Original Gangstas (1996, directed by Larry Cohen)

Original Gangstas opens with shots of the deserted streets and burned-out store fronts of Gary, Indiana and narration telling us how a once great American city came to be in such disrepair.  The steel plant closed and put much of the city out of work.  While the politicians and the police looked the other way, violent street gangs rose up and took over entire neighborhoods.  Now, Gary is a shell of its former self.  Even the local movie theater has closed down.  The narrators tells us that the last movie to play at the theater was Star Wars.

Led by Spyro (Christoper B. Duncan) and Damien (Eddie Bo Smith, Jr.), the Rebels are the most feared and powerful gang in Gary.  They rule through violence and intimidation.  Talk to the police and your business is liable to get torched and you’re likely to get shot.  However, Spyro and Damien have finally gone too far and now, two men who previously escaped from Gary are returning to town to dish out some justice.

John Bookman (Fred Williamson) is a former football player who wants to avenge the shooting of his father.  Jake Trevor (Jim Brown) is a boxer who once killed a man in the ring and who wants revenge for the death of his son.  When they were young men, John and Jake were the original Rebels and now they’re getting the old gang back together again.  With the help of Laurie (Pam Grier), Rev. Dorsey (Paul Winfield), Bubba (Ron O’Neal), and Slick (Richard Roundtree), the original gangstas are going to take back the streets of Gary.

Original Gangstas was released at a time when, largely thanks to the influence of Quentin Tarantino, people were just starting to feel nostalgic for the old blaxploitation movies.  The main appeal of the film, not surprisingly, is that it brings together so many of the great blaxploitation stars and sets them loose in what was then the modern era.  (Jim Kelly is missed.)  When John and Jake talk about how they’re responsible for the Rebels, they could just as easily be talking about how they’re responsible for both all of the independent crime films that came out in the wake of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.

Original Gangstas is a tribute to both the Blaxploitation genre and the oversized personalities that made that era so memorable.  Neither Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, nor Richard Roundtree were particularly good actors but they all had so much screen presence and such an innate sense of cool that it didn’t matter whether they could convincingly show emotion or not.  (Original Gangstas gives all of the big dramatic scenes to Pam Grier, who was not only naturally cool but a damn good actress to boot.)  The minute Fred Williamson lights his cigar, he control the entire movie.  He and Jim Brown make a good team and Original Gangstas is an entertaining and violent trip down memory lane.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: A Soldier’s Story (dir by Norman Jewison)

Set during World War II, 1984’s A Soldier’s Story opens with a murder.

On a rural road outside of a segregated army base in Louisiana, someone has gunned down Sergeant Vernon Walters (Adolph Caesar).  At the time, Walters was staggering back to the base after a night of heavy drinking.  Both the local authorities and Watlers’s fellow soldiers assume that the murder was the work of the Ku Klux Klan.  Captain Richard Davenport (Howard Rollins) isn’t so sure.

Captain Davenport is the officer who has been assigned to investigate the murder.  From the minute that he arrives at the base, the soldiers stare at him.  As Cpl. Ellis (Robert Townsend) explains it, the enlisted men are shocked because they’ve never seen a black officer before.  Some of the soldiers admire Davenport while other view him with suspicion, wondering what Davenport must have done or who he must have sold out to earn his commission.

Meanwhile, the other officers (who are all white) view Davenport with a combination of condescension and hostility.  Col. Nivens (Trey Wilson) only allows Davenport three days to wrap up his investigation and assigns the polite but skeptical Capt. Taylor (Dennis Lipscomb) to work with him.  Taylor suspects that Walters may have been murdered by the openly racist Lt. Byrd (Wings Hauser!).  Davenport, however, isn’t so sure.  Even though the official story is that Walters was a tough but fair sergeant who was respected by his company, Davenport suspects that one of them may have killed him.

Davenport and Taylor start to interview the soldiers who actually had to deal with Walters on a daily basis.  Through the use of flashbacks, Walters is revealed to be a far more complex man than anyone knew.  We see that Walters was a man who was bitterly aware of the fact that, even after a lifetime of military service, he was destined to always be treated as a second-class citizen by the nation that he served.  Unable to strike out at the men who the army and society had placed over him, Walters instead struck at the men serving underneath him.  While the man in Walters’s company wait for word on whether or not they’ll be allowed to serve overseas, Davenport tries to determine if one or more of them is a murderer.

A Soldier’s Story was adapted from a play but director Norman Jewison is careful to prevent the material from becoming stagey.  Effortlessly transitioning from the film’s present to flashbacks of the events that led to Walters’s murder, Jewison crafts both an incendiary look at race relations and a compelling murder mystery.  He’s helped by a strong cast of predominately African-American actors.  In one of his earliest roles, Denzel Washington plays Pfc. Peterson with a smoldering intensity.  David Alan Grier and Robert Townsend, two actors known for their comedic skills, impress in dramatic roles.  Seen primarily in flashbacks, Adolph Caesar turns Walters into a complex monster.

