Archive for the Exploitation Films Category

MANIAC (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Based on Classic Films, Cult Movies, Disturbing Cinema, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, Joe Spinell Films, Kinky Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Remakes, Serial Killer flicks, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by knifefighter

MANIAC (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

 Maniac

Yet another in a long list of  movies that do not need to remakes, William Lustig’s original MANIAC (1980) featured the amazing Joe Spinell (who also provided the story and co-wrote the screenplay) as Frank Zito, a violent psychotic who kills women and then scalps them, so he can attach their hair to mannequins that surround his bed like lovers. Visceral stuff, made all the more effective by the teaming of Lustig, Spinell, and effects maestro Tom Savini at the peak of his powers. This was one movie that lived up to its title, and yet there were tender moments as well, focusing mostly on the friendship (and blossoming romance?) between Spinell’s Zito and Caroline Munro’s photographer, Anna D’Antoni. It didn’t hurt that Munro was one of the most beautiful women to grace celluloid at the time. But Spinell somehow, through this relationship, made you sympathize with a man who is otherwise a deranged animal. You somehow cared about Zito and wanted to see him redeemed. Of course, in these kinds of movies, redemption eventually gives up and steps aside, so that punishment can take control of matters.

In the new version of MANIAC (2012), Franck Khalfoun gives us a strange recreation of the original film, with just enough quirks and differences to make it enjoyable on its own terms. Even if it comes nowhere near the gut punch of the original. This time, the script is co-written by Alexandre Aja, the director who has given us such recent horrors as the HILLS HAVE EYES remake (2006), MIRRORS (2008) and who is currently adaptating Joe Hill’s HORNS for the big screen. As for Khalfoun, he previously directed the murder in an underground parking garage flick, P2 (2007) and has acted in Aja films like HIGH TENSION (2003) and PIRANHA (2010).

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The new MANIAC stars Elijah Wood, oddly enough, perhaps the exact physical opposite of Joe Spinell. Where Spinell was genuinely creepy and yet always had a strange vulnerability to him, Wood seems slight and wimpy, but has a kind of strangeness to him that could easily be perceived as a capacity for violence. This aspect of Wood has been exploited previously in SIN CITY (2005), where he played an intense and merciless hit man with a penchant for eating human flesh. So this is hardly the first time someone saw Elijah Wood and thought “Hey, he might actually be an effective psycho.”

In MANIAC, however, Wood’s appearance and attributes are given only a small chance to shine, since the movie also adopts the rather odd gimmick of giving us the story from the killer’s point of view. What this means is that, throughout most of the film, we see everything through Frank Zito’s eyes. So whether or not Wood looks the part, we only see him occasionally, when he happens to look at himself in a mirror, for example.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

This POV seems very artificial, making us very aware that this is not a gritty tour of the gutter like the original film, but something different. The new MANIAC strives toward art, towards being something more than just another killer on the loose flick. And yet, considering the subject matter, this arty direction doesn’t always work. We’re not watching a MANIAC film for artistic merit. We want to see a psychotic on the verge of complete madness, and the POV actually distances us from the meat of the film, even as it thinks that it is bringing us closer to the madman, by showing the film from his eyes.

The POV works some of the time. It’s not a bad thing, per se. There are some scenes that use this to nice effect. But in a movie like this, it doesn’t really elevate the story in any way. It’s just a fancy trick that tells us “No, you don’t have to really see Frank get his hands dirty.”

I actually like Elijah Wood. I’m not really a fan of projects like the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (or the HOBBIT films), but he’s been in plenty of other things that have impressed me. I think I first noticed him in Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), and he has a kind of intensity that gives him a lot of range. I even enjoy him in the odd FX TV series WILFRED, where he plays a man whose best friend is a man in a dog suit (the rest of the world sees it as an actual dog). But the point is, Wood is kind of fearless and open to playing a wide variety of roles, however offbeat, and for what he does in MANIAC, I think he does a decent job. In a way, though, I would have preferred to see the whole “from the maniac’s eyes” viewpoint ditched, so that we could have really enjoyed Wood’s performance to the fullest.

In the new movie, Anna is played by Nora Amezeder as a French photographer who is drawn to Frank via his strange little shop where he carries on his family’s business of restoring antique mannequins. She uses mannequins in her photographs for artistic effect, and his equally artistic display of actual mannequins might just be the perfect complement to her photos in her upcoming gallery show. Can she borrow some of his work? He catches her taking pictures of his shop’s display window and invites her inside. The fact that she sees beauty in the same objects he does creates an immediate connection. And the groundwork is there for the one normal relationship in Frank Zito’s life.  Sadly, whatever normality there is between them won’t last for long. There’s no way it could.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell's performance in the original film.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell’s performance in the original film.

Wood’s Frank Zito has mother issues, after all, that go as deep as Norman Bates’s. We see flashbacks to Frank as a child, forced to watch as his mother has sex with all comers, whether its two sailors at once in her bedroom as he peers out from between the slats of a closet door, to a late night assignation in a parking garage, Frank wants his mother as much as he is repelled by her, and it is only a matter of time before relationships he has with other women dovetail into his feelings for his mother—even the one he has with poor Anna.

