Category Archives: Obscure Movies

Stigma (1972)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Venereal disease on island.

Calvin (Phillip Michael Thomas) is a doctor recently released from prison who gets a job assisting Dr. Thor (David E. Durston) at his island clinic. When Calvin gets there he’s given a cold greeting by the islanders who do not like a man of color, nor does the town’s racist sheriff (Peter Clune). When he arrives at the clinic he finds that the doctor has already passed-away as well as a tape he left behind warning of an epidemic on the island, but not saying specifically what it is. While staying at the clinic he’s met late one night by Jeremy (William Magerman) an old man residing at the nearby lighthouse. He complains about being in a great deal of pain and upon further testing is found to have syphilis. Calvin tries to go on a crusade to warn the others while also searching for who else may have it, which ultimately leads him to the sheriff’s rebellious daughter D.D. (Josie Johnson).

It’s always interesting seeing how low budget films from a bygone era before the advent of computerized special effects could succeed or fail on the merit of story alone. This one, which was done by David E. Durston who had previously directed the cult-hit I Drink Your Blood just a year earlier, manages to for the most part, blemishes and all, to hold it together. The difficulties though of filming on a shoestring is still widely apparent especially at the beginning where there’s a lot of shaking camera movement and jump cuts. Where Calvin goes to hitch a ride is particularly amusing. Since they didn’t have money to get a permit, or hold-up traffic on a legitimate highway, the scene had to be done on an isolated dirt road that looked like it hadn’t been traveled on in 10 years and normally Calvin would’ve had to have stood there that long with his thumb out before he ever saw a car and yet here this non-descript road gets quite busy by using the film’s crew members driving by with their own vehicles in order to give it a well-trafficked look.

This is also one of those films were the genre is unclear. Some have listed it as a horror film while others label it a drama, or even a comedy. My guess is that it was intended as a drama with some side comedy thrown-in as ill-advised ‘comic relief’. The story though never gets tense enough to need a lighthearted moment and the funny bits are eye-rolling making the production seem even more amateurish than it already is. There’s also a surprisingly graphic moment where pictures of actual syphilis patients are shown including close-ups of their sores and deformed noses, which some could find genuinely stomach-churning.

Thomas is best known for his co-starring role in the 80’s cop drama ‘Miami Vice’, but I found him far more engaging here. Magerman is memorable playing a mute with no teeth, who never says a word, but does have an amusing giggle. Johnson is certainly beautiful, which makes up for her lack of acting, but Clune as the villainous sheriff is all-wrong. He may have looked the part of an aging bigot, but he never gives the role the necessary energy or panache. Lawrence Tierny was original choice for the part, but due this drinking problems was eventually passed over, which was ashame.

In recent years this film has gained notoriety due to it being directed by David E. Durston (1921-2010) and some movie podcasts connecting him to the mysterious deaths of both Diane Linkletter (Art Linkletter’s daughter) and actress Carol Wayne. Durston was with Diane the night she jumped to her death from her apartment window in 1969, which authorities deemed a suicide though some wondered if Durston may have pushed her out. Durston was also dating Carol Wayne in 1985 when the two had an argument while vacationing in Mexico and she left their hotel room only to be found drowned in a lake later on. Further research though has concluded that the man in question in both of these events was Edward Dale Durston, a Los Angeles car salesman born in 1942, and no connection with the film director.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: August 18, 1972

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: David E. Durston

Studio: Cinerama Releasing

Available: DVD-R (Code Red)

The Brutes (1970)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two men accost woman.

Werner (Klaus Lowitsch) and Michael (Arthur Brauss) are two friends from work who enjoy spending their weekends ‘cruising-for-chicks’. Their modus operandi is picking up prostitutes, or women at bars, and bringing them to one of their apartments where they either ‘share’ the woman, or partake in a threesome. One weekend they go go-cart racing and set their sights on attractive, young Alice (Helga Anders). They invite her into their car telling her that they want to take her for a swim at an isolated gravel pit. Once there Werner sexually assaults her. The next morning she threatens to go to the police, but the men talk her out of it only for the two to become adversaries when Michael wants to have sex with Alice, which Werner won’t allow.

While Savage Weekend is considered the very first slasher movie this film, which was shot in 1968, could be deemed the first rape/revenge movie. Like with that other film it was produced long before the ‘rules’ of the genre were established, so it takes many unique forays some of which are interesting and other ones aren’t.

It was the third of three films that actor-turned-director Roger Fritz directed with his wife Anders as the star. Anders was a model before she got int acting and he used her pretty looks for stories where her characters would engage in provocative lifestyles like group sex, or incest. This was the last in a trilogy meant to show the dark side of sexually liberated activities, but it doesn’t start to get interesting until they arrive at the gravel pit, which is more than 30-minutes in.

