Film Review: Eaten Alive (1976)

Also known as: Brutes and Savages, Slaughter Hotel, Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Horror Hotel Massacre, Legend of the Bayou, Murder on the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter, The Devil’s Swamp (alternative titles)
Release Date: October, 1976 (limited)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Alvin L. Fast, Mardi Rustam
Music by: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Roberta Collins, Robert Englund

Mars Productions Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Name’s Buck… and I’m rarin’ to fuck.” – Buck

A film that was directed by a young Tobe Hooper that features both Robert Englund and William Finley is enough to hook me. Now add in great TV legends Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones and you’ve got me hooked even further. Toss in Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns and Roberta Collins and this picture is now boasting some serious f’n talent!

But overall, this isn’t a classic and from a historical and cultural perspective, doesn’t hold a candle to Hooper’s previous film: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

However, this was still an awesome experience and even though I know that I had seen it in my youth, I barely remembered anything about it other than it taking place in a shitty bayou hotel where the owner chases people with his scythe until they fall into a pit where he keeps a large man eating crocodile.

But you don’t really need to know more than that. And frankly, that’s all the film needs to be. One doesn’t need to get bogged down by details and an elaborate story. This was ’70s horror. Just throw boobies and blood at the screen every few minutes and consider it a job well done. Granted, this could’ve used more boobage.

This is gritty and pretty brutal but not so much so that it’s a gore festival. But if you like watching people get slashed by a madman and then chomped by a large animal, this should satisfy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Tobe Hooper’s other earlier films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Funhouse and Salem’s Lot.

Film Review: Death Wish II (1982)

Also known as: Death Sentence (working title)
Release Date: February 11th, 1982 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Winner
Written by: David Engelbach
Based on: characters by Brian Garfield
Music by: Jimmy Page
Cast: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Vincent Gardenia, J. D. Cannon, Anthony Franciosa, Charles Cyphers, Laurence Fishburne III, Roberta Collins

American-European Productions, Golan-Globus Productions, Landers-Roberts Productions, City Films, Filmways Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You believe in Jesus?” – Paul Kersey, “Yes, I do.” – Stomper, “Well, you’re gonna meet him. [Paul shoots Stomper dead]”

The first three Death Wish movies are classics, as far as I’m concerned. And even if this is my least favorite of the first three, it is still a damn fine action picture with barrels full of flammable testosterone ready to explode off of the screen.

What gives this film an extra edge to the original is that it was put out by Cannon Films, the true maestros of the ’80s action flick. This was an unapologetic balls to wall inferno with Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey returning to form and then getting even more hardcore.

Years have passed since the first movie but this picks up with Kersey, now living in Los Angeles, bringing his daughter home for a visit. Since the first picture, Kersey’s daughter has been living in a mental institution due to how screwed up she is from the opening sequence of the first film that saw her raped while her mother was murdered in front of her.

As Kersey and his daughter arrive home, they are attacked, their maid is murdered and the daughter is abducted and raped by vile thugs. Kersey, without hesitation goes right back into vigilante mode. All the while, his new girlfriend, who he plans to marry, is pulled into Kersey’s violent orbit.

This film has more of a direct focus on its baddies, as Kersey wants to murder the hell out of the gang that took his daughter and were responsible for her suicide. In the first film, Kersey basically just fights street level crime in all its forms. Here, he has no problem fucking up a few thugs but he has his sights on one specific gang.

Death Wish II also does a good job of fleshing out this gang and its members. You know them more intimately than the scumbags from the first movie. One of them is played by a very young Laurence Fishburne but most of them are recognizable and memorable because the film did a good job of giving them all visual cues like the dude with the buzzmullet, the one with the leather dog collar and the one with the frizzy hair and backwards flatcap. Even Fishburne wore thin funky sunglasses that helped identify him in a sea of degenerates.

Now I can’t call this a better film than the original but it’s a very worthy successor to it. It seems darker, more violent and it doesn’t waste time trying to make a political or social message to the viewer. It just trusts that you hate garbage humans and that you relish in seeing them suffer for their sins. And man, Charles Bronson makes them fucking suffer.

Death Wish II is what an action movie should be: no nonsense, guns blazing, unapologetic masculinity.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Death Wish movies and the Dirty Harry film series.

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: Caged Heat (1974)

Also known as: Renegade Girls
Release Date: April 19th, 1974 (Washington, D.C.)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Jonathan Demme
Music by: John Cale, Mike Bloomfield
Cast: Juanita Brown, Roberta Collins, Erica Gavin, Ella Reid, Rainbeaux Smith, Barbara Steele

New World Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t you realize sex is what put you behind bars in the first place? Stealing to dress better for a man. Fornicating from the back of the pockets of women using pimps. Killing to eliminate a sexual rival. Give me contrition! Let’s have redemption! Repentance! Repentance! A worm’s death to society!” – Supt. McQueen

While the “women in cages” sub-genre of exploitation films weren’t new by the time that Caged Heat came out in 1974, Jonathan Demme did a few things that set this one apart from those before it and thus, made it one of the most memorable pictures of its type.

For one, Demme cast horror icon Barabara Steele as the prison warden, a departure from the oppressor being a man. He also put her in a wheelchair and made her sex deprived.

Demme also added in elements of social consciousness, feminism and liberal politics. These new elements broke the mold and made Caged Heat a more interesting film than all the previous “women in cages” flicks.

Roger Corman initially didn’t want to distribute the film but then Jonathan Demme raised the production money on his own. Impressed, and maybe seeing a bit of himself in Demme’s ability to raise the capital on his own, Corman decided to distribute the film through his company New World Pictures. Before this film, Demme had worked on The Hot Box (another “women in cages” movie) and the biker film Angels Hard as They Come for New World Pictures.

Caged Heat, regardless of its cult success and its refreshing take on an overused exploitation gimmick, is not a good film. It isn’t awful, as the vast majority of “women in cages” movies are far worse, but it certainly doesn’t stand up to the test of time and it is a mess of a story.

Barbara Steele is as alluring as always, even if she is a fascist crippled bookworm. But watching her in this feels like a major step down in her career. Granted, she never reached superstardom but if she had any momentum, this probably snuffed it out. Plus, she was playing like seventh fiddle to a bunch of less talented actresses billed before her. She also didn’t get to do anything too interesting other than her stage performance during a dream sequence.

The other villain of the story is this male doctor who administers therapies that leave women mindless and helpless so he can rape them.

There are three other notable people in this film. The first is Juanita Brown, who was in Foxy BrownWillie Dynamite and Black Starlet. The second is Roberta Collins who played Matilda the Hun in Death Race 2000 and also starred in other “women in cages” films like The Big Doll House and the appropriately titled Women In Cages. She was also in Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive and the 80s teen sex comedy School Spirit. Lastly, there is Rainbeaux Smith who has the Frenchiest spelling of “rainbow” for a first name ever and was also in that awful shit storm of a film Laserblast. She was also in ParasiteUp In Smoke and had an uncredited bit part in Logan’s Run.

The biggest highlight of Caged Heat is the big prison break shootout finale. It isn’t necessarily an impressive action sequence but it was pretty well executed for a first-time director. And being that this was Demme’s first picture, as a director, it set the stage for what would come, as he has made some solid pictures throughout his career.

And while this film is full of boobies and violence, it isn’t as over the top as other pictures like it. It certainly gives you plenty of those things but there’s more to Caged Heat than just tits, ass and violence.

Rating: 5.5/10