Film Review: Bucktown (1975)

Also known as: Bucktown, USA (alternate title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1975
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Bob Ellison
Music by: Johnny Pate
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Carl Weathers

Essaness Pictures, Plitt Theaters, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not going to kill me. News travels fast. It’s bound to get to the state troopers. If they ask any questions, you’re gonna tell your black mayor to tell them that you’re holding the chief of police for breaking thew law. No, you’re gonna keep me alive. ‘Cause I’m gonna keep you black asses from burning in hell! ” – Chief Patterson

This is probably my favorite Fred Williamson movie after Black Caesar. Plus, it also has the always dynamite Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, who I enjoyed in Blacula, as well as a small role for a young Carl Weathers, just before he’d go on to be immortalized as Apollo Creed, a year later, in Rocky.

The plot for Bucktown isn’t wholly original but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one either. Fred Williamson comes to town after his brother’s death in order to bury him and settle his estate. He learns of the deep corruption in the town, which was instrumental in his brothers death. He decides to call in some friends to help him clean up the town from the dirty cops and politicians. While they succeed, these friends decide to rule the town themselves, making things even worse than they were to begin with.

The narrative has a lot in common with several westerns, which I know Williamson was a fan of and he even went on to make a few. This just had the blaxploitation twist to it, where the corrupt officials were bigoted racists and the people being oppressed were black. But it is clever in how it shows that the immediate solution, having a town run by their own people, faces the same challenges when it comes to power, greed and control.

Fred Williamson really commanded the screen in this. Not that that has ever been a challenge for him but his presence here is powerful just like in Black Caesar and Boss Nigger. Pam Grier obviously carries her own and adds a level of gravitas that enhances the badass nature of this motion picture. Man, I love Grier and Williamson and seeing them come together, being on the same page, fighting for the same thing is a real treat.

The finale of the picture sees Williamson take on his former friends in a S.W.A.T. tank. He blows up a car by smashing into it, crashes through the enemy’s stronghold wall and unloads bullets into the thugs that he was responsible for bringing to town.

While not the greatest film in the blaxploitation genre, Bucktown is still a high octane affair that felt tailor made for all of Williamson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Black CaesarHell Up In HarlemCoffy and Foxy Brown.

Film Review: Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Also known as: Tales of Terror, Terror of the Doll (alternate titles)
Release Date: March 4th, 1975
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan
Music by: Robert Cobert
Cast: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Cirlc Films, ABC, 72 Minutes

Review:

“This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!” – Amelia

Trilogy of Terror was originally made to be a television movie. It is an anthology horror film with three different stories, all of which star Karen Black. In fact, it is this movie that may have truly cemented her as one of the top scream queens of the ’70s.

The first story is about a timid college professor becoming the obsession of a student, who drugs her, rapes her and takes pornographic pictures of her to blackmail her into doing his bidding. It’s a pretty good story with a nice twist.

The second chapter is my least favorite of the three. It deals with two twin sisters, one of whom is like a puritan nun type of character, the other is a slutty wild child. The nun-like sister believes the other to be the embodiment of evil and decides to use voodoo to destroy her and vanquish the evil once and for all. Like the previous story, this one has a big twist. The reason why this one didn’t work for me, is that I predicted the big twist almost immediately. It may have worked well in 1975 but it’s a story horror fans have seen a dozen times.

The third and final episode in this anthology takes place in just an apartment. Karen Black’s character buys this cursed tribal doll for a guy she likes. While taking a bath, the doll comes to life. The rest of the story is about the woman trying to survive being trapped in her apartment with this insane and relentless killing machine. It sounds cheesy and strange, which it is, but the doll is so incredibly nuts that it just works. Where Chucky from the Child’s Play films could be like a great white shark, this doll is more like a school of piranhas.

Trilogy of Terror isn’t great but it is entertaining, very short and goes to show the range that Karen Black had. She could play a sweet character, a killer and really, anything in-between.

Plus, that killer doll is one of the best horror monsters of the 1970s.

This TV movie was pretty popular, developed a cult following and was one of the most traded VHS tapes that I used to see at conventions when I was a kid. These days you can stream it in HD.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Trilogy of Terror II, other horror anthologies: CreepshowTwilight Zone: The MovieTales From the Darkside: The Movie.

