Drunk Irish People Fight Monsters From Space – “Grabbers”

I caught this film on Netflix the other night, based on a reference from a friend of mine. It’s a recent Irish horror film, although I never know how to classify movies like this. It’s about monsters that eat people, but the monsters are from space, does that make it more of a science fiction story or a horror tale?

I guess it doesn’t really matter, what matters is that monsters from space have crashed into the sea just off the shore of a remote Irish island. In short order a bunch of dead whales have washed up on shore, fisherman have caught something weird instead of lobster, and an odd couple of cops start to realize something very strange is happening.

Early on we’re introduced to the protagonist cops. Ciaran (Richard Coyle) is a barely functional alcoholic who is fortunate to have an easy gig on an island where nothing particularly cop-worthy ever seems to happen. He is begrudgingly partnered with Lisa (Ruth Bradley) who has signed up for extra duty to impress her superiors back at her job on the mainland. She’s as much of an ambitious workaholic as Ciaran is a drunk.

In typical “meet cute” fashion, they start off on the wrong foot with one another, but there is little doubt that they will end up together by the film’s end. We’re also introduced to several of the island’s more colorful characters, notably Paddy, a drunken fisherman, and the local marine ecologist Dr. Smith.

Weird things quickly begin to take place on the isle. Something seems to be attacking people, leaving only a severed head behind in one attack, and that’s just not a common occurrence. After some basic investigation, the responsible parties are discovered – “Grabbers”, monsters that are so named because they have enormously long tongues that they shoot out to suck the blood from their victims. Turns out that all these Lovecraftian horrors need to survive is human blood and lots of water. Fortunately for them, they landed near an island and a tropical storm is about to hit town.

It’s also soon discovered that the one thing these creatures can’t stand is the blood of drunk people. Alcohol is poisonous to them. That’s good for the humans living on the island, as it seems the local pastime is getting shitfaced every night.

After realizing that the Grabbers are about to be handed the perfect situation in which to eat everyone on the island, the film’s heroes decide to trick everyone in town into getting wasted at the local tavern, essentially hiding out, and rendering their blood into space monster poison.

And so it goes. The film itself is a simple one, and there aren’t any real surprises in store for anyone that’s seen a few formulaic monster-from-space flicks. In a movie like this, it’s not really the simple plot that makes or breaks it, and that’s a good thing, because “Grabbers” is a lot of fun to watch.

First, all of the acting is good, and the characters are likable. This is especially true with the main protagonists Ciaran and Lisa. Ruth Bradley is particularly interesting, and she owns the scenes where she is forced to get loaded for the first time ever to foil the anti-drunk space aliens.

The aliens themselves are well rendered, if not especially original. They’re realized through CGI, but the effects are well done and convincing, and the creature design reminds me of the types of tentacled horrors that H.P. Lovecraft was so fond of writing about. The island location itself is a good one, and adequately gives us the sense that the islanders are effectively cut off from any help from the outside world. “Grabbers” is played straight, but there is ample humor throughout the film, reminiscent of films like “Shaun of the Dead,” although this film tilts a little more towards horror than humor. In a way, I was reminded of formula monster films like “Lake Placid.” A good mix of characters and their chemistry makes films like these seem a lot “better” than they might be without that dynamic. The violence is pretty standard for a film like this, if a bit more restrained than one might expect. Several heads are bitten off, but none of it is extremely gory or graphic. I’ve seen about the same level of graphic violence on an episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

There is appeal in watching the straight-laced Lisa get drunk in order to thwart the monsters, and in seeing the normally drunken Ciaran stay sober enough to save the day. “Grabbers” is a simple monster movie, but it has enough laughs and charismatic characters to make it an entertaining film to watch. It’s not frightening at all, but it’s fun enough.

I’d give “Grabbers” six shots of Irish whiskey out of ten. It’s worth checking out on a rainy night.

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Need a Movie to Ruin a First Date? “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS”.

