Category Archives: Exploitation

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: They were really hungry.

A group of people go into the deep dark jungles of the Amazon looking for a missing film crew. They never find the crew, but they do find some lost film footage of theirs. They bring it back home and play it and what they see is so gruesome that it startles the imagination.

This is truly a gross-out classic. If you have ever watched a horror movie purporting to have gruesome special effects and then walked away disappointed then this one will make up for the rest and everything else in between. No cutaways here and certainly no restraint for good taste. The effects look real and, at times, almost too real. Best of all is the fact that the story is handled in a realistic fashion giving the effects even more credibility. For instance the cutting off of one of the characters legs after he is bitten by a snake looks completely authentic. There is also a castration scene that has to be one of the most vivid ones ever filmed. There is also the cutting up of man’s body into little pieces and some really graphic rape scenes.

The film also doesn’t have that cheap look like with most horror films and it gets you immersed in the jungle atmosphere. It is well paced and builds up some really good tension. The editing is seamless without any of those annoying jump cuts. The music score is melodic, but distinct and effective making it one of the best scores ever made for a horror film. The eventual showing of the lost crew’s footage packs a wallop.

Former adult film star Richard Bolla plays the professor and the leader of the search party. He is credited as the star of the film yet his character is bland and forgettable. His only memorable moment comes when he jumps naked into a river and allows the adolescent girls from a nearby tribe to grope him, which has got to be a cinematic first. My favorite character was Chaco (Salvatore Basile). He is gruff and rough and absolutely nothing seems to faze him. He is so hardened by it all that it actually becomes amusing and I wished he would have stayed on for the duration.

The actual lost film crew is a vile bunch giving the film its main message of just who is ‘civilized’ and who is the savage. Their behavior is so disgusting that most viewers will actually look forward to their eventual gruesome demise.

The same cannot be said for the animals. There are graphic, ugly scenes involving the torture and mutilation of animals and it is not pretty. The animals flail their arms and legs and scream in very real pain and fright. It’s all handled in a distasteful and mocking way with the dissection of a sea turtle making even this jaded viewer feel nauseous. This will certainly be unsettling for animal lovers, but fortunately for those people the DVD release has a version that will cut out these segments while still allowing the viewer to enjoy the rest of the movie.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated: NC-17

Director: Ruggero Deadato

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: They want sex slaves.

During the end of WW II in a northern city of occupied Italy a group of bourgeoisie men and women round up a group of teenage boys and girls and take them to an isolated mansion where they are forced to become sex slaves. They are also inflicted with cruel tortures in this story based on the writings of Marquis De Sade.

The film is interesting, but only up to a point. Director Pasolini’s natural lighting fetish really works here and he makes it into an art form. His ability to find the perfect moment in the day to shoot the scene and be able to frame the action within the shadows is amazing and along with the color schemes gives it a very distinctive look and an unusual atmosphere.

The acting by the adults is amazing as they project evilness without flaw. The perverted stories they tell in some ways is more shocking than the actual scenes and the casual way they go about their sick behavior achieves an unprecedented level.

The story itself has some good insights. It shows the veneer of civilized behavior and how the passive nature of the victims and society as a whole only helps to allow evil to flourish. There’s also the main point which is that evil is truly a part of the human make-up and hides itself in everybody and can come out if provoked including the victims themselves.

Yet the film makes its point and then hammers it home without pause. The non-stop perversity becomes excessive and the redundancy eventually makes the shock value and message meaningless. Showing the background of these captors might have helped given it more of a balance.

I have nothing against those who wish to ‘push the envelope’ and there is nothing that says movies need to be tasteful, or even entertaining, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Pasolini simply used the material as an excuse to explore his own dark fantasies. Of course DeSade’s actual writings were far more twisted and unsettling then anything you see here and the film is a significantly toned down version.

Actual teenagers were used and there is an abundance of nudity and perversity. Something like this could never have been made here in the states and exactly how it ever got made is more interesting than the film itself. If there was ever a movie begging for a “Making of…” documentary it’s this one. It is also interesting to note that Pasolini was mysteriously killed by a hit-and-run driver just a few days before the film’s official release.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: November 22, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated NC-17

Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)

Maniac (1980)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: He wants their hair.

A loner (Joe Spinell) terrorizes New York City by killing young women and scalping them. He then takes their hair, brings it home, and places it (actually he nails it) onto the heads of some mannequins that he has.

In a lot of ways this is the same old mechanical slasher flick as it has all the predictable characteristics of the others that dominated the early 80’s. The story is simple and strung along by long, drawn-out murder sequences. There is some suspense, but it is minimal since we know exactly what is going to happen. The victims are young, good looking women, who are clueless to the dangers that are lurking until it is too late. One segment in particular features a nurse getting off of work late at night, who mentions her fear of the killer and yet for some reason she still foolishly refuses a ride home from her friend and instead walks down a dark, lonely street and into, of course, eventual carnage.

There are also some rather glaring technical errors. One features a woman (the same one who refused a ride) running from the killer by going into an empty subway. Although isolation is the whole factor here there is one shot, taken from inside a departing subway car that clearly shows a whole bunch of people standing just across from her on the other side of the tracks. There is also a segment where Spinell takes his girlfriend to his mother’s grave. When the car pulls up to the cemetery it is a nice, bright afternoon, but when they reach the actual grave it has become pitch black with a strange unexplained fog that has rolled in. Lastly there is the ending. This is a man that has terrorized a whole city and yet only two policemen in an unmarked squad car come to his residence and when they do they don’t even bother to secure the site.