The two men are one dimensional and a turn-off. From the very first frame to the last they’re leering predators-at-large even in the presence of Michael’s mother. Had there been one random moment where they showed some surprising sensitivity towards something, or didn’t act in a predictable stalker way it might’ve had potential, but watching creeps behaving like non-stop creeps becomes boring and redundant.

The scenes at the gravel pit fare better simply because it’s atmospheric and the location becomes like a third character. There’s a few tense moments and the rape scene is surprisingly more graphic than I expected. The physical fight between the two is well choreographed and genuinely bloody though Michael gets hit on the head so much I thought he would’ve suffered serious head trauma and never able to get back-up like he does.

The three characters shift from being the victim at one point and the aggressor the next, which is intriguing. Michael’s long speech detailing the potentially degrading process that a female rape victim goes through when she decides to file a police report is on-target and ground-breaking since these same issues weren’t brought to the forefront until 1972 with the TV-Movies Cry Rape starring Andrea Marcovicci and two years later in A Case of Rape with Elizabeth Montgomery.

Spoiler Alert!

Ultimately though the ending stinks. The mod quality is cool especially its alternative soundtrack, but the scenario writes itself into a hole that it can’t get out of. Having the three go back to their normal lives and acting like what occurred was just a dark diversion, or even a lark with no long term ramifications doesn’t click. We needed to see how this experience changed them, which isn’t addressed and thus makes the whole concept placid and forgettable.

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Alternative Title: Cry Rape

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1970

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Roger Fritz

Studio: Roger Fritz Film Productions

Available: DVD-R (German with English Subtitles) (j4hi.com)

The Track (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hunters chase down woman.

Helen (Mimsy Farmer) is an American who has traveled to rural France in order to teach at a local university. At the train station she meets Philippe (Jean-Luc Bideau) who agrees to take her to the isolated cottage where she is to stay. Along the way they come into contact with Philippe’s boisterous friends who drive them off the road. The men are going out for a wild pig hunt and a few of them particularly Paul (Philippe Leotard) shows a sexual interest in her, but Philippe assures her that they’re ‘harmless’. While Helen moves in to her new place the men go off on their hunt, but when she walks outside to check-out a nearby barn she again comes into contact with Paul along with his brother Albert (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and Chamond (Michel Robin). Paul uses the opportunity to rape her while Albert holds her down and Chamond acts as the lookout. As they are about to leave Helen shoots and critically injures Paul with Chamond’s gun, which he had inadvertently set down, before she goes on the run deep inside the forest. The rest of the group tries tracking her down in an attempt to negotiate some sort of deal, so she won’t go to the authorities, or silence her permanently if she still insists that she will.

Some have labeled this the French version of Straw Dogs, but I consider it much more like Deliverance. In that film you had middle-aged suburbanite males wanting to prove their ‘macho manhood’ by roughing it in the wilderness for a weekend only to find that they weren’t quite as prepared for the harsh elements as they thought. This film works in kind of the same way. The men go hunting to get in touch with their rugged side, but when forced to face tough issues, like helping a woman in distress, they succumb to group pressure and prove ultimately to be wimpy.

Unlike other films in the rape/revenge genre the main character here is shown the least. Farmer does well during the rape segment and screams and fights in a way that elicits genuine horror, but otherwise her facial expressions and mannerisms are quite one-dimensional though I was impressed with the way she did her own stunt work and forced to navigate her way through some difficult and inhospitable terrain.

The main focus is on the male characters who are fascinating and multi-faceted. The most interesting aspect is how they start-out seeming benign and domesticated only to slowly unravel into a aggressively threatening group. The segment where they kill a pig and the animal struggles after being shot will make some animal activists uncomfortable, but like with Jean Renoirs’ Rules of the Game, which had a hunting segment even more graphic than here, it does effectively illustrate that if people are willing to kill an animal for sport; how thin is the line for them to cross-over to a person?

The lack of a soundtrack is a plus. Many thrillers will have a pounding score and sometimes it works to accentuate the tension, but here the natural sounds particularly Helen’s heavy breathing as she runs through the underbrush is far more effective. There’s also no forewarning of what’s going to happen nor buildup. Everything occurs out of nowhere. Most victims who survive a crime will say the same thing that things were peaceful and normal one minute and then all hell broke loose the next.

Spoiler Alert!

The only two things I might’ve done differently had I directed was not showing the rape. As rape scenes go this one is rather mild, but my feeling was it would’ve been creepier had the viewer been in the dark about what occurred as were initially the other men. They’re told the story that the gun went off accidentally and the woman ran in a panic only for them to slowly learn the dark details later on. Having the viewer come to this realization along with the other men would’ve added an extra layer to the story versus it being spelled out.

