Posts Tagged ‘grindhouse’

"Machete" Movie Poster

In recent months, fans of exploitation cinema have been given one hell of a gift — no less than three new films that show that the ethos of the grindhouse is still alive and well, namely Black Dynamite, Piranha 3-D, and the subject of our little missive here today, Robert Rodriguez’s much-anticipated Machete.

HE’S BEEN SET UP! DOUBLE CROSSED! LEFT FOR DEAD! BUT THE BAD GUYS DON’T KNOW — THEY JUST FUCKED WITH THE WRONG MEXICAN!

Can you resist that? Didn’t think so.

Th tough thing about reviewing Machete is hitting on all the things that this flick gets absolutely and unequivocally right — I’ve jogged my brain time and again looking for any flaws in this movie whatsoever, and I honestly can’t find any.

We’ve got veteran supporting player Danny Trejo finally getting his props in a title role, and it’s the part he was absolutely born to play : an ex-federale whose wife and kid were murdered by a ruthless drug lord before he himself was SET UP! DOUBLE CROSSED! LEFT FOR — oh, you get the point. Machete’s looking to make his way as an anonymous day laborer in south Texas after a rescue attempt he undertook while still with the Mexican police force went horribly wrong (the girl he goes in to free is in on the set-up and friends, you won’t believe where she hides her cell phone — I’ll say no more) and left him a childless widower.

Enter a political sleazebag named Booth (Jeff Fahey),a guy with a lot of money, a lot of connections, and a decidedly un-fatherly interest in his own daughter (Lindsay Lohan, who spends a good chunk of the movie buck nekkid — and yes, it’s a body double). He wants Machete to take out a rabid anti-immigrant, xenophobic state senator named John McLaughlin (Robert DeNiro), a guy who’s running on a platform of building an electrified fence along the Texas-Mexico border.

It’s all a dastardly set-up, of course — Machete seems to have a way of walking into these things — and that’s when the shit hits the fan/ all hell breaks loose/ pick your favorite semi-vulgar cliche.

Machete’s gotta go underground, but he’s got help from “The Network,” the kind of organized support organization for illegal immigrants that right-wingers think actually exists but doesn’t, run by taco-stand operator-with-a-heart-of-gold Luz (Michelle Rodriguez).

He’s got some help from less likely quarters, as well : there’s his former-hitman-now-priest brother Padre (Cheech Marin — and yes, that’s the only name he’s ever given — and wait until you see how he meets his maker, but I’ve probably given too much away already) and by-the-book-ICE agent Sardana (Jessica Alba), who sees the light and joins the good guys (and falls in love with Machete to boot, naturally), for instance.

But will this ragtag band of undocumented workers, an ex-federale, and a law enforcement agent on the lam be able to take on powerful political insiders, TV-advertising assassin Osiris Amanpour (former FX whiz-turned-musclehead-actor Tom Savini), a Minutemen-style anti-immigrant vigilante army lead by the ruthless Lt. Von Jackson (Don Johnson — billled, for whatever reason, on the poster as being “introduced” in this film —  in a terrific scenery-chewing performance ), and the forces of Torrez (Steven Seagal — speaking of scenery-chewing), the  ruthless Mexican drug lord responsible for killing Machete’s family who’s somehow connected with these far-right, Tea Party-on- steroids type forces?

The answer, dear reader, is — of course. Along the way there’s severed heads and limbs aplenty, a guy who gets his intestines used as a grappling rope in a daring out-the-window-escape, plenty of naked boobs, lots of bad-ass low-rider vehicles, a ruthless killing of a pregnant woman, more backstabbing backroom deals than you can count, and blood n’ guts galore, but there’s never any doubt about who’s gonna come out on top of this fracas.

Rodriguez , co-director (and longtime editing partner) Ethan Maniquis, and co-writer (and brother) Alvaro Rodriguez really pull out all the stop on this one, people — if you loved the phony preview for this that ran before Planet Terror on the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse double bill a couple years back, rest assured every scene in there made it into the finished product, plus a whole hell of a lot more.

