Posts Tagged ‘code red dvd’

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So it occurs to me that we’re well into the “teeth” of this year’s holiday season (Christmas being a scant three days away), and yours truly hasn’t reviewed a single, solitary Christmas-themed flick yet. Let’s do something about that right now, shall we?

I therefore direct your attention, my friends, to the 1976 Italian production Love By Appointment, also known, variously, as Holiday HookersChristmas At The Brothel, or, in its native land, Natale In Casa D’Appuntamento, a reasonably ribald tale about a woman named Nira (Francoise Fabian) who runs a high-class escort service fronted by an art gallery (“sales” of “paintings” being code language for “rental” of ladies) but dreams of something more — namely, escaping the lucrative life she’s built for herself and retiring to a cozy country cottage with her dashing, worldly lover. Insert on-again/off-again subplot about a couple of well-to-do American businessmen (Robert Alda and a slumming Ernest Borgnine, who by this point was about as far away from Marty and The Wild Bunch as you can imagine), both of whom are on the hunt for hijinks  but one of whom is also on the lookout for true (in Borgnine’s case), frame the whole thing around the holiday season given that Nira would like to turn over this new leaf of hers come the new year, and you’ve pretty much got yourself a movie with a plot thin enough to allow for plenty of filler in the form of gratuitous nudity, simulated lesbian make-out sessions, etc.

There’s just one wrinkle to complicate things — Nira can’t quit being a bitch. She becomes increasingly ruthless toward her stable as the light at the end of her proverbial tunnel gets nearer, forcing many of them to cut and run, and in order to prevent her entire operation from going belly-up before she can head for the exits, she turns to her married neighbor, Senine (Corinne Cleary) to handle her bookings because she just can’t seem to resist fucking everything up if left to her own devices.

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All systems go, then, for her to get this new life of hers on schedule, right? Wrong. Because our gal Nira can’t even manage a smooth working relationship with Senine in the few measly weeks she has left. And fate, fickle mistress that she is, has one more out-of-the-blue twist in store before this holiday season has run its course that’s sure to complicate matters even further —

Obviously, this isn’t “gather the whole family ’round” Christmas viewing, but it has to be said that, even for what it is, Love By Appointment is no great shakes, and that’s because Nannuzzi manages to pull of what ought to be a cinematic impossibility — making a movie packed with gorgeous, naked Italian women boring. Seriously, this is a massive snooze-fest. There’s just enough story to get in the way of the sex and just enough sex to make you not give much of a shit about the story. It’s sort of amazing to see him take a premise this “can’t-miss” and somehow — well, miss at every possible turn, but he does. And while that sort of incompetence may be an art from in and of itself, the end result isn’t art that’s worth your time.

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We’re all used to flicks of this nature having more sizzle than steak, I suppose, but the simple fact of the matter is that Love By Appointment reverses the equation by having just enough steak but no sizzle whatsoever. The “drama” falls flat, the near-softcore sex is shot in a largely clinical and disinterested (not to mention disinteresting) manner, and the whole thing’s enough to to make you wonder why didn’t just watch some milquetoast holiday movie currently playing on cable instead.

If you absolutely must, though, the fine folks at Code Red have at least done a nice job with the recently-issued DVD of this passion-free turkey. The widescreen transfer looks positively stunning for the most part, the remastered mono sound is crisp and clear, and while extras are scant, the one that is included, an on-camera interview with producer Alfredo Leone, is at least interesting. Perhaps moreso than the film itself.

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Final verdict, then — good DVD, bad movie. If you put a roomful of gorgeous Italian ladies together and covince them all to take their clothes off in front of the camera, odds are that, even with no  previous film-making experience whatsoever, you’d come up with something more watchable than this. Hmmmm, there’s a fine idea —

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It’s no secret to those who have been reading this site for awhile now that I’m a huge fan of the lower-than-low-rent Animal House knock-off King Frat. Even though Code Red’s release of it under their short-lived “Saturn Drive-In” label left a lot to be desired, I really don’t care. Full-frame, direct-from-VHS rip or not, I was just glad to finally have it available on an “official” DVD release. What can I say? Sometimes I can be pretty easy to please. It wasn’t until last night, though, that I finally watched — on a complete lark —  the movie it’s paired with on that disc, director Harry Kerwin’s 1977 teen sexploitation “comedy” Cheering Section, and discovered I really hadn’t been missing out on much all these years it’s been sitting, unviewed, on my shelf .

For one thing, Code Red, more times than not the gold standard in exploitation as far as I’m concerned, did an even lousier job with the transfer on this title than they did on King Frat. It looks like it’s been ripped from about a third (or greater)-generation VHS copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a — well, you get the idea. The full frame picture features colors that are completely washed-out, the image is grainy and blurry in the extreme, and the mono sound completely sucks and has to be cranked up in some spots and lowered, quite quickly, in others. There are no extras to speak of, but hell, maybe that’s a good thing.

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The technical specs aren’t nearly as lamentable, though, as is Cheering Section itself, an unimaginative, uninspired, unimpressive, and well-nigh unwatchable riff on the previous year’s Crown International release The Pom Pom Girls — the first cheerleader-themed film to gain wide release after the Supreme Court decision legalizing hard-core pornography, and thus quite a bit tamer  than earlier entrants in the genre which were basically soft-core sex romps with 21-year-olds dressed up as high school girls. The Pom Pom Girls was hardly a classic by any stretch, but it did stake out new ground, since the suits at Crown realized early on that, with “the real thing” now readily available for audiences to see, they needed to tone down the (frankly usually dull) simulated sex scenes and dial up the hijinks and comedy. There could still be plenty of bare boobs on display, of course, but explicit — or even semi-explicit — sex was out, since that market was now essentially cornered by the likes of Marilyn Chambers, Linda Lovelace, etc.

Fly-by-night Florida distro outfit American General Pictures took note of this profitable formula not long after, and the result is this plotless, laughless mess. Ostensibly focused on a group of high school jocks who cruise around in one of those “pussy wagon” vans so popular at the time (they even mark their “conquests” by placing a new pussycat sticker on the rear of the van for every girl one of them scores with), things take a turn when an immediately-popular, pretty new girl (played by Rhonda Fox) shows up at school and they all compete for her attentions and/or affections. She takes a real liking to the purported alpha male “leader” of the bunch (played by Corey Pearson), who also just so happens to be the star quarterback of the football team (of course), and he likes her, too — there’s just one problem : her dad is his new, hard-ass coach.

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Yup, folks, we’re firmly in “stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before” territory here, and trust me — you’ve seen it done better, too. There’s a sure-to-set-the-cause-of-women’s-equality-back-by-at-least-a-century subplot about the main school here literally betting their cheerleaders against their rival school’s cheerleaders on the outcome of the forthcoming big game, but that’s all about as interesting as it sounds, as well. Honestly, the whole thing’s just a dreary mess, and everyone’s so plainly just going through the motions — and even them just barely — that sticking with it as a viewer becomes a real effort.

