Posts Tagged ‘exploitation film’

Oh, hell yes — now we’re talking!

Director Jason Eisener (screenplay by John Davies from a story by Eisener)’s new independent feature Hobo With A Shotgun is the second full-length feature to be extrapolated from the “fake trailers” that accompanied Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double feature from a couple years back, and sometimes you just gotta kick back and enjoy the sheer tasteless spectacle of it all.

And tasteless is the key word here, folks. Hobo With A Shotgun is pure over-the-top cinematic mayhem that makes up for with heart what is absolutely, gloriously lacks in conscience. It’s a balls-to-the-wall splatterfest revenge flick of positively epic proportions that revels (as well it should) in its sheer, uncompromising lack of anything even remotely resembling good taste. If you’re feeling tired, this is one movie that will wake you the fuck up, and fast.

Me? I was hooked from the word go, obviously. Rutger Hauer (in a role he was positively born to play, talk about perfect casting) is an unnamed hobo who rides the rails into Hope City (more commonly referred to as “Scum City” and “Fuck City” by its residents), and quickly falls afoul of the local crime boss, a dementedly vile and sadistic little urchin who goes by the name of The Drake and who, along with his equally fucked-in-the-head sons Slick and Ivan, and the crooked cops they control, when he exhibits something remotely resembling an average human conscience. The Hobo (that’s all we ever know him as) has ever reason in the world to want to pursue revenge on the Drake clan after they fuck him up in a most undignified manner, but rather than satisfy his bloodlust, he just wants to save up 50 bucks to buy a lawnmower and get in the yard-care business.

It’s just a pipe dream, though, as The Hobo learns when he goes into a pawn shop to finally procure his lawnmower, only to have his shopping experience rudely interrupted by a couple of junkies pursuing a violent hold-up so they can get money to buy more of the drugs that The Drake has hooked them on. When the hoodlums threaten to shoot a baby in the store, The Hobo decides he’s had enough, grabs an old pump-action shotgun off the pawn shop wall, and starts blasting! Soon (after paying for his shotgun and shells, naturally) it’s all-out war as The Hobo, together with his teen-prostitute-with-a-heart-of-gold sidekick, Abby, starts taking the city back one shotgun shell at a time. nobody’s safe — pimps, pushers, hold-up artists, and in one particularly memorable sequence even a child molester in a Santa suit, all fall victim to The Hobo’s special brand of retributive justice — with interest.

Needless to say, the actions of this ultra-violent one-man clean-up crew don’t exactly sit well with The Drake and his boys, and that’s when out intrepid Hobo’s troubles really begin —

I don’t know how else to say it, people, but if you only see one movie this year, it should be Hobo With A Shotgun. While it doesn’t have the social conscience of Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, the first “real” movie to be based on a “fake” Grindhouse trailer, and certainly lacks its all-star cast (Hauer is, I guarantee, the only person in this flick you’ve ever heard of), it’s every bit as heartfelt and earnest an homage to the golden years of exploitation cinema, and maybe even more fun, precisely because it’s completely unburdened from trying to make anything like a relevant point whatsoever. Hobo With A Shotgun is here to party, and if you’ve got any sense whatsoever, you’ll join right in.

Lensed in the beautiful Halifax/Dartmouth area of Nova Scotia (a truly picturesque locale that I was fortunate enough to spend a few months in a handful of years ago and that takes a hell of a lot of work to look this shitty, believe you me — hats off to the production design team for their exemplary work here), Hobo With A Shotgun is a monumental achievement (no kidding) in the annals of Canadian independent cinema and deserves a wider audience than it’s probably going to get in limited release (Minneapolis residents take note — it opens at the Lagoon in a couple of weeks here, and we’re lucky, since it’s not getting much theatrical play beyond the two coasts) and on satellite and cable on-demand services (which is where I caught it since I couldn’t wait for it to hit town), and I can only hope that it’s eventual DVD and Blu-ray release will see this massive body-count revenge spectacular find a legion of appreciative fans. I’m proud to say that I was among the first in line. This is the real deal, folks, and if you’ve got the stomach for it, you’re sure to walk away from it wearing the most devious, shit-eating , flat-out unhinged grin you’ve had on your face in waaaaaayyyyy too long. Your friends and neighbors will question your sanity, sure, but they don’t matter and you don’t need them. You’ve got Hobo With A Shotgun. All is right with the world.

"The Crippled Masters" Movie Poster

And this, folks, is exactly why I started this semi-regular “international weirdness” series here. Once in awhile you come across a movie so bizarre, so completely without redeeming social or even narrative value, so exploitative, and so utterly out-and-out wrong that all you can do is stand back and gawk in amazement, as if you were at a freak show  — and given that exploitation cinema does, in fact, have its roots in roadshow cinema, which in turn has its roots is the carny/freak show circuit,  the circle sort of completes itself with movies like the 1979 Taiwanese martial arts/cripsploitation classic Tian Can De Que, or, as it’s known in English,  The Crippled Masters .

It’s debatable how much you even need to actually know about this film before you watch it, since the plot makes no sense, the credits are completely unclear as to which actor plays which part, and the whole thing is sort of indescribable anyway. The more I tell you, the more it’ll just spoil the experience of a film best taken in with absolutely no preconceptions whatsoever.

Which is, I guess, sort of me taking the easy way out as a reviewer, especially since my point here is to get you to see The Crippled Masters immediately (assuming you haven’t already done so, that is). And I do have some sort of semi-professional responsibility to tell you what the damn thing is about, don’t I?

Well, I guess I do. But I really think anything other than the briefest and most cursory rundown is going to just ruin things. Suffice to say we’re talking about a flick where two guys (supposedly brothers) are crippled by some bad-ass warlord-type dude in some vaguely-defined (to put it kindly) “ancient time” and, after learning to overcome their handicaps and mastering some secret old-school kung fu techniques come back to exact their revenge.

The thing that sets The Crippled Masters apart, though, is that the two lead actors actually are crippled — and their deformities are quite clearly not the work of an ancient warlord but of some serious congenital defects. But damn if they really don’t have some fighting moves every bit as authentic as their deformities.

And now I’m going to shut up and let a few still from the film do all the talking, apart from briefly mentioning that The Crippled Masters is avaiable as a bare-bones, bargain-basement DVD from Diamond (pictured below) that you can find on Amazon marketplace or eBay for a buck or two and, if this sort of thing is, in fact, your sort of thing, you’re going to thank me for turning you onto this flick.  Simply put, you will not believe your eyes.  And with that,  I’m just going to shut up and get out of the way.

"Bonnie's Kids" Movie Poster

If you’re looking for the prototype exploitation film, the one that has it all and then some, then friends, look no further than writer-director Arthur Marks’ 1973 low-budget opus Bonnie’s Kids.

