Screwballs 2: Loose Screws – Puerile Sexcapades 80’s Style

“Screwballs 2: Loose Screws” (1985)

Netflix streaming service has really filled the niche that 80s cable movie channels used to. Specifically, it’s made films available that I never would have gone to see at the movies, and always passed up on the video rental shelves because they looked too crappy to pay the rental fee. There were movies that I’d continuously see on those shelves… Lots of dumb looking horror or teen sex films, that just didn’t look quite interesting enough to take a chance on.

Now, I’m making up for those lost “opportunities”, because Netflix and YouTube seem to have an enormous collection of those rarities for me to indulge in. Unlike the rental roulette I used to play, if a flick turns out to be ridiculously dumb or not entertaining, then I can watch something else that I know will be good without having to drive back to the video store. It’s pretty awesome.

I remember having friends with cable back in the early 80s, that would regale me with tales of what I was missing in some of the films that haunted those channels late at night. Me? Unfortunately I missed the 80s cable revolution. My parents just didn’t want cable, so the only time I ever watched any of it was when I was staying with friends. But I’m a lifelong fan of weird/bad cinema, so I’ve eagerly embraced the chance to watch some of those crap recently.

Which brings me to “Screwballs 2 : Loose Screws”, the sequel to well, “Loose Screws” obviously… A puerile teen sex comedy I also recently saw on Netflix. When I say “teen sex comedy” let’s face it – These films were almost all created for, and marketed to teenage males (Or perhaps really immature adult males), so maybe “Male targeted teen sex comedy” is more appropriate.

Having been an immature male teen at one point in my life, I feel qualified to review this flaccid turd of a film – I suppose you can count “flaccid turd” as a review if you want the shorthand, but here is the more complete breakdown:

Like the first film, four male friends attend the wackily named “Beaver High”. They’re supreme fuckups and the improbably group covers several stereotyped character types popular thirty years ago – You have the fat guy, the nerd, the jock, and a ladies man/80s preppy guy.

They have ridiculous names… “Hugh G. Rection” being typical. Basically, everyone in tho film has a hammy dick joke or double entendre name. It’s like reading an old Mad magazine spoof for hairy palmed adolescents. Anyway, I couldn’t keep up with who was named who – Seemed like investing too much thought into these characters.

I’m not even sure if they are supposed to be the same guys from “Loose Screws”. The guy playing the nerd is the same actor, but the others are different. Doesn’t matter in any case. If they’re not the same guys, they’re the same basic characters from the first film.

The group of friends has spent four years as seniors due to the madcap antics and sexual harassment that seems to occupy all of their time. The Principle of Beaver High (Mr. Asshoale or something to that effect) calls them to the office, and tells the merry troupe that he’s sending them to “Coxswell Academy”, a special school for screw ups like them, since they’ve spent four years in the 12th grade… Which explains why they all look like they’re in their mid 20s. This may be the only realistic plot device in the movie – I don’t recall ever seeing another that explained why the “kids” in the movie look 27 and not 15.

In any case, the rest of the film takes place at Coxswell Academy, and is essentially a remake of the first film. This time the group spends the movie spinning elaborate schemes to fuck as many of the girls at Coxswell as possible – They even create a point system for their conquests. Whether that system ever really affects the plot, I don’t know, the sexually retarded hijinks just seem to “happen” without any real purpose or plot purpose – Par for the course for a film like this. The main target for their lust is the French teacher, “Mona Lott” (of course), who is not so secretly sleeping with an Eugene Levy lookalike, Principle of Coxswell “Mr. Arsenault”.

The first day they are at Coxswell, the team of male pals stage a fake breast exam for the female students. I’m not sure where it would be considered legit for a high school breast exam to take place where the “doctors” are all guys too young to be through medical school, commanding the young women to strip down to their underwear, so they can feel them up, but apparently that kind of thing flies at Coxswell Academy.

The next scheme has one of the guys dressing in bad drag so he can infiltrate the all girls dormitory, something he improbably pulls off, even managing to take a bath with one of the girls.

And so it goes. The problem with a movie like this, is it manages to somehow achieve the unthinkable, and makes nudity boring. The tedious and unbelievably stupid plot devices are only there to set up another impossible set piece so that the viewer can see some boobs and butts (Though not much full frontal nudity for some reason), and those plot pieces drag the film to a tedious halt most of the time.

There’s a quick attempt to tie up the loose ends of the plot near the end, and it involves an airborne aphrodisiac or some crap like that, and of course we all finally get to see Ms. Mona Lott topless, but there’s not really a story here. Perhaps in a movie like Screwballs story is not the primary concern. I get that.

Random thoughts:

1. Lots of hideous 80s fashion on display. That might be the real appeal of this film.

2. The “boys” in this film must be in their early to mid 20s according to the “spent four years in 12 grade” plot device. Since the females in the film are supposed to be teenagers, that kind of makes a lot of the wacky hi jinks kind of rapey – So a group of 23 year old men have a points system game where they win by having sex with as many teenaged high school girls as possible? I’m pretty sure that kind of activity gets you put on a sexual predator list these days.

3. Having every character in a movie named after a dick joke or sexual function isn’t funny unless you’re a 13 year old boy.

4. Nudity CAN be boring. I have stared into the abyss, and this is the horrific revelation that stared back!

5. Canada was responsible for this film. Like a lot of early slasher films, there are telltale signs that this film was shot north of the US border. Actors saying “Aboot” abound, and the license plates and street signs are not American. At one point, the gang goes to a Town “Centre”… So yeah. I’m actually glad this wasn’t made in the US.

6. Unlike most 80’s stock “Nerd” characters, the nerd in this film comes across more like a creepy molester type than the normal stereotype. All of the male leads do, but he comes across the worst.

So my final judgment? If you want to see a lot of 80s looking women in their underwear, and occasionally naked, and don’t mind wading through at least an hour and twenty minutes of barely watchable “story”, then this might be a good movie to watch. I think I’d probably have enjoyed it if I were drunk and sitting around with friends making fun of it. So it’s not totally without merit I guess. But if you want some 80s vintage titillation that’s not nearly as stupid, then watch “My Tutor” instead. It’s also on Netflix right now.