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Still, if you’re the sort of person that can be reasonably entertained by more or less any movie that bares enough young, perky, female flesh, you might find Cheering Section at least vaguely interesting enough to sit through — although probably only once. Me, I’d have rather watched the flagpole rust. Proceed down this road solely at your own risk — I’ve done my part by warning you; my conscience is clear.

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“The word is necrophilia — We’re quite normal people, we just have different — passions.” — Funeral Director Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott), from 1973’s Love Me Deadly

Honest to God, it’s hard to think of any form of aberrant sexual behavior more frowned upon, ridiculed, and just plain loathed by society at large than corpse-lovin’. Somebody into animals, little kids, being pissed on, shit on, stepped on, or even eaten alive is likely to get more respect than your average necrophile, and yet ya gotta ask yourself — as far as weird ways of getting your rocks off go, what could be more harmless? Talk about a truly victimless crime — the “person” being “violated” is already dead,  what the fuck do they care?

All of which is not to say that your humble host is in any way suggesting that necrophilia is healthy behavior by any stretch of the imagination — it’s pretty damn creepy and incomprehensible, and weird as it may sound, to the extent that there are any actual “necros” out there, my first inclination is to feel profoundly sorry for the lot of ’em. It’s gotta be the most lonely, desperate sort of sexual need imaginable. Plus, your “lovers” usually aren’t gonna smell to good. On the plus side, however, awkward, post-coital “small talk” isn’t a skill you need to worry about perfecting.

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Naturally, in the free-wheelin’, anything-goes days of 1970s exploitation cinema, any subject this taboo was bound to be one that some enterprising B-movie maestro would latch onto in the hopes of wringing a few bucks from an always-shock-hungry public, and in 1972  first (and, as it turns out, only)-time producer Buck Edwards got together with first (and, again, only)-time writer/director Jacques LaCerte (who was actually, believe it or not with a name like that, from Arkansas) to indulge the curiosities of the most morbid cineastes of the day with a little shot-in-13-days-on-$42,000 number called Love Me Deadly that would make its way into the grindhouses and drive-ins our nation was still blessed with in January of the following year.

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Beautiful young (although hardly 18, as the poster claims, but whatever) trust-fund baby Lindsay Finch (Mary Wilcox) has a problem — she’s got an extremely unhealthy father-fixation that obviously veers well into incestuous territory. She’s tried to have normal relationships with other southern California wealthy layabouts, most notably the Ken Doll-esque Wade Farrow (Christopher Stone), but nothing ever works out. These guys just can’t measure up to daddy dearest. There’s just one problem  — well, okay, one problem in addition to the fact that the guy she’s in love with is her own father : daddy’s dead, and has been for a long time.

Lindsay has recently taken it upon herself to do what, I guess, anybody in her situation would — she’s begun to troll the newspapers for funeral notices and spend her days hopping from one memorial service to another, waiting for everyone else to leave so that she can spend a private moment alone with the deceased. One of the more amazing things about this flick is seeing how she dresses for her “funeral dates” — all in black, of course, usually with a veil and hat, but her dresses are short and form-hugging, almost as if she’s trying to impress the guy in the casket. Yes, friends, it’s fair to say that in the entire history of emotionally-confused female movie leads, Wilcox’s Lindsay ranks right up near the top.

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One day, though, while at a complete stranger’s wake, our forlorn young semi-heroine meets a real, living, breathing human being who awakens something within her — art gallery owner, and brother of the deceased, Alex Martin (popular “young buck” Lyle Waggoner of The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman fame). Alex doesn’t spend too much time grieving over his loss, as he’s too busy pursuing Lindsay, and soon she’s shuffled poor ol’ Wade to the back of the deck in favor of this suave n’ charming newcomer.  To his credit, Wade doesn’t seem to take it too hard (hey, it’s Lyle Waggoner, how ya gonna compete with that?), as in one of the film’s numerous “musical-montage” sequences he’s seen double-dating at a Benihana with another girl with Lindsay and Alex on the other side of the table, but he never can seem to get the haunted-by-he-knows-not-what blonde socialite out of his head completely. Little does he suspect that the real reason Alex has won the rather open competition for her affections is because he reminds her of dear, dead dad.

Wade’s continued low-level obsession with her will prove to be his undoing, though, as in between all those quasi-romantic, dialogue-free montages (keep in mind that this is a movie that has its own, I shit you not, love theme) Lindsay has made some new friends. Mortician Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott) has noticed her showing up for a lot of his viewings and, figuring she might be a kindred spirit, he takes the plunge and invites her to join his local necrophiliac cult. Hell, in the letter of introduction he mails to her, he even invites her to bring a friend along to their next “meeting” if it would make her more comfortable!

Fred’s a bit of an odd case, it must be said, even for a corpse-fucker — it seems that when he hasn’t got enough fresh meat in the freezer at his funeral home, he’s not averse to going out and getting some! In one particularly memorable — and, frankly, shocking — early scene we see him picking up a young male hustler, bringing him back to the (for lack of a better term) office, tying him down to a morgue slab, and pumping him full of embalming fluid while he’s still alive and kicking! This being 1973, of course, you could explicitly show one of your characters being a necrophiliac, but you’d better not even hint that he’s queer, so later in the film we see Fred, or “Greg” as he calls himself when he’s out on the prowl, cruising the strip for female flesh as well. It appears, then, that he’s an equal-opportunity necro, and he’ll take a crack at anyone, male or female, as long as they’re dead.

Lindsay’s shocked and sickened by her own desire for cold, clammy, lifeless flesh at first, but she soon finds herself drawn back to more corpse-bangin’ conclaves at the back of Fred’s funeral parlor (even though all these people really should wise up and pick a new de facto group leader because McSweeney always leaves his front door unlocked!), and when Wade discreetly tails her care one evening and finds her there, he quickly finds himself next on the slab of carnal pleasure.

Again, though, he needn’t take it too hard — a few montages and a quick marriage later, Lyle Waggoner makes the same mistake. Intercepting a registered letter for his new bride from McSweeney’s Mortuary (as opposed to Quarterly Concern — raise your hand if you got that reference) he examines the contents of the envelope and decides to surreptitiously follow the Mrs. to this “meeting” mentioned in the missive. Lindsay’s been as unresponsive as a , well, corpse in bed and Alex figures she might be stepping out on him. Little does he suspect, of course, what she’s really up to in her spare time —

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On the bright side, by film’s end Lindsay does, finally, meet the man of her dreams — and in a nod to traditional values, it turns out that it’s the guy she’s already married to!  On the minus side, at least for Lyle Waggoner, he’s dead. After rudely — but, let’s be honest, understandably — interrupting his wife mid-coitus, McSweeney dispatches him just  as his lackeys did Wade, and then “prepares” his body for Lindsay’s — uhhmmm — enjoyment. For reasons I absolutely can’t fathom, he’s trying to cut one of Alex’s fingers off when Lindsay approaches her marital bed  — this time with considerably more spring in her step than when hubby was, ya know, alive an’ all — and gets a statue busted over his head for his trouble, but apart from that, in between the (yet more) flashback montages that finally show why Lindsay’s so obsessed with her father’s passing ( an actually effective little plot twist) it appears that she and Alex are finally ready to live — and die — happily ever after. She’s found her husband, father figure, and dream lover, all wrapped up in one perfect, unbreathing, unfeeling, unliving package. She curls up next to his corpse and coos like a little girl as the credits roll.

