clocks in at just under 70 minutes), and tinkering with the sound to fix up some “drops” and incidental noises that were present the first time around.

As for the extras, like all the Retro 80s stuff Camp has put out, it’s pretty well loaded — there’s a commentary from the Polonias, a huge selection of their earlier shot-on-Super-8 work ( these were  no-sound recordings, but they do provide commentary for all of them), and there’s a great documentary about the production of the movie that includes a visit back to the farm locations used for the shoot (the house has been remodeled, sadly). All in all, the Polonia come across as surprisingly well-adjusted, decent family guys who aren’t exactly proud of the movie they made back in their late teens, but then aren’t ashamed of it, either. They gave it a shot, it is what it is, and they’ve moved on since then. And while they lead relatively normal lives (apparently) now, they do still get the urge to get out a video camera and make a cheesy horror flick, like Splatter Beach a few years back.

All in all, the highest compliment you can pay to Splatter Farm is to acknowledge that it even exists. By all rights it probably shouldn’t, and the fact that it does says something — and even if that “something” is just that two twin brothers with very little talent but a lot of gumption got together with a buddy of theirs and tried to make a seriously fucking twisted horror flick despite the fact that they really didn’t know what the hell they were doing, that’s nothing for these guys to hang their heads about. Splatter Farm is what is is because it has no other choice but to be — well, exactly what it is., and while that’s not a lot to put on your tombstone when it’s all said and done, I suppose,  it’s a greater legacy than most people will ever leave behind.

Thoughts like that keep me warm at night.

German “Stryker” Movie Poster

The flood of post-apocalyptic Road Warrior knock-offs that littered the global cinematic landscape in the early ’80s  definitely gave us some bizarrely awesome shit like The New Barbarians and 2020 Texas Gladiators, but once anybody besides the Italians were in charge, the results were rather putrid at best.

Case in point : Cirio H. Santiago (TNT Jackson, Vampire Hookers)’s 1983 made-in-the-Philippines, damn-near-budgetless glimpse of a world gone mad, Stryker , which was also released under the rather generic-sounding action title Savage Dawn.

Now, I’m predisposed to liking any flick with a title this fucking cheesy, but I gotta admit that Stryker begins to test your patience almost from the word go. The voice-over narration that begins the film pretty much gives the whole game away — the nukes flew, everything’s fucked, lawlessness reigns supreme, and the rarest and most valuable commodity in the world is water — this despite the fact that there are clouds in the sky throughout the film, so presumably, at some point, it’s gotta, you know, rain.

It’s pretty obvious from the outset, though, that logical continuity isn’t one of Stryker‘s strong suits, so any prospective viewer might as well get used to its absence quickly.

The trouble always starts this way —

After our little voice-over-monologue-as-the-bombs-go-off intro, we’re dropped right into the middle of the “action” as some supposed-to-be-bad-ass-looking thugs in souped-up junker cars and on souped-up-junker motorcycles chase down a helpless woman on foot who’s got some water and, more importantly, apparently knows where even more can be had. She’s rescued from her would-be attackers, though, by a dude in a cowboy hat with a rifle slung over his shoulder and some other guy.

At this point, it would be nice to know a few things : who are these two dudes? Is one of them the “Stryker” of the film’s title? Are they working together? If so, why? Do they have a history together? We find out the answer to the first question, but as for the others, well, that stuff is never really made clear.

The damsel in distress takes off in one of her vanquished foes’ cars and we soon learn, more through inference than anything else, that the dude in the stetson with the rifle slung over his shoulder is, indeed, this “Stryker” guy that we’re supposed to give a shit about (although “star” Steven Sandor’s seriously flat performance makes that pretty difficult — his Stryker seems to suffer from a rare psychological affliction that renders a shell-shocked survivor of a nuclear conflagration incapable of expressing any emotion — or even any mood, for that matter —whatsoever.  Must be some variation on PTSD, I’m guessing). He then walks off  and —

Wait. I have to pause for just a second here. The first clue that Stryker is a seriously second-rate post-atomic-holocaust action hero is his means of transport. While guys in other films of this genre tend to have bad-ass cars or bikes, Stryker roams the irradiated wastelands on foot. Dead giveaway that we’re looking at a pretty lame “hero” right there.

Next up Stryker and his (apparent) buddy, who we learn waaaaaayyyy later is named “Bandit,” encounter a tribe of dwarves who are pretty much dressed, and pretty much speak, just like Jawas from Star Wars — the only thing missing is the hoods and the glowing eyes. Stryker makes friends with these lovable little creatures by giving one of them some water, and of course that’s gonna come in handy later when he needs to assemble a makeshift army to take down the bad guys and set the people of post-nuke Earth free.

