Category Archives: Rape/Revenge

House on Straw Hill (1976)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10      

4-Word Review: Writer battles his secretary.

Paul (Udo Kier) is a writer who had success with his first novel and now working on his much anticipated second one. To help him get the manuscript done faster he hires a secretary (Linda Hayden) who comes to his isolated, countryside home to type it up, but the two don’t get along. Soon Paul becomes convinced that she is out to kill him and he just may be right.

This pseudo horror film has an enticing visual style.  I liked the close-up shots of the typewriter keys banging on the paper as well as the giant wheat field surrounding the home, which to a degree helps create an interesting atmosphere, but writer/director James Kenelm Clarke goes back to these things too often eventually making the film one-dimensional and monotonous.

The film is also loaded with a lot of explicit sex. If this were a porno then that would be great, but for an intended horror film it goes off the mark completely. We really don’t need to see Linda constantly masturbating. Having Paul find a dildo in her suitcase as he does would’ve been enough. Linda’s ultimate seduction of Paul’s girlfriend (Fiona Richmond) in a provocative lesbian sequence is completely pointless to the story and clearly just done to grab the crowd that’s into watching mindless sleaze.

The characters come off as weird, half-human caricatures whose motivations and actions are confusing. Both Paul and Linda needed to be better fleshed out for the viewer to have any compelling reason to care what happens to either one of them. The scene where Linda masturbates in the wheat field and is then attacked and raped by some locals only for her to turn-the-tables on them and kill them is particularly stupid because she is somehow able to immediately compose herself afterwards and come back to the house and act like it never happened when with anyone else it would’ve been an emotionally traumatic experience that would’ve taken months maybe even years to get over if even then.

The film’s twist ending is particularly weak and the film should’ve used flashbacks and other subtle clues to help the viewer figure it out for themselves the reasons for Linda’s motivations instead of having it all explained to them by her at the end. I also didn’t like the title as it is too reminiscent to Straw Dogs, which also took place in a remote home in the English countryside and dealt with a rape by some of the local thugs. This might’ve been intentional, but it was a big mistake because it just reminds the viewer of that movie, which was far better.

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My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Trauma, Expose

Released: March 15, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 24Minutes

Rated X

Director: James Kenelm Clarke

Studio: Norfolk International Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Poor Pretty Eddie (1975)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wrong turn to hickville.

Liz Weatherly (Leslie Uggams) was simply looking for a break from her hectic touring schedule and a chance to take some nature photos when her car breaks down on a lonely southern dirt road near an isolated lodge run by an aging, overweight lush (Shelley Winters) and her much younger boyfriend Eddie (Michael Christian). Eddie recognizes Liz as being a famous singer and since he has dreams of that nature as well tries to convince her to help him get his foot-in-the-door, but his talents do not match his ambitions and he fails to impress her. He then delays the repairing of her car hoping to wear her down and work things into a sexual relationship. When she resists this he rapes her and traps her at the remote hotel with no vehicle for escape. When she goes to the police the backwoods sheriff (Slim Pickens) humiliates her further, which crumbles her inner strength and makes her feel like a droid to the perversion around her that ultimately has her forced into a shotgun wedding.

This turgid drama is full of provocative southern gothic elements and wallows in areas that others fear to tread. The creative camerawork and backdrop sounds are impressive especially for a low budget film and the slow motion violence adds an evocative touch that stays with you long after it’s over. The character’s sexual repression gets relayed in an equally interesting way by showing scenes of them sucking and slurping their food like it’s a sexual substitute.

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Prolific character actor Pickens gets one of his best roles as the slimy hick sheriff in a part he seems almost born to play and Dub Taylor is spot-on as a self-imposed backwoods judge who creates a makeshift trial in the middle of his ragtag bar while also amusingly comparing Yankees to hemorrhoids. Ted Cassidy is good as well and makes a strong impression despite having limited lines.