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I’d known about this infamous grindhouse flick for years before I final tracked down an uncut copy to watch.

Ilsa is the Nazi commander of a prisoner of war camp during WWII, and is helping to conduct brutal experiments on her female captives to prove that women are more impervious to pain than men, and would thus make better soldiers. She’s decked out like a Nazi dominatrix through most of the movie, and also has an insatiable sexual appetite. Every night, she forces male prisoners to sexually service her, but when they cum sooner than she wants them to (and they all do) Ilsa has them castrated. In fact, the film opens with one of those castrations.

She meets her match when new prisoner “Wolfe” arrives. An American of Germanic heritage, Wolfe doesn’t climax during sex, thus sparing himself from her cock-chopping wrath.

Eventually the prisoners rise up and the camp is attacked, killing nearly everyone along the way. Cheery film, this one.

“Ilsa” belongs to an inherently offensive sub-genre of Nazi torture sexploitation movies that wound their way from some sleazy hellhole to the screen in the 1970’s. “Ilsa” is not the first of that horrific type of film (that honor(?) would belong to 1969’s “Love Camp 7”, but it movie is probably the most notorious.

Much of “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS” is devoted to very graphic sexual violence and mutilation. Typical is a scene where female prisoners have an electric dildo forced into them. We don’t see the actual penetration, but we see everything but that penetration, and it’s not fun to watch. There are a lot of scenes like that in this movie.

The plot itself is sparse, and more time is spent showing the graphic torture of naked female captives than things story development. Strangely, I can watch a film like “Bloodsucking Freaks”, which portrays a lot of the same sorts of sexual sadism as the Ilsa film, but is handled with a campy sense of humor. Black as it is, that sense of humor makes watching “Bloodsucking Freaks” much more palatable than “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS”.

The 1970’s were a really weird time period, and lots of taboos were challenged. Since the end of WII, Nazis have rarely been presented to American audiences realistically. Instead we grew up watching comedic versions in television shows like “Hogan’s Heroes” and comic book villain style movie Nazis.

I deliberately seek out movies that many other people would be horrified or offended by, and usually they don’t bother me. The Nazis in “Ilsa, She a Wolf of The SS” are in no way realistic characters, but the extreme sex and violence in this film portrays the kind of horrors real Nazis inflicted on prisoners. It’s unsettling and unpleasant to see that kind of realistic horror carried out in a cartoony exploitation film. Imagine if Colonel Klink was doing sexual torture experiments on his prisoners in “Hogan’s Heroes”. That’s the kind of uncomfortable tone of this movie.

There really are no conventionally redeeming qualities in “Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS” other than relatively high production values. Even people looking for especially transgressive and shocking movies to watch will probably be disappointed in this one. It’s certainly shocking, but it’s just no fun. It’s not sexy, it’s not funny, and it’s not good. It’s just sort of depressing.

If I gave out ratings, I’d give his one 4 castrated dicks out of 10.

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Galaxy of Terror – A Galaxy of Violence and Worm Rape

Galaxy of Terror – 1981

Galaxy of Terror seems to be one of the more famous Roger Corman produced films from the early 80s. It was one of those movies that my friends with cable always raved about, and I remember liking it when I finally saw it one late night at one of their houses.

The story begins on a stormy dark planet called Morganthus. The last survivor from a crashed spaceship is violently killed by some unseen beastie. Somewhere on a distant planet, two people are playing some sort of game. One is a kind of cosmic seer, and the other is identified as the “Planet Master”, an all powerful being with a red glowing light obscuring his features. They talk vaguely about events being put into motion, and then Mr. Glowing Light Orb For a Head commands his military to send a ship to Morganthus immediately.