Whoops, hope I didn’t just give too much away there.

Then we’ve got a series of confusing scenes that I’ll just run down quickly to avoid you, dear  reader, any unnecessary pain (and because actually explaining what any of them have to do with anything is pretty well impossible ) : the girl who Stryker rescued is recaptured, stuck in a cell, raped, and tortured for information. The bad guys are lead by a low-rent Sid Haig-wannabe named Kardis ( although, again, it’s a little while before we actually learn his name), who is informed that the girl got away from the leather-sporting ruffians the first time around because they were “ambushed by Stryker and his men.” Except Sryker doesn’t have any “men.” Again, continuity is not a selling point here. When learning of Stryker’s involvement in the girl’s rescue, Kardis has a memory flash-back to an earlier fight with our stetson-sporting hero, the significance of which is never explained (and you can’t really tell what the hell is going on anyway).  Stryker and his “man” are observed by a pack of quasi-dangerous-looking Amazon she-devils on wheels who carry crossbows. They don’t do anything and Stryker doesn’t see them, so — whatever. Stryker and Bandit find a working car sitting out in the middle of nowhere (apparently the entire film was shot at a Filipino mining works — they get a “shout-out” in the credits, and it’s quite apparent, as the exact same locales are utilized over and over again as supposedly “different” places, that the movie’s crew didn’t have access to the entire quarry). Then our “heroes” attack an armed convoy escorting a tanker, not that we find out what’s actually in the tanker or why they’re attacking it until a lot later, and by then you don’t give a damn anymore because, well — you never really did in the first place. We also learn that, thanks again to zero emphasis being placed on continuity, Stryker’s cowboy hat can appear and disappear from atop his head from one moment to the next.

Things start to threaten to actually make a bit more sense once Stryker and Bandit head for an encampment of survivors lead by a guy named Trun (Ken Metcalfe), who we meet earlier while he’s buried up to his head in sand by Kardis’s men ( yes, Kardis, for his part,  really does have “men”) and gets a “golden shower” from one of them when he complains of thirst. Oh, and he also just so happens to be Stryker’s (much) older brother, and they’ve got a history of sorta-bad-blood between them, as evidenced by sparkling dialogue exchanges like this one :

Trun: But why did you leave?

Stryker : Everybody’s got their own road to hell — you’ve got yours, I’ve got mine.

Well, that explains everything, then.

Never fear, though — Stryker has a plan to lead Trun and his people to freedom — and more importantly, to water. Having sprung the girl he rescued earlier (I’m pretty sure we actually NEVER get her name at ANY point, but it doesn’t really matter a whole lot anyway), they head out for her father’s encampment, where they “locals” are  guarding a secret underground spring they’ve found that provides them with an endless supply of water.

There’s a little bit of “drama” once they get there, with the daughter and the old man having divergent views about sharing their liquid wealth (she’s the generous sort, he’s a little more hesitant — in fact, they found this spring seven years ago and he promised Trun at the time that he’d share water with him and his people if his lot ever found some, and he welched on the deal), then Trun starts to try to turn the camp into an armed garrison under martial law with himself as commander,  much to Stryker’s chagrin (being the freedom-loving “loner” type that he is), and Bandit meets himself a nice girl and gets laid.

Stryker’s through with taking shit

That’s all window dressing, though — the main point is that we’re headed for a big armed showdown between Kardis’s men, who have a couple of honest-to-God tanks, and the ramshackle band of survivors protecting their spring now led by Stryker (even though he’s not the leader type). The amazons with crossbows and the un-hooded Jawas join up with “Team Stryker,” there’s lots of explosions and guns blazing, Bandit’s new girlfriend gets killed in the closest this movie tries to come to an “emotional” moment, lots of other folks on both sides bite the bullet, and finally Stryker and his band of rebels stand triumphant after vanquishing their much-more-numerous, much-better-armed foes. It can only happen after the apocalypse, people. Kind makes you yearn to let the missiles fly right now, doesn’t it?

Oh, and did I mention that, at the very moment their courageous victory is sealed, it actually begins to rain? Looks like things are gonna be alright after all.

“The Grindhouse Experience Volume 2” DVD Box Set Featuring “Stryker”

If you’re really into torturing yourself, “Stryker” is available on DVD. It’s part of the 20-film, 5-DVD “The Grindhouse Experience Volume 2” boxset from VideoAsia — and if you think you’ve seen some bad direct-from-VHS transfers before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This, like all the other movies in these two sets ( some of which,  like Raiders From Atlantis, are actually pretty damn good),  looks like absolute shit. They didn’t even use a particularly healthy-looking VHS tape for the rip, as there are moments throughout where the tracking goes off , and in dark scenes it’s pretty hard to tell what the fuck is actually happening. Not, again, that it particularly matters. Needless to say it’s presented full-frame, and the sound quality is straight mono and it sucks, too.

