Category Archives: Cult

Rapists at Dawn (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen boys assault women.

Rubiales (Manuel de Benito), Quinto (Daniel Medran), Rafi (Bernard Seray), Cana (Cesar Sanchez) and Cana’s pregnant sister Lagarta (Alicia Orozco) roam the streets of Barcelona, Spain looking for young women to assault. The boys live on the poor side of town and are from abusive home lives with little future except working boring, low paying jobs. Feeling that society has ‘discarded’ them they they take out their hostilities on the pretty women that they meet. They pick their victims at random usually as they spot them getting out of their cars and go walking into their schools many times while in front of the victim’s family member who’ve just dropped them off. They then take the women to an isolated area and proceed to gang rape them while Lagarta acts as the look-out. The police are aware of the crimes, but seem helpless to do much about it. When they catch the boys in the act and try to arrest them the boys manage to escape making them confident that they can’t be stopped.

While films like I Spit on Your Grave and Irreversible get all the attention as being the ‘last word’ in rape movies, this one, if it was better known and more attainable, would trump those. The rapes here are graphic, prolonged and quite violent. Some will complain that it’s exploitative while others will argue that if you’re going to show rape for the violent crime that it truly is then it must be captured in all of its unpleasantness and toning it down for the sake of good taste does a disservice. Personally I found the brutal nature to be effective as I came away feeling really sorry for the victims, as it’s captured in such a real way you can barely see the acting and instead start to consider it more like a graphic documentary.

This movie also handles the aftermath in an interesting way by examining the debilitating effect the crime has on the victim psychologically and how they become like a different person. They’re outgoing and well-adjusted beforehand and then afterwards depressed, angry, and even ashamed. They turn sullen and anti-social to both their friends and family making it seem like they’ll never be the same again. The film also analyzes what happens when one of the women becomes pregnant, something that I don’t remember being touched upon in other rape films, and how the mother of the victim insist, due to religious reasons, that she keep the baby and not abort it, making her seem as cruel as the gang.

The thuggish boys are portrayed in an intriguing multi-dimensional way too. While they’re cocky when out and about they recoil and become like victims themselves when at home and dealing with their abusive fathers. I did like too that in their own twisted way they have ‘limits’ or  a ‘code of morality’ albeit a very weird one. A great example of this is when Lagarta becomes shocked when the boys continue to penetrate one of the victims even after she has clearly died. Normally Lagarta had no problem seeing them violently molest the women, but when one of them actually gets killed during the attack and the boys continue the assault it’s only then that she feels things have ‘gone too far’.

It’s hard to say what genre to put this one into. It’s not really a horror film as none of the women become Rambo-like by packing a big gun and going on a revenge tour against their assailants, which although emotionally satisfying isn’t realistic If anything it brings out how there are no easy answers, which makes it even more horrifying, but still thought provoking.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Ignacio Iquino

Studio: Ignacio Ferres Iquino

Available: DVD-R

The Hired Hand (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Returning to his wife.

Harry (Peter Fonda) and Arch (Warren Oates) having been wandering the American West for many years, but Harry has grown weary of it. He informs Arch and their younger companion Dan (Robert Pratt) that he plans on going back to his wife Hannah (Verna Bloom) whom he abandoned many years before. Arch is not happy with this decision and tries to talk him out of it, but eventually relents and after the untimely death of Dan decides to head back with him to Harry’s former homestead. When they arrive they find that Hannah is still working the farm with her young daughter Janey (Megan Denver). Hannah is not pleased to see Harry as she had informed Janey that her father had died many years earlier. Harry tries to make amends, but Hannah resists only allowing him to stay as long as he agrees to become a hired hand and help with the chores. Both Harry and Arch agree to this, but when Arch decides to eventually head west alone and then gets abducted by a crooked sheriff (Severn Darden) Harry leaves Hannah to help save his friend much to the anger of Hannah who feels he’s again abandoning her.

This film was the product of Universal Pictures’ new policy of allowing independent pictures to be made under the studio system as Easy Rider had done well with a low budget, and no studio meddling, so they hoped to replicate that success with more films like that one. Besides this one the other movies included: Silent Running, Taking Off, The Last Movie, and American Graffiti and were all made with each director given $1 million to work with and then allowed to use his artistic freedom to create the kind of film he wanted without studio interference.

Unfortunately this movie did not do well at either the box office, or with the critics. Variety labeled it as ‘disjointed’ while Time described it as ‘pointless’. With the bad press and poor profits the studio decided to end its ‘independent movie’ division and films like this were no longer made, at least under the Hollywood umbrella. While this movie sat in near obscurity it finally found an audience in 2002 when it was shown at the Sundance Film Festival and has since acquired many admirers.