In essence, this is a blaxploitation flick with all the stops pulled out, only with Latinos instead of African Americans. It’s Mexploitation for an American audience, and if you don’t pump your fist in the air at the sight of Machete leading an army of low-riders into battle, or at killer lines like “Machete don’t text” and Jessica Alba screaming “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us!,” then I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Machete kicks ass and takes names and like the best exploitation flicks of the 70s it uses its sleazy veneer as cover to address contemporary issues much more openly and honestly than big-budget Hollywood studio fare would ever dare to. Like its titular hero, Machete is a film with brass balls that doesn’t fucking compromise.

Look, I’m not on crack — I won’t tell you that Machete is destined to be the best movie of the year. But it’s the best time you’ll have at the movies all year, and that’s a lead pipe cinch.  We’ll finish this up with some promo stills to whet your appetite to get out and see this immediately — or to see it again if you already have. Machete is the shit. Case closed.

"Starcrash" Movie Poster

What do you get when an Italian director and crew, French producers, and English and American actors try rip off Star Wars on a shoestring budget? Read on and you’ll find out —

In the later half of 1977 and the early part of 1978, every movie executive worth his or her salt was looking for the next Star Wars. George Lucas’ space epic had literally revolutionized the movie business and become a blockbuster the likes of which the world had never seen before.  And who would you expect to be at the forefront of those looking to cash in, often as directly as possible, on the public’s sudden love for epic space adventure?

That’s right, friends, the Italians were standing right at the front of the line, eager to prove they could so sci-fi intergalactic opera at the very least cheaper, if not better, than anyone else. For a brief, shining moment between the eras of the spaghetti western and the pasta-flavored postapocalyptic yarn, between the Godfather riffs and the Alien rip-offs, the Italians turned their attention to the Star Wars homage, churning out titles like Star Odyssey, War of the Robots, The Humanoid, and the most well-remembered of the bunch, writer-director Luigi Cozzi’s seminal shlock masterpiece Starcrash (also released under the title The Adventures of Stella Star).

The (Stella) Star of the show, leaving no question as to why she got the part

Now, in fairness to Cozzi, he had been pitching an earlier version of this script around for several years before the global success of Lucas’  baby finally convinced a group of French financiers, lead by Nat and Patrick Wachsberger (who would go on to produce to Tom Cruise starring vehicle Vanilla Sky, among others) to green-light his project. But Star Wars blowing up the way it did was both a blessig and a curse for Cozzi — yes, it insured that his pet project would finally get made, but it was with one important caveat — he had to make it as similar as possible to Georgie-Boy’s cash cow, his initial ideas be damned.

And so what began life as an homage to the old sci-fi Saturday afternoon serials of the 30s like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers (Cozzi was a lifelong sci-fi fanatic) ended up evolving into a pastiche of a movie  that was — well, that was a modern retelling of those old classic matinee serials, anyway, as Lucas himself has admitted that they were the single biggest source of inspiration for his at-the-time-nascent franchise.

Still, it wasn’t quite what Cozzi had envisioned, and his script was fucked with so mercilessly that co-producer Nat Wachsberger himself ended up with a co-screenwriting credit.

The matinee serial pedigree didn’t really get entirely buried, though, as Starcrash doesn’t so much tell a story as string a bunch of disjointed scenes together. Roughly every ten minutes or so our heroine, intergalactic smuggler Stella Star (British beauty Caroline Munro — looking, it must be said, sensational) finds herself plunged into a new ordeal that barely has anything to do with the last. So don’t expect the script to make much sense here — and Cozzi and Wachsberger’s rather rudimentary grasp of English doesn’t help matters much here, either. What we’ve essentially got is a story that makes very little sense being “explained” to us by dialogue that makes even less. But you’re not here for the story, you’re here for the spectacle, right?

Original "Starcrash" VHS boxcover. Looks kinda familiar ---

On that score, Starcrash doesn’t disappoint. As pure visual feast, it’s unlike anything else you’ll ever see. Which is not necessarily a compliment.  Nor is it a criticism. It just — is.