So off speeds the “Quest” piloted by Captain Trantor (Grace Zabriskie, – Many viewers will recognize her from lots of other films) who is apparently somewhat mentally disturbed and reckless due to a traumatic space disaster she’d survived in the distant past. The rest of the crew is a colorful bunch, and includes such improbable members as an “Empath” (Played by Erin Moran from “Happy Days”) and a “Crystal Master”… Whatever that is… Played by Sid Haig. Other familiar faces are the ship’s cook, played by “My Favorite Martian” star Ray Walston, and the crew’s “Ranger” played by Robert Englund.

Once the ship nears Morganthus, it goes out of control and crash lands. The crew slowly makes it’s way across the surface of the planet to the other ship, where they discover a terrible massacre happened there. They also discover that something on the planet caused the crash, and upon further investigation, they find a huge pyramid structure, and decide to explore it.

It is at this point that the real purpose of this movie unfolds – Specifically, the crew members are murdered one by one by horrible monsters within the pyramid. These are all set pieces, and what the film is generally remembered for – There is a nasty scene where the generic blonde crew member is stripped naked and raped by a really slimy giant worm… That’s the scene that seems to stick in people’s minds the most, followed in notoriety by the scene where the Empath woman is torn to pieces by tentacles…. Joanie from “Happy Days” meeting that horrible end sticks with you.

Almost everyone is dispatched in gruesome ways within the pyramid, until only the main protagonist “Cabren” is left. At that point, he encounters “The Cook”, who reveals that he’s really the “Planet Master”, and that the pyramid was essentially a game created by a long extinct race to allow them to face their most horrible fears, and to gain mastery over them. Cabren kills the Master, and replaces him… Becoming the new “Planet Master” himself. The end.

So, “Galaxy of Terror” has a few things going on. It’s deeply corny in a lot of ways – there is a lot of use of very dated looking laser affects, and the characters are also silly… The Empath and “Master of Crystals” in particular. I dig Sid Haig in most things, but his character is pretty hard to like in this film. He basically throws around a couple of cheesy looking crystal throwing stars, and looks angry, up until he’s killed by those same throwing stars. Ray Walston as the Cook is also hard to take seriously – there was no way I could shake the feeling that I was looking at “My Favorite Martian” anytime he appeared on screen. That goes double for Erin Moran… I kept thinking of “Happy Days” anytime she showed up. Robert Englund was problematic for the same reason, but I’ll give him a ass, since “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was still a couple of years in his future.

The movie is also completely derivative of both “Alien” and “Forbidden Planet”, borrowing plot devices and production design from both. About the only original ideas in the film are it’s worst ones – The cornball “Planet Master” being the main one.

A lot of low budget movies came out during this time period that ripped off Alien. It was one of those landmark films that changed the way people thought a movie in space could look. And honestly, I’ve seen the atmosphere from Alien ripped off and done worse in lots of other bad movies. Sure, it’s not done REALLY well – The distant shot of the Pyramid looks like a painting on canvass, and some of the sets look as cheap as they undoubtably were. Others manage to look convincing and atmospheric enough… So no originality at all on that front, but it’s effective enough for an exploitation film like “Galaxy of Terror”.

As to the plot… Well, the plot is really just there to get the silly characters into that Pyramid so they can be raped and slaughtered. The killings are really the reason this film is remembered – I can’t imagine that anyone would still remember this film if those hadn’t been in the film. I’ve met people that still remember Galaxy of Terror because of the infamous, and still horrible to watch worm rape scene… Lots of slime in that one. And there are several other graphic scenes in the film, so it’s not surprising that the film has garnered a cult following over the years. The special effects range from very dated and laughable, to moderately well done. I’ve definitely seen a lot worse in Corman movies over the years.

It’s all distasteful and pretty goofy, and a person that over thinks things will be wondering why they combined so many stupid plot elements with the things that they to right about the film…. Did they really need that silly “Planet Master” character at all? Was Ray Walston a wise choice to use? Was Mr. Walston forced into this film because he owed someone money? Did they think that a guy throwing crystal throwing stars was really a good idea? So many questions.

But if you go in with low enough expectations, Galaxy of Terror is not the absolute worst way you can spend an hour and a half.

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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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