And yet, with all the talent on display, it is Howard Rollins who ultimately steals the movie.  As  a character, Captain Davenport has the potential to be a rather thankless role.  He spends most of the movie listening to other people talk and, because of his status as both an officer and a black man in the rural south, he’s rarely allowed to show much anger or, for that matter, any other emotion.  However, Rollins gives a performance of such quiet intelligence that Davenport becomes the most interesting character in the movie.  He’s the ultimate outsider.  Because of his higher rank and his role as an investigator, he can’t fraternize with the enlisted men but, as an African-American, he’s still expected to remain separate from and differential to his fellow officers.  As the only black officer on a segregated base, Davenport is assigned to stay in an empty barrack.  One of the best scenes in the film is Davenport standing alone and surveying the stark layout of his temporary quarters.  The expression on his face tells you everything you need to know.

(Towards the end of the film, when Davenport finally gets a chance to drop his rigid facade and, if just for one line, be himself, you want to cheer for him.)

A Soldier’s Story was nominated for best picture but it lost to another theatrical adaptation, Milos Forman’s Amadeus.


All In A Day’s Work: The Carpenter (1988, directed by Daving Wellington)

Alice Jarett (Lynne Adams) has problems.

She’s recovering her latest nervous breakdown and her husband, Martin (Pierre Lenoir) is having an affair with one of his students.  Martin and Alice have just moved into a new house that was never actually completed and the construction crew that they’ve hired is made up of lazy nogoodniks who all have mullets.  Alice’s only relief is the carpenter (Wings Hauser) who materializes in the house every midnight and who, unlike the construction crew, carefully and lovingly works on the house while talking about the value of doing a good day’s work.

Even though she comes to believe that the carpenter might be the ghost of a murderer, Alice still falls in love with him and he seems to fall for her too.   Want to get on the carpenter’s bad side?  Just try to hurt Alice or the house.   When a member of the construction crew attempts to rape Alice, the carpenter chops off the rapist’s arm with a radial saw.  When two other construction workers break into the house, the carpenter kills them too.  In fact, the carpenter kills a lot of people and what gives this movie a new wrinkle is that Alice seems to be okay with a lot of those murders.  Is the carpenter real, dead, or a product of Alice’s fragile mental state?  No one knows but the carpenter himself.

The Carpenter is all about Wings Hauser, who was practically the patron saint of straight-to-video exploitation films in the late 80s and early 90s.  The movies tries to keep us guessing as to whether the carpenter is a real person or a ghost but all that matters is that he’s Wings Hauser, giving one of his most crazed performances.  Wings Hauser could make any otherwise bad movie watchable and that’s the case with The Carpenter.

A Movie A Day #291: Pale Blood (1990, directed by V.V. Dachin Hsu and Michael W. Leighton)

Someone is murdering women in Los Angeles and draining them of their blood.  A mysterious detective named Michael Fury (George Chakiris) arrives from London and starts to investigate.  Fury is a vampire but he is a thoroughly modern vampire.  He even has his own special travel coffin that he takes with him on trips.  To help him with his investigation, he hires a researcher named Lori (Pamela Ludwig).  Lori is convinced that the killings are being committed by a real vampire but Michael believes that they are actually the work of a human who is only pretending to be one of the undead.  Michael is worried that this fake vampire will make real vampires look bad.  Meanwhile, a crazy photographer (Wings Hauser) stalks Michael, determined to capture a vampire of his very own.

Pale Blood went straight-to-video and does not have the budget to match its ambitions but it is still a fairly good, if overlooked, vampire movie.  George Chakiris, who is best known for his role in West Side Story, had the right look to play a brooding vampire and he and Pamela Ludwig made a good team.  Not surprisingly, the best thing about Pale Blood was Wings Hauser.  In this movie, Wings Hauser gave a performance that was demented even by the standards of Wings Haauser.  Hauser is so crazy in this movie that Pale Blood sets the standard by which all other crazy Wing Hauser performances must be judged.

One final note: the vhs cover art, which is pictured above, features a shot of Wings Hauser that was apparently lifted from a different movie.