While the ending is effectively unsettling I still wanted a denouement showing how the strains of this experience changed them, which would’ve added insight. Overall though it’s a brilliant especially for the way it reveals how some of the men considered themselves more ethical than the others only to end up being no better. Everyone likes to feel that they, or their friends, would do the right thing when put in a stressful situation and ‘be the hero’, but this movie expertly examines how that might not always be the case.

Alternate Title: La Traque

Released: May 14, 1975

Runtime: 1 Hour 32 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Serge Leroy

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (dvdlady.com, jfhi.com)

Rape of Love (1978)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Assault victim seeks justice.

Nicole (Nathalie Nell), a young nurse, goes bike riding one day to a friend’s house. Four men (Marco Perrin, Gilles Tamiz, Bernard Granger, Daniel Auteuil) spot her at a cafe and begin following her in a van. Once she reaches a remote area they drive her off the road and force her into the back of the van where she’s taken to a remote shed and brutally raped and humiliated. Once it’s over she’s brought back to the dark road, thrown to the pavement, and warned not to tell anyone. Initially she feels ashamed and doesn’t want to talk about it, but then while making a house call to one of her patients (Marianne Epin) she sees a picture of one of the rapists on the wall, who’s apparently a married family man living a normal life. She’s enraged that these men can go on living like nothing happened while she remains emotionally and mentally shaken. She becomes motivated to bring them to justice despite both her mother (Tatiana Moukhine) and boyfriend (Alain Foures) advising her not to.

This film was written and directed by Yannick Bellon, a feminist who had  worked on documentaries before doing this one. It bears a striking resemblance to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave, both were filmed around the same time and neither production was aware of the other. Bellon had wanted to make a movie about rape that didn’t sanitize it and would capture it in the most explicit and violent way possible. While Zarchi’s movie has gone on to achieve cult status this one has fallen into obscurity even though despite some flaws it’s easily the better of the two.

The rape scene is quite graphic though I was actually expecting it to go on longer. It lasts for about 10-minutes, which is just enough time to give the viewer a very raw and uncomfortable taste of the crime’s viciousness without exploiting it and then unlike with the Zarchi movie the film shifts back into a drama instead of a revenge horror flick. I liked this transition better as it gives greater depth to the characters including the rapists who aren’t shown as being one-dimensional backwoods thugs like in the other movie, but instead regular citizens who you’d think were nice guys if you didn’t know better. One scene even has them discussing at a bar what they feel would be a suitable punishment for a criminal who had committed another crime, showing how these men, as terrible as they are, still have a warped idea of morality for others.

I also liked the way it focuses on Nicole’s psychological recovery though here I felt it got a bit botched. Having her examined after the incident by a male doctor I didn’t think worked as she’d not trust a male being in that emotional state and insist instead on a female physician. She also expresses later to a friend (Michele Simonnet) that she no longer likes people to touch her even as her friend touches her while she says it, which doesn’t make much sense. She also goes right back to riding her bike even though I’d think it would take her a long time if ever before she’d do that again.

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Her relationship with her boyfriend and the way they no longer have sex, which frustrates him is interesting particularly the scene where he’s shown angrily walking down the street and comes upon a prostitute. I thought the film was going to have him take his frustrations out on her and thus showing how this ‘good guy’ could be, under certain circumstances, just a violent as the rapists he hates, which could’ve brought out an insightful irony, but the film only teases the idea and eventually doesn’t go there.

The reaction of the rapist’s wife who begs Nicole not to take the case to court as it would be stripping her of a ‘fine husband’ and her kids from a ‘wonderful father’ seemed absurd. I would presume most wives would be disgusted to find out what their husbands had done and would want to leave them, or at the very least refuse to believe that they had committed it. Then again I was not living in France during the 70’s, so I can’t say I know how that culture would view rape. I know they consider affairs in a much more liberal way where it’s not always the deal-breaker like it is here, but to frame rape as just being another of his ‘flings’ seemed a bit too open-minded.

Spoiler Alert!

The climactic court battle falls flat. Having the men immediately confess to what occurred once they were questioned by the authorities didn’t seem realistic. After all she didn’t decide to press charges until 6-months later, there was no semen sample, no DNA, and no other witnesses. The men could’ve denied everything and most likely gotten-off. The film ends without the viewer finding out the verdict and never knowing how stiff their penalties were, or weren’t.