First off, there’s the matter of the title — Bonnie And Clyde, despite being a couple years old, was still doing brisk box-office business at the time — and as the titular Bonnie in this film, the mother of the two protagonists we’ll get to in a moment, is dead, and never so much appears even in flashbacks, this flick’s name is an obvious cash-in attempt to “tie in” with the Faye Dunaway-Warren Beatty classic.

So far, so good. Let’s turn our attention, then, to the advertising campaign. Just take a look at that poster, dear readers — it features the lead actress’s (highly exaggerated, of course) measurements prominently displayed! I ask you, does it get any better than that? Your host thinks not.

Next up there’s the matter of the cast — exploitation veterans all around, from Tiffany Bolling (The Candy Snatchers, The Centerfold Girls) to Alex Rocco (Brute Corps, The Wild Riders) to Steve Sandor (Stryker, The No Mercy Man) to Robin Mattson (Candy Stripe Nurses, Phantom of the Paradise).

And finally, of course, there’s the plot — or rather, the sheer, perverse tawdriness of so many of the plot elements. Bad-news sisters Ellie (Bolling) and Myra (Mattson) Thomas, a small-town waitress and high school student, respectively, live with their good-for-nothing alcoholic stepfather, a guy so foul even his own poker buddies hate his guts and tell him so, frequently. One night after the game breaks up, step-daddy overhears Myra engaging in a little titillating phone talk with one of the many junior Romeo pricks she’s teasing. Slapping the phone out of her hand, he picks her up and hits her, kicking and screaming, to the bedroom. As he attempts to mount her, Ellie walks in and, resisting his charming entreaties to “come over and join them” and “give stepdaddy a kiss, like when you were a little girl” (or words to that effect), she decides, instead, to pull out a shotgun and blow his ass to kingdom come.  And did I mention (okay, I didn’t) that Myra’s phone frolicking takes places after she’s already taken a shower in full view of the leering eyes of both her stepdad’s poker pals and the local cops?

So we’ve already got bare teenage boobs, voyeurism, phone sex, attempted rape, implied child molestation, pseudo-incest, and bloody murder of a (sort of) family member — before the opening credits even roll!

From there’s things just get sleazier. Ellie and Myra split town and seek out their rich uncle, Ben, a fashion-industry mogul who puts them up on his expansive ranch-cum-estate and has a little plan : a couple of his —ahem! — “associates” (the aforementioned Rocco and Scott Brady) are arranging to pick up a package he’s sending them at the local bus station, but first Ben needs  someone to drop the package off, and the thugs he’s dealing with need someone to pick it up and bring it to another bus station, where it will be shipped to the one they intend to pick it up at (unnecessarily convoluted? You betcha). Ben enlists Ellie’s help to bring the package tothe drop-off-spot, a relatively seedy motel, and the two sorta-gangsters hire a dim-witted private eye (Sandor) to pick it up from her and take it to the Greyhound terminal for shipment.

At this point the two sisters, pictured as essentially inseparable in most of the film’s advertising, are split up — for the rest of the movie. While the main plot revolves around Ellie and her newfound PI boyfriend opening the package to discover a half-million dollars in cash, at which point she decides their best bet is to make off with it, the film turns back to Myra solely, it seems, to keep the sleaze quotient high.

The two we're supposed to thank God Bonnie stopped after

Not that Ellie’s story is, you know, classy — there’s plenty of pure, unadulterated raunchiness going on there, including gratuitous nudity (Bolling, a prototypical good-lookin’ 70s blonde bombshell bares almost all, I’m willing to bet, in every single movie she was ever in), amoral (we’ll get back to that word shortly) theft from a family member, the (temporary) selling out of her new boyfriend in order to get a shot at all the cash to herself, and the calculated making-up with the guy (guess he’s a real sucker) when she needs his help. Oh, and there’s accidental murder along the way, too — the two toughs kill the wrong couple in another motel room and Ellie and her beau mistakenly do away with the guy she’s trying to catch a ride off in her attempt to abscond with the cash by herself (it’s a long story).

But geez, our gal Ellie is positively a candidate for sainthood compared to her kid sister.

Back at Uncle Ben’s, Myra is busy bedding an older ranch-hand more out of boredom than anything else, stealing trinkets from her aunt, and teasing said aunt, a lecherous older lesbian, with her teenage charms in order to woo stuff out of her when she realizes that outright theft probably won’t be necessary.

And now we get back to that word amoral again. It’s pretty clear that either one of Bonnie’s little darlings will do whatever it takes to get them selves ahead, and when the aunt who’s taken a shine to young Myra is — uhhhmmm — “dispatched” from the ranch, in a truly shocking manner, the younger sister shows no more qualms about it than the elder does in selling out the guy who’s been risking his as for her.

And that streak or amorality plays all the way through to the film’s conclusion, when Ellie and her fella finally come face-to-face with the two small-time gangsters (and by the way, Rocco and Brady’s characters are the obvious prototypes — there’s that word again,  I guess amoral isn’t the only “Pee-Wee’s Word of the Day” in effect here — for John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson’s cons in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction) who’ve been on their tails, precluding the happy reunion of the two sisters (I’ll spare the specifics, since you really need to see this flick) at the end — and Myra, true to form ,brushes off the nixed meeting with astonishing nonchalance.

"Bonnie's Kids" DVD from Dark Sky Films

After years of clamoring from fans, Bonnie’s Kids has just been released on DVD from Dark Sky Films. For a so-called “Special Edition” it’s pretty light on the extras, but there are theatrical and TV ad spots included, and he disc features a fairly comprehensive interview with Arthur Marks (who also gave us exploitation gems like Bucktown and Detroit 9000 among other exploitation gems). The remastered anamorphic picture looks great and the mono audio track is crisp, clean, and largely distortion-free. A commentary would’ve been nice, but on the whole it’s a fairly solid little package.

There are better drive-in/grindhouse movies than Bonnie’s Kids, but few that tick off so many boxes on the unofficial comprehensive exploitation checklist. It’s sleazy, it’s violent, it’s surprisingly dark in tone and nihilistic, and there’s very little by way of pure filler in its 105-minute run time. Whatever you’re looking for in a B-movie sleazefest, this one;s got it, along with plenty you probably quite frankly weren’t looking for. You certainly couldn’t make a film anything like this today, it’s a sheer product of its time.

You’ll enjoy it, and hate yourself for enjoying it. What more could you possibly ask for?

"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.

"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.

"Lady Terminator" Ad Sheet

“First She Mates — Then She Terminates!” — Advertising Tag-Line for “Lady Terminator”

Your host is debuting a new semi-regular feature here at TFG where we take a look at some of the more bizarre Z-grade exploitation fare from around the globe, since,  as the Japanese, Italians, and others have proven over the years, the English-speaking world doesn’t hold a monopoly on head-scratchingly bizarre cinema — in fact, you could argue that we’re in the minor leagues compared to plenty of other countries. And I can’t think of a better place to begin our occasional examination of international film absurdities than with the 1988 Indonesian gem (and I use that term advisedly — context, people, context!) “Lady Terminator.”