Film Review: Rollerball (1975)

Release Date: June 25th, 1975
Directed by: Norman Jewison
Written by: William Harrison
Based on: Roller Ball Murder by William Harrison
Music by: Andre Previn
Cast: James Caan, John Houseman, Maud Adams, John Beck, Moses Gunn, Ralph Richardson

United Artists, 129 Minutes

Review:

“The game was created to demonstrate the futility of individual effort.” – Bartholomew

Rollerball was remade in 2002 for some reason. Never, ever watch that version. Watch this one. This one is the only version that matters and even though it feels like a typical ’70s retro future picture, it still has more style, spirit and heart than that soulless recreation. Plus, this one stars James Caan and not Chris Klein, that really nice and sensitive guy from the American Pie movies.

I’m a big fan of the ’70s version of what our future was supposed to be. Because of that, I love the look and vibe of this film. It shows a bleak and gritty future ruled by corporations. It has an almost post apocalyptic vibe with a strong ’70s aesthetic. In a lot of ways, this film really works well being paired with Death Race 2000 due to its themes and visual style. Although, it isn’t as fun or as brilliant as Death Race.

James Caan plays Jonathan E. It sounds like a ’90s R&B singer or a character from a Tommy Wiseau movie but he is the world’s most badass rollerballer. His life is controlled by the corporation that owns his team and runs the government. He’s told to retire and he doesn’t want to. So Jonathan E. decides to fight back and figure out who makes these decisions and why.

The film’s story has an interesting premise but it really doesn’t have much else. The narrative is pretty boring, generic and dry. There isn’t a lot of excitement in the film’s plot and this would be a completely forgotten film if it weren’t for the sport element.

The rollerball matches are the highlight of the film. The sport is an interesting concept, as it takes the core of roller derby and ups the ante in every way. It even adds in motorcycles. There are three of these matches in the film and they’re the parts I love where the rest of the film just sort of gets in the way. However, I guess you need a plot to have a reason to have the movie. The plot just doesn’t measure up.

James Caan was convincing and did well with the material. But even he couldn’t salvage the uninteresting filler.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: Death Race 2000Logan’s RunSilent RunningThe Warriors.

Film Review: Death Race 2000 (1975)

Also known as: Frankensteins Todesrennen (Austria)
Release Date: April 27th, 1975
Directed by: Paul Bartel
Written by: Robert Thom, Charles Griffith
Based on: The Racer by Ib Melchior
Music by: Paul Chihara
Cast: David Carradine, Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Sand McCallum, Louisa Moritz, Don Steele, Mary Woronov, Roberta Collins, Martin Kove, Joyce Jameson, Paul Bartel, Leslie McRae

New World Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“As the cars roar into Pennsylvania, the cradle of liberty, it seems apparent that our citizens are staying off the streets, which may make scoring particularly difficult, even with this year’s rule changes. To recap those revisions: women are still worth 10 points more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points, and toddlers under 12 now rate a big 70 points. The big score: anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points.” – Harold

When Roger Corman stepped away from directing to start New World Pictures, it really opened the door for young filmmakers to usher in a new era of outside-the-box indie pictures. Paul Bartel was one of the premier guys to come out of the Corman camp and while he made a few really good films, none of them had as big of an impact on me as the super stylish and insane Death Race 2000.

The film is about a transcontinental race from New York City to Los Angeles, a race where the drivers earn points for killing human targets. The more offensive the target, the higher the points. So babies and old people are prime meat for the sadistic drivers and their high octane killing machines.

The movie takes place in a not-too-distant future where society has kind of evolved similar to those more modern Purge movies. America is a fascist state and this grand motor race is patriotic. Those who die, as victims of the drivers, are considered heroes and their sacrifices usually come with rewards for their loved ones.

Within this severely screwed up America is a group of rebels who are trying to end the race and overthrow the sick and twisted president in an effort to reestablish an America that is closer to what the Founding Fathers fought for. There is a lot of political and social commentary sprinkled in throughout the film and it almost exists as a response to the American government’s expansion into the world and its quest for occupation and control. It makes sense that this was made at the tail end of the Vietnam War.

