The TSL’s Grindhouse: Bucktown (dir by Arthur Marks)


Welcome to the town of Buchanan!

It’s a small Southern town, popularly known as Bucktown.  It’s a town where you can literally get anything, as long as you know who to pay off.  Upon arriving, don’t be surprised if a little kid approaches you and asks you what you’re looking for.  He can get it for you.  That kid had connections!

The population of Buchanan is almost entirely African-American but all of the cops are white.  Under the leadership of the redneck police chief (Art Lund), the cops have turned Buchanan into their own private kingdom.  If you want to do anything in Buchanan, you have to be ready to pay the cops for protection.  Refuse and you’ll get arrested.  Continue to refuse and you’ll probably end up getting shot.

Obviously, someone needs to clean up Buchanan?  But who!?

How about Duke Johnson (Fred Williamson)?  Duke’s brother owned the hottest nightclub in Bucktown, Club Alabama.  Or, at least he did until he announced he wasn’t going to pay anymore protection and he ended up getting gunned down by the cops.  When Duke arrives in town, he thinks that he’s just going to stay long enough to attend the funeral and sell his brother’s bar.  However, when Duke find out that he has to wait 60 days until he can sell the bar, he decides to stick around.  Not only does he move in with his brother’s former lover, Aretha (Pam Grier), but also reopens the Club Alabama.

Soon, the cops are coming around and demanding their share.  However, they quickly discover that no one tells Duke Johnson what to do.  Like all good action heroes, Duke has friends all over the country.  He places a call to Roy (Thalmus Rasulala) and soon, Roy, TJ (Tony King), and Hambone (Carl Weathers) show up in Bucktown.  They quickly wipe out the corrupt police force.  The local citizens are so happy that they make Roy the new police chief and his men the new police force.

Unfortunately, that turns out to be a mistake.  Apparently, giving some totally random dude complete and total authority to enforce the law in whatever he sees fit isn’t always the best way to handle things.  Roy and his men quickly become just as corrupt as the old redneck policemen.  The only thing protecting Duke is his friendship with Roy but even that is endangered when T.J. decides that he wants Aretha for himself.  T.J. decides to turn Roy and Duke against each other.  It all eventually leads to an epic fist fight, with the winner earning the right to remain in Bucktown…

(Of course, you may be wondering why anyone would want to remain in Bucktown as the place is kind of a dump, regardless of who’s in charge.)

Released in 1975, Bucktown is a pretty basic action film but I liked it because it appealed to all of my anti-authoritarian impulses.  There have been so many movies about what it takes to clean up a town but there haven’t been many made about what actually happens after all of the corrupt cops and greedy businessmen have been kicked out.  Thalmus Rusulala was great as the charismatic but dangerous Roy and Tony King, a favorite of Italian exploitation fans everywhere, was an effective villain.  Pam Grier doesn’t get to do much but she does the best with what she’s provided.  Of course, the entire film is dominated by Fred Williamson, who may not have been a great actor but who had an undeniable screen presence.  Williamson struts through the film like the hero of stylish Spaghetti western.

Bucktown is an entertaining 70s action film.  Though it doesn’t deeply explore any of the issues that it raises, it still deserves some credit for raising them.  If nothing else, it’s a film that shows why Fred Williamson retains a cult following to this day.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Death Journey (dir by Fred Williamson)


Imagine being caught up in the following situation.

You’re the district attorney of Manhattan.  You’ve got a chance to convict the city’s most powerful mob boss on some pretty serious charges.  In fact, you’ve got three eye witnesses who are willing to testify against him.  Sounds pretty good so far, right?

But wait a minute!  One of your eyewitnesses just died.  Oh well.  You’ve still got two left and surely, the police can protect two… oh wait.  Hold on.  Okay, you know that second witness that you had?  Well, he just got blown up or something.  Now, you’ve only got one witness left.  He’s a weaselly little mob accountant named Finley (Bernard Kirby).  He’s really not a bad guy, once you get past all of the Hawaiian shirts and his obsession with candy.  The only problem is that Finley is in California and you’re in New York.  How are you going to get Finley across the country without him getting blown up by the mob?

Well, let’s see.  You could ask the government for help but when was the last time government managed to do anything without screwing it up.  You could reach out to the FBI or something like that.  Maybe Finley could go into witness protection.  I mean, it’s worked for a countless number of other mob associates…

But no.  There’s no way Finley could survive in witness protection.  He’d probably give himself away as soon as someone offered him a candy bar.  Seriously, Finley is really obsessed with chocolate.