First thought upon seeing the title is, naturally enough, “looks like a cheap ‘Terminator’ rip-off only with a chick.” Which is, of course, true. First impressions don’t lie — all the time. But there’s a lot more to this film than just that, as it incorporates local legend, aimed squarely at a largely working-class local audience, to deliver a truly Indonesian take on James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster, all while trying its level best (and failing) to look like an American Hollywood special effects extravaganza.

If blending the local with the desperate desire to appear like it was filmed somewhere — anywhere — else sounds incongruous to you, rest assured that it is, and it’s this attempt to both speak to, and simultaneously disguise and/or escape its roots, that gives “Lady Terminator” a unique personality all its own — albeit a highly schizophrenic one. The cheesy special effects, horrendous dubbing, lame acting, and cheap production values are just icing on the cake. The funnest thing about this film is watching how it tries to pitch itself to audiences at home by giving the story a distinctly Indonesian (specifically Javanese) backstory while trying to hustle its wares to audiences abroad by doing its level best (and, again, failing) to look like an LA-based production.

She doesn't look much like Ah-nuld, thank God

Our story begins hundreds — shit, maybe even thousands, by the look of things —of yea ago in an ancient, foreboding castle by the sea. There, the evil South Seas Queen slakes her apparently endless sexual thirst on an apparently endless succession of local men. The only problem : they all end up dead; their cocks chewed off  mid-intercourse,  a stream of blood spurting up their bodies. I know what you’re thinking here — the old “vagina dentata” myth, most recently explored cinematically in “Teeth.”  Hold on a second, though – one day, a mysterious (white) foreigner shows up and tames her with his John Holmes-like appendage. He also learns the secret to why every other guy who got tried on for size (pun sort of intended) ended up quite literally emasculated : there’s a sea serpent living inside the evil queen’s snatch, and he grabs it out, turns it into a dagger(?), and she ends up dead — but not before vowing that, in one hundred years’ time, she’ll have her revenge upon his great-granddaughter.

This, friends, in the ancient Javanese legend of the South Seas Queen (raise your hand if you knew that one — I admit I didn’t). Yes, it’s a variation on the “vagina dentata” theme just mentioned, but probably the type of variation that could only come from an island culture, fused as it is with “sea monster”-type legend.

Fast-forward 100 years and we’re in the present day (well, 1988). I know what you’re thinking — I said that whole castle scene looks like it took place centuries ago. And it does. But whatever. In our new, modern segment of the story we’ve got a beautiful,  ethnically vague (my guess is half Indonesian half white)  young anthropologist named Tania (Barbara Anne Constable) about to head underwater for a diving excursion. She’s  investigating the legend of the South Seas Queen and believes she’s located the whereabouts of her castle so she wants to see if there are any artifacts from it lying on the sea bed. I didn’t know anthropologists were interested in shit that’s only 100 years old, either, but again — whatever. It’s called suspension of disbelief, people, and trust me when I say that if you want to keep up with events in “Lady Terminator,” your very survival depends on it.

Anyway, Tania’s boat is capsized by a tsunami and soon she finds herself on the bottom on the sea. In a bed. in a dry room. Naked (she spends a good 50% of her screen time at least topless, if not fully nude, although there’s very little by way of full frontal stuff). Whereupon the evil sea serpent that had possessed the wicked queen enters her (entirely unconvincingly) vaginally.

Then it’s back up to the surface to pick up right where our evil snake left off — Tania and her new body-sharing mate are determined to fuck, then kill, every guy in sight, and to track down the granddaughter of the guy who put a stop to their last round of carnal homicide. The Lady Terminator is born!

I'm gonna wash that blood right outta my eye ---

This is the point at which the movie moves firmly into Cameron clone territory, albeit with a few twists — for one thing, the Lady Terminator is not half-robot, or whatever the hell Ah-nuld was. But she’s every bit as indestructible. Apparently, the cops — as well as hotel and mall security guards — in Indonesia have an endless supply of automatic weaponry, but all the uzi fire in the world, even at point-blank range, doesn’t stop this lady. Nor do helicopter-fired missiles. Or fiery car wrecks. When her eye gets bloody, she just pops is out of its socket, washes it off with a combination of water and crackling electricity, and sticks it back in. The only thing that can harm her is an ancient amulet worn by Erica (Claudia Angelique Rademaker), the granddaughter she’s hunting down.  But will out erstwhile heroine figure this out in time?

The other areas in which this film deviates from the James Cameron blueprint are in the sheer amount of sex and violence packed into its 85-minute runtime and the rushed mouthfuls of dialogue that fly non-stop. It almost feels like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of a longer film.  And the action almost feels like it’s following the script of the original “Terminator” film and turning it up a few notches just because it can. In fact, it’s got almost as much non-stop mayhem as “Terminator 2,” and almost bears a closer resemblance in many key respects to that film, even though “Lady Terminator” came out a few years earlier. It’s enough to make you wonder if Cameron had actually seen this thing before starting work on his sequel — in which case “Terminator 2” would be a copy of a copy of his original.

But back to the story, such as it is. Erica’s an up-and-coming wannabe actress/pop star, and the only recognizably Indonesian member of the principal cast (even though her great-granddaddy was supposedly white).She’s protected by a stereotypical tough young cop named Max McNeil (Christopher J. Hart), who is obviously American (and working for the Indonesian cops — don’t ask me how that works), and equally obviously only speaks English. In fact, a good half this movie looks like it was shot in English but then dubbed over anyway.  Max got put on the case when a bunch of dickless dead bodies started turning up at the morgue. Soon he’s trying to protect Erica from her indestructible pursuer and starting up a romance with her at the same time. That’s generally how these sorts of things work.

The action all takes place at decidedly American-looking locales, from shopping malls to hotels to airports (all with signs in English). It’s as though director H. Tjut Djalil (given a phony Anglicized name in the credits, as are all the cast and crew) and screenwriter Karr Kruinowz figured they were done with the Indonesian part of the story after the opening set-up and, having captured the interest of the locals, would spend the rest of the film trying to make as American-looking a production as possible in case they could actually pick up some overseas distribution (which, in fact, they did — “Lady Terminator” actually played a few 42nd street grindhouses in the waning days of the pre-Disneyfied Deuce).

A rough day at the office for the Lady Terminator

The final climactic battle is pure Cameron rip-off, albeit on steroids, with an emaciated, disfigured, grotesque Lady Terminator engaging in a last, desperate, ultra-violent battle with our heroes. The only thing missing is the red eye and dangling robot parts. Then we’ve got some voice-over narration at the end that takes everything back to the realm of ancient Indonesian legend even though the previous 70-plus minutes have been a desperate attempt to look as American as possible. Go figure.