Feeling a possessive jealousy for whatever woman he comes across that he finds attractive, that same need to have them always turns into a stronger need to punish them. And therefore, he can’t really have any enjoyment with them while they are alive. He can only truly possess them (and come close to “loving” them) when they have been recreated, with their bloody scalps stapled onto the heads of his mannequins. In the darkness of his apartment, he convinces himself that the mannequins are the real women, and that they are now in an environment he can control. It is only then that he can show them that he cares.

So he drives around the city late at night, picking victims at random based on how they elicit lust in him, and making quick work of them. He tries to break the cycle, even joining an online dating service and meeting Lucie (Megan Duffy), a tattooed beauty who actually seems to act motherly towards him (uh oh!) when he complains of a migraine at the restaurant they agree to meet at, and who takes him back to her place afterwards for some almost-successful seduction. You really think Frank might finally loosen up and enjoy himself, but in the end, we know that’s impossible.

There are some interesting set pieces, including Frank hunting down Anna’s agent, Rita (Jan Broberg), breaking into her glorious Manhattan apartment to kill her in her bath tub. This sequence is done quite well

I liked this new version of MANIAC. It’s a good film, despite its flaws. It’s just easier to judge it as a stand-alone film about a psycho played by Elijah Wood. To compare it to Lustig’s original is to its detriment. There is no way this movie could deliver the goods like the original movie did.

I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives the 2012 version of  MANIAC ~three  knives.

 

(Despite being made in 2012, the new version of MANIAC is only now getting limited release in theaters in some cities. It is available on cable OnDemand in some markets as well.)

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Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE EXTERMINATOR (1980)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, Action Movies, Crime Films, Cult Movies, Detectives, Exploitation Films, Gangsters!, Grindhouse Goodies, Nick Cato Reviews, Revenge!, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Tough Guys!, Vengeance!, Vigilantes, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , on July 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 64:
Flamethrowers, Meat Grinders, and State Senators…
By Nick Cato

 

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 Released six years after DEATH WISH (1974) but two years before FIRST BLOOD (1982), 1980’s THE EXTERMINATOR is a combo of these two classics with a dash of TAXI DRIVER (1976) thrown in. I recently revisited this on DVD, but in the fall of 1980 (when I was in the 6th grade), me and a buddy managed to get into this violent R-rated flick one Saturday afternoon at the always reliable (and now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema, Staten Island’s best bet of being admitted when you were underage.

After an opening flashback scene set in Vietnam (which features a grisly, non-CGI decapitation courtesy of FX whiz Stan (ALIENS) Winston), we flash forward to 1980 New York City. John Eastmand (played by popular TV star Robert Ginty) works at a meat packing plant along with his best friend Michael, who had saved his life in Vietnam. When they bust a group of thugs robbing beer from an adjacent warehouse, Michael again comes to John’s aid, but the gang follows Michael home and throws him a severe beating that leaves him paralyzed. Fueled by this event, and fed up with the state of the city’s crime rate in general, John goes on a mission first to get the guys who crippled his buddy, then wage all-out war against the mob, pimps, and all kinds of low lives.

John transforms into a vigilante a bit too quickly (in the scene immediately after he visits Michael in the hospital, John already has a gang member tied up and threatens him with a flame thrower). But this is a sleazy action flick, so subtly and character build-up be damned! His arsenal includes a .44 magnum with custom, poison-tipped bullets, an AK-47, and a foot locker full of military-issued hand grenades and knives.

Minutes later, John goes to the gang’s hideout (one is played by THE WARRIORS’ (1979) Irwin Keyes), tells the girls to leave, and then proceeds to shoot one thug and take two others hostage. But his partial-heart leads to one guy surviving, and one of the hookers he let go is interrogated by Detective James Dalton (played by Christopher George), who is on the trail of the vigilante the news has labeled “The Exterminator.” Former ABC-TV news anchor Roger Grimsby appears as himself during a newscast, giving the film a real-time feel (at least if you lived in NY at the time).

With the gang taken care of, John sets his eyes on a mob boss who has been shaking his employer down for years. He does some stake-out work and manages to drug him and drag him to an isolated warehouse, where he chains him from the rafters and dangles him over a huge meat grinder, then proceeds to shake him down for money to support his fallen friends’ family. After he gets the mobster’s keys, safe-lock combination, and a promise that there are no surprises at his house, John goes out to his NJ home and is attacked by a guard dog the gangster “forgot” to tell him about. Now severely ticked, John returns to the warehouse and lowers the Don into the meat grinder, and while nothing is shown (besides shadows and chop meat coming out of the bottom), the scene is still quite disturbing. It also received the loudest cheers from the evidently blood-thirsty (or justice-thirsty?) audience I was with.

In the second most memorable sequence, John visits a hooker (ala TAXI DRIVER) who gives him info on an underground operation that exploits young boys. John shows up at the illegal brothel and quickly destroys the place by burning the owner and shooting a freaky-looking pedophile in the groin (said pedophile is played by FRANKENHOOKER’s (1990) scene-stealing freak David Lipman). The pedophile also turns out to be the State Senator from New Jersey!

