Documentary Review: American Grindhouse (2010)

Release Date: March 13th, 2010 (SXSW)
Directed by: Elijah Drenner
Written by: Elijah Drenner, Calum Waddell
Music by: Jason Brandt
Cast: Robert Forster (narrator), Eddie Muller, John Landis, Joe Dante, Herschell Gordon Lewis, William Lustig, Lewis Teague, David Hess, Jack Hill, Fred Williamson, Larry Cohen, Jonathan Kaplan, various

Lux Digital Pictures, End Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

This was a cool documentary but the title may be a bit misleading, as it isn’t specifically just about grindhouse pictures. It actually goes much deeper than that and discusses the history of exploitation film in general, going back as far as the Pre-Code Era and explaining what that was, how it ended and then how films evolved in the aftermath.

The best part about this documentary is that it interviewed so many great creators that were all a part of exploitation filmmaking, as well as also bringing in several experts on the subject. I especially liked seeing Eddie Muller in this, as I mostly only see him involved in things specifically about classic film-noir.

American Grindhouse also gets extra points because it was narrated by the great Robert Forster.

In addition to all that, this documentary featured an absolute fuck ton of movies from all eras and it definitely increased my list of films I need to review, pretty exponentially.

This was well organized, well presented and gave me a lot of insight. Mind you, I say that as someone that is pretty well versed on the subject matter.

American Grindhouse was in my queue for far too long. I didn’t think that I would think highly of it, as documentaries like this are a dime a dozen. However, this one is far ahead of the pack and it impressed me and actually re-energized my love for this type of cinema.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Machete Maidens Unleashed, Corman’s World, Electric Boogaloo, etc.

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: Flesh Feast (1970)

Also known as: Time Is Terror
Release Date: May 20th, 1970 (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
Directed by: Brad F. Grinter
Written by: Thomas Casey, Brad F. Grinter
Cast: Veronica Lake

Viking International Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Creeping, crawling, flesh-eating maggots!” – film tagline

Veronica Lake was incredible in the era of film-noir. She was one of the top actresses in the genre and found good work in the 1940s, always being at the forefront of that time’s cinematic and stylistic shifts. So it is really tragic that this pile of absolute shit was her final film.

Lake was a producer on this and somehow I feel like she was aging, maybe a bit out of sorts and was taken advantage of by some young but talentless filmmakers needing a few bucks to get this shit sandwich served in grindhouses and drive-ins across America.

The plot sees Lake play a mad scientist who is developing maggots that prefer human flesh. During the process, she is used to male a clone of Hitler. She cooperates with this evil and goofy plan. However, her mother was executed as a Nazi political prisoner and Lake wants revenge. She convinces everyone privy to her research that the maggots are to be used for regeneration purposes. However, she just wants to resurrect Hitler so that she can throw the maggots on him and watch him be devoured alive. She succeeds in her plot and the audience succeeds in sitting through one of the worst and dumbest films ever made.

With the title and with the style of film you’d assume this is, one would expect more gore than what this picture actually offers. Had it been a senseless gore festival, it may have had some redeeming quality about it. It has a similar title to Blood Feast, which was synonymous with gore and was also filmed in and around Miami Beach, as this movie was. However, this would disappoint gore hounds just as it would disappoint decent normal people. This actually makes the awful Blood Feast look good by comparison.

Flesh Feast is really one of the worst things I have ever seen. It fails in what it sets out to do in every way. You’d have to try really hard to make something this terrible.

All that being said, this needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 0.25/10
Pairs well with: Nothing and you’d be better off not watching this.

Film Review: Surf Nazis Must Die (1987)

Release Date: 1987
Directed by: Peter George
Written by: Jon Ayre
Music by: Jon McCallum
Cast: Gail Neely, Barry Brenner, Robert Harden, Tom Demenkoff, Bobbie Bresee

The Institute, Troma Entertainment, 83 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2014.