To their credit, LaCerte and Edwards certainly aren’t squeamish about their subject matter here. The title credits on both versions of the flick’s theatrical trailer — included as a DVD extra  (along with a fairly fascinating full-length commentary from Edwards that he recorded shortly before his death in 2007 where he reveals, among other things, that all of the extras in the film were members of the Los Angeles area Church of Satan, and were recruited into the production in exchange for a “small donation” to their organization) on the original Code Red/Media Blasters/Shriek Show joint release of the film (it’s since been re-released by Code Red as part of their “Maria’s B-Movie mayhem” line hosted by former WWE starlet Maria Kanellis, where it’s paired with The Curious Case Of The Campus Corpse — both versions feature a pretty-nicely-remastered widescreen picture and solid mono sound, and both mark the only complete and uncut home video iterations of the film, but the double-bill doesn’t have the extras) state, in no  uncertain terms , “Love Me Deadly — A Film About Necrophilia (The Sexual Desire For A Corpse),”  but to their discredit (although it’s probably fair to say that most of the blame here lies with director LaCerte), they have absolutely no idea how to play this material.

You would think — as Jorg Buttgeriet did the next time any movie had the balls to tackle this subject, well over 20 years later — that necrophilia would be pretty fertile ground for either genuinely grim psychological horror or a completely OTT horror-comedy hybrid, but in Love Me Deadly it’s presented as Lifetime Movie Of The Week or ABC After School Special material! The aforementioned trailers invoke Hitchcock’s Psycho, but in a movie overflowing with flowery montages and a repetitive love theme, it’s pretty clear that LaCerte’s biggest stylistic influence here was Love Story, with the only difference being that one of the lovers isn’t dying — he’s already dead!

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The end result, as you can well imagine, is a pretty incongruous affair — morbid exploitative subject matter played out as bog-standard 1970s doomed romance is certainly nothing that’s been tried anywhere else before or since — but it’s also an unforgettable one, despite LaCerte’s dull point-and shoot style and the script’s insistence on going back to the same well in more or less exactly the same fashion for both its principal murders. I can certainly see why contemporary audiences were shocked shitless by this thing, and why modern ones continue to be. It’s simply entirely unlike anything else ever made, and despite the director’s best efforts to wrap a velvet glove over his subject matter’s iron fist, it still packs one hell of a punch. It’s about a lonely, desperate necrophile, for Christ’s sake — there’s no way you can make it very “cozy” and ‘warm” no matter how hard you try. If you’re in the mood for a genuinely unforgettable — and, yeah, unpleasant — movie experience, you need to see this as close to immediately as possible. And if you’ve already seen it but it’s been a few years, now would be the perfect time to give it another go and remind yourself  exactly why it blew you away in the first place.

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Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw taught us that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” In Love Me Deadly, Mary Wilcox and Lyle Waggoner teach us that the perfect lover is one you never have to say anything to at all.

exterminators_of_year_3000_poster_01Let’s face it — by 1983, the Italians were running short on cool names for characters in their low-budget, post-apocalyptic Road Warrior knock-offs. Memorable handles like “Scorpion,” “Parsifal,” and “Trash” ( a name so good it was — uhhhmmm — recycled here, but more on that in a minute) had already been used in The New Barbarians, 2019 : After The Fall Of New York, and 1990 : Bronx Warriors, respectively, so by the time director Giuliano Carnimeo and his producers were able to hustle up enough financing to shoot their modest little Italian-Spanish co-production Exterminators Of The Year 3000 (which also saw release in some markets, both theatrically and on home video, under the rather more lackluster title of Death Warriors), they were down to “Alien” for a snappy one-word monicker for their loner hero.

And it’s always gotta be a loner hero for these type of flicks, doesn’t it? A guy who’s survived the end of the world and everything that came after on his own. Maybe he’s lost some loved ones along the way and eschews human attachments because he’s afraid of letting anyone get close to him again. Or maybe he was part of some warlord of the wasteland’s band of savages but reformed his ways when he was forced to kill women and children or something and he’s atoning for past sins by leading a quiet, solitary life. Or maybe, as is the case with Alien, none of that shit really matters because by this point the filmmakers have figured out that character backstory isn’t what the audience for these things is here for and as long as their leading man is sufficiently stoic and can survive a lot of souped-up dune-buggy, souped-up motorcycle, and souped-up muscle-car battles, that’s all that really counts. The only thing that sets Alien apart from his contemporaries in this sub-genre, frankly, is his stupid name and frizzy hair.

ExterminatorsOfTheYear30001The loner, though, can never remain alone for long, can he? The poor schmuck is always roped into some battle- not-of-his-own making and his job is to lead his newfound people to victory — which usually means either water or gasoline. In this case it’s water. When Alien makes the acquaintance of a young boy named Tommy (Luca Venatini), a pre-teen  with a robotic super-arm and a pet gerbil who sets out to complete a quest to find H20 for his rag-tag band of barely-survivors that his father started but wasn’t able to complete (at least not in time — he’s missing, presumed dead, and folks are gettin’ thirsty, so hey — why not send the kid?), the strings of his hardened heart are tugged by the tyke’s courage and he can’t help but do the right thing and join the precocious little whippersnapper because, well — doing the right thing is just what guys like Alien do, right?

On the plus side, Tommy definitely knows the location of a well. On the minus side, the irradiated desert between where they are now and where they need to get to is controlled by a psychotic biker-gang leader named Crazy Bull (Fernando Bilbao) and his — well, you know, gang of psychotic bikers. Post-nuke hijinks are, needless to say, sure to follow. Life can’t be easy in the year 3000, or we don’t have much of a movie here.

ExterminatorsOfTheYear30002To make a long story short — or, in this case, a short story even shorter — Tommy gets captured by Crazy Bull’s men and is interrogated and tortured, because that lets us know that Crazy Bull is such an evil bastard that he’s willing to torture kids. His robo-arm gets busted up pretty good in the process, but Alien’s able to rescue him and they fix up his mechanical limb  with parts they find in a junkyard — where they also cross paths with Alien’s old flame, Trash (or, as we’ve already established, Recycled Trash), played by semi-popular Italian beauty Alicia Moro. She, of course, tags along on their noble quest to defeat Crazy Bull’s men by besting every — what was it again? — souped-up dune-buggy, souped-up motorcycle, and souped-up muscle-car they can they can throw at them.

