Kicking Off A Trend: FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (Warner Brothers 1972)


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When FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH first hit the local multiplex back in the day, everybody in the neighborhood was kung-fu fighting, throwing chops and roundhouse kicks at each other, trying to be like star Lo Lieh. Bruce Lee’s movies hadn’t yet made it our way, but David Carradine’s KUNG FU was must-see TV for every adolescent boy (and some of the cooler girls). Pretty soon  chop-sockey action spread all over the city’s theaters, but it was FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH that reached New Bedford, MA first, and has always held a special place in my heart.

Hong Kong action star Lo Lieh plays Chao Chih-Hao, who’s sent to Shen Chin-Pei’s school by his mentor to train further and defeat Ming Dun-Shun’s “gangsters” in a martial arts tournament. Chih-Hao rescues damsel in distress Yen Chu Hung from some bad guys along the way, and though she comes on to him, his heart belongs to his mentor’s…

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The Legend of BILLY JACK Continues! (National Student film Co 1971, re-released by Warner Brothers 1973)


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When last we saw Billy Jack, he was dismantling a brood of outlaw bikers in BORN LOSERS . This time around, he’s taking on a whole town’s worth of rednecks as Tom Laughlin’s half-breed ex-Green Beret returns in BILLY JACK, the wildly popular film that combines action with social commentary, and helped kick off the martial arts craze of the 70’s.

BILLY JACK almost never saw the light of day, as Laughlin’s financing was shut off by American-International Pictures. 20th Century-Fox then picked it up, but didn’t think it deserved to be released, so Laughlin went the indie route, under the banner of National Student Film Co. in 1971. Poor distribution and poor reviews caused the film to tank, but the good folks at Warner Brothers saw something in it, and gave it a national release two years later. Young audiences of the day flocked to it in droves, cheering as Billy Jack…

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The TSL’s Grindhouse: Giallo in Venice (dir by Mario Landi)


(I know this is a boring poster but it’s literally one of the few Giallo in Venice graphics that I can post without running the risk of getting the site in trouble.)

So, I finally saw the infamous (and, in many countries, banned) 1979 film, Giallo in Venice.

Back when I first decided to learn about the history of Italian horror, Giallo in Venice was a title that I frequently came across in the course of my research.  Everyone — and I do mean everyone — seemed to agree on three points: 1) it was one of the most graphic and mean-spirited Italian thrillers of all time, 2) it had never been released on DVD or Blu-ray in the United States and, as such, it was not the easiest film to see, and 3) the film was really, really bad.

Now, I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have had any desire to see Giallo in Venice if not for the fact that I repeatedly read that it would be next to impossible for me to do so.  I hate being told what I can and cannot do.  Don’t get me wrong.  Everything that I read about Giallo in Venice was overwhelmingly negative.  Critics, some of whom I actually respected, were nearly unanimous in their dismissal of the film.  Unlike my hope that I’ll someday see fully restored versions of Greed and London After Midnight, seeing Giallo in Venice was never a number one priority for me.  Instead, it was just something that I kept in the back of my mind.  If I ever had a chance to watch Giallo in Venice, I told myself, I would just so I could say that I had seen it.

Last week,I got that chance.  I discovered that Giallo in Venice had not only been uploaded on YouTube but it was also the uncut version.   (I’m not going to include a link because of the film’s graphic content.  I don’t want to get either this site or the people who uploaded the video in trouble.  If you go to YouTube and search for “Giallo in Venice,” it should be one of the first videos to come up.) The only problem was that, along with being copied from a faded VHS tape, it was the Russian language version.  Basically, whenever any of the film’s characters spoke, you would first hear the line in the original Italian and then a rather angry man would shout the same the line in Russian.  Unfortunately, I know very little Italian and absolutely no Russian.

Needless to say, this led to a rather odd viewing experience.  If Giallo in Venice had been directed by a visual stylist like Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Mario Bava, or even Ruggero Deodato, it might not have been a problem.  Those four directors are all rightly renowned for their ability to create mood and atmosphere.  (And, for that matter, the best giallo films are often more concerned with visuals than dialogue.)  Unfortunately, Giallo in Venice was directed by Mario Landi, an veteran television director whose style can best be described as “turn on the camera at the start of the scene, turn it off at the end.”