“I am the Fuhrer of the beach!” – Adolf

As I’ve been watching through a lot of old school Troma films the last week or so, I have become reacquainted with Surf Nazis Must Die.

This film is shitty, even for Troma’s standard. It had a few things about it that felt somewhat commendable but never really developed into anything worthwhile.

The cinematography wasn’t as inventive and fine-tuned as the other well-known Troma pictures and for the most part, it doesn’t really seem to fit the same visual style that their other films had in this era.

Surf Nazis Must Die is more low budget looking than normal and the gore is severely toned down and a lot less gratuitous than say The Toxic Avenger or Class of Nuke ‘Em High. At the same time, it wasn’t produced by Troma, it was just distributed by them.

The premise is ridiculous, as it should be but I really couldn’t get invested in it. I really didn’t care, truthfully.

The thing is, the title of the film makes it seem like a bad ass post-grindhouse grind house film. I love films where Nazis are villains and I loved the old surf film era of the 60s. What seemed like a Tromaville parody of those two things, was just a mishmash of shit that quickly hit the floor.

So does this Troma picture get to go through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer? Oh, yeah! As “Macho Man” Randy Savage would say. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 3/10

Film Review: Shock Waves (1977)

Release Date: July 15th, 1977
Directed by: Ken Wiederhorn
Written by: Ken Wiederhorn, John Kent Harrison
Music by: Richard Einhorn
Cast: Peter Cushing, Brooke Adams, John Carradine, Luke Halpin

Laurence Friedricks Enterprises, Zopix, Blue Underground, 90 Minutes

Review:

I was talking to a friend about Peter Cushing and then he asked, “Hey, have you ever seen the one where he’s an SS commander on an island that has Nazi zombies and the kid from Flipper?” And I said, “How the hell did I miss that?” So then I had to watch it. Granted, this was a few years ago but I decided to watch it again to review it and to just experience it one more time.

Shock Waves is not a good movie, even for an old school zombie flick but it had a lot of cool elements mixed together. It also features horror icon John Carradine for a bit.

You also get Luke Halpin from Flipper, except he’s all grown up now. Brooke Adams stars in this as the female lead. She would go on to be pretty good in the 70s take of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is my favorite version of the many Body Snatchers films.

Ultimately, this film isn’t too exciting. It has zombie Nazis, years before that became a fad in video games and modern cinema with films like Dead Snow. However, there aren’t a lot of them and they seem pretty easy to get away from.

It’s like the Romero zombie films, the monsters aren’t hard to deal with alone or in a small group, it is getting surrounded by many and swarmed that is the real issue. In Shock Waves there’s like four or five of them and a lot of wilderness to run away in and a lot of ocean to hightail it out on the seas.

Peter Cushing is about the only decent thing in the picture but I can name two dozen better films with him in it. Also, John Carradine is amusing as the boat captain but he’s only in this long enough to be the first one killed. Also, the two horror icons don’t share any screen time together which is a big missed opportunity.

It is kind of cool though to see films that have been shot close to where I’m from. This was shot in South Florida and chances are, I’ve run around the same island forest at some point or another. But geography alone doesn’t make a film good and this thing just isn’t.

Although, it isn’t so bad that it deserves to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. I will let it keep its dignity.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975)

Release Date: October 1975
Directed by: Don Edmonds
Written by: Jonah Royston
Cast: Dyanne Thorne, C.D. Lafleuer

Aeteas Filmproduktions, Cambist Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

Well, if I am going to review a film that fits the sexploitation and Nazisploitation genres, what better film to pick than Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS? No, really? Is there a better one? If so, I need to know.

Man, is this film fucked up. I had heard about it in books and from film buddies for a long time but just watched it. It’s actually available on YouTube, as long as you have an account that verifies you are at least 18 years-old. Truthfully, this is how I am finding a lot of the old exploitation and grindhouse films I’ve been watching lately.