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Blonde Hairy Super Ninja Enters “The Octagon”.

The Octagon (1980)

It’s about time I reviewed a Chuck Norris film. The whole idea for “Trailer Park Ninja” stems from the goofy white guy martial arts ninja craze that was happening in the early 80’s. I remember it as being a sleazy combination of lingering 70’s macho male culture embraced by burned out stoner kids who were discovering “Ninja” movies.

You could go to any flea market back then and buy cheap, and usually dangerously low quality “throwing stars” and nunchucks, and it seemed like every 14 year-old guy I knew had a few laying around. I knew a couple of different teenage boys that happened to live in the same trailer park, that were really into this ninja thing. Also Ozzy Osbourne and weed, although I’m not sure how all of that worked into their ninja lifestyle.

Anyway, “The Octagon” seemed to have been one of the more influential movies for that strange ninja stoner culture, as well as 80’s ninja movies in general. I hadn’t seen this Chuck Norris epic in decades, but recently found it on Netflix and decided to check it out.

Chuck is a retired Karate champ, and is hired by a wealthy woman that is having trouble with attacks by ninjas. Presumably, this was a common problem for the wealthy back then (if it wasn’t, it should have been). The plot is needlessly involved. I mean, it’s an early 80’s action film about ninjas, and there are tons of plot holes which a simpler plot would have made less obvious, but it manages to (mostly) move along at a decent pace.

In any case, there are flashbacks to Chuck Norris’s childhood (he always plays a character in his movies, but I can never think of him as anyone but Chuck Norris), where he’s shown training as a martial artist alongside his obviously evil half brother, and it’s revealed that the two become lifelong enemies fighting over a prized sword. None of this matters, it just explains why Chuck Norris somehow has an evil Asian half brother that’s training a paramilitary group of mercenaries and ninjas somewhere in Central America.

I know, makes complete sense right? The mercenaries training at this ninja camp cover most evil categories of bad guys that were common to the 1970’s, and the ninja camp is their training ground, because it somehow makes sense that being sneaky like a ninja, and being able to stick a throwing star in the back of someone’s head are valuable life skills for a villain to learn.

And that’s about all anyone needs to know. Essentially, the plot is an unlikely series of events designed to get an unwilling Chuck Norris to find the training camp and beat a bunch of ninja ass.

Along the way, we’re treated to some mild R-rated sideboob nudity, a few scenes where people are dispatched with ninja stars or swords, and a whole slew of ninja dudes that look like they were the template for the G.I. Joe Cobra Commander.

I don’t think I’m spoiling much to reveal that Chuck wins in the end.

So is “The Octagon” entertaining? It’s not completely boring, but it’s not as great as I remember. Another case of a film that could’ve been improved with more nudity and violence, as the absence of those things makes you actually have to pay attention to the plot, which is goofy as Hell.

“The Octagon” is cheesy and silly as any early 80’s action film that you are likely to find. The numerous scenes where we hear Chuck Norris’s thoughts in the form of narration are a good example. Rather than just have him speaking, someone decided to was a good idea to apply a weird sounding echo effect on his voice, and that corny attention to detail is evident in nearly every scene. “The Octagon” could easily have worked as parody if it had come later in the Ninja Movie cycle.

Yet through it all, Chuck Norris exudes a certain charm that’s hard to place. He has a strange soft spoken voice, and a scary scary mustache. He might be the hairiest blonde man I’ve ever seen, but the fucker is suave, no denying that. I can see why aspiring tough guys loved his films so much. I’m surprised that he hasn’t been embraced as an icon in butch gay circles. But I better be careful, Chuck Norris might track me down and thoroughly kick my ass for saying that.

It’s also interesting to watch this film, as well as many of the action films made in America during that era, because the martial arts scenes look so “tame” compared to the fight scenes most of us are accustomed to nowadays. They just don’t move as fast, and the punches don’t look like they hurt as much as something out of a Jackie Chan film. It’s doubtful that an action film of this style would fly today, though I’m sure a lot of flea market throwing stars got bought by aspiring “ninjas” back in the early 80’s as a result of this film.

“The Octagon” is fun and adequately entertaining, if not the classic it’s rumored to be. For someone wanting to watch a vintage Chuck Norris film, I’d suggest “Lone Wolf McQuade.” It’s a lot better.

I’d give “The Octagon” 6 ninja stars out of 10, and 7 if you really enjoy old 80’s ninja movies.

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Cheech & Chong – Up in Smoke: Worthy Classic, or Lowbrow Idiocy?

Drug-humor duo Cheech and Chong made their first foray into the movies with this late 70’s flick. Being as the movie seems to have been in permanent rotation on cable and video almost since its release, and is a cult classic, I thought I should check it out. I’ve seen bits and pieces of “Up in Smoke” over the years, but never sat down to watch the whole film.

A bit of disclosure, old Skintaster here doesn’t smoke weed, nor indulge in illegal drugs. My few experiences with various party favors never seemed to be much fun, so a lot of the drug culture that Cheech and Chong base their act on might be better received by someone that rolls with 420 several times a day. Still, one does not necessarily have to be a pirate to enjoy pirate movies, and I like drug based underground comics, so maybe I could find something to love about this film.

“Up in Smoke” concerns the adventures of drug-addled screw ups Pedro De Paca (Cheech), and Anthony “Man” Stoner (Chong). Stoner’s rich parents (who only look ten or fifteen years older than their “son”) threaten Anthony with military school if he doesn’t get a job by the end of the day. His Volkswagen Bug breaks down, and Pedro stops after confusing Anthony for a hitchhiking big-breasted woman, because he’s wearing unconvincing drag to get a ride.

They quickly discover a common bond in their pot habits, and so a friendship is born. I guess this film sort of serves as the pair’s origin story.