"Lady Terminator" DVD from Mondo Macabro

“Lady Terminator” is available on DVD from Mondo Macabro. Despite not having featuring a commentary track, which probably would have been almost impossible to produce given the language barriers involved even if they had managed to track down all the principals behind the scenes, it’s a truly excellent package. The anamorphic transfer is generally sharp and crisp aside from some entirely forgivable and excusable grainy spots in parts, the digital mono soundtrack is perfectly fine, and the extras include a superb mini-documentary on the history of Indonesian exploitation cinema and an extremely thorough and comprehensive text essay on the origins and production of “Lady Terminator” that includes some still photos as well as promotional artwork for this film and Djalil’s previous cinematic offering, the equally-befuddling, but ultimately less engaging, “Mystics in Bali.” All in all, an extremely worthy addition to your DVD library.

“Lady Terminator” is a singularly bizarre movie experience, and one not to be missed. In attempting to appeal to both a local audience and to the international — specifically the American — market, Djalil and company ended up making a film that feels like it was made not in America or in Indonesia —  or even on the planet Earth for that matter — but one that landed here from another dimension altogether.

"Exploitation Cinema" double feature DVD from Code Red/Saturn Productions Featuring "Deliver Us From Evil" and "The Fox Affair"

“‘Deliver Us From Evil’ — a movie that tells it like it is about blacks. The beautiful blacks. The evil blacks.”    —From the trailer for Horace Jackson’s “Deliver Us From Evil” (1977)

Okay, first off I should admit that “you’ve never seen anything quite like movie X” is becoming a bit of an overused catch-phrase here at TFG, but even so — you’ve never seen anything quite like writer-director Horace Jackson’s 1977 sorta-blaxploitation, sorta-godsploitation opus “Deliver Us From Evil.”

Also released under the rather blase title of “Joey,” which is still the moniker that’s slapped on most surviving prints of the film, this is a movie that prioritizes everything else — plot, characterization, continuity, even sanity itelf — so far beneath preaching its anything-but-subtle message that it becomes a case study in genuine cinematic absurdity.

And what is that message, you may ask? A pretty solidly uncontroversial one — “stop the killing, drugs, and violence in our communities, black America.” Can’t really argue with that. But dear God, does this turn into one seriously bizarre harangue after awhile.

Name me another movie that features Al Roker's cousin without a shirt on.

Our story begins with menial laborer Chris Townes (Renny Roker, Al’s cousin) cleaning up around a movie set full of glass vases and shit without a shirt on. Tired of being bossed around by his white asshole “superior,” he takes it upon himself to trash ever single carefully-placed piece of glassware on the shelves and is immediately shuffled off to a psychiatric institution for his troubles, whereupon he engages in a screamingly hysterical laugh-fest for no reason whatsoever with his doctor.

Fun times in the loony bin

Next thing you know, Chris is back out on the streets, having landed another shit job working for a racist prick who goads him constantly (guess it must be a pattern), this time at a construction site. He rents a gaudy-as-hell furnished apartment from another white racist prick who promises him it’s the “best he has available” (Chris obviously disagrees as we find out during some voice-over segments — note that voice-over is only used when Chris is bitching in his mind about his spread) and pockets his damage deposit money with a chuckle.

One day after another eight hellish hours of being degraded and belittle on the job site, Chris spots a rather attractive young lady named Mindy (Marie O’Henry) on the street after her car breaks down, offers her a ride home out of the blue, and she accepts. Mindy’s had a rough day, as well — she works as a recreation director at the 38th Street schoolyard and some local teenage hoodlums determined to start selling “marijuana and pills” at the school have been busy breaking up her organized recreational activities like baseball and stickball, harassing the younger kids, and starting fights. All to, you know, make a good impression on the youngsters they hope to turn into regular customers for their product once they have taken over their new “territory.” Marketing geniuses these guys are definitely not. Things go from bad to worse for her when Chris gets a lead foot, starts driving like a suicidal maniac just because he’s having a bad day, and won’t let her out of the car. He eventually gets her home, but suffice to say he’s left a rather lousy first impression.

Our guy Chris figures he’d better try to make it up to her somehow, so embarks on a campaign of what we today we could “stalking” in order to prove to Mindy that he isn’t such a bad cat. Again, the inept salesmanship on display in this film is absolutely mind-boggling.

Anyway, the apple of Mindy’s — and the entire neighborhood’s, apparently — eye is a young wheelchair-bound boy named Joey, also known as Little Joe (Danny Martin), who she dutifully wheels back and forth to school every day even though she’s evidently of no relation to him whatsoever (he’s apparently got a sister, but near as I can determine we never meet his actual parents in the film). Chris decides to make friends with Little Joe as well in order, apparently, to get back in Mindy’s good graces.

Somewhere along the line we learn the following tidbits of information : Mindy’s married. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. Christ doesn’t really have the hots for Mindy, he likes an admittedly pretty damn gorgeous friend named Kim he’s seen her with.  Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. There’s rampant racism in the police department. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. Hard-working black people can’t catch a break. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. Local gangsters go door-to-door posing as salespeople for radical black newspapers. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community. The best way to meet attractive young single ladies is to get their address from little kids in wheelchairs and then go to their door pretending to be conducting a survey about TV programming. All it takes is a pencil, paper, and clipboard. Black-on-black violence is destroying the community.

I mentioned earlier that pretty much everything else in this film pretty much takes a back seat to Horace Jackson’s rather heavy-handed moralizing. This is no exaggeration, in fact if anything it’s an understatement. Characters turn up and are never seen from again, characters turn up in the beginning (for a little while there this flick looks like it’s going to mainly be the story of a hard-working, put-upon black police detective) and don’t appear again until the end, promising plotlines are dropped completely or turned around for no apparent reason (Chris wanting to cozy up to Mindy quickly turns into Chris wanting to cozy up to her friend once Jackson establishes that Mindy’s married). Scenes and situations abruptly change tone at the drop of a hat , such s when Chris’s parole officer turns up at his place, silently looks around calmly for a few minutes, then decides to start acting out of the blue and gets in his face for a couple minutes before making nice with him and leaving.

But for sheer absurdity, there are a few sequences that just can’t be beat.

First among these is when, after sixty-plus minutes of seriously unimaginative and straightforward, “point-the-camera-and shoot” filmmaking, Jackson goes all artistic during a scene when Mindy is beaten up by the gang members terrorizing her playground. There are freeze-frames of fists making impact against her face, the sounds are held and amplified, and time is generally fucked with in every way possible for a couple minutes while she gets pummeled.