I was not as impressed with the female performances as star Uggams comes off as too cold and one-dimensionally rigid without showing any type of preliminary vulnerability. Winters is competent as always, but playing a lonely, aging, pathetic woman begging for love is too similar to the character that she played in Lolita and making it seem more like typecasting.

The climactic bloody shootout is fun, but ends up being more of a spectacle than anything.  B.W. Sandefur’s script lacks any type of twist, introduces psychological elements that it fails to follow through on and wades in tired southern stereotypes making this a warped piece of ‘70s cinema that falls just short of being a cult classic.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Alternate Titles: Redneck County, Heartbreak Hotel, Black Vengeance

Released: June 16, 1975

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Robinson, David Worth

Studio: WestAmerican Films

Available: DVD

Gentle Savage (1973)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Indian accused of rape.

Camper John (William Smith) is an Indian living in a small town who gets accused of raping a white girl (Betty Ann Carr) by Ken (Kevin Hagen) her stepfather even though it was actually Ken who did it. The hidden prejudices of the predominantly white folks come to light against the nearby Indian community. Both sides take up arms and become intent on crushing the other causing hysteria and violent outbreaks while Camper John tries hiding out until it blows over.

If there is anything distinctive about this otherwise formulaic and predictable low budget drama is the fact that it paints vigilantism as more of a problem than a solution even if the one side feels completely justified, which I found to be a refreshing and more realistic take on the issue especially as the Indian group becomes as vindictive, violent and hateful as the people they are trying to fight. However, it would’ve been nice had there been at least one white person who wasn’t portrayed as being completely narrow-minded and bigoted, which in a lot of ways comes off as reverse racism by the filmmakers.

The music is loud and overly dramatic, which gives the proceedings a very heavy-handed feel. In a lot of ways it comes off as a poor man’s Billy Jack, which was already pretty amateurish and one-dimensional to begin with although still far better than this thing. The 75 minute version that I viewed had an abrupt ending that seemed incomplete and failed to tie up many loose ends, but I wasn’t complaining as even with the abbreviated runtime it was still highly protracted, overblown and tedious with the scene of a water tower tank exploding and dousing everyone on the street with tons of water being the only slightly diverting moment.

Smith is intense in the lead, but he should’ve been given more dialogue especially at the beginning as the viewer barely gets to know or understand him before being jettisoned into his quandary. Character actor R. G. Armstrong who normally plays menacing characters is quite wimpish here as a bartender who gets held down and forced to swallow drink after drink when he tries closing down the bar before the patrons were ready. Hagen is competent as the bad guy, but casting Gene Evans and Joe Flynn as a bumbling sheriff and deputy in an attempt at misguided ‘comic relief’ in the Last House on the Left-type vein was a big mistake. One scene even has them handcuffed together wearing nothing but their underpants while forced to walk across the desert, but it all adds little and takes away from the tension, which is the only time that this flat film ever becomes mildly diverting.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Camper John

Released: March 7, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes (Full Version)

Rated R

Director: Sean MacGregor

Studio: Cinemation Industries

Available: None at this time.

The Hotel New Hampshire (1984)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: A family of misfits.

Note: This review is part of the 1984 blog-a-thon series over at Forgotten Films.

Win Berry (Beau Bridges) is unhappy with his teaching job and feels he is not making enough money so he decides to start a hotel and make it a family venture. Tagging along with him is his mouthy daughter Frannie (Jodie Foster) who has an unhealthy lust for her brother John (Rob Lowe) and he in her as well as Frank (Paul McCrane) who is gay and Lily (Jennifer Dundas) who has stopped growing and unhappy with her short height. After many misadventures the business goes under so they move to Vienna, Austria and open up a new hotel and continue to get into a wide range of weird scenarios while also coming into contact with Susie (Nastassja Kinski) who likes to disguise herself as a bear and the blind, but quite wily Freud (Wallace Shawn).