I wasn’t so keen about the boyfriend, who left Nicole once she decided to go public about the rape, coming back at the end and rekindling the romance. I felt this sent the wrong message. Sometimes when a person decides to do what they think is right then that means sacrificing everything and learning to live with it including losing friendships with people that don’t agree with what they’re doing. It’s a bridge one crosses that you can’t go back on. Having her adjust to being an independent single woman, or finding a new boyfriend that wouldn’t bail on her during her time of need would’ve been a better resolution.

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My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: January 11, 1978

Runtime: 1 Hour 55 Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Yannick Bellon

Studio: Les Films de l’Equinoxe

Available: DVD-R (French with English Subtitles) (j4hi.com)

On The Right Track (1981)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 0 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid picks race winners.

Lester (Gary Coleman) is a homeless 10-year-old living inside at locker at a train station in Chicago. In order to make money he shines shoes and while he does he gets premonitions telling him who will be the winners of that day’s horse races. Frank (Michael Lembeck) is a cop in charge of juvenile delinquency. When he gets a call to have Lester removed from the train station and put into foster care he does so reluctantly until he meets Jill (Lisa Eilbacher) who he instantly falls for. Jill is an aspiring singer who looks out for Lester as best she can. She doesn’t want to let Frank take him away and Lester is deathly afraid of going outside the safe confines of the train station. Then Frank becomes aware of Lester’s ability to pick race winners and comes up with a plan that can make all three rich.

After watching Jimmy the Kid, the only other theatrical feature that starred Coleman, I didn’t think this one could possibly be worse, but I was wrong. The plot is incredibly weak, poorly thought-out, and Coleman is the least funniest thing in it. I’ll admit during the first season of ‘Different Strokes’ when he’d play the Arnold character and say his famous catchphrase ‘What you talking about, Willis?” he was cute and engaging, but here, playing a super smart kid that’s worldy-wise beyond his years, he’s a bore.

How he is able to know so much, from obscure sports records to health and science info, is not adequately explained. He doesn’t go to school and has no money to buy books and never leaves the train station in order to go to a library and this was light years before the internet, so where is he getting all this expertise from, or was this knowledge was just magically imprinted on his brain the second he popped out of the womb?  How he’s able to predict the horse race winners is another issue. What cosmic force allows him to see who the winner is and why does it only work if someone else places the bet, but if he does it then it won’t?

The humor is nonexistent and I didn’t laugh once though some of it is surprisingly edgy for a ‘family friendly’ movie. One segment has him talking about artificial insemination in which Coleman describes it as ‘sex without the fun’, which is something that would be said by an individual who’s actually had sex in order to know it was ‘fun’ not a kid. There’s even a bona-fide rape joke where Maureen Stapleton’s characters expresses her fear of being sexually assaulted and Coleman politely walks away without saying anything while subtly implying that he believes she’s ‘too ugly’ for that to happen. Another scene has Lembeck talking to Eilbacher about how he ‘got her into bed’ on their first date, which again is bit too mature of a subject for 10-year-old kids, who are the intended audience.

The supporting cast of old pros helps a little particularly Norman Fell as a wimpy mayor who’s afraid of heights. I also got a kick out of C. Thomas Cunliffe, who’s only movie appearance this was, who coneys all of his lines while chomping down on a cigar. Maureen Stapleton has an endearing quality as Mary the Bag lady who comes into a lot of money after placing  a bet on one of Coleman’s tips though I was a bit perplexed by a TV interview her character does in which the reporter describes her as being someone who ‘dropped out’ 12 years earlier, like a person ‘chooses’ to be homeless.

This also marks the film debut of Jami Gertz who plays ‘Big Girl’ though I admit I didn’t spot her. It was probably when I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead over the headache this annoying movie was giving me, which I did many times throughout.

My Rating: 0 out of 10

Released: March 6, 1981

Runtime: 1 Hour 38 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lee Phillips

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS

An Average Little Man (1977)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 9 out of 10

4-Word Review: Father avenges son’s death.

Giovanni (Alberto Sordi) is an accountant who’s ready for retirement. His son Mario (Vincenzo Crocitti) is following in his father’s footsteps by becoming an accountant as well. He has passed all of his exams and fully qualified, but competition is tough, so his father tries to use his leverage to get his son hired there, or at least have his name pushed to the top of the list. Unfortunately on the morning of the interview Mario is killed by a stray bullet from a bank robbery that was occurring across the street. Giovanni is devastated and the news is so shocking to his wife Amalia (Shelley Winters) that she has a stroke and is no longer able to speak, or walk, or even feed herself. Giovanni doesn’t trust the system to bring the killer (Renzo Carboni) to justice, so he decides he must do it himself by stalking the man and then eventually kidnapping him.

