Film Review: Foxy Brown (1974)

Also known as: Burn, Coffy, Burn! (working title)
Release Date: April 5th, 1974
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Willie Hutch
Cast: Pam Grier, Antonio Fargas, Peter Brown, Terry Carter, Sid Haig

American International Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know… vigilante justice?” – Michael Anderson, “It’s as American as apple pie.” – Foxy Brown

Originally released by American International Pictures on a double bill with Truck Turner, a dynamite film by the way, Foxy Brown was sort of the spiritual successor to Pam Grier’s earlier film with director Jack Hill, Coffy.

I think that this was originally written to be a sequel to Coffy since it’s working title was Burn, Coffy, Burn! but that was changed at some point. Regardless of that, the Foxy Brown character is very similar in style and temperament to the title character in Coffy. Both are characters that become vigilantes, use their sex appeal to their advantage and also have a nurturing nature.

While most people seem to prefer Coffy a bit more than this film, I actually think I like this one better. It felt more fluid and Pam Grier had a little extra level of confidence this round. Not that she was lacking that before but in Foxy Brown she seems a lot more at home in the role.

I also liked the dynamic between Foxy and the villains of the story. They end up catching her and sending her off for a really horrible experience with some piece of shit rednecks in the country but ultimately, she survives, thrives and destroys the bad guys’ lives.

Plus, this also re-teams Grier with Sid Haig. They never spend a lot of time onscreen together but I always like seeing them share a scene.

This isn’t my favorite film within the blaxploitation style but it is one of the best with a female lead and Grier was the best female lead of her era. Although, I prefer Black Mama, White Mama a little bit more.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Coffy, Black Mama, White Mama and other Pam Grier films from the ’70s.

Film Review: Diamonds Are Forever (1971)

Release Date: December 14th, 1971 (West Germany)
Directed by: Guy Hamilton
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Tom Mankiewicz
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Jill St. John, Charles Gray, Lana Wood, Jimmy Dean, Bruce Cabot, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Bruce Glover, Putter Smith, Norman Burton, Sid Haig

Eon Productions, United Artists, 120 Minutes

Review:

“If at first you don’t succeed Mr. Kidd…?” – Mr. Wint, “Try, try again, Mr. Wint.” – Mr. Kidd

Sadly, Diamonds Are Forever is closer to the tone and style of the Roger Moore era than the Sean Connery era. Maybe the campiness that would be front and center in the early Roger Moore Bond films wasn’t really because of Moore but were because the films were a product of the 1970s. Connery’s pictures were more serious until this one but all the others came out in the ’60s. And then once Moore got into the ’80s, his films weren’t as cheesy. I blame the ’70s.

Anyway, this is the worst of the Sean Connery James Bond pictures. This is even worse than the unofficial sequel Never Say Never Again. Frankly, this is one of the worst Bond films ever made. But this is James Bond and it is still quite enjoyable and certainly better than the worst films of the Brosnan era.

I love the old school Las Vegas setting in this movie, it just fit the time and the James Bond mythos well. Plus, Bond going to Vegas was probably long overdue, by this point. But I’ve also always had a love for old school Vegas, its setting, its culture and its style.

I also really enjoyed Charles Gray’s take on Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This wasn’t Gray’s first Bond movie but he got to ham it up in a key role and he’s one of those actors that is just great as a villain. This is one of my favorite roles that he’s ever played, alongside the fiendish Mocata from The Devil Rides Out, which also starred Bond alum Christopher Lee (a.k.a. Francisco Scaramanga from The Man with the Golden Gun).

In this picture, we also get Jill St. John, who has the distinction of being the first American Bond Girl, and the Jimmy Dean, country music and breakfast sausage king.

My favorite characters in the film though, are the duo of Bruce Glover and Putter Smith as Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. They plot, they scheme and they get the better of Bond… twice! Granted, they should have outright killed him quickly in both those moments but Bond escaped death and came back to bite them in the ass. They also had a relationship that probably points to them being gay, which was pretty uncommon for a 1971 film that was made for the mainstream.

On a side note: scorpions don’t usually sting people and they typically don’t kill humans, let alone instantaneously.

This film did do some clever stuff too. I liked how Blofeld had decoys and the movie really points out that he has been surgically altering his face this whole time and that it wasn’t just a case of not being able to get Blofeld actors to return to the part.