Next up we’ve got the briefly-mentioned series of events involving Chris posing as a TV survey dude and the gang members posing as radical black activists. Get this : Chris gets Kim’s address from Joey and goes to her place to conduct his bogus “survey.” She’s busy but tells him she’d love to have him come by the next day around 4:30. He smiles, says goodbye, and promises to be back. Then some gangster dudes we met briefly earlier in the film come to her door selling some supposedly radical black newspaper that “tells it like it is” and she seems interested in hearing their message. Cut to the next day at 4:30 and Chris returns to her place as promised. She’s not there. He waits around for some little time but she never shows up.

What’s happened? Have the gangster dudes done something terrible to her? Is she okay? Turns out she’s fine. Chris sees her that night at Mindy’s place (his friendship with Joey has convinced her by this point that he’s not such a bad dude after all), and apparently nothing happened when the bad-ass gangster dudes showed up at her place, because she doesn’t even mention it. In fact, check this shit out — she ends up asking Chris where he was because apparently she was waiting for him at her place for over half an hour and he never showed! He just says something came up. And not only does she not mind his little ruse, they start to get a little thing going from that point on.

I have to think that somewhere along the line Jackson had something else written here and just decided to drop it, like maybe thins young lady ws supposed to get kidnapped or something and he just decided not to go there in order to make a PG film (which he did, this movie has no swearing and very little actual violence, apart from the scene mentioned a moment ago) or something, because this “explanation” of events just doesn’t add up in the least. She stood him up, as we clearly see on film, but that night she claims she waited for him for 30 minutes and he just says “something came up” — even though he was there and she wasn’t? But I digress. Script continuity is apparently not a Horace Jackson strong suit.

The third serious absurdity I’ll mention takes place at the construction site where Chris has been working. The white asshole who’d been lording his authority over him even though he’s not the foreman shows up and sees Chris and every other black worker walking away. He asks the foreman what happened, and is told : ” I had to lay off all the blacks. Didn’t wanna do it, but I’ve got my orders.”

Now, I know we didn’t have a black president in 1977, but I’m pretty sure this type of mass and open race-based discrimination was totally illegal and prime class-action lawsuit material even back then. But just to make matters weirder, the asshole dude immediately goes over to Chris, tells him he’s just essentially been testing his mettle and making sure he’s not one of those “bad” blacks with a chip on his shoulder against “the man,” has grown to see him as being “one heck of a worker and one heck of a man,” or words to that effect, and offers him a job at another site, a proposition which Chris immediately accepts. So essentially a movie that’s been telling us that whites won’t give a black guy a break no matter what for its entire first 80 or so minutes suddenly shows that the biggest white jerk in the whole movie ain’t such a bad guy after all and apparently us white folks aren’t so tough to get along with once we make sure you’re a “safe” sort of black person. Go figure.

But goofy as all that shit is, it pales in comparison to the ending — after an unexpected tragedy hits Joey’s family (at least, I think they’re his family — one victim is his sister, the other might, possibly, be his grandmother, but it’s never really made clear) when the bad-ass gangster dudes pay a visit to his home, a kindly preacher from the local Baptist church turns up and asks Chris, who’s helping to look after our little wheelchair-bound junior Superman (and just as a total aside here, I have to say the alternate title of “Joey” for this flick makes absolutely no sense, being that not only is he not the central character in any way, shape, or form, but 99% of the time everyone just calls him “Little Joe” anyway) if there’s anything he can do.

After endless conversations between the various characters about the evils black-on-black drugs and violence are inflicting on the community, and a theme song called “We Know What We’re Doing To Ourselves” playing almost incessantly throughout the film from start to finish, the “fourth wall” between the actors and the audience fully breaks down and Chris delivers an impassioned and highly pissed-off rant/harangue directly at the camera about how black America needs to get a million people together to march not through the streets of Washington, D.C. (and keep in mind this was years before the Million Man March) but through their own communities and neighborhoods and how they all must work together to stamp out the scourge of drugs and violence once and for all. Then, as if that weren’t enough, this lengthy and angry soliloquy concludes with —

How about right here?

“When Will It End?” Apparently right then and there. With every single plot line he’s introduced — and there are literally dozens of them — still unresolved, with every single characters left in a kind of cinematic limbo, Jackson pulls the plug on his story right then and there, not out of some sort of intentionally artistic sense of narrative realism — that went out the window five minutes into this thing — but because he figures “hey, mission accomplished,” and he’s literally run out of anything else to say.

“Deliver Us From Evil” has recently been released on DVD by Code Red, although you wouldn’t know it. Part of the “Exploitation Cinema” series of double feature DVDs (the second feature here being the eminently forgettable “The Fox Affair,” which pretty much has nothing to recommend going for it) originally issued through the auspices of BCI, Code Red inherited this line with Navarre pulled the plug on BCI altogether, but Code Red’s name is nowhere to be found on this thing. Instead, the only label we see is for the apparently defunct “Saturn Productions,” a name no one’s seen or heard of since the early days of the VHS boom, but which has popped up again out of nowhere both here and on the “Saturn Drive-In” double features that Code Red has put out recently. I’d love to explain the reason for this, but I just straight-up can’t.

The picture quality of the DVD itself, at least for this film, is pretty good. It’s a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that does feature some skips and jumps and a little bit of grain here and there, but hey, around here we don’t all those “imperfections,” we just say it gives the movie character, in that vintage grindhouse way we know and love so well. The colors are bold and surprisingly vivid given the, shall we say, archival nature of the material, and one gets the strong sense that this is probably the best possible surviving print they could find. There are occasional running green emulsion lines on display as well, but again, that’s no big deal to this reviewer and just adds to the charm. The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack is perfectly clear and crisp. Extras on the disc are in pretty short supply, but you do get preview trailers for “Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde” (worth the purchase right there), “Group Marriage,” Terminal Island,” “The Working Girls,” Cheering Section” and “Death Force.”

There’s a story in here — hell, way too many of them — buried under a mountain of good intentions, and watching Horace Jackson sublimate every other basic rule of filmmaking and even of narrative itself in order to drive home hi singular point yet one more time is a unique viewing experience that I recommend most highly.

Final aside for movie trivia buffs — “Deliver Us From Evil” got very limited thearical play upon its release, and was usually double-billed with Jackson’s one other cinematic credit, another super-low-budgeter called “Johnny Tough” that’s apparently an urban blaxploitation retelling of Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows.” Seriously.

"Deathdream" Movie Poster

Years before Michael Cimino and Oliver Stone dealt with the trauma of returning Viet Nam veterans in their Oscar-winning films “The Deer Hunter” and “Born on the Fourth of July,” independent exploitation filmmakers were going where Hollywood still didn’t dare to go. More specifically, legendary director Bob Clark of “Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story” fame was going there, and at the time he was working in the regional independent exploitation milieu.

