Posts Tagged ‘wings hauser’

Once in awhile, your friendly neighborhood Trash Film Guru is exposed to a film for the first time that reminds me of exactly why it is that I love these largely-forgotten B-level (at best) cheapies ohhhh so much, and  director David Wellington’s 1988 canuxsploitation mini-masterpiece The Carpenter is the most recent example of exactly what I’m talking about here.

You probably know how it goes — we’ll sift through dozens, if not hundreds, of less-than-memorable examples of cinematic flotsam and jetsam in order to find that one diamond in the rough, and friends have I ever found one here. Although I freely admit that many loyal readers of this blog (come on! There surely must be some!) won’t share my enthusiasm for this extremely quirky straight-to-video ghost (I think — more on that later) story from north of the border, those of you who do get into the mellow, dreamlike vibe this flick exudes from the outset are going to be on a Carpenter high every bit as all-consuming as the one I’ve been on since first seeing a couple of weeks ago.

What’s so special about it, you may ask? First off, we’ve got Wings Hauser — or, as well affectionately refer to him around these parts, Wings Fucking Hauser, because he’s such a bad-ass — in his best role since Vice Squad. Next up we’ve got the surreal, like-it-or-lump-it nature of the production itself, as briefly alluded to at the outset. Sure, Wellington and company throw a lot of shit at the wall in an effort to see what sticks here — part comedy, part Lynchian absurdist nightmare, part gorefest, part low-grade soap opera, The Carpenter confidently, and nearly seamlessly, blends genres left and right in an effort that some may call haphazard, but others will appreciate for its sheer bravado and for the consistently ethereal tone it maintains throughout these numerous changes.

On the surface, things seem simple enough — Alice Jarrett (Lynne Adams) is released from a psychiatric hospital following (apparently yet another) nervous breakdown to find her college professor husband has purchased a large fixer-upper out in the country and is employing a stereotypically lazy union crew to remodel this new money pit. The strange thing is, even though the uniformly mulletted  (oh, wait — I think they call it “hockey hair” in Canada) construction brigade isn’t getting much done during the day, at night Alice starts hearing the whirring of buzzsaws and the pounding of hammers and downstairs and finds a solitary carpenter (Hauser) working away to his heart’s content. Alice quickly beings anticipating these nocturnal visits and , in between watching our guy Wings work away in a state of self-induced blue-collar tranquility and listening to his pithy lectures on the value of an honest day’s labor, finds herself falling in love with her mysterious midnight laborer.

She slowly builds up more and more self-confidence, taking a job at a local paint store and tackling many of the household fix-up projects herself, eve as she becomes aware that her husband is carrying on an affair with one of his students. All in all, personal drama (that she’s beyond even really caring about) aside, things are looking up for our heroine. Her rather over-pprotective beau even has a habit of sawing off the arms, or otherwise “dealing with,” those who would cause her harm, such as horny off-duty workers from Carpenters and Remodelers Local 1182.

And yet — is anything here exactly what it seems? Alice’s mental state is far from sound, and she’s recently taken to cutting up and dumping the anti=psychotic meds she’s been prescribed. Her sister, while admittedly overbearing, is genuinely becoming more and more concerned with her fragile mental and emotional state. Her husband’s mistress is pregnant. And just when the questions seem more plentiful than any answers that might or night not be forthcoming,  cheeseball local sheriff J. J. Johnston (and you just learned everything you need to know about him right there) shows up at the door and tells Alice a little story about the guy who used to own her house — a carpenter who was sent to the electric chair (the only non-Canadian wrinkle in a story that’s Canuck though-and-through otherwise) after he killed some repo agents who showed up to take possession of the place when he wasn’t keeping up with his payments since he was too busy working on it rather than going out and finding paying jobs.

So do we have a ghost story on our hands here? It would seem so, but when the shit hits the fan in the film’s final act, it’s clear that others also see Alice’s capenter friend, and the physical damage he ultimately causes to the house is very real. So if it’s a concrete, cut-and-dried explanation of exactly what’s going on here that you’re after, you’re bound to be sorely disappointed. That being said, if, as mentioned earlier, you’re already going with this film’s singular-yet-scattershot flow (a contradiction, I know) you’ll be more than willing, by that point, to just accept the fact that easy answers aren’t on the menu here, as long as the whole thing just sort of feels right and/or consistent in its admitted inconsistency (yup, contradiction rears its head again).