In-between investigating the vigilante killings, Detective James manages to find the time to date a doctor (played by Samantha Eggar). In one scene they meet for a late-night shag session in an empty hospital room, but as things heat up they’re interrupted by an alarm: it seems Michael’s ventilator has gone off, and little do the detective or doctor realize John had come by to help his buddy pull the plug on himself. This John’s a real angel of mercy I tell ya…

With plenty of shoot-outs, a motorcycle vs. car chase scene, a goofy side-plot involving the CIA that leads to a partially head-scratching finale, a poor old-woman getting a beat-down, and a nasty scene of the aforementioned State Senator burning/raping a hooker with a red-hot soldering iron, THE EXTERMINATOR is a trashy revenge/vigilante film that has developed quite a cult following over the years. And like most NY-lensed genre films from this time, there are plenty of shots of Times Square back in all its sordid glory, complete with pimps, hookers, and glorious theater marquees that will have cinema-philes hitting the pause button to read the film titles (of course we couldn’t do this in the theater so it was nice finally seeing what was playing!).

This is a genuine blast of old-school, politically incorrect action film-fare that has almost no conscience whatsoever, and it manages to work despite its ho-hum performances from most of the actors. Too bad the sequel, 1984’s THE EXTERMINATOR 2, failed to deliver the goods.

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mince-meat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

John (Robert Ginty) about to make mincemeat out of a local mob boss in THE EXTERMINATOR.

 

 

Bills’ Bizarre Bijou visits the COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 60s Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Hillbillies, Just Plain Fun, Revenge!, Romance, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on April 25, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

by William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

COMMON LAW WIFE (1963)

VideoBox Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

In the wild, wild world of exploitation films, bits and pieces of one movie can often make a ‘guest appearance’ in another film, spliced into the new film as padding for the running time, or as a way to save on the budget.  Most of the time, this created annoying sequences that have nothing to do with the movie you’re viewing at your local drive-in, distractions to the main plot.  Other times, the footage was inserted so well a casual viewer never noticed he’d been duped.  A lot of film buffs, such as me and you, my fans in the dark, take great pleasure in noticing such scenes and shouting out, “Hey, that was stolen from INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES!”  It’s a fine, old exploitation tradition, and we at the Bijou salute the filmmakers who managed to pull it off.

In 1960, Larry Buchanan, the infamous director of such sublimely awful fare as THE NAKED WITCH (1961), ZONTAR, THING FROM VENUS (1966), MARS NEEDS WOMEN (1967), and THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981) started shooting a hicksloitation epic called SWAMP ROSE.  Starring Lacey Kelley (NUDE ON THE MOON – 1961, THE DEAD ONE – 1961), the unfinished film dealt with a moonshiner obsessed with a woman of easy virtue.  This footage was purchased by M.A. Ripps, who wanted to make it into a hit drive-in feature, as he so famously transformed the movie BAYOU into POOR WHITE TRASH (1957).  New director Eric Sayers used many Buchanan regulars: (Anabelle Weenik (going by Anne MacAdams) of CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (1967), A BULLET FOR PRETTY BOY (1970), DON’T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT (1973); Max W. Anderson of HIGH YELLOW (1965), IN THE YEAR 2889 – (1967); and THE NAKED WITCH herself Libby Hall (as Libby Booth)).  Sayers shot a whole new storyline with these actors, including an unbilled woman to take Lacey Kelley’s role (and they don’t look much alike) using only bits and pieces of Larry Buchanan’s SWAMP ROSE.  There is a scene with Lacey Kelley walking down the street, her boom-boppa-boom stride mocked by a little girl, some scenes in a park, and a chase between a crazed hillbilly moonshiner attacking Lacey that make up most of the old footage.  Everything else is newly shot with actors from other movies.  Confused yet?  You won’t be once you watch COMMON LAW WIFE (1963), Sayers’ adults-only white-trash melodrama set in Texas.  It’s easily one of the greatest exploitation films from the period.  Other than a few film stock mis-matches and a character that switches actresses several times, you’d never know this was once two films edited into one trashy grindhouse gem.

But what about the story of COMMON LAW WIFE?

The film opens on a typical night at the Raineys’ rather tacky abode.  Old man Shug is playing darts in his bathrobe before drinking the biggest damn glass of wine in existence.  When his live-in mistress, Linda, tells him he’s not supposed to drink, he throws five darts at her head, embedding them into the wicker chair behind her.  He asks, “Do you want me to put one right between your eyes?”  Turns out, she’s lived with him for five years, and it’s taken a toll on her beauty.  He wants her to get out so his niece Jonelle (“Call me Baby Doll”) can come live with him.  “What’s she got?’ she shrieks.  Shug answers, “My attention right now, which you haven’t.”  Linda, shocked says, “Why she’s your own blood niece!  That’s incest!”  He replies, “Words don’t mean much to me.  I’ve already sent for Baby Doll.  Go pack your things.”

In New Orleans, we are introduced to Jonelle, a gorgeous stripper in a nightclub who resembles Traci Lords.  She packs her dresses and heads for rural Texas to stay with her uncle (Eww).  Turns out, Jonelle’s sister, Brenda, is married to the Sheriff, Jodi, who was having flings with both sisters during high school.  Jodi’s more than a little interested in rekindling his torrid affair with Jonelle, while good wife Brenda stays at home.

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple!