Before heading north of the border to lens the slasher classic “Black Christmas,” Clark cut his teeth on a couple of low-budget horror flicks in Florida. The first, “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things,” is a pleasing if ultimately forgettable effort, but the second, 1974’s  “Deathdream” (also released under the titles “Dead of Night,” “The Night Andy Came Home” and “The Night Walk,” among others), is a bona fide classic. Not only did it beat Cimino and Stone to the punch in terms if its harrowing subject matter, but it one-upped George Romero in using the zombie film as contemporary sociopolitical allegory because while Romero offered hints of his zombies (and remember, he specifically referred to them as “ghouls” at the time) and even moreso the human survivors confronting them as being stand-ins for a host of current issues, Clark dealt with those issues in a much more head-on manner in “Deathdream.” When Romero returned with “Dawn of the Dead,” he tackled the political in a much more direct manner, and while I can’t say for certain that Clark’s film emboldened him to do so, it certainly couldn’t have hurt matters any .

Also worth noting for history : this film was originally released with a PG rating, but was later re-rated with an R somewhere along the line as it continued to play regional drive-in and grindhouse circuits. You could get away with a lot under the PG label in the early years of the MPAA rating system.

I’m no prude, but considering the subject matter and some of the (effective for a film with literally ten times its budget) gore, I think an R does seem the more appropriate classification, but what the hell do I know? Read my little brief overview of the plot details  (or better yet see the film) and decide for yourself —

Andy at the beginning ---

Charles Brooks (John Marley, the guy who found the horse’s head in his bed in “The Godfather”), his wife Christine (Lynn Carlin,  “Faces” ) and their daughter, Cathy (Anya Ormsby)  are sitting down to dinner when two messengers from the army arrive with the telegraph that every parent with a child in the service dreads : their son, Andy, has been killed in Viet Nam. Needless to say, the entire family is devastated beyond words.

Later (what one assumes to be) that same night, though, a truck driver picks up a hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of two-lane road somewhere in Florida. He’s dressed in army fatigues and and isn’t much of a conversationalist, but the trucker learns that he’s just come home from Viet Nam and is on the way to see his family.

In short order, Andy (a young Richard Backus) turns up on his parents’ doorstep. Convinced that the telegram was nothing more than a horrible mistake, his family is at first so overjoyed to see their son that they let Andy’s strange behavior slide. He won’t go see the family doctor for a physical. He sits silently in his room at all hours rocking back and forth in a chair. He seems quiet and distant, He has no interest in seeing his former high school sweetheart, who still carries a torch for him or any of his former friends, for that matter.

Of course, when the death of a truck driver is reported on the news, his family don’t suspect a thing. But when other bodies start turning up, including the family doctor he refused to visit, Andy’s father, at least, begins to fear the worst, even if his mother willfully refuses to put two and two together.

Andy’s a zombie, you see, and he needs blood to survive. Or things start to get real ugly real fast. And the longer he hangs around, the more blood he needs. When he finally relents and goes out on a double-date to the drive-in with his former (although not in her mind) sweetheart and his best buddy and his girl, he’s dressed in dark sunglasses and a crisp white suit-type outfit that covers him from head to toe. He shouldn’t be going anywhere and he knows it, and his deterioration and berserker rage at the drive-in is a classic scene in the annals of horror.

--- and at the end

It goes without saying (but I’m saying it anyway) that the plot’s pretty simple and straightforward here, but the actors really bring the material to life. Marley is superb as the father who walks a delicate balance between being overjoyed at seeing the son he never thought he’d see again and suspecting the harsh,brutal truth about his condition. Carlin delivers a heartwrenchingly realistic portrait of a mother who will protect her son from anything, even when the reality of what he’s become stares her in the face. What could be portrayed as a simple case of denial in the face of everything is instead a gut-wrenching portrait of motherly love even when said love flies in the face of reality itself. And Backus is magnificent as Andy, conveying cold menace yet also a sense of tragic victimhood at all times.

As for the ending — -well, it’ll rip your heart out. That’s all I can say. The story can obviously only finish one way (although I won’t spell that out too specifically), but the pain and anguish that occur when the inevitable happens makes for a truly heartbreaking goodbye, not just for B movie, but for any movie.

"Deathdream" DVD from Blue Underground

The fine folks at Blue Underground released “Deathdream” on DVD a few years back in a truly superb package that contains an excellently-restored 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer of the film. two separate feature length commentaries (one from director Clark recorded not too terribly long before his sudden and tragic death in an auto accident, the other from screenwriter Alan Ormsby), an extended version of the powerful ending sequence, a poster and still gallery, the original theatrical trailer, and a new interview with star Richard Backus.

Best of all for horror fans, though, is the mini-documentary “Tom Savini : The Early Years.” Included because “Deathdream” was the first film on which the legendary make-up FX man cut his teeth before his his horror-history-making work for George Romero on “Dawn of the Dead,” this is a fascinating look at the early life and work of a guy who literally revolutionized the movie business. The fact that he was a Viet Nam vet, to boot, makes it doubly thematically appropriate.

Don’t let my rather quick synopsis of the plot fool you (your reviewer didn’t want to give away too much in terms of detail, but the truth is that this is a film I could literally spend hours talking about) : “Deathdream” is a painstakingly detailed account of one young man’s desperate struggle to continue surviving after he’s already dead, and how his quite literal descent literally rips his family apart. And while there weren’t any literal zombies who came home from Viet Nam, the number of walking wounded was incalculable. They’re coming home from Afghanistan and Iraq today, making this film as timely as ever. Leave it to low-budget regional filmmakers to blaze the trail and let Hollywood know it was “okay” to deal with subject matter like this.

Finally, it’s worth noting in closing that the Viet Nam war was still going on when this film was made, while it was over and done with by the time “The Deer Hunter” came along. That’s guts right there. Hollywood was still producing John Wayne movies cheering the “glory” of the war when Clark was showing us its’ horrific consequences in a cheap zombie flick.

“Deathdream,” therefore, is not only one of the most emotionally affecting horror films ever made, it’s also one of the gutsiest.

"Pigs" Movie Poster

Apparently, pigs eat anything. So says the tagline on the DVD cover for Troma’s release of 1972’s criminally underappreciated “Pigs.” I say “criminally underappreciated” because even grizzled exploitation fans seem pretty divided on this one — what few reviews there are online tend to be decidedly mixed at best, and the movie scores a whopping 2.6 out of 10 on IMDB’s review scale/popularity-meter. As usual, friends, I’m here to tell you that the rest of humanity os absolutely wrong. “Pigs” (also released under the far more apropos title of “Daddy’s Deadly Darling”, among about a dozen other titles) is actually something of a neglected little masterpiece. Sigh — if only the human swine would recognize it for what it is.

