The TSL’s Grindhouse: No Way Back (dir by Fred Williamson)


Jesse Crowder’s back!

You may remember Jesse Crowder as the super cool and unflappable private detective from Death Journey.  Jesse was a Los Angeles cop but now he works independently.  There’s literally nothing that Jesse can’t do.  Ride a horse?  Ride a motorcycle?  Slow motion kung fu?  Jesse can do it all and he usually do it without bothering to button up his shirt.  Jesse is such a badass that he can kill more people in the time it takes for him to light a cigar than most people will kill in their entire lifetime.

The 1976 film No Way Back is the second Jesse Crowder film.  Once again, Fred Williamson both directs and stars as Jesse.  Williamson is in almost every scene of the film and when he’s not killing bad guys or having sex or just posing with his shirt off, he’s listening to people talk about what a badass he is.  In short, No Way Back is a vanity project but it’s a vanity project with a sense of humor.  Watching the film, you get the feeling that Williamson knows that No Way Back is kind of silly but, at the same time, he’s having fun and he wants everyone watching to have fun too.

No Way Back‘s plot involves a missing man and a lot of money.  Henry Pickens (Charles Woolf) worked at a bank but, one day, he grabbed a briefcase full of money, jumped in a car driven by his girlfriend (Tracy Reed), and disappeared.  Everyone was shocked but you know who was really shocked?  His wife!  Mildred Pickens (Virginia Gregg) and Henry’s brother both want to know to where Henry has vanished.  They hire Jesse, perhaps finding solace in his catch phrase: “You pay the bill, I’ll deliver it.  Legal, illegal, moral or otherwise.”

Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long for Jesse to figure out that Perkins is in San Francisco.  Jesse lights his cigar and heads for the Bay City.  However, Jesse isn’t the only one looking for Henry Pickens.  There’s also a gangster named Bernie (Stack Pierce) who is determined to get the money for himself.  Much as in Death Journey, it doesn’t matter where Jesse goes or how he gets there.  As soon as he arrives, he people are trying to kill him.  Unfortunately, for them, no one can kill Jesse Crowder.

It all leads to a savage gun battle in the desert.  Fred Williamson jumps up on a horse, unbuttons his shirt, and rides across the screen.  People are betrayed.  People get shot.  Fortunately, no one can touch Jesse Crowder…

Anyway, No Way Back doesn’t really make any sense.  If you happen to watch this film (and I saw it on YouTube), just try to keep track of why Henry stole all of that money in the first place.  However, the plot isn’t really that important.  This film is all about Fred Williamson beating up gangsters and walking around without a shirt on.  It’s a dumb action movie but it never pretends to be anything different and the film’s total lack of pretension is enjoyable.  That’s always a good thing.

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.

Mardi Gras Film Review: Mardi Gras Massacre (dir by Jack Weis)


(Note: The Trashfilm Guru reviewed this film on his own site in 2012.  Check out his review by clicking here!)

With this being Mari Gras weekend, I imagine that thousands of people are currently flooding into New Orleans and hoping to have a good time.  In honor of their commitment, I have been reviewing Mardi Gras-themed films.  Today’s film is low-budget 1978 “shocker” called Mardi Gras Massacre.

A serial killer is stalking New Orleans and…

Wait a minute.  Does this sound familiar?  Hmmm … okay, sorry, let’s continue.

…the police are powerless to stop him…

Okay, I swear, I think I’ve described this situation before.  But, anyway, to continue with Mardi Gras Massacre:

…despite being the most obvious serial killer in history, the murderer is able to move undetected through the Big Easy.  His motive?  Human sacrifices to an evil power…

OKAY, STOP! I just realized that I’m basically rewriting my earlier review of Mardi Gras For The Devil.  Despite the fact that there’s a 15-year age difference between the two films, both Mardi Gras Massacre and Mardi Gras For The Devil have the same basic plot.  A psycho wanders around New Orleans and commits occult-themed murders while an intense cop tries to stop him.  Eventually, the cop’s lover is targeted by the killer…

I mean, it’s the exact same plot!  The only real difference is that Mardi Gras For The Devil starred recognizable actors like Michael Ironside and Robert Davi while Mardi Gras Massacre was a low-budget obscurity starring no one that you have ever heard of.