The plot ambles on from there. They almost go to jail, continually try to score weed during a citywide pot shortage, are pursued by Norbert the Narc stand-in Sargent Stedenko (Stacy Keach), and enter a battle of the bands at the end. Somewhere in there they encounter several weird druggie women, and are oblivious to the fact that they’re driving a van actually made out of marijuana.

The story is really just a framework for various set pieces to happen. There’s no serious plot development in “Up in Smoke,” It’s really just a set up for Cheech and Chong to do their thing.

So is it funny? It has its moments. I can see why this would probably be a lot more fun if one was in an “enhanced” state of mind though. Pretty much every humorous situation involves lowbrow drug or sex humor, about the kind of thing someone would expect to hear in Junior High. Nothing wrong with that necessarily, but it’s not sophisticated humor at all. There’s also occasional lapses into racial stereotyping that I have a feeling many people might not see the humor in. At one point an Asian news woman introduces herself as “Sayonara Sushi” or something equally dumb… I can’t remember… Just for a cheap joke. Now, I’m not super sensitive about that kind of thing, but it wasn’t very funny, and I think some more sensitive viewers might question who thought it was… Of course, sensitive viewers are probably not this film’s target audience anyway.

The movie most reminded me of “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers” comix by Gilbert Shelton, although those are more funny. In fact, seeing this film, I was trying to figure out who comes out looking worse – The drug addled protagonists, or the uptight reactionary cops trying to bust them? It’s certainly a good reflection of why I can’t stand to be around burn out stoners for too long.

Curiously, this film had a few sexual situations, but never showed actual nudity, a strange bit of unexpected restraint for a late 70’s film about drugs and counter culture dropouts.

The battle of the bands scenes at the end were interesting. They were shot at “The Rainbow”, and look like the bands were real local punk and new wave acts from the time period. One of the more interesting things about “Up in Smoke” is all of the footage of late 1970’s Los Angeles; the film captures the look of that time and place well.

So does the film deserve its status as a cult classic? I guess it’s not a terrible way to spend an hour and a half. Cheech and Chong have a certain goofy charm that makes the dull parts, and there are quite a few, go by quick enough. I think it still gets a lot of its cred from the notoriety of those two guys more than anything that’s actually great about this film. There are definitely better drug and sex fables from the same time period.

All in all, I’d rate “Up in Smoke” at 6 giant joints out of 10. You could probably bump that number up a little if you’re a chronic pot smoker.

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“Rape Squad” – Feminist Exploitation Film, or Proof the 1970’s Were a Special Time?

Rape Squad (1975)

I caught this 70’s rarity on Netflix under the alternate title “Act of Vengeance,” about as generic a title an exploitation film could have. I had seen “Rape Squad” mentioned in reference books about grindhouse and exploitation movies, but had never run across it before. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but this film was much weirder than I was prepared for.

The plot is a fairly simple one. Independent young Linda (Jo Ann Harris) seems to have a good life. She owns a successful food truck, and has a studly casual boyfriend. Everything goes to Hell when she’s raped by a guy wearing a hockey mask that forces her to sing “Jingle Bells” while he assaults her.

When Linda goes to report the rape, she finds that the cops are dismissive and don’t take it seriously, basically claiming that there’s almost no chance they will solve the crime. There’s a whole lot of “You were probably asking for it” kind of dialogue, and Linda’s dickhead boyfriend also shares that opinion.

Worse still, the Jingle Bells rapist has been quite busy, and Linda meets a bunch of his other victims at the police station. Since they realize that the cops are not going to do much other than tell them that they should probably “get over” being raped by the Jingle Bells bastard, and move on with their lives, the women decide to form their own vigilante group to seek vengeance.

They enlist the help of a female karate expert to teach them how to beat the shit out of guys (mostly involving kicking them in the balls), and the newly formed Rape Squad is ready for action.

That’s the plot in a nutshell, and after punishing a series of abusive guys, including a nightclub owner with a reputation for cornering unwilling women at his sleazy 70’s make out pad, and a pimp that’s abusing one of his streetwalkers, the group finally has a nighttime showdown with Jingle Bells in a park.

A lot of the proceedings are formulaic, which is to be expected in a 1970’s exploitation/revenge flick, but the general tone of the movie is pretty yucky. Not because of the fact that rape is one of the central themes, but because of how the material is treated.

It took me awhile to figure out what was so wrong-feeling about this movie, and then I realized what it was. “Rape Squad” has a story with a strong feminist message (unsurprisingly it turns out it was written by a woman), but the material is presented in the same way that any standard exploitation drive in movie of the time would’ve been handled, with lots of gratuitous nudity and objectification going on. It was directed by a man, and any feminist message is buried under a ton of standard exploitation film making, aimed at a primarily male audience.

For instance, the scene where the victims of Jingle Bells form their squad takes place in a sauna, where they’re all chit chatting in the nude. There are a lot of scenes like that.

The film kind of reminds me of Jack Hill’s movies. “Rape Squad” looks a lot like “Switchblade Sisters,” but is not nearly as fun or stylish. Nothing is portrayed in a very realistic manner, and that does provide a slight cushion between the sexist handling of sensitive material.

Pretty much every male in the movie is either patronizing and dismissive, or a total potential rapist sleaze bag. It’s easy to cheer on the vigilante women as they best those guys. But the film suffers from that weird contrast. It wants to have a message, but it also wants to objectify these women in a way that’s not congruent with that message. I’m not offended by women being shown naked in exploitation or horror films, but there’s something creepy about having that nudity presented in a rape scene, and then having the actual rapes treated less seriously than is usual. We’re still meant to ogle the various naked female parts on display, and that’s a major contrast to the way an exploitation film like “Make Them Die Slowly” handled the ugliness of rape.

In any case, the whole film has that disjointed “What were they trying to do here?” feel, and it’s hard to take seriously. It would be like trying to make a family film out of “Hostel.” Some elements just don’t work when combined.