No, what you’re going to do is you’re going to call up Jesse Crowder (Fred Williamson).  Crowder used to be a cop but now he’s a private eye.  He’s a lot like Shaft, except he doesn’t ever get political.  There’s really nothing that Jesse Crowder can’t do.  He’s a marksman.  He’s a fighter.  He’s a lover.  When we first see him, he’s doing kung fu in slow motion.  If you really needed proof that Jesse Crowder is the ultimate badass, consider this: he smokes cigars.  You read that correctly.

Now, you may be asking yourself: why would the Manhattan district attorney know a Los Angeles private eye?  Because everyone knows Jesse Crowder, that’s why.

Anyway, Jesse agrees to take the case.  He’ll escort Finley to New York, on the condition that he get paid $25,000 upon arrival.  Of course, if he has to kill a lot of people, Jesse expects to be paid $50,000.

Needless to say, Jesse does end up having to kill a lot of people.  It’s not really his fault, of course.  They just keep popping up and getting in his way.  Jesse tries all sorts of ways to get Finley to New York.  He tries to drive him.  He tries to take the train.  No matter what he does, the mob shows up.  Is it possible that the mob had someone inside the district attorney’s office?

Fred Williamson not only starred in 1976’s Death Journey but he directed it as well.  Though it’s obvious that Williamson didn’t have much of a budget to work with, he still did a fairly good job with Death Journey.  Certainly, his direction here feels stronger than it did in Mean Johnny Barrows.  In its own undeniably dumb way, Death Journey‘s a fun action movie.  Williamson may not have been a great actor but he had a strong screen presence and it’s impossible not to be amused by the fact that, no matter what he does or where he goes, somewhat inevitably pops out of the shadows and tries to kill him.  With the exception of that opening kung fu sequence that goes on forever, Death Journey is a fast-paced action film.  The film only last 74 minutes so, right when you start to wonder if Williamson’s ever going to show any personality beyond being a cocky badass, the movie ends.

If you’re a fan of low-budget 70s action films, you’ll probably enjoy Death Journey.  If you don’t enjoy it, just make sure Jesse Crowder doesn’t find out.  After all, he knows karate.

Film Review: Mean Johnny Barrows (dir by Fred Williamson)


“Dedicated to the veteran who traded his place on the front line for a place on the unemployment line. Peace is Hell.”

— the end credits of Mean Johnny Barrows (1976)

“He’s not that mean.”

— Me, while watch Mean Johnny Barrows

Who is Johnny Barrows?  As played by blaxploitation star Fred Williamson, Johnny Barrows is a former football great who later served in Vietnam and won several silver stars.  As a soldier, he killed an untold number of people but he is always quick to explain that he wouldn’t do the same thing as a civilian.  Even after the war ended, Johnny remained in the army, teaching new recruits.  He was good at his job but, one day, a racist officer decided to play a stupid trick on Johnny.  During a training exercise, that officer put a live landmine out on the training grounds.  After defusing the mine, Johnny promptly punched the officer.  The result?  A dishonorable discharge and the lesson that peace is Hell.

Johnny returns to Los Angeles and discovers that the country he fought for isn’t willing to fight for him.  Because of his dishonorable discharge, Johnny can’t find a good job.  Because he can’t find a job, he can’t afford a place to live.  Johnny stays on the streets.  His only friend is a self-described philosophy professor (Elliott Gould, in an amusing cameo) who teaches Johnny all about soup kitchens.

When Johnny steps into an Italian restaurant and asks for food, he is shocked to discover that the owner, Mario Racconi (Stuart Whitman), knows who he is.  Mario says that he played against Johnny in a high school football game.  (Perhaps Johnny’s shock is due to the fact that Mario appears to be at least ten years older than him.)  Mario gives Johnny something to eat and even offers him a job.  Realizing that the work is mob-related, Johnny says that he’s not interested.  He’s not going to break the law…

And here’s where we run into a problem with the film’s title.  The film is entitled Mean Johnny Barrows but, so far, he’s been almost painfully nice.  Then again, Mild Johnny Barrows doesn’t have much of a ring to it.