Due to budgetary constraints above all else, this movie has a unique stylistic — uhhhmmmm — sensibility that was almost certainly achieved by accident, but definitely stands out for its absolute singularity. Starcrash is a unique viewing experience, and I use that term with precise intent. Star Wars may have had revolutionary special effects, expansive sets, seminal costume designs, and sweeping landscapes and starscapes, but goddamn if you won’t find the overall look of this film a whole lot more memorable.

Let’s go down the list of visual treats on display here — art-deco primary-color starfields, glowing planets, dime-store Ray Harryhausen stop-motion robots and monsters (Harryhausen’s work was another admitted huge influence on Cozzi), a blue-headed (and shaved-headed) alien cop, a “robot” with a southern lawman’s drawl that breaks the visual stereotype of characters dressed head-to-toe in black being automatically evil, lava-lamp red blobs which are alternately referred to as “energy waves” and “monsters,” (script continuity, again, is not a strong selling point here), “hyperspace” travel that looks like a drawing of energy-zap motion lines on the screen, black construction-paper “outer space” backdrops, the Maniac himself, Joe Spinell (in the first of three films he would appear opposite Munro in, the others being The Last Horror Film and, as mentioned a split-second ago, Maniac, which TLHF was actually a sequel-in-all-but-name to) decked out in an outer space Dracula costume, and our gal Caroline prancing around for about 3/4 of the movie in a black leather bikini. Yes, this is indeed a feast for the eyes in every sense.

You're probably wondering why I've called you all here ---

The disjointed and entirely nonsensical visuals literally leave the viewer not knowing what the hell he or she will be seeing next, and since the “plot” leaves the viewer not knowing what the hell will happen ext — or indeed, what just happened before — it all works together almost operatically. If you go hit the opera on three tabs of purple microdot, that is.

There are some surprising flourishes of actual quality in here, as well, which makes the already-convoluted proceedings even more of a hopeless mishmash. For instance, John Barry, of James Bond fame, provides the music score, and it’s a lot more elegant and majestic than the antics on camera deserve, to say the least. Barry himself admits that he stole huge chunks of the score for his later, Oscar-winning work on Out of Africa, figuring nobody would remember this thing (even though it raked in $30 million at the box office in the US and over $100 million internationally).

And how about that cast? Sure, we’ve got B-movie stars, and future Z-grade TV stars, left and right — but in the middle of Caroline Munro as Stella, former tent-revival evangelist (and subject of an Oscar-winning documentary on what a fraud his “faith-healing” shtick was) Marjoe Gortner as her faithful and quasi-mystical sidekick Akton, Robert Tessier as the treacherous sellout space cop  Thor, Joe Spinell as Darth Vader-without-the-mask Count Zarth Arn, Munro’s at-the-time husband Judd Hamilton as Elle, the comic-relief-robt-with-a-Texas-sheriff-twang, and a very young David Hasselhoff as Simon, who becomes Stella’s quasi-sorta-semi-pseudo love interest, we’ve got, flown into Italy for exactly 48 hours and probably getting paid  more than the rest of the cast combined — Christopher Plummer, as Simon’s father, The Emperor. More specifically, his full honorific is The Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe. Scoff all you want, but it’s a more prestigious title than you’ll ever receive.

Sure, the story’s not only got problems, the story is problems — but you almost have to stand back in wonder at how they make it all work (and yes, I use the term “work” incredibly loosely). Gortner’s Akton character, for instance, seems to develop new magical, or advanced scientific, powers  at the drop of a hat whenever they need to pull something out of their ass to move the action along from one scene to the next. He’s literally a walking, talking, breathing deus ex machina — that is, when he’s not a walking, talking, breathing info-dump of quick and nonsensical plot exposition.  And The Emperor can command his Imperial Ship to “stop the flow of time!” Don’t try that at home, kids (and it’s not a power that apparently always works, or that he apparently always thinks to utilize — for instance, it would come in real handy at the end, when Count Zarth Arn is trying to kill them all with his ill-defined doomsday weapon, but the Emperor of the First Circle of the Universe comes up with a much more discombobulated plan — the “star crash” of the film’s title — to deal with a menace thousands of times more deadly than the one he stopped time to deal with a few minutes earlier). The normal laws of science don’t seem to apply to this flick any more than the normal rules of logic, either — for instance, when the Emperor launches missiles filled with soldiers inside into Zarth Arn’s ship, they break through all the windows and there’s not even the slightest bit of decompression even thoug the vessel is flying through space (specifically through the region known as The Haunted Stars).