The film also suffers from a lot of the “stupid mistakes” that women always seem to make in these types of movies, like being captured or attacked because their shoe heel breaks, or going off alone when they know the enemy is about. Again, that works against a film that’s supposedly about empowering these women.

On the other hand, “Rape Squad” is certainly not the most offensive 70’s exploitation film I’ve ever watched, and it moves along at a brisk pace. There are enough fun scenes with the vigilantes kicking some 70’s scumbag ass, and I would probably recommend the movie to anyone that likes the revenge formula, and who isn’t REALLY uncomfortable with the subject matter. I won’t apologize for “Rape Squad,” but I won’t champion it either. It’s another to put in the “1970’s were a pretty twisted decade” file – entertaining on a trashy level, but definitely not the empowering story its author might have wanted it to be.

If I gave out ratings, I’d give this one 4 leering bastards out of 10.

 

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Caligula – A Cautionary Tale Involving A List Actors, Historical Drama, And a Whole Lotta Fellatio.

Caligula (1979)

I’m going to admit straight away that I love the famous train wreck that is the movie “Caligula.”

You might be asking yourself “How is that possible? that film is a piece of shit. No one could love it.”

And that opinion would be hard to argue with, but I’m going to try to anyway. It’s true, “Caligula” is a total mess, but it’s a fun mess to behold if you’re in the right mood.

I’m sure on paper, “Caligula” sounded like it was destined to be a great cinematic classic. The cast is chock full of A List talent, a few of which were, and are, considered some of the best thespians in the world. With Malcolm McDowell in the title role, and a supporting cast including Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, and John Gielgud, I’m sure this movie seemed like a sure thing. Then came the pornographers. Wait, what? (more on that shortly.)

“Caligula” also had the benefit of being scripted by famous writer Gore Vidal, who developed the story from an unproduced TV mini series by Roberto Rossellini. When Vidal and Rossellini were unable to find anyone to fund the movie, Vidal made the ultimately terrible decision to approach Penthouse Magazine kingpin Bob Guccione.

What had been originally intended as a modest and realistic historical piece was transformed into a lurid spectacle by Guccione, who eagerly agreed to produce the film if is tone became more over the top, and if a lot more sex and nudity was added. Vidal and Rossellini jumped at the opportunity, perhaps out of desperation, or believing that the increased bankroll might benefit the final production.

After attempts to lure established mainstream directors like John Huston into the project, Guccione brought in Tinto Brass, a relatively new director best known at the time for his controversial Nazi Sexploitation film “Salon Kitty.” Production for “Caligula” began in Rome in 1976, and experienced trouble from the get-go. Vidal and Brass apparently hated one another, and original lead Maria Schneider dropped out after being troubled with the level of sexual content and nudity. The were also problems completing the film’s elaborate sets, which were designed by art director Danilo Danati. So basically, almost no one involved with the film was getting along very well. The original script was frequently altered or improvised on, and it shows in the final cut.

Add to the already messy production about six minutes of hardcore porn shot by Guccione, and edited into the film (it’s telling that during the graphic and real sex scenes, none of the principal actors are ever in the shot) and you have an almost unwatchable and offensive “epic.”

The plot? Well, it’s supposed to cover the rise to power and downfall of Rome’s famously eccentric Emperor Caligula, and it covers a lot of the stories I’ve heard in the past. He was romantically involved with his sister, maybe his horse, forced the wives and daughters of high ranking officials to be prostitutes, and so on and so on. In the end, he’s killed of course, no real spoiler there.

Some of the acting is great, with some of these A-listers putting in good performances. Malcolm McDowell attacks his role of the mad emperor with gusto, and while it’s not his greatest role, often stepping into some serious overacting territory, it works for a character like Caligula. Most of the supporting cast with speaking parts is adequate, and there are throngs of extras, whose job seems to mostly be to stand around naked. They do that well enough. Most of the sets look like sets, and are infused with a sheen of slimy artifice. They look like they were created for an ambitious fantasy film more than anything approaching realism. Basically, “Caligula” works as a series of really horrific set pieces, more than as a cohesive narrative. The film slows down in numerous places just to roll out some atrocity for us to stare at – beheadings, forced sodomy, rapes, very little time goes by without something horrible happening to someone on screen. For what it’s worth, these scenes do possess a certain amount of style, and Malcolm McDowell grants a certain manic silliness to all of it. It’s easy to be offended, but hard to take very seriously, a strange balance indeed.

Then there’s the porn. “Caligula” has almost constant nudity throughout, and a lot of simulated and unsimulated sex and perversion on display. Every once in a while, an ordinary scene will turn a corner, and the viewer will get a brief glimpse of someone sucking cock. It’s jarring and weird.

There are also a few set pieces that are essentially showcases for pornographic sex acts. Weirdly enough, Guccione seems to have had no problem showing lots of cunnilingus and fellatio, but very little graphic intercourse. I mention this because it’s a strange juxtaposition, watching a five minute scene with multiple people giving or receiving oral sex, but in the same shot there are people that are supposed to be fucking, and it looks like it’s faked. There are two or three brief shots that look like real intercourse is happening, but I always wonder why Guccione didn’t show more of that. I mean, he already took the film into X-Rated territory, why not go the distance?

As noted before, none of the major actors are shown in these porno scenes, for the obvious reasons. The dirty stuff was filmed later, then edited in. Again, I wonder why? Was Guccione trying to make sure “Caligula” would receive a limited release? It took three years to complete, did he even care anymore at that point? Was cocaine just way better back then? So many questions, so few answers.

Despite a large budget, and high end legitimate actors, “Caligula” often looks and feels cheap. It has the same qualities that a lot of Italian exploitation films from the late 70’s had – a certain cheapness that is compensated for (or attempted to be) by being transgressive, showing more sex and violence than Hollywood ever would have.

I’ve seen interviews with Malcolm McDowell, and he HATES “Caligula.” Really, who can blame him? I’m sure a lot of the better actors in that film weren’t pleased to have their performances bookended by scenes of guys ejaculating on women’s boobs, or a dwarf getting his cock sucked. In the case of Malcolm McDowell, “Caligula” seems to have been a turning point, where afterwards the good roles just weren’t coming along as often.