(Landi also directed Patrick Still Lives, which is a smidgen more interesting than Giallo in Venice.)

As for the film’s plot — well, it’s hard for me to say for sure.  Not to overemphasize this point but, quite literally, I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND A WORD THAT ANYONE WAS SAYING.

The film opens in Venice, with a man being stabbed to death while a woman drowns in a canal.  Inspector De Paul (Jeff Blynn) is assigned to solve the murders.  He has poofy hair that wouldn’t be out of place in a stage production of Boogie Nights and, for some reason, Inspector De Paul is constantly eating hard-boiled eggs.  In just about every scene in which he appears, he is eating an egg.  Though it was hard to judge his overall performance (though the Russian seemed to enjoy repeating De Paul’s dialogue), Jeff Blynn really got into eating those eggs.  It got rather sickening to watch after a while.  As far as I could tell, De Paul’s investigation amounted to talking to one witness and then talking to the dead woman’s roommate.

The roommate, incidentally, is played by Mariangela Giordano, who also appeared in Patrick Still Lives, Burial Ground, and Michele Soavi’s The Sect.  Any fan of Italian horror will not only recognize Giordano but will also immediately know that her Giallo in Venice character is destined meet an unlucky end.  Patrick Still Lives, Burial Ground, and Giallo in Venice were all produced by Giordano’s then-boyfriend and, in all three films, she played a character who was graphically and gruesomely killed onscreen.  In Patrick Still Lives, she was skewered by a fireplace poker.  In Burial Ground, she made the mistake of trying to breastfeed her zombiefied son.  And in Giallo in Venice, one of her legs is slowly sawed off.  Seriously, if my boyfriend insisted that I suffer a terrible death in every film that he produced, it would probably be an issue.  Just saying.

Anyway, while Inspector De Paul is investigating the murder, this young couple keeps popping up.  They’re young, rich, and fifty shades of fucked up.  Fabio (Gianni Dei) has apparently been rendered impotent by all the cocaine that he’s been snorting and the only way he can get off is by forcing Flavia (Leonara Favi) to play out all of his kinky fantasies.  I found myself wondering why the film kept switching back and forth, between the not-quite-loving couple and the murder investigation.  Was Fabio the murderer?  Then, suddenly, I realized that Fabio and Flavia were the same couple who were murdered at the start of the film.  The Fabio and Flavia scenes were flashbacks.  I’m assuming that my confusion was due to the Russian dialogue but it says something about Landi’s visual style that it was impossible to tell, just from watching, that the Flavia/Fabio scenes were meant to be flashbacks.

(As far as I can — and again, dialogue problems — the flashbacks weren’t triggered by anyone saying, “I remember one time…” or anything like that.  Add to that, most of the flashbacks only featured Fabio and Flavia so, logically, there’s no way anyone could have been telling Inspector De Paul what happened.  Instead, the flashbacks just felt like random scenes that were sprinkled in between the violence and the eating.)

Giallo in Venice is a mix of egg eating, sex, and sadism.  The graphic murders are probably what Giallo in Venice is best known for, though I have to admit that I found the constant egg eating to be almost as disgusting.  As for the film’s gore, it was just as graphic and extreme as I had previously read.  But, with the exception of what happens to poor Mariangela Giordano, the violence has no impact on the viewer.  Since Landi directs with no discernible style, there’s nothing behind the murders beyond the fact that, when you title a movie Giallo in Venice, you’re obligated to include a few deaths.  It’s violence for the sake of violence and therefore, rather boring.  Admittedly, I’m sure it was rather shocking in 1979 but, today, audiences are more used to that sort of thing.  After all, everyone’s seen that tutorial on how to be a zombie for Halloween.

While watching Giallo in Venice, it was hard not to compare it to Lucio Fulci’s The New York Ripper.  Both films are deeply unpleasant but, due to Fulci’s energetic and, at times, subversive direction, there’s at least always something going on underneath the blood-drenched surface of The New York Ripper.  You can debate whether or not he succeeded but it can’t be denied that Fulci was going for something more than just sadism when he made The New York Ripper.  (If you doubt me, read Stephen Thrower’s analysis in Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci.)  Landi’s style, in Giallo in Venice, is so flat that there’s not only nothing going on underneath but the surface itself seems to be pretty barren too.