In Mardi Gras Massacre, the killer’s name is John and he’s played by an actor named William Metzo.  John spends all of his time looking for prostitutes and strippers who he can sacrifice to an Aztec God.  John has an altar in his apartment.  The altar, of course, is surrounded by red curtains.  As I watched the film, I wondered where he got the altar.  Even more importantly, I wondered how he could fit that huge altar into what appeared to be a pretty small apartment.

John manages to sacrifice quite a few women without anyone becoming overly suspicious of him.  This is despite the fact that John spends almost the entire movie wearing a three-piece suit and glaring at everyone he meets.  When John steps into a bar, the first thing that he asks the bartender is where he can find the “evilest” prostitute.  No one seems to find that strange.  Then again, New Orleans is a very forgiving town.

Anyway, Sergeant Frank Herbert (Curt Dawson) is in charge of the investigation and, as soon as he shows up with his porn stache and his hairy chest, we know that we’re watching a movie from the 70s.  Sgt. Herbert falls in love with a prostitute named Sherry (Gwen Arment).  Halfway through the film, we get an extended falling in love montage.  New Orleans looks really pretty in the montage but, at the same time, the film has just spent 45 minutes establishing it as a city where a serial killer can ask for the “evilest” prostitute without raising any suspicion.  So, romantic montage outside, I have hard time believing that Mardi Gras Massacre did much for New Orleans tourism.

I should point out that, much as with the case of Mardi Gras For The Devil, there’s not really a whole lot of Mardi Gras to be found in Mardi Gras Massacre.  Towards the end of the movie, we get a chase through a Mardi Gras parade.  It’s obvious that the filmmakers filmed the chase during the actual parade so, from a historical point of view, it’s interesting to see how Mardi Gras was celebrated in the 70s.  At the same time, throughout the entire scene, drunk people are waving at the camera.  (One person even tries to grab the lens as they walk by.)

On a positive note, Mardi Gras Massacre features one of the best trashy disco scenes ever .  As well, the version that I watched had Spanish subtitles and I’m happy to say that my Spanish is apparently getting pretty good!  As for the rest of the film, it’s a movie that will be best appreciated by grindhouse aficionados.  It’s a low-budget, poorly acted, thoroughly silly film and its obviously fake gore managed to get the film banned in the UK.  It’s a historical oddity and, like many grindhouse films, its appeal mostly comes from watching it and saying, “Someone actually made this and managed to get it into theaters.”  At the very least, it will hopefully remind you to not admit to being the “evilest” anything during Mardi Gras.

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Prison Planet (dir by Armand Gazarian)


(aka Prison Planet)

A few nights ago, I saw the no-budget 1992 sci-fi epic, Prison Planet, on television.

My immediate response after watching Prison Planet was to assume that I had just been dreaming because it was difficult for me to accept that anyone had actually made a movie this inept.  However, I then checked with the imdb and I discovered that Prison Planet not only exists but there were actually two sequels.  I was also surprised to discover that Prison Planet was an American production and not a poorly dubbed Bruno Mattei film.  Unfortunately, my attempts to google more information on the production of Prison Planet were hindered by the fact that every result I got was about Alex Jones.

Anyway, Prison Planet takes place in the far future.  2200, to be exact.  Earth is ruled by an evil dictator but that dictator’s power is being threatened by a rebel leader named Himshaw (Jack Wilcox).  When Himshaw is captured, he is promptly exiled to the planet where Earth sends all of its prisoners.  (Hence, the title.)  With Himsaw gone and perhaps dead, it now falls on Himshaw’s brother, Blaine (James Phillips) to leads the rebels.  However, instead of doing that, Blaine decides to go to the prison planet so he can discover whether or not his brother is still alive.  Blaine breaks into a government building and allows himself to be captured.

So now, Blaine has been exiled to the prison planet.  (The name of the prison planet, by the way, is Annakin.)  Blaine’s plan is to find Himshaw so that he can overthrow the dictator but, since there’s really no obvious way to get back to Earth after being dropped off on a prison planet, you have to kind of wonder whether Blaine really thought this through.  I’m assuming that he probably thought, “I’ll worry about that when I have to,” but it’s not like Earth is just the next town over or something.  It’s an entirely different planet.  You can’t just walk there.