In its favor, Exterminators Of The Year 3000 features pyrotechnics and stunt work that are at least  equal to, and in some cases better than, some of its more-well-known fellow travelers in the Italian post-armageddon sub-genre. While most of Carimeo’s direction is faily point-and-shoot and certainly lacks the style of, say, an Enzo G. Castellari, functional ain’t so bad  when it comes to telling this type of straight-forward story.  If you’re reasonably entertained by the average spaghetti-flavored take on rough-and-tumble nuclear holocaust survival (and I admit that I am), then you’ll be reasonably entertained by Exterminators Of The Year 3000.

340x_vkbyhqzfniq_01In the “minus” column in its ledger, though, is the cold, hard fact that there’s not much on offer here that isn’t tackled with more style, more bravado, and frankly less sanity in flicks like The New Barbarians, which veer into the territory of completely uninentional self-parody in their finer moments. Simply put, this flick just isn’t bad enough to be all that terribly memorable. By 1983, the Xs and Os of how to do a movie like this were so firmly established that all Carnimeo and his cohorts  had to do was essentially go through the motions, and you definitely get the feeling that’s really all they’re really up to here. Even Detto Mariano’s music, while certainly almost bafflingly over-the-top and weirdly out-of-place in comparison with what’s happening on screen in all but the film’s action sequences, lacks the dramatically bizarre aplomb of, say, the famous “Oliver Onions” score for 2019 : After The Fall Of New York.1542402h-420x600

Still, what the hell — Exterminators Of The Year 3000 is  worth at least one watch, and Code Red has done a pretty nice job with its DVD release (pictured above). It’s presented full-frame (and looks good)  with stereo sound (which you need to crank way the fuck up in order to make out most of the dialogue) and extras include the original trailer, an on-camera interview with star Iannucci, and a feature-length commentary with Iannucci that’s fairly involving throughout and generally doesn’t lag too much, even in the spots where his memories aren’t necessarily the sharpest. It’s out of print — hey, it’s Code Red — and generally retails for around $50-60 if you can find it, so it’s certainly not worth that kind of price for anyone other than the most rabid hard-core genre completists. If you’ve got a friend who pops it into his or her DVD player while you’re over at their place, though, you might as swell sit back and enjoy it. At the very least, it’s got some of the worst dubbing you’ll see this side of an Indonesian flick, and the movie is capable of instilling the kind of warm, nostalgic — albeit fleeting — glow that you can only get from the product of a simpler time, when we all thought that living through a nuclear war sounded cool and adventurous.

If you take a close look at the poster for 1978’s Mardi Gras Massacre reproduced above, you’ll notice something — the vital stats (so to speak) of the female victim pictured bound and helpless above, one “Nancy Dancer” (and just for the record, that is the actual — ahem! — “professional” name used by one of the actresses who portrays a prostitute in this film),  feature her (exaggerated, I can assure you, having seen Ms. Dancer in this film) measurements actually listed above her birthdate and the date of  her death! And that, my friends,  probably tells you all you need to know about the movie’s priorities right there.

To simply call Mardi Gras Massacre misogynistic is an understatement of the highest order. This is a movie that exists for basically no other reason than to show women strip completely naked, get oiled up by some lecherous creep, and then have their limbs amputated, their stomachs sliced open, their hearts removed — you get the picture here, I’m sure. Given that the film was written and directed by Jack Weis, the same guy responsible for the ultra-sleazy race-and-slavery exploitation picture Quadroon, I definitely wasn’t expecting anything even remotely approaching tasteful here, but even I was rather taken aback by the unrelentingly mean-spirited tone of this one.

To set the stage, our “plot,” such as it is, here revolves around some apparently rich guy (he’s only referred to in the credits as “John,” which strikes me as more a reference to his nocturnal activities than to his name — and special kudos here to the guy who plays him, one William Metzo, for actively hamming this part up to the hilt and delivering a memorably OTT-in-the-sleaze-department performance) who hangs out at a bar in the French Quarter looking to pick up the “most evil” (his exact words) working girls in the joynt, then takes them back to his apartment/ritual chamber where he puts on a mask, ties them up on some kind of altar-thing, slathers oil on their tits, and then agonizingly-yet-strangely-nochalantly (Metzo’s acting is more memorable when he’s on the hunt than when he’s moving in for the kill) disembowels them as a sacrifice to the Aztec wind gods or something (for those of you keeping track, the kill scenes come complete with cow hearts, loads of red Karo syrup, thoroughly unconvincing plastic (or rubber, or something) mannequin body doubles, and even less convincing rushing-wind sound effects. Oh, and Aztec ritual sacrifice? It’s fucking New Orleans, people — wouldn’t voodoo make a little bit more sense?). In between we’ve got some plodding and dull police procedural shit, some actual Mardi Gras footage, etc., but this is basically just a flick that exists to show unfortunate females getting naked and getting slaughtered, Weis and company don’t even seem to be actively trying when it comes to the other stuff and it looks and feels like the half-hearted filler material it so obviously is.

In short, the whole thing shouldn’t work. There’s no “story” to speak of, more just a series of set-ups and pointless subplots, the inherent humor of, say, a Herschell Gordon Lewis, who produced stuff every bit as gory and cheap and degrading-to-the-female-half-of-the-species as this but with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek the whole time, is nowhere to be found, the concept of “characterization” is absolutely alien to the proceedings, most of the women who strip for the camera-and-the-killer are less than memorable in the looks department (one was apparently a former Playboy playmate who had one of the world’s first boob jobs and they were quite obviously hardening and past their expiration date (or whatever) by this point) and when nobody’s getting killed the whole thing gets pretty repetitious and boring, apart from the always-amusingly-hokey dialogue.

And yet — maybe it’s the low-grade, grainy-ass film stock used here, or Metzo’s playing up the evil of his “John” to an obviously unintentionally dripping-with-sleaze degree, or maybe it’s the absolute and unflinching nastiness of the murders themselves and the film’s overall uber-anti-women tone, but the whole thing, probably more by accident or the slapdash, get-it-in-the-can necessities of ultra-low-budget filmmaking than by design, somehow kinda works. You feel like you need to take a shower to remove the stain of the entire affair afterwards, and while that isn’t necessarily the sign of anything that might be called a good film, it’s the sure hallmark of a memorable one. You might not be glad that you saw Mardi Gras Massacre, but it’ll stick with you — hell, it even feels like it’s sticking to you —afterwards.

Mardi Gras Massacre has recently been released on DVD from Code Red as part of their “Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem” series hosted by former WWE “diva” (there’s a word that sure doesn’t mean what it used to) Maria Kanellis. It’s presented full-frame from a highly flawed, showing-its-age master (as it should be), the sound is strictly (for the most part serviceable) mono, and extras include the requisite Kanellis framing sequences, a short-but-interesting conversation with  William Metzo (from which, I noticed, the most memorable anecdotes are cribbed for Kanellis’ introduction), a handful of trailers for some other Code Red releases, and the music video for Kanellis’ rather lackluster” power-pop” single “Fantasy” that accompanies all of these things.