The film, which is based on the novel ‘A Very Normal Man’ by Vincenzo Cerami, who also wrote the screenplay, is filled with many memorable moments. I got a kick out of Giovanni’s tiny car that looked like something he could wear instead of ride and the way he gets around a traffic jam by driving it on the sidewalk. The mounds of paperwork in his office where no one can see each other because they’re literally swallowed up by them is a funny visual as is Giovanni’s supervisor (Romolo Valli) who cleans the dandruff off of his hair and onto his desk. There’s also a scene that is both darkly humorous and highly disturbing where because the cemeteries are filled to capacity the remaining dead bodies must be stored inside a warehouse with each casket put one on top of the other. Families and mourners crowd in to find which one has their loved one in it, but because of the gas coming out of the decomposing bodies that create sporadic explosions that cause the caskets to go tumbling.

The appearance of American actress Shelley Winters is another shocker in that she’s dubbed with an Italian speaking woman. Hearing her in a voice that is clearly not her own is at first disconcerting, but she gives a brilliant performance nonetheless. Normally she’s known for her talkative nature, both for the parts she plays in front of the camera, but also in her real-life interviews, yet she reflects a comatose woman quite convincingly and her facial expressions, particularly when she’s brought into the cabin to observe the killer’s torture, are excellent.

Sordi, a well known Italian film star and comedian, does well too and it’s interesting seeing his hair go from salt-and-pepper to fully gray as the movie progresses. His character though isn’t exactly likable. While he sees himself as being ‘selfless’ as he sacrifices everything, and potentially breaking the rules, for the love of his son, he seems more selfish because why should his son get a unearned break over all the other candidates? While he has his funny share of moments he’s also a bit unhinged even at the beginning with his almost naive belief that a system he knows is corrupt is now somehow ‘morally’ obligated to give him and his son a favor. Maybe this was the intended ironic point, but it would’ve played better had the son been less of a vapid, empty shell.

Spoiler Alert!

What makes this film stand-out from virtually any other is its extreme shift in tone where it starts as a satirical comedy, but ends as a grim thriller. Many script experts will insist this ‘can’t be done’ and in Hollywood would be considered forbidden. It also doesn’t have the inciting incident occur until an hour in even though books like ‘Save the Cat’, which is the ‘screenwriter’s bible’, will tell you it must happen within the first 5 pages of any script. There’s also no forewarning to the killing it’s just a completely random event with no connection to anything that came before, which again most people in the movie business will say is a ‘mistake’.

While I might’ve done it slightly differently by having Giovanni go insane when one of the supervisors refuses to hire his son after promising him they’d do it and then kidnapping that individual to make it seem a little more connected to the first half, I’m still impressed with how effectively it all works either way. It literally breaks every screenwriting rule and still succeeds and should be used as an example to anyone insisting that movie scripts that don’t stringently conform to the Hollywood formula will fail as this one clearly doesn’t.

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My Rating: 9 out of 10

Released: March 17, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Mario Monicelli

Studio: Cineriz

Available: DVD-R (Italian with English Subtitles) (Moviedetective.net)

American Drive-In (1985)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Evening at the movies.

Filmed at the old Sky Drive-In in Yucca Valley, California that has long since been abandoned, the film centers around a couple, Bobbie Ann (Emily Longstreth) and Jack (Patrick Kirton). Both are fresh out of high school and Jack plans to use the occasion of going to the drive-in to watch a horror flick called Hard Rock Zombies to propose to Bobbie Ann. Bobbie Ann is smitten with Jack, but after he gives her the ring she’s not so sure she’s ready to jump into marriage. Meanwhile Sarge (Joel Bennett), the leader of a local street gang, has his sights set on Bobbie Ann and plans to get rid of Jack while they watch the film, so that he and his buddies can gang rape Bobbie Ann in the back bleachers. While this is going on there’s also Councilmen Winston (John Rice) who’s running for mayor and feels it would be a great opportunity to break-up the local drug ring in town, which he feels is occurring at the drive-in and to prove it he gets his own kids to walk around and inquire where they can get their hands on some ‘Mary Jane’ and then film it thus looking like a hero to the public for exposing the drug pushers in the area.

This was the second-to-last film directed by Krishna Shah who was one of the first directors to start his career in Bollywood before graduating to Hollywood. His initial film was the so-so Rivals, but none of his movies ever met any critical or financial success, which caused him to become quite bitter in his later years. This project was the result of his frustration of doing serious, big budget pictures like The River Niger and Shalimar, which were made with a lot of promise, but both failed at the box office, so out of desperation he decided to try-his-hand at exploitation B-pictures only to be met with the same failures.