What I liked about it is how it goes against the western narrative where life in the old west isn’t portrayed as being about gunfights and saloon brawls, but instead quiet and slow paced. Harry and Arch spend their time raising livestock and doing other farm chores as just keeping the crops growing and animals fed was a mighty challenge enough. The acting by the entire cast is superb, but the real stars are Bruce Langhorn and his wonderfully unique music score, Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography and Frank Mazzola’s brilliant editing where he mixes in a lot of montages and overlapping still photography.

There are a few gunfights, but unlike shoot-outs in the conventional westerns this isn’t about tough brave men with nerves of steel. Instead the gunfights are seen as happening when goofball idiots, much like today, get their hands on a weapon after being triggered over something insignificant and shooting wildly before killing himself. Most westerns will prolong these moments, but here it’s quick lasting only a couple of minutes, like in real-life, and when it’s over all you see are dead bodies lying about making it seem more like a needless waste of life.

Harry and Arch’s long travels together through the desolate, lonely west are what really stands-out. You get a true sense of what the world was like back then where you might not see other people, or homes for days on end. You also get a good understanding for why Harry becomes so attached to Arch and willing to risk is life at the end to save him because for such long periods during their travels Arch was, at least from his perception, the only other person on the planet with him and this then created an indelible bond.

When it got broadcast on NBC in 1973 a 20-minute deleted scene featuring Larry Hagman as a sheriff was edited back into the film. This segment had gotten cut-out when director Fonda felt, after viewing it in the editing room, it wasn’t needed and didn’t really help propel the story. The footage can be found on the 2003 DVD issues from Sundance as a bonus extra. I watched it and enjoyed Hagman’s performance as, like with everything else in this movie, goes against the grain of the conventional western. Most of the time sheriffs where portrayed as stoic figures, but Hagman comes-off as nervous and jittery and not completely in control of the situation. I would think most lawmen back-in-the-day with dangerous outlaws roaming the countryside and invading small towns would behave much more like Hagman does here, so in that respect I felt these scenes were insightful, but ultimately agree with Fonda that they didn’t add much to the story and the film flows better without it.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 16, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Fonda

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Plex

The Grapes of Death (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Zombies created by pesticide.

The film opens with a shot of immigrants spraying grapes with a pesticide in a vineyard owned and run by Michel (Michel Herval). One of the men (Francois Pasal) complains of a pain on the side of his neck, but Michel insists he keep working and quit complaining. The film then cuts to two women riding inside a train car, one of them is Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) who’s the fiancee to Michel and coming to visit him. Once the train stops the man from the vineyards complaining of the pain walks onboard and proceeds to kill Brigitte (Evelyne Thomas) who was inside the train bathroom. He then takes a seat in the train car that Elisabeth is in, but once she notices the growing tumor on the side of his neck and then the dead body of her friend she runs screaming off the train. She then finds herself all alone in deserted town where everyone has the same type of tumors growing on their faces and all seem intent on trying to kill her.

This was the first mainstream horror film directed by Jean Rollin and credited as being the first gore film ever to be made in France. Rollin had made several experimental vampire flicks in the early part of the decade, but they had failed to catch-on and lost him a lot of money, which forced him into directing porn movies under the pseudonym of Michel Gentil. By the late 70’s he had made enough money with those that he was ready to jump back into doing another feature film, which for a zombie story is unique as the zombie’s here are fully conscious and well aware of what’s happening to them and kill out of a sense of rage. The film is also, for a horror movie, very quiet lacking the traditional pounding music score and instead has extended moments of near silence especially during the town scenes, which helps accentuate the creepiness.

Rollin hired an Italian production company to do the special effects, which are quite impressive. Normally I’m on here complaining how fake the effects look in most other low budget horrors, but here I was amazed with how realistic they were. The scene where a woman gets stabbed with a pitchfork while lying on a table and then continues to breath with it still in her really looks like the blades went right through her body. Another scene dealing with the decapitation of a nude woman (Mirella Rancelot) and then having one of the zombies carry the head around is one of the most graphic of its type. I did have some issues with the tumor make-up. On the train car where Elisabeth watches it grow on the side of the man’s head was cool, but on the people in the town it starts to look like smeared pizza and I wanted to see a shot of someone that had it all over their face instead just on a little part of it.

