2017 Junesploitation Report (Page 5)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2017-07-03 03:50
Day 25 (Teenagers): Bikini Beach (1964)/Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

    If I do say so myself, this is a pretty inspired pairing. Despite being set fifteen years apart, these are a couple of teen movies guided by the same lo-fi, anarchic, and absurdist spirit. The 3rd film in AIP’s Beach Party series, Bikini Beach finds Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello, and the gang rolling into a beachfront property owned by a local curmudgeon who thinks teenagers are nothing but a menace. His attempt to ally with a local biker gang to rid himself of them backfires spectacularly, as their typical shenanigans play out mostly unabated. Per usual, there’s plenty of drama between Frankie and Annette, as the latter is quite smitten with a British rock and roll star (Avalon in a dual role) that’s hanging out near the beach. Naturally, it’s nothing a drag race and a huge brawl can’t solve. By this point, it was obvious that this set of films were content to retrace the formula established in Beach Party, right down to featuring a mysterious stranger throughout the film that turns out to be a horror icon. If you’re not at all familiar with these films and this sounds like total, wild nonsense, rest assured that it is—and it’s kind of great.

    “Wild nonsense” is also a perfect descriptor for Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Roger Corman’s update of the teen movie formula that basically doubles as a Ramones concert. In short, it is heaven committed to celluloid, and, despite its obvious absurdity, a completely genuine ode to teenage rebellion. When Mrs. Togar (B-movie staple Mary Woronov) takes the job as principal at Vince Lombardi High, she’s out to rule with an iron fist and reign in the hellions roaming the halls. Badass detention-regular Riff Randell will have none of it and won’t rest until school is out—forever! Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is arguably the perfect teen movie: it’s scatterbrained, preoccupied with sex (complete with Clint Howard arranging hook-ups!), and lives very much in the now.

    It can’t be said to be plotted so much as it’s just strung along, following the whims of whatever its protagonists are currently worried about, be it Ramones tickets or learning how to make out. Regardless, it’s consistently infectious, thanks in large part to Soles’s charming performance and the presence of The Ramones, who rightfully float throughout like gods. Few scenes in film history as purely fucking awesome as their entrance here, which has them pulling up in a custom coupe and performing “I Just Wanna Have Something to Do.” With an entrance like that, the only fitting climax is a literally explosive final confrontation between Togar and the student body. Suffice it to say that we need more movies that end with The Ramones shredding as a high school goes up in flames.

    Day 26 (90s Action): Samurai Cop (1991)

      Samurai Cop
      is one of those titles I’ve been meaning to get around to for years. It’s one I’ve had several people swear by, and it became so notorious over the past decade that it inexplicably spawned a sequel a few years back. Not bad for a film that was obscure as hell until Media Blasters uncovered it on DVD all the way back in 2004—and thank goodness for that. Maybe you’ve heard about this one too and have yet to make the plunge; if so, drop everything immediately and seek it out (well, unless you’re watching Hard Ticket to Hawaii on my recommendation, in which case why are you reading this?). Samurai Cop is the truth; a raucous, homemade action movie with two directives—deliver plenty of ridiculous violence and nudity. Lots and lots of nudity.

      I don’t even know where to start, but maybe consider that the plot involves a Japanese gang’s drug trade growing to be such a problem that the LAPD has to recruit San Diego surfer dude Joe Marshall (Matt Hannon) to deal with the problem because he is fluent in both Japanese and karate. Incredible. This is real lightning-in-a-bottle madness that can only arise when a semi-competent, wannabe filmmaker decides he’s going to make a movie by any means necessary. Maybe that involves not being able to afford lighting. Maybe it means having to use your own voice to dub several characters during ADR. Maybe it means having to cast one of the most incredibly bewildering, bone-headed dudes imaginable as your lead man. None of this matters, of course, as long as you can deliver jaw-dropping dialogue (there’s an incredible scene featuring Marshall and a nurse that future anthropologists will puzzle over for decades) and rad action scenes. And Amir Shervan does just that throughout the entirety of Samurai Cop, a movie that deserves its place in the pantheon of DIY trash classics. In fact, every movie should just be Samurai Cop, and I dare any of you son of a bitches to disagree.

      Day 27 (New horror): Preservation (2014)

        Can I just say that I love that the F This! crew carved out a day to pay respect to modern horror? It’d be so easy to just coast along with the prevalent (and very misguided) notion that modern output isn’t worthwhile and just revel in the past. However, to do so is a fool’s errand, as today’s new efforts will eventually become the classics to be enjoyed by future generations. I’m not sure that Preservation will exactly ever live up to that lofty standard, but it did coincide nicely with my desire to catch up with some modern slashers. You can read more about it here.

        Day 28 (80s comedy): Cheech and Chong’s Next Movie (1980)

          Despite having seen seminal stoner classic Up in Smoke a countless number of times, I’m not overly familiar with the rest of Cheech and Chong’s other output, so Next Movie has been a long time coming. Essentially following the formula of Up in Smoke, this follow-up is a collection of madcap episodes that allow the duo to bring their shtick to the big screen. It might be a sketch comedy bit masquerading as a film, but that’s fine, especially when the company is as easygoing as these two. Next Movie finds Cheech and Chong battling unemployment (stealing a van from a film studio lot has consequences, it turns out), pissy neighbors (Chong’s earth-shaking guitar solos are a bit much), and their own penchant for stumbling into misadventures.