She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts --- she'll do .5 past light speed. Whoops, wrong movie ---

But I digress. Again, if you’re here for the story, you’re watching the wrong movie.  If the appeal of Starcrash can be summed up in one word, it’s the absolute and unequivocal otherness of the film that makes it work. It feels like it was made by a group of aliens who intercepted transmissions of Star Wars from Earth, had no idea what it was was about or how to make it, but saw that it was making a lot of money and figured they would give it a go and see what happens. It’s a truly alien viewing experience, and it feels almost entirely decoupled from reality itself. Needless to say, I absolutely love it.

"Starcrash" DVD from Shout! Factory

And I’ve saved the best news for last — for “Crashers,” as the small-but-way-too-enthusiastic cult of fans that has sprouted up around this spaghetti space opera are known, the long wait is finally over. No more bootleg DVD-Rs or 30-year-old VHS cassettes. Thanks to the fact that legendary B-movie mogul Roger Corman (who, it should be stated, had nothing whatsoever to do with the actual making of this film) picking up its US distribution rights back in 1978, Starcrash is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray as part of the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics library from Shout! Factory. The movie is presented in a superb widescreeen 1.78:1 anamorphic high definition transfer that look,s no pun intended, stellar, the sound is presented in either 2-channel Dolby Digital or an awesome new 5.1 DTS surround mix, and as for extras, well —

How about not one, but two commentary tracks by Stephen (Shock Festival) Romano, who’s got to be the world’s foremost Starcrash expert (he wrote a book on the film that remains unpublished) — the first take a detailed look at the story behind the scenes of the film and its pre-production, as well as placing it within the larger context of science fiction movie history, and the second offers a detailed scene-by-scene breakdown of its production. They really should be listened to in order, and are numerated as “commentary 1” and “commentary 2” on the on-screen selection menu. Then there’s the trailers — three of them, to be precise. One is the plain, bare-bones version, then we get it with commentary from legendary director Joe Dante, who actually assembled the trailer, and in fact did all of Corman’s trailers for several years before “making it” as a filmmaker in his own right. And thirdly we get it with commentary from Hostel director Eli Roth, who offered his remarks on it as part of his “Trailers From Hell” website. You may wonder what the point is of watching the same damn preview three times in a row, but trust me, you’ll want to. Then we’ve got an enormous selection of still photos featuring screen caps, pictures from the studio floor, behind-the-scenes production stills,  all kinds of advertising and poster art from around the world, and even a selection of fan art. Next up there’s a detailed interview with the man himself, Luigi Cozzi, and to top it all off we’ve got a nearly 20-minute featurette on John Barry’s score for the film.

And folks, that’s just on the first disc (unless you’ve got the Blu-Ray, in which case everything’s contained on a single disc). The second disc features a 72-minute interview with Caroline Munro about her entire career, with special attention paid, of course, to Starcrash, , a feature on the making of the special effects for the film, 17 deleted scenes that Corman excised for the US theatrical cut of the film, a selection of behind-the-scenes home-video taken during shooting presented with commentary by Romano, and the entire original screenplay presented in .PDF format for your PC or Mac, including corresponding storyboard sketches for many of the scenes.

No doubt about it, this DVD/Blu-Ray release is a genuine labor of love, and while all of the releases in the Roger Corman’s Cult Classics series have been, to date, superb, this stands out from the rest of that admittedly dinstinguished pack and is, I think it’s fair to say, the year’s best DVD release.

Do I even need to tell you to rush out and pick this up immediately? I didn’t think so.

"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?

"The Stuff" Movie Poster

B-movie veteran Larry Cohen (God Tole Me To, It’s Alive) could always pull a project together, it seems. The guy was just plain never out of work for long — and still isn’t, although he seems confined primarily to scriptwriting duties these days with projects such as Phone Booth and Captivity. In 1985 he was still a genuine low-budget auteur, though, writing as well as directing projects for the smallest-scale indie distributors, mid-size outfits like New World (who handled the financing for the subject of our — ahem! — “analysis” today), and occasionally even the big Hollywood studios. Working primarily out of New York, Cohen was usually able to put together a pretty decent cast to handle his uniformly well-written and well-executed, if a bit “old-school” horror in terms of their occasional less-than-complete originality, flicks.