What struck me was how similar it is to Rod Amateau’s Drive-In that came out 9 years earlier complete with the same type of farcical comedy and stereotyped characters and both dealt with a teen gang trying to steal away a girl who was dating a super clean-cut kid all while watching a cheesy disaster flick onscreen. It was almost like they had watched that one and it had ‘inspired’ them to make this. They’d probably deny it and say they had no knowledge of the other flick, but if that were the case then it makes this one seem even worse as it lacks anything original both in humor or storyline.

A lot of the comedy falls flat including a segment that makes fun of fat people and shows them eating up their food in a close-up, slurping fashion that’s quite gross and portrays them as seeming like animals that most people in our body shaming culture today will find offensive. I also thought the running joke of this prostitute who services the male customers in her RV as the movie plays was a bit overboard as she takes-on one after the other in a brief 90-minute period. Not sure what the typical nightly quota for a sex worker is, but I would think that would be too exhausting, so unless the film was trying to portray prostitution in a campy way, which in this case I don’t think it was, then there should’ve been several women in the RV doing the guys versus just one.

The only inspired thing, or at least it seemed that way initially, was the it becomes a film within a film as Krishna Shah had also directed Hard Rock ZombiesSince that has been put on many a list of worst movies ever made I thought this was the unusual case of a director showing humility and openly mocking his own work, where at one point one of the characters even says “Whoever wrote this should be shot”, but that was apparently not what happened. Instead the zombie movie scenes was only intended for a brief few minutes, but then after filming them Shah got ‘inspired’ to turn that into a feature film, which is now considered even worse than this one.

Spoiler Alert!

There is a darker tone here than in Drive-In, when Bobbi Ann threatens to kill the gang members with her gun as the other people cheer her one. Emily Longstreth, who sadly hasn’t done a movie since 1994, looks quite sexy standing on a raised platform in a skimpy outfit while waving the gun around, which in my opinion is the only memorable moment, but the movie unfortunately doesn’t go far enough. This would’ve been a perfect time to have her kill-off everybody, which would’ve made sitting through this silly inane crap worth it by having a truly shocking finale. It could’ve been Carrie with guns instead of telepathy, but this stupid movie cops-out completely.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1985

Runtime: 1 Hour 33 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Krishna Shah

Studio: Patel/Shah Film Company

Available: DVD-R

The Baltimore Bullet (1980)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Pool hustlers travel country.

Nick (James Coburn) is an aging pool hustler who’s best days are behind him. Many years earlier he took a young 15-year-old boy named Billie Joe (Bruce Boxleitner) under his tutelage and taught him the tricks-of-the-trade. Now as a man Billie is able to play the game as well as Nick. The two travel the countryside attending pool halls where they hustle patsies for money. Nick though holds a grudge because a ways back he lost a crucial match to The Deacon (Omar Sharif) another hustler whose just been released from jail. Nick wants a rematch, but The Deacon doesn’t think he’s worthy of his time. Nick though got’s a scheme that will get him to change his mind by playing in a nationally televised pool tournament that The Deacon plans to attend.

For a film that has never had an official US DVD release and was only shown sporadically on late night TV I was surprised at how engaging it is. Screenwriters John Brascia and Robert Vincent O’Neill have written a highly amiable script that features funny vignettes and amusing banter. The focus isn’t on the game of pool, which seems almost like a side-light, but more on the scraps they get into along the way. The two also come into contact with those trying to cheat them and this culminates in an almost surreal like confrontation, that comes around the middle mark, inside a house of mirrors at a carnival side show.

The film also has a segment that seemed prolific in movies that came out during the late 70’s and early 80’s which features what would be considered sexual assault now. The scene has Nick betting Billie Joe that the breasts on a waitress at a cafe that they’re in is silicone and not natural. Billie then proceeds to go into the kitchen to feel-her-up without her consent. While what he does is not shown we do hear her scream and drop her tray of dishes before he walks back out with a broad smile on his face, which back in the day was just considered ‘light comedy’.

Coburn is a great actor, but looks horribly aged. He was only 60, but could’ve easily passed-off as 70 or 75 making his fight scenes look inauthentic as I don’t believe in his elderly condition he would’ve been able to hold his own. Boxleitner is dull and seems only able to display a broad ‘good-ole-boy’ smile and not much else. A more dynamic actor, or one maybe more Coburn’s age, could’ve made the buddy angle better.

I found Sharif to be too soft spoken and he approaches his part in a weird way. For instance when he’s playing a senator at poker he displays moments of outward nervousness, but if he’s truly a cocky, confident player that wouldn’t have been the case. Ronee Blakely is weak as well proving that her appearance in Nashville was her only good performance though her singing is nice and she’ll remind one a lot of Shelley Duvall with her looks. Jack O’Halloran, the former boxer who’s best known for playing Non the henchmen to the evil Zod in the Superman movies, is very funny as Max an inept hit man.

