There’s nothing I like better than getting
hold of a movie that I’ve been searching over three decades for and adding it
to my collection. At my age, there aren’t many vintage films left that I don’t
own in one format or another, so when I heard that the 1976 cult classic Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw was getting a
Blu-ray release, I was quite enthused. This movie has somehow always managed to
elude me. It never seemed to play on any of my cable stations in the early 80s,
we never had a copy of it at the video store I worked at in the mid-80s and I
was still never able to find a copy of it anywhere throughout the 90s. To be
honest, by the time the 21st century hit, I completely forgotten
about this movie, so I was pretty surprised and even more excited to find out
that it was not only being released on Blu-ray, but also with quite a few
special features. Why? To begin with, I’m a tremendous fan of the director; not
to mention the entire cast and, last, but not least, I just love fun,
action/crime/drama exploitation films from the 1970s.
Produced and directed by Mark Lester (Truck Stop Women, Roller Boogie, Class of
1984), written by Vernon Zimmerman (Unholy
Rollers, Fade to Black) and released by American International Pictures,
modern western Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw
tells the tale of quick-draw expert and Billy the Kid enthusiast Lyle Wheeler
(Marjoe Gortner, Earthquake, Food of the
Gods, Viva Knievel!, Starcrash) who, together with waitress and aspiring
country singer Bobbi Jo Baker (TV’s one and only Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter) experiences a dangerous cross country
adventure filled with love, robbery and murder.
So, was the movie worth the wait? I certainly
think so. It may not be in the same league as Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but it’s still an extremely enjoyable,
well-directed, written and acted low-budget feature that definitely deserves to
be seen. To begin with, Mark Lester’s direction is not only solid, but he is
just at home directing the quiet, more character-driven and dramatic/romantic
scenes as he is directing a sequence involving heavy action and stunts. Next
up, Vernon Zimmerman’s wonderful writing not only creates an engaging story,
but interesting and likeable three-dimensional characters as well. Lyle Wheeler
aka the Outlaw, seems to live by his own code and has definite ideas of good
and evil; right and wrong. Marjoe Gortner effortlessly and believably gets all
this across and makes his character quite likeable. (This may be my favorite
Gortner performance.) The stunning Lynda Carter gets to show a bit more range
then she did as Wonder Woman and is extremely convincing as the hopeful and
somewhat naïve Bobbi Jo. The rest of the outrageously talented cast not only
add immensely to the film, but clearly came to play. Jesse Vint (Chinatown, Forbidden World) perfectly
plays Slick Callahan; a wild, not too bright cocaine fiend and boyfriend of
Bobbi Jo’s sister, Pearl. Gorgeous Merrie Lynn Ross (Class of 1984, TVs General
Hospital), who also co-produced the film, brings a hardened heart quality
to slightly ditzy stripper Pearl, and the always welcome Belinda Balaski (Piranha, The Howling) shines as hippie
waitress Essie Beaumont. Rounding out the top-notch cast is Gene Drew (Truck Stop Women) as a no-nonsense
sheriff, B-movie legend Gerrit Graham (Beware!
The Blob, Phantom of the Paradise, The Annihilators, C.H.U.D. II: Bud the
C.H.U.D.) as a helpful hippie, Virgil Frye (Graduation Day), who replaced Dennis Hopper, as a macho gas station
attendant with something to prove, Peggy Stewart (Alias Billy the Kid, Beyond Evil) as Bobbi Jo’s alcoholic mom, and
James Gammon (Major League) as a fast
“If a movie makes you
happy, for whatever reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
Giant bug movies have always been a favorite
of mine; Tarantula, Black Scorpion, The
Deadly Mantis, Earth vs. The Spider, etc. The best of them all has to be Them!, the 1954 classic about atomic
testing causing ants to mutate to gigantic proportions. It was the first and
best of the 1950’s cycle of big bug movies.
In the 1970s, bugs and just about every other
form of nature, struck back against irresponsible humans who were poisoning the
planet in a plethora of nature-runs-amok films such as Frogs, Kingdom of the Spiders, Squirm, etc. They may not have been
gigantic like they were in the 50s, but they were just as deadly. However, Mr.
B.I.G. himself, Bert I. Gordon, the man responsible for entertaining, 1950s
giant creature classics like The Amazing
Colossal Man, Beginning of the End, Village of the Giants and the
aforementioned Earth vs. The Spider, had
already brought back giant wasps and worms in 1976’s Food of the Gods,and felt
that 1977 was the time to bring back the best giant insects of them all…the
ants. Using the great H.G. Wells’ popular short story as his inspiration, Empire of the Ants was born.
The movie begins when a canister of toxic
waste, which was dumped and supposed to sink into the ocean, washes up on shore
and leaks its toxic sludge into a neighboring ant hole.
Nearby, con woman Marilyn Fryser (Joan
Collins) and her lover/partner Charlie (Edward Power) attempt to sell some
worthless land called Dreamland Shores to a large group of potential buyers
including nice guy Joe (John David Carson), middle-aged Margaret (Jacqueline
Scott), beautiful Coreen (Pamela Susan Shoop), two-timing Larry (Robert Pine)
and his poor wife Christine (Brooke Palance).
As the group surveys the land, a few members
break off on their own. Cautious Margaret, while flirting with boat driver Dan
(Robert Lansing), asks him if he thinks the land is a good investment; Larry
gets Coreen alone, puts the moves on her and gets a knee to the groin for his
trouble, and Coreen eventually hits it off with Joe. All the while, the ants
silently watch them.
The entire group is gathered and taken on a
leisurely tour of the area. The tour doesn’t last long though as the dead body
of one of Marilyn’s crew (Tom Ford) is found. Joe and Coreen volunteer to check
things out and find the remains of a married couple (Jack Kosslyn and Ilse
Earl) that were originally part of the group. To their horror, they also find a
horde of giant ants and all hell breaks loose as the intelligent insects attack
and destroy Dan’s boat. With no way off the island, the terrified group starts
a campfire in order to keep the ants away.
The next morning, a storm begins and the rain
puts out the fire. The group frantically decides to make a run for it with the
ants hot on their tail. An elderly couple (Harry Holcombe and Irene Tedrow),
who can’t keep up, hides out in an old shack. Christine falls, sprains her
ankle and is killed by the ants, and, while helping a tangled Marilyn escape
from a tree branch, Charlie also meets his demise. As the rain stops, the
elderly couple, thinking that it’s safe, emerges from the shack only to find an
army of ants waiting for them. The remaining group members stumble upon a
rowboat and slowly take off down the river. The ants attack again, turning the
boat over and killing Larry.
The group realizes that the ants are leading
them toward a specific destination upstream and, as they continue to move
along, they come across an old couple (Tom Fadden and Florence McGee) who
contact the sheriff (Albert Salmi) for them. The sheriff drives them into town,
but the relieved survivors soon realize that something still isn’t right. They
can’t seem to find a working phone and everyone in the small town acts very suspiciously.
The group decides to hotwire a car, but while
trying to escape, they’re captured by the authorities and taken to the local
sugar refinery. While there, they discover that the queen ant is using her
pheromones to control every human being in the town and forcing them to feed
the giant ants. Marilyn is the first to come under the queen’s control, but
when they try to control Dan, the clever boat captain burns the queen with a
road flare he took from the abandoned car. Dan escapes with Margaret, Joe and
Coreen, but Marilyn, who snaps out of her trance too late, is killed by the out
of control queen.
Knowing that if the gigantic ants aren’t
stopped they will multiply and eventually take over the world, Joe drives a
leaking fuel truck into the refinery and blows the insects to kingdom come. As
the entire place goes up in flames, Joe, Coreen, Dan and Margaret reach a
speedboat and drive off to safety.
Remember the days when you would wear a baggy
raincoat, visit your local independent theater and abuse your genital region
while watching “naughty” films? Maybe the younger “internet porn” readers don’t
(I actually don’t either. I just remember hearing about it while OD’ing on VHS
porn in the 80s), but I know some of you older perverts know what I’m talking
about. You see, during the 1960s and early 70s, you could hit your local
grindhouse theater and see films that are now classified as sexploitation.
These low-budget independent features contained plenty of nudity, but showed
very little in the way of actual onscreen sex, giving them the nickname
“soft-core.” Until hardcore classics like 1972’s Deep Throat and Behind the
Green Door as well as 1973’s The
Devil in Miss Jones arrived on the scene rendering the tamer stuff almost
obsolete, these soft-core flicks (which were also frequently viewed by couples)
were all the rage. And now, the nice folks at Vinegar Syndrome have unearthed
three of them for you to relive or to discover for the very first time.
In the first feature, Marsha, The Erotic Housewife, a young woman (soft-core queen Marsha
Jordan also from Count Yorga, Vampire)
whose businessman husband (Mark Edwards) is cheating on her, decides to teach
him a lesson by fulfilling her sexual fantasies with other men. The second
feature, titled For Single Swingers Only,
tells the tale of Gracie (Ann Myers) who moves into an apartment complex for
swingers, but gets much more than she bargained for. Last, but not least, Her Odd Tastes once again stars Marsha
Jordan, this time as a woman who goes from having an incestuous relationship
with her sister to becoming a door-to-door vibrator saleswoman. She eventually
kills a man in self-defense before being hired by a book publisher to research
sexual pleasure and pain. The insatiable woman travels the world, visiting Hong
Kong, Africa and the Middle East in order to satisfy her strange sexual
All three films (which were directed by Don
Davis) may contain washed-out colors and plenty of pops, scratches, jump cuts
and lines; not to mention drab-looking locations, but hey, no one buying a
ticket to see these movies was interested in things like cinematography or
production value. They paid to see some skin and there’s plenty of nudity on
display here. There’s also a lot of kissing and groping (in lieu of everything
else) as well as a bunch of unintentional laughs thanks to silly dialogue, stiff
acting and quite a few so-bad-it’s-good moments. Highlights include a hilarious
“Marsha” theme song, a woman with a very thick Swedish accent, a satanic orgy
where one guy wears a silly-looking goat head mask and, finally, death while
boinking on an electrified chair.
On the downside, the three movies, although
each one only running a little over an hour, all move along at a somewhat slow
pace. Still, I enjoyed them allfor
what they are. (I found Her Odd Tastes to
be the better paced and most entertaining of the three).
The three filmshave all been released on one dual layer DVD by Vinegar Syndrome.
The disc is region free and the movies are presented in their original 1.33:1
aspect ratio. The aforementioned pops, scratches, jump cuts and lines (which us
grindhouse cinema junkies adore) never detract from the story, and the images,
although far from Blu-ray quality, are more than watchable and pretty much what
you would expect something from this genre to look like. There are no special
features, but the DVD sleeve and disc both contain the original poster art for
all three films; my favorite tag line being “In Throbbing Color.” If you’re a
fan of soft-core sex flicks or are just curious to see what they were all about,
I recommend giving this retro drive-in collectiona look.
Who doesn’t love watching giant monster
movies from the 1950s? The Beast from 20,
000 Fathoms (1953), Them! (1954),
Tarantula (1955), Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) are
just a few of my favorites. Some of those titles are better than others and
there are many more that are worse such as 1957’s unintentionally hilarious The Giant Claw, but the decade that gave
us rock 'n' roll also created a giant monster flick that never seemed to get
the respect it deserved, which is ironic being that it’s a top-notch production
with a pretty convincing and scary monster. Of course, I’m talking about the
often overlooked 1957 classic, The
Monster That Challenged the World.