The film stars David Carradine as Frankenstein, the most elite of all the racers. He is a literal living legend but he has his own ideas on the race and his government’s politics, which play out subtly as the film progresses, leading to a big rebellious crescendo at the end.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by a very young Sylvester Stallone, who was a year away from Rocky fame, as well as Paul Bartel’s favorite collaborator, Mary Woronov. We also get Roberta Collins, who spent a large part of her career in exploitation films, a young Martin Kove, a decade before becoming the iconic John Kreese from The Karate Kid films, Joyce Jameson, who was a part of a lot of Corman’s ’60s horror productions, Don Steele, a charismatic and over the top shock jock from the ’70s, as well as two beautiful ladies: Simone Griffeth and Louisa Moritz, both of whom play navigators to the two top drivers. Paul Bartel even has a small cameo as Frankenstein’s doctor when the iconic racer is first introduced in the film.

One thing that makes this picture work so well, is that it is a tongue in cheek critique on the government and society but it doesn’t beat you over the head because of how ridiculous and stylized everything in the film is. Every character is more or less a caricature, every car has some sort of bizarre and hokey gimmick and things are so over the top and goofy that you don’t find yourself buried in serious subject matter. And maybe the political statements are sort of lost in this circus of a film but the sentiment seems pretty clear, even if it’s not fine tuned enough to be specific.

Bartel would follow this up with another action car picture for Roger Corman called Cannonball. That one also starred David Carradine and is enjoyable but it doesn’t stick out in quite the same way Death Race 2000 does.

This would also spawn a horrible remake that had even worse sequels. Eventually, a true sequel to this was made called Death Race 2050. I haven’t seen that one yet but I plan to give it a watch in the very near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Any Paul Bartel directed film but most notable Cannonball!

Film Review: The Black Dragon’s Revenge (1975)

Also known as: Long zheng hu dou jing wu hun (original Mandarin title), The Death of Bruce Lee (US dubbed version), The Black Dragon Revenges the Death of Bruce Lee (UK)
Release Date: November, 1975 (US)
Directed by: Chin-Ku Lu (credited as Tommy Loo Chung)
Written by: Norbert Albertson Jr.
Cast: Ron Van Clief, Charles Bonet, Phillip Ko

Yangtze Productions, Howard Mahler Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

Ron Van Clief was a legit martial arts badass that decided to become an action star during the height of kung fu and blaxploitation movies. Unfortunately, he lacks the charisma and charm of Jim Kelly, who was the true champion of black martial artists in this era. Van Clief’s moves are impressive and his skills would translate into being a fight choreographer on 1985’s cult classic The Last Dragon, as well as doing stunts in other pictures.

The film taps into one of the many strange conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Bruce Lee. Here, it is believed that Lee was murdered by greedy film producers. Really, this is just one of dozens of cheap attempts to capitalize on Lee’s popularity, just after his death.

The film starts off being a slight bit interesting but it doesn’t have a lot of steam to begin with and we are just treated to lots of fights. While the choreography and action are decent, this feels more like a cinematic display of martial arts skills, as opposed to feeling like a real movie. Even though I love kung fu flicks, this gets monotonous and boring pretty quickly.

The Black Dragon’s Revenge is also hindered by the quality of the prints available. They haven’t held up well and frankly, I guess it is what it is because no one will probably spend the money on preserving this long lost dud of a blaxploitation/Bruceploitation hybrid.

I have no real choice other than to run this through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.” I guess the trusty Shitometer felt the need to be harsher than I was.

Film Review: Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

Also known as: Mekagojira no Gyakushū, lit. Counterattack of Mechagodzilla (Japan)
Release Date: March 15th, 1975 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Yukiko Takayama
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Katsuhiko Sasaki, Tomoko Ai, Akihiko Hirata, Katsumasa Uchida, Goro Mutsumi, Tadao Nakamaru, Toru Kawai, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Wait till I really let Titanosaurus loose!” – Dr. Shinji Mafune

Well, this was the big sendoff for Godzilla in his Shōwa era of films, which stretch over fifteen movies from 1954’s Gojira to this 1975 conclusion that reunited original director Ishirō Honda and original music maestro Akira Ifukube.

Despite the talent working on this final chapter, it is fairly lackluster. I think the main reason is that it was a rehash of the Mechagodzilla story from the previous year’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. Also, instead of featuring the awesome King Caesar, we are introduced to a new kaiju: Titanosaurus. Unfortunately, despite a new power, Titanosaurus was pretty lame. In fact, his power isn’t really that original as it is just wind gusts, which we got as far back as 1956’s Rodan. Rodan used his supersonic speed to create destructive wind gusts where Titanosaurus used his fan shaped tail. I know that Titanosaurus has his fans out there but I’m not one of them.

