Recently, I decided to try to track down and watch every single movie featured in Synapse’s 42nd Street Forever DVD collection. Some of these movies have been unexpectedly brilliant and quite a few have been the exact opposite. But none have been quite as wonderfully odd as a low-budget blaxploitation film entitled Welcome Home, Brother Charles. If ever I have to explain who I am, I’ll do so by stating that I hated Avatar but I loved Welcome Home, Brother Charles.
The plot of Welcome Home, Brother Charles is almost simplicity itself. Charles (played by Marlo Monte) is a small-time criminal who is struggling to get by in the Los Angeles ghetto. At the start of the movie, Charles is arrested by two, white policemen. While making the arrest, the more racist of the two cops attempts to castrate Charles (or as Charles later puts it, “damn near cuts off my manhood”). Unfortunately, this is America in the 1970s and that can only mean that Charles is destined to go to prison while the racist cop is proclaimed a hero.
After doing the “man’s time,” Charles is released from prison and finds himself back out on the mean streets of L.A. However, things have changed. His former best friend has now set himself up as the local godfather and is none too happy to see Charles wandering around. Even worse, Charles discovers that the man who “damn near cut off (his) manhood” is still being proclaimed a hero. Charles responds the way anyone would. He seeks revenge against his enemies by 1) seducing their wives and 2) strangling those who have betrayed him with his penis.
Yes, that’s right. Charles goes into prison as a small-time criminal but he comes out as some sort of X-rated super hero. Not only can he seduce women simply by kissing them but he can now mentally turn his penis into a boa constrictor. Add to this, director Jaama Fanaka doesn’t shy away from showing us Charles’ penis stretching across the screen and strangling his enemies. When you consider that this feat was accomplished without CGI, you can only conclude that either Fanaka is a very talented director or that Marlo Monte was a very lucky man.
Whether it’s Charles constantly lamenting the fact that he nearly lost his “manhood” or then using that manhood to kill his enemies, Welcome Home Brother Charles is a penis-obsessed film.
(Strangely enough, that word is never actually uttered in the film. Nor do we hear any other of the common terms for the male organ. Instead, we just hear the term “manhood” a few hundred times.)
What was especially odd was that the film took an almost nonchalant attitude towards the scenes involving Charles and his magic penis. At no point are we offered any explanation of just how exactly Charles acquired this power. Nobody seems to be all that shocked by it. You would think at least one of his victims would, at some point, say, “Oh, c’mon, you’re not seriously going to strangle me with your penis, are you?”
I found myself wondering if perhaps this was actually a common thing, maybe one of those guy things that I, as a result of gender, simply do not know about. After I watched the movie, I called up my friend Jeff and I asked him, “If you concentrate really hard, can you use your penis to pick things up and maybe strangle people?”
He was quiet for a few minutes before saying, “Uhmm…sure.”
What’s even stranger than the sight of grown men being strangled by a gigantic penis is that director Fanaka appears to be taking this story very seriously. There’s little deliberate humor in the movie and the actors all play their roles with an admirable seriousness. In the lead role, Monte is probably as a convincing as anyone could be while using their penis to strangle another human being.
The thing about this movie is that when Welcome Home, Brother Charles works, it truly does work. Charles’ time in prison is represented by a series of grim, black-and-white stills that roll over a soundtrack composed of horrific screams. This montage is surprisingly disturbing and, in a manner of minutes, let’s us know the Hell that Charles goes through as a convict. When, after being released from prison, Charles visits his old neighborhood, Fanaka gives us a much more joyful montage of Monte interacting with the people living there. Directed in a cinema verite style, there’s a lively energy to these scenes that actually adds a rather tragic dimension to the rest of Charles’ story.
These are the type of scenes (along, of course, with the sight of Charles strangling people with his penis) that would never appear in a mainstream film. The prison scenes would have been filled with stereotypical predatory homosexuals and shanks-in-the-shower scenes that would have served as traditional crowd pleasers but would have carried absolutely no emotional impact. As for the montage of Charles in his old neighborhood, forget about it. That sequence would have hit the cutting room floor, sentenced to maybe show up as a DVD extra if that. If nothing else, this movie shows why the grindhouses were necessary and how much we’ve lost with their decline.
Like many grindhouse films, Welcome Home, Brother Charles was released under several different titles. It’s been released on DVD under the title Soul Vengeance. If you’re the type of DVD snob who likes to show off by talking about “transfers,” the transfer here is a bit grainy but quite honestly, this is a movie that needs to be grainy. For best viewing experience, invite several homeless drug addicts over to hang out as you watch the movie and turn your living room into your own private grindhouse.