Spoiler Alert!

The ending unfortunately gets convoluted. Having the game broadcast and featuring live play-by-play and commenting by pool legend Willie Musconi is cool, but I wanted to see the ultimate match between Nick and Billie Joe to prove which one was truly better. The script teases this idea, but then adds in too many other unnecessary ingredients like having Nick be pressured to dump the game while there’s also a robbery happening and then eventually the place is raided by the feds. By the time it gets to The Deacon taking-on Nick it’s anti-climactic especially since no one else is around (it should’ve been televised on TV for all to witness). Having it focus more on the game and the strategies, which it starts to do slightly near the end, would’ve given it more substance and what little they do talk about I found to be genuinely interesting.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: April 1, 1980

Runtime: 1 Hour 43 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Ellis Miller

Studio: AVCO Embassy Entertainment

Available: DVD (Reg 2 Import)

The Villain (1979)

villain

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: An inept western robber.

Cactus Jack (Kirk Douglas) is an aging western outlaw who’s hired by Avery Simpson (Jack Elam) to commit a robbery. Charming Jones (Ann-Margaret) is a beautiful, young woman who’s being escorted west by Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and is also carrying a large sum of money. Cactus Jack sets up an array of elaborate traps to try and rob them, but fails each time, so he enlists the help of a local Indian tribe headed by Nervous Elk (Paul Lynde) to assist him.

After the box office success of Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper executives at Columbia Pictures were apparently convinced that stunt man-turned-director Hal Needham could do no wrong and thus gave him a ton of money to direct a movie of his choice. Needham decided to do a send-up of the Road Runner cartoons, but as a live-action. The result though isn’t amusing, or lively with not enough stunt work and what you do see had already been shown many times before in other movies. The script by Robert G. Kane, who was a former joke writer for Dean Martin, is unimaginative and gets stuck in a one-dimensional gear where Cactus Jack continually tries to rob the two, but fails, which takes over 90-minutes to play-out while the old Road Runner cartoons where able to do it in less than 5.

There’s also quasi-surreal moments where Jack paints a tunnel opening onto the side of a mountain with black paint and yet Arnold and Ann are able to drive through it like it were a real tunnel. There’s another segment where Jack pours glue onto some train tracks, which Arnold and Ann are able to drive over without getting stuck while Jack does, but why? I realize this is supposed to be a silly movie and logic should not be demanded, but it just shows how lame it is where the director and writer do not challenge themselves to come-up with a clever way, that works within the realm of reality, for the protagonist to get out of their jam and instead lowers the bar to such an extent that they throw-out anything stupid and figure it will suffice.

Kirk for his part has a lot of fun. Some may feel he took it because his career was waning, but Needham had been the stunt coordinator on many of his movies back in the 60’s, so the two were friends and Douglas eagerly accepted the offer. At age 61 he looks great and did many of his own stunts, which is even more impressive, but no matter what the pratfall his character never gets injured. Despite the common belief many cartoons do at times show the antagonist like Wily E. Coyote getting banged-up and wearing bandages, bruises, and even walk with a crutch, so having Jack get that way and yet still determined to commit the crime would’ve been funnier.

Schwarzenegger is funny too simply for being this big, brawny guy who’s painfully naive though why someone would be walking around in the old west speaking with an Austrian accent needed to be questioned. Mel Tillis does mention at one point that he ‘talks funny’, but I felt that should’ve been a running joke where all the characters mention it when they meet him. It also would’ve been nice to have seen his character evolve and not remain so clueless by upping-the-ante with an exciting climactic battle/gunfight between he and Kirk at the end, which doesn’t happen.

Famous character actors like Strother Martin, Ruth Buzzi, and Foster Brooks are completely wasted. Mel Tillis does his stuttering routine (twice), which I’ve never found amusing though he also does the soundtrack and his singing is great. Initially I thought Ann-Margaret was miscast as she was too old for the part, but they make her look convincingly young and by the end I appreciated her presence.

The best by far is Paul Lynde as Indian Chief Nervous Elk, or as he says it N-e-e-e-e-rvous Elk. Today’s more sensitive audiences may not like a white guy playing a Native American, nor wearing an Indian styled head dress. I don’t know this for sure, but I suspect it’s the reason why the movie has never received an official studio DVD/Blu-ray release nor is it available on streaming, which is unfortunate. Yes, it’s political incorrect, but it’s done in such a goofy, campy way that it manages to become stupid funny and the only part that had me chuckling.

