2017 Junesploitation Report

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-07-03 02:51
Five years ago, the good folks at F This Movie! hatched Junesploitation, a brilliant month-long celebration of exploitation and genre movies that basically feels like October in June. Why wait until Halloween to have an excuse to gorge on absolute junk for a month? Itís a fine question, and Iím glad someone had the guts to ask it out loud, as itís been fun to watch it from a distance for the past few years. Since Iíve had trips booked during June dating back to its inception, Junesploitation is something through which I have lived vicariouslyóuntil now. With nowhere to go and nowhere to be for an entire summer, I had no excuse but to partake this year, and I couldnít be more thrilled. Considering I have trouble picking out movies to watch (the epitome of First World Problems, to be sure), anything that helps me program an entire month is more than welcome.

You see, thatís the beauty of Junesploitation: the crew at F This! provides a daily theme (with a handful of ďfree spacesĒ sprinkled in), and anything thatís even tangentially related counts. On a day dedicated to cars, one person might watch a horror classic like Christine, while another person might watch Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. Half the fun is programming your own playlist; the other half is watching everyone else make their picks and post about it on social media. Essentially, Junesploitation is a 30-day movie festival with several programmers at the helm, each with their own criteria and taste. Personally, I only limited myself to a vague standard: I wanted at least half of my selections to be films I either hadnít seen or films that were long overdue for a revisit. Iíd like to say I made a set schedule and stuck to it, but, as I write this intro on June 2nd, I can already tell you that wonít happen given how many times Iíve already changed my mind.

So, with that, I suppose the only way to know what those picks were is to wade through this month-long account of this utter madness.

Day 1 (aliens): Fire in the Sky (1993)

    Count me among the generation that was completely scarred for fucking life by late-night cable viewings of Fire in the Sky, the cinematic adaptation of Travis Waltonís real-life account of an extraterrestrial encounter. The experience of seeing this as a 10-year-old is so vivid that I can tell you that my brother and I came across it just after a marathon round of Mortal Kombat II. Visions of creepy aliens experimenting on a terrified man were seared into my brain and unnerved me in a way few films have since. This has to be among the last movies to have actually scared me, so Iíve always wanted to revisit it, and Iím happy to report it mostly holds up. Granted, it does so in a way that 10-year-old me wouldnít have appreciated as much: sure, those climactic scenes in the spaceship hold an obvious appeal, but it turns out the rest of Fire in the Sky is pretty good too.

    The cast is particularly terrific: headlined by Robert Patrick, itís a pretty wild assortment of outlandish personalities thatís tossed together in this crucible of toxic, Southwest-twanged masculinity. It turns out that Fire in the Sky is less alien schlock for the first 90 minutes, which are more of a police procedural (headed up by badass James Garner) since Waltonís friends were immediately suspected of foul play following his disappearance. Something tells me that didnít hold my attention as much 15-20 years ago, and it almost feels like the film itself invites you to lose interest in it once Walton resurfaces and begins having traumatic flashbacks to his experience aboard the alien craft. In another 20 years from now, Iím guessing that stuff will still stickówell, that, and Patrickís awesome heartthrob redneck getup at the end of the movie. Thatís what I want to be when I grow up.

    Day 2 (80ís action): Eastern Condors (1987)

      I promise this isnít going to be just 30 entries where I tell lame personal stories, but bear with me and indulge this one. Just as Iíll never forget my first encounter with Fire in the Sky, neither will I forget when I first heard the title Eastern Condors uttered aloud. About five years ago, I attended a series of mystery Hong Kong films where the titles were kept secret until literally just before they were screened. On the heels of absolute face-melters like A Day Without Policemen and The Eternal Evil of Asia came this, the final, much-hyped entry that the host promised would somehow be even more amazing. As he dropped hints, I could sense a guy in the row behind me piecing it together. To put it more accurately, I could sense that he was about to lose it, and, when the title was confirmed as Eastern Condors, he let out a pure, elated squeal, not unlike one a child makes on Christmas morning.