The biggest issue with this film though is the scale. Following up On Her Majesty’s Secret Service wasn’t an easy task but this film feels smaller, more confined and cheaper. Maybe this has to do with the big salary that Connery needed to come back to the franchise. It was a record setting fee for an actor at the time and it’s possible that it effected the actual production and that the movie had to be made more frugally.

Still, I do love this motion picture. The classic era of Bond from the ’60s through the ’80s is hard to top. These movies are just magic. Even when things don’t work, the films all still have something cool to take away from them. Diamonds Are Forever is no different.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one. But this is actually is closer in tone to the Roger Moore films of the ’70s.

Film Review: Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Release Date: October 1st, 2015 (Austin Fantastic Fest)
Directed by: S. Craig Zahler
Written by: S. Craig Zahler
Music by: Jeff Herriott, S. Craig Zahler
Cast: Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins, Lili Simmons, David Arquette, Sid Haig, Sean Young, Michael Pare

Caliber Media Company, Realmbuilders Productions, The Jokers Films, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Say goodbye to my wife. I’ll say hello to yours.” – Sheriff Franklin Hunt

*Written in 2016.

From the moment I saw the Bone Tomahawk trailer, I thought it looked really interesting and I was a bit hyped to see it. Plus, it starred Kurt Russell.

The film is a western with horror mixed in, which makes it a pretty unique package. A sheriff and a posse head off into the wilderness to find a woman who was taken by Indians. The catch is, these aren’t normal Indians, they are cannibalistic and bizarre. Think The Hills Have Eyes meets The Searchers.

Kurt Russell is fine enough in the role but it isn’t a great or special performance. He looks to be enjoying himself but he isn’t doing anything exceptional. He certainly doesn’t project the magic he had in Tombstone or the more recent The Hateful Eight. The film also stars Patrick Wilson and Matthew Fox with brief appearances from Sid Haig and David Arquette.

Overall, the film was underwhelming. There wasn’t a whole lot of terror and dread, even once the proverbial shit hit the proverbial fan. The action was mediocre, the acting was average and the plot wasn’t anything spectacular. In fact, it was fairly boring.

The uniqueness of the film’s plot was spoiled by the trailer and the movie itself didn’t do much to expand on it. It also played it safe. With the subject matter and the intensity of the trailer, the movie just didn’t have the balls I was expecting it to.

Now I don’t think the movie should have been a gore festival but it was pretty uneventful and the horror element wasn’t remotely scary. There was just a lot of cannibal Indians grunting and walking around making weird noises because they have whistles in their throats. And the whole whistle throat thing was probably employed to make them seem supernatural and scary but it was kind of goofy.

Bone Tomahawk is okay enough for a single viewing on a rainy day but it isn’t a classic by any means. It has its fans out there but it will most likely fade into obscurity fairly quickly.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Ravenous, Four of the Apocalypse and The Burrowers.

Film Review: The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

Also known as: House of 1000 Corpses 2, House of 2000 Corpses (working titles)
Release Date: July 22nd, 2005
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Music by: Tyler Bates
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Matthew McGrory, Ken Foree, William Forsythe, Leslie Easterbrook, E. G. Daily, Geoffrey Lewis, Priscilla Barnes, Kate Norby, Lew Temple, Danny Trejo, Diamond Dallas Page, Brian Posehn, Michael Berryman, P.J. Soles, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, Mary Woronov, Tyler Mane, Tom Towles (cameo)

Cinelamda, Lionsgate, 109 Minutes

Review:

“I am the devil, and I am here to do the devil’s work.” – Otis Driftwood

This was a film that I had in constant rotation for a few years after it came out. It has been quite a long time since I’ve seen it, however.

Most of what I remember is that I love the characters of Captain Spaulding and Otis and that they made it a fun experience. Granted, I recently revisited House of 1000 Corpses, so I was reminded of my appreciation for these characters. But they are played by Sid Haig and Bill Moseley, so why wouldn’t they be fantastic?

In the years since this was released, I was disappointed every single time that Rob Zombie made a new movie. Each one seemed to get worse and he showed himself to be a one trick pony. In fact, I gave up and I think I’ve missed a couple of his pictures now.