And finally, of course, we’ve got Wings Hauser (again — but you knew there’d be more to say about him, didn’t you). His screen time is limited, but his coolly psychotic menace, hiding beneath a veneer of everyman working-class charm, is the glue that really holds everything together here. It’s another singular performance in a career that’s too often mocked for his numerous less-than-stellar, self-parodying choices vis- a- vis some of the roles he took on. Seriously, though, when this guy was on — as he absolutely was here — nobody could touch him. Wings Fucking Hauser indeed. This guy will show up with roses at your door and try to rape you with a broomhandle  five minutes later.

A couple months back, the fine folks at Scorpion releasing finally put this forgotten gem out on DVD as part of their “Katarina’s Nightmare Theater” line, hosted by former WWE “diva” (whatever that term even means anymore) Katarina Leigh Waters. Extras are, sadly,  non-existent apart from the intro and exit segments from the hostess, but the widescreen transfer looks pretty solid and the stereo sound mix is more than serviceable.

So do yourself a favor — give The Carpenter a go. You may not find it to your liking — although I’m sincerely hoping you do — but there’s no denying that this flick has a tempo and flavor all its own, and if you find yourself drawn onto its admittedly quirky wavelength, I think you’ll be stopping back here to thank me.

"Original Gangstas" Movie Poster

Hey, what the hell, you know?

In the late 90s and around the turn of the millennium, blaxploitation cinema started to earn a long-overdue critical reappraisal, due in large part to the success of films like Jackie Brown and the “updated” (and lame) Shaft — suddenly the opinion-dictators out there, who had written off the entire genre as racist, contemptible crap realized a lot of those old flicks were pretty damn good. And after being wrong for about twenty years, said self-appointed trendsetters were finally right about this terrific, much-maligned genre. And since a lot of the folks who starred in those great old 70s action yarns were looking for work, it was only a matter of time, I suppose, before a “greatest hits” reunion came to pass.

Enter director Larry Cohen, the ultimate B-movie survivor (he helmed blaxploitationers like Black Caesar and Hell Up in Harlem in addition to tons of awesome B-grade horrors), who in the year 1996  reassembled all the blaxploitation heavy hitters (well, okay, almost all), sprinkled in a few more awesome cult stars, got ahold of a semi-decent script that gave ’em all something to do, and the result its Original Gangstas.

Okay, he might be like 60, but I still wouldn't fuck with Fred Williamson

Just look at this cast, people — Fred Williamson. Pam Grier. Jim Brown. Ron O’Neal. Richard Roundtree. Paul Winfield. Isabel Sanford. Robert Forster. Wings Hauser. Charles Napier. Paul Winfield. There’s just no way any flick with that cast, and Cohen behind the camera, is going to suck too badly.

Is Original Gangstas predictable? Dear God yes. Fred “The Hammer” plays an ex-football player who comes home to Gary, Indiana when his father is brutally attacked in the shop he owns by members of a street gang known as The Rebels, and from the minute his private plane (probably rented for all of ten minutes by the production crew) touches down, you know everything’s gonna work out okay. Any supposed “twists and turns” the plot takes along the way cam be seen from a mile off — at least.

But so what? You’re not in this for anything new. You’re here for the comforts of the familiar, to see the old pros show the young punks how it’s done.

For the most part, the fight scenes are well-enough staged, and you believe the likes of Williamson, Brown, Grier, and Roundtree can still kick a little ass — and that they’ll feel it in the morning. The aura of invincibility around all of them has been brought down a couple notches, and they’re portrayed not as super-heroes, but as people who can hold their own in a fight despite their advanced years. Yeah, it might be a totally unrealistic premise, but at least it’s presented —- uhhhhmmm — semi-realistically.

"Eat lead, muthafuckas!!!!!!!!!!"

It’s essentially the soul music generation vs. the hip-hop generation here, and there’s never any doubt about who’s gonna come out on top in the end. Contemporary elements like drive-by shootings, automatic weapons, ultraviolent gangbangers, and a “gangsta rap” soundtrack all combine to produce an atmosphere where it’s pretty clear the old-timers are, sure, a little out of their element, but they work hard and know how to adjust on the fly. They’re survivors, after all, and they’ll make it out of this scrape okay.