Anyway, Johnny does try to stay out of trouble.  He even manages to land a demeaning job cleaning the toilets at a gas station.  But his boss (R.G. Armstrong) is a real jerk and Johnny has his dignity, no matter how much the world wants to take it away from him.  Finally, Johnny agrees to work with the Racconi Family.  Not only does he become friends with Mario but he also falls for Mario’s girlfriend, Nancy (Jenny Sherman).

Unfortunately, not all Mafia families are as kind-hearted and generous as the Racconi Family.  The Da Vinci family wants to flood Los Angles with drugs.  It’s all the master plan of Tony Da Vinci (Roddy McDowall).  Tony is eager to prove himself to his father and what better way to do that than to smuggle heroin?  Tony also loves flowers because … well, why not?  Anyway, when the Racconis object to Tony’s scheme, a mob war erupts.  Nearly all of the Racconis are killed.  It looks like it’s time for Johnny Barrows to put on his white suit, pick up a gun, and get vengeance for his surrogate family.

There are some pretty obvious problems with Mean Johnny Barrows, not the least of which is the casting of Roddy McDowall — perhaps the least Italian actor in the history of cinema — as a ruthless mafioso.  After having starred in several successful blaxploitation films, Fred Williamson made his directorial debut with Mean Johnny Barrows.  Williamson’s inexperience as director shines through almost every minute of Mean Johnny Barrows.  Though he does well with the action scenes, there are other parts of the film where Williamson doesn’t even seem to be sure where he should point the camera.  With almost every role miscast, the performances are pretty inconsistent but Williamson gives a good performance (it’s obvious that he understood his strengths and weaknesses as an actor) and Elliott Gould is an entertaining oddity as the Professor.

If anything saves the film, it’s that Williamson’s anger at the way America treats its veterans feels sincere.  The heart of the film is in the first half, which details Johnny’s struggle to simply survive from one day to the next.  Even if Williamson’s direction is often shaky, the film’s rage is so authentic that you do get caught up in Johnny’s story.  The film ends on a properly down note, suggesting that, for men like Johnny Barrows, there is no hope to be found in America.

To quote the film’s theme song: Peace is Hell.

A New Orleans Film Review: J.D.’s Revenge (dir by Arthur Marks)


Ike (Glynn Turman) is a nice guy.  He’s a law student living in New Orleans.  When not studying, he makes money driving a taxi cab.  He has a beautiful and loving wife named Christella (Joan Pringle).  He has a nice but modest apartment.  When we first see Ike, he is calmly and rationally breaking up a fight.  Perhaps the only real complain that can be made about Ike is that he’s actually too nice.  There’s nothing dangerous about Ike.  He works hard.  He studies.  That’s about it.

When Christella and their friends tell him that he needs to take a night off from studying, Ike is reluctant.  However, he finally agrees to go out with them.  They start out at a strip club in the French Quarter and eventually, they end up watching a hypnotist.  Ike is one of the men randomly selected to go up on stage.  Amazingly, rational and mild Ike is easily hypnotized.  The audience loves watching as Ike and the other men all reacts to hypnotic suggestion.  What they don’t know is that, while in his trance, Ike has been … possessed!

That’s right!  The ghost of J.D. Walker has entered Ike.  Who is J.D. Walker?  As we learn from a series of gauzy flashbacks, J.D. Walker was a gangster in the 1940s.  He wore a fedora.  He wore nice suits.  He was every bit as flamboyant as Ike is mild.  But then, one day, J.D. was killed, gunned down by his former business partner, Theotis Bliss (Fred Pinkard).

Soon, Ike starts to act … well, not like himself.  Suddenly, Ike is using 1940s slang.  He’s wearing 1940s clothes.  He’s gambling.  He mugs an old lady who gets in his cab and then abandons her on the wharf.  When his wife asks him why he’s acting like a 1940s gangster, he gets violent.  Soon, Ike is speaking in a different voice and dancing.

What does J.D. want?  He wants revenge against not only the man who shot him but also Theotis’s younger brother, a popular preacher named Elijah (Lou Gossett, Jr.).  As wild as the possessed Ike may be, he’s got nothing on Elijah.  Elijah was a boxer before he became a man of God and he’s still liable to throw a punch or two during his sermons.  Elijah, however, is also rather naive and has no hesitation about inviting J.D. to become a member of his congregation.  Theotis, who is now Elijah’s manager, is a bit more suspicious…

An oddly paced film that never quite escapes the lengthy shadows of all of the horror films that inspired it, J.D.’s Revenge is worth seeing for the performances Glynn Thurman and Lou Gossett, Jr.  Gossett is all energetic charisma in the role of the reverend, giving a performance that features just enough ambiguity that you’re never sure whether you should trust Elijah or not.  Meanwhile, Thurman is very good as the mild-mannered Ike but he seems to be having an absolute blast whenever he gets to play the psychotic J.D.  During the final confrontation between Ike/J.D. and the Bliss Brothers, Thurman’s performance is so bizarre and over the top that you simply cannot stop watching him.

