Sunday, May 28, 2017

May Quick Picks and Pans – Exploitation Month

Black Belt Jones (1974) Director Robert Clouse’s follow-up to Enter the Dragon is a real hoot, starring Jim Kelly (who also appeared in Enter the Dragon) as the kick-ass, take-no- prisoners title character. He’s a one-man wrecking crew, working with the cops to take down a powerful mafia don. When the crime lord’s goons rough up and accidentally kill Black Belt Jones’ mentor, Pop Byrd (Scatman Crothers), you know there’s going to be hell to pay. Byrd’s estranged daughter Sydney (Gloria Hendry) shows up, to join in on the chop-socky action. Kelly strikes the right balance between charisma and conceit, to keep us engaged throughout. Black Belt Jones is full of fast-paced, high-energy fight scenes from start to finish, leading up to an inventive soap suds-infused climax in a truck wash. Check it out!

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka: They Call Her One Eye) (1973) This might just be the consummate grindhouse flick, with its combination of sleaze, sex, blood and revenge. Christina Lindberg plays Frigga, a young woman who was left mute after a traumatic childhood incident. She misses her bus into town, and unwisely accepts a ride from Tony, a con man posing as a business traveler. He separates Frigga from her family, gets her hooked on heroin and puts her to work as a prostitute. When Frigga shuns one of her customers, Tony gouges her eye out (Not so fun fact: a real cadaver was used for the scene).

The second half of the movie concerns Frigga plotting to get even with Tony and the other people who destroyed her life. We witness her training in karate, shooting and driving, which leads to the film’s satisfying conclusion. Thriller is marred by some gratuitous hardcore sex scenes (depending on which version you see), and it’s definitely not for the squeamish, but it really delivers the goods. It’s Swedesploitation at its finest.

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973) Director Bob Kelljan’s quickie follow-up to the surprisingly entertaining Blaxploitation horror Blacula never quite reaches the levels of its predecessor, but it’s mildly entertaining. Mamuwalde, the titular vampire, is revived through black magic, unleashing his wrath once more. He’s torn between his bloodsucking ways and trying to lift the centuries-old curse. Pam Grier co-stars as Lisa Fortier, a voodoo practitioner who attempts to help. Nothing seems quite as novel as the first time around, and the production seems even cheaper than the last (most of the story is confined to one house), but Marshall gives it his all in the main role.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

 Caged Heat (1974) With so many women-behind-bars flicks preceding it to form a template, Caged Heat probably could have written itself, but producer Roger Corman had an ace up his sleeve with writer/director Jonathan Demme. Demme brought a personal touch to the story, humanizing the prisoners, despite the requisite T&A shots that the sub-genre demanded. Cult film icon Barbara Steele is good as the repressed Superintendent McQueen, who preaches a policy of tough love for the inmates. Warren Miller is suitably creepy as the warped psychiatrist Dr. Randolph. Caged Heat never quite rises above the clichés and conventions of women behind bars movies, but gives us a little bit more to chew on.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

Multiple Maniacs (1970) Produced on a budget of $5,000, John Waters’ second feature film leaves no stone unturned in its quest to offend. Shot around his native Baltimore on 16 mm black & white reversal stock, Multiple Maniacs captures a moment in time for Waters and his Dreamland crew, satirizing religion, the Manson murders, arthouse sex flick and hippies. Lady Divine and Mr. David (played by Waters regulars Divine and David Lochary) run a traveling sideshow, the Cavalcade of Perversion, which is nothing more than a front to rob middle-class suburbanites. I can’t say this is a “good” movie in any sense of the word, but for better or worse, it held my attention (think of it as a dress rehearsal for Waters’ next movie, Pink Flamingos). Even if it left me scratching my head on more than a few occasions (Divine is raped by a giant lobster), you have to applaud Waters for his chutzpah (be sure to listen to his articulate and funny commentary on the Criterion disc).

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Terror of Tiny Town (1938) On the surface, there’s nothing particularly special about this western, with its clichéd story about a puppet sheriff caught in a feud between two factions,* but I’d wager you’ve never seen anything quite like it. The Terror of Tiny Town stars a cast comprised entirely of little people, billed as “Jed Buell’s Midgets” (as if they were his personal property). You’ll probably wonder why someone felt this one-note gimmick was enough to sell tickets, but thanks to the 62-minute running time, you won’t have much time to be bored.

 * Watch for the bandits with an endless supply of bullets (“Did I fire 50 shots or only five?”).

Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Amazon Video

Cannibal Girls (1973) Director Ivan Reitman’s Canuxploitation cheapie keeps its narrative tongue firmly planted in its proverbial cheek. Cannibal Girls’ biggest claim to fame was its “warning bell” that would sound in the theater when something of an “especially erotic or gruesome nature” would appear on the screen. Oh, promises, promises. Pre-SCTV alumni Eugene Levy and Andrea Martin star as newlyweds vacationing in a small town outside Toronto. Somehow, their lives become intertwined with an urban legend about three women in a farmhouse who lure lonely men to their doom. In the DVD interview, Reitman confided that he and his crew weren’t working from a complete script, and it shows. The plot, if it could be called that, is uneven at best, but the film has its moments. The best scene involves Ronald Ulrich as the Reverend Alex St. John, a shifty backwoods restaurant proprietor, who spins morbid stories about the establishment’s history. Levy and Martin also have good chemistry together, but the movie just doesn’t quite gel. It’s not funny enough to be a comedy, nor scary enough to be a credible horror film.

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

The Wizard of Gore (1970) A more apt title for this Herschell Gordon Lewis film could have been The Wizard of Bore. Montag the Magnificent (Ray Sager) runs a show that requires audience participation for his macabre illusions. The only trouble is, the volunteers end up dead several hours later. Sherry Carson (played by Judy Cler in her only film role) hosts a local TV show, and her newspaper reporter boyfriend Jack (Wayne Ratay) discover there’s more to Montag’s story than meets the eye.

Lewis seemed to have cribbed the plot from a shampoo bottle (the “lather, rinse, repeat” part), with its drawn out set-up and repetitive torture scenes. When Jack balks at having to go back to watch Montag’s show, all I could think was, Yeah, I’m right with ya, pal.”
Compared to the movies from the director’s “Blood Trilogy,” the killer has no apparent motive. In Blood Feast, Fuad Ramses killed to fulfill an ancient Egyptian prophecy. In 2,000 Maniacs, a small Southern town came to life (sort of like a homicidal redneck version of Brigadoon) to wreak vengeance on visitors from the north. Hell, even Adam Sorg, the tortured artist in Color Me Blood Red was motivated by the promise of notoriety. Montag just kills because he can. I give the film brownie points for its half-assed attempts at being mind-bending, but it doesn’t redeem it from eliciting yawns.

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


  1. I had no idea that Jonathan Demme directed a women in prison film or that Ivan Reitman directed a canibal women feature. I will have to seek these out. They call her One Eye is such a great title. I'm sure she was the inspiration for Elle Driver in Kill Bill

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Vern! I'm honored by your visit. Caged heat was a nice surprise. Cannibal Girls had its moments. They Call Her One Eye was just plain amazing. I'm sure Tarantino found much to like.