Like a lot of what we take a look at here at TFG, this most definitely isn’t a movie suitable for all tastes, maturity levels, mental states, social sensibilities (strong feminists would do especially well to avoid this one unless they’re actively seeking to have their blood pressure raised for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom), or political persuasions — it knows it’s there to do an admittedly unpleasant job and it gets in, does it, and then gets the hell back out. Call it unflinching misogyny-by-the-numbers. It’s brutish, nasty, sleazy, unapologetic, and cheap.

You know, like some of the best nights of your life. Maybe even like life itself.

Some months ago, I recall seeing a survey conducted of viewers of the Fox “news” channel that laid out the peculiar particularities of how this brainwashed set of folks see the world, and while I don’t have the exact survey results handy (and am frankly too tired to google them so you’ll just have to trust me), most of the results were pretty unsurprising — huge majorities felt that “America was always a force for good in the world,” “Barack Obama was probably not really born in the United States,” “White Christians are the most persecuted group of people in our country,” “the rich already pay more than their fair share in taxes,” etc. One question given to, and the subsequent answer given by, these people who consider the likes of Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly responsible purveyors of journalistic truth, however, did knock me for a loop — well over 50% of them (again, the exact number escapes me) apparently believe that “Canadians are envious of the US and wish they were Americans.”

To which all I can say is — go tell that to our northern neighbors and see how many friends you make. I’m betting the answer will be zero. Anti-Americanism has been on a steady upswing in the Great White North for well over a decade now, and not without good reason as we continuously seek to throw our military muscle around in the world and do our level best to bribe/cajole/beg/politely threaten the Canucks into joining us. Sometimes they join in (Afghanistan) and sometimes they refuse (Iraq), but no matter which way their government goes, the net cumulative effect of us constantly trying to get them to go along with our hare-brained military adventurism on Joe and Jane Canada has been a completely understandable (for those of us who don’t watch Fox) weariness at best, and open hostility at worst, toward the United States and our purported “global interests.”

In short, most Canadians are hardly “envious” of us, more or less none of them “wish they were Americans,” and greater and greater numbers of them just wish we’d leave them the hell alone. So for those of you who think it’s a reach for me to be including a Canadian film in our “international weirdness” series here at TFG (ha! just when you thought none of this had anything to do with anything!), let me assure you that Canada is, indeed, a foreign country, and its residents generally pride themselves on this fact — as well they should.

What they probably shouldn’t be too proud of, though, is director Alain Zaloum’s 1990 dull-as-dirt, lensed-in-Quebec “erotic thriller” (marketed in its straight-to-VHS packaging as a horror film, for some reason) Madonna : A Case Of Blood Ambition.

Clearly marketed (to the extent that it even was — Canuck distributor Atlas Video didn’t put much muscle behind promoting this straight-to-video snoozefest, and it barely made it south of the border at all) to cash in on the worldwide buzz surrounding the Queen of Pop’s then-current “Blonde Ambition” tour, this is a listless little tale of a supposed “femme fatale” that couldn’t even crack the Skinemax lineup at the time, even though that’s quite obviously the sort of “viewing platform” it was clearly intended for.

Our story here revolves around a mild-mannered ( that’s polite-speak for hopelessly dull, in case you didn’t know) Montreal (I think) ad executive named Richard (Erik Kramer, in a soul-crushingly lackluster performance that gives “going through the motions” a bad name) who becomes so enthralled by a new client’s ladyfriend, Laura (the reasonably attractive, but not worth trashing your entire home and family life over as dumbshit is about to do, Deborah Mansy — who can at least sort of act, although I doubt she’s doing much of it today) that he soon loses all sense, subsumes himself in their passionless-on-camera-but-supposedly-passionate-on-paper affair (this flick was apparently based on a semi-popular Canadian-grocery-store-shelf romance novel), and tells his wife and kid to take a fucking hike.

There’s just one problem — Laura isn’t really Laura at all, she’s a serial homewrecker/vengeance artist named Francesca Madonna (yes, that’s our only tenuous connection to the Material Girl herself — the main character’s middle name) Leone, who’s selecting the targets of her little adultery-leading-to-murder (she hopes) scheme for one very specific reason. Will Richard wise up before it’s too late? And is he even the real ultimate object of her Machiavellian machinations?

I think a better question here would actually be “should you even care?,” the answer to which, if you have any sense at all, is a resounding “no.” Much as I’m predisposed toward absolutely loving any edited-on-video, direct-to-VHS cheapie that’s blatantly marketed to tie in with something (or, in this case, someone) it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with (and kudos to its US distributors, who had the cajones to just release this festering pile of dreariness under the simpler, but even less honest, title of Madonna), the fact is that Madonna : A Case Of Blood Ambition just doesn’t successfully do anything it sets out to do. For a wanna-be-Shannon-Tweed-style skin flick there’s very little skin on display, what skin there is just isn’t very interesting, and as far as the “thriller”/mystery aspect of the whole story — well, let’s just say it’s supremely uninvolving and leave it at that, shall we?

If you absolutely must see this film and/or have so little regard for my opinion that you figure if I say it sucks then it must have something going for it, then you’re in luck since Madonna : A Case Of Blood Ambition has just been released on DVD paired on a double-bill with another early-90s-Canadian-made DTV less-than-favorite, Voodoo Dolls, as part of Code Red’s Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem series hosted by former WWE sorta-star Maria Kanellis. Extras are sparse (unless you count Maria’s intros and a few Code Red trailers as “extras” — oh, and let’s not forget her music video for her debut single, “Fantasy” — or, rather, let’s), and both films look like pretty poor straight-from-VHS full-screen transfers (although in fairness Voodoo Dolls does look a little bit better), but of special mention here is the sound quality on these two flicks — it’s absolutely horrible! The mix is 2.0 stereo and you have to crank your receiver (or TV) way up to even hear any of the dialogue, it’s buried so far back behind the lame musical score, extemporaneous background noise, etc. Seriously, this is as unprofessional in the sound department as it gets, which is a real disappointment since Code Red usually does a great job with this stuff.

Then again, maybe they’re just trying to spare you,given that if you leave the volume at a normal level, you really won’t hear anything at all — but you won’t be missing much.