      96 minutes later, I fully understood why: Eastern Condors is an action movie masterpiece that blends outrageous gunplay with hand-to-hand martial arts to riotously entertaining results. An interesting Hong Kong variation on the 80s ďReturn to ĎNamĒ subgenre, it features the U.S. military enlisting a group of Chinese-American convicts to destroy tons of explosives leftover following the Vietnam War. Trust me when I say that any reservations about the ridiculous details of this plot quickly melt away amidst a hail of gunfire, explosions, fisticuffs, and even a reprisal of the Russian roulette scene from The Deer Hunter (only this one features child soldiersóholy fuck). A veritable all-star cast headlined by director Sammo Hung and boasting the likes of Corey Yuen, Yuen Biao, Yuen Wah, Billy Chow, and Lam Chim-Yin, Eastern Condors is a total blast. I know we all (rightfully) revere American 80s action movies, but Hong Kong efforts like this one routinely outclassed just about all of them, at least in terms of sheer visual and kinetic spectacle.

      Day 3 (revenge): Ms. 45 (1981)

        One of the easiest days of the month to program, I knew this day could only feature my long-overdue revisit with Abel Ferraraís notorious rape/revenge shocker. And seeing as how Iíd only ever seen an edited version of DVD years ago, it might as well have been my first time, as the Drafthouse Blu-ray release is something of a revelation. As someone who has admittedly never been big on this particular sub-genre, let me blunt about this entry: itís the best Iíve seen by a wide margin. More than that, itís one of the most stunning films ever madeóa stark, raw portrayal of noxious masculinity and its poisonous effect on a damaged brain. Before mute seamstress Thana (Zoe Lund) is raped twice on the same day (once by a thug played by Ferrara himself, perhaps announcing his complicity), sheís subjected to hoots and hollers of catcalling creeps roaming the grungy, early 80s NYC streets. Itís skin-crawling because itís so casual, almost as if itís been ingrained in every womanís experience.

        Thanaís vengeance is swift, as she manages to fend off and kill the second rapist right in her apartment, a development that seems to signal a righteous, rousing comeuppance. For a while, Ferrara obliges as Thana takes up the mantle of a revolver-wielding avenger prowling the seedy districts, murdering the pimps and thugs that pose a threat to women everywhere. Soon, though, Ms. 45 begins to feel like an ironicóif not subversive choiceóin this revenge slot. Unlike many of its predecessors, this film isnít rousing, exploitative schlock but rather a measured, genuinely disturbing portrayal of a woman whose thirst for vengeance grows increasingly tragic. Eventually, every man becomes a threat to Thana and moves into her crosshairs whether they actually deserve it or not. Lund captures the transformation without speaking a single word in a remarkable performance that sees Thana degenerate from doe-eyed innocent to a striking seductress. A scene where she silently stares down an oblivious target is staggering: as he looks on with a dumb grin, she returns a wry, knowing sharp-eyed smile that barely conceals the rage, disdain, and utter despair that will lead to utter destruction. Looks canít kill, but they can cut like a knife.

        4. Day 4 (cars): Maximum Overdrive (1986)/The Wraith (1986)

          For a day dedicated to vehicular carnage, I couldnít resist programming this rock and roll, Estevez/Sheen double feature. Iíve been meaning to catch up with The Wraith for a few years now since so many folks I know swear by it, and Iím happy to report that it didnít disappoint. A real genre-masher that resists easy classification, The Wraith blends together action (including, yes, copious amounts of vehicular carnage), fantasy, and romance as it weaves a bizarre tale involving a vengeful spirit hunting down the pack of road pirates that caused his death. With a logline like that, what could even go wrong? Not much, it turns out. Sure, the plot is total nonsense, and Sheen only appears in, like, 4 scenes despite earning top billing, but thereís enough squealing guitar, pulsing synth, races, fiery explosions, and Randy Quaid to distract from its minor flaws.