While Rollin stated that he admired the acting of his leading lady I felt she was the weakest link. Her fearful expressions and screams are great, but her performance otherwise is one-note. Part of what made Night of the Living Dead so great was the contrasting personalities of the main characters and I felt there needed to be that here. Having the two men (Felix Marten, Serge Marquand) enter near the end of the second act to help Elisabeth fight of the zombies is a great addition, but I had wished they came in sooner. I also didn’t like the way Elisabeth conveniently finds a gun inside the car she has just stolen, which she is able to use in the nick-of-time to shoot the zombies, but what are the odds? The gun should’ve been introduced earlier, perhaps as something she brought along with her at the beginning for her trip, and not just thrown-in haphazardly.

The twist at the end is not satisfying leaving the viewer feeling down and depressed when it’s over when a robust showdown was needed. I felt too that the reason for why the people were turning into zombies, which was the pesticide, should’ve been kept a mystery until the very end. Instead of opening it with the men spraying we should’ve seen the townsfolk going about their day in a normal fashion, which would’ve made a striking contrast to when Elisabeth gets there and they’re all crazy. Maybe a shot of a man spraying in the background behind the people talking could’ve been done as a little hint, or clue, but as it gets done here it’s too obvious when a subtle approach was needed.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 5, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Jean Rollin

Studio: Rush Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Torso (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Strangler stalks college students.

Jane (Suzy Kendall) is a British student attending college in Italy where a rash of grisly murders amongst the female coeds is keeping everybody on edge. The killer’s modus operandi is a red and black scarf that he uses to strangle his victims. Jane’s friend Dani (Tina Aumont) fears that the maniac may be Stefano (Roberto Bisacco) a young man who’s been harassing her for a date and won’t seem to take ‘no’ for an answer. To get away from the terror Jane and her girlfriends decide to go to a villa in the countryside, but find that the killer strikes again, in their home, and with Jane hobbled with a sprained ankle, she’s unable to get away and must use her creative wits to escape.

Horror director Eli Roth has hailed this as being his favorite giallo and a major influence to his Hostel movies, but in retrospect it doesn’t have all that much to distinguish it. Despite its lurid title the emphasis is more on the mystery featuring a cast of lonely men who seem to lack quality social skills to go out with women and instead long for them from afar while also harboring dark violent sexual fantasies of what they’d like to do to them if they could, making this more than anything a forerunner to what’s become known as incels (involuntary celibate) today.

Director Sergio Martino captures Perugia, Italy and its many old and scary looking buildings nicely. The build-up to the murders where the victims find themselves alone in a dark,desolate area of the city, or in one instance an isolated forest, are some of the film’s best moments and could’ve been played-up more.

The deaths themselves though are uninteresting. The average time for a person to die from strangulation is 3 minutes and up to 7 to 14 seconds before they’ll pass-out, but the victim here falls over dead after the flimsy scarf is put around her neck for only 3-seconds, which all looks quite fake. The female victims never, ever fight back and just stand, or lie still and scream loudly, but do nothing else. Police will usually look for scratches on suspects as a sign that the victim fought for their life and there will be defensive wounds on the victim’s arms and hands too, so for the victims here not to attempt any physical defense looks rather pathetic. Some may say that back in this era it was considered more ‘tasteful’ to have the killing get over with quickly and watching someone try to fight-off the attacker would be prolonging it too much, but I wondered if this was also an attempt to feed-in to the male fantasy where once a man decides to make his move the females are virtually ‘helpless’ and must just passively accept their fate.

The special effects are threadbare as well. The close-ups of the knife cutting into the victim’s body has a lighter tone of skin color than the full-shots of the victim making it quite obvious that the close-ups are that of a mannequin. The scene where a car’s bumper crushes a man’s skull against a wall looks realistic enough, but then a few seconds later it cuts back to a shot of the victim and his skull is perfectly intact with only some blood running out of his nose even though the previous shot made it look like his head had been busted in half.

Spoiler Alert!

The third act in which Suzy Kendall sleeps through the murders of her friends downstairs and then awakens to find herself alone in the house with the killer still present is the only time it actually gets intense. Having her quietly observe him cutting-up her friend’s limbs is genuinely horrifying and watching her try to come-up with creative ways to escape is intriguing, but then having a male doctor swoop-in and fight-off the killer for her was disappointing as this was her story and she needed to be the one to find a way to take down the killer herself.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: January 4, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Sergio Martino

Studio: Interfilm

Available: DVD, Fandor, Tubi

Scalpel (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Surgeon alters patient’s face.