Finally, a question I would ask Cirio H. Santiago if he were still alive (and let’s not be too hard on the guy — he did give us Jeannie Bell’s topless karate scene in TNT Jackson, after all) : in the end credits, there are two women listed as “script continuity girls.” What did they actually do?

Nah, don’t answer.

"Breeders" Movie Poster

Reviewing Vice Squad yesterday, I got to thinking about the straight-to-VHS  boom of the mid-80s to late-90s, and the straight-to-DVD industry that of course still persists today, given that the main baddie of that film was portrayed by the one and only Wings Hauser, who absolutely made his living from that point on in direct-to-VHS B-movies, and your inquiring host simply had to find out — what was the first film to be released exclusively on VHS?

It wasn’t an easy thing to find out (and I should make it clear that I’m talking exclusively about movies shot on film here, so the early-years shot-on-video horror “classics” don’t count in this case), and in fact when it comes to haggling over actual release dates and what have you, the jury’s still out on what came first. One thing’s for sure, though — the first movie made specifically for the direct-to-video market, as opposed to films that were made with the intention of being released theatrically only to have those hopes dashed when the DTV boom started was writer-director Tim Kincaid (Bad Girls Dormitory, Riot on 42nd Street)‘s 1986 low-rent sorta-Alien-knockoff sci-fi shlockfest Breeders. In fact, one of the advertising taglines that appeared on the original Breeders VHS box, and in related in-store promos, was “A World Premiere Right In Your Living Room!” Hope you remembered to roll out the red carpet and rent a spotlight.

All in all, Breeders isn’t too bad for what it is — it’s got that cheesy-fun sorta feel to it that so many of the movies we cover here do. And maybe it’s just the New York locations combined with the goofy-ass subject matter, but the whole thing kind of feels like a seriously under-budgeted Larry Cohen production (not that Cohen’s films ever had much of a budget themselves, but they were positively lavish spending sprees compared to this thing). There’s lots of wooden-as-a 2×4 acting, a plethora of less-than-attractive women getting totally naked, some pretty effective, all things considered, creature effects, tons of perfectly serviceable gore, and the story itself is simple yet solid. Nothing much to bitch about, then, right? Aside from the fact that it would be better if the chicks taking off their clothes were actually, you know, hot. But seasoned exploitation veterans know that can be a asking for a bit much sometimes.

We start with a couple of scenes of damsels in distress who are attacked by what appear to be perfectly normal human beings, until slimy tendrils wrap around them, and the screaming starts. Pretty standard Mars Needs Women-type stuff. Later on they start turning up at the hospital in pretty bad shape and suffering from selective amnesia when it comes to — ummm — the “events” in question themselves.

Not to worry, though, Dr. Gamble Price (Teresa Farley, the best-looking woman in the picture by far — but don’t get your hopes up, she remains fully clothed throughout — and check out her ’80s bigger-than-big hair) and police detective Dale Andriotti (Lance Lewman) are on the case. Their ace medical examinations soon discover a few interesting pieces of information —

1) The women who have been raped were all virgins prior to — you know;

2) They’ve all  had a strange black substance — ummm — deposited inside them;

and 3) They’ve all been covered in a fine reddish-brown dust that turns out to be — get this — brick dust, and not just any old brick dust at that — we’re talking about some very specific brick dust, the kind found in the bricks that were used in the construction of the city’s sewer systems over a century earlier, only they ran out of the those bricks and switched to another kind.

Now, when the movie you’re making is only an hour and 17 minutes long and at least half that run time is dedicated to various scenes of helpless young virgins being stalked and attacked in the middle of the night, your investigators are going to come to some very quick conclusions, and in this case that means that their first working hypothesis turns out to be correct — namely that alien creatures are living in the sewers and coming up to the surface to take over “host” human bodies and then attack and impregnate human females in order to propagate their species. Little questions like, you know, why they don;t just fuck the opposite-sexed members of their own kind are best not dwelled on for too long.

The trouble really starts, though, when the women who are hospitalized after being alien-raped start to wake up, and head for the old sewer tunnels themselves! Gotta keep things moving, right, and the best way to do that is to have our doctor-and-detective crack investigation team simply follow them and take on the aliens face -to-gross-face.