Despite the low-budget problems there are a few things that raise this slightly above the rest. One is the fact that it actually manages to get inside the killer’s head. You hear the inner conversations between his ‘good’ side and his ‘bad’ side. Of course this only touches the surface of a true schizoid personality, but it does offer a little more depth than most. It also helps create a good portrait of a tormented soul and you end up feeling more sadness than fear for the man. The film also consistently has a dark, grainy look, which helps accentuate the ugly theme. Having it take place in New York City gives it a little more distinction and atmosphere.

The special effects are good. The part where he blows a man’s head off, through a car windshield, looks very realistic and has become the film’s most famous scene. The surreal ending, where the mannequins all come to life and exact a sort of revenge, is also well-handled and imaginative. Makeup artist Tom Savini, who also appears as the character of ‘Disco Boy’, has had a lot of success, but the stuff here may be his best.

Director William Lustig shows some panache and Spinell, who also co-wrote the screenplay, gives a surprisingly strong performance, but their attempts at creating a better understanding of a crazed killer prove placid and simply done for shock value.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 26, 1980

Runtime: 1Hour 27Minutes

Not Rated (Graphic Violence, Brief Nudity, Language, Adult Theme)

Director: William Lustig

Studio: Magnum Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (30th Anniversary Edition)

Lipstick (1976)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Don’t get her angry.

During the mid-70’s, Margaux Hemingway, granddaughter of the legendary author Ernest Hemingway, was one of the most photographed and highest paid models in the business, in fact she was the very first model ever to be awarded a million dollar contract.  After appearing on the June, 1975 cover of Time magazine she caught the eye of famous Hollywood producer Dino De Laurentiis who thought he could turn her into a star. The idea was to prove that she wasn’t just another pretty face by casting her in the difficult and challenging role of a rape victim, which they hoped would affirm her as a ‘serious’ actress. The gamble failed and she appeared in only a few more B-pictures even though her kid sister Mariel, who was cast in the film by Marguax’s suggestion, ended up having her career take off. Alcoholism and depression followed before she eventually committed suicide in 1996 at the age of only 42.

The story is basically just another tired exercise in the now cluttered rape and revenge genre. Chris McCormick (Marguax) is a beautiful lipstick model who is brutally victimized by a weirdo named Gordon Stuart (Chris Sarandon). She is dragged through the long and arduous court proceedings only to have him found not guilty and then start to stalk her younger sister (Mariel), which forces her to take matters into her own hands.

Right from the beginning this film comes off as very clumsy dramatically. Gordon is the high school music teacher of her younger sister Kathy. Chris is introduced to him at one of her photo shoots, but is too busy to listen to his music tapes, so she gives him her home address and tells him to ‘stop by anytime’.  Now, back in the 70’s people may have been a little less cautious than they are these days, but giving one’s home address to a man that she barely knows and isn’t interested in just to listen to one of his weird music tapes seems utterly ridiculous.

The rape happens almost right away before there is any character development. It almost seemed like this was the intended leering ‘highlight’ of the film with the rest just thrown in as second-rate filler. Wikipedia describes this scene as being one of the most ‘infamous in film history’.  That may have been the case at the time, but since then there have been many films that have exceeded what you see here, most notably in the controversial French hit Irreversible. Personally, I didn’t find it to be all that extreme. The one good thing I could say about it is that Sarandon is effectively menacing. I also liked the way his character is initially shown to be very meek and geeky and his inner-rage only comes out after he feels he has been slighted, which I felt made him a little less one-dimensional.

The courtroom scenes fall flat. Normally I find a good court drama to be riveting, but here it is stagy, phony, and uneven. The best thing about this segment is the presence of Anne Bancroft as Chris’s attorney Carla Bondi. She helps give the picture some stature and I wished she could have been in more of it.

If the film comes together at any point it is after the assailant is found innocent and Chris is forced to try to move on with her life and career despite the emotional toil and stigma. This segment has a certain socially relevant drama quality and to an extent it works even though it is brief. It also conveys some rather alarming statistics including the fact that only 10, 000 out of an estimated 50,000 rape cases every year actually ever get reported and only 2 out of 100 rapists ever get convicted. Since the credits list experts in the field that were consulted I can only assume that these numbers were accurate. Things may have hopefully improved since then, but the figures still seemed startling. However, all of this gets undermined by a tacked-on, manufactured, over-the-top, Rambo-like finale that relies too much on extreme coincidence and severely stretches the credibility.

I also found the film’s visual style to be unappealing. The colors are garish and gaudy while captured through a soft focus lens that resembles a model shoot in a glamour magazine and gives one a glossy trash perception.

I can see why Mariel made a strong impression with viewers. Her testimony on the stand is both touching and heart-wrenching and her emotionalism seems genuine and gripping. Marguax does not fare as well. Although her performance improves as the film progresses I still felt she was in way over her head and her nasal sounding voice is a bit irritating.

Although this film was pretty much panned by critics and audiences alike upon its initial release there is a new generation of people who feel it is underrated as evidenced by the many positive comments about it at IMDB. I approached this with an open-mind, but couldn’t help but come away from it feeling it was exploitation from beginning to end and even at that level it seemed derivative and uninspired. The whole thing left me cold and feeling like I wasted 90 minutes.

My Rating 3 out of 10

Released: April 2, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated R (Rape, Violence, Mature Theme, Language)

Director: Lamont Johnson

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video