Simply put, you generally knew what you’d be getting from a Larry Cohen film — nothing groundbreakingly awesome, but always better-done-than-it-felt-like-they-probably-should-be, some decent budget effects work, a fe laughs, and generally a pretty solid little story. And so it is with The Stuff, in many ways probably the quintessential Cohen flick.

It’s probably a bit ironic that ol’ Larry became best known for his horror (more precisely his horror-comedy hybrid) work, given that he got his start with blaxploitationers like Bone and the truly classic Black Caesar, but if there’s one thing Cohen has proven over the years it’s that he’s a movie industry survivor — when times and tastes change, he’s smart enough to change with them and go with the new flow enough to keep getting work. When blaxploitation started to slow down, it’s only natural that a guy with his keen survival instincts would gravitate toward horror, but one thing he didn’t lose along the way was his nose for making his stories stick with an audience by injecting just enough contemporary social commentary to give his films relevance. It’s never an overpowering element of his M.O., so to speak, but it’s always in there somewhere. Sometimes that makes his projects feel pretty dated, as the issues he’s addressing are no longer of front-burner importance in today’s world. At other times, though, it makes him look downright prescient, as the issues he’s tackling actually grow in importance from the time of the movie’s initial release.

That’s certainly the case with The Stuff, a movie about gelatinous goo oozing out of the center of the Earth and packaged as an ice cream-type dessert that eventually takes over and expels itself from the “host bodies” who are consuming it.

Just can't get enough of The Stuff!

Okay, so the parallels to the horror classic The Blob are pretty painfully obvious here, but like I said, sparkling originality has never been a Larry Cohen signature. What’s remarkable is that the issues he’s tackling in this story — fake foodstuffs, slick marketing (the fake TV commercials for the The Stuff, with their scarily-catchy “Just can’t get enough of The Stuff” jingle are one of this movie’s highlights), and environmental disaster oozing from the ground are more pressing than ever in in 2010, when our grocery store shelves are full of genetically-modified “frankenfoods,” our airwaves (and the internet) are bombarded with with ever-more-aggressive ad campaigns for shit we don’t need, and oil is spilling out of an underwater hole into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 200,oo0 barrels (or something) a day with no end in sight.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a true Larry Cohen film without a plethora of fairly-well-realized characters. Our main protagonist is a corporate espionage specialist named David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty) , who;s been hired by a consortium of ice cream manufacturers to find out the secret of The Stuff and why it’s eating up their market share (and, quite literally, their customers). In his quest to find out what The Stuff is, where it comes from, and why people just can’t resist its appeal, he teams up with a wide variety of crackpots, independent sleuths, and various hangers-on, including PR-exec-turned-gal Friday (and sorta-love interest) Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), down-on-his-luck cookie magnate (and obvious Famous Amos stand-in) “Chocolate Chip” Charlie (SNL alum Garrett Morris, who meets and awesomely spectacular stuff-induced demise that you have to see to believe), and right-wing militia commander Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears (Paul Sorvino), who basically functions as a cross between Rush Limbaugh and Curtis “Bombs Away” LeMay (needless to say, he’s convinced The Stuff is a commie plot to destroy America and he’s determined to wipe every trace of it from the face of our fair land).

If all this sounds like a weird amalgamation of The Blob, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes and Soylent Green, well — that’s because it is. But goddamn if it doesn’t all work.

Here comes The Stuff!

The effects, as mentioned, are terrific fun. The huge masses of stop-motion Stuff are well-realized and frankly look a hell of a lot better than most of today’s CGI garbage, and for smaller-quantity servings, they just used gobs of yogurt and soft-serve ice cream. Again, damned if it doesn’t work just fine. There are several impressive death-by-Stuff scenes, the just-mentioned one with Morris being the best, but truth be told they all look good, and I’ve watched plenty of flicks with ten, a hundred, or even a thousand times the budget of this one not pull off their supposedly “shocking” death sequences with anywhere near this much effectiveness and aplomb. All told, it’s a genuine visual delight.