Well, friends, this one’s gonna be brief because we’re venturing into uncharted territory a bid here — the flick under review today, 1988’s The Undertaker, is actually an unfinished, believe it or not, but it’s worth looking at as it features the last starring turn of the one and only Maniac himself, the late, great Joe Spinell.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is included in our annual Halloween horror round-up more as an item of interesting curiosity than anything else. Given that director Franco Steffanino’s’s film ran into the twin obstacles of no more funding and Spinell’s untimely demise before it could be hammered out into finished form, essentially what we’re got on our hands here, thanks to the fine folks at Code Red DVD (specifications of said DVD being rather minimal here — the full-frame transfer looks pretty sparklingly, surprisingly good for the most part, though it veers into crummy, even downright greasy territory in some spots, and the sound is hit-and-miss to put it kindly — the only extra, cool as it is, consists of the legendary Robert Forster and his daughter, Kathrine, sharing their memories of Spinell — keep in mind I’m not complaining here because the fact that this thing even managed to get a DVD release at all is something of a miracle and I thank Code Red for doing all us Joe Spinell fans a great service here) is a rough cut of the movie. There’s very little by way of gore or other special effects, the editing is choppy (jarringly so in several instances), and the overall feel is of watching some semi-competent student project that just happens to feature a recognizable (to fans of cult cinema, at least) lead actor.

That being said, you can see that The Undertaker had some — I repeat, some — potential. Spinell is back to doing what he does best, playing a skin-crawlingly creepy and pathetic psycho, this time out said psycho going by the name of Roscoe, a small-town New Jersey mortician who has a penchant for necrophilia, a nagging wife who won’t leave him alone long enough to enjoy himself with his corpses, and a big problem with his business — namely, there just aren’t enough people dying in his town for him to have a variety of sexual — uhmmmmm — “partners,” not to mention a steady income.

As you can imagine, his only alternative is to take matters into his own hands and steer some business his way by dint of his own actions.

Spinell isn’t at his Maniac – level best here, but he still turns in a solid enough intentionally-way-over-the-top performance, and the overall tone of the film seems to be pretty self-deprecating in terms of its outrageously tasteless subject matter, but you never know how it all would have turned out with a few more scenes, a final edit, etc. Maybe the filmmakers unintentionally did us a great service by pulling the plug on this thing, or maybe we lost another Spinell classic, it’s hard to say (well, okay, it’s not — the surviving mish-mash of material leaves the distinct impression that we needn’t worry too much about the latter).

Still, in my book at least The Undertaker is definitely worth a look. You have to be willing to cut it a hell of a lot of slack, to be sure, but getting the chance to see Joe Spinell in action one final time makes putting up with all of this flick’s — how shall I put this? — glaring inconsistencies more than worthwhile. They just don’t make lecherously slimy cinematic killers like this anymore, and even in a raw and incomplete production (that, it must be stated, looked like it was most likely doomed to be a substandard effort anyway given the rather second-rate nature of the script),  Joe Spinell stands out.

And speaking of more-or-less bloodless old-school monster movies, in 2010 the fine folks at Code Red DVD finally got around to releasing the long-sought-after 1978 cheapie (as in total budget of around $100,000) Slithis (alternately titled Spawn Of The Slithis, which is more technically accurate I suppose since “slithis” is the name of the nuclear/toxic good that creates the much-moster in this movie and not the actual name of the creature itself  (which, incidentally, has no name) but has the unwarranted effect of making folks think this might be a sequel to a previous movie called Slithis when, of course, it isn’t). While the DVD is pretty much a no-frills affair that features a decently remastered widescreen print (although it’s still pretty grainy to the extent that it’s even hard to make out just exactly what the hell is happening in a lot of the scenes filmed at night) and perfectly acceptable mono sound, some extras beyond the inclusion of the trailer for the film and a selection of other Code red previews would have been nice, especially since writer-director Stephen Traxler insists that this thing made millions worldwide and he never saw a dime thanks to a rip-off distribution deal he signed in desperation.

But I guess it’s the thought that counts, and I’m not one to complain about any world in which this now-obscure title is even available at all, so I won’t.

Traxler’s little opus takes place in the quaint confines of 70s-era Venice, California, and to be honest it’s this atmospheric locale, complete with its hippies (and aging ex-hippies), winos, vagrants, and general weirdos, as well as the director’s innate familiarity with it, that makes Slithis the joy to watch that it is. Certainly there’s even less gore on display here (notice the “PG” rating on the poster, for gosh sakes!), and the monster itself is more crudely realized, than in the recent release Creature, which I maligned to no end less than 24 hours ago. But whereas Creature never really makes effective use of its (at this point done to death in horror) Louisiana bayou setting, the town of Venice, with its canals, public parks, and beaches is itself the most compelling character in this tale of Three-Mile-Island-inspired anti-nuke scaremongering (not that your host is a fan of nuclear energy — anything but, the stuff is seriously bad news — I’m just trying to put the plot in some historical context).

So anyway, in case you hadn’t guessed it, the plot here revolves around a leak at the local nuke plant that infect some swamp mud teeming with unsavory bacterial life and the end result is a mud-encrusted beast that does what all these guys do and goes on a (completely gore-free in this case) killing spree. That’s all you need to know because honestly that’s all there is to it.

I’m sure at the time, if I’d been doing these armchair movie reviews like I am now (I was a little young for it back then, thank you very much), I would have written Slithis off as being a dull, hackneyed cash-in on contemporary news stories. But time changes everything, as they say, and Slithis, despite being obvious,  overwrought, hopelessly unsubtle, and all the rest stands out as a fun-filled nostalgic romp to a bygone era when our societal worries seemed to make a lot more sense. In short, Slithis hasn’t gotten any better over time per se, but the passing of time has made Slithis seem better. If you can get your head around that (and it’s not that tough, is it?).Plus there’s the fact that Slithis pretty much represents the tail end of the era when guys in rubber suits could still be played off as being (in this particular instance even vaguely) scary. So for all its attempts to be contemporary as hell, it was actually verging on relic status right from the get-go, and that sort of adds another layer of, dare I say it, charm to the whole proceedings.

So what the hell, give Slithis a go,  I think you’ll find it a fun slice of celluloid nostalgia.

"Stigma" Movie Poster

In 1972, hot on the heels of his little-seen-at-the-time-but-now-recognized-as-the-undisputed-horror-classic-that-it-is I Drink Your Blood, a tale of a Manson Family-esque hippie clan that contracts rabies, writer-director David E. Durston was approached by then- fledgling producer Charles B. Moss, Jr. (who would go on to oversee the mood-horror masterpiece Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, among other films) to do another “viral outbreak”-type film, only this time to de-emphasize the more lurid elements and place the story on more firm socially-conscious ground.

In short, Moss wanted to do a serious film about an epidemic on an exploitation budget.

Durston went away to think things over and, spotting a back-of-the-page newspaper story about new strain of syphilis that appeared to be resistant to penicillin, decided that sounded like fertile ground for just the type of movie that Moss was looking for.

The result is Stigma, another fine entry in Durston’s all-too-short cinematic oeuvre that, like I Drink Your Blood, excels in the areas of mood, atmosphere, and characterization, and features some surprisingly fine acting from its (at the time) little-known cast.