J.D.’s Revenge was filmed in New Orleans, which add a little bit of gothic atmosphere to the film.  As I write this, a lot of our readers may currently be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras.  I wish them all well but I hope they’ll remember the lesson of J.D.’s Revenge.  Just say no to hypnosis!

That’s Blaxploitation! 11: Jim Brown in SLAUGHTER (AIP 1972)


cracked rear viewer

Jim Brown  is one bad mother… no wait, that’s Richard Roundtree as Shaft! Jim Brown is one bad dude as SLAUGHTER, a 1972 Blaxploitation revenge yarn chock full of action. Brown’s imposing physical presence dominates the film, and he doesn’t have to do much in the acting department, ’cause Shakespeare this ain’t – it’s a balls to the wall, slam-bang flick courtesy of action specialist Jack Starrett (RUN ANGEL RUN, CLEOPATRA JONES , RACE WITH THE DEVIL) that doesn’t let up until the last second, resulting in one of the genre’s best.

Ex-Green Beret Slaughter (no first name given) is determined to get the bad guys who blew up his dad’s car, with dad in it! Seems dear ol’ dad was mob connected and knew too much. Slaughter’s reckless abandon in seeking revenge lands him in hot water with Treasury agents, and he’s “persuaded” to assist them in taking down…

View original post 339 more words

6 Trailers For October 15th, Inspired by TCM Underground!


It’s time, once again, for another October edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film trailers!

This week’s edition was inspired by watching TCM Underground last night.  In fact, the last two trailers features are for the two films that I watched.

  1. Abby (1974)

This film was also released under the title Black Exorcist.  Warner Bros. actually brought suit against Abby, claiming that it was such an obvious rip-off of The Exorcist that it should not be allowed to play in theaters.  Warner Bros. actually won their suit but not before Abby made a lot of money.

2. Sugar Hill (1974)

Sugar Hill is a popular film here at the Shattered Lens.  Check out the reviews from both Arleigh and Gary!  And be sure to watch the trailer.

3. Blackenstein (1973)

Blackenstein is one of those titles that sounds like it has to be a parody but no, it’s a real movie.  There’s even a trailer to prove it.

4. Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976)

Again, the title might sound like a parody but this is a very real film and, from what I’ve read, apparently a rather highly-regarded one as well.  This is on my list of films to see, though I have a feeling that Gary will probably beat me to it.

5. Blacula (1972)

From William Crain, the director of Dr. Black and My Hyde

And starring William Marshall, the star of Abby

It’s Blacula!  This is the first film that I watched on TCM Underground and it’s a legitimate classic.  Check out Gary’s review here!  And watch the trailer below:

6. Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973)

Of course, any successful film is going to get an inferior sequel.  This was also the second movie that I watched on TCM Underground last night.

 

Halloween Havoc!: SUGAR HILL (AIP 1974)


cracked rear viewer

The worlds of Horror and Blaxploitation intersected frequently during the 70’s, beginning with American-International’s BLACULA . The vampire tale spawned a subgenre of black oriented riffs on familiar themes: BLACKENSTEIN (man-made monsters), DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE (Stevenson’s classic novel updated), ABBY (demonic possession), and SUGAR HILL, a crazy voodoo-zombie revenge tale that’s creepy, outrageous, and entertaining as… well, as hell!

Foxy lady Marki Bey plays foxy lady Diana “Sugar” Hill, whose boyfriend Langston runs the voodoo-themed Club Haiti. Southern-fried gangster Morgan (Robert Quarry) wants to take over the club, and sends his goons to ‘persuade’ Langston. When he refuses, they stomp him to death in the parking lot, leaving Sugar no recourse but to return to her ancestral home and ask ancient voodoo queen Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully of THE JEFFERSONS) for help. Mama conjures up voodoo god of the dead Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), who gives Sugar control over an army of…

View original post 361 more words