Directed by Arnold Laven (The Rifleman), The Monster That Challenged the World, which was solidly written by
Pat Fielder (The Vampire, The Return of
Dracula) and based on a story by David Duncan (The Time Machine, Fantastic Voyage), begins when an underwater
earthquake releases a horde of enormous, prehistoric creatures from
California’s Salton Sea. After one of these creatures kills a sailor,
Lieutenant John Twillinger (Tim Holt from The
Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The
Magnificent Ambersons) discovers an unknown, slimy substance which he
brings to Dr. Jess Rogers (Hans Conried, The
5,000 Fingers of Dr. T). Rogers analyzes it and not only deduces that it comes
from a giant mollusk, but also figures out that, if the creatures aren’t
stopped soon, they’ll multiply by the thousands and destroy every human being
on the planet. With the help of Dr. Rogers’ beautiful secretary (Audrey Dalton,
Mr. Sardonicus), the lieutenant and
the good doctor do everything in their power to stop the creeping terror before
it’s too late.
Made for only $254,000, The Monster That Challenged the World, which was originally titled The Kraken,is an entertaining monster movie that always seems to be
overshadowed by many of the titles I listed earlier. This is strange because
the fun movie is filled with tight, solid direction, plenty of atmosphere and a
great-looking, mechanical creature created by August Lohman (Moby Dick). The well-made film also
benefits from an interesting story as well as some pretty pleasing performances.
To begin with, Tim Holt is appropriately calm, rational and, at times, a bit
stiff as Lieutenant Twilliger, but he also gives his character much-needed doses
of humanity and likeability. Up next, the great Hans Conried is totally
convincing as the knowledgeable Dr. Rogers. He delivers his dialogue about the
giant creatures completely straight and because he seems to believe everything
that he’s saying, we believe it too. Last, but not least, the beautiful Audrey
Dalton is wonderful as secretary, single mom and love interest, Gail. Dalton
brings an inner strength and intelligence to her role, making her character
more than just a screaming, helpless woman who needs saving. All in all, The Monster That Challenged the World is
a well-done creature feature and a bit more than you would expect from a late
50s, sci-fi monster mash.
The Monster That
Challenged the World has
been released on a region one Blu-ray by Kino Lorber and is presented in its
original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The beautiful HD transfer boasts sharp, crystal
clear images and the disc not only contains the original theatrical trailer,
but also an extremely informative and enjoyable audio commentary by film
historian Tom Weaver who tells us just about everything we ever wanted to know
about this entertaining film; great stuff. (Weaver leaves briefly to allow 50s
monster music expert David Schecter of Monstrous Movie Music to discuss the
film’s effective score by Heinz Roemheld). If you’re a lover of 1950s giant
monster movies, this one is definitely above average and I highly recommended
the excellent Blu-ray.
Throughout most of the 1980s, prolific
filmmaker Charles Band ran the (sadly) now defunct distribution company Empire
Pictures. Empire, whose fun movies had their own unique style and humor, released
a plethora of enjoyable, low-budget action/sci-fi/horror/fantasy titles the
likes of Walking the Edge (1985), Crawlspace (1986), From Beyond (1986), Troll (1986), Dolls (1987) andCellar Dweller (1988).
The company, however, is probably best known for the amazing cult classic Re-Animator (1985) as well as the
popular Ghoulies and Trancers series. If, like me, you’re a
fan of Empire Pictures’ entertaining output (as well as a fan of Band’s later
company, Full Moon Pictures, which is best known for the iconic Puppet Master series), you can rejoice
as their much-sought-after cult favorite, Zone
Troopers, has finally been released on Blu-ray.
Solidly directed by Danny Bilson (The Rocketeer) who also co-wrote with
his long-time friend Paul De Meo (Arena),
Zone Troopers tells the enthralling
tale of a small group of American soldiers who, while battling the Nazis in
Italy in 1944, stumble across a crashed spaceship from another galaxy. Led by
tough-as-nails Sergeant Stone (Tim Thomerson from Trancers), the soldiers not only do everything in their power to
stay alive, but also to ensure that the aliens and their advanced technology do
not find its way into the hands of the evil Nazi horde.
Zone Troopers is a unique and
extremely fun combo of old-time war films and B-movie science fiction fantasy.
The highly enjoyable movie also boasts an amazing cast. Timothy Van Patten (Class of 1984, The White Shadow) is
dead-on as young, New Jersey soldier Joey Verona. Van Patten goes all out
delivering the innocence and patriotism (as well as the requisite East Coast
accent) necessary to bring this wonderfully clichéd role to life. Art La Fleur
(1988’s The Blob) is terrific as
tough, but loveable Corporal Mittinsky aka Mittens, and Tim Thomerson, who
conveys quite a bit of info through very subtle facial expressions, is
excellent as the indestructible Iron Sarge. Rounding out the group of stalwart
heroes is Biff Manard (Trancers II)
who makes his character of writer/reporter Dolan more than likeable. The
lighthearted film is filled with action, adventure, camaraderie and humor, and,
at times, feels like a 1940s comic book. It also benefits from a fun musical
score by talented composer (and brother of Charles) Richard Band (Re-Animator, The House on Sorority Row),
wonderful special alien effects by legendary makeup artist John Carl Buechler (Friday the 13th Part VII: The New
Blood); not to mentiontop-notch
cinematography and editing by long-time Charles Band associates Mac Ahlberg (Prison) and Ted Nicolaou (Subspecies) respectively. Filmed in both Italy and the US, the
well-paced film also contains intentionally dated and, therefore, intentionally
corny and priceless dialogue (mostly from Van Patten) as well as a bunch of
1940s references which makes the war section of Zone Troopers feel entirely authentic.
Zone Troopers has been released
on a region one Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. The high definition transfer looks
fantastic and the movie is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Special features include the original theatrical trailer, an interesting
onscreen interview with the great Tim Thomerson, and an amusing and informative
audio commentary by director Danny Bilson and writer Paul De Meo who both seem
to enjoy revisiting their cult film (and rightly so). Whether you’re a lover of
war movies, retro science fiction, or you’re just looking for something fun and
different, Zone Troopers is
definitely the Blu-ray for you.
Although I was barely ten years-old, I
remember feeling terrified while watching horror master Wes Craven’s 1978 made-for-TV
thriller Summer of Fear (under its
alternate title Stranger in Our House)
as well as thoroughly enjoying his adaptation of the comic book Swamp Thing four years later, but it
wasn’t until November of 1984, while viewing the trailer for some new horror
flick called A Nightmare on Elm Street,
that I recall hearing and remembering the name Wes Craven. After being thrilled
by this masterpiece which, in my opinion, is Craven’s greatest work, I certainly
wanted to learn more about this extremely talented filmmaker. After doing a bit
of research, I quickly discovered that I had already seen Craven’s original and
very interesting Deadly Blessing (1981)
and, also, his other masterpiece (in my opinion): 1977’s The Hills Have Eyes. Whenever someone mentions Wes Craven, I
immediately think of Nightmare and Hills, so, due to hearing the very sad
news of his passing, I’d like to focus this article on those two masterworks
because if any movies from his amazing filmography show Wes as a
writer/director to be reckoned with, they are, without a doubt, The Hills Have Eyes and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
Craven’s first movie as writer/director
(and editor) was 1972’s controversial, but important The Last House on the Left. The disturbing film, which was inspired
by Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring (1960)
and produced by Sean Cunningham (Friday
the 13th), was made during the height of the Vietnam War and
seemed to be Craven’s outcry against the rise of violence in the United States
at the time. It also rightly depicted that violence as brutal and horrific
instead of glamorizing or sanitizing it. Lensed in New York and Connecticut for
only $87,000, the film’s poster featured the immortal tagline ‘To avoid
fainting, keep repeating, it’s only a movie…only a movie…only a movie…’, dealt
with revenge, booby traps and a civilized family vs. an uncivilized one. The
last two would show up again in Craven’s next film.
Five long years later, Craven would write
and direct again and it was definitely worth the wait. On July, 22nd,
1977, The Hills Have Eyes was
released upon an unsuspecting public. The $230,000 budgeted film dealt with the
Carters; an average, middle-class family whose car breaks down near a deserted
bomb range in the Nevada desert while driving cross-country. Once stranded,
night falls and the Carters are repeatedly attacked by an uncivilized,
cannibalistic, mutant family who live in the hills and have been surviving in
the desert for years by feeding off of anyone foolish enough to cross their
path. The cannibals, who go by names such as Mars, Mercury, Pluto and Papa
Jupiter, brutally murder Mr. and Mrs. Carter, their oldest daughter Lynne, and
Beauty, one of their two dogs. The deranged mutants also kidnap Lynne’s infant
daughter, Katie, leaving only Lynne’s younger siblings, Bobby and Brenda, along
with Lynne’s husband, Doug, and their second dog, Beast, to face the crazed
family, hopefully rescue little Katie and survive.
Although still a hardcore piece of horror
cinema, The Hills Have Eyes is a more
enjoyable experience than The Last House
on the Left. Where Last House went
for and achieved stark realism, Hills
deftly balances realistic, identifiable, likeable characters with somewhat
over-the-top/comic bookish, but still terrifying, villains (who Craven based on
the supposedly real-life, 16th century, cannibalistic Sawney Bean
family). The film chillingly shows that in a life and death situation, an
intelligent, passive, civilized person may have to become just as uncivilized
as his or her attackers. The film’s memorable tagline, “A nice American family.
They didn’t want to kill. But they didn’t want to die.”, pretty much sums up
the entire movie.
The cutting edge, low-budget film, which
introduced the world to future horror movie icons Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo) and Michael Berryman
(Deadly Blessing, The Devil’s Rejects),
went on to gross $25 million and quickly became a cult classic, further
solidifying Craven’s name as a major and original talent in the world of horror
Over the next seven years, Craven would
work in both film and television and, with the exception of the aforementioned Swamp Thing, would always direct films
in the horror genre. Immediately following Swamp
Thing, Craven completed an original horror screenplay which he
shopped all over Hollywood. Every studio
felt that the script didn’t have potential and passed on it. With almost no
money to his name and just about ready to give up on the project, Craven
finally saw a glimmer of hope as a tiny, independent company called New Line
Cinema gave the film a green light. New Line head Robert Shaye, whose company
dealt mostly in distribution, but had recently moved into production by making
a few low-budget films including an underrated 1982 horror called Alone in the Dark, believed in Craven’s
script and production immediately began with Wes once again in the director’s
chair. The screenplay’s title was A
Nightmare on Elm Street.
The frightening film tells the tale of a
group of four teens who all begin having nightmares about the same creepy,
burnt-faced man who skulks in the bowels of an old boiler room and wears a
dirty red and green sweater, a beat-up, old fedora and a self-made glove of
sharp “finger-knives.” When her friends begin dying one by one, intelligent
teen Nancy deduces that if this mysterious figure kills you in your sleep, then
you die for real. After getting almost no help from the adults around her,
Nancy does some digging and finds out that the murderer’s name is Fred Krueger
and that his motive is to kill the Elm Street kids as an act of revenge in
order to punish their parents who burned him alive ten years earlier due to him
being a filthy child murderer. Armed with only her wits and a few self-made
booby traps, Nancy prepares to face Krueger in a desperate battle for survival.
Made for under $2 million dollars, the
expertly crafted film was released on November 9, 1984 and, little by little,
gained momentum as horror fans slowly began to discover what an unexpected gem
it was. After all, the trailer made it seem as if it was just another in a
seemingly endless cycle of formulaic dead teenager flicks still being released
due to the massive success of both Halloween
(1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).