And finally, on the trivia front, be on the lookout for appearances from Danny Aiello, the Brothers Bloom, Eric Bogosian, and a very young Mira Sorvino.

"The Stuff" DVD from Anchor Bay

The Stuff is available on DVD from Anchor Bay. It features a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that’s been digitally remastered and looks great, the sound likewise has been remastered and is presented in a crisp, clear 5.1 mix, and as far as the extras go, while the overall selection is pretty light, there’s a feature-length commentary track from Larry Cohen himself that’s flat-out awesome to listen to.

Is The Stuff a classic? Nah. But it’s plenty good, about 50 times better than your first impression of it would lead you to believe, and a downright professional piece of work. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s incisive, it’s smart, and it’s well-acted, well-directed, and amazingly well-realized visually. It’s one of those movies that, if you own it, you find yourself watching it again three or four times a year just because — well, it’s so damn solidly done.

And with that, I’m off to the Dairy Queen for a heaping pile of soft-serve Stu —- errr, ice cream.

"Quiet Nights Of Blood And Pain" DVD Cover

The “psycho vet” story is an old staple in grindhouse and exploitation filmmaking, and we’ve covered a few of the classics in this genre on this page very blog in the year-and-change we (okay, I)’ve been at it — The Executioner Part II, Combat Shock and Deathdream spring immediately to mind.

Of course, these films and literally dozens of others were about disturbed Viet Nam vets, but given that we’re now involved in not one, but two no-end-in-sight-and-no-way-to-really-win conflicts, and have been mired down in them for a hell of a long time, it’s a wonder that more enterprising young filmmakers haven’t returned to “psycho vet” territory since it seems like it would be pretty fertile ground for them. The “theater” of war may have changed, but the basic premise really hasn’t, sadly, all that much — we’re still fighting for dubious (at best) reasons, our “volunteer” force is composed mostly of people with little or no other economic opportunity, our definition of “victory” seems to be constantly changing, the local populace wants us to get the hell out and had become the primary “enemy” we’re fighting, and the government seems to want to put the whole thing on the backburner and just have all of us out here in medialand forget about it while they keep shoveling more of our tax dollars into the bottomless pit these wars have become.

Oh, and a lot of the men and women who are fortunate enough to get out of the war(s) alive come back severely, and quite understandably, traumatized, if not outright psychologically (and sometimes even physically) broken.

Yes, friends, the United States never fucking learns, and something tells me that in 5 or 10 years’ time we’ll be having this same conversation, only then  the unlucky “winner” of our imperialistic —- uhhmmmm — “attentions” will be Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, or some combination thereof. The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades and all that.

Now, we’ve had our fair share of Afghanistan and Iraq war documentaries, to be sure, and a bunch of dramas, from the exceptional (Brian DePalma’s criminally underrated and nearly-unseen Redacted) to the drearily preachy (In The Valley Of Elah) to the insanely- fetishized -yet-disgustingly-apolitical (The Hurt Locker — wouldn’t you know it won Best Picture). But to date, we haven’t had an Iraq or Afghanistan-themed exploitation picture.

Enter Ohio-based microbudget veteran writer-director Andrew Copp, who’s given us some truly groundbreaking ultra-independent horror flicks like 1998’s The Mutilation Man and 2005’s The Atrocity Circle, to fill this glaring void.

While Copp’s earlier work has been at times almost dizzingly experimental, with Quiet Night of Blood and Pain he (apart from a couple of scenes that diverge into crazed video psychedelia) he pursues a pretty straightforward narrative — William (Loren S. Goins) is a recently-returned Iraq war vet with a severe case of PTSD due to the atrocities he’s committed (while Abu Ghraib isn’t mentioned specifically, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that he was either there or at a similar facility due to his predilection for the kind of zip-tie “handcuffs” we’ve seen in so many of the photos from that testament to the war’s ultimate, and repulsively inhuman, folly), and now that he’s home, he’s continuing his “mission” by taking out the “traitors” and “enemies” in his hometown — anti-war activists, hippies, and other peaceniks of various stripes. He’s egged on in his crusade by his psycho brother (played by Copp himself), a veteran of the first Gulf War (you know, the one we were told “went well”).