Now, me? I find all of it pretty fascinating to watch. Not much is handled very well. The sets are ambitious, but still look fake, all of the naked people are kind of boring after a few minutes, and the only thing propelling the movie along is the steady stream of sex and violence. The movie also runs far too long. I’ve always thought that a pretty good 90-minute exploitation film could be culled from the uncut version. But I find it all interesting, like a cautionary tale of how a movie could just go so terribly wrong, how so many high level actors could find themselves in such a turd, and how one should never ever let a guy like Bob Guccione have any creative control over their movie unless they want scenes of dwarves getting blown spliced into their historical epic.

So obviously, “Caligula” is a terrible movie by any objective criteria. But while a bit long and boring, it can still manage to shock and entertain someone that’s expecting it to be bad. I don’t give out ratings, but if I did, I’d give “Caligula” five fellated dwarves out of ten.

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1970’s Blaxploitation Zombie Fury Filmed in H-Town = “Sugar Hill”

Sugar Hill (1974)

1970s blaxploitation films tended to cover a lot of the same ground – Typically a black hero or anti hero fighting some form of injustice, often against evil white oppressors or criminal groups attacking a black community. There are some very good blaxploitation films, but they did tend to rely on formulas often enough.

A small number of these films tackled horror themes, and a couple did a good job. The first “Blacula” film is one of the better vampire films of the 1970s, for instance. A couple of other blaxploitation films of the period played on horror themes as comedy – The Rudy Ray Moore “classic” “Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil’s Son In Law” , is a good example of that angle.

“Sugar Hill” is an interesting take on blaxploitation horror – It’s a good combination of both the “revenge against criminal predators” storyline that is a standard of the genre, and genuine horror.

After her boyfriend is murdered by gangsters led by an evil white dude named Morgan (played by horror veteran Robert Quarry), who is trying to gain control of a nightclub he owns, Diana “Sugar” Hill enlists the aid of ancient Voodoo Queen Mama Maitresse to enact supernatural revenge against them. The sorceress summons Baron Samedi himself, who raises the reanimated corpses of dead slaves to kill Morgan and the members of his gang.

The plot is pretty simple for the most part, so like most blaxploitation and horror movies, the film’s success is measured in how effectively that simple plot is handled… And for the most part, it’s handled pretty well. Anyone that’s seen a handful of blaxploitation films will find all of the expected cliches of the genre, but what saves “Sugar Hill” is that it’s handling of the horror elements are generally effective. Baron Samedi is played effectively, if a little over the top, by Don Pedro Colley, and his legions of zombie slaves look creepy for the most part – They’re covered in cobwebs and have a grey gaunt appearance with silver reflective eyes – Although the weird eye choice is a little jarring, and silly looking at times, it’s also spooky in other scenes. There’s lots of atmospheric lighting, and fog effects to help set the mood.

And,the zombies are a creative bunch! Since they’re from the Voodoo tradition and not flesh eaters like George Romero’s monsters, these dead folks trap their victims in coffins full of snakes, chop off their heads, and feed them to starving pigs! Most of the mayhem isn’t particularly graphic, but it’s all pretty nasty business. Even the Baron’s payment – He gets to take Morgan’s bitchy white girlfriend down to the Underworld to be his sex slave, is pretty horrible when you think about it – These supernatural Creepos play rough.

So how is the film over all? It’s far from perfect… Heck, it’s far from “good”… But it is fun, and has some genuinely horrific set pieces scattered liberally throughout. There are some weird continuity mistakes – Sugar’s hair seems to magically change from a big Afro to a more styled hair do from scene to scene, and some of the acting is sub par.. I don’t know, when I’m reviewing 70s exploitation films, it seems unfair to really judge them by the acting unless it’s truly terrible, or somehow much better than normal – They’re B Movie exploitation films for a reason.

I think “Sugar Hill” is an entertaining variation on blaxploitation fare, and a rarity in horror films – A zombie movie where the zombies don’t eat people but are still scary… Or at least spooky.

I don’t give out star ratings, but if I did, I’d give “Sugar Hill” 6 Mirrored Zombie Eyes out of 10, for it’s interesting take on both blaxploitation and horror movie material.

An interesting bit of trivia – “Sugar Hill” was filmed in and around my hometown of Houston Texas. In fact, a “Voodoo Institute” in the movie is actually the Heights Branch of the public library. I used to live a few blocks away from that place.

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Rolling Heavy in the SuperVan.

Supervan (1977)

I’m going to call it – 1977 was the year of the van movie. I’m guessing that 1977 was about the height of the short-lived custom van craze, because both “The Van” and “Supervan” were released during that year.

“Supervan” begins with the hero Clint, a small town guy who owns a custom van, cutting out of town so he can attend a Van “Freak Out” gathering, where he hopes to win $5,000 in a van competition. His father, the owner of the auto repair shop where Clint works, is none too pleased by this development, but begrudgingly lets Clint go with his blessing. They must have a pretty weird idea of adulthood, because the actor playing Clint (Mark Schneider) looks like he’s at least 30 in this film.

Soon after hitting the road, Clint hears what sounds like a sexual assault in progress over his trusty CB radio, and heads to the rescue, jumping a group of would be rapist bikers trying to have their way with a woman in a junkyard.

Clint manages to beat the bikers, but his van is destroyed in the yard’s car crusher for his troubles. He escapes the junkyard with his new companion Karen (Katie Saylor) who seems to have a fairly casual attitude about the close call with gang rape, even making jokes about it. I guess the 1970’s were just a weird decade.

The two journey to Clint’s friend Bosley’s workshop, a huge high tech place, where he’s been secretly developing a SuperVan called “Vandora” instead of designing a new gas guzzling vehicle for his boss, the evil oilman and owner of Mid American Motors, T.B. Trenton.