Nightmare on Elm Street was different. It was something special. More of a
psychological thriller than a by-the-numbers slasher film, Elm Street’s extremely original story, much like The Hills Have Eyes, was partly
influenced by real-life events. Wes Craven read a series of articles in the L.A. Times which detailed several young
men who were afraid to go to sleep and tried everything in their power to stay
awake. When they inevitably nodded off, they died. Craven immediately thought
“What if a person, like a boogeyman, was killing them in their dreams?” With
the story now in place, Wes then began to construct his soon-to-be iconic
villain. Craven based him on a scary childhood incident where, one night, while
little Wes was looking out his bedroom window into the alley below, a creepy
man wearing an old hat continued to stare up at him with a look of evil. Craven
then took the name Fred Krueger from a school bully who constantly tormented
him (he did the same thing twelve years earlier with The Last House on the Left; naming one character Fred and the other
Krug) and decided on Elm Street because it was a street close to the school
where he used to work as an English teacher as well as being the name of the
street where JFK was, unfortunately, assassinated on. Wes said that he wanted a
name/place that evoked pure Americana. Craven then chose the razor-sharp glove
because he was thinking of what early man may have feared and thought of the
claws of a bear. He also wanted Freddy to be a painful, optical effect, so he
decided on red and green for Freddy’s sweater after learning that they were the
two colors which were the most difficult for the eye to see side by side.
Lastly, Craven decided that Freddy would be very different from the plethora of
mute, masked, cinematic psycho killers which were inundating theaters at the
time. Freddy would talk (including a few darkly humorous lines of dialogue)
and, although covered in burnt scar tissue, remain unmasked. The chilling
monster would also take great pleasure in terrifying his victims-to-be.
The notorious exploits of real-life,
Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein have inspired several horror films over the
years; three of the most well-known being Alfred Hitchcock’s immortal Psycho (1960), Tobe Hooper’s legendary The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and
Jonathon Demme’s Academy Award-winning The
Silence of the Lambs (1991). These three masterpieces took bits and pieces
of Ed Gein’s horrific methods and personality in order to help build their own
iconic cinematic villains. For instance, instead of wearing a female victim’s
skin like Ed did, Psycho’s Norman
Bates dressed as his own mother who the disturbed boy had an unhealthy
attachment to (Gein also had an unhealthy attachment to his mom). The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill
planned to dress in the skin of his victims, but was not obsessed with his own
mother and, also, desired a sex change which Gein did not. (That film’s
Hannibal Lecter actually did dress in the skin of one of his victims, although
it seemed to be just a one-time thing for him.) Lastly, Chainsaw’s Leatherface also wore his unfortunate victim’s skin and,
much like Ed, decorated his home with human body parts. However, unlike Gein, Leatherface
used a chain saw, had a demented brother and father and could not function
within normal society. Right now, most of you are thinking that a more accurate
depiction of Gein’s atrocities has never been filmed. Not true. All you need to
do is to take a look at a lesser-known, but very well-made, low-budget thriller
Written by Alan Ormsby (Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, My
Bodyguard) and co-directed by Ormsby and Jeff Gillen, Deranged aka Deranged: The
Confessions of a Necrophile tells the gruesome story of middle-aged,
Midwest resident Ezra Cobb (Roberts Blossom from Escape from Alcatraz, Christine and Home Alone) who has lived with his religious and woman-hating
mother, Amanda (The First Time‘s
Cosette Lee), his entire life. When his mother finally passes away, Ezra begins
to slowly lose his mind. One night, he digs up her corpse and convinces himself
that she is still alive. The lonely and disturbed man eventually begins
exhuming more corpses which he uses to decorate his home. It isn’t long before
Ezra completely descends into madness and stalks fresh, young female victims. He
brings them back to his farm, dresses up in his mother’s skin and performs
unspeakable acts upon them.
Horror fans (and cinema buffs in general)
will be delighted to know that, although uncredited, the late, great filmmaker
Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Deathdream,
Murder by Decree, Porky’s, A Christmas Story) helped out quite a bit on
this film. Made for only $200,000.00, Deranged
was released in early 1974 by American International Pictures and grossed
$6 million at the box office. The powerful and disturbing Canadian-American production,
also features several highly recognizable faces from 1970s &80s Canadian
cinema such as Leslie Carlson (Videodrome,
A Christmas Story) and Marian Waldman (Black
Christmas, Phobia). Deranged also
benefits from a wonderful musical score (partly made up of Gospel hymns) by
talented composer Carl Zittrer (Children
Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, Deathdream)
as well as amazingly realistic-looking effects by legendary makeup artist/director/stuntman
Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Friday the
13th, Creepshow) in one of his very first cinematic efforts.
So, how does Deranged stack up against the Ed Gein-inspired movies mentioned
earlier? It may not have the amazing structuring and nail-biting suspense of Psycho, the well-defined
characterizations of The Silence of the
Lambs or the relentless terror of Texas
Chainsaw, but it does contain solid-enough characters (especially Ezra) and
the film builds quite nicely, culminating in an orgy of violent madness. Like
the three aforementioned classics, Deranged
isalso filled with quite a bit
of black humor which helps immensely by giving audiences some much-needed
relief from the gruesome subject matter. Speaking of humor, the movie is mostly
carried by Roberts Blossom who gives a wonderfully balanced performance as
Ezra, making the dangerous and scary killer extremely funny in spots as well as
relatable and even likeable. No, the film is not in the same league as the
others, but it’s still an extremely well-made, engaging and creepy little movie
which is not only a much more (although, not completely) accurate depiction of
the life of Ed Gein, but also a film that deserves to be seen.
Deranged has been released
as a special edition Blu-ray by the fine folks at Kino Lorber. The film is
presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the high definition transfer
looks absolutely amazing (I’ve owned a copy of this film for 25 years and it
doesn’t look anywhere near as beautiful as this transfer does). The audio is
also excellent and the disc contains the original theatrical trailer as well as
an onscreen interview with Producer Tom Karr who candidly talks about many
interesting subjects such as not being allowed to film in Wisconsin, Christopher
Walken and Harvey Keitel both almost being cast as Ezra, and the possibility of
a Deranged remake. We are also
treated to not one, but two audio commentaries. The first, which is wonderfully
moderated by director Elijah Drenner (American
Grindhouse), features personable writer and co-director Alan Ormsby who
gives us a ton of terrific behind-the-scenes info as well as his recollections
of working alongside Bob Clark, Tom Savini and co-director Jeff Gillen. The
second commentary is by film historian Richard Harland Smith from Turner
Classic Movies. Smith gives a highly absorbing and exhaustive commentary which
not only covers Ed Gein and Deranged,
but every conceivable piece of cinema even remotely related to this subject
matter including Caddyshack! The
poster’s original, effective images and highly memorable tagline, “Pretty Sally
Mae died a very unnatural death!...but the worst hasn’t happened to her yet!”, are
featured on both the Blu-ray’s sleeve and menu. The often overlooked film is a
real find for retro horror fans/lovers of early 70s cult cinema, and this
impressive Blu-ray collection is an absolute must.
By 1988 Chuck Norris was firmly established
as an international action movie star who was spoken about in the same breath
as Charles Bronson, Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The six-time
world karate champion had shown us his stuff in more than a half dozen
entertaining martial arts/action flicks such as Silent Rage (1982), Forced
Vengeance (1982) and Lone Wolf
McQuade (1983) before somewhat breaking away from his karate roots and
moving into almost pure action films the likes of Missing in Action (1984), Code
of Silence (1985) and Invasion U.S.A.
(1985). Although Chuck eventually tried his hand at comedy (1986’s Firewalker), his fans (including me) were
happiest at seeing him play the lone hero who kicks ass, takes names and makes
the world a better place. In 1988, we got our wish as Chuck continued his
successful association with now legendary film studio The Cannon Group and
starred in a brand new action film entitled Hero
and the Terror.
Directed by William Tannen (Flashpoint), Hero and the Terror, which was based on a novel by actor/writer Michael
Blodgett (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,
Turner & Hooch), concerns Homicide detective Dan O’Brien (Norris) who,
a few years earlier, had been given the nickname “Hero” due to “capturing”
notorious Los Angeles serial killer Simon Moon (Superman II’s Jack O’Halloran). Since then, O’Brien has been
mentally torturing himself because he believes that the praise he has received
is undeserved. He also suffers from nightmares that stem from almost being murdered
by the monstrous psychopath. While Dan and his girlfriend (Brynn Thayer from
TVs One Life to Live) are busy
preparing for the birth of their first child, Moon, who the media has dubbed
“The Terror”, busts out of prison and picks up exactly where he left off,
leaving a string of bloody corpses in his wake. Can detective O’Brien not only
summon the courage needed to face this horrific madman once again, but, also,
prove to himself that he has the right to be called “Hero”?
Hero and the Terror
a bit of a unique Chuck Norris movie in that it isn’t just the usual guy flick.
Besides being a well-balanced combo of action film and suspense thriller, it
also contains a mature, romantic subplot; not to mention the fact that Chuck (believably)
plays a more realistic and human character as opposed to the almost
indestructible supermen he’s portrayed in the past, making this film appealing
to women as well as men. Brynn Thayer, as Chuck’s girlfriend, helps this along
by giving a very likeable and sometimes humorous performance.
The entertaining film is loaded with even
more top-notch acting talent. To begin with, professional boxer turned actor
Jack O’Halloran is appropriately creepy as Simon Moon. O’Halloran never utters
a word and, instead, gets his character across through expressions and body
language alone. Next up, is the late, great Steve James (American Ninja, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Weekend at Bernie’s II and
Norris’s Delta Force) as Chuck’s
cool, funny and fearless partner. Also, the legendary and sorely missed Ron (Super Fly) O’Neal (who also co-stars in
Chuck’s A Force of One) makes a brief
appearance as the mayor; the always welcome Billy Drago (Pale Rider, The Untouchables as well as Chuck’s Invasion U.S.A. and Delta Force 2) appears in a rare, normal role as a psychiatrist; talented
musician Murphy Dunne (The Blues Brothers)
gives an amusing performance as a hotel manager, and likable Jeffrey Kramer (Jaws, Hollywood Boulevard, Jaws 2) as
well as highly recognizable character actor Tony DiBenedetto (The Exterminator, Raw Deal) show up as
cops. The movie also features Joe Guzaldo (Chuck’s Code of Silence) as the mayor’s right hand man; not to mention
cameos by 9th degree black belt Bob Wall (Enter the Dragon and Way of
the Dragon which also featured Chuck), the beautiful Karen Witter (Out of the Dark, Buried Alive, TV’s One Life to Live) and Renegade’s Branscombe Richmond as a
thug. The fun movie boasts solid direction, decent characterizations and, with
the exception of the well-done and refreshing romantic subplot, is exactly what
you would expect from a late 80s action film.
Hero and the Terror
been released on a region one Blu-ray by Kino Lorber and is presented in its
original 1:85:1 aspect ratio. The beautiful HD transfer boasts sharp, crystal
clear images and the disc not only contains the original theatrical trailer,
but the trailer for Chuck’s enjoyable 1981 actioner An Eye for an Eye as well. If you’re yearning for an entertaining,
yet more mature Chuck Norris action-thriller, Hero and the Terror won’t disappoint.