Across town, fellow veteran Adrienne (Amanda DeLotelle, the film’s co-producer) is struggling with her own readjustment to civilian life and finds support from Viet Nam vet Ray (played by Ray Freeland) and his Veterans for Peace-type group. One night after a meeting of this support group, Adrienne is set upon by two assailants in an alley, and William, who’s “monitoring” the meeting place of the “subversive” group fends off the attackers before fleeing off into the night himself. He begins to stalk Adrienne and her friends, though, as part of his “bring the war home” pseudo-mission.

William's treatment of John Kerry voters

They’re not the only folks to get his attention, though — one evening he breaks into the home of some people who have a John Kerry bumpersticker on their car and gives ’em the kind of “special treatment” he became so skilled at administering to “enemy combatants” in Iraq, and dispatches a couple of guys selling antiwar titles at their bookstore, as well.   But the more he  keeps tabs on Adrienne and her group, the more he becomes obsessed with wiping out this supposed “fifth column” that’s right in his midst. Needless to say, what follows ain’t gonna be pretty.

If you’re new to microbudget moviemaking, Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain may not, in all honesty, be the best place to begin your education. The acting is a mixed bag — Goins is generally superb as William and elicits a sense of controlled-but-seething menace throughout, while Freeland’s characterization of Ray is pretty much rote script-reading. Somewhere in between the two polarities is  DeLotelle’s portrayal of Amanda — she has such an unaffected and minimalist approach to her “acting” (I’m guessing more due to sheer inexperience than any conscious decision-making on her part, but I suppose I could be wrong) that it’s hard to tell whether to call her performance completely unprofessional or amazingly naturalistic. Whatever the reason and whatever the cause, though, it works, so whether that’s by choice or by dint of sheer accident really doesn’t matter much in the end.

Okay, here's some blood --- but there's quiet nights and pain, too

Copp is a skilled director who’s worked with 8mm, 16mm, and video before (this is SOV using a Panasonic DV-30 with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, so it’s presented full-frame), and knows both how to compose shots and stage some pretty sold gore effects. In addition, since he wrote the script himself, he has a keen understanding of its pacing, and he does a pretty damn masterful job of alternating scenes of profoundly alienated evenings at home doing nothing with good old fashioned splatterfest-style ultraviolence — and the makeup and effects work is quite good. Not up to Hollywood standards, of course, but  part of the fun of watching this type of movie comes from seeing what the filmmakers are able to do with severely limited resources.

Needless to say, Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain never played theaters, nor was it ever going to, but it’s available on DVD either directly from coppfilms.com or at most major retailers like Amazon. It’s distributed under the auspices the good folks at Tempe Video and picture and sound quality are both pretty much perfect (again, given the inherent limitations of the flick’s production values).  For extras, there’s a look at a gallery showing of some of Copp’s artwork, and a well-made and highly informative “making-of” featurette.

Copp has stated that his goal was to make a film with a grindhouse-style sensibility updated to apply to the modern sociopolitical landscape. In that he’s succeeded quite admirably. Sure, it’s show on video instead of low-grade film stock, but the spirit of the exploitation independents is definitely alive and well here — and while it’s a bit of a tightrope act he’s set for himself in combining a “message movie” with a psycho slasher flick, he pulls it off pretty well. At times it feels a bit preachy, but as it’s antiwar message is one this reviewer agrees with, I never found the political content to be grating, nor to detract from the character-driven story that lies at the movie’s core.

Like its tagline (“He’s Back From The War,  But He Can’t Stop Killing!”), Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain is anything but flashy or terribly original, but certainly direct and earnest enough to be worthy of respect. It’s a labor of love with its birth pains in full view for all to see, and what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in heart and integrity.

"A Night To Dismember" Opening Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"A Night To Dismember" DVD from Elite Entertainment

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

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

Go figure.

"The Executioner Part II" Movie Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe even two of them.