To give credit where credit is due, I did appreciate just how ugly Landi managed to make Venice look.  I’ve been to Venice and I absolutely love it.  I would never believe that a director could make Venice look like a dump but Mario Landi managed to do it.  I don’t know if that was intentional on his part but it actually worked for the film.  Since all of the characters actually lived in Venice, it made sense that they wouldn’t be standing around and admiring the city’s natural beauty.  Instead, they all live and operate in the parts of Venice that tourists don’t see.

Finally, Landi did manage to get one interesting shot, when the reflection of one of the victims is seen in the killer’s sunglasses.  Unfortunately, Landi was so impressed by that shot that he kept using it over and over again until, eventually, it became far less interesting.

One final note: Giallo in Venice had a very odd score.  It sounded like it was being played by a cocktail lounge jazz quartet.  The music, itself, was actually rather boring but it was so totally out-of-place that it became oddly charming.  I found myself craving a drink with a little umbrella in it.

Anyway, that’s Giallo in Venice.  It’s not good, it’s not memorable, but at least I can now say that I’ve seen it.

From the VHS Vault 2: THE VIOLENT YEARS (Headliner Productions 1956)


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The drama continues: I received a call from FedEx about the status of my new DirecTV receiver (the old one being fried beyond repair) . The new box is now sitting in a warehouse, undeliverable because DIRECTV GAVE THEM THE WRONG ADDRESS!! You’d think after almost two years they’d have my address, right? Wrong! FedEx told me I have to call DirecTV and have them fix the address or drive an hour out of my way to pick it up myself. So I proceeded to call the corporate beast and was transferred to a woman who barely spoke English, gave her all my information, then was transferred to another woman who spoke even worse English and repeated the process all over again! After a half hour of this nonsense, I was then told I’d have to wait an additional 3-5 days before my new box arrives… hopefully at the right address! ARRRGGGGHH!!!!

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The TSL’s Grindhouse: Night Game (dir by Peter Masterson)


Apparently, today is the opening day of the 2017 baseball season.  The only reason that I know that is because of my sister Erin.  I don’t know much about baseball, to be honest.  I know that my city’s team is the Texas Rangers and they were once owned by George W. Bush.  I know that Houston has a team called the Astros.  But, really, the main thing that I know about baseball is that my sister absolutely loves it.

So, when Erin asked me to review a baseball movie today, how could I say no?  I mean, I may know next to nothing about baseball but I certainly know something about movies!

For that reason, I’m going to take a few minutes to tell you about a 1989 film called Night Game.  Night Game is many things.  It’s a movies that features a lot of baseball, even though it’s not really a sports film per se.  It’s a police procedural, though the film itself suggests that the police often don’t have the slightest idea what they’re actually doing.  It’s a serial killer film, though its killer is never quite as loquacious as we’ve come to expect in this age of Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan.  At times, it’s a slasher film, though it’s never particularly graphic.  Mostly, Night Game is a Texas film.

Directed by native Texan Peter Masterson, Night Game is like the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre in that it is one of those rare films that not only takes place in Texas but was actually filmed on location.  To be exact, Night Game was filmed in both Galveston and Houston.  The entire film has a friendly and quirky Texas feel to it.  Masterson may not have been a great visual director (If not for some language and nudity, Night Game could pass for a TV movie) but Night Game is a movie where the plot is less important than capturing the little details of a time. a location, and the people who lived there.  Though Night Game is 28 years old, it’s portrait of my home state still seemed very contemporary to me.  I guess Texas hasn’t really changed that much over the past few decades.

As for the film’s plot, someone is murdering young women in Galveston and leaving their bodies on the boardwalk.  Obviously, that’s not going to be good for attracting Spring Break revelers.  The film doesn’t make any effort to keep the murderer’s identity a secret.  We see his face fairly early on.  We also see that he has a hook for a hand.  Eventually, we do learn the murderer’s motives.  They’re pretty silly but then again, individual motives rarely make sense to anyone other than the guy with the hook for a hand.