The film, based on the John Irving novel who also co-wrote the screenplay, is something you are either going to like or hate. The narrative structure is quite odd and filled with goofy side-stories that have no connection to anything else. It’s similar to director Tony Richardson’s The Loved One, but that film at least had excellent satire that tied it all together while this thing gets nonsensical for no real reason. Mixing quirky humor with trenchant drama doesn’t work and certain plot twists like death of family members, sudden blindness and even gang rape become like throwaway pieces that are just glossed over and then soon forgotten. The superficial tone is annoying and the ‘lovably eccentric’ characters eventually become irritating.

Foster is outstanding as she plays the bratty, foul-mouthed, rebellious teen to an absolute tee. The lesbian scene where she goes to bed with Kinski and kisses her on the mouth is on an erotic level not bad. Kinski also shines with a similarly bitchy attitude, but I got real sick of constantly seeing her in that hideous bear outfit.  Dundas as the youngest female member has an adorable face, but delivers her lines in too much of a one-note way.

Lowe is surprisingly strong and his best moment comes with the facial expressions he gives at trying to lift a barbell that is too heavy. I also liked Mathew Modine being cast against type. Typically he plays the kind and gentle types, but here he’s a real nasty, callous guy who rapes Foster and then later shows up in the Vienna scenes in a dual role as an underground pornographer with a Hitler-like mustache.

Bridges is good, but his boyish face makes him look too young to be the father of the grown children. Wilford Brimley is also miscast as the grandfather as he was only seven years older than Bridges and had no gray hair, at least not on his head.

The scene where the Foster character has wild sex with her brother may be too much for some, but most likely those same viewers will have gotten turned off by it long before it even gets there. I admit it was getting on my nerves most of the way as well, but then strangely it ended up having a certain appeal, but only enough to give it a passable rating. Richardson’s direction is for the most part slick and the one things that saves it although with this thing personal taste will be one’s own barometer.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 49Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tony Richardson

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Billy Jack (1971)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: That’s one mean kick.

Barbara (Julie Webb) is the daughter of Mike (Kenneth Tobey) who is the deputy sheriff of the nearby town.  She comes home one day after having run away and advises him that she is now pregnant, but has no idea who the father is as she had taken part in a sex orgy at some hippie commune, which outrages her father so much he beats her severely. To escape she hides out at the nearby alternative Indian school run by Jean (Delores Taylor), but Mike tries to use his authority as an officer to force them to turn her over and it is up to half-breed Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) to protect her and the rest of the school from the town’s vindictive force and prejudice.

Although this movie has justifiably been lambasted for years as being more political propaganda than an actual story it still has some surprisingly effective moments. One of the best is the fight scene that takes place in the middle of town where Billy fights off the bad guys by using a Hapkido fighting technique where he raises his leg and kicks his assailant in the face with his foot. Some of the skits done in the school by the students as well as other young performance artists are fun particularly the one where the parents and teens are forced to reverse roles and the majestic aerial photography of the rustic New Mexican landscape is breathtaking.

Writer/director Laughlin casts himself in the title role, which in some ways seems a little bit like a vanity project. The character is poorly defined and subsists too much on a mystique. Having him somehow survive being shot in the stomach is too extreme and Laughlin gives a very one-note performance and is able to show only one emotion, which is that of a brooding, constant anger.

Taylor, who was Laughlin’s real-life wife, comes off better. Her face is weathered and she is no beauty by the conventional standard, but she seems to genuinely exude the values of her character and the scenes showing her after she is raped as well as the one where she begs Billy Jack to surrender during a shootout are emotionally charged and well down.

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The rest of the supporting cast is so-so with the adults coming off better. It’s a great chance to see young stars in the making including Howard Hesseman and Richard Stahl a comic actor whose deadpan delivery is second-to-none. Some of the young school girls are cute including Debbie Schock who at the time was Laughlin’s kid’s real-life babysitter. However, the teens acting is poor and they are given too much screen time without any ability to carry the film. The worst is Stan Rice who plays Martin and whose frozen facial expressions and monotone delivery makes him seem like he is a zombie.