Dr. Phillip Reynolds (Robert Lansing) is an esteemed plastic surgeon who secretly harbors a dark side. When he sees his daughter Heather (Judith Chapman) making-love to her boyfriend he flies into a rage and kills the boy and then stages it to look like an accident. Heather runs away in terror and is not heard of for quite awhile. In the meantime Phillip’s father-in-law dies and bequeaths his entire fortune of $5 million to Heather, but since she’s nowhere to be found the money remains in escrow until she can come forward to claim it. Later, as Phillip is driving along a city street with his brother-in-law (Arlen Dean Snyder), they come upon a nightclub stripper (also played by Chapman) who has had her face crushed when a bouncer rammed it into a brick wall. Phillip decides to reconstruct the woman’s face to resemble his daughter’s, so she can claim the fortune and the two can split it. Things work smoothly as Philip trains her on all of her daughter’s traits and able to identify member’s of the extended family. Everyone comes to believe she’s the real daughter and the two are able to get their hands on the money only to have the real Heather suddenly reappear.

This movie, amongst IMDb reviewers, gets high marks with most rating it between 7 to even a 10 out of 10. I rate it lower, which I’ll go into, but they’re are things about that I did like. The performance by Lansing is excellent and perfectly conveys a character that seems nice and respectable on the outside, but could turn sinister, sometimes in unexpected ways, all of a sudden. The surgery scenes are realistic and even a bit graphic and the film has a few slick touches including the cinematography by Edward Lachman that nicely captures Georgia’s topography.

The plot has an intriguing premise and there’s no shortage of twists, but the way the stripper character gets handled I had a big problem with. There’s absolutely no backstory as to who this woman is, or why she got into the situation that she did. It doesn’t even seem like a real person, but a transparent entity that conveniently pops-in out-of-nowhere with essentially no past to her. I think the filmmakers were working-off of an old-fashioned belief that a sex workers had ‘no life’ and therefore would be more than happy to walk away from their former existence and take-on a new one without any regret, but this just isn’t true. Sex workers have friends and family and a past just like anyone else and wouldn’t necessarily want to just completely turn their backs on their old connections. The script also doesn’t bother to explain why a bouncer would shove a women’s face into a brick wall as he throws her out of the bar, or what might’ve happened to lead up to that, which to me was a plot hole.

Some may argue that maybe she lost her memory when her head hit the wall. Even if this was possibly the case (it never gets confirmed and in one instance Heather asks the woman about her past and she looks down like she does recall it, but is ashamed of it) it would most likely be temporary amnesia which can happen at times during a traumatic event or accident, but the old memories will usually come trickling back eventually. Either way it would’ve added an intriguing wrinkle to the story, if someone from her past tracked her down and became a part of the plot.

In addition I didn’t feel that Chapman’s acting was so great as she seems to be playing the same person instead of two different individuals. More contrasts needed to be made into the dual character’s personalities other than one can play the piano while the other couldn’t. I didn’t like that both spoke in an extremely distinctive twangy southern accent either. The impostor could’ve put on the affected accent when needed, but in private should’ve spoken in a way that was much different.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending in which the fake Heather takes the inheritance money after signing-off on it and then flying away on a private jet, is a letdown. Her signature would be different than the real Heather’s and during her ‘training’ on how to be like Heather that would’ve most likely been a point they’d overlook. A really cool twist would’ve had her thinking she had gotten away with it only for the jet to land and the police waiting for her as they recognized that the signatures didn’t match, or in her haste she had forgotten and wrote in her real name instead.

There’s another segment, just before the ending, where a hitman, disguised as a policeman, chases the fake Heather through a forest in an attempt to kill her, and he manages to catch-up with her and points a gun in her face, but then the film cuts away. The fake Heather then reappears in the mansion wearing the hitman’s police uniform, but no explanation for how she got away, which should’ve been played-out.

Alternate Title: False Face

Released: January 15, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 35 Minutes

Rated R (Reissued as PG with erotic nude scenes removed).

Director: John Grissmer

Studio: AVCO Embassy Pictures

Available: Blu-ray, Fandor, Tubi

Messiah of Evil (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Town of dead people.

Arletty (Marianna Hill) travels to the seaside town of Point Dume, California to visit her father (Royal Dano) who is a popular artist there. When she arrives she finds his home abandoned and reads over his journals that he left in which he describes frightening things that have occurred to him in the days leading up. She then meets Thom (Michael Greer) and his two lady lovers, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford). He too is searching for her father while also interviewing residents of the town about the strange events that have been happening and documenting them on tape. The four begin having weird encounters themselves as at night the residents of the town take-on a zombie-like existence where they stare at the moon and show an unusual craving for blood and meat.