It’s obvious that Trenton is evil the moment we’re introduced to him, and he’s the kind of guy that smokes big cigars and sets up trysts with much younger women that have a thing for whipped cream.

The plot essentially boils down to Clint, Boz, and Karen getting the super high-tech Vandora to the Freak Out Fest, and besting T.B. and his henchmen. It’s one of those films where a lot of stuff happens, but not much of it seems to really be connected. There are lots of admittedly awesome custom vans throughout, and some scenes look like they may have been shot at an actual gathering of van enthusiasts. It’s also all very 70’s, peppered with lots of crude sexual humor and casual drug use, but no actual nudity. It was a kinder gentler decade, where a wet t-shirt contest with kids watching, and a creepyImage cameo by Charles Bukowski was just good clean fun. I’m not sure that anything can get more quintessentially 1970’s than the shenanigans on display in this film.

Anyway, Trenton is worried that when Vandora is discovered by the press, he’ll be ruined. Vandora is a high-tech wonder – it’s solar powered, and has inboard computers and lasers. Yes, lasers. The van was designed by legendary car builder George Barris, and it’s pretty dumb looking. The more traditional custom vans it’s supposed to be better than, are way cooler. It also makes an irritating sound, sort of a constant UFO sound instead of the regular engine noises that a typical van would make. That gets old pretty fast. Inside, the sound is accompanied by bleeping computer noises as well.

I’m sure it’s no surprise that Clint and company eventually best Trenton and his toadies, and manage to win the $5,000 in prize money. How that happens involves a lot of not very exciting chase footage, and a drugged out 1970’s van party that’s probably the best part of the film. There are some ridiculous moments in “SuperVan,” although that’s probably to be expected. For instance, we discover that Vandora has a laser gun capable of blowing up a car, but that’s never used to try to disable the cops who are chasing SuperVan for much of the film.

There’s something about this movie that rides a line between two worlds. On one hand, there’s plenty of references to sex and over the top characters. A van full of gay stereotypes comes to mind, as well as scenes involving drug use, but the film almost feels like a late 70’s television movie. Contrast that with “The Van” from the same year, which had ample nude scenes scattered throughout its equally rambling story, and “SuperVan” almost seems innocent in comparison. And let’s face it, that’s weird, because it’s pretty obvious that most people with these custom vans had them outfitted as rolling orgy rooms.

I should point out that I discovered that there are more than one print of “The Van” in circulation, and one has almost all nudity excised from it, really rendering the film pointless. That’s just the kind of film it is. So it’s possible that there’s a sleazier cut of “SuperVan” floating around out there. As it is, the film could have been an ABC Movie of the Week if they cut a few lines of dialogue and some drug use. With the exception of that pervasive 70s era casual treatment of sex and drugs, SuperVan almost seems like the PG kid friendly film companion to “The Van”s R rated horny teenagers.

So did I like “SuperVan?” It’s an interesting look at 70’s-era fads in much the same way a film like “Roller Boogie” is. We know people liked custom vans and roller disco, so it’s cool to see movies trying to exploit interest in those things, but in the case of “SuperVan,” the  plot is taken to an almost Sci-Fi extreme, since no vehicle like the high-tech van ever existed.

On the other hand, I kept finding myself not caring about the plot, or the SuperVan itself, but wanting to see more footage of the Van gathering and the actual custom vans used throughout the film.

So it’s fun to see as a study of 1970’s custom van culture, but the actual film is pretty silly. Without more exploitative material, nudity or whatever, it’s hard to see why anyone would watch this movie today unless they’re interested in old vans, or the weirder aspects of 70’s culture. I’m interested in both of those things however, so if I gave out ratings, which I don’t, I’d give “SuperVan” 5 van lasers out of 10.

The uncut version of “The Van” is still a more sleazy and entertaining van movie though.

Bloodsucking Freaks – Hateful Misogyny or Campy Horror Fun?

 

On Tuesday, November 26, 2013 7:19 PM, Chris lane wrote:
Bloodsucking freaks (1976)

Bloodsucking Freaks is a 1976 grindhouse splatter film involving a freaky guy names Sardu and his malevolent dwarf assistant, Ralphus. Together, they run a Grand Guignol style theater, where beautiful women are tortured and killed on stage… Of course, the audience doesn’t realize that the horrors happening in front of them are the real deal – The performances are Sardu’s idea of “Art”, Lthough he and Ralphus also are running a slavery operation, shipping female sex slaves all over the world.

Things get messy when the two supercreeps kidnap theater critic Creasy Silo, after he angers Sardu with a bad review, and ballerina Natasha DeNatalie, because he thinks she will give his torture show some form of legitimacy if forced to participate.

Most of the film shows Sardu and Ralphus torturing and killing naked women in between public performances… They keep a cage full of them in the theater’s basement. That cage of seemingly feral women plays into the movies ending, but I’ll leave it at that.

So, sounds like a gem huh? Something for the whole family to enjoy?

The thing about this film is that yes, there’s an awful lot of awful stuff happening to naked screaming women throughout the whole film, and it’s one of those movies that you can’t make excuses for – A lot of people will understandably hate it, and think that the only people who could enjoy Bloodsucking Freaks are horrible misogynistic bastards… It’s one of those films that you really can’t defend.

On the other hand, all of the violence is so over the top, and the tone of the film is so campy, that it’s pretty impossible to take any of it seriously. The closest things in tone that I can think to compare it to are some of John Waters early films – Bloodsucking Freaks could easily be cut from the same mold as Desperate Living, if it was somehow melded with a Hershel Gordon Lewis gore film. Bloodsucking freaks also has a sick but consistently funny sense of humor running throughout, in a weird way it’s a pretty fun movie. The same kind of material has been covered in other films, and either never lives up to the hype, or is impossible to enjoy, because the brutality is presented differently.

It’s also important to note that this film was probably originally shown in seedy theaters on 42nd Street, and is really low budget – it’s one of those gore films where the blood looks like tempura paint, and obvious mannequin parts are used in place of severed limbs… It’s difficult to take the atrocities in this film seriously, and the dark humor is deep in this one – Sardu and Ralphus are one of the more entertaining evil duos I can remember seeing in a horror film.