After his iconic battle against the
legendary Bruce Lee in 1972’s Way of the
Dragon (and with the encouragement of cinematic superstar and karate
student Steve McQueen), six-time, undefeated world karate champion Chuck Norris
felt it was time to move permanently into the world of cinema. In just a few
short years, he was already headlining low budget martial arts/action films
such as 1974’s Slaughter in San Francisco
(as a villain), 1977’s Breaker!
Breaker! and 1978’s Good Guys Wear
Black (his first box office hit). This success led to Chuck’s 1979 karate
classic, A Force of One. The cool and
entertaining film really started to get him noticed by action movie fans and
was quickly followed by The Octagon (1980),
an exciting and suspenseful ninja thriller. With Norris and karate/action movie
audiences now hungry for more, Chuck immediately started work on his next
feature, 1981’s highly enjoyable An Eye
for an Eye.
After his partner is murdered by powerful
international drug lord Morgan Canfield (played by the late, great Christopher
Lee), detective Sean Kane (Norris) is berated by his captain (Richard Shaft Roundtree) for using excessive force
in his quest for answers. Fed up with how the law works, Sean willingly
relinquishes his gun and his badge. However, Sean Kane doesn’t need a weapon.
Sean Kane is a weapon!Seething with rage and hell-bent on revenge,
Sean, along with a grief-stricken father (the sorely missed Mako from Conan the Barbarian and Chuck’s Sidekicks) of one of Canfield’s recent
victims, sets out on a quest to find the mysterious drug kingpin and bring him
to his knees.
Directed by Steve Carver (Big Bad Mama and Chuck’s Lone Wolf McQuade), An Eye for an Eye, which was the last film to be made by famed
independent film studio Avco Embassy Pictures (The Fog, Phantasm, The Exterminator, The Howling), was written by
William Gray (Prom Night, Humongous)
and James Bruner (Chuck’s Invasion U.S.A.
and The Delta Force), and shot
entirely on location in San Francisco, California.
The nicely paced, entertaining and well-structured
film is filled with solid direction as well as memorable and diverse
characters; not to mention wonderful performances. As is usually the case with
his engaging action films, Chuck Norris is cool, a bit humorous and totally
believable as a courageous, but dangerous hero. It’s also no surprise that the
legendary Christopher Lee brings a touch of diabolical class to his villainous role
while the great and always reliable Richard Roundtree delivers another solid
performance. The rest of the top-notch cast shines as well. Academy Award
nominee (for The Sand Pebbles) Mako
is extremely lively and witty, making his character the perfect sidekick for
the low-key and semi-serious Chuck; Matt Clark (The Outlaw Josey Wales and Chuck’s Walker, Texas Ranger) delivers a wonderfully balanced and subtle performance
as fellow cop McCoy; beautiful Maggie Cooper (TV actress turned news
commentator) does well with her role as Chuck’s love interest; three time WWWF
(now WWE) Tag Team Champion Professor Toru Tanaka (The Running Man and Chuck’s Missing
in Action 2: The Beginning) is completely convincing as a deadly and
intimidating Bond-like henchman; the lovely Rosalind Chao (TV’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) gives a
powerful, but, unfortunately, brief performance as a news reporter; Stuart
Pankin (Arachnophobia) is quite comical
as an effeminate pimp and, in their brief roles, Terry Kiser (Weekend at Bernie’s, Walker, Texas Ranger) is warm and
likeable as a cop while action movie regular Mel Novak (Chuck’s A Force of One) exudes slimy evil as a
street snitch. The simple, yet intriguing story moves along at a fast clip and
the skillfully directed action sequences (especially the very suspenseful chase
scene between Rosalind Chao and Professor Tanaka as well as an exciting
helicopter attack that could rival a Bond film) will no doubt keep you
watching. Add to all of this a kick-ass musical theme by talented composer
William Goldstein (Chuck’s Forced
Vengeance) and you have an early 80s action/adventure that is a real joy to
An Eye for an Eye has been released
on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in a brand new, HD, anamorphic (1.85:1) widescreen
transfer and although the film shows some slight grain in the darker scenes,
the movie is otherwise crystal clear and the colors are vibrant. I love this film
and this is the absolute best I’ve ever seen it look. Needless to say, it’s a
tremendous improvement over the previous DVD release. The region 1 disc also
contains a very informative audio commentary with director Steve Carver who not
only discusses numerous aspects of the film’s production, but also talks about
many interesting things such as working for Avco Embassy and how the late
Professor Tanaka was really taking those hits and kicks Chuck was dishing out
in the big finale. Carver also has some wonderful and fascinating things to say
about Chuck Norris, Christopher Lee, Richard Roundtree, Mako, Toru Tanaka and
the rest of the talented cast. The disc features the original theatrical
trailer (“White Lightning is back!”) along with a trailer for Chuck’s enjoyable
1988 action-thriller Hero and the Terror (also
on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber).
like me, you’re a fan of Chuck Norris’s early 80s martial arts/action films, I
highly recommend this Blu-ray release of An
Eye for an Eye.
Biker films have been around for decades.
Although most cinephiles cite Marlon Brando’s The Wild One (1953) as the first great biker movie, it wasn’t until
the mid-1960s and the release of the 1966 Roger Corman-directed classic The Wild Angels that biker films really
exploded onto the scene. Made for $360,000 and grossing close to $16 million, The Wild Angels started a cinematic
cycle trend that lasted well into the 1970s.
Noticing that other enterprising filmmakers
were cashing in on their film’s success, legendary studio American
International Pictures quickly decided that another biker flick was in order.
They gathered Corman (to produce); Wild Angels
scribe Charles B. Griffith (Rock All
Night, A Bucket of Blood, The Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000) to
write and, together, came up with the next biker extravaganza, 1967’s Devil’s Angels aka The Checkered Flag.
Directed by Daniel Haller (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The
Wild Racers, Dunwich Horror), Devil’s
Angels concerns a group of rebellious, anti-establishment bikers called the
Skulls who are searching for a police-free place they’ve dubbed Hole-in-the-Wall.
They roll into the small town of Brookville and are immediately ordered to
leave by the intimidated mayor (Paul Myer). The Skulls’ leader, Cody (played by
independent filmmaking icon; the late, great John Cassavetes), informs the
sheriff (Tobruk’s Leo Gordon) that
they’re not looking for trouble and that he, his girl Lynn (the beautiful Beverly
Adams from How to Stuff a Wild Bikini)
and the rest of the posse just need a place to crash for the night. The sheriff
decides to give Cody a chance and agrees to let the group spend the night on
the beach if they promise to remain there and then leave first thing in the
morning. Cody gives his word and the bikers take off along with a local beauty
contestant (Mimsy Farmer from Four Flies
on Grey Velvet) who’s infatuated with the group. The mayor berates the
sheriff for letting them stay in town, but the lawman doesn’t budge. While at
the beach, the group gets the girl high, teases her a bit and sends her running
back to town in fright. The mayor lies by telling the sheriff that the Skulls
raped the unharmed girl and Cody is arrested. When the sheriff learns the
truth, he immediately lets Cody go, but orders him and his friends to leave
town. Meanwhile, the Skulls, who don’t like being accused of rape, decide that
the town needs to be taught a lesson. With the help of a larger group of bikers
called the Stompers, they ride back into town (against Cody’s wishes),
completely take it over and put the authorities on trial. The mayor’s lie is
revealed and he is sentenced to a public beating which Cody goes along with.
The Skulls also feel that, because they were accused of rape, they are owed a
rape. Cody is totally against this. He tries his best to stop it, but all hell
winds up breaking loose. As the Stompers and the Skulls (including Lynn) tear
Brookville apart, Cody, realizing that his Hole-in-the-Wall doesn’t exist,
quits the group and rides off alone before the state police arrive.
With only a $4 million gross, Devil’s Angels may not have been a major
hit for AIP, but it’s still an
interesting and well-done biker film which features several highly recognizable
faces from 1960s/70s cinema and television such as Marc Cavell (Cool Hand Luke), Russ Bender (Bonanza), Buck Taylor (Gunsmoke), Bruce Kartalian (The Outlaw Josey Wales) and Mitzi Hoag (Deadly Game).
Although not nearly as well-remembered as the
Dennis Hopper/Peter Fonda 1969 classic Easy Rider nor as hard-hitting as Al
Adamson’s Satan’s Sadists from the
same year, Devil’s Angels is a solidly-made,
quirky and enjoyable exploitation film that benefits most from a wonderfully
complex performance by the legendary John Cassavetes as well as an entertaining
and thoughtful screenplay by the extremely underrated Charles Griffith. There’s
also a terrific musical score written by Mike Curb and performed by Sidewalk
Productions. Not to mention a catchy theme song by Jerry and the Portraits with
additional music courtesy of Dave Allen and the Arrows.
As far as the Skulls go, they’re mainly
benign (but not as cool as the goodhearted bikers from 1976’s Northville Cemetery Massacre) andjust looking for a place to be free.
The havoc they cause (with the exception of an accidental death) is mostly
light (and presented humorously) and they’re never really violent until the
very end, so if you’re looking for an intimidating band of evil hell raisers,
look elsewhere. As for me, I thoroughly enjoy this film; always have. It’s a
fun biker flick with a strong cast and a thought-provoking story. If you’re a
biker film fanatic or just a fan of AIP/Roger Corman in general, I definitely
recommend checking it out.
Devil’s Angels has been released
as a DVD-R from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. The film is presented in
its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although it’s far from Blu-ray quality,
the movie is more than watchable. Also, the audio is clear, and the DVD’s
sleeve and menu feature the original and very cool-looking poster artwork.
Most cinema scholars not only cite Alfred
Hitchcock’s 1960 masterwork Psycho as
the start of the modern horror film, but also its iconic shower scene as the
beginning of a new level of acceptability of violent content in cinema. Over
the next few years, violence (and gore) would escalate in genre films such as
the Herschell Gordon Lewis splatter-fests Blood
Feast (1963) and Color Me Blood Red (1965).
By the end of the decade, George Romero’s excellent zombie-munching classic, Night of the Living Dead (1968), as well
as non-horror masterpieces like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), left no doubt in the minds of cinemagoers
that they were in a new era of in-your-face, cinematic violence and gore. As
far as horror movies go, the trend continued throughout the 1970s with now
legendary films such as Wes Craven’s The Last
House on the Left (1972), William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973), Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and Romero’s Night
of the Living Dead sequel, the ultra-gory, semi-satirical zombie masterpiece
Dawn of the Dead (1978). As the 1980s began, most horror films
were copying the structure of John Carpenter’s phenomenal 1978 classic, Halloween, but, due to being incapable
of duplicating that film’s expertly- mounted suspense, they instead added Dawn’s grisly effects. By 1981, horror
fans expected to see plenty of blood and guts on the big screen, so almost
every genre film released during that time happily obliged. Not all horror
movies took this approach, however. For instance, there was an Australian-made
film that deviated from the current violent trend and, instead, went for more
cerebral scares. That film was called The
After miraculously walking away unscathed
from a plane crash that killed almost 300 innocent passengers, 747 pilot Captain
Keller (Jesus of Nazareth’sRobert Powell), in an attempt to
discover exactly what caused the crash and why he was the only one to survive, joins
forces with a psychic named Hobbs (Jenny Agutter from Logan’s Run and An American
Werewolf in London) who strongly feels the restless spirits of the newly
Directed by accomplished British actor
David Hemmings (Blow-Up, Barbarella, Deep
Red), The Survivor is an
adaptation of a story of the same name by famed horror novelist James Herbert (whose
first novel, The Rats,was also adapted into a movie; 1983’s Deadly Eyes). The supernatural chiller,
which co-stars Australian actress Angela Punch-McGregor (The Island) and, in his final role, Hollywood legend Joseph Cotton
(Citizen Kane, The Third Man, Shadow of a
Doubt), was produced by Antony I. Ginnane (Snapshot, Dead Kids and Harlequin,
which also stars Robert Powell as well as David Hemmings). The $1, 200, 000
budgeted film also features a wonderful, but unusual soundtrack by talented
composer Brian May (Mad Max, Road Games and
the Ginnane-produced Patrick) and contains
an interesting story, powerful acting, beautiful daytime cinematography by
Academy Award-winning director of photography John Seale (The English Patient),as
well as impressive and somewhat frightening imagery (although, it would have
benefitted from a few more creepy images, atmospheric sequences and a clearer
narrative; not to mention slightly speeding up the pace).