Shug and Jonelle, what a cute couple! (Ewwww)

Meanwhile, Linda consults a lawyer and discovers she’s lived long enough with Mr. Shug Rainey to be his common-law wife.  Mrs. Rainey buys herself a wedding ring and informs Shug that she is his legal wife, and if he wants his niece serving him in his house (Eww), he has to divorce her and pay alimony or give her the house.  Secretly, though I have no idea why, she loves the old dude.

Jonelle kick-starts her affair with Jodi (what a nice sisterly thing to do), but she throws a hissy fit after he says he doesn’t want to help her murder Shug for the old man’s money.  In spite, she gets up and starts stripping and dancing in front of what looks like several farmers and their wives who are either shocked or bemused.  She leaves with another old beau, Bull, who takes her out to the swamp to see his moonshine still.  Ah, romance in Texas!  When he gets fresh, she runs away through the swamp.  This whole part is Larry Buchanan’s, and it’s a bit rougher and grittier than the newer footage. 

She runs all the way back to her sister’s house (the actress changes here), but Brenda has figured out what’s happening between her husband and Jonelle.  She tosses her sister out of her house, but not before Jonelle steals the booze.  With nowhere to go, Jonelle hunts down Bull and they return to the swamp (wait, wait, didn’t he try to rape her the previous night?  Ah, romance in Texas!) 

The original Jonelle.

The original Jonelle.

Jodi goes after her (the heel!) and tracks her to Bull’s house, where a gunfight erupts over Jonelle.  He abducts her to his home, where the cold facts about their past relationship come to light.  Brenda catches them together and holds them at gunpoint!

Will Jonelle get one over on Linda?  Who will get old man Shug Rainey’s money when he dies? What about the cyanide-laced bottle of whiskey?  Will we ever get to see a full print of SWAMP ROSE?  Probably not, but this common-law version is a real hoot!

COMMON LAW WIFE is filled with great, hateful dialogue delivered in authentic, delightful accents.  It was Grace Nolan’s only writing credit, and I wish there’d been a lot more.  Some choice cuts of the nasty, mean-spirited dialog include:

“I was a stray cat lookin’ for a home, and I took it however I could.”

“Folks around here might think the circus has come to town.”  “They might be right!”

“From now on, this is my house.  And I don’t want any tramps hangin’ around it!”

“The only way I’ll see any of that old man’s body is over his stinkin’ dead body.”

“You couldn’t hit a bull with a bass fiddle.  Let alone that cap gun.”

“I met a couple of strangers in town today, and they claimed they didn’t know you.  You want their names so you can bat a thousand?”

“You’ve put on weight.  City food must be good.”

“A girl can learn a lot of lessons in the dark.”

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

Vengeance, thy name is Linda!

The black and white photography is crisp and full of noir shadows.  The music is great jazz, heavy on the sax and trumpet, but the composer is unbilled.  Who knows where that great score came from?  The acting is campy and over-the-top, as it should be in a swamp melodrama like this one.  And the ending is brutal and shocking in a way few films of that era ever were.  COMMON LAW WIFE may be confusing sometimes, what with actresses switching and film stock not matching, but it’s loads of fun.  It’s like Douglas Sirk on tainted moonshine. 

I give COMMON LAW WIFE three and a half revolving actresses out of four.

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, All-Star Casts, Bikini Girls, Compelling Cinema, Controverisal Films, Crime Films, Exploitation Films, Femme Fatales, Gangsters!, Hot Chick Movies, Independent Cinema, James Franco, Just Plain Fun, LL Soares Reviews, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , on March 26, 2013 by knifefighter

SPRING BREAKERS (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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If you think this is going to be just another Spring Break teen sex comedy, then you are in for a surprise. SPRING BREAKERS is another kind of animal altogether, and it’s the kind of pop/art hybrid that will be playing at your local arthouse theater, as well as the nearby multiplex. The arthouse crowd will have some idea what they’re in for, as soon as they see the director’s name, Harmony Korine. The multiplex audience will have no clue, and might just get their heads blown.

So who is Harmoney Korine, you ask? Well, when he was 19, he wrote the screenplay for the movie KIDS (1995), still probably the most notorious project he’s been associated with. But he went on to become a director in his own right, with weirdo masterpieces under his belt like 1997’s GUMMO and 1999’s JULIEN DONKEY-BOY, two movies that will seriously screw with your head. The last movie of his I saw in a theater was 2007’s MISTER LONELY, which is about a Michael Jackson impersonator who goes to live on an island populated by nothing but celebrity impersonators, and there’s Werner Herzog as a skydiving priest. I think there were five people in the audience when I saw it. In contrast, the theater was pretty packed when I saw SPRING BREAKERS.

SPRING BREAKERS is an underground film with above-ground stars, and what an interesting collection of celebs we have.

The movie begins with four girls wanting to go to Spring Break and escape from their boring lives as hard-working college students, but they don’t have enough money for the trip. Fed up with being deprived of fun, Candy (Vanessa Hudgens, who your kids might know from Disney fare like 2006’s HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and the TV series THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY), Brit (Ashley Benson, currently playing Hanna on the ABC FAMILY series PRETTY LITTLE LIARS)  and Cotty (Rachel Korine, who also happens to be Mrs. Harmony Korine, and who was in the previously mentioned MISTER LONELY, among other films), decide they are going to Florida for the time of their lives, no matter what. So they don some ski masks and rob the local chicken shack, armed with a realistic looking water pistol and a heavy duty hammer. They get enough money for the trip, and bring their virginal friend Faith (Selena Gomez, another Disney star, from the series THE WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE) along for the ride. Faith is sweet and religious and doesn’t seem like the other girls at all, but she goes along for the ride, even after she finds out how they got the money.

