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"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.

Original "Pieces" Movie Poster

Original "Pieces" Movie Poster

The obscure 1982 Spanish-lensed slasher “Pieces” (titled “Mil Gritos Tiene La Noche” in its home country) is blessed with two tag lines so good that no film deserves them both — “You Don’t Have To Go To Texas For A Chainsaw Massacre!” and “It’s Exactly What You Think It Is!” And even though both statements are (how’s this for a rarity?) absolutely true, the fact is that it’s still tough to live up to a pair of slogans that frigging cool. “Pieces” gives it a good effort, though, and sometimes succeeds even in spite of itself.

“Pieces,” you see,  is a movie absolutely unconcerned with doing anything else apart from delivering the goods — the goods in this case being, of course, gut-churningly bloody mutilation and dismemberment in enormous quantity, with plenty of gratuitous nudity thrown into the mix to keep the audience in their seats even when no one is getting killed. In pursuit of that (some would say noble, I suppose) goal, director Juan Piquer Simon (“Cthulhu Mansion” and the MST3K favorite “Pod People,” among others) is willing to sacrifice anything and everything along the way—plot coherence, acting professionalism, basic safety standards, even any shred of dignity itself (upon finding out that one of his actresses got really petrified at the idea of a chainsaw in close pr0ximity to her—understandable enough—Simon had his chainsaw-wielding killer corner her, run the thing right up next to her, and filmed her  her literally pissing her pants with fear)  are all obstacles in the way of  giving the audience exactly what they’re paying for.

In a way, one can’t blame Simon and the other folks behind the scenes of “Pieces.” 1982 was, after all, the height of the slasher phenomenon, and to stand out amongst all the Michael- and Jason-inspired clones out there, you really had to up the ante, and “Pieces” sure does that. Even today the level of gore on display here is pretty damn shocking. The flick’s openly-noticeable lack of concern for anything apart from grotesque murder, though, almost undermines the sheer bloody-mindedness of their efforts, though—almost.

Our story begins in the early 1940s, when a young boy is assembling a jigsaw puzzle of a naked girl in his bedroom. He’s caught by his mother, though, who throws an absolute fit, demands he get rid of the thing immediately, accuses him of being exactly like his deadbeat, no-good father, and says she’ll be back in a minute to ransack through all his stuff and get rid of any other “filth” she finds. Upon her return, though, the boy decides he doesn’t like that idea so much and chops her to bits with an axe. When a neighbor lady arrives for a visit, the boy hides in the closet, and soon said neighbor and the police are calling on the phone (a touchtone in 1942?) and then barging in by force, whereupon they quickly find our precocious lad’s handiwork and, in short order, the boy himself, who tells them a man burst in and chopped his mother to bits while he hid himself away. They buy his story with no questions asked and arrange to turn him over to the care of some relatives.

Is your dresser decorated with one of these? The head of the killer's mom from "Pieces"

Is your dresser decorated with one of these? The head of the killer's mom from "Pieces"

Fast-forward 40 years and we’re at an unnamed college campus purportedly in the Boston (actually Madrid) area, where a young lady on a skateboard is completely unaware of the fact that a couple of movers up the block are hauling a large wall-sized mirror into their truck. She can’t stop her downhill momentum until it’s too late, though, and crashes into the glass, screaming and sending broken shards flying in every direction. Yes, folks, our killer is back in action! What’s that, you say? This has more the look or a totally random and tragic accident than any sort of premeditated killing? Well, that’s the kind of movie “Pieces” is— one where complete and utter happenstance is supposed to be taken as a part of a dastardly masterplan. It’s called “suspension of disbelief” and you, my friend, are just thinking too hard.

Soon we learn that our mystery murderer is, in fact, trying to complete his jigsaw puzzle from 40 years ago, only this time with real human body parts rather than cardboard segments. Who among the cast we are introduced to is our mystery maniac, though? The mild-mannered Dean of the college? Professor Brown, a homosexual anatomy teacher? Kendall (Ian Sera), the dorkiest ladies’ man you ever saw whose dates have a habit of winding up at the business end of the killer’s chainsaw? Willard the groundskeeper (portrayed by the great Paul Smith), a guy who loves to polish his sawblade and gives everyone the “evil eye” quite literally all of the time?

Does it really matter? Of course not, because “Pieces” never even makes the slightest effort to get us to give a damn about this purported little “mystery.” Instead, it’s doling out blood, boobs, and viscera by the bucketful. We’ve  got naked coeds sawed up at the side of swimming pools, cut in half inside elevators, sliced to—well—pieces on waterbeds, shred up in broad goddamn daylight in the middle of the park—anywhere you can kill somebody, our guy does it, and with a hell of a lot of gusto. He doesn’t care about making noise (why should he? This is evidently a college where the sound of a running chainsaw doesn’t attract much attention of any sort) or leaving a mess. He just wants to complete his puzzle by any and every means at hand.