Shot in 1971/2 in rural California (standing in for what one assumes from watching is the south, in a generic sense), “Pigs” was directed, produced, and written (under the pseudonym of F.A. Foss) by longtime Hollywood veteran Marc Lawrence, who conceived of it as a starring vehicle for his daughter, Toni (Billy Bob Thornton’s first wife for you celebrity trivia buffs), who unfortunately can’t act all that well. So it’s a definite labor of love, albeit one with such a disturbing incestuous subtext to it that it makes for morbidly compelling viewing. Allow me to explain.

Toni L. stars as Lynn Hart, a seriously disturbed young woman who endured years of sexual abuse at the hands (okay, not really the hands—) of her father before finally snapping and killing the sick old bastard (though she still continues to call him on the phone). One night, she (way-too-conveniently) escapes from the asylum where she’s cooped up and hits the road, finally ending up at a dreary roadside cafe operated by an eccentric old-timer named Zambrini(played by Marc L.), a former circus performer who has a somewhat checkered, shall we say, past of his own (perhaps allegorical of Lawrence himself, who had a thoroughly respected career as an actor, mainly, until being blacklisted by the McCarthy witch-hunts in the 1950s). Zambrini takes her in as his new waitress and allows her to live in the back of the place.

Lynn soon learns that Zambrini has a secret, though — the herd of pigs he keeps have developed a taste for human flesh! One night, evidently, and old drunk stumbled into their pen, passed out, and they ate him, and ever since nothing else seems to satisfy the hungry hogs. Rather than following a more sane course of action (like, say, selling off his herd for slaughter, or even doing it himself — he does run a cafe, after all, and he could a feature pork chop special every night), old Zambrini decides the best way to keep his hogs happy is to dig up corpses from the cemetary under cover of darkness every night and feed them to the swine. Zambrini cuts a little deal with Lynn, though — if she keeps her mouth shut about his nocturnal activities, he won’t ask any questions about her past and will do his best to make sure the local idiot sheriff , Dan Cole (played by Jesse Vint), doesn’t either. Given that an escaped insane-asylum patient isn’t likely to find a better deal than that, Lynn agrees and soon she and Zambrini develop a sort of surrogate father-daughter bond.

Let’s pause her for a minute and consider the implications here. We’ve got a movie written, produced, and directed by a father, specifically for his daughter, about a young woman who was molested by her father who then essentially ends up, by dint of circumstance, turning to another older man for help, who just so happens to be played by her real father. It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to read much into the seriously twisted undertones here.

But back to our story. The aforementioned sheriff is the biggest numbskull you’ll ever meet. When a nosy little old busybody calls him to report her suspicions about Zambrini digging up the deceased, not only does he not look into it much, he tells her that even if Zambrini is doing what she thinks he is, there’s probably nothing illegal about it! Furthermore,  he takes a quick liking to Lynn even though she acts exactly like you’d expect an escaped mental patient on the run from the law would act! In short, the guy defines the term clueless.

The powers that be back at the state hospital haven’t forgotten about Lynn, though, and when they come sniffing around, and Zambrini tries to hide her as best he can, this little 80-minute epic reaches its denouement, about which I’ll remain silent.

“Pigs” is an atmospheric and involving little piece, but really gains power when you have a full understanding of its backstory as outlined above. Taken on its own merits, it’s certainly a notch or two above most exploitation fare, and twisted enough in and of itself to maintain one’s prurient interest from start to finish, but when one keeps the backstory of its production in mind, it really rises above the lvel of above-average B-movie fare and into the sphere of disturbed — and disturbing — private psychodrama writ large before the public. And it’s for that reason that this reviewer considers “Pigs” to be essential viewing for all fans of grindhouse and drive-in fare.

DVD Cover fot the Recent "Pigs" Reissue from Troma

Troma released “Pigs” on DVD back in 2005, and it subsequently sold out and went out of print. In the last few months, however, they have seen fit to reissue it as part of their “Troma Retro” line, and while it’s great to have this twisted little classic available again, I do wish they’d tried to find a decent print, because this one seriously sucks. It’s way too dark, to the point where it;s hard to even tell what the hell is going on in some scenes, and haphazardly (to put it kindly) edited, with frames occasionally repeating for no reason whatsoever a few seconds after they were just shown. Lloyd Kaufman claims, in his typically annoying introduction, that the film has been “digitally remastered” and “lovingly restored,” but please. We may be Troma customers, but we’re not that stupid.

On the extras front, the only thing of any use whatsoever are the production notes, which are interesting, albeit only presented as plain text. Apart from that, we’ve got the aforementioned Kaufman intro, some Troma previews, and a couple of PETA spots which I guess sort of tie in with the pigs theme, but really don’t have much value beyond that.

However, don’t let any of that deter you. Despite these admittedly huge flaws in terms of DVD presentation, “Pigs” is definitely worth seeing. If only to get you to swear off bacon forever.

“Pigs” is an oinker, sure — but hardly a turkey.


"Criminally Insane" Movie Poster

And so we come to the end of our little Halloween recommended viewing list, and while I’ve stressed time and again that it’s not really a “countdown” in the strictest (or any) sense (which begs the question of why I even called it one in the first place, and I’m afraid I don’t have a good — or again, any — answer), I assure you that I have indeed saved the best for last. If you’re going to take the easy (and entirely understandable) way out and only see one movie from this list, make it this one.

Why, you may ask? Is it the best flick on the list? No, of course not. It’s not even particularly “good” by any commonly understood definition of the term.

Is it, then, the scariest or most frightening? Good heavens no, it’s not even close to being scary at all.

Is it the most competent or well-executed? Are you kidding? It’s absolutely ludicrous, and down there with anything in the Ed Wood or Coleman Francis oeuvre in terms of technical accomplishment.

Then for the love of God, you may ask (again), why?????????????

That’s easy. Because this 1975 ultra-shot (61 minutes) “feature” from legendary bargain-basement auteur Nick Millard (billed here as Nick Philips — he has, according to the IMDB, no fewer than 21 aliases he worked under during his anything-but-illustrious career, seemingly changing names as often as the rest of us do underwear, usually depending on whether he was working on soft-core or on horror cheapies) is — pun absolutely intended this time — two tons of fun.

Billed as “250 Pounds of Maniacal Fury,” our protagonist here, one Ethel Jankowski (Priscilla Alder in a delicious role she really sinks her teeth into—again, both puns fully intended), actually tops the scales at well over (how much over I couldn’t say) 300, and she’s just been released from a mental institution where she was given a steady regimen of electroshock “treatment”(I’ve never understood why attaching electrodes to someone’s genitals qualifies as torture while attaching them to their temples is considered “therapy”) entirely against her will, and now she’s supposedly calm and rational enough to go back into the “care” of the community and so moves into her grandmother’s rather quaint San Francisco (Millard made almost all his films in his home Bay Area environs) Victorian.