Once in sunny Florida, the girls go wild, and then some, everyone but Faith, who has some naïve idea of this being a chance to bond with her girlfriends, when the others are just thinking about drugs and sex and booze.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

The stars of SPRING BREAKERS (from left to rigth) Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine and Vanessa Hudgens (standing). Behind them, James Franco.

When a particularly out-of-control party they are at gets busted by the cops, the girls end up in jail. Without money for bail, they are rescued by a rapper, drug dealer, and gun hoarder named Alien (James Franco, who we saw just a couple of weeks ago as OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL). With his corn rows, tattoos and mouth grille, Franco is a force of nature here, and steals every scene he is in.

Alien (“My real name is Al, but I’m out of this world”) is so much the polar opposite of OZ that it’s amazing this is the same guy, and yet Franco works his magic without having to try. Just what does he want in return for springing these cute college girls from the hoosegow? Well, Faith gets so scared thinking about that one that she takes the next bus home (no big loss, since she was the least interesting girl anyway), and the other three find that chicken shack robbery to be just the start of their life of crime, as they take part in a violent crime spree, this time with Alien leading the way.

SPRING BREAKERS is chock full of bikinis, bongs and guns. There’s also lots of Spring Break nudity (although  Rachel Korine is the only one of the main girls to really let it all hang out), and violence. So if you go into the theater expecting to just see some typical drunken behavior, you’re going to be in for a surprise.

Korine’s direction (he also wrote the screenplay) is all quirky and cool, shooting some scenes in slow-motion with musical accompaniment by Skrillex (along with Cliff Martinez, they did the soundtrack). Mainstream audiences might be scratching their heads by the time the end credits roll, but I was completely hypnotized by this one. As a long time Korine fan, I would have seen this one anyway, but the added pleasure of a rip-roaring, bigger than life James Franco, and good performances by the girls, just multiplies the pleasures.

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The girls turn in good performances. I really liked Rachel Korine a lot  as Cotty, the most uninhibited one of the group, and Ashley Benson and Vanessa Hudgens turn in super-intense performances as the two most violent ones, a dynamic duo who even scare Franco in one scene. (Hudgens may have gained fame on the Disney Channel, but she was also in the controversial movie THIRTEEN in 2003 and was in the slightly edgy but ultimately disappointing SUCKER PUNCH in 2011. So she’s not completely new to this “edgy” thing.  As for Benson, she’s my favorite of the female leads here, hands down).

By the time Alien starts taking the girls on missions to rob other college kids at gunpoint (and a wedding!), and Alien’s arch-enemy Archie (Gucci Mane) feels he needs to put Alien in his place and starts some violence that needs payback, we have reached the point of no return, and the drunken parties have become a faint memory, replaced by the barrel of an AK-47.

One especially fun (and demented) scene features the three bad girls in pink ski masks singing along with Alien (who is playing piano beside his swimming pool) as they do a group rendition of Britney Spears’ song “Everytime.”

If the Disney girls climbed aboard this project to change their images, they succeeded,  and Harmony Korine succeeded in churning out his first potential hit with mainstream audiences since he wrote KIDS back in the 90s. And like KIDSSPRING BREAKERS will probably seem like a horror flick to some parents (especially of daughters), a nightmare about what could happen during those Spring Break vacations.

SPRING BREAKERS is big and loud and out of control. And I found myself really digging it. In fact, this might just be my favorite movie of 2013 so far.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives SPRING BREAKERS ~three and a half knives.

Transmissions to Earth: DJANGO (1966)

Posted in 2012, 60s Movies, Action Movies, Classic Films, Exploitation Films, Italian Cinema, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Spaghetti Westerns, Trasmissions to Earth, Westerns with tags , , , , , , on December 27, 2012 by knifefighter

 

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Transmissions to Earth Presents:

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DJANGO (1966)
Review by L.L. Soares

In honor of Quentin Tarantino’s new movie, DJANGO UNCHAINED, which opened on Christmas Day, I thought I would see the movie that inspired him – at least in part – the original 1966 spaghetti western called, simply, DJANGO, starring Franco Nero.

When we first see the titular anti-hero, Django is on a hill, dragging a coffin behind him with ropes. He looks down upon a group of Mexican bandits tying up a prostiute named Maria (Loredana Nusciak) and flogging her. Suddenly, a group of soldiers arrive, shooting the bandits and setting the woman free – or so we think. Instead, they form a cross from pieces of wood, intent on burning her for her sins. Django comes to her rescue and she is saved a second time.

Django drags around a coffin wherever he goes.

Django drags around a coffin wherever he goes.

Going into town, they find it pretty much deserted, except for a whorehouse/saloon run by Nathaniel (Angel Alvarez). Their clientele includes the soldiers, led by Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo), and the Mexican bandits, led by General Hugo (Jose Bodalo), the exact two groups who had taken turns persecuting Maria earlier.