Sure, it gets a little preachy in spots — what’s happening to our neighborhoods?, what’s happening to our youth?, why are the cops so incompetent?, what’s happened to economic opportunities in the black community?, yadda yadda yadda etc. etc. etc.

So what? There was an element of preachiness in all the 70s blaxploitation flicks, usually about these exact same subjects. Give Original Gangstas a break — it’s pretty clear from the outset that the only “original” thing in the movie is the first word in the title.

Real love never dies, baby

It’s all here — the gangland slaying of their son rekindles an old romance between Brown and Grier, hard-working flatfoot detective Forster tries but can’t get anywhere, Napier as the Mayor and Hauser as his assistant don’t actually give a shit, Williamson’s gotta get the old gang back together (he and Brown and Roundtree and O’Neal actually founded The Rebels), and the little kid who everybody loves gets killed. Again, don’t expect anything new under the soggy Gary skies here, just enjoy the ride.

And if you can do that, then goddamnit, Original Gangstas is a  lot of fun. Way more than any flick with a geriatric cast going after one last crack at glory should be. Cohen moves things along at a steady little pace and with consummate professionalism, and not one of the stars seems to be mailing it in, even though all of them could. I won’t recommend it without reservation, but if you know exactly what you’re getting into here — and it’s never any secret — then there’s no reason you can’t just kick back and dig it for what it is — one last shot at the big-time for a bunch of actors who certainly deserve it.

"Original Gangstas" DVD from MGM

Original Gangstas is available as a bare-bones DVD release from MGM, and it’s also playing all month on Impact Action-on-Demand, in HD, on most major cable systems. It’s well worth a look, and even if one viewing will probably do it for you, it’ll be one enjoyable viewing.

The advertising tagline for Original Gangstas is “It’s Time for Some Respect.” The film itself earns just that.

"Vice Squad" DVD from Anchor Bay

Mean, my friends.  Mean is the word we’re looking for.Director Gary (Dead And Buried, Poltergeist III)  Sherman’s 1982 crime thriller Vice Squad is one brutal bastard of a movie, and it’s largely down to one reason : the sensationally unhinged performance of future-direct-to-VHS mainstay Wings Hauser as Ramrod, an insanely over-the-top Country-and-Western/cowboy-style pimp with no conscience, no remorse, and absolutely no morals whatsoever. Truth be told, Hauser’s Ramrod is one of the great villains not just in exploitation film history, but in all of movie history in general. The guy should’ve won a fucking Oscar, but too many members of the Academy would literally puke their minds out of their heads if they saw this flick. The Hollywood establishment doesn’t much like to acknowledge the seedy underbelly of the city their industry calls home, you see, and that seedy underbelly is exactly   where Vice Squad lives .

The plot’s almost elegant in its simplicity : a single mom maintaining a carefully-sculpted middle class facade (Hardcore‘s Season Hubley)is, in reality, a streetwise hooker who goes by the name of Princess. One evening while she’s working the streets of that aforementioned seedy Hollywood underbelly, one her good friends in “the life,” whose street handle is  Ginger (future original MTV veejay Nina Blackwood), is brutally — and folks, I do mean brutally — if you’re at all squeamish, avoid this flick like the plague — beaten and murdered by her psychotic pimp, that Ramrod fella I was just talking about (and incidentally, our guy Ramrod doesn’t seem too concerned about the cops knowing who he is and what he’s up to, since the custom paint-and-decal job on his Ford Bronco says “RAMROD” in bold capital letters right on the side). Princess knows who did it, of course . Furthermore, the cops investigating the case, led by only-semi-grizzled veteran detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) know damn well who did it, too. To that end, figuring that Ramrod will be needing a new breadwinner soon, they set up Princess to lure him back to his own apartment, wearing a wire, and get a confession out of him on tape. All goes according to plan — Ramrod ‘fesses up, the cops bust him, and his swears his revenge on Princess as the boys in blue haul his ass off to jail.

And then, naturally enough, a cuffed-up Ramrod escapes his public servant captors, and spends the rest of the movie trying to track an unsuspecting Princess down.  The audience is brought along for the action — and once it gets going, it’s genuinely non-stop — from three different vantage points : we separately follow the (again, unsuspecting) Princess as she turns tricks looking to earn bread to feed her kid, Ramrod as he does anything and everything to try to find her before the evening is out, and detective Walsh as he does anything and everything to try to find her first.