I've seen the future, and it's ugly

Since you can pretty well guess how things are going to play out here, or at least you  damn well should be able to, I’ll get back to the overall “vibe” of the film itself here for a minute : all dialogue in Breeders is essentially delivered in a flat, unemotive monotone,  it’s nearly all disarmingly matter-of-fact, and the acting ability of each and every cast member is — ummm — limited, to put it kindly. We’re pretty much firmly in “so-bad-it’s-good” territory here. The only thing Kincaid and his cohorts seem to have actively given a shit about is coming up with decently-executed creatures, and decently executed gore, given the ultra-tight budget they had to work with, and they certainly did a competent enough job with that.

What’s more than just a bit jarring, though, is to see this type of competent (I won’t go so far as to actually call it good, we’ll just leave it at good enough) effects work sandwiched into such a thoroughly incompetent-in-all-other-respects film. But hey, give them credit for laser-like focus on what really mattered, I guess.

The ultra-’80s hairstyles, clothes, computers and all that cement the “ambiance,” for lack of a better term, and as a super-cheap period piece, Breeders certainly works. It’s not terribly memorable in any respect, and some of the more direct Alien knock-offs (I’m thinking specifically here of Creature and Contamination)  were better, but it’s a solidly entertaining enough waste of barely over an hour of your life.

Still, you’d think that, given how ubiquitous the whole DTV industry became, that it would have started off with some a little bit more — I dunno — monumental, I guess, than this — wouldn’t you?

Hell, maybe not.

"Breeders" DVD from MGM

For whatever reason, MGM ended up with the distribution rights to Breeders here in the DVD age, and have released it in a very apropos bare-bones package. The picture is presented full-frame and I doubt it’s even been remastered, although it looks more or less just fine. The same fgoes for the sound — probably in no way touched up for DVD, but it’s perfectly serviceable enough. The only extra is the inclusion of the (non-theatrical) trailer.

While none of the actors in this flick went on to do much of anything, writer-director Tim Kincaid, who  started off his career as an actor, appearing in the blaxploitation quasi-historical flick Quadroon before quickly moving behind the camera and helming the aforementioned Bad Girls Dormitory and Riot on 42nd Street (which is awesome, by the way), also directed a couple of other straight-to-VHS sci-fi cheapies (Mutant Hunt and Robot Holocaust, if you absolutely must know).

Then his resume went strangely blank for just over a decade until he turned up again under the pseudonym of “Joe Gage,” directing a slew of gay porno flicks (and even occsionally starring in them). Rather ironic, I suppose, for a guy who made a movie called Breeders, but hey, whatever pays the rent. I guess Hollywood wasn’t exactly banging down his door in the wake of Breeders – – – even if it is a slice of movie history.

"Vice Squad" DVD from Anchor Bay

Mean, my friends.  Mean is the word we’re looking for.Director Gary (Dead And Buried, Poltergeist III)  Sherman’s 1982 crime thriller Vice Squad is one brutal bastard of a movie, and it’s largely down to one reason : the sensationally unhinged performance of future-direct-to-VHS mainstay Wings Hauser as Ramrod, an insanely over-the-top Country-and-Western/cowboy-style pimp with no conscience, no remorse, and absolutely no morals whatsoever. Truth be told, Hauser’s Ramrod is one of the great villains not just in exploitation film history, but in all of movie history in general. The guy should’ve won a fucking Oscar, but too many members of the Academy would literally puke their minds out of their heads if they saw this flick. The Hollywood establishment doesn’t much like to acknowledge the seedy underbelly of the city their industry calls home, you see, and that seedy underbelly is exactly   where Vice Squad lives .

The plot’s almost elegant in its simplicity : a single mom maintaining a carefully-sculpted middle class facade (Hardcore‘s Season Hubley)is, in reality, a streetwise hooker who goes by the name of Princess. One evening while she’s working the streets of that aforementioned seedy Hollywood underbelly, one her good friends in “the life,” whose street handle is  Ginger (future original MTV veejay Nina Blackwood), is brutally — and folks, I do mean brutally — if you’re at all squeamish, avoid this flick like the plague — beaten and murdered by her psychotic pimp, that Ramrod fella I was just talking about (and incidentally, our guy Ramrod doesn’t seem too concerned about the cops knowing who he is and what he’s up to, since the custom paint-and-decal job on his Ford Bronco says “RAMROD” in bold capital letters right on the side). Princess knows who did it, of course . Furthermore, the cops investigating the case, led by only-semi-grizzled veteran detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) know damn well who did it, too. To that end, figuring that Ramrod will be needing a new breadwinner soon, they set up Princess to lure him back to his own apartment, wearing a wire, and get a confession out of him on tape. All goes according to plan — Ramrod ‘fesses up, the cops bust him, and his swears his revenge on Princess as the boys in blue haul his ass off to jail.

And then, naturally enough, a cuffed-up Ramrod escapes his public servant captors, and spends the rest of the movie trying to track an unsuspecting Princess down.  The audience is brought along for the action — and once it gets going, it’s genuinely non-stop — from three different vantage points : we separately follow the (again, unsuspecting) Princess as she turns tricks looking to earn bread to feed her kid, Ramrod as he does anything and everything to try to find her before the evening is out, and detective Walsh as he does anything and everything to try to find her first.

Sherman is a master of pacing as he intercuts from one point of reference to the next, displaying a seriously deft touch and always seeming to know exactly when to break from one character’s story arc (sorry for the pretentiousness) to the next. We should probably give screenwriters Sandy Howard and Kenneth Peters some credit for that, as well, but it’s Sherman who’s capturing all the deranged “ambiance,” for lack of a better word, along the way. And as for one of a director’s other primary responsibilities, namely getting great performances out of his cast — well, he really hits it out of the park there.

I don’t know what stroke of genius possessed him to cast Hauser in the role of lunatic-Joe-Buck-as-pimp-rather-than-hustler, but in lesser hands the idea of a fucking cowboy “player,” of all things, would have been comical, at best. As it is, however, much as I hate to give a guy named (by himself, no doubt) “Wings” credit for anything, all you can do it sit back in awe and watch him do his thing. Trust me when I say he’ll scare the living shit out of even the most jaded viewer.

Hubley  turns in an extremely believable portrayal as the damsel in distress, exuding a kind of cool confidence up until the downright frightening conclusion, where she pulls out all the fucking stops.  According to the commentary track on the Anchor Bay DVD (featuring Sherman’s sharp recollections  and moderated by exploitation film historian, as well as filmmaker himself, David Gregory), she was going through a bitter and exceptionally painful divorce from actor Kurt Russell (see, there was another woman before Goldie) at the time that centered around a custody battle over their daughter, and Sherman told her to channel all of her anguish into this climactic scene (about which I’ll refrain from divulging any pertinent details) and just “let it all out,” so to speak.

And damn, does she ever.

Lastly as far as the acting goes,  Swanson hits just the right notes in his portrayal of Walsh as a detective who’s seen it all but still, improbably, gives a shit — in a general sense, but also in a specific sense when it comes to protecting the woman who he blames himself for putting in harm’s way.

It all adds up to an expertly-paced, more-than-expertly acted frantic pursuit story that will keep you on the edge of your seat and holding on for dear fucking life just to see what happens next.

Plenty of critics at the time took issue with Vice Squad‘s unrestrained sadism, brutal violence, and overall supremely sleazy tone, but the film had its defenders too, including Mr. Mean Streets himself, Martin Scorsese, who recognized it for the powerful gut-punch of reality that it was.  Needless to say, the fact this this movie has stood the test of time and is just as shockingly immediate and unreservedly in-your-face today as it was at the time proves which side was right in that particular argument.

Wings fucking Hauser, man!

As I alluded to (well, okay, downright said) earlier, Vice Squad was released on DVD by Anchor Bay in 2007. The anamorphic wide-screen transfer has been brilliantly digitally restored and looks sensational, the remastered soundtrack is superb (the cult favorite theme tune “Neon Slime” has never sounded better), and the extras package features the theatrical trailer, a selection of radio spots for the film, a comprehensive poster and stills gallery, the fantastic commentary track I also made reference to a minute ago, and a superb liner-notes essay by  Richard Harland Smith.

Simply put, Vice Squad is the most agonizingly nasty crime flick you’ll ever see that didn’t come from a country shaped like a boot, and in truth it even puts most of the Italian stuff to shame. It features superb performances all around, with Hauser putting in an absolutely historically psychopathic turn, and it’s got more adrenaline pumping through its veins than a guy trying to lift a car off his trapped child. It’s raw, it’s devastating, and it’s just plain bad-ass stuff all the way around. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a cameo from “Rerun” himself, What’s Happening?‘s Fred Berry, as a wimpy-ass pushover of a pimp.

Some movies show you the ugly underside of human life. Vice Squad sticks you right the fuck in the middle of it and dares you to look away. There are times you’ll surely want to look away — I haven’t described in detail any of the seriously sick shit in this movie for a reason —but the story itself, and the performances — especially Hauser’s — just won’t let you.

I guarantee, if you’ve never seen this flick before, that you won’t be able to take your eyes off it, no matter how loudly your brain screams at you to do just that . But it’s gonna burn, baby — it’s gonna burn.