Django makes the whorehouse his office, dragging that coffin of his into the middle of the room, to the consternation of Nathaniel and his girls, who are terrified about how Major Jackson will respond. When we are introduced to the Major, he is using bandits as target practice (they’re forced to run up a hill and he shoots them in the back as they flee). Jackson takes some of his men into town to look at the stranger who shot some of his soldiers, which leads to  Django revealing just what’s in that coffin of his. Let’s just say Major Jackson enters the saloon with an entourage and leaves all by himself.

Django has a special treat for his enemies in the coffin he drags around everywhere.

Django has a special treat for his enemies in the coffin he drags around everywhere.

While Django and Nathaniel are digging graves for all the men Django has killed, the bandits show up again. It turns out that General Hugo knows Django from past skirmishes and they are old friends. Django reveals to the General why he came to town – to steal some gold from a military fort just inside the Mexican border. Hugo is game, and they follow Major Jackson back to the fort, where they attack (after hiding in the covered wagon Nathaniel normally uses to bring prostitutes to the soldiers) and abscond with a big bag of gold dust.

Afterwards, Hugo double-crosses Django, cheating him out of his cut of the gold in the name of “La Revolucion” Hugo is planning, to take over the Mexican government. He expects Django to make a sacrifice for the cause, but the mysterious stranger has no intention of leaving empty-handed, especially when it was his plan that got them the gold.

After tricking the bandits out of their gold, Django tries to get away, but accidentally loses the gold (now stuffed in his coffin) to a patch of quicksand. The bandits catch up and crush Django’s hands, leaving him for dead, before riding off into an ambush of Major Jackson’s men, who shoot the bandits dead.

The film ends with a lethal showdown in a cemetery with Django, with a gun but crushed hands, against Major Jackson and a group of his men, culminating in a satisfying conclusion.

DJANGO was a big hit upon its initial release and spawned lots of imitators, and some sequels. It’s clear that Franco Nero’s character is patterened after the “Man with No Name” that Clint Eastwood played in the spaghetti westerns he did for director Sergio Leone.  Django is a man of few works, with a face full of stubble, like Eastwood’s mercenary, but Nero also has piercing blue eyes beneath his beat-up cowboy hat. Directed by Sergio Corbucci, DJANGO isn’t as epic as Leone’s best work, and he clearly doesn’t have anywhere near the budget of Leone’s films, but Corbucci makes up for it in in interesting locations and a strong atmosphere of foreboding.

DJANGO doesn’t have much to distinguish it from the tons of other Italian westerns of the time, but Nero is terrific as the lead character. And that coffin he drags around is an interesting gimmick. Also, Major Jackson’s men go around wearing red bags over their heads, looking an awful lot like a variation on the Klu Klux Klan (the fact that Jackson is clearly a racist just emphasizes this).

It’s not 100% clear what Major Jackson is up to. He leads a group of soldiers, but they seem to be outside of the law and murder the locals with impunity. At one point, Jackson mentions that he fought for the South in the recent Civil War (which isn’t referred to by name), while Django fought for the North. All the more reason for them to be enemies. But since the film was made in Italy, it seems to be a little vague about the details of the war and the specifics of geography.

While it’s not a great movie, DJANGO has some great moments, including a scene where bandits cut off the ear of one of Major Jackson’s cronies, a preacher named Brother Jonathan (Gino Pernice), and that final showdown in the graveyard. And Franco Nero dominates every scene he’s in, and it’s not hard to see how he became an international star.

Charismatic actor Franco Nero became a star for his portrayal of DJANGO.

Charismatic actor Franco Nero became a star for his portrayal of DJANGO.

DJANGO may have “inspired” Tarantino’s new one, but aside from the titles (and names of the title characters) and the fact that they’re both westerns, there’s not a lot in common between DJANGO and DJANGO UNCHAINED. Tarantino has stated that he really likes this movie, however, and he uses some of Luis Bacalov’s score for DJANGO in DJANGO UNCHAINED, including the memorable title song which appears in both films. The original film is worth checking out, however, especially if you’re a big fan of Italian westerns of the 1970s.

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

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Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Meets SWAMP GIRL (1971)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2012, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Drive-in Movies, Exploitation Films, Fugitives, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , on July 5, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP GIRL (1971)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

The mercury went all the way up to 104 degrees today, and the humidity rose right along with it.  Therefore, we’re continuing with our swampy movies marathon, with a look at a drive-in classic from 1971, SWAMP GIRL.

In a hauntingly beautiful opening shot, a young blond girl rows a small boat through a brightly colored, sunset-laden swamp to the accompaniment of sad guitars.  When night falls, a couple of poachers show up and discover the boat she left behind along with a man nearly dead from cottonmouth bites.  They catch a glimpse of the girl as she creeps away.

Ferlin Husky, the great country western singer and star of HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967) is the Swamp Ranger, and he’s introduced singing a lovely song about the girl on his porch.  His rich baritone rings out,

“Or can it be, you really live, that the stories told are true,

Out in that dark and mysterious swamp, there’s an angel such as you?

Swamp Girl, Swamp Girl, run away,

But there will come a day when your heart will say that it’s time to go,

When your heart will tell you so.”

The ranger interviews the men who discovered the body, and these guys are certainly real life locals.  This isn’t acting; it’s tragic verisimilitude with scary rural accents.  After they claim they’ve seen the elusive swamp girl (who is she, Bigfoot?).  The ranger takes out his airboat to find the mysterious girl.  Is it me, or does everyone in every swamp movie have an airboat?