The film was shot in 1971 under the title of ‘The Second Coming’, but the investors pulled their money out of the project and it was never completed. In 1973 another producer bought the footage and edited it before releasing it to theaters under its current title. It was not an instant success and fell into obscurity until another distributor bought the print 5 years later and decided to re-release it under the title of ‘Return of the Living Dead’ in order to capitalize off of the George Romero franchise, which quickly got it sued.

Today the film has gained a strong legion of fans and seen as being a unique and moody masterpiece and while it does fall short on the story end more than makes up for it with its atmosphere. It was written and directed on a shoestring by the writing and directing team of Willard Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz. Their names are most connected with the notorious bomb Howard the Duck, and while their careers were certainly stigmatized because of that, which some feel was unfair, they’re now considered neglected talents after many of those same critics saw this one.

The film certainly has some very cool and memorable moments with the best one being Anitra Ford’s trip to Ralph’s supermarket, shot on-location, and her confrontation with the zombies and subsequent chase through the store. Another great moment is when Joy Bang goes to a movie theater, where co-director Gloria Katz has a cameo as the lady in the ticket window, and while the theater is near empty when she arrives it slowly fills-up with the zombies as she’s watching the movie.

The two female leads are terrific and help give the film a personality with each scene that they’re in. Ford is better known for being a longtime show model on ‘Price is Right’  while Bang had some brief, but memorable moments in a few other films during the early 70’s before retiring from show business in order to move to Minnesota to become a nurse.

Hill though isn’t as good. She also starred in Schizoid, which was reviewed here a few days ago and like in that movie she gets upstaged by her co-stars. I did find it interesting though that in one scene here she kills someone with a scissors since that was the major weapon of choice in the other movie. I did find it odd that in the credits here her first name is listed with only one ‘n’ while in the other movie it was listed with two, so I guess, since that movie was shot 9 years after this one, that as she aged she must of grown another ‘n’.

The veteran cast of male actors are excellent too. The aging Elisha Cook Jr. has an entertaining bit as a wide-eyed homeless man telling crazy stories. Charles Dierkop is fun as a terrorized gas station attendant and Royal Dano is diverting as the father who smears his face with blue paint. The only male actor that isn’t effective is Michael Greer, who was quite flashy when playing flaming gay characters like in The Gay Deceivers and Fortune and Men’s Eyesbut when he’s stuck doing a straight guy he’s deadly dull.

Unlike the rest of the movie the ending isn’t as effective and I didn’t think the sudden voice-over narration was necessary. We had gone the whole way without it, so entering it in at the last minute becomes jarring and disconcerting. There’s also no interesting final twist and the zombie theme is too similar to the George Romero films, ultimately making this one, despite the eerie touches, seem like a poor cousin to those.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 22, 1973

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz

Studio: International Cine Film Corporation

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video

Tapeheads (1988)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Starting a video company.

Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) are two slackers who can’t hold down a job for too long. After getting fired as security guards they decide to start-up their very own music video production company, which they name ‘Video Aces’. They find it tough going with many people, like with one producer, the sly Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius), trying to get them to do the work on spec where they’re forced to make the video using their own funds with the vague promises of potential money later on after they’re ‘discovered’. They finally hit-on the idea of promoting the singing duo the Swanky Modes (Sam Moore, Junior Walker) a soul group that the two idolized in the 70’s when they were kids. Their plan is to hijack a Menudo concert and have the Swanky Modes sing in their place and thus exposing their music to a whole new audience.

The film is produced by the former Monkee Mike Neismith, who had earlier produced the very successful cult hit Repo ManUnfortunately this one doesn’t work quite as well. Much of the problem is that it’s directed by Bill Fishman whose background is in music videos and not filmmaking and it shows. Repo Man succeeded because it was centered around a character and it also had a better mix of quirky comedy and story development. This one is handled in a more slap-dash way. Cusack and Robbins both give excellent performances, but are only seen intermittently and they never really grow or evolve like a character in a good movie should nor do they earn their way into the next scene. Instead they become almost like Barbra Eden from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ where they just seem to pop in and out of these weird scenarios with bizarre people. The plot is thin and more like a collection of wacky skits. Even as satire it fails because it pokes fun of so many various things, in a completely rambling way, that it becomes unclear what the point, or message is supposed to be. There are certainly some clever, funny bits, but ultimately it comes-off more like an experiment gone awry than a movie.

