Day 7 (Slashers): Deadly Dreams (1988)/Hide and Go Shriek (1988)
A day dedicated to slashers coincided nicely with this year’s Summer Slash-o-Thon, so I went with a pair of little-seen, recently-released Code Red slashers. Read my capsule review of Deadly Dreams here in the most recent Code Red round-up, and a full review of Hide and Go Shriek here. If nothing else, both of these films are just gonzo enough to make for a memorable double feature and didn’t make me regret not falling back on a couple of surefire old favorites.
Day 8 (cops): Mad Dog Killer (1977)
Outside of a handful of Fernando de Lio films and Ruggero Deodato’s incredible Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, I’m not nearly as well-versed in the poliziottesco genre as I feel I should be, and this particular one (also known as Beast With a Gun) has been a high priority for a few years now (mostly since it’s been cited as a Tarantino favorite). A notoriously violent effort from this era, it certainly doesn’t fuck around, as the titular mad dog/gun-toting beast Nanni Vitali (Helmut Berger) escapes from jail and promptly hunts down the man who snitched on him. Even though the rat is with his girlfriend (Marisa Mell), it doesn’t prevent Vitali from conducting his sinister sleazy business. After sexually assaulting the girlfriend right in front of him, Vitali pummels the snitch before burying him alive. Not content to leave it at that, he abducts the girl and begins to hatch an escape plan that frustrates the local police force.
Obviously not for the faint of heart, Mad Dog Killer is a ruthless, nasty little entry in this sub-genre, one that relies on both violence and story twists to both thrill and repulse in equal measure. Berger is an absolute monster in the role that anchors the film—he’s all wild-eyed and manic in nearly every scene, and in those rare, muted instances, he still carries himself with a perverse sense of confidence. It’s an almost sick display of charisma, one that reminds you of the scuzzy, twisted pleasures of this subset of Eurocrime films. I’m more eager than ever to dive right into them now.
Day 9 (Blaxploitation): Petey Wheatstraw (1977)
Blaxploitation is one of those catch-all terms that describes a fairly wide array of films, so this day was tougher than most in terms of finally settling on a film to watch. Part of me naturally gravitated towards the prime era’s headliners—Pam Grier, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Jim Brown, etc.—but another part nagged even more, reminding me that I trailed off on my Dolemite DVD collection a few years back. I’m not quite sure why, either, seeing as how the next one up was easily my most anticipated movie in the set. One only has to read the most cursory summary for Petey Wheatstraw to understand its appeal: this is the one where Rudy Ray Moore goes to hell and lives to tell about it.
Specifically, Moore plays the titular Wheatstraw, who is born as a full-grown infant during a legendary Miami storm, at which point he slaps around his own father for disturbing his sleep in the womb.” After learning the ways of kung-fu from a random street drifter as a child, he goes on to become a renowned comedian, so much so that his services basically start a turf war between competing nightclubs. The fracas ends in the death of a young boy (in typical Dolemite fashion, the glib front of this movie belies how topically sincere it is) and Wheatstraw himself, who has to make a pact with the enigmatic Lou Cipher (sound it out) to return from the grave and exact revenge.
Yes, this is all as absurd—and absurdly entertaining—as it sounds. Moore is arguably the most infectious personalities from the Blaxploitation circuit, a boisterous cat who obviously gave few fucks when it came to offending an audience’s sensibilities, and that devil-may-care approach guides this film. Petey Wheatstraw is disreputable as hell, bolstered in part by a subplot where the title hero has to outwit Satan because he can’t marry the dark lord’s ugly-ass daughter as part of the pact. Satan responds in kind, dispatching legions of dime store demons that Petey has to fend off with the devil’s own magical cane. Like Moore’s other efforts, this one is a bit roughshod and rugged, with filmmaking that can be best described as “functional.” It’s got loads of spirit, though, and that’s what solidifies its place as an essential Blaxploitation effort.
Day 10 (Kung-fu): Five Deadly Venoms (1978)/Gymkata (1985)
This one was tough—as my final choices obviously reflect, I was torn by just what kind of kung-fu movie this day deserved. Having spent the better part of this decade trawling through the Shaw Brothers canon, I felt like I needed to continue that pursuit, which would likely lead to a surefire classic, especially since Five Venoms is one of the studio’s seminal efforts. However, the part of me that was weaned on junky American martial arts movies knew it was time to finally confront Gymkata, a film often cited as one of the most ridiculous fucking things ever made. Clearly, the only solution was realizing I could actually watch both.
Neither disappointed. Not only does Five Deadly Venoms live up to its revered reputation, but it manages to do so despite unfolding in a manner I never expected. Given what little I knew about it, I always assumed it was about a clan of warriors meting out justice; instead, the Five Venoms are a squabbling bunch from a dying, disreputable house. With their master having recently passed away, they’re all left to seek a treasure that will supposedly lift the curse that has befallen their clan. The youngest among them—who would be no match for his elders—is dispatched to recover the treasure for those admirable reasons. Some of his “brothers” have more self-serving schemes in mind, and their various pursuits have them clashing in this unconventional Shaw entry.