So, was the idea to do a more psychological
horror film the way to go or should the filmmakers have gone ahead and added
the excessive gore that was demanded by horror audiences at the time? I have to
say that, artistically, the filmmakers, without a doubt, made the right
decision. It’s difficult to imagine this very suggestive movie soaked in bloody
effects as the gore would seem out of place and make the film feel extremely
unbalanced. However, The Survivor’s failure
at the box office was mostly due to it not packing enough of a bloody punch
that 1981 audiences demanded, so, in a business sense, I suppose the no-gore
decision was a bad one. Still, I’m glad the decision was made. Although by no
means a horror classic, The Survivor is
a well-made and evocative thriller that, almost 35 years after its release, can
finally be appreciated for what it is and not panned for refusing to meet
audience demands of its time.
The Survivor has been released
on DVD by the fine folks at Scorpion Releasing. The film is presented in its
original 2:35:1 aspect ratio and, although the night scenes are a tad too dark
and the film contains very minor scratching, the movie is otherwise extremely
sharp and more than watchable. Special features include a humorous and
informative introduction by Scorpion DVD hostess (and former WWE diva/TNA
knockout) Katarina Leigh Waters as well as an interesting and eye-opening audio
commentary by producer Antony I. Ginnane (moderated by Katarina) who talks
about, among many other subjects, David Hemmings’ visual style and the reasons
as to why the film was originally cut down prior to its release (the version
here is the full 98 minute cut). The disc also contains the original theatrical
trailer as well as trailers for a plethora of other great Scorpion releases
such as Mortuary, The Devil Within Her,
Don’t Answer the Phone and Final Exam.
If you’re looking for a moody, adult and more cerebral horror film, give The Survivor a whirl.
While working at the Tromaville Health Club
in 1984, goodhearted, 98lb. weakling Melvin “The Mop Boy” was tricked into
wearing a pink tutu and teased unmercifully until he fell from a two-story
window and landed in a vat of nuclear waste. The toxic chemicals changed little
Melvin, transforming him into a hideously deformed creature of superhuman size
and strength. Melvin became The Toxic Avenger, the first superhero from New Jersey!
Written and Directed by the great Lloyd
Kaufman (and co-directed by his partner-in-slime, Michael Herz), The Toxic Avenger, which is a thoroughly
entertaining and unique combination of the superhero genre, raunchy and over-the-top
comedy, as well as full-on horror movie-type gore,not only became an instant hit, but singlehandedly built Troma
films (Toxie is the company’s mascot much like Spider-man is to Marvel Comics).
The Toxic Avenger character became so popular that, over the years, fans were
treated to Tromatic goodies such as Toxie comic books, action figures, a
children’s cartoon series (Toxic
Crusaders) and even a musical; not to mention three hilarious sequels (with
a fourth on the way). The first sequel, also written by Kaufman, and, again,
directed by Lloyd and Herz, appeared in 1989.
Thanks to Toxie’s past heroics, The Toxic Avenger Part II begins with
the little people of Tromaville living in peace and harmony. That is, until the
evil chemical corporation Apocalypse Inc. comes to town and blows up the local
home for the blind which, incidentally, happens to be where Toxie (played by Ron
Fazio and John Altamura) is working, along with his blind girlfriend, Claire (singer/musician/artist/poet/filmmaker
Phoebe Legere). After Toxie mops up the floor with the corporation’s top
henchman, the evil Chairman (Rick Collins from Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D.) and his partner Miss Malfaire (Class of Nuke ‘Em High 2’sLisa Gaye) devise a diabolical plan to
rid Tromaville of the Toxic Avenger once and for all. They convince Toxie to
travel to Tokyo in order to locate his long-lost father, Big Mac (Rikiya
Yasuoka from Black Rain). Not only
will Toxie’s absence allow Apocalypse Inc. to take over Tromaville hassle-free,
but, while he’s in Japan, Miss Malfaire and the evil Chairman will order their
Tokyo contacts to use state-of-the-art Japanese technology in order to rid
Toxie of the Troma-tons within his body which not only give him his superhuman
size and strength, but also act up whenever he’s in the presence of evil. Will
the oblivious monster-hero figure stop the evil corporation from taking over
both Tromaville and Japan or will Apocalypse Inc. reign supreme?
I first saw this film in 1989 at a (sadly)
now defunct grindhouse theater on New York’s famed 42nd street. I
was a bit disappointed as I felt that the sequel didn’t live up to the
greatness of the original. Over 25 years later, I still feel that it doesn’t
come close to the original film, but I do find it a lot more entertaining than
I did back then (probably because this is the Director’s Cut and not the
chopped up, R-rated version I saw on its original release). Like the first
film, it’s still a wild combo of super heroics, raunchy, over-the-top comedy
and excessive gore, and the movie barely stops to catch its breath during the
109-minute running time. The larger-than-life acting is a real joy to watch too.
In particular, Lisa Gaye (who studied under Strasberg) and Phoebe Legere both
shine in their insane roles and these two lovely ladies prove to be extremely
gifted comic actors. Also, for those who enjoy seeing stars before they hit the
big time, the incredibly talented Michael Jai White (Tyson, Spawn, Black Dynamite) makes his film debut as an evil, yet
Although, the film runs a bit too long and
isn’t as focused as the original, The
Toxic Avenger Part II is loaded with enjoyably campy humor and wonderfully
comic bookish situations, characters & performances as well as insane (in a
good way) direction. It also contains a fun, Heavy Metal Toxie song and the
classic theme of good vs. evil.
If you’re a true-blue Tromaniac, you’ll be
happy to know that Lloyd Kaufman and the terrific Troma team have put together
a lovely remastered, Troma-rrific HD transfer presented in its original 1:85:1
aspect ratio. The region free Blu-ray/DVD is also packed with a ton of special
features (most of which have been carried over from previous releases). Along
with the original theatrical trailer, we also get trailers for the remaining
three Toxic Avenger films as well as
several other Troma classics like Troma’s
War and Return to Nuke ‘Em High:
Volumes 1 & 2; not to mention the featurette: The American Cinematheque Honors 40 Years of Troma, two humorous,
retro features: At Home with Toxie and
Toxie on Japanese T.V., a brief interview
with Lisa Gaye who happily discusses her association with the fiercely
independent company, a brand new introduction by the King of Troma himself,
Lloyd Kaufman, as well as a retro DVD intro and, last, but certainly not least,
a full-length, hilarious and informative audio commentary from writer/director Kaufman,
who discusses a plethora of interesting subjects such as filming in New York,
New Jersey and Tokyo as well as his many battles with the MPAA. My only
complaint here is that the commentary is out of sync, as Lloyd seems to be six
minutes ahead of the visuals. Other than
that, it’s over four hours of toxic goodness, so if you’re a Troma fanatic, a
lover of Toxie or just enjoy off-the-wall insanity, this Blu-ray is an absolute
Remember the days when it seemed as if
every week a new slasher film with a holiday in the title would hit movie
theaters and you couldn’t wait to see it? How about waiting with baited breath
to see if Eddie Murphy would appear as Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live? Or walking around the neighborhood with your
boom box blasting awesome tunes from legendary groups like Blondieor The Police? Well, if you were a
teenager in the 1980s, you remember these things well. You probably also
remember trying to sneak into the local movie theater in order to see R-rated
sex comedies like Porky’s (1982)or hanging out with your friends at the
corner pizza shop and playing now classic video games such as Donkey Kong, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga. If all this talk (especially the
sex comedy/video game part) is making you nostalgic for those unforgettable
days of fun, then you’re gonna love 1983’s Joysticks.
With the help of his idiotic nephews Arnie
(John Diehl from Stripes) and Max (Newhart’s John Voldstad), uptight
businessman Joseph Rutter (the great Joe Don Baker from Walking Tall, GoldenEye and Mars
Attacks!) does everything in his power to get the local video arcade shut
down. However, arcade owner Jefferson Bailey (Secret Admirer’sScott
McGinnis) doesn’t plan on going out without a fight. Jefferson enlists his
co-worker Eugene (Leif Green from Grease
2), his best friend McDorfus (Night
Shift’s Jim Greenleaf) as well as Rutter’s rebellious daughter Patsy (Corinne
Bohrer from Vice Versa) to help him
thwart the reactionary businessman’s misguided plan. The battle for the
arcade’s future culminates in a Super Pac-Man duel between the video
game-phobic Jefferson and Rutter’s Super Pac-Man champion, King Vidiot (Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Gries).
If you don’t remember seeing this mindless,
but deliriously fun film way back when, then you probably at least recall
catching the trailer on TV. Joysticks was
the brainchild of independent filmmaking legend Greydon Clark (Satan’s Cheerleaders, Angel’s Brigade,
Without Warning) who, while at a screening of his 1982 slasher film parody Wacko, noticed a line of kids standing
in front of a video game in the lobby of the theater. Seeing how excited these
kids were over playing this game, Greydon immediately thought that a video
arcade would be the perfect location for a hot, new teenage sex comedy. The
creative director developed his timely idea further, began filming in the fall
of ’82, and by the following spring, Joysticks
was the #1 movie in the country.
The humorous film is filled with solid
direction, extremely loveable characters and fun performances (you may not
recognize most of that incredibly talented cast by name, but trust me when I
tell you that you’ll immediately recognize their faces as they’ve all gone on
to do a plethora of work over the years). Joysticks
also benefits from a simple and engaging story as well as contains enough laughs
to fill its brief 87 minute running time. The lighthearted comedy may not be in
the same league as, say, Animal House (1978)or Caddyshack
(1980), and it’s far from being an accurate depiction of teenage life in
the ‘80s à la Fast Times at Ridgemont High
(1982), but it’s a harmless and highly enjoyable film. If you were around
during the early ‘80s video game craze, will have you happily strolling down
Joysticks has been released
on DVD by Scorpion Releasing in a brand new 16x9 anamorphic (1.78:1) widescreen
transfer and, although the film shows some scratches and the colors aren’t as
vibrant as, say, Blu-ray, the movie is more than watchable and a huge
improvement over the previous DVD release. The disc also contains the original
theatrical trailer, a very interesting and informative audio commentary with
producer/director Clark who discusses many aspects of the film’s production
and, also, an onscreen interview with Clark who not only talks about several
films from his impressive filmography, but also details directing seasoned
veterans Joe Don Baker (who also starred in Wacko
and Final Justice for Clark),
George Kennedy (Wacko and Clark’s The Uninvited), Jack Palance (Angel’s Brigade, Without Warning),
Martin Landau (Without Warning and
Clark’s second sci-fi film The Return)
and Robert Englund (Clark’s Dance Macabre).