The blood and guts are all of the “just picked this shit up at the slaughterhouse” variety, and like all abattoir-purchased gore they’re quite effective precisely because of their obvious cheapness. Fifty bucks at the butcher shop gets you a lot bigger—and better—selection of gory entrails than thousands paid to the best make-up and effects men has always been your host’s humble opinion. So kudos to Simon and the “Pieces” production team for not sparing in this department and giving us all the putrescence we can handle and then some.

While the gore is extremely well-realized, though, the same cannot be said of the investigation into the killings that becomes central to the movie’s “plot.” Our crack team of police professionals includes grizzled veteran Lt. Bracken (Christopher George of “City Of The Living Dead” and “The Exterminator,” among a million other B-movie credits), undercover agent/tennis pro Mary Riggs (George’s real-life wife, Lynda Day—who knew the cops had secret operatives working the women’s pro tennis tour?), and—the aforementioned super-poor-man’s Casanova Kendall, who Bracken instinctively trusts for no apparent reason to the point where he asks him to put his life on the line on numerous occasions and to “watch over” Mary while she’s working her undercover assignment on campus, and to whom he grants access to highly confidential police files and records without so much as a second thought. I know we hear a lot about police budget cuts and manpower shortages, but please!

Oh, wait, there I go, thinking again—and if there’s one thing you simply can’t afford to do if you want to “enjoy” this movie, it’s think.

Along the not-so-twisting-and-turning path of “mystery” that “Pieces” takes us on, we do get some truly great scenes, even if they’re all pretty unintentional. Lines like “the most beautiful thing in the world is smoking pot and fucking on a  waterbed at the same time,” for instance, should be enshrined in movie history right up there with “here’s looking at you, kid.” And the English-language dubbing is so comically inept that the film can be watched a second (or tenth, or whatever) time through just for the entertainment value inherent in that alone. The plot holes are massive enough to drive an 18-wheeler through unscratched. A scene where the school’s “kung fu professor” (yes, you read that right) attacks Mary for no reason whatsoever and blames it on “bad chop suey” making him black out and lose his mind is more awesome than just about anything else ever filmed. Paul Smith is out of this world as the leering, psychotic-appearing Willard.   And like I’ve mentioned a million times already, the cheap gore is both plentiful and plenty sickening.

"Mr. Evil Eye" himself, Paul Smith, as Willard the groundskeeper, having a---ummm---"conversation" with the Dean

"Mr. Evil Eye" himself, Paul Smith, as Willard the groundskeeper, having a---ummm---"conversation" with the Dean

Our final verdict here, then, is that this is, indeed, exactly what you think it is. Certainly no more — clearly  nothing apart from producing the most extreme gorefest possible on pretty much no budget mattered one iota to Simon and company—but no less, either. “Pieces” is hardly a unique, original, or even particularly professional entry into the slasher oeuvre, but it sets itself one goal and one goal only and tears into it like a hungry dog with a raw steak — and you sort of can’t help but admire watching that play out in front of you.

And as for the ending—well, I’m not going to say a damn thing. I’m just not. You really have to  see it for yourself. About six times. And you still won’t understand what the fuck they were thinking. But hey—no less an authority than Eli Roth says it’s the greatest ending in movie history, so what do I know?

"Pieces" Double-Disc Set From Grindhouse Releasing

"Pieces" Double-Disc Set From Grindhouse Releasing

After being available for years only in a low-rent, direct-transfer-from-VHS, bare-bones DVD from Diamond, “Pieces” was released in a colossally cool two-disc set from Grindhouse Releasing late last year. In addition to a top-notch high-res digitally remastered anamorphic transfer, the set also boasts tons of lengthy, in-depth interviews with Paul Smith and Juan Piquer Simon, an original Spanish soundtrack  option with original score (the English-version score being composed entirely of library tracks), a massive set of productions stills and advertising poster art from around the world, a whole bunch of  hidden “easter eggs,” and, in lieu of a commentary track (whoch would, I admit, have been nice), we get a pretty cool soundtrack option Grindhouse labels “The Vine Theater Experience,” which is a live recording of a screening of the film at the Vine theater in Hollywood a few years back, and it’s a lot of fun to give it at least one listen and check out all the (5.1-mixed) audience reactions to what they’re seeing on the screen. And,  as a final added plus, there’s a great liner notes essay by legendary horror journalist Chas Balun. All in all, an extremely worthwhile addition to your exploitation DVD library.