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is bizarre and actually pretty shocking. It is especially refreshing in that this is one of the few exploitation films that I have watched that I feel delivers on its hype. They obviously can’t show you every heinous atrocity committed in full detail, or else this would have gotten an X rating. However, they do show more than what you’d expect and most of it is quite disturbing and uncomfortable.

The premise sees Ilsa use her power running a Nazi medical experiment camp for her own personal source of sexual stimulation. Her brand of stimulation comes in the form of torture and unrelenting cruelty. Throughout the film, she finds new and interesting ways to torture her subjects. A lot of her techniques are actually really creative and the minds behind this picture are definitely some sick and twisted individuals. Also, there are boobs literally every five minutes.

The fact that this ties into the Nazis makes the film actually feel somewhat plausible. It’s no secret how horrible the Nazis were and there has never been a single group or political power as feared as the Nazis. Anyone wearing Nazi outfits and symbols in a movie, immediately tells the audience that they are something to be feared and that they have no lines that they won’t cross. Ilsa doesn’t even see the lines, she just goes for it and is committed to her detestable craft.

Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS is also an example of a “women in cages” movie. These were big in the 1970s and this is just an extension of that formula. This time the prison is a Nazi camp and the warden is a very evil woman.

This is not a great movie but it is certainly entertaining and worth a watch if you have the stomach for it. The violence is quite gratuitous but nothing an adult shouldn’t be able to handle. And if you are curious about grindhouse pictures of the 70s, this should definitely be on your list of movies to see.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: The Black Gestapo (1975)

Also known as: Black Enforcers, Black Nazi, Ghetto Warriors
Release Date: March, 1975
Directed by: Lee Frost
Written by: Lee Frost, Wes Bishop
Based on: a story by Ronald K. Goldman, Lee Frost, Wes Bishop
Music by: Allan Alper
Cast: Rod Perry, Charles P. Robinson, Phil Hoover, Ed Cross, Angela Brent

Saber Productions, Bryanston Distributors, 88 Minutes

black_gestapoReview:

The Black Gestapo is a pretty rare film that came out during the height of “race hate” cinema. It also came out in the midst of the blaxploitation era. It made its rounds in grindhouse theaters in the mid 70s but certainly didn’t have any sort of mainstream success and is mostly forgotten – not that it was ever really known.

I heard about this film in a few different places, over the years. I was finally able to see it, as it is surprisingly on YouTube. That really shouldn’t surprise me though, as a lot of obscure films like this are making their way onto streaming services. This could also be in the public domain, at this point, but I’m not sure.

The film is a non-stop bonanza of racial hatred and violence. While it isn’t intended to be a comedy or a parody, it is sort of humorous to watch, over forty years later. It is also really bad ass and has a legit grittiness to it.

In the film, we meet a group of militant black men who are sick of the white mob shaking down the ghetto for money while they rape their women. The group decides to get even more militant and starts recruiting heavily, training hard and even turns to the black criminal element to help fight the white gangsters. Eventually, the evil white men are defeated but the criminal element within the black militant group starts to use the powers of their new militia to hold a fascist grip over the neighborhood. A powerful pimp turns the group into a bigger threat to the ghetto than the whites were. The protectors and the heroes become the villains. The founder of the group is then pitted against the evil pimp in a final showdown to put things right, once and for all.

Interestingly, the film has a lot of layers to it and it is smarter than what one would think at first glance. Considering that it is a cornucopia of endless violence and sex, the social and political context is very clear and the story is pretty interesting. There is rape, there is testicular disembowelment, there is torture and explosions, yet the film isn’t necessarily cringe worthy. It effectively tells its story in spite of the gimmickry of trying to shock its audience at every turn.

The Black Gestapo is far from a perfect movie but it is a hell of a lot of fun for its 88 minutes. It will certainly make the overly sensitive or politically correct people a bit uneasy. Probably to the point where they despise the film and don’t see what it actually represents: a very stark commentary on the post-Civil Rights racial tensions in 1970s America. More clearly, it examines the anger between races, as well as black people’s need to unify and not become their own worst enemy.

Rating: 6/10