While the cast is filled with a lot of recognizable faces most of them aren’t seen much. I was disappointing that Doug McClure, as Josh’s exasperated and disapproving dad, wasn’t in it more as he had he potential of creating some interesting confrontations. Susan Tyrrell gets wasted too, which is a shame as she talks here with a high society accent, but  I do remember her saying in an interview that she considered herself a ‘lazy person’ who only did movies for the money and would drop-out altogether if she didn’t need to earn a living, so in that respect maybe she didn’t mind the small bit. Lee Arenberg, who plays a security guard, is only in the beginning, but should’ve returned as he’s seen eating Twinkies while sitting on a toilet inside a public stall and anyone who does something that gross deserves more attention.

Some of the roles are bigger. Mary Crosby, the daughter of Bing Crosby, who starred in the infamous Ice Pirates, 5 years before this one, which virtually killed her film career before it began, does quite well here as a duplicitous agent and actually seems to get more screen time than the two stars. The aging Clu Gulager is quite funny as a Presidential candidate with major skeletons in his closet. The best one though is King Cotton (real name Richard Sony) who was the lead vocalist of the blues band Navasota in the 60’s. Here he plays a restaurant owner who partakes in a wacky music video to promote his business with one version shown during the film and another one called ‘Roscoe’s Rap’ that gets played at the end over the closing credits with both being quite memorable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1988

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Bill Fishman

Studio: Filmstar

Available: DVD, Plex

The Farmer (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Country man seeks vengeance.

Kyle (Gary Conway) returns from fighting in WWII a decorated hero, but finds when he gets back home that trying to run a profitable farm to be tough going and risks having it foreclosed on by the bank. One night while swerving to avoid an animal on the road professional gambler Johnny (Michael Dante) gets injured in a car accident near were Kyle lives. Kyle and his friend Gumshoe (Ken Renard) nurse Johnny back to health and for repayment Johnny gives Kyle $1,500, which is enough to help his farmstead survive for a little while longer. Johnny though soon gets into trouble with racketeer Passini (George Memmoli) who permanently blinds him by dumping acid on his face. Johnny wants revenge and hires Kyle, who’s farm continues to struggle, to do it by having him use his superior shooting skills to kill-off Passini and his men while using Johnny’s inside knowledge to track them down. At first Kyle resists, even after Johnny offers him $50,000, but when one of Passini’s men (Timothy Scott) burns down Kyle’s barn, kills Gumshoe, and rapes his new girlfriend (Angel Tompkins) he then decides to go on the warpath.

This has become, especially in the past decade, known as a ‘lost film’. It had never been shown on broadcast TV nor cable and had never received a DVD release, or Blu-ray, or even VHS. It became impossible to find even a bootleg copy and many had become convinced this was the obscure of the obscure. Code Red promised 10 years ago, much to the excitement of rare film collectors, to release it on DVD, but after some promotion the deal fell through, which frustrated many and gave this film even more of a cult status. Some had come to believe that maybe the movie was simply a ‘myth’ and really didn’t exist at all. Just when everything looked bleak Scorpion Rising gave it a Blu-ray release in February of this year and the print is excellent and the film itself isn’t bad either.

It’s noted for its graphic violence, which may have been the chief reason it never got shown on TV or cable. Some of it is quite cruel, particularly the acid scene and the rape is quite intense too. This tough does effectively get the viewer emotionally riled-up making them want to see Kyle get revenge and relishing the third act when he does. The revenge scenes are just as bloody, but I was disappointed that, as graphic as the movie is, the segment where Kyle shoves one of Passini’s men out a high-story window is not shown. The camera cuts away when Kyle pushes him instead of seeing the body drop down which might’ve been hard to film since a parade was going on below, but an effort should’ve been made.

Conway’s acting is only adequate though he does at least convey a stoic quality. Angel Tompkins does better and while some of her other B-movie roles weren’t so great this one is clearly her best and proves she could act versus just looking pretty. Memmoli is memorable as the slimy villain and he should’ve been in it more, but he got injured on the set while riding in a stunt car and was cooped-up in a hospital during most of the production, which also ultimately lead to his career downfall and death. The former comic who graduated into character actor roles had always struggled with weight, but had gotten himself down to 190 pounds when he was in this movie, but when the accident occurred and he was laid-up his weight ballooned out to as high as 490 and causing him to have to turn down subsequent film parts due to his physical limitations.