It doesn’t take long for tensions to arise, though, as after one day of watching Ethel eat her out of house and home (and garage and shed and summer cottage and detached fallout shelter and you get the metaphor here before I strain it any further, I’m sure) Grandma decides to lock up the kitchen cabinets to prevent Ethel from gorging herself to death.

Our girl Ethel already has a damn unpleasant disposition to start with (and a nasty racist, or at least ethnocentric, streak, as evidenced by lines like “That Jew doctor tried to starve me to death” when she’s telling granny about her stay in the bughouse), and having her supply of consumables padlocked (with grandma holding the only key, of course) really sets her off. So she does what any morbidly obese and fanatically determined psychopath would do, I suppose — hack her to death with a meat cleaver, takes her key, unlocks the cabinets, and stuffs her face.

The food runs out pretty quickly, though, and it isn’t long before Ethel needs to call in a grocery order. There’s just one problem : she owes the market $80 and she won’t get more food from them until she pays up. No problem, she tells the store’s owner, just send the delivery boy over and she’ll pay up her past due balance as well as pay for the current order.The kid gets there and tells Ethel she can’t have more food until she pays the $80 she owes, to which she replies “But I don;t have $80, I only have $4.50.”

What happens next? You guessed it, the kid gets killed and Ethel takes the box of groceries he brought over. She hides his body in grandma’s bedroom (where the corpse of the elder Jankowski is rotting away) just in time, it turns out, as her good-for-very-little (alright, nothing) prostitute sister, Rosalie, drops by unannounced and informs Ethel she had to get away from her old man who’s been beating the shit out of her and has to crash with her and grandma for awhile.

In short order, Rosalie and her guy get back together (making for some truly OTT politically incorrect “relationship dynamics” in the scenes they share — I’ll say no more), but their happy reunion really starts to cramp Ethel’s style when they start bitching about the nasty smell coming from behind the locked door to grandma’s room. You’ve probably already guessed who this little scenario is going to play itself out.

To make matters even worse for our bloated psycho, the cops have come around and started to ask questions, too, since it seems the grocery delivery boy never came back from work and Ethel’s explanation that he must have taken the 80 bucks and split town isn’t going to buy her too much time. And her doctor would like to know where her grandmother is since only Ethel seems to answer the phone.

There are no surprises here. Millard/Philips displays nothing like any sort of creative directorial flourish (although in fairness, what do you want for $30,00? — and Millard claims that’s the biggest budget he’s ever hard to work with!). the gore is plentiful, but also plenty cheap (it’s generally of the “go down to the hardware store and get me some red paint” variety). What saves this movie, then, from being just another entirely-unmemorable shot-in-a-week piece of throwaway celluloid pablum?

In a word, it’s Alden. She’s so deliriously deadpan and morbidly monotonous throughout — whether she’s eating, hacking up a body, eating some more, lying to the cops, eating even more, dealing with cheap insults from Rosalie’s boyfriend, eating still even more or — well, hell, eating still even more than that, she’s so coolly detached and matter-of-fact that you’d almost swear she was, in fact, cool — even though I guess she can’t be since she’s so fat, and Hollywood has taught us for years than fat people absolutely can’t be cool under any circumstances.

There’s no flustering Ethel, though — corner her and she’ll make some shit up. Don’t believe her lies and she’ll kill you. It’s as simple as that, really. Nothing comes between her and her food.

There’s something here to offend everyone, and you’ve gotta love it for that. There’s nothing even remotely subtle or, for that matter, tasteful about “Criminally Insane.” It’s pure dreck that embraces its status as cinematic filth and absolutely wallows in it. There’s no pretense — Philips couldn’t afford any and didn’t have the time. It’s trash — pure, unadulterated, unvarnished, and unashamed, and as such, it’s one of the most refreshingly honest movies you’re ever likely to see.


Ethel in action ---

A final note about the (even by grindhouse standards absurdly) short run time — somehow, even though you wouldn’t mind if it went on longer, you don’t feel cheated, and it feels right. It’s not like this is a particularly complex story, anyway. Again, this is part and parcel of the absolute self-assuredness of this film. Granted, it’s self-assuredness borne of the fact that it had no other choice, but how damn great is that in a world where most movies spend at least half their run time trying to pretend to be more important than they really are?

“Criminally Insane,” unlike most of the uninspired navel-gazing that passes for “entertainment” these days, knows exactly what it is, and not only doesn’t care that you know, too, it states it proudly.  Quite frankly, if you’re going to crank out a $30,000 exploitation quickie about a 300-lb. female serial killer, this is the only way to do it.


--- and Ethel inaction.

The good folks at Shock-O-Rama, under their Retro Shock-O-Rama banner,  have released “Criminally Insane” on DVD as part of their “Nick Philips Horror Trilogy Collection,” triple-feature, single-disc set, along with another bizarre 1975 Millard/Philips cheapie, “Satan’s Black Wedding,”  and the shot-on-video 1987 sequel, “Criminally Insane 2,” (also known, wouldn’t’cha know it, as “Crazy Fat Ethel 2” — and we’ll note in passing that Millard made another “sequel” of sorts starring Alden called “Death Nurse,” also in 1987, and a proper sequel to that, “Death Nurse 2,” in 1988 — both of which were also shot on video). The picture boasts a nice 1.33:1 aspect ratio and is supposedly “mastered from the original 35mm film elements, but still looks pretty crummy, it must be said — which probably can’t be avoided,  and is also quite fitting given the film itself, so I’m not really complaining even though it might sound like it — and let’s be honest, you probably wouldn’t expect anything better anyway. The mono sound is fine, if occasionally muffled — again, as you’d probably expect.


The "Nick Philips Horror Trilogy Collection" from Shock-O-Rama featuring "Criminally Insane"

What I will complain about a bit is the commentaries for all three films, featuring Philips and moderator 42nd Street Pete. These are dull, uninspired, and feature interminably lengthy stretches of absolute nothingness. Old Pete should have done a much better job of having some engaging lines of questioning ready for Philips, since he’s got a lot to say, as the three making-of featurettes (one for each movie) included on the disc attest to. He’s got a sharp memory and is an interesting guy, too bad these commentaries are such a snooze.

All in all, though, it’s a packed-to-the-rafters little package that delivers great value for money, and it’s worth owning just for the presence of “Criminally Insane” alone. The other stuff is just icing on the cake — pun, again, completely intended.

So that’s a wrap on our non-countdown Halloween countdown that I probably shouldn’t have called a countdown. I hope you’ll give some, or all, of these movies a try.  Hell, even one of them.  If I can convert one person somewhere over to one movie they otherwise wouldn’t have known about, much less seen, then all my harrowing struggle will have been worth it.