That Ferlin Husky sure sings up a storm in SWAMP GIRL!

Cue five minutes of well-shot nature footage, lots of scenery and dangerous-looking reptiles.

Eventually, Ferlin Husky spots Swamp Girl, and he follows her.  Luckily, she’s wearing a bright pink and white dress and her hair is so shiny, you just have to wonder where she buys her hair care products out there in the boonies.  Our stalker gets his foot caught in a bear trap, and the girl has to help him.  “If I could find all these traps,” she says, “I’d just throw ‘em all in the water.”  He’s slightly injured, so she takes him to her cabin where she makes him dinner and introduces him to her “Pa,” an African-American man who takes care of her.  The warden tells her that the swamp, that nature itself, is disappearing and one day she would have to go out into the real world.  The thought terrifies her.  He swears to return the next day to hear if she wants to live in the civilized world.

Swamp Girl, or Janeen, is played by the lovely Simone Griffeth when she was about twenty years old.  I adore Simone Griffeth, and not just because we share a birthday, but she’s a pretty good actress in some favorite movies of mine.  She went on to star in DEATH RACE 2000 (1975), HOT TARGET (1985), and television shows from HART TO HART to STARSKY AND HUTCH to a recurring role on TJ HOOKER.  In SWAMP GIRL, she’s playing a fragile innocent, and she plays it very well.

Pa (played nicely by Lonnie Bower) tells her he isn’t her actual “Pa,” that he needs to tell her a story and his name is actually Nat.  Begin exposition.

Turns out, he was lost in the swamp, and he was rescued by a doctor who performed illegal abortions in the middle of the wilderness.  Janeen’s Ma was too far along, so he let her stay until she had the baby.  See, old Doc would send the boy children back with their Mammas, and the girl babies were sold into white slavery to Arab sheiks!  WHAT?!!  Okay, pass the popcorn.  Turns out, Janeen was special to Doc and Nat.  She was also a friend to the animals and all nature (MESSAGE!  MESSAGE!).  Doc sent Nat to visit Lake Turner, who runs a snake farm and procures young girls.  It’s a living.  While Nat’s gone, Doc tries to sell Janeen, but he gets drunk and greedy and asks for double the usual amount.  The white slavers kill Doc and shove the girl into a croaker sack.  Nat slaughters the two men with a hatchet and the girl gets dropped and bitten by a rattlesnake! Luckily, Nat’s there and he sucked out the poison.  After that, he raised her as his own.  Now, she must decide whether to remain in the Okefenokee Swamp, living illegally with her Pa, or should she go with the ranger and find her way in the world?

Simone Griffeth in SWAMP GIRL.

Two bank robbers on the lam, a man and a woman,  abandon their car and attempt to trek to the next state through the swamp.  They discover Pa and Janeen’s cabin, and they make themselves at home after blasting Pa with both barrels in a shockingly violent scene.  They force Janeen to guide them out of the swamp to Florida, so she leads them, forgetting to meet poor love-struck Ferlin Husky.  Swamp Girl has her own plans for this couple, and she knows all the pitfalls and deadly animals in the area.

Meanwhile, one of the robber’s parents just happen to show up, looking for their daughter!  The swamp rats, who hate the sheriff and his pinko liberal environmentalist ways of taking care of the wildlife refuge, accompany the robber’s father into the Okefenokee to search for the missing thieves.  Don’t ask how, but this leads to a guy being swung over a pit of cotton mouths until he tells them where the old cabin in the swamp is located.

Will Janeen lead the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes out of the swamp into safety?  Will the sheriff get to her in time?  Will she head for civilization or remain in the wilderness? Before we know the answers, there will be quicksand, gory deaths, an anti-gun speech (Ya ain’t so tough without yer shotgun, are ya?”), a catfight in the mud (!), two alligator attacks, a cotton mouth trap, and more singing by Ferlin Husky.  And wait till you get a load of the insane twist ending!

Ferlin Husky as the “Swamp Ranger.”

The music, which is so integral to the mood of the movie, is by Gene Kauer, who composed the scores for scores of movies, including THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975), THE BEAST OF YUCCA FLATS (1961), MONSTER (1980), and all three FACES OF DEATH movies (1978, 1981 and 1985).

SWAMP GIRL was directed by Donald A. Davis, who also made FOR SINGLE SINGERS ONLY (1968), THE MUTHERS (1968), MARSHA: THE EROTIC HOUSEWIFE (1970), and the delightfully named DIAL-A-DEGENERATE (1972).  Most of his films were “nudie cuties” or adults-only sex comedies, so SWAMP GIRL is fairly unusual in that it’s rated PG, despite the hatchet murders, abortions, child prostitution, murders, alligator killings, snake bitten children, etc.  It was obviously made for the Southern Drive-In circuit, and it works well for what it is.  There’s so much going on that there’s never a dull moment, and the swamp photography is quite beautiful and must’ve looked great on those giant outdoor screens.  Those authentic accents also add to the fun, creating a nice, if fairly mild hicksploitation hit.  In a few more years, Claudia Jennings would star in the similar, and much more exploitive (and therefore much more popular) GATOR BAIT (1974).