While I love Mechagodzilla, there just wasn’t much to separate this film from the previous one and everything that was actually different was a step down. Still, it is a Godzilla film from his best era and it is a fun time.

I think the problem with this movie, is that although Ishirō Honda is the superior Godzilla director, the ’70s Godzilla films really belonged to Jun Fukuda. He created the vibe that worked in the ’70s, as the character of Godzilla became more kid friendly and kind of goofy. Honda’s style wasn’t really effective when trying to make a direct sequel to Fukuda’s Mechagodzilla film. Godzilla was very different in 1975 than it was when Honda directed his near masterpiece Gojira in 1954.

Also, I need to point out something strange with my latest viewing of this movie. While it is rated G and categorized in places as a “family film”, this movie has boobies in it. Granted, they are fake cyborg boobies but they are nude breasties, nonetheless. Strangely, these ’70s boobies never existed in any version of the film that I have seen before. While I own this, I most recently watched it on the Starz app. So if you are using that and are showing these “G rated” Godzilla movies to some young ones, be forewarned that you might get a mammary surprise. But, as far as I know, this is the only Godzilla film with cyborg titties in it or any titties for that matter.

Titties aside, I do like this film even if it is in the lower rung of Shōwa era films. The main reason, is that I don’t dislike any Shōwa era film. Something about this heroic kaiju makes me smile, especially in the classic era of rubber suits, miniature sets and a sort of hokey magic that ties it all together. While many fans don’t like ’70s Godzilla, I always have, as it was the decade I felt more connected to when I discovered these movies as a kid in the ’80s.

Terror of Mechagodzilla isn’t a place that I would start, if introducing this great and massive film franchise to new generations, but it still works in spite of its flaws. Granted, most people probably won’t embrace this with the enthusiasm that I have but most people paid to see Transformers 5.

Film Review: The Devil’s Rain (1975)

Release Date: July, 1975
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Written by: James Ashton, Gabe Essoe, Gerald Hopman
Music by: Al De Lory
Cast: William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, John Travolta, Eddie Albert, Anton LaVey, Ida Lupino

Sandy Howard Productions, Bryanston Distributing Company, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Think yee to destroy something stronger than life by ending life? As the cock will crow in the dawn, after my body burns, so too will the sun rise and cast my shadow over this town, again! and again! You fools!” – Jonathan Corbis

This was a weird ass movie. That’s coming from a guy who spends a lot of time watching weird ass movies.

However, Ernest Borgnine actually plays his role in goatface for a few scenes. He actually looks like a damn goat and is supposed to be Satan or something.

The film also has William Shatner, John Travolta and Tom Skerritt in it. It even has Ida Lupino and she was a good director and a pretty solid actress back in her film-noir days.

Man, this is a strange mix of some well known people and an even stranger mix of witchcraft, a Satanic cult, melting people without eyes, weird goo and rain possessed by the friggin’ devil. Truthfully, this sounds like the coolest f’n movie of all-time.

In reality, despite all the great things within the 86 minutes that is this picture, The Devil’s Rain is truly horrendous. Even Borgnine in goatface makeup can’t make up for this thing being a complete mess of nonsensical madness and a lot of gross scenes.

My hopes for this were extremely high because of all the cool shit I mentioned but I was let down harder than a six year-old sick kid waiting for John Cena to grant his wish, only for Cena to be detained by the TSA all day for yelling, “You can’t see me!” while in the body scanner. Yeah, they could see him but Cena insists he’s an invisible Superman. Maybe this movie would have been better if John Cena was in it and he put goat-Borgnine in the STF. What am I even talking about at this point? This paragraph is about as nonsensical as this stupid movie.

Captain Kirk teams up with Vincent Vega and the sheriff from Picket Fences and takes on the old man from Airwolf, who can transform himself into a goat and turn people into eyeless rubber beings that ooze green goo. Again, sounds friggin’ cool. Yet, it isn’t.

This was an ugly looking, boring picture in the worst way. I don’t even know how it can be boring with all this cool shit in it.

In the end, this Satanic turkey must be shoved into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”