Everything else borders on being pathetic and all it succeeds at doing is getting you wanting to watch an actual cartoon, which will be far more sophisticated and entertaining than anything you’ll see here.

villain2

Alternate Title: Cactus Jack

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: July 20, 1979

Runtime: 1 Hour 29 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Hal Needham

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD-R

Don’t Cry, It’s Only Thunder (1982)

dont

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Medic helps out orphanage.

Brian (Dennis Christopher) is an army medic during the Vietnam War who’s stationed at a hospital in Saigon. Young and idealistic he initially cannot handle the death and carnage that he comes into at the clinic and feels he’s not making much of a difference especially as he sees the severely injured soldiers come-in and die with very little that they can do. He then makes a promise to one of them to look in on an orphanage and try to find a safe new location for the children and two nuns who look after them. At first Brian is not into the kids, but eventually he bonds with them especially Anh (Mai Thi Lien) a 12-year-old girl who cannot speak and who he wishes to adopt despite all the red tape that he must go through.

The film is loosely based on the actual experiences of Paul G. Hensler, who first wrote it into a novel before being commissioned to turn it into a screenplay. His motive was to show more of the humanitarian side to the war versus the battle scenes that made up so much of the other films that dealt with the Vietnam conflict. In a lot of ways it’s a refreshing change of pace and unlike with M*A*S*H, that focused on medics during the Korean War, there’s no humor, or pranks, but instead solely focuses on the serious side of taking care of the wounded and how emotionally exhausting it can become. There’s a few moments where a passing character will make a joke, I suppose as an ode to M*A*S*H, but instead of laughs from the others it’s met with eye rolls, which is how it should be as there’s certain situations where humor just isn’t going to help things and in some ways such as here just plain out-of-place.

Christopher, who’d been acting in films since he was 15, but rose to critical acclaim in Breaking Away only to make a bad career turn by starring-in the offbeat dud Fade to Blackredeems himself with his performance here. He does though look incredibly young almost like he’s only 14, but his youthful appearance helps explain his character’s sometimes naive nature and tendency to be overly idealistic and thus makes some of the things that he does, which an older more seasoned person might refrain from, more understandable.

I wasn’t as keen with Susan Saint James. She was 10 years older than Dennis, but looked more like it could’ve been 20 and thus making the eventual love scene between them come-off as forced and mechanical. I’ll give her credit she does have an effective emotional moment, but her character is too Jekyll and Hyde-like as she initially is really into helping the orphanage and even gets Brian more into it and then suddenly like a light switch doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, only to eventually to go back, kind of, to helping the kids out, which is like watching someone with a ping pong personality. If anything I really enjoyed the two Vietnamese nuns (Lisa Lu, Shere Thu Thuy) and the way they would sometimes compromise their moral beliefs for the sake of the kids.

The film manages to be gritty most of the way and despite being filmed in the Philippines still gives one an adequate feeling of the civilian experience in Vietnam during that time. However, the segment where a song gets played that was supposedly sung by the kids while we view a montage of them playing is over-the-top sentimental and even jarring as we were used to the background noise of battle and thus comes-off as sappy and out-of-place. Watching the kids having a bit of fun is fine, but we didn’t need the added music.

Brian’s insistence and almost obsession at adopting a preteen girl will be considered cringey by today’s standards. The film makes clear that his intentions are pure, I suppose this is why there was the sex scene thrown between he and Susan to alleviate any viewer concern that he wasn’t a red-blooded All-American guy who was into chicks his own age, but it still looks even in the most charitable way as kind of questionable especially since he can’t even have any conversations with her since she doesn’t speak. He contends that he’s the one guy who can help her, but how since he has shown no background in dealing with those with speech issues? The book cover of which the film is based has a picture of the real Hensler, of which Brian is supposed to represent, holding an infant girl, which I presume is who he wanted to adopt. Having the girl character being a baby like in the book instead of 12 going on 13 would’ve worked better, or having him try to adopt a group of kids to bring home with him, like 3 or 4 that was an even mix of boys and girls, but to have him get overly infatuated with just one makes it unintentionally seem likes his grooming her to being a Lolita in the making. A bratty child (Truong Minh Hai) even alludes to this at one point, which makes you wonder; did he know something the rest of us didn’t?

Spoiler Alert!

Overall, despite tanking at the box office, it’s an decent drama though its never been released on DVD and trying to find a print of it is difficult.  It also goes on about 15-minutes too long and loses some of its potency by the end. A perfect example of this is when the orphanage gets unexpectedly bombed without warning, which is genuinely horrific, but when another unexpected bomb goes off later the shock effect is no longer there and thus they should’ve kept it down to just one.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 3, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 48 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Peter Werner

Studio: Sanrio Communications

Available: VHS