That being said, this is Rob Zombie’s best movie, as I assume that even the last couple don’t measure up, based off of what I’ve read about them.

This takes the world of House of 1000 Corpses, a decent homage to slashers and the “creepy family in the woods” shtick, and turns it into something else entirely. Where the first film feels like a combination of Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, this film is more like Natural Born Killers. This takes the three main characters from the crazy killer family and puts them on the run from the law. And the law is led by a cop that turns out to be just as insane as the killers.

The most interesting thing about this picture is that it flips the script on the bad guys. The ones who tortured and murdered countless people end up in the victim’s chair when the sadistic cop finally has them in his possession. The hunters become the hunted and really, this is a film full of nothing but shitty people doing shitty things to one another. But it is still a neat little experiment to experience.

Sid Haig and Bill Moseley really take their game to a whole new level here and both were fantastic, charismatic and entertaining. Unfortunately, Sheri Moon, Rob Zombie’s wife that he always puts front in center in all of his movies, is pretty terrible. She sort of just exists to be some psychotic eye candy that spends more time showing her butt to the camera than doing anything worthwhile. I’ve also always found her voice to be annoying. Sorry, she just sticks out like a sore thumb in the worst way possible in everything that she is in. This film is no different.

One things this film does well, is it utilizes a lot of old school horror legends in good ways. The characters played by Ken Foree and Michael Berryman are entertaining and add a lot of depth to the film, as just following the three main characters starts to wear thin. Foree really comes in at the right time, diverting some attention away.

The film also has a cool bounty hunter duo played by Danny Trejo and Dallas Page. I liked them a lot and actually wish they got some sort of spin off. They had good chemistry, were enjoyable in their roles and probably have some other stories worth telling.

The most impressive performance, however, was by William Forsythe, who played the psycho sheriff hell bent on revenge against the killer family that murdered his brother in the previous movie. Forsythe was sick and twisted but had a badge and police force to back him up.

The Devil’s Rejects is far from a perfect film but it is better than House of 1000 Corpses and certainly a lot more polished than that film was.

Apparently a sequel is coming, even though the family gets gunned down in the final moments. I’m not looking forward to it though, as this was a good ending to the story and Zombie’s track record since this picture has been terrible.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Its predecessor House of 1000 Corpses.

Film Review: Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

Also known as: Chains of Hate (alternate), Women In Chains (Canada), Hot, Hard and Mean (UK), Chained Women (Philippines), Frauen in Ketten (Germany)
Release Date: January 19th, 1973
Directed by: Eddie Romero
Written by: H. R. Christian
Based on: an original story by Joseph Viola, Jonathan Demme
Music by: Harry Betts
Cast: Pam Grier, Margaret Markov, Sid Haig

Four Associates Ltd., American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Some jive-ass revolution don’t mean shit to me!” – Lee Daniels

This film has been on my radar for years but I never had the opportunity to watch it until recently. I expected it to be a “women in prison” film but with the girls on the run and chained together while they spit racist shit back and forth at each other. However, it is a much better movie than that and to be completely honest, I was surprised about how good this movie actually is.

But really, I shouldn’t be surprised about the film’s quality, as Pam Grier has “the thing”. I can’t really define “the thing” but it’s this quality certain actors have that just makes them standout and rise above everything around them, as a beacon of absolute awesomeness, even if they are in a film that is total shit. Luckily, this film isn’t total shit, so it’s even better than just it’s great star.

Grier does have some help though because Margaret Markov, the white girl chained to her, is really damn good in her role too. You actually care about these girls and their separate agendas where in any other movie like this, you really wouldn’t give a shit and just hoped that violence or a titty were going to pop into the next shot.

Black Mama, White Mama also features Sid Haig in what is now one of my favorite roles he’s ever played. He’s basically a white cowboy criminal kingpin that wears colorful shirts, a sweet hat and rules his particular island of the Philippines with a big posse and big guns.

This starts as a standard “women in prison” movie, except that it takes place (and was shot) in the Philippines. Then there is an escape when the prison bus carrying the girls is attacked. One wants to go one way, to reach a boat with a lot of money, the other wants to go the other way, to her boyfriend and to help fight a revolution to free the island from tyranny. There are police in pursuit, a Filipino kingpin in pursuit, an American kingpin in pursuit, revolutionaries in pursuit, dogs in pursuit and a whole lot of sexy women running away from all of it.