In the lead role of  Dr. Calvin Crosse we have Philip Michael Thomas, who just over a decade later would go on to major television stardom on Miami Vice. Durston discovered Thomas playing a supporting role on Broadway and cast him immediately — a fortuitous decision as it turns out that he possessed the natural charisma and screen presence to literally carry this film on his shoulders.

Dreaming of the future and a co-starring role with Don Johnson

Our guy Dr. Crosse has just been released from prison, where he served a couple years for performing an illegal abortion (this was 1972, after all), and is on his way to Stilford Island, off the coast of Maine,  where his medical school benefactor, one  Dr. Thor, has sent for him to come and assist him with some mysterious project he’s been working on but can’t say too much about.

The good Dr. Crosse doesn’t seem to have much luck thumbing rides (again, this was 1972, and he’s black) though, until he meets up with a GI just returned from Viet Nam named  Bill Waco (Harlan Cary Poe), who just so happens to be from Stilford and is heading back home.

Stand-up guy that he is, Waco loans Crosse his extra army uniform and the two are soon offered a lift to the ferry they need to catch to reach the island, where Bill receives a hero’s homecoming and Calvin finds a bunch of local yokels who won’t even give a black guy directions to the doctor’s house.

When he does finally get there, though, he’s in for a second ruse surprise (the first being the inhospitable treatment of the natives, racism being a constant undercurrent in this film). Dr. Thor is dead, and Calvin’s essentially conscripted into taking over his practice and studying this mysterious outbreak he hints at in his notes and tape recordings.

In short order Calvin gets on the wrong side of the local redneck sheriff (appropriately named Whitehead and played with maximum relish by Peter Clune) and learns that the viral outbreak that his late instructor had discovered was a new strain of VD, namely a kind of super-syphilis, that’s showing up in some unlikely places — not only among the teens and twenty-somethings, as you’d expect, but also in the crazy old alcoholic lighthouse keeper!

Just how randy are the folks on this island, anyway?

We now pause to present a good old-fashioned VD scare film

It’s a testament to just how absorbing a sense of time and place Durston has created here that the movie can essentially take a breather at the halfway point for about five minutes to present an educational 16-mm VD scare film hosted by famed New York top 40 DJ “Cousin” Brucie Morrow and pick right back up where it left off with no loss of interest on the viewer’s part. So well-rounded are all of even the most minor characters that we still give a shot about what happens here despite the interruption — and anyway, it is actually a necessary one in terms of plot advancement.

Dr. Crosse naturally suspects that the source of the outbreak is the country whorehouse run by grizzled old madam Tassie (Connie Van Ess), but why does the sheriff’s promiscuous daughter (and Waco’s flame) D.D. (Josie Johnson) pay a midnight visit to Dr. Thor’s house? Why is the sheriff so determined to obstruct Dr. Crosse at every turn? And just how did that crazy old alcoholic lighthouse keeper come down with the disease?

Stigma plays its hand pretty close to its vest until the film’s riveting final act, when all is revealed in the lead-up to a very satisfying conclusion. Along the way we’re treated to plenty of gorgeous location footage of the Massachusetts coastline (sorry, there really is no Stilford Island, Maine), a downright compelling performance from Thomas that showcases a multi-faceted and highly skilled actor well worthy of the TV superstardom that was in his future, and believable and dare I say even intriguing turns from one and all of the supporting cast.

Stigma isn’t exactly a horror film per se, although one can’t help but think it had a marked influece on a very young David Cronenberg who would go on to mine similar terrain in his early films Shivers and Rabid, but it’s  certainly got enough gratuitous nudity to make it an easy sell to grindhouse audiences (although distributor  Cinerama did a crummy job of marketing it upon initial release and it probably didn’t turn much of a profit) and touches upon enough hot-button social issues to make it something of a “message” movie.

All in all, though, this critic would have to say that Stigma resembles, genre-wise,  a “medical thriller” above all, as its subdued atmosphere and strong characterization really do put a damper on the more obviously horrific elements of the story and the film instead accentuates the inner lives and working of its characters and their community. It’s a thoroughly satisfying viewing experience in every sense, unless you’re looking for another I Drink Your Blood.

Which certainly isn’t a bad thing to be in the market for, but Stigma isn’t it. And why should it be? Durston had been there and done that — with this film he proved his stylistic versatility by tackling similar themes in a completely different, but no less gripping, way.

"Stigma" DVD from Code Red

Stigma has just been released on DVD from Code Red, who have done their usual excellent job in terms of presentation and extras. The newly-restored anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer looks superb, with only minimal graininess in places, and the mono soundtrack is crisp and clean.  For supplements we’ve got an 18-minute on-camera interview with Durston, the theatrical trailer, a TV ad spot for the film, a selection of previews for other Code Red titles (under the heading “movies you probably won’t buy” — guess business has been even worse than I thought), and best of all, a feature-length commentary with Durston moderated by Jeff McKay and hosted by Code Red head honcho Bill Olsen.

As with his commentary on Grindhouse Releasing’s I Drink Your Blood DVD, Durston proves to be a gregarious and engaging raconteur, and while his memory is foggy in places and he obviously gets just flat-out confused from time to time, he’s still a lively and energetic storyteller and it’s a joy to hear his recollections, whether crystal clear or foggy.

Sadly, David E. Durston passed away at the age of 88 shortly after recording his extras for this DVD and missed won’t be here to see a new generation of exploitation fans turned on to this, his second-most-well-known work. He couldn’t ask for a more fitting tribute than the loving resotration that Code Red has brought to this film, though. It’s definitely one of 2010’s best DVD releases to date.

"Wacy Taxi" Movie Poster Under Its Alternate Title, "Pepper And His Wacky Taxi"

In the early 1970s, lots of washed-up former sitcom stars were given “comeback vehicles”  (that should probably read “potential comeback vehicles”) at the top of the bill in cheap family films.  The most notorious example is probably Disney tapping Bob Crane to play the title role in “Superdad,” which probably isn’t actually the worst bit of casting when you consider how many kids he probably had running around out there.

Not to be outdone by the big studios, legendary (as far as these things go) exploitation house Avco Embassy got ahold of a script called Wacky Taxi in 1972 and figured it would be perfect for the patriarch of the Addams Family himself, the one and only John Astin.

I won’t mice words here, I absolutely love this guy. How can you not? Every time he popped up as a guest star on risible 80s sitcoms like “Night Court,” he had that same batshit-insane gleam in his eye that he trademarked as Gomez and invariably livened up the otherwise dreary proceedings just by his very presence.  And for that reason alone I really — and I mean really — wanted to like Wacky Taxi (also released, as you can see from the poster, under the title Pepper and his Wacky Taxi).

Unfortunately, everything about this movie sucks, including Astin’s performance. The guy looks like he’s literally sleepwalking through the film — not that I blame him, I’d probably do exactly the same thing if confronted with a story this agonizingly dull.