Playing out more like a police procedural—complete with crooked cops and corrupt politicians—than a straightforward kung-fu epic, it’s a riotously compelling tale. By couching the typically magnificent martial arts displays and four-color comic aesthetic within a narrative that recalls the wild, wending verve of a giallo, Five Deadly Venoms is a singular experience, and one of the best martial arts movies I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing.
Now, Gymkata...fucking Gymkata, you guys. It, too, is quite unlike anything my eyes have ever beheld, albeit in a completely different way. If you only know it as the insane movie where the United States government enlists Olympic gymnast Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) to compete in a secret, deadly game in order to secure a site for a nuclear monitoring station, you still don’t know the half of it. Shit, you don’t even know a tenth of it. Gymkata is pure, unfiltered madness that feels like the result of a 9-year-old’s sugar high fueling a whacked out dream that reimagines Enter the Dragon as a backyard sandbox epic filled with ninja action figures patrolling the wildest playground obstacle course imaginable.
Essentially, competitors are entered in a game (dubbed “The Game”), with the winner being granted not only his life but also any wish. Political subterfuge and personal grudges abound, especially when Jonathan begins an affair with the host country’s betrothed princess. Gymkata has earned a dubious reputation for many reasons—its weak acting, its ridiculously low-rent production values—but it absolutely cannot be considered boring, not when it runs a gamut that boasts everything from ninjas to bare-assed cannibals. This is a film that absolutely demands to be seen—nay, it must be fucking witnessed.
Day 11 (animals): Cujo (1983)
Here was another day that intersected with my in-progress King project, and Cujo was among my most highly-anticipated revisits. Having not seen the film since its special edition DVD was released a decade ago, it still mostly existed in my mind as a traumatic childhood memory. Every kid from my generation is scarred from Cujo, or at least I assume as much. Anyway, the movie holds up fairly well, even now that I’m adult who isn’t as easily scared of giant nightmare dogs. Mostly, I was surprised to recall that Cujo really only terrorizes poor Dee Wallace and her son for the last 30 minutes (and change), with most of the rest of movie being dedicated to her fooling around on her husband. Come for the rabid dog, stay for the infidelity. (Keep your eyes peeled in October for a full review of this one!)
Day 12 (Lethal ladies): Lady Terminator (1989)/Stray Cat Rock: Wild Jumbo (1970)
Here’s a story about how long it sometimes takes me to finally watch a movie. When I visited Los Angeles for the first time a couple of years ago, one of my first stops was Amoeba Records, a veritable mecca of movie and music collectors. It was something of a delirious experience, if not totally overwhelming—their second floor space dedicated exclusively to DVD, Blu-ray, VHS, and laserdisc (!) is as big as any record store back home by itself. After browsing their incredible selection (which includes an entire Jawsploitation section!), I came away with a few treasures, with Mondo’s release of Lady Terminator being among the most noteworthy. A week later, the universe seemingly nodded in approval at this purchase, as a trailer for Lady Terminator was attached to a 35mm presentation of Terminator 2 at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin (yes, it was a good trip). After laying eyes on actual (very insane) footage, I just knew I would be tossing that disc into my player as soon as I got home.
Well, about that—obviously, it took two years, and I have zero excuse for that, other than the fact that I’ve run out of shelf space and discs tend to get buried now. I can only atone now by spreading the gospel about Lady Terminator: you guys just have to see this shit. Imagine Cameron’s The Terminator, only the T-800 is a resurrected South Sea sorceress and Kyle Reese is a jabroni with a squad of bros. For the uninitiated, this is one of those shameless foreign rip-offs (this one hails from Indonesia) of an American film that recreates entire plot beats and scenes. This one, at least, adds its own incredible embellishments, like the wrinkle that sees the titular Terminator literally screwing guys to death (it’s implied that she grinds their cocks right off).
As it awkwardly recreates the steps of Cameron’s film, it engages in some incredible action set-pieces that yield some prime mallsploitation, car chases, and explosions. Nothing, however, is quite as great as the climax, where the Reese knock-off’s squad helicopters in to help save the day. What begins as a Terminator rip-off ends with a brain-dead recreation of doofus Cannon efforts, complete with a mulleted goof sporting a surfer dude accent. I actually cannot believe how good this movie is.
Going back to two summers ago, one movie I did check out immediately was Delinquent Girl Boss, the first entry in the Stray Cat Rock series. I enjoyed it, so much so that I tweeted about how much of a treat it would be to watch the rest of them. Ahem. Once again, better late than never, though Wild Jumbo wasn’t exactly the best fit for a day dedicated to lethal ladies. Unlike the first film, which followed the exploits of an all-girl gang, this follow-up features a mixed gender gang scheming to rip-off a religious organization. To be fair, the plan is hatched by a woman (Bunjaku Han) looking to get even with her amoral boss (she’s also his mistress), and the film occasionally recaptures the original’s girl power spirit. But since the film is mostly concerned with this gang of hoodlums’ carefree antics, it really feels like a weird riff on Beach Party that ends with a heist and a shootout.
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