          What begins as another routine day of thwarting drug tests and chasing women quickly escalates into utter madness when Cheech’s southern-fried “kinda” cousin Red (also played by Marin) comes to town. With Cheech left waiting on a date, Chong is tasked with showing Red a good time, though that dynamic is quickly flipped when this unhinged, drug-dealing cousin takes charge. Chong has the night of his life as the pair cruises through Hollywood, making stops at brothels, the Comedy House (where the film abandons all pretense and turns into a stand-up routine), and, eventually, a weed farm that’s being harvested by some extraterrestrial visitors. Next Movie is arguably the platonic ideal of the stoner movie, as it darts and flits from one bit to the next with little regard for logic, and its infectious energy coaxes laughs throughout.

          Day 29 (Free space): Reefer Madness (1936)/The Hellcats (1968)

            One of the most unlikely cult films of all-time, Reefer Madness is proof that the spirit of exploitation indeed stretches all the way back to the 30s, where unscrupulous producers were looking to capitalize on anything to make a buck. Look no further than this instance as evidence, as Reefer Madness was originally intended to be a genuine morality film moralizing against the dangers of cannabis (it was funded by a church group, no less!) before exploitation filmmaker Dwain Esper snatched it up and distributed it as another one of his salacious wares. Between this re-branding and decades of being positioned as a midnight movie, its reputation now puts it squarely alongside cult trash, and with good reason: despite hailing from an age that usually isn’t associated with such unrepentant junk, Reefer Madness is a goddamned hoot.

            While the main thrust of the story—a group of “innocent” teens become delinquents—is perhaps unintentionally humorous, the extreme lengths it goes to sermonize is outrageously funny. Even I, the lame-ass who’s been spooked away from drugs by Reagan-Bush era indoctrination, can’t help but chuckle at the insinuation that marijuana (which we’re told can’t be combated by the federal government because it would be futile—take that, War on Drugs!) will turn you into a complete fiend capable of committing hit-and-runs, having premarital sex, and swearing off your studies. Worse, you might even wind up being framed for homicide when your girlfriend is accidentally shot to death—holy shit! Weirdly enough, Reefer Madness also suggests that some stoners have a guilty enough conscience to eventually confess and exonerate you in this case, so, really, the messages are kind of mixed. Weed might be demonized as a Satanic influence here, but the wild, trashy nature of Reefer Madness suggests it’s the best because you’d have to be high to come up with this shit.

            Biker movies are another strain of exploitation movies I’ve yet to fully explore, despite obviously making plans to do so when I bought, like, 20 of them. I’m familiar with the more respectable sort of motorcycle outlaw films, like The Wild One, The Born Losers, and of course Easy Rider, but just about everything else has eluded me. No scientific method was employed when I picked out The Hellcats—I vaguely recognized the title from an MST3K episode I’ve not seen, and I was drawn in by the promise of an all-female biker gang from the synopsis. However, in true exploitation fashion, I was duped: not only are the titular Hellcats a mixed-gender bunch, but the film is not nearly as wild as expected. The marketing promises “cycle-gang gals scratching and clawing any guy who gets in their way,” but it’s actually about a slain cop’s brother and fiancée infiltrating the Hellcats to figure out who exactly ordered the hit.

            Theoretically, this should still involve some pretty scummy action as the two work their way up towards the Mafia-esque cabal orchestrating the biker gang, but it truly does not. Instead, most of the film just has them hanging out with the gang engaging in biker shenanigans, which includes deranged games predicated on stupid, macho dares. Occasionally, they move from hanging out in a field to hanging out in a scuzzy bar. Eventually, the labyrinthine conspiracy involving a massive drug deal has the gang turning against their mob bosses for a decent enough climactic showdown. Most of The Hellcats is an utter drag, though, which is a same considering its jazzy, jangly theme song and trippy opening titles.

            Day 30 (Monsters): Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972)/Graveyard Shift (1990)

              When I hear “monsters,” my mind naturally ambles right over to Universal’s iconic stable, but let’s be real: these guys are better-suited for October, when the atmosphere is more appropriate for these gothic-tinged classics. Luckily, however, there’s no shortage of disreputable rip-offs that are perfectly suited for something called Junesploitation. Plus, can you really engage in a month-long exploitation binge without crossing Jess Franco, who slapped together his own monster mash in Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. Sandwiched alongside Paul Naschy vehicle Los Monstruos del Terror and Al Adamson’s Dracula vs. Frankenstein, it finds Franco tossing his hat into this shady ring, where he brings his signature brand of eccentric, stylistic flourishes (read: lens zooms for days, son). However, it is rather restrained by Franco’s standards, with a side-trip to a brothel proving to be the only erotically- charged sequence in the whole thing—and even it features Frankenstein’s monster stomping around to procure a body for the mad doctor.

              Despite how bewildering that must sound, the plot here is remarkably lucid and mostly coherent: after a village finally rids itself of the menace of Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein strolls into town and promptly takes up residence in the