I hate to burst your expectations (actually, I’d hate for you to even have any expectations  about this movie), but there’s very little actual “wackiness” here at all. In fact, it’s a pretty somber and morose little flick, with a tedious and dreary “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and everything will turn out fine” moral shoehorned into it to make the proceedings not only boring,  but annoying, as well. Really. Save that kind of message for those “Legless Girl Runs Marathon On Her Hands” stories stuffed in the back pages of the National Enquirer and other right-wing tabloids to promulgate their mean-spirited “see? the unfortunates of society don’t really need any help from us, they can do amazing things on their own” worldview.

Anyhow, to the plot, such as it is — Astin plays Pepe “Pepper”  Morales, a big-dreaming Mexican-American (an atrocious bit of casting since even though he did play a guy named Gomez on TV, Astin doesn’t actually look particularly Hispanic) who lives with his wife, Maria (woodenly played — not that  the script requires anything more — by Maria Pohji) and their four kids in sunny San Diego, California.  With another mouth to feed on the way (here’s an idea for an actual, realistic message for the film — don’t have more kids than you can afford!) Pepper decides the time is now to quite his decent-paying but soul-destroying job at an aluminum can factory, raid the family “savings account” kept in a coffee can in the kitchen,  buy a piece of shit, dilapidated 1959 Cadillac, paint the word “Taxi” on its sides and top, and hit the streets looking for fares without actually, you know, getting a cab license, insurance, or any of that other pesky legal crap. Smart guy.

At this point, you’d figure that if his wife had any sense at all she’d dump the guy, but then that wouldn’t be in keeping with the “family values”-type themes on display here, so instead she dutifully sticks by him as he goes about this shit-for-brains scheme.

Cruising around town in his illegal cab, Pepper decides the best way to drum up business is to pull up to people not only trying to hail cabs but waiting for buses, as well, and not only undercut standard taxi prices, but undercut the going bus fares, as well! He hauls carloads of  naval servicemen to the base for 60 cents apiece (probably not a decent chunk of change even in 1972), and takes a female enlistee to Tijuana for reasons unspecified (actually, he won’t cross the border — but she pays him 20 bucks to wait for her on the US side for two hours, whereupon she returns, crying — now let’s see here, what would she have to go to Tijuana for two hours for that would have her coming back teary-eyed? Two years before Roe v. Wade? Keep in mind this flick was pitched to family audiences — good luck explaining that little plot twist to your six-year-old!). He takes a fast-talking, fast-eating blowhard (played by Allan Sherman, the guy who sang “Camp Grenada”) to the airport and gets hassled by the cops for not having either a standard taxi license or an airport sticker. He hauls an arguing family home from said airport. And then his cab gets stolen when he leaves it running with the door open while he carts their luggage in.

Maybe it’s for the best, though, because along the way there are, actually, some voices of sanity trying to tell him to quit this crazy scheme. His brother-in-law,  a fly-by-night lawyer (portrayed by Ralph James), is the first to clue Pepper into the fact that he needs a cab operator’s license, a fare box, and insurance (he hadn’t thought of any of that stuff), and his buddies from the factory tell him that “big business” will be out to destroy him (setting up in the viewer’s mind, if only for a moment, a “Pepper-vs.-The Man” theme that would make sense, and make for at least a semi-involving plot, but which nonetheless never materializes).

Pepper isn’t hearing any of it, though. He’s determined to get his supposedly “wacky” taxi back and pursue his dream of building an empire to rival Yellow, Checker, or any of the other big-time cab outfits.  He gets arrested trying to bust into a storage locker where he thinks he sees the car. He escpaes from police custody (by asking if he can get a drink of water and then making a run out the door of the station) and proceeds to walk around aimlessly, sit around aimlessly, lie around aimlessly — you get the picture, He’s a broken man.

To relieve the monotony of doing nothing all day long, he goes on a bender and , while walking home form the bar, he thinks he spots the guy who stole all his hopes and dreams (well, okay, his ’59 Caddy). He follows the “culprit” home, rings his doorbell, the guy (ladies and gentlemen, Frank Sinatra Jr.! — yes, really!) answers, and Pepper proceeds to attempt to strangle him after asking nicely to get his “cab” back and being met with a “what the fuck are you talking about, buddy?” response (again, good luck explaining this one to your kids — “Daddy, why is Pepper choking an innocent man?”).  The other people in the house, whoever the hell they are, knock Pepper out, and next thing you know —

He’s back at home having his bruises and scars attended to by his ever-faithful wife. How and why he didn’t end up back in the slammer is anyone’s guess, maybe he just apologized nicely after regaining consciousness and Frank Sinatra Jr., stand-up guy that he is, decided not to file charges.

Cue more doing nothing. Until Pepper’s teenage son (by the way, we never learn the names of any of his offspring, and Pepper himself just refers to them as “ninos”) tires of his old man’s lethargy and gets a huge groups of probably 50 or so neighborhood kids together to scour the city until they find the (again, supposedly “wacky”) taxi.

Which they do. In a junkyard. At which point Pepper races over there on foot like a man possessed and, I guess, gets it out, either by finance or force. Not that we ever see him do this, since at this point we “treated” to a series of flashbacks to all the good times Pepper had earlier in the movie in his self-declared “cab.”

And then, the epilogue — dear God, the epilogue. Pepper’s brother-in-law loans him the money to buy a taxi operator’s license and a fare box, and loans him some more when it’s time to expand his operation. In no time at all, “Pepper, Inc.” (where’d he ever come up with that name?) is the most successful taxi operation in town, and he keeps his original “wacky” taxi on display in the parking lot as a nostalgic reminder of how his empire began. The. Fucking. End.

"Wacky Taxi"/ "Superargo" DVD From Code Red's "Exploitation Cinema" Series

Wacky Taxi is now available on DVD, double-billed with Italian low-budget wrestler-turned-superhero “classic” Superargo Vs. The Faceless Giants as part of Code Red’s Exploitation Cinema series. Again, as seems to frequently be the case with these releases, the Code Red label itself is nowhere to be found and instead it’s been put out under the until-very-recently defunct Saturn Productions label for whatever reason. The picture is presented in a 16:9 anamorphic transfer that’s got the occasional emulsion line and the more-than-occasional grain and speckle, but on the whole it looks cleaner than you’d probably expect it to and frankly a whole hell of a lot better than it probably deserves to.  The sound is standard mono, nothing special, but gets the job done just fine, especially considering the seriously lame nature of the cloying “life is sunny and great”-type songs penned by jazz semi-legend Willie Ruff.

On a final note, while the credits for the film list TV veteran Alex Grasshoff as the director, IMDB actually has  Astin himself down as co-director. All I can say is that I really, sincerely hope it’s not true. I’d hate to lose any more estimation for him than I already have.

This is bad stuff, to be sure — horrendous, even — but at least we’ll always have reruns of The Addams Family on somewhere to remind us of how great  John Astin was. Most of the time.