Detective Mike Seaver (Roy Scheider) has been assigned to solve the case.  One thing that I really liked about Night Game was that Mike was pretty much just a normal guy with a job to do.  He wasn’t self-destructive.  He wasn’t always drunk.  He wasn’t suicidal.  He wasn’t always lighting a cigarette and staring at the world through bloodshot eyes while the lighting reflected off of his artful stubble.  He was just a detective trying to do his job and get home on time.  After sitting through countless films about self-destructive cops and criminal profilers, the normalcy of Mike was a nice change of pace.

Mike does have a backstory.  He used to play baseball and he still loves the game.  He goes to every Astros home game in Houston.  He’s in love with Roxy (Karen Young), who works at the stadium.  Things are only slightly complicated by the fact that Mike had a previous relationship with Roxy’s mother (Carlin Glynn).  Don’t worry, Mike’s not secretly Roxy’s father or anything like that.  It’s not that type of movie.

Anyway, Mike is such a fan of baseball that he realizes something.  The killer only strikes on nights that the Astros win a game.  And he only strikes if a certain pitcher was throwing the ball.  The obvious solution would be to shoot the pitcher in the arm and end his athletic career.  However, Mike’s too nice a guy to do that.  Instead, he just tries to track down the killer…

And, as I said, Night Game actually isn’t a bad little movie.  Make no mistake, it’s a very slight movie.  At no point are you going to say, “I’m going to remember that scene for the rest of my life!”  That said, it’s a surprisingly good-natured film and Roy Scheider’s performance is likable and unexpectedly warm.  With all that in mind, Night Game is an entertaining and (mildly) bloody valentine to my home state.

Plus, it’s a baseball movie!  I don’t know much about baseball but, if my sister loves it, it has to be a good thing!

4 Shots From 4 Films: Coffy, They Call Her One Eye, Cleopatra Jones, Ms. 45


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films is all about letting the visuals do the talking.

I was going to use four other shots for today but then I was inspired by my sister’s pick for artwork of the day.

For those who might question my decision to highlight four grindhouse films on International Women’s Day, I kindly refer them to my essay, Too Sordid To Ever Be Corrupted.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Coffy (1973, dir by Jack Hill)

Thriller, A Cruel Picture a.k.a. They Call Her One Eye (1973, dir by Bo Arne Vibenius)

Cleopatra Jones (1973, dir by Jack Starrett)

Ms. 45 (1981, dir by Abel Ferrara)

6 Grindhouse Films That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture


If it’s difficult for a horror film to be nominated for best picture, it was next to impossible for a grindhouse film to it.

And really, that’s the way it should be.  The whole appeal of the grindhouse was that it existed on the fringes.  The grindhouse was not a part of the establishment.  The grindhouse had no desire to be a part of the establishment.

That said, here are six grindhouse films that I think could and perhaps should have been nominated for best picture:

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  1. I Drink Your Blood (1970)

This film is about what happens when a group of already odd hippie Satanists get infected with rabies.  It’s perhaps one of the best examinations of the culture war ever filmed.  In the role of Horace Bones, Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury gives one of the most arrestingly strange performances of all time.

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2. An American Hippie In Israel (1972)

Literally one of the greatest films of all time.  Now, I’m not saying that American Hippie would have won.  1972 was the year of The Godfather, Cabaret, and Deliverance.   But surely, a nomination could have been arranged.   “You fools.  You fools.  Stop pushing buttons.  You fools…”

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3. The Candy Snatchers (1973)

Agck!  This crime thriller still freaks me out.  And that ending … OH MY GOD!  The Sting may be good but The Candy Snatchers sticks with you forever.

4. They Call Her One-Eye (1973)

The Candy Snatchers wasn’t the only great grindhouse film to be released in 1973.  Why nominate A Touch of Class (has anyone ever watched — or heard of — this nominee?) when you could nominate They Call Her One-Eye?

5. Night of the Hunted (1980)

This French classic, from director Jean Rollin, never got a U.S. release so technically, it was not eligible to be nominated for Best Picture.  But what about Best Foreign Language Film?

6. Ms. 45 (1981)

The greatest revenge flick ever!