A Movie A Day #202: Broken Bars (1995, directed by Tom Neuwirth)

The streets are being flooded with lousy, synthetic heroin.  Could the source be somewhere inside of Trabuco Federal Prison?  That is what Nick Slater (Ben Maccabee) has been assigned to find out.  Nick is a tough cop but now he is going undercover, pretending to be a tough but incarcerated bank robber.  Nick  discovers that Trabuco is like no other prison out there.  For one thing, Wings Hauser is the warden.  Warden Pitt is a smirking Aryan who forces his prisoners to box for his amusement and who enforces discipline with a CIA-style torture chamber.  (Because the Warden is a boxing fanatic who likes to reward his best fighters, he also regularly brings prostitutes into the prison, which allows the film to reach its quota of B-movie nudity.)  Even worse, Warden Pitt and the head of the Aryan Brotherhood, Jigsaw (Paulo Tocha) are working together.  Only Nick can end Warden Pitt’s reign of terror but he will have to survive prison first.  Fortunately, Ben knows how to throw a punch and deliver kick and he is going to have to do a lot of both if he is going to make it out alive.

Broken Bars is a dumb but entertaining movie, with plenty of action and Wings Hauser villainy.  Ben Maccabee’s a credible 90s style action hero.  He may not be as good an actor as Dolph Lundgren or as fast as Jean-Claude Van Damme but, by the end of Broken Bars, there is no doubt that he could easily knock out Steven Seagal.  It’s no surprise that the best thing about the movie is Wings Hauser.  As anyone who ever watched late night Cinemax in the 90s knows, Wings Hauser was usually the best thing about any movie that he appeared in.  As a character, Warden Pitt is demented even by the standards of Wings Hauser and Hauser obviously had a ball screaming his lines.  B-movie stalwart Joe Estevez also shows up, playing a good guy for once.

Joe Estevez and Wings Hauser in the same movie?  Who cares if it’s any good?  Hauser and Estevez together is just another way of saying, “Must see.”

A Movie A Day #201: L.A. Bounty (1989, directed by Worth Keeter)

Sybil Danning vs. Wings Hauser?  What could go wrong with that?

Cavanaugh (Wings Hauser) is an insane drug dealer who is also an artist.  When he is not coming up with elaborate ways to kill people, Cavanaugh can be found painting in his warehouse and talking to himself.  Cavanaugh spends a lot of time talking.  Ruger (Sybil Danning) is a former cop turned bounty hunter.  In the tradition of Clint Eastwood, Ruger rarely speaks.  Ruger has good reason to hate Cavanaugh.  When she was a cop, Cavanaugh killed her partner.  Now that Cavanaugh has kidnapped a local politician, Ruger is the obvious choice to track down Cavanaugh, get revenge for her partner, and save the next mayor of Los Angeles.

A typical low-budget late 80s action film, L.A. Bounty is distinguished by the contrast between the ferocious overacting of Wings Hauser and the underacting of Sybil Danning.  This was one of Danning’s final starring roles before she retired from the movies.  (She has recently returned, with cameos in two Rob Zombie productions.)  It is interesting to see Danning in the type of role that would typically go to either Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, or maybe even Chuck Norris.  According to the imdb trivia section for L.A. Bounty, Danning only has 31 lines in the entire movie, which is more than I can remember her saying.  Danning, however, is such a strong physical presence that she does not have to say anything to make her point or show how tough she is.  Hauser, on the other hand, never stops talking, moving, and laughing.  This is one of Hauser’s craziest performances, which is saying something.  From scene to scene, Hauser’s performance is so consistently bizarre that it keeps things entertaining.

L.A. Bounty may not be anything spectacular but fans of Danning and Hauser will not be disappointed.

6 Trailers: The Return of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse And Exploitation Film Trailers

Hi there!  As some of you may have noticed, I took a week off from my favorite feature, Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers.  I did this in observance of the 4th of July but now that the USA has celebrated yet another birthday, it’s time to get back to the things that really matter! 

Our latest installment features Wings Hauser, a psychotic housekeeper, rabid grannies, and even a little dancing.  Enjoy!

1) Nightmare At Noon (1988)

This almost ludicrously violent trailer has a slight Crazies feel to it, no?

2) Deadly Force (1983)

After that last trailer, I’m in the mood for some more Wings Hauser.  Here he is in yet another violent trailer, this one for Deadly Force.  I want to see this film just to find out what type of person keeps a bathtub and a grand piano in the same room.

3) The Housekeeper (1986)

She cooks.  She cleans.  She kills.  And really, judging from the trailer, who can blame her?

4) The Ghost Dance (1980)

When you disturb the dead, you might pay the price.  Like the best movies, this trailer comes with a message.

5) Rooftops (1989)

I like this one because it features dancing and … well, that’s about it.

6) Rabid Grannies (1989)


What do you think, Trailer Kitty?

Doc, the trailer kitty

All Of My Love And 6 More Trailers

Hi there and welcome to another edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers!  Today, we bring you 6 trailers featuring endangered streetwalkers, lost teenagers, and killer monkeys.

1) Monkey Shines (1988)

Our first trailer comes to us from director George A. Romero.  The monkey from this trailer also made an appearance in Toy Story 3.