On the prison planet, the prisoners are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want.  It’s a world ruled by an evil warlord, though there are small bands of nomads and rebels in the desert.  This is what the big scary warlord looks like:

Blaine decides that he’s going to 1) overthrow the warlord and 2) rescue the virgin that the warlord is planning on sacrificing.  (Or at least, I think that’s what the warlord was plotting to do with her.  It was kind of hard to keep up with what was going on, largely because Prison Planet seemed to be making stuff up as it went along.)

What’s odd is that, even though the film is taking place in 2200, everyone on the prison planet is driving around in cars from the 20th Century.  It’s kinda like Mad Max: Fury Road, except that it’s not very good.  But then again, who needs to worry about narrative logic when you’ve got stuff like this to deal with:

That’s the warlord, again.  You can tell why they made this dude the ruler of the planet.  He’s got a really big sword and a really thin mustache.  Plus, he doesn’t own a shirt.  He’s got the whole Conan thing going on.

And then there’s this other guy who keeps popping up, who wears a suit, a tie, and a hat.  He spends the whole movie scurrying between the warlord and Blaine and I have to admit that I’m still not sure what exactly his role was in the movie.  He spoke in a falsetto voice and everyone was constantly threatening to kill him.

Also, one of the warlord’s henchmen wears what appears to be wearing a Spanish conquistador’s helmet.  No one ever mentions that this is odd…

Anyway, I watched the whole film and I’m not really sure what I saw.  Blaine had to overthrow the warlord and find his possibly dead brother.  It was never really clear how these two things were connected.  It was a bad movie but strange enough to occasionally be watchable.

As for the two sequels, the imdb lists them both as being comedies.  I haven’t watched either one of them but that sounds about right.  The first Prison Planet is definitely not meant to be comedy but I still had a few good laughs while watching it.

Artwork of the Day: 101 Acts of Love


The hour is late so I won’t say too much about this poster for this 1971 film.  According to the Grindhouse Database, this movie only has a 46 minute running time so it must have been 101 very quick acts of love.

I like the fact that the quote from “Dr. Ann Foster” doesn’t actually say anything about the movie, just the subject matter.  Why, it’s almost as if Dr Foster was just some randomly quoted person who, in all probability, never actually saw the movie!

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: I Don’t Want To Be Born (dir by Peter Sasdy)


“I don’t want to be born!”

“That’s too bad, kid!  YOU’RE COMING OUT!”

Now, admittedly, that dialogue is never heard in the 1975 British horror film, I Don’t Want To Be Born.  However, if I had heard that particularly exchange in this film, I would not have been surprised.  That’s just the type of movie that I Don’t Want To Be Born is.  It’s a thoroughly ludicrous, totally ridiculous movie and what makes it all the more memorable is that it doesn’t seem to realize how silly it all is.  This is a batshit crazy movie that tells its story in the most serious way possible.  This damn film is almost somber, it’s so serious.

Lucy (played by Joan Collins) is a stripper who performs her act with a perverted dwarf named Hercules (George Claydon).  When Hercules tries to force himself on Lucy, he is tossed out of the club by Tommy (who is played by John Steiner, a good actor who somehow always turned up in movies like this one.)  After she and Tommy make love, Lucy is confronted by Hercules who curses her, telling her that she will have a baby “as big as I am small and possessed by the devil himself!”

Oh, Hercules, you weirdo.

9 months later, Lucy’s life has somehow completely changed.  She’s no longer a dancer.  Now, she’s married to a rich Italian named Gino (played by Ralph Bates, speaking in a bizarre accent).  When Lucy has her baby, it’s a long and difficult delivery.  The baby is huge!  Not only is he huge, but he also has a bad temper and unnaturally sharp nails.  The first time that Lucy holds him, he attacks her.  Whenever the baby is introduced to anyone new, he responds by biting them.  When Tommy drops by to take a look at the baby that might be his son, he ends up with a bloody nose!

But that’s not all this baby can do!  Anytime he’s left alone in a room, the room ends up getting destroyed.  Eventually, he apparently figures out how to climb trees and how efficiently slip a noose around the neck of anyone who walks underneath him.  And don’t think that you can escape this baby simply because you’re taller and faster.  One unfortunate person is decapitated, even though he’s standing at the time.  How did the baby reach his neck?  Who knows?