The review in Maltin’s book claims that there’s a lot of ‘anachronistic errors’ in the movie and having read the review beforehand I kept my eagle-eye out looking for them, but I really didn’t see any. Again I never lived in the 40’s and technically Maltin, who was born in 1950, didn’t either, but to me I felt it came-off okay. I liked the way it approaches the era in a gritty way versus a nostalgic one and the frequent use of the hand-held camera, which was ahead-of-its-time. The surprise twist at the end isn’t bad either.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David Berlatsky

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: Blu-ray

Class of 1984 (1982)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teacher battles teen gang.

Andrew Norris (Perry King) is the new teacher at Lincoln High, which is an inner-city school prone to a lot of violence and drugs. He’s been hired to teach a music class while replacing another teacher who left suddenly. Almost immediately he’s at odds with Peter Stegman (Timothy Van Patten) the leader of a school gang that constantly disrupts his class. He eventually is able to kick him out, but Peter continues to harass Norris in the off-hours where they vandalize his car and attack his wife (Merrie Lynn Ross). Norris eventually decides he’s had enough especially after the principal (David Gardner) and even the police detective (Al Waxman) show him little support, so he takes matter into his own hands by violently confronting Peter and refusing to back down.

The film, which was directed by Mark L. Lester, who as a B-movie director has done some compact, quality stuff, has definite shades to Teacherswhich came out 2 years later, but with the same type of theme. This one though is harder edged, which makes it a bit better though it’s still weaker than Unman, Wittering, and Zigowhich it also has some similarities to, but without the intriguing mystery element. Lester has stated that he wanted to make an updated version of Blackboard Jungle, but with a grittier feel and while it may have succeeded in that respect it still comes-off as needing an updating. The school gangs dress in an over-the-top way and at times it’s hard to tell whether this wants to be taken seriously, or intended as camp. As violent as it sometimes gets it still doesn’t touch on school shootings, which was unheard of at the time, but would make a modern day high school movie that would deal with that subject more violent and scarier and making this stuff, as edgy as it tries to be, seem tame by comparison.

The ratio of black and white students doesn’t mesh. This was supposed to be an inner city school, so you’d think there would be more students of color than white, but instead it’s 98% white with only 1 or 2 black kids per class.  Norris’ roomy home in the plush suburbs seemed too nice for someone working off of a teacher’s salary, so unless his wife had a high income job, which is never confirmed, then the home he lives in wouldn’t be realistic. The reason for Stegman becoming a gang leader doesn’t make sense either. Normally kids get involved in gangs due to being stuck in poverty, but Stegman lives in the suburbs where gang life is quite rare. If he was from an abusive family then it might justify, but his mother (Linda Sorensen) takes his side on everything, so again his motivation for joining a gang isn’t believable and in a lot of ways quite absurd.

I did enjoy King n the lead. He’s played some creepy parts quite effectively in the past, so I wasn’t sure if he could pull-off a good-guy role, but he does it quite admirably. Roddy McDowall is great too in the last film he appeared in with brown hair as after this he began sporting an all gray look. The scene where he teaches a class while holding all the students at gunpoint is by far the best moment. It’s fun too seeing Michael J. Fox (billed without the ‘J’) as a high school student even though he was already 21 at the time of filming. He looks more pudgy and has a bowl haircut though ultimately other than getting stabbed doesn’t have much to do. The weakest link is Van Patten who’s not scuzzy enough to give the role the nastiness that it needed.

The table saw death deserves kudos and the gas fire one isn’t bad either. Having he teachers turn-the-tables on the students and violently fight back gives the movie a novel edge though I wished that King and McDowall had teamed-up together to take on the kids instead of doing it individually. The story though doesn’t get interesting until the violent third act. The theme has also been tackled many times before and this one doesn’t add anything unique to the mix and for the most part is painfully predictable.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 20, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mark L. Lester

Studio: United Film Distribution Company

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Pluto, Tubi, Freevee, Amazon Video

The Heavenly Kid (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Angel helps out geek.

During the early 60’s Bobby (Lewis Smith) dies in a fiery car crash after the vehicle he was driving goes over a cliff during a game of chicken that he was playing with Joe (Mark Metcalf). His spirit gets sent to purgatory otherwise known as ‘Mid-town’ where he meets Rafferty (Richard Mulligan) who tells him that to get to ‘Uptown’ (Heaven) he’d have to go back down to earth in angel form to help out a human in need. He gets assigned to Lenny (Jason Gedrick) a geeky teen who’s trying in vain to hit on high school hottie Sharon (Anne Sawyer), but to no avail. Bobby is put in charge to teach Lenny how to be ‘cool’ and be able to pick-up chicks, but in the process he learns that Lenny’s dad is Joe, the guy who he raced against before he died, and Lenny’s mother is Emily (Jane Kaczmarek), Bobby’s former girlfriend who he still has strong feelings for.