          As for Maximum OverdriveÖhoo, boy. Iíve recently begun a Stephen King re-watch project for a future event here at OTH (foreshadowing!), and this was a good reminder of just how silly such an endeavor can get. Keep your eyes peeled in the future for complete thoughts on this one, but, for now, rest assured that Maximum Overdrive is one of the most ridiculous, deranged entries in the King canon. Youíre damn right thatís an endorsement.

          Day 5 (Burtsploitation): Shark! (1969)

            While Burt Reynolds's best days were spent in greasy, oily 70s and 80s actioners, Iíve long wanted to check out Shark, a rough-and-tumble effort produced just before those glory days. Anyone thatís noted my obsession with killer shark movies shouldnít be surprised, but this one also holds further appeal: not only was it directed by Samuel Fuller, but it also features Reynolds as Caine, a rugged American gun-runner stranded at a Red Sea port. When a treasure-seeking couple loses a local deckhand to shark-infested waters, they enlist Caine, who suspects thereís more than meets the eye with the situation. Though Reynolds passed up the chance at playing James Bond just a few years earlier, Shark at least provides some kind of glimpse into that alternate reality, as he boozes and schmoozes his way through a web of intrigue. The stakes obviously arenít as high they are in 007ís outings, but it has that same sort of vibe to it, as Caine has to maneuver and manipulate through double-crosses and, occasionally, packs of sharks.

            In true exploitation form, the title is misleading as hell since the eponymous creatures only appear in harrowing, bookending sequences. Still, the shark attack footage is amazing, and perhaps too much so since a stuntman was actually killed during filming. When the producers capitalized on the death during the marketing, Fuller subsequently bailed and disowned the film, which arrived in a butchered version once it hit theaters. Perhaps as an act of penance, the producers did dedicate the film to the brave men who risked their lives in the making of it. Usually such a declaration in the opening credits is rousing; here, itís an uneasy reminder that colors the entire film, lending it a genuine layer of exploitation grit and sleaze. Reynolds, too, has disowned the film, even though heís quite good in it, as he swindles, sexes, smuggles, and outwits everyone, making it a prime Burtsploitation entry.

            Day 6 (Free space): Wes Cravenís New Nightmare (1994)

              The first of a few free spaces on the calendar, this one coincided with Robert Englundís 70th birthday, so a tribute was naturally in order. I wavered between watching this or one of his movies I havenít seen a million times but eventually settled here since I have yet to even watch it on Blu-ray in the [checks calendar] nearly five years that Iíve owned the set (what the hell?). Plus, where else can you get not one, not two, but three separate Englund performances stuffed into one movie? Not only does he star as himself, but he also makes two different appearances as Freddy: one as the Springwood Slasher as we came to know and love him*, and another as a darker, more sinister eternal force masquerading as Krueger looking to infiltrate the real world.

              That, of course, is the notorious hook for Wes Cravenís New Nightmare, a brilliant meta-fictional extension of the Elm Street mythos. Many (including this writer) have often seen it as a dry run for Cravenís musings in Scream, but thatís seriously dismissive and underestimates just what he was up to here. Where Scream is a sharp satire that pokes fun at conventions, New Nightmare is a more thorough deconstruction that mines storytelling philosophy to make a case for horror. The genre isnít just vitalóitís downright necessary to human existence, lest we allow those cathartic monsters and demons to be set loose outside of their story confines. Iíve had a complicated relationship with this one since my first (very confounding) viewing as a ten year old, but itís since grown into one of my favorite entries in the series. More than that, it stands as the most inventive and clever horror sequel ever made.

              *On a personal, kind of squishy note, that scene where Englund interrupts the talk show in full Krueger regalia was super emotional this time around for whatever reason. Maybe it was the combination of Cravenís passing and the realization that weíll likely never see this Freddy again, but something about the scene struck me in a way it never has before.

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