Basically, if you enjoy campy, over the top horror/exploitation movies from the mid 1970s, and aren’t uber sensitive to obvious fake brutality mostly directed at naked women, than “Bloodsucking Freaks” can be a lot of fun. If you’re easily offended, you’ll likely hate this film. It’s one of those movies that a person will either think is funny, or will think is reprehensible trash. I happen to think it’s a lot of both, and a great example of grindhouse cinema.

If I gave out star ratings, which I don’t, I’d give this film 7 out of 10 torture racks.

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“Blood for Dracula” – The Least Dangerous Dracula Ever?

Blood for Dracula (1974)

The early 1970’s were an odd and experimenal time for horror movies. “Blood for Dracula” is a strange one. Written and directed by Andy Warhol’s film collaborator Paul Morrissey, with Warhol himself tagged as a producer. Perhaps he ponied up some of the funds to make this film, but I’m not certain.

Many of the actors could also have filtered through Warhol’s Factory. Some of them definitely have that vibe about them, and male lead Joe Dallesandro certainly hobnobbed in Warhol’s scene.  In any case, “Blood for Dracula” has an odd mix of actors.

The story takes place in the early 1920’s, with Dracula (played by Udo Kier) wasting away in his Transylvanian castle. In this version of the Dracula story, the Count must feed on the blood of virgins to survive. Unfortunately for him, virgins are a rarity in Transylvania, and the Count is sickly and unhappy. His human servant Anton (played creepily by Arno Juerging) has a clever plan. He and the Count will load up the car, strap Dracula’s coffin on top, and head to Italy where more people are Catholic, and presumably saving themselves for marriage.

So they hit the road (during the day, apparently this vampire can handle daylight with no problem) In short order they meet a once-wealthy family who have landed on hard times, and who just happen to have a bunch of “virgin” daughters that need marrying off to a rich guy. So Anton arranges for the Count to meet the young ladies, under the pretense of choosing a virgin bride, although he’s really just looking for some good eats. The problem is that, of the four daughters this family has, two of them have been secretly fucking the estate’s handyman, Mario, played by Dallesandro. Mario comes off like an asshole, and is a Marxist that talks constantly about the coming revolution, but he’s really good looking, and possesses a seemingly insatiable sexual appetite. The middle daughters seem to like that about him.

Soon, Dracula has tried to feed off of both middle daughters, and discovers the hard way that they aren’t virgins. Basically their blood poisons him, and he spends a lot of screen time vomiting copious amounts of blood and having seizures. The youngest daughter Perla isn’t offered for marriage because she’s only fourteen. The Count decides to feed on her anyway, before he and Anton beat it back to Transylvania. Unfortunately for him, Mario has discovered that Dracula is a vampire, since the middle sisters are all fangy and screwed up, so he arrives at the only course of action. He decides to fuck the youngest daughter to prevent Dracula from getting her. Classy guy, that Mario.

I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s nothing special really. Dracula is bested, and Mario and Perla live happily ever after. Until the Marxist Revolution comes along, and takes the rest of the estate…or Mario finds more daughters to seduce. Who knows, maybe they end up together long term. We can hope.

As mentioned earlier, this film is pretty strange. It’s got some good stuff going for it. The European locations are very authentic looking and beautiful. The estate house looks the part. Once opulent, but deep in decline, and the rest of the film locations look equally nice. Director Morrissey shows good skills behind the camera, and there are some interesting angles and tracking shots sprinkled throughout the movie.

Everyone except for Joe Dallesandro has a heavy accent of one kind of another. The film was French and Italian co-production, and the actors and actresses all seem to have come from those countries, with a few Germans joining them. So lots of heavy accents, most of which aren’t consistent with one another. Then there is Mario, who according to the film’s plot, is Italian, and whose family has worked at the estate for a couple of generations. Joe sounds like he’s straight out of Brooklyn, he doesn’t even try a different accent. A lot of the dialogue is weird and stilted too. I’ve heard that much of that dialogue was due to improvisation, and it sounds like it. 
 
Dracula himself is an odd duck in this film. Udo Kier is both ugly and weirdly attractive. He looks like a mixture of Peter Lorre and a female fashion model. It’s hard to describe, but he looked like he could be a creepy blood sucking monster. His portrayal of Dracula is also strange in that he must be the weakest Dracula ever. He’s supposed to be sickly, and he certainly looks the part, even his attacks look like they could be repelled by a twelve year old in reasonably good shape. There are many scenes of him being violently ill, and very few of him being convincingly menacing. His servant Anton is really creepy, much more so than Dracula.

This film was originally given an X rating due to a lot of nudity and sexual content, and it does indeed include a lot of that, but it’s nothing more explicit than I’ve seen in other Eurosleaze films from the 1970’s, and a lot less than I’ve seen in many. There is one scene where Mario forces one of the daughters to give him a blowjob, that was probably pretty strong for the time, but it wasn’t explicit enough to warrant an X rating in my opinion. The film is quite violent for the time, although most of the gore is not particularly convincing.
The film also suffers from being a bit long in its uncut form, clocking in at over two hours, but I can’t imagine wanting to see one of the shorter edited versions, as a lot of the movie’s charm is in how over the top it’s willing to go.Image

I enjoyed “Blood for Dracula” but it’s not a straightforward European vampire film, in the mold of the Hammer productions of the same period. It is a weird mixture of slick film-making, combined with a very European atmosphere, strangely uneven acting and accents, and a few things that betray Morressey’s background as an underground experimental film maker. If I gave out stars, I’d give “Blood for Dracula” five cloves of garlic out of ten. Observant viewers will also spot a Roman Polansky in a cameo as a villager.