The movie starts-off with an ill-advised car race that looks like it was ripped straight-out of Rebel Without a Cause. What’s worse is they tack-on this blaring song by Joe Fiore ‘Over the Edge’ that gets played during the crash, which takes away from the drama of the imagery instead of enhancing it. Bobby’s trip to the heavenly way station, which he does via a subway, has comic potential and Richard Mulligan is certainly quite funny, but I didn’t get why there would be a cafeteria, or why they’d eat food. Again, even if they appear in human form they’re still technically spirits as their human body remains on earth after death and decomposes, so why would spirits need to eat and does this mean they’d still have the same digestive system where they poop out what was eaten?

While Gedrick gives a much better performance than his co-star I still felt he was too good looking for the role. A true geek should be scrawny, or overweight, and have bad acne. If he had suffered from those things than his attempted transformation to a ‘cool’ dude would’ve been funnier.

I also thought it was ridiculous that he already had this beautiful woman named Melissa (Nancy Valen) who was really into him, and I think most guys would actually agree better looking than the plastic barbie that he was after. If this doofus is too dumb to realize on his own the good thing that he already has and instead callously takes her for granted simply because he feels the other one is better looking, after all the only reason he’s ‘in-love’ with Sharon is because she’s ‘hot’ then he shouldn’t get ‘help’ from an angel and justifiably deserves to be a lonely loser. I also felt that Melissa should’ve been more geeky since she was into another geek and having her be so pretty didn’t make much sense as other guys would be hitting-on her and since Lenny was not picking-up on her clear signals she would easily move on with somebody else and not hold-out so long, or feel the need to, for Lenny to finally see-the-light.

Spoiler Alert!

The rehabbed car in which Bobby takes what is literally an a rusty, empty shell of an old vehicle and through his heavenly magic turns it into a retro sports car I had problems with. For one thing since it was built on Bobby’s magical powers I would think Bobby would need to be present for it to run instead of Lenny being able to drive it by himself. Also, where did this key come from that Lenny uses to put in the ignition to start the car? This was literally just an old car frame when it was spotted and it’d be doubtful there would be any key in it and if there was it’d be as rusted as the rest of it. If you want to argue that this key was also a part of Bobby’s divine magic then there needs to be a scene with him creating it using his powers and then handing it to Lenny because it comes-off as big logic loophole otherwise.

The shot where Joe wakes-up to see Emily floating up the stairs by herself doesn’t work either. The idea is that human’s can’t see Bobby, who’s the one carrying Emily up the stairs, because he’s an angel, but if a person is being carried their ascension would have more of a jostled appearance instead of looking like they’re riding up an escalator like it does here.

The big reveal, in which it’s found that Lenny is actually Bobby’s son, is problematic since Bobby’s car crash occurs during the early 60’s (1960-63) and the present day for the story is October, 1984, which is when it was filmed. A senior in high school would’ve been born in 1967, or at the very earliest late 1966, so unless Emily was carrying Lenny around in her womb for 3 full years before he finally came out this whole concept just doesn’t work.

The thing that I really couldn’t stand was Bobby who’s a walking-talking cliche. Smith plays the part in a one-dimensional way and he looked too old for a teenager and was in fact 28 when it was shot. His generic advice on how to pick-up women is simplistic to say the least and if he really believes just feeding a woman lines about ‘how nice her hair looks’ is enough to get her to go out with him, or any other guy, then maybe he’s the one that needs the teaching and wisdom instead of dispensing it.

I also couldn’t understand why Lenny’s situation was so ‘dire’ that he needed heavenly intervention. There’s lots of kids who get bullied in school and can’t get a date that don’t have guardian angels come down to help them out, so what makes Lenny so special? Even if you factor in that Bobby is Lenny’s dead father it still doesn’t work because there’s lots of kids out there whose parents die when they’re young who don’t come back to help them as angels, so the questions still remains; what makes Lenny so special and is he deserving of this ‘help’? There’s millions of people out there who are homeless and victims of horrible crimes and abuse, which is who Bobby should’ve been assigned to, not a dopey kid who’s living a comfortable suburban existence and whose only ‘pressing issue’ is that he can’t make it with a stuck-up superficial babe who’s way out of league anyways.

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: July 26, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Cary Medoway

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray