Some directors just have an eye for talent — but Rene Martinez Jr. isn’t one of them.
Of course, as anyone who’s seen his singularly atrocious 1977 blaxploitation “thriller” The Guy From Harlem can tell you, that’s most likely because Martinez possesses no actual talent himself — but nevertheless, something about the bit-part performance that stand-up comedian “Wildman” Steve (or Steve Gallon, as his birth certificate would have it) turned in on his (I’m guessing here, but it’s a good guess) one day on the set caught his director’s eye. Gallon — previously “known” for equally small turns in zero-budget efforts like Rudy Ray Moore’s Petey Wheatstraw, The Devil’s Son-In-Law — was ready for his turn in the spotlight, Martinez figured. He fancied that the guy could carry a production. Maybe he was even delusional enough to believe “I can make him a star.”
Turns out he was dead wrong, of course, as was decisively proven when he put Gallon in front of the camera in 1978 for a lame-brained “comedy” effort entitled either Super Soul Brother (the name they hope you remember it by), Supersoul Brother (essentially a more grammatically-questionable version of the same thing), or —I kid you not — The Six Thousand Dollar Nigger (which was actually the title it went out under upon its original theatrical release). And that was only the start of the bad idea train these guys were rolling on.
What else was stupid? Let’s start with the plot : two Miami-area hoods (played by Benny Latimore and Lee Cross) come upon the idea that what they really need in their employ is a crook who’s super fast, super strong, and — most crucially — impervious to the bullets that will probably be coming his way courtesy of cops, security guards, and other ball-busting pricks. The idea that said “super-criminal” would probably have no need for them and would take over their operations for himself in fairly short order has apparently never occurred to them, of course, so in order to further their scheme they hire a mad scientist of dubious morals and short stature named Dr. Dibby (Peter Conrad, the midget from Porky’s) to develop the black market equivalent of Captain America’s Super-Soldier Serum.
The results so far aren’t good — all of the mice Dr. Dibby has tested his formula on display extraordinary powers for a short time, but their hearts give out pretty quickly. Never mind that, though — there’s a big job coming up this weekend that our criminal less-than-masterminds want to pull, and the fact that their diminutive hired gun (or maybe that should be hired test tube) has said that anyone who gulps down his juice will only have a day to live just means that there won’t be anyone left to squeal once their usefulness has come to an end. And besides, they’ve already sunk $6,000 into the project, hence the title.
So — off to skid row they go, then, where they figure their promise of a swanky apartment and all the steak, lobster, booze, and pussy one man can possibly handle should net ’em a volunteer from the ranks of the downtrodden pretty quickly, They don’t need to know they’ll be dead in about 24 hours, of course, that’d just hurt recruitment efforts.
Sure enough, competition for the gig as a human lab rat is pretty fierce, with a wino named Steve (our man Gallon) coming out on top in what I assume to be the first-ever “bum fight” preserved on celluloid. Yes, friends, you’re not just watching a bad regional exploitation flick here — you’re witnessing history itself unfold before your very eyes.
History can be ugly, though, as we all know, and Super Soul Brother is definitely that. Martinez and co-screenwriter Laura S. Diaz don’t have so much a “script” here as a painful-to-sit-through series of extended set-ups for “Wildman” to drop tried-and-tested bits of his most assuredly awful stage routine into. Consider : when trying to woo the affections of pretty lab assistant Peggy (Joycelyn Norris), Gallon pulls out lines like “can you believe it’s actually legal in this country for two grown males to have sex together, but you still can’t smoke marijuana? That tells me that if you’re gonna smoke a joint, it better have a pair of balls attached to it.” What girl, I ask you, could resist a charmer like that for long?
She can’t, of course, and when Steve — who’s already “made time” with a hooker working undercover as his “maid” (and played by Addie Williams) just hours before — learns Peggy’s a virgin, he’s more hot to trot than ever before. When he finally does get her into bed, it gives rise (no pun intended) to one of the most painfully-drawn-out “love” scenes you’ll ever have the pleasure of cringing through the duration of, with Norris imploring her skid-row Superman “please don’t hurt me, Steve” five fucking times in a row and Gallon having a less-than-witty response that begins with “I don’t want to hurt you, baby, I —” each and every time.
All that is minor-league time-wasting, though, in comparison to the absolutely nonsensical sequence that sees Dr, Dibby, outfitted toga-style in a bedsheet, drink, screw, and even play chess with an aging prostitute with big, saggy tits and a constant expression of cheap amazement on her face. The fact that this flick runs a scant (and, frankly, merciful) 78 minutes yet is still this heavily padded tells you just how little actual story Martinez and Diaz were able to think up for their cast to play out.
Martinez also has a habit of sabotaging what little material he does have — not simply because he can (nah, that’s be too easy), but because he doesn’t even seem to know any other way to do things. I offer, as evidence for the prosecution, the fact that this film’s one and only long-running joke — one that posits that Steve’s newly-found super-powers also have bestowed upon him a super-member — is sunk by a poorly-staged shot, meant to show his hooker/”maid” naked from the back and side as she enters the shower, that sees Gallon’s less-than-super cock sneak into the frame.
I would call Martinez’s camera technique “point and shoot,” I suppose — it’s so goddman dull and uninspired — but it’s plainly obvious that’s being too generous since he doesn’t know where (or probably even how, for that matter) to point the thing.
Such are the vagaries of “get it one take” production, though, I suppose, and it does at least prove that both Williams and Norris — despite giving performances as lifeless and wooden as all the others on display here — probably should have both been considered for Oscar nominations back in ’78 for the the (literal) jaw-dropping expressions of awe they were called upon to muster up when Gallon disrobed in front of them.
Let’s see, what else? The whole thing was obviously filmed in two locations, with the “lab” being a probably- vacant office and Steve and Dibby’s fuckpads being different (most likely adjoining) rooms in the same apartment; the editing is choppier than the roughest patch of ocean you can imagine; the idea that a drunk-ass vagrant can charm the pants off every single woman he encounters (even if there are only two of ’em) is nuts — the list goes on and on. If it’s stupid, it’s in here.
All of which probably leads you, dear reader, to conclude that I must have loved Super Soul Brother, but I gotta be honest — much as I’m a sucker for regionally-filmed -and-distributed 1970s cheaper-than-cheapies, this one managed to try even my nerves. Anyone who’s into this sort of thing will probably find it worth watching — once — for curiosity’s sake alone, but for anyone who subscribes to conventional definitions of what makes for a “good” or “bad” movie, I can only surmise that trudging through this to the end probably must feel very much like a living hell.
Trying their level best to make a silk purse from this sow’s ear, Vinegar Syndrome has recently released Super Soul Brother on DVD under the auspices of their distribution partnership (remember when we just called them deals? God, I hate “corporate-speak”) with the American Genre Film Archives (AGFA). The print looks rough — as you’d expect, given that no one was all that concerned about preserving this for posterity after its release for obvious reasons — but they’ve managed to piece together a reasonably watchable widescreen transfer, and the sound is surprisingly free of Rice Krispie-style snap, crackle, and pop. Extras are limited to the theatrical trailer alone. It’s a good enough package on the whole, sure, but it’s hardly a “must-buy” item — nor is this by any stretch of the imagination a “must-see” film.