Sammy Davis Junior Works For Satan – “Poor Devil” (1973)

Poor Devil (1973)

This television movie was hoped to be the pilot for a regular comedy show series, which never happened.  Despite the “Anything goes” zeitgeist of the early 1970’s, I guess mainstream America wasn’t ready for a weekly Satanic themed tv show.  A shame really.

I had heard about this oddity for years, and was quite pleased to see that it was uploaded onto YouTube. I’m not sure what I expected from a comedy show starring Sammy Davis, Jr. as a demon trying to rope a chronic loser played by Jack Klugman into a Faustian bargain (seven years of worldly pleasure and success in exchange for his soul) but this is a weird movie. That expectation was definitely met.

Poor Devil starts out strong: in Hell appropriately, which looks like a groovy place, and not a horrible world of suffering. The kitschy set design makes Hell’s lobby look like a very fancy airport or office building, all done in a nice Satanic design scheme. The look of these scenes in Hell are one of the film’s strong points. There’s fire, but with the exception of the “furnace room” where infernal screw-up Sammy the demon shovels coal as punishment for being an ineffective demon, we only see flames reflected on the walls. It’s a neat effect, and whoever was responsible for designing Hell did a cool job.

Hell itself echoes the office building theme, as it seems to run as some sort of corporate office, complete with secretaries and other office types in red outfits. The CEO of Hell is of course Lucifer, played nicely by Christopher Lee, who does a great job in the role. He really captures the sinister yet suave feel that would fit a businessman Devil.

Sammy has been spending 400 years toiling away, stoking the fires of Hell as punishment for never completing a Satanic assignment without screwing things up, and “Mr. Bligh” (played by instantly recognizable Gino Conforti) has it in for him. Mr. Bligh seems to be some sort of infernal management type, second only to Lucifer himself. Sammy has been keeping tabs on Burnett J. Emerson, a sad sack human played by Jack Klugman, who has just been passed up for a deserved promotion after spending 25 years toiling away at his company. Sammy thinks that he has a good shot at capturing Emerson’s soul, and redeeming himself in Lucifer’s eyes, if he can just be allowed back to Earth to convince Emerson.

Despite their resistance to the idea, Sammy convinces Lucifer to give him a chance, and teleports himself into Emerson’s apartment.

After convincing the doubtful Emerson that he is indeed an envoy of The Devil, and can offer him worldly success in exchange for his soul after seven years, we get into the meat of the story. We’re introduced to Emerson’s manager, a very smarmy slimeball played by Adam West, who is responsible for keeping Emerson down, and who also tries to seduce his wife. After some convincing, Sammy finally succeeds in getting Emerson to sell his soul. The terms of the contract stipulate that if Sammy is ever unable to fulfill one of Emerson’s desires, then the contract is voided, which sets up the rest of the film’s plot.

Emerson’s first requirement is revenge against the company that screwed him over. He’s an accountant for a huge department store, and Christmas is coming up. He tells Sammy to steal every item from the enormous store the night before their biggest sales day of the year, deciding that this will ruin the store financially.

This is all fine and good, but immediately Sammy starts to backpedal, because apparently, The Devil has very little power on Earth. He claims that the main thing he can do is teleport back and forth, which seems like a pretty shitty power for a minion of Satan to have. How these demons are ever going to grant wishes of any caliber if all they can do is jump from place to place is beyond me, and that is a major plot point, which struck me as a major flaw.

Faced with defaulting on the new contract, Sammy comes up with a “brilliant plan.” It involves getting other humans who’ve sold their souls to break into the store with him, and physically take everything away, loading all of it onto a helicopter, and then dumping it onto Alcatraz Island. There must be some fine print that forces others that have sold their souls to have to come work in a pinch, which seems like a pretty crappy rule to me.

The rest of the film involves Emerson flip flopping on his wishes, forcing Sammy to work harder and harder, and then after realizing that he won’t get to spend eternity with his pious wife, being let off the hook on a technicality by Sammy, whose just too nice for his own demonic good.

The movie ends with Mr. Bligh chastising Sammy in Hell’s furnace room, where he’s forced to work again, presumably for the long haul. I’m sure had “Poor Devil” become a series, every week Sammy would somehow convince Lucifer to let him try again with some other prospect on Earth.  Sadly, that never happened.

So what do I think about “Poor Devil?”

It starts out stylish and strong, and Hell looks like a neat place. Sammy Davis, Jr. plays a demon that’s a little too sweet for his own good fairly well, and all of the acting is decent. Even Adam West manages a performance that’s not too hammy. Christopher Lee is great, which is not surprising, and the idea of a Faustian TV series is a pretty cool one. The story takes place in San Francisco, and the location shots are also interesting. There are a few fun Satanic references. Very early on , Sammy has a bit of dialogue that references calling The Church of Satan, and combined with the San Francisco location (home to the original COS), those are interesting details. I kept wondering if “Poor Devil” had come about because Sammy Davis, Jr. was an honorary member of the COS, hobnobbing with Anton LaVey at about the same time the film was shot. Who knows?

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Sammy Davis Junior Works For Satan – “Poor Devil”(1973)

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of clumsy filler in this movie. There are boring scenes where Sammy consults dead criminals like Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde on the best way to rob a store, and these scenes are just boring. The film bogs down in the middle in general, and the idea that Satan is somehow going to fulfill the desires of anyone, when the only power that his minions seem to possess is teleportation just seems dumb, a bad plot device intended to push Sammy to desperate measures. It also seems ludicrous that an accountant, even a frustrated and bullied one, could be convinced to sell his soul, when the return is basically just being a little more successful at work. That just seems like a lousy bang for buck to me. Maybe “Poor Devil” would have worked better in a shorter format, and that might have been the plan if it had become a series.

It’s not an unenjoyable oddity to watch, but there is a lot of unrealized potential, and combined with the overtly Satanic themes, I’m not surprised that this was a one shot television movie. Still, if you have interest in early-70’s Satanic chic, like the actors involved, or just like kitschy films about The Devil, then you could do a lot worse.

If I gave out stars, which I don’t, I’d give “Poor Devil” 5 broken pitchforks out of 10.