Rounding out the special features are several fun 70s/80s exploitation trailers
(the awesome trailer for 1981’s Kill and
Kill Again is priceless) which are guaranteed to bring back memories.
Whether you’re a fan of Greydon Clark, Joe
Don Baker, retro video games, ‘80s teen sex comedies or just like to sit back,
veg out and feel good, Joysticks is
the DVD for you.
(NOTE: Scorpion Releasing advises that this title has sold out. However, the company may do a re-pressing in the future. For now, it is available on Amazon through third party sources. Click here to order.)
Shaft! Superfly! Supersoul Brother? That’s right, boys and girls. There’s a new hero
in town and his name is Steve. Once a down-on-his-luck, homeless wino, Steve,
thanks to a freaky scientific experiment, has been transformed into an
incredible being who is faster than a…well, he’s actually not faster than much
of anything , but he is more powerful than your local wino and able to bag
chicks who are way out of his league!If
you’re a fan of the funky ‘70s Blaxploitation genre, you can rejoice as a real
rarity has been dug up for your viewing pleasure.
When speaking about Blaxploitation cinema,
most film buffs immediately think of classic action flicks such as Foxy Brown or Three the Hard Way (and rightly so), but there were plenty of other
wonderful genres covered. For instance, horror quickly comes to mind. Blacula and The Zombies of Sugar Hill are not only two solid entries in
Blaxploitation cinema, but in horror cinema as well. And then there’s comedy. Who
can forget Rudy Ray Moore’s uproarious classics like Dolemite or Disco Godfather?
Supersoul Brother sort of fits into
this last category as, like Dolemite,
it’s a spoof of crime/action movies; not to mention comic book superheroes (it
was originally going to be titled The
Black Superman) and the then enormously popular Six Million Dollar Man television show.
Directed by Rene Martinez who also co-wrote
with Laura S. Diaz, Supersoul Brother aka
The Six Thousand Dollar Nigger (I kid
you not) concerns small time hoods Bob (Benny Latimore) and Jim (Lee Cross) who
pay evil Dr. Dippy (Peter Conrad) six thousand dollars to create a super
strength serum that will enable them to easily rob a safe filled with diamonds.
There’s only one small problem: whoever takes the serum dies in six days. Enter
Steve (played by comedian Wildman Steve Gallon), a wino who has hit rock bottom.
The hoods inject the unwary Steve with the serum, convince him to carry out the
robbery (which Steve thinks is just a practical joke) and plan on keeping all
the diamonds for themselves once Steve croaks. However, Super-Steve catches
wind of their nefarious plan, hides the diamonds and, with the help of Nurse
Peggy (the gorgeous Joycelyn Norris), tries to elude the hoods and find an
antidote before it’s too late.
These days, cinema buffs searching high and
low for a lost, early work of a modern filmmaker is almost unheard of , as most
everything is readily available on DVD or Blu-ray. However, back in the day,
this was far from the case. Way back when, many early efforts from then current
directorial masters were extremely hard to find. For example, throughout the 1980s,
I can remember looking everywhere for a copy of George A. Romero’s third film Season of the Witch aka Hungry Wives (1972)as well as Martin Scorsese’s debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967)just to name a few. Another movie I always longed to see was a
strange, little action film called Fast
Company. The reason I use the word strange is because the movie was
directed by the enormously talented, Canadian born David Cronenberg. Although
he is now known for masterpieces such as A
History of Violence (2005) and Eastern
Promises (2007) , Cronenberg once carried the moniker “The King of Canadian
Horror” (due to his unique series of “Body Horror” films such as Shivers aka They Came from Within (1975), Rabid
(1977) and 1979’s The Brood), so,
in the mid-80s, it was quite a surprise for me to learn that not only was there
a lost Cronenberg film out there which was made in between all these
underground genre classics, but also that the movie was a mainstream action
Fast Company tells the story of aging
drag racer Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (Rich
Man, Poor Man’sWilliam Smith)
and his struggles with cutthroat manager Phil Adamson (John Saxon from Enter the Dragon) whose underhanded
actions affect Lonnie’s long distance girlfriend, Sammy (Deathsport’sClaudia
Jennings), Lonnie’s protégé, Billy “The Kid” Brocker (Nicholas Campbell from Da Vinci’s Inquest), Billy’s girl, Candy
(One Night Only’s Judy Foster) and
their chief mechanic, Elder (Don Francks from 1981’s My Bloody Valentine).
Sort of a slick combination of drag racing
docudrama and exploitation action film, Fast
Company, which was co-written by Cronenberg, is an extremely interesting
and entertaining (not to mention accurate) look at life in the fast paced,
blue-collar world of professional drag racing. By mounting his camera on and
inside the race cars, Cronenberg tells a great visual story while, at the same
time, placing the viewer right into the center of the action. There’s also
solid performances from the top notch cast (it’s great to see Saxon in another
villainous role after watching him play countless cops over the years, while
the usually intimidating William Smith shines as good guy Lonnie), and the film
itself, with its fitting, hard rock soundtrack by musician Fred Mollin (Friday’s Curse aka Friday the 13th: The Series), has a light, fun and
enjoyable feel to it.
If you’re like me and you’ve been waiting
years to see this lost film, you’ll be happy to know that the wait was well
worth it as Blue Underground has pulled out all the stops to bring us an
absolutely beautiful transfer presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio.
The Blu-ray is also jam packed with special features (all of which are ported
over from the 2004 Blue Underground DVD with the exceptions of a poster and still
gallery, and bios of both Cronenberg and Claudia Jennings). Along with the
original theatrical trailer, we have a fantastic twelve minute documentary
titled Inside the Character Actor’s
Studio which features interviews with acting heavyweights William Smith and
John Saxon (appearing here together) who not only recall their roles in the
film, but also talk about what it means to be a character actor as opposed to
being a leading man. It’s a real treat to see these two B-movie icons
reminiscing and joking about their amazing careers and my only complaint is
that the documentary isn’t longer, as I could listen to these guys talk for
hours. Next, we have a second documentary about famed cinematographer Mark
Irwin (There’s Something About Mary).
Here, Irwin fills us in on, amongst other fascinating things, how some of the
more complicated night shots were achieved, and he also talks about the five
“Body Horror” classics he went on to shoot for Cronenberg.
For most viewers familiar with the director’s
work, Fast Company may seem out of
place in his filmography, but to David Cronenberg, it’s simply another one of
his many cinematic children. On the audio commentary track of this Blu-ray, the
director tells us how he himself is a huge sports car enthusiast as well as a
former road racer and, therefore, this film fits right in with the rest of his
works as it has to do with just another one of his many interests. He also
affectionately goes into detail about a plethora of subjects such as how Fast Company is really a modern western
(another thing that attracted him to the project), how this is the first time
he ever shot a scene on a film set as opposed to shooting entirely on location,
and the importance of this film due to the fact that he met many members of his
future filmmaking crew (and cast) here. Cronenberg also explains the state of
the Canadian film industry in 1979, recounts a great story about how John Saxon
praised his direction, and talks briefly about the lovely and talented drive-in
movie queen; the late, great Claudia Jennings who, sadly, died in an auto
accident shortly after completing this film. It’s a very interesting and
informative commentary that, just like the film itself, will appeal to Cronenberg
fans, race car aficionados, budding filmmakers and B-movie buffs alike.
As if all this wasn't enough, the disc
also features Cronenberg’s first two, seldom seen features, Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970), making this Blu-ray an absolute must
for Cronenberg completists; highly recommended.
Fans of legendary director Brian De Palma
lovingly recall how the auteur’s early thrillers contained at least one sequence
which employed the split-screen technique (a device by which two moving images
are projected simultaneously onto separate parts of the screen). This
technique, when used properly, is capable of generating extreme suspense and
involvement in an already enthralled audience. De Palma masterfully used the
split-screen in his still-underrated, 1973 debut thriller, Sisters (as well as in many of his later cinematic masterpieces
such as Carrie and Dressed to Kill), milking certain scenes
for every bit of tension and suspense possible. Now, if the split-screen was
that effective in just a few sequences, wouldn’t using it throughout an entire
film cause maximum suspense and entertainment? That’s the question the
filmmakers of Wicked, Wicked not only
asked, but bravely attempted to answer.
Writer-director Richard L. Bare came up
with the idea of filming an entire movie in split-screen (here dubbed
Duo-Vision) while simply driving home one day. Bare, who is best known for
directing most episodes of the 1960s sitcom Green
Acres, saw the line that divided the road and realized that he was viewing
one side of the freeway and the other simultaneously. He immediately decided to
shoot an entire movie this way. The idea proved to be quite a Herculean
undertaking as Bare had to first write a script which constantly contained two
separate scenes side by side where, normally, there would be only one. More
than up for the challenge, Bare came up with a story involving a disturbed,
young man (Randolph Roberts from Happy Days)
with a mommy fixation who murders any blonde-haired women that happen to be
staying at the old hotel where he’s currently employed. (The young madman also
lives inside the walls of the hotel where he can easily spy on all the guests,
making the plot a fun combination of The
Phantom of the Opera and Psycho.)
The hotel detective (Another World’sDavid Bailey) races against time while
desperately trying to find and stop the masked lunatic before he can reach his
next target: the beautiful hotel lounge singer (played by the always welcome
Tiffany Bolling from Kingdom of the
Spiders who belts out all of this film’s many tunes herself). The unique
movie also features several highly recognizable faces from 1960s/70s cinema and
television such as Scott Brady (The Night
Strangler), Edd Byrnes (Grease),
Madeleine Sherwood (The Flying Nun),
Diane McBain (Spinout), Roger Bowen (M.A.S.H.,1970) and Arthur O’Connell (Fantastic
Voyage). Due to the split-screen
process, the actual filming took double the time it normally would have and the
film’s budget doubled as well. It also took a whopping 32 weeks to edit Wicked, Wicked which is about five times
the amount it would have taken to edit a standard film.
So, was Duo-Vision worth it? Overall, I
have to say no. I think the film would have worked just fine without it (as
well as saved a lot of time and money) because the split-screen really doesn’t
accomplish all it should in terms of suspense here. Also, seeing two actions
simultaneously may be interesting at first, but, after about ten minutes, you
get used to it and it feels just like any other movie. This process really only
works when it heightens the suspense, a la De Palma, and, unfortunately,
Richard Bare, although more than competent, is not in the same league as the
master filmmaker. That being said, I enjoyed the film itself. Sure, the story
is derivative and a bit (intentionally) silly in spots, but it’s still an
entertaining enough psychofilm with a solid, likeable cast and a fun hotel
setting. I also recommend checking it out in order to see the results of the
time and effort the filmmakers put into this extremely ambitious project.
Wicked, Wicked has been released
as a DVD-R from Warner Archive. The film is presented in its original 2:35:1
aspect ratio and, although the colors seem a bit washed out, the movie is more
than watchable. It’s also the only way you may be able to see this film at the
moment due to the fact that Warner most likely has no plans to release it in a
re-mastered version. (Most titles released in the DVD-R format aren’t really in
high enough demand, so money won’t be spent to re-master them properly.) The
audio is terrific and the disc also contains the original theatrical trailer
(which isn’t in Duo-Vision, but, color-wise, is actually much more vibrant than
the film itself) as well as the eye-catching, original poster artwork which is
featured on the DVD’s sleeve, menu and disc itself.