Black Mama, White Mama is exceptional when looking at it within the context of being some throwaway, run of the mill, sexploitation, grindhouse, “women in prison” movie. It feels less grindhouse-y and more like something Cannon Films would make in the ’80s.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Pam Grier movies from the era. It’s not a standard “women in prison” film and it’s not an urban action drama but any Grier film will still probably flow well with this regardless.

Film Review: Coffy (1973)

Release Date: June 13th, 1973
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Roy Ayers
Cast: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott, Allan Arbus, Sid Haig, Leslie McRae

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“It was easy for him because he really didn’t believe it was comin’, but it ain’t gonna be easy for you, because you better believe it’s comin’!” – Coffy

Jack Hill made some damn cool pictures in the 1970s. Coffy is the first time he used Pam Grier as his top billed star and it is her breakout role, even though she appeared in a handful of those “women in prison” movies before this.

Grier plays Coffy, a black female vigilante that takes matters into her own hands when she hunts down and kills all the drug pushers that she holds responsible for turning her sister and her community into addicts. Basically, she is like a black female Punisher but much sexier and a lot cooler. The film’s original marketing tagline read, “They call her ‘Coffy’ and she’ll cream you!” If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.

I first discovered Pam Grier when she had her recurring role on Miami Vice but I thought she was cool then and I had no idea about what she did in the decade before my childhood. As I became a teenager, I learned about Foxy Brown and this film and then experienced her return to form in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Coffy, is really where Grier created the persona that would become her forte.

Grier carries this film. In some scenes, she has help from the always sinister yet entertaining Sid Haig, probably now most famous for playing Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. This is Grier’s film though and she shines. But it is cool seeing her play opposite of Haig.

This is a pretty gritty and raw motion picture and having a female lead was really cool, especially when you didn’t get to see women play these tough roles. The ’70s really shattered the damsel in distress formula and it was blaxploitation pictures that helped lead the way. And really, it was Coffy that was out in front of all the others. At least, in my opinion. It’s just an iconic picture and still, one of the best things Pam Grier ever did.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

Release Date: April 11th, 2003
Directed by: Rob Zombie
Written by: Rob Zombie
Music by: Rob Zombie, Scott Humphrey
Cast: Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon, Karen Black, Rainn Wilson, Chris Hardwick, Erin Daniels, Jennifer Jostyn, Matthew McGrory, Dennis Fimple, Robert Allen Mukes, Tom Towles, Walton Goggins, Harrison Young, Irwin Keyes, Michael J. Pollard

Spectacle Entertainment Group, Universal Pictures, Lions Gate Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Goddamn, motherfucker got blood all over my best clown suit.” – Captain Spaulding

House of 1000 Corpses was a movie that was highly anticipated before it came out, as everyone wanted to see what Rob Zombie could do as a legit film director. I remember there being delays and it felt as if this was never going to come out and when it did, it didn’t show up in my town and was sort of sparsely released unless you happened to live in a big city. I had to wait for the DVD to drop, six months later.

For the most part, Zombie did not disappoint with his debut and while it was a strong homage to films in the vein of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, it was still very much a part of Rob Zombie in style.

Although, it mostly feels like a really long music video littered with gore and deplorable actions. Not that that is a bad thing but it sort of limits the film’s audience and narrative, as the film’s style is put in front of everything else.

House of 1000 Corpses works for what it is, even if some of the stuff is really outlandish. This style wouldn’t work as well for Zombie going forward, as all of his films after his second one are pretty awful. His overemphasis on highlighting white trash and gross shit really wears thin after The Devil’s Rejects, the only sequel to this picture.

In fact, I grew to dislike Zombie’s work so much that I hadn’t sat down and watched this movie in years. I’m glad I revisited it but I see more flaws in it now than I initially did a decade and a half ago. But it is cool seeing this ensemble cast of a lot of talented people, many of which are horror icons, playing off of each other.

Also, Zombie’s wife, who he casts in every film, hadn’t grown tiresome and grating yet. After The Devil’s Rejects she would become as unwelcome on the screen as her husband as a director.

The real highlights of this film is the amazing work of Sid Haig, who isn’t in it enough, and the role played by Bill Moseley, which is really a retread of his more famous character Chop Top from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.