Does this baby need an exorcism?  Lucy’s sister-in-law, Sister Albana (Eileen Atkins), certainly believes that it does!  As Lucy thinks about whether the baby’s behavior is in any way odd, she glances over at the baby and — OH MY GOD!  The baby has Hercules’s face!

And it just keeps going from there.  Again, I feel the need to repeat that this film is meant to be taken very seriously.  The script may be full of awkward and clichéd dialogue but most of the cast attempts to act the Hell out of it.  Speaking of the cast, there’s a lot of familiar horror people in this one.  Along with John Steiner, there’s also Caroline Munro and Donald Pleasence.  Those three give performances that somehow manage to remain credible, perhaps because they had the experience necessary to understand what type of movie they were in.  But the rest of the cast … you feel bad for them because they’re just trying  so hard.

It’s a terrible movie but it’s so weird that I have to recommend that everyone see it once.  If for nothing else, see it for the scene where Hercules responds to an attempt to exorcise the baby by swaying drunkenly on the stage.  It’s weird and it’s hard for mere words to do it justice.

“No wonder this baby didn’t want to be born!”

That line is also nowhere to be found in this movie.  It’d be nice if it was, though.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Hard To Die (dir by Jim Wynorski)


 

Do you remember how, a few days ago, I reviewed a silly little movie called Sorority House Massacre II?

Well, it turns out that there’s a sequel and it’s on YouTube!  Both films were directed by Jim Wynorski and featured pretty much the same cast, despite the fact that a few of them were playing new characters.  It was released under several different titles.  Hard To Die is the one that I’m going with for this review.  However, the film was also known as Tower of Terror, which makes sense when you consider that the majority of the film takes place in a hi-rise office building.  It was also apparently released in some places as Sorority House Massacre III, despite the fact that there’s no sorority house in the movie.

Actually, it’s debatable whether or not Hard To Die is actually a sequel.  It’s true that Orville Ketchum (Peter Spellos) does make another appearance.  In the first movie, Orville was the creepy neighbor.  In Hard To Die, he’s the janitor at the office building.  Orville tells the exact same story, with the exact same flashbacks, that he told in Sorority House Massacre II.  (Those flashbacks, of course, were lifted from a totally unrelated movie called Slumber Party Massacre.  There were apparently a lot of massacres in the 80s and 90s.)  The evil spirit of Hockstadder returns as well, though this time he comes flying out of a box that was accidentally delivered to the office building as opposed to a Ouija board.  And, of course, there’s an abundance of lingerie, awkward dialogue, and cheap gore effects.  (At one point, a bucket of fake blood is literally splashed on a wall.)  However, Hard To Die also tells almost exactly the same story of Sorority House Massacre II.  There are so few differences that I’m actually more tempted to say that Hard To Die is a remake of Sorority House Massacre II than a sequel.  The only problem with that theory is whether or not a second movie can be considered remake when the first movie literally came out the exact same year.

(One of the reasons that I love my work here at the TSL is that it allows me to obsess over minutia like this.)

Anyway, the main difference between Hard To Die and Sorority House Massacre III is that there’s no sorority house in Hard To Die.  Instead, Hard To Die takes place in a lingerie shop that just happens to be located on the 7th floor of a skyscraper.  The hard-working employees are spending the weekend doing inventory but it’s not going to well.  For one thing, the sprinklers accidentally go off so everyone decides to take off their wet clothes, put on skimpy lingerie, and order pizza.  Personally, I probably would have waited for the pizza to arrive before getting naked but then again, I’ve never worked retail or dated a pizza deliveryman.

The pizza does eventually arrive but no one gets to eat it because the deliveryperson gets set on fire and ends up falling several floors to her death.  That’s a waste of good pizza, which is kind of depressing.  Meanwhile, Orville keeps trying to warn everyone about Hockstadder but, instead, he keeps getting beaten up.  The end credits of Hard To Die promised that the next film would be called Orville In Orbit.  Apparently, it was never made but I do hope that Orville got a vacation after all of this.

Anyway, Hard To Die is an extremely silly movie but it’s just so sincere in its silliness that it feels somewhat churlish to be too critical of it.  If I had to choose whether to be in Sorority House Massacre II or Hard To Die, I would probably pick Hard To Die because, at least in that movie, I’d get to shoot a machine gun.  Hard To Die is so blatantly and unapologetically over the top that you can’t help but be amused by it all.