“If a movie makes you happy, for whatever
reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
If there’s one thing I love, it’s 1970s
made-for-TV horror films. I remember sitting in front of the television as a
kid and watching a plethora of films
such as Gargoyles, Bad Ronald, Satan’s School for Girls, Horror
at 37,000 Feet, Devil Dog: Hound of
Hell, Scream Pretty Peggy, Don’t Be
Afraid of the Dark, Moon of the Wolf
and The Initiation of Sarah just to
name a few. Some of those are better than others, but all were fun.
When I think back, there have been some
legendary names associated with small screen horrors. Genre masters John
Carpenter (Halloween), Steven
Spielberg (Jaws), Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Joseph
Stefano (Psycho) all took shots at
television horror and created the amazing films Someone’s Watching Me!, Duel,
Summer of Fear, Salem’s Lot and Home for the
However, there was one man whose name
became synonymous with 1970s made-for-TV horrors. When it came to scaring the
living daylights out of people in the privacy of their own homes, producer/director
Dan Curtis was king.
Curtis’ first foray into television
horror was as a producer of the 1960s classic, gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran successfully
from 1966-1971. Then, in 1968, he produced his first TV horror movie The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
which starred the late, great Jack Palance (Shane,
Torture Garden, Alone in the Dark, City
Slickers) in the title role.
In 1972, Curtis would team with
legendary author Richard Matheson (I Am
Legend, Twilight Zone, Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel) and, over the next five years,
they would create a series of unforgettable made-for-TV horror films. Their
first collaboration is, arguably, their best. The two genre masters would bring
author Jeff Rice’s original novel The
Kolchak Papers to the small screen. Curtis would produce while Matheson
adapted Rice’s story. The film, now retitled The Night Stalker, was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel) and starred the great
Darren McGavin (Mike Hammer, Airport ’77, A Christmas Story) as intrepid reporter Carl Kolchak hot on the
trail of a nightmarish modern day vampire who’s stalking the back alleys of Las
Released to ABC-TV on January 11th,
1972, The Night Stalker became the
highest rated television film at that time and it would hold that title for
many years. The film’s enormous success led to an immediate sequel titled The Night Strangler. This time, Curtis
would not only produce, but also direct from an original script by Matheson. The
film was another huge hit, so, naturally, ABC wanted a third Kolchak adventure.
Matheson wrote a script entitled The
Night Killers, but unfortunately the movie was never made. The Night Stalker instead became a
weekly television series.
Unconvinced that Kolchak could be done
properly on a weekly basis, Dan Curtis decided to bow out of the series.
Instead, in 1973, he produced and directed another great made-for-TV horror
film titled The Norliss Tapes. This
ABC Movie of the Week was very similar to The
Night Stalker in that it involved a writer investing the occult. The movie,
which was set in California, also served as the pilot to a series that,
unfortunately, was never produced. Written by William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run, Burnt Offerings), the film starred Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) and Angie Dickinson (Rio Bravo, Police Woman, Dressed to Kill).
1973 would see three more TV horrors
from busy producer/director Curtis. The
Invasion of Carol Enders which starred Meredith Baxter (All the President’s Men, Family Ties, Ben), The Picture of Dorian
Gray starring Shane Briant (Frankenstein
and the Monster from Hell, Captain Kronos
– Vampire Hunter, Demons of the Mind)
and Frankenstein starring Robert
Foxworth (Death Moon, Damien: Omen 2, Prophecy, Falcon Crest, Transformers), Bo Svenson (Walking Tall, Snowbeast, Inglorious
Bastards, Night Warning, Heartbreak Ridge, Kill Bill Vol. 2) and Susan Strasberg (Picnic, Scream of Fear, Rollercoaster, The Manitou, Bloody Birthday,
Sweet Sixteen, Delta Force).
In 1974, Curtis and Matheson would
reunite for two more made-for-TV films which Curtis would once again produce
and direct. Scream of the Wolf,
starring Peter Graves (It Conquered the
World, Mission: Impossible, Airplane), Clint Walker (The Dirty Dozen, Killdozer, Snowbeast) and
Jo Ann Pflug (M.A.S.H.,The Night Strangler, The Fall Guy), and the excellent Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Jack
Palance, Simon Ward (Frankenstein Must Be
Destroyed, The Monster Club),
Nigel Davenport (Chariots of Fire, A Man for all Seasons) and Fiona Lewis (Fearless Vampire Killers, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Dead Kids, The Fury). Curtis’ last television horror film of 1974 would be Turn of the Screw. William F. Nolan
adapted the classic Henry James novel which Curtis produced and directed.
In 1975, Curtis scored big once again
by producing and directing an amazing made-for-TV anthology film titled Trilogy of Terror. The movie, again
written by William Nolan from a collection of short stories by Richard
Matheson, starred the always wonderful Karen Black (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces,
Airport 1975, Family Plot, Burnt Offerings,
House of 1000 Corpses) who headlined
all three tales. The final segment, entitled Amelia, is the most remembered due to Black’s horrifying battle
with the now iconic Zuni fetish doll. Curtis would produce and direct another
made-for-TV horror anthology called Dead
of Night. Released in 1977, the film was once again scripted by Richard
Although 1977 would see the last of Dan
Curtis’ 70s horror creations, there was still one more film to go. Curtis’ 1970s
horror swan song would be the ABC made-for-TV chiller Curse of the Black Widow.
Over the years, Friday the 13thhas been called many things. Upon its
release in May of 1980, critics who reviewed the low budget, independent wonder
called it everything from a blatant Halloween
clone (which director Sean Cunningham never denied it was) to an overly
violent dead teenager movie made with no apparent talent or intelligence.
Gene Siskel was so outraged by the film
that he called Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest
the movie business.” Siskel even went so far as to publish the home address of
actress Betsy Palmer (who gives a magnificent performance in the film) and he
encouraged fans to write to her and express their disappointment in her taking
a role in such a ghastly film.
Why did this creepy little horror film
strike such a negative chord in critics all over the country? To answer that
question, we must go back to 1978. The Alfred Hitchcock/Italian giallo-inspired
Halloween was released that year and
was not only loved by the movie-going public, but the near perfect film was
universally praised by critics including Roger Ebert, who rightfully called it “A
film so terrifying that I would compare it to Psycho.”
Critics and audiences alike were in awe of
the way director John Carpenter masterfully built suspense and the amazing film
became an instant classic as well as a box office phenomenon.
Fast forward to 1980; Director Sean
Cunningham decides to make a horror film and very wisely comes up with the idea
to combine two of the most current and successful scary movies: Halloween and George A. Romero’s classic
1979 zombie epic, Dawn of the Dead.
Cunningham would use Halloween’s structure (he would also borrow from Mario Bava’s
groundbreaking 1971 giallo film, A Bay of
Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve)
while adding Dawn’s amazingly graphic
and realistic gore effects. He would even engage the talents of the man
responsible for Dawn’s innovative gore,
special FX maestro Tom Savini.
This is primarily what outraged critics of
the time. In their eyes, Cunningham could not match Carpenter in masterfully
building terror and suspense (and there is much truth to that), so, instead,
the filmmaker would rely solely on realistic and bloody effects in order to
scare his target audience. The film was also accused of equating
sex/drugs/alcohol with death as well as being both misogynistic and illogical.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that when it
comes to the art of filmmaking, Friday
the 13thcannot hold a candle to Halloween, but I refuse to agree with anyone who calls Friday worthless, misogynistic and
illogical junk whose only talent can be found in its gore content.
Yes, the blood flows and Savini’s effects
are still as astonishing now as they were 33 years ago, but the entertaining
film works for many other reasons which I’ll list right now.
First of all, just like Halloween, the film has a
documentary-like feel to it. Cunningham simply shows us a likeable group of teenage
counselors (one of whom is a young Kevin Bacon) who are hard at work fixing up
Camp Crystal Lake a few weeks before the noisy children are due to arrive. The
characters have no Hollywood-esque dramatic motivations or conflicts. They are
just a very normal, happy and realistic group going about their daily business.
As viewers, we almost feel as if we’re eavesdropping on their lives.
This technique is greatly aided by the more
than competent writing of Victor Miller who wisely avoids stereotypes such as “the
jock” or “the bitch” and creates a pleasant group of normal and realistic kids.
The wonderfully natural acting of the kids themselves also helps. We like this
group and when the killer’s POV shots interrupt these normal, quiet scenes, it
really has an impact.
Next up is Sean Cunningham’s directorial
style. (For those who have said this film is little more than a gore-fest,
listen up.) Cunningham uses tried and true techniques such as showing us early
on the horror that the killer is capable of, then showing us exactly where the
killer is and, finally, having his likeable characters enter the killer’s space
one at a time. Naturally, this technique produces a fair amount of tension,
suspense and scares.
I won’t reveal the killer’s identity, but I
will say that it’s not our hockey masked pal, Jason. (Jason’s reign of terror
begins in part 2 and he doesn’t don his iconic mask until part 3.) However, once
you know who the killer is and learn the motivation behind the murders, you
will be petrified by the killer’s terrifying personality. Not only that, but upon
repeat viewings of the quieter, early scenes, knowledge of the killer’s
personality creates even more eerie, goose bump-like scares.
Cunningham also creates a nice moody
atmosphere by having half of the film take place during a nighttime thunderstorm.
Combine that with the quiet, isolated camp location and a moving POV camera
which suggests a creepy, violent and vengeful presence always lurking nearby
and you have not only a very scary little film, but a real feeling of almost
I can’t go on about the film’s scare factor
without mentioning the frightening musical score by the great Harry Manfredini.
His instantly recognizable “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” has become a part of horror
music history and now stands tall alongside other immortal horror themes such
as Bernard Hermann’s magnificent score for Psycho,
John Williams’ often imitated, but never duplicated score for Jaws and John Carpenter’s iconic and
terrifying Halloween theme.
Last, but certainly not least, is the final
scare of the film. Without giving away too much, I have to say that it is one
of the most shocking and unexpected scares in horror movie history and second
only to the brilliant ending of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976). It’s a magnificently crafted scene that can be
credited to Sean Cunningham’s solid direction, Victor Miller’s imaginative
writing, Adrienne King’s subtle and naturalistic acting, Tom Savini’s
magnificent makeup work and Harry Manfredini’s frightening music all working as
one to give audiences the fright of their lives.
Australian release poster.
And that’s just the final scene. All those
elements work together throughout the entire film and help to create a fun,
scary rollercoaster ride. The gore effects work more as a punctuation mark at
the end of a sentence. It usually caps off a tense and frightening scene. It is
not the only technique at work here. As a matter of fact, take the very minimal
amount of gore out of the film and you still have an extremely eerie,
claustrophobic and terrifying film.
As far as being misogynistic, equating
sex/alcohol/drugs with death and being illogical goes, critics couldn’t have
been more off base.
Let’s start with misogyny. First of all,
there is an equal amount of male and female deaths, and Kevin Bacon’s death is
probably the best and most graphic death scene in the film. Second of all, and
don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film, the killer is female. So, if the
filmmakers hated women, the killer would’ve been a man. Saying that this film hates
women is ridiculous.
Next up is the idea that the kids were
punished by death for engaging in sex, drinking and smoking pot. Well, if that
were the case, then why does the final girl survive? Midway through the film she
indulges in both beer and marijuana. It is also revealed that she was in a
relationship with the head of the camp and, although it isn’t shown that they
had sex, the dialogue strongly suggests it. Much like Halloween (the female survivor of that film also smokes pot and
clearly wants to be in a relationship with a boy), this idea of
sex/drugs/alcohol being punishable by violent death is not a part of Friday the 13th, but would be
misinterpreted by future slasher filmmakers thereby beginning that slasher
Lastly is the ridiculous idea that all of
the characters in this film do completely illogical things before getting
killed. This never happens. First of all, the characters are silently killed
off one by one in a Ten Little Indians manner.