David Roya as Bernard Posner the main antagonist in the film gives a decent performance, but the character’s motivations are confusing. He is aggressive with everyone and yet when Billy Jack appears he freezes up even though Billy is nothing more than a shrimp of a guy wearing a dorky looking hat. One scene in a café has Billy going on a long overly-dramatic rant and he turns his back to Bernard who remains frozen in terror even though he could’ve easily just whacked Billy in the back of his head and knocked him out. Another scene has Billy standing next to Bernard’s car who is in the driver’s seat and orders him to drive the vehicle into the lake, which he obediently does even though I thought he could’ve put the car into reverse and either run Billy over or forced him to jump into the lake instead.

The idea was to show that Bernard was a coward, but even a coward can act aggressively if given the upper-hand and by having him behave in such a strange way makes these scenes and the film as a whole seem very implausible and amateurish. Apparently actor Roya had these very same concerns and he argued with Laughling about them, which ended up creating a lifelong rift between the two.

The characterizations are broad, but on an emotional level it still works particularly the final scene where the students line-up and defiantly raise their fists into the air as Billy Jack is being driven away. The film’s pacifist stance while still delivering a high quota of violence has taken a beating by the critics through the years, but I saw it a little bit differently. I interpreted the message to be that pacifism is good in theory, but not always effective in execution.

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My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 54Minutes

Rated GP

Director: Tom Laughlin

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming

The Sidehackers (1969)

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By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Rape, murder and mayhem

This low budget flick is probably best known as having aired on an episode of the old ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ TV-show. At the time the writers had not watched the movie all the way through before deciding to use it for the show and when they came upon a rape sequence half-way through it they had to edit it out and have Crow  simply explain that the character was now dead. It is also famous for being directed by Goldie Hawn’s then husband Gus Trikonis. In fact Goldie auditioned for one of the parts in the film, but since she wasn’t well known at the time she got turned down.

The story centers around Vince (Ross Hagen) a motorcycle racer involved in the sport of sidehacking where a passenger rides along in a sidecar connected to the motorcycle and uses his body weight to help steer the bike around curves and turns.  The psychotic J.C. (Michael Pataki) watches the sport and wants to work with Vince, but Vince becomes aware of J.C.’s volatile personality and turns him down. This angers J.C. and later when his girlfriend Paisley (Claire Polan) falsely accuses Vince of having tried to rape her J.C. flies into a rage. He and his men attack and beat up Vince and then rape and murder Vince’s girlfriend Rita (Diane McBain). Vince then spends the rest of the film trying to track down J.C. and getting his revenge.

The only diversion of this otherwise run-of-the-mill drive-in drama is the scenes involving the racing, which is better known as sidecarcross. Trikonis captures the racing in vivid style giving the viewer a good feel of the sport. Personally I thought it would be excessively dangerous for the passenger who puts himself into a very vulnerable position as he tries to steer the bike from the side and could easily fall off, or be hit by the other bikes that zoom around him. The shots of the crowd seem to show them as really being into it, but I felt that after watching it for a few minutes it would get monotonous.

With that said it is still the most interesting aspect of the film and I felt the story should have revolved around it. For instance having J.C. try and sabotage one of Vince’s races, but instead the racing scenes are shown only at the beginning before devolving into just another stale and redundant revenge drama. The dialogue is stilted, the characters bland, and the direction lifeless. Boredom quickly sets in and never goes away.

The music score is particularly horrendous. With the exception of the final fight scene when it does have a nifty psychedelic quality it is very sappy and terribly harmonized. Hearing it played over shots of Vince and Rita frolicking merrily through some open fields may be enough to make some viewers gag.

Pataki gives a good intense performance as the psycho and at times goes a bit over-the-top, but with this type of production that can only help it. The rest of the acting like everything else seems amateurish. If you want to seek this film out simply to catch the scene that was cut from the TV broadcast I would say it isn’t worth it. The sequence is not all that graphic and it is shown only as a flashback, which takes less than a minute.

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: May 12, 1969

Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes

Alternate Title: Five the Hard Way

Rated M

Director: Gus Trikonis

Studio: Crown International Pictures

Available: DVD (The Savage Cinema Collection)