SWAMP GIRL is a fun little movie with no pretensions, a good little performance from the super sexy Simone Griffeth, pretty scenery, and more plot than you could usually fit into five flicks.  Something Weird DVD has it on a terrific double bill with SWAMP COUNTRY (1966), starring Lyle Waggoner.

I give SWAMP GIRL two and a half Arab white slavers out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

Available as part of a DVD double-feature with SWAMP COUNTRY from Something Weird Video.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: CHAINED HEAT (1983)

Posted in 2012, 80s Movies, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Prison Movies, Sexy Stars, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Women in Prison with tags , , , , , on March 8, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Blair Behind Bars!
By Nick Cato

Welcome to the 46th edition of my Suburban Grindhouse Memories, where I’m finally getting around to look at a requested subgenre: Women In Prison films, or WIPs, as connoisseurs of the subgenre so affectionately refer to them. WIPs were a hot ticket in the 70s and early 80s, and as far as I’m concerned, none were as fun, sleazy, and downright mean-spirited as CHAINED HEAT (1983), especially when you consider it played not only in grindhouse theaters, but in respectable multiplexes and duplexes all across the U.S. of A.

What sets CHAINED HEAT apart from others of its ilk is the amazing cast.  When I heard Linda (THE EXORCIST) Blair was starring in this WIP film, my 15 year-old rump made no hesitation getting to the (now defunct) Island Twin Theatre, Staten Island’s best bet for unusual and midnight film offerings, where the opening night line wrapped around the place like a new STAR WARS film had been released.  On top of Blair, cult film legend Sybil Danning was in her prime here and delivers one of her most memorable performances as a tough inmate, plus CLEOPATRA JONES (1973) herself, Tamara Dobson, plays Danning’s African American rival and is tougher than a bucket of galvanized nails.  Topping off the list of cult film icons is John (ANIMAL HOUSE-1978) Vernon as a corrupt warden and his first in command, TV star Stella Stevens (!), plus we get sleaze ball king Henry Silva (you saw him in 1,000 films, including 1980’s ALLIGATOR and 1973’s BATTLE OF THE GODFATHERS) who runs an escort service comprised of inmates along with Stevens’ character.

And those are just at the tip of the iceberg.

Like most WIP films (from 1972’s THE BIG BIRD CAGE to BARBED WIRE DOLLS (1975) to 1982’s THE CONCRETE JUNGLE), CHAINED HEAT follows a typical plot of one woman being busted for some kind of unusual crime (this time Blair is arrested for accidentally killing a man).  Her sentence is 18 months in one seriously hellish prison, overrun with gangs, rapist security guards, and more corruption than your standard presidential campaign.  There’s also a racial sub-plot here, as inmates take sides with either the white or black gangs, and there’s more pot and crack smoking going on than in three Cheech and Chong films combined.

Before the inevitable prison riot, Blair is chosen to leave the jail at night to be an escort, and of course she, being morally better than the other inmates (not to mention the highest paid actor in the film), doesn’t get down and dirty like the other girls do, and in fact manages to help one of the weaker ones fight a rough costumer.

There’s also a sequence that caused us EXORCIST fans to question if Blair was ever truly exorcised: a lengthy nude shower scene where Sybil Danning forces herself on the former teenage devil-doll; I can’t remember ever hearing a theater full of teenaged horn-dogs whistling and screaming “GO FOR IT!” with so much enthusiasm (then again, this WAS less than a year after the blockbuster sequel ROCKY III was released, so pretty much everyone was still yelling “GO FOR IT!” at something or someone).  Unrealistic lesbianism has always been a major part of WIP films, and CHAINED HEAT has its share of it (no doubt helping lead to its successful theatrical run: although rated R, this was about as close to an adult film a teenager could get their hands on at the time, both in theaters and a few months later on VHS).

My favorite sequence is when the warden (John Vernon) reveals to a sexy inmate (in his private office) that he makes his own porn films as they’re making out in his Jacuzzi.  He flicks a button and she realizes they’re being filmed by a bulky video camera mounted above the hot tub.  For some reason she gets into it, despite the balding, unattractive old goat.  This guy gets an A+ for one of the slickest, sleaziest wardens in WIP history.

After the drugs, rape, lesbian sex, straight sex, razor blade murders, knife fights, catfights, and stern speeches by the warden and his right hand man (or in this case, right hand woman), the inmates finally decide it’s time to turn the tables.  They quickly take over the joint, breaking heads and messing the place up, both white and black gangs now working side-by-side against THE MAN.  The best sequence features a male prison guard (who had raped most of the inmates) being SLOWLY stabbed in the throat; it was a simple but effective effect that caused audible groans from the crowd.

While WIP films are quite similar and can get tiring, CHAINED HEAT is simply THE one title to see if you feel the need to experience the subgenre.  It’s not pretty (even the sex scenes are kind-of disgusting), has many technical mistakes (the worst being a sound mic in nearly every-other shot), and it’s about as violent as an R-rated film gets.  In some ways, this is the perfect grindhouse film which I’m STILL amazed had such a mainstream release.

I’ve yet to watch THE EXORCIST (or any other Linda Blair film) the same way again.  Be warned.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Ericka (Sybil Danning) lays down the rules to Carol (Linda Blair) in the women in prison classic CHAINED HEAT (1983)