The remaining characters have no idea that there is a killer among them, so it
makes sense that they would go about their business as if everything is normal.
Also, once the last two characters sense that something is wrong, they both do
completely logical things. Unfortunately, they are thwarted by the intelligent
killer who is always one step ahead of them.
For example, when they can’t find anyone,
they try to call for help, but, unbeknownst to them, the line has been cut.
(They believe that it’s just out of order due to the storm.) Next, they find a
bloody axe in one of the cabins and immediately decide to leave, but their car
has been sabotaged. Their last idea is to just hike the ten miles to
civilization and get help, but it’s pitch black outside and a thunderstorm is
With the exception of the heroine knocking
out the killer a few times and then either not continuing to pummel her or
throwing the weapon aside, the characters all act logically/intelligently in
every situation, but still get killed which is one of the reasons why the film
is so scary.
So, is it a masterful piece of cinema like Halloween or Psycho? Certainly not. However, it’s far from worthless junk and it
totally works without the effects which, by the way, take up less than sixty seconds
of the film’s 95 minute running time. At the time, those amazing gore effects
were the only things that were new in this type of film, so that’s what critics
mainly became fixated on. Unfortunately, they missed much of the wonderful
craftsmanship that went into the rest of the film.
Friday the 13th may be a dead
teenager movie, but it’s one of the best of its type. While not in the same
league as its predecessors, it’s a much better film than it’s been given credit
for. It’s also an important film in that, along with Halloween, it created a very successful subgenre/formula of the
horror film and, due to being released by Paramount Pictures and becoming a
huge financial success, it gave up and coming filmmakers a chance to break into
the Hollywood system by producing their own low budget slasher films which
utilized the same structure and similar techniques.
To date, the film has spawned ten sequels,
one remake, countless imitations and the character of Jason has become an icon
of fright. Entire books have been written about the series and at least one
book was wholly devoted to the groundbreaking first film. There have also been Friday the 13thcomic books,
novelizations, video games, action figures and conventions. Not bad for a little
movie that has been wrongfully dismissed as an illogical, misogynistic, incompetent
spectacle of gore.
Cinema Retro welcomes our latest columnist, Ernie Magnotta, who will turn his attention to under-rated cinematic gems and guilty pleasures!
By Ernie Magnotta
“If a movie makes you happy, for whatever
reason, then it’s a good movie.”
There are good
movies and there are bad movies. There are also movies that some people say are
so bad that they're good. I hear that all the time. I've heard it since I was a
kid. I think what they actually mean is that they're not good in the way most
people might normally watch and judge a film; Excellent writing, incredible
acting, masterful direction, etc.
The way I see it,
there's more than one way to enjoy a film. Every movie doesn't have to be a
five-star masterpiece like Gone with the Wind. You do not have to judge a film
the way you would judge a mainstream Hollywood movie and every movie that doesn't
follow the Hollywood style of moviemaking isn't necessarily a bad film.
There are plenty of
films that follow all the rules of proper writing, directing, etc. and are just
awful. And there are just as many inept, low budget B-films that are excruciating
Like I said, there
are many different ways to enjoy a film. You can love a film just for the
nostalgia alone. It can take you back to a simpler, happier time in your life.
You can enjoy it for a certain actor or actors, wacky dialogue, quirky
characters, fun setting, wild plot and, although inept in many ways, the film
could have a certain charm and, most of all, be fun.
With my ongoing
reviews, I’d like to explain why I love these films so much, why they’ve gotten
such a bed rep over the years and, also, to prove my statement that there’s
more than one way to watch a movie.
*******WARNING: REVIEWS CONTAIN
“Put your weight on it! Put your weight on
it! PUT YOUR WEIGHT ON IT!”
These words are instantly recognizable to
anyone who has seen the insanely fun and quite unique1979 Blaxploitation
classic, Disco Godfather. The
entertaining film stars Dolemite himself; legendary comedian/musician Rudy Ray
Moore in the title role of former cop turned super cool DJ, Tucker Williams aka
the Disco Godfather. While happily spinning records at local disco Club
Blueberry Hill, Tucker’s world is turned upside down when he finds out that his
nephew Bucky (Julius J. Carry III), a promising athlete, has almost OD’d on angel
dust aka “The Wack”. Tucker also learns that Bucky isn’t the first person from
the neighborhood to suffer from the evil drug. When Dr. Mathis (Jerry Jones)
takes him on a horrific tour of a local rehab center, Tucker witnesses firsthand
what The Wack can do. It turns out that drug dealer Stinger Ray (James H.
Hawthorne) is pushing the stuff all over town and Tucker ain’t havin’ it.
With the help of the courageous Noel (Carol
Speed), the Godfather sets out to “attack the wack.” Of course, this won’t be
easy because once Stinger Ray finds out, he sends his army of goons out after
Tucker and, before you can say Carl Douglas, everybody starts kung fu fighting.
When the smoke clears, The Godfather not only emerges victorious, but manages
to locate the
angel dust factory as well. Once there, however, he is overpowered and forced
to take the dreaded drug himself. High beyond belief, the completely out of
control Tucker grabs hold of Stinger Ray and begins choking the life out of
him. In an ironic twist, the now rehabilitated Bucky arrives on the scene just in
time to see his beloved godfather, who is having horrifying drug induced visions,
completely freak out.
Prior to becoming a major star in Blaxploitation films, Rudy Ray Moore was a popular comedian known for his hit risque adult humor albums.
The eclectic film, co-written (with Cliff
Roquemore) and directed by J. Robert Wagoner, and produced by Rudy Ray and
Theodore Toney, is a strangely mesmerizing combination of comedy, drama, action
and horror, peppered with disco music and a few dance numbers. (I told you it
was unique.) And it’s not hard to figure out how the title was created. The
disco craze was in full force at the time and Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent
The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II were two of the
most popular films of the 70s. I first saw this movie in the late 80s
under the title Avenging Disco Godfather and
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it ever since. I always smile whenever anyone mentions
it or recites one of the many quotable lines (which I’ll be listing shortly);
especially the aforementioned “Put your weight on it.” The film definitely capitalizes on many popular
exploitation elements of the time such as drug use, violence and martial arts,
but it distinguishes itself from other run of the mill exploitation films by
carrying a very positive and important message.
This is a film with an anti-drug message
and you can clearly see that Rudy Ray Moore and the rest of the cast and crew
were genuinely concerned about the junk that was polluting their neighborhoods.
I believe that, amidst all the off-the-wall insanity in this movie, the
filmmakers intentionally included this heartfelt message in the hopes of
inspiring change. In that way, it more meaningful than many of the soulless, multi-million
dollar Hollywood blockbusters we’ve been subjected to over the years. This
movie has heart. Now, having said that, is it a good movie in the classic
filmmaking tradition? Hell no! Many viewers will find it difficult to watch and
that’s totally understandable. Nevertheless, it manages to be thoroughly entertaining.
Most of the credit for this must go to the charismatic Rudy Ray Moore, who had
to use creativity to overcome a shortfall of production funds. In many interviews, Rudy Ray explained how he
had very little to no money to work with and, instead, used his imagination.
The movie is definitely imaginative. In
fact, it’s downright original in spots; especially in the frightening scenes
where we see the goings-on through the eyes of an angel dust user. Even the
more ineptly done aspects of the film (including some unintentionally hilarious
scenes) add to its appeal.
A company called Fast Custom Shirts has immortalized the film on a T shirt. Click here to order.
always say that there’s more than one way to watch and enjoy a movie and that
definitely applies to this film. Here are just some funkalicious reasons to
check out Disco Godfather:
1.A cool and fun
2.Decent disco and
roller disco scenes.
electrifying first appearance is a sight to behold. Rudy Ray shows up shaking his groove thing on the dance floor
in a skin tight, silver studded, turquoise jumpsuit with matching choker
necklace and platform shoes. I went blind for a full two minutes.
girlfriend frantically tells Tucker that his nephew is on drugs, Rudy Ray
delivers the immortal line “Where is Bucky, and what has he had?”
pronounced “am-ba-lance.” Can you dig it?
6.When Bucky gets
high in the disco, he thinks he’s in the middle of a basketball game.
7.Abby herself, the always welcome Carol Speed,
is spunky and cute in her brief role as Noel. She looks good in a showgirl
8.Under the influence
of angel dust, Bucky has terrifying hallucinations that include a severed hand, demons, witches with machetes
and Rudy Ray turning into a skeleton.
9.There’s a character
10.One of the addicts
at the rehab center thinks he’s an unborn caterpillar.
11.E.C.T. stands for
Electro Shock Treatment. (?)
12.At the angel dust
rally, one woman’s afro is freakin’ ginormous!
13.With its funky
fashions, automobiles, slang and décor, the movie is like a 1970s time capsule.
14.35 minutes in: The
dancing Godfather jiggles and gyrates as only he can.
15.37 minutes in: I
can’t even describe this outfit, but it shows off the Godfather’s man-boobs
16.The Godfather has
more amazing lines such as “I want you to put a little slide in your glide!”,
“She don't weigh but 90 pounds, baby, but she's got her weight on it!" and
the classic “I’m the Godfather and my name is Tucker. Everybody knows that I’m
a bad mutha…”
17.Tucker is able to
read a crooked cop’s badge number from across the darkened dance floor.
18.Lady Reed, Queen
Bee from the Dolemite series, is
great as a sorrowful mother who keeps her faith in God and never leaves her
drug addicted daughter’s side.
19.Keith David (John Carpenter’s The Thing, There’s
Something About Mary) is uncredited as a club patron. See if you can spot
him. I couldn’t.
20.At Sweetmeat’s party,
people snort cocaine off of a Saturday
Night Fever album cover.
21.Some dude in karate
pants and a Fu Manchu moustache acts like Bruce Lee.
22.At one point,
Tucker is attacked in an urban alley by a bullwhip wielding cowboy. For a
second, I thought I was the one who was on angel dust.
23.Tucker fights a
24.During his trip, Tucker
hallucinates and has visions of his dead mother and another woman who I’m assuming is his aunt
Betty. The reason I came to this conclusion is because five seconds after he
sees her, Tucker screams at the top of his lungs “I hate you, Aunt Betty!”
25.Mama becomes a
cartoon while a giant snake head bursts out of her stomach and Aunt Betty just
laughs at Tucker while boozing it up.
Tucker, whacked out of his skull from the angel dust he’d been forced to take,
mistakes Stinger Ray for a demon and strangles the drug dealer to death.
27.The movie ends with
Tucker still trippin’ balls and screaming in terror.
immediately cuts to the inappropriately upbeat end credits music.
Tell me you don’t wanna see this movie now.
I dare ya.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a wild,
different and hysterical time, then this is the movie for you. But don’t take
my word for it. After all, who am I to tell you what to watch? Here’s what The
Godfather himself had to say:
“I am your tower of power; the man of the
hour; too sweet to be sour. I’m fine, divine and guaranteed to blow your mind.
It’s now Godfather time.”
How can you resist that? You can’t, so just
grab yourself a copy of Disco Godfather,
relax and have a fun, crazy time.
Do it for Rudy Ray, and while you’re doing
it, don’t you ever forget to put your weight on it.
I’d like to dedicate this review to the
memory of Mr. Rudy Ray Moore. Rest in peace, Dolemite.