2) Survival Run (1979)

As a film, Survival Run looks pretty bad but I think this trailer actually provides a public service.  Seriously, stay out of the desert.  Between the radiation mutants and the drug smugglers, there’s nothing good to be found out there.

3) Streets (1990)

I can imagine the tag line for a rerelease of this film — “Before Christina Applegate was keeping it Up All Night, she was keeping it up on the Streets!”  I have to give credit for this discovery to the newest addition to TSL, the Trash Film Guru.  Check out his review here.

4) Street Asylum (1990)

Continuing the theme of the streets, here’s another film about urban crime.  This one stars Wings Hauser and G. Gordon Liddy.

5) Fatal Skies (1990)

Things aren’t much safer in the skies.  This film, oddly enough, apparently star Timothy Leary.

6) The Freeway Maniac (1988)

Obviously, he’s been spending too much time on Central Expressway during rush hour.  (Yes, that’s a Dallas-centric comment.)

6 Trailers In Search Of a Title

Without further delay, here’s the latest edition of Lisa’s favorite grindhouse and exploitation trailers.

1) Something Weird (1967)

I just had to start out with this because it represents everything that I love about these old school exploitation trailers.  It’s just so shameless and cheerful about it all.  This film is from Herschell Gordon Lewis and it features ESP, a really kinda scary witch, and a random LSD trip.  The title of this film also inspired the name of one of my favorite companies, Something Weird Video.  (I make it a point to buy something from Something Weird every chance I get.  My most recent Something Weird video is a film from the 60s called Sinderella and the Golden Bra.  Haven’t gotten a chance to watch it yet but with a title like that, how could it be bad?)

2) Fade to Black (1980)

This is actually a really, really bad movie and I think the trailer goes on for a bit too long but it does have a few vaguely effective moments — i.e., when Dennis Christopher stares at the camera with half of his face painted.  Plus, you can catch a young Mickey Rourke acting a lot like Michael Madsen. 

3) Monster Shark (1984)  

Now you may think that since this Italian film was directed by Lamberto Bava (credited here as John Old, Jr. because his father, Mario, was occasionally credited as John Old, Sr.) and has the word “shark” in the title that it’s yet another rip-off of Jaws.  Well, joke’s on you because, as they state repeatedly in the trailer, “It’s not a shark!”  Even if you didn’t know this was an Italian film before watching the trailer, it wouldn’t be hard to guess.  First off, there’s the dubbing.  Then there’s the scene of the film’s main character wandering around aimlessly.  (Most Italian horror trailers feature at least one scene of someone just walking around.)  And finally, there’s the fact that this is yet another trailer that uses a sped-up version of Goblin’s Beyond The Darkness soundtrack for its background music.  While I haven’t seen this film yet, I plan to just to find out who Bob is.

 4) Van Nuys Boulevard (1979)

Originally, I was planning on including the trailer for a Ted V. Mikels’ film called The Worm Eaters right here but I reconsidered because, quite frankly, The Worm Eaters is one of the most disgusting, stomach-churning things I’ve ever seen.  I’m going to wait until I find five other equally disgusting trailers to feature it with and then I’m going to put them all up under the heading: 6 Trailers To Inspire Vomit.  Until then, enjoy a far more pleasant trailer — Van Nuys Blvd.  This trailer rhymes!  I’m tempted to say that I could have written it but then again, I only write free verse poetry.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yeah, Van Nuys Blvd.

5) Vice Squad (1982)

However, there was a darker side to Van Nuys Blvd. and here it is: Vice Squad, starring Wings Hauser.  Eventually, I’ll review this film but until I do, check out our new friend Trash Film Guru’s review.

6) Crosstalk (1982)

We’ll conclude with the only thing scarier than Wings Hauser in Vice Squad — a computer that has not only witnessed a murder but enjoyed it!

Rubber: Red Band Trailer

This film called Rubber has been on the periphery of my radar for quite some time now. I’ve first heard of it when word trickled out of the After Dark Film Festival in 2010 where it was shown. From what I’ve heard of it the film wasn’t well-received when it was shown at 2010’s Cannes Film Festival. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t seen in a positive light over there. This film seems to be not the usual fare to get the applause and accolades.

Rubber seems to have gotten a more positive response outside of Cannes. This is especially true with the genre festival circuits.

From the looks of the trailer and synopsis of it on wiki I will hazard a guess and say that the tire is alive and looks to go on some sort of killing spree. The scene in the beginning of the trailer reminded me of the short film Treevenge! especially when the tire watched as a pile of rubber tires were being burned.

The film has been called a horror comedy and the trailer definitely gives it a dark comedy look to it. It comes out from Magnet Releases this April Fools Day.