Sherman is a master of pacing as he intercuts from one point of reference to the next, displaying a seriously deft touch and always seeming to know exactly when to break from one character’s story arc (sorry for the pretentiousness) to the next. We should probably give screenwriters Sandy Howard and Kenneth Peters some credit for that, as well, but it’s Sherman who’s capturing all the deranged “ambiance,” for lack of a better word, along the way. And as for one of a director’s other primary responsibilities, namely getting great performances out of his cast — well, he really hits it out of the park there.

I don’t know what stroke of genius possessed him to cast Hauser in the role of lunatic-Joe-Buck-as-pimp-rather-than-hustler, but in lesser hands the idea of a fucking cowboy “player,” of all things, would have been comical, at best. As it is, however, much as I hate to give a guy named (by himself, no doubt) “Wings” credit for anything, all you can do it sit back in awe and watch him do his thing. Trust me when I say he’ll scare the living shit out of even the most jaded viewer.

Hubley  turns in an extremely believable portrayal as the damsel in distress, exuding a kind of cool confidence up until the downright frightening conclusion, where she pulls out all the fucking stops.  According to the commentary track on the Anchor Bay DVD (featuring Sherman’s sharp recollections  and moderated by exploitation film historian, as well as filmmaker himself, David Gregory), she was going through a bitter and exceptionally painful divorce from actor Kurt Russell (see, there was another woman before Goldie) at the time that centered around a custody battle over their daughter, and Sherman told her to channel all of her anguish into this climactic scene (about which I’ll refrain from divulging any pertinent details) and just “let it all out,” so to speak.

And damn, does she ever.

Lastly as far as the acting goes,  Swanson hits just the right notes in his portrayal of Walsh as a detective who’s seen it all but still, improbably, gives a shit — in a general sense, but also in a specific sense when it comes to protecting the woman who he blames himself for putting in harm’s way.

It all adds up to an expertly-paced, more-than-expertly acted frantic pursuit story that will keep you on the edge of your seat and holding on for dear fucking life just to see what happens next.

Plenty of critics at the time took issue with Vice Squad‘s unrestrained sadism, brutal violence, and overall supremely sleazy tone, but the film had its defenders too, including Mr. Mean Streets himself, Martin Scorsese, who recognized it for the powerful gut-punch of reality that it was.  Needless to say, the fact this this movie has stood the test of time and is just as shockingly immediate and unreservedly in-your-face today as it was at the time proves which side was right in that particular argument.

Wings fucking Hauser, man!

As I alluded to (well, okay, downright said) earlier, Vice Squad was released on DVD by Anchor Bay in 2007. The anamorphic wide-screen transfer has been brilliantly digitally restored and looks sensational, the remastered soundtrack is superb (the cult favorite theme tune “Neon Slime” has never sounded better), and the extras package features the theatrical trailer, a selection of radio spots for the film, a comprehensive poster and stills gallery, the fantastic commentary track I also made reference to a minute ago, and a superb liner-notes essay by  Richard Harland Smith.

Simply put, Vice Squad is the most agonizingly nasty crime flick you’ll ever see that didn’t come from a country shaped like a boot, and in truth it even puts most of the Italian stuff to shame. It features superb performances all around, with Hauser putting in an absolutely historically psychopathic turn, and it’s got more adrenaline pumping through its veins than a guy trying to lift a car off his trapped child. It’s raw, it’s devastating, and it’s just plain bad-ass stuff all the way around. And if that’s not enough, there’s even a cameo from “Rerun” himself, What’s Happening?‘s Fred Berry, as a wimpy-ass pushover of a pimp.

Some movies show you the ugly underside of human life. Vice Squad sticks you right the fuck in the middle of it and dares you to look away. There are times you’ll surely want to look away — I haven’t described in detail any of the seriously sick shit in this movie for a reason —but the story itself, and the performances — especially Hauser’s — just won’t let you.

I guarantee, if you’ve never seen this flick before, that you won’t be able to take your eyes off it, no matter how loudly your brain screams at you to do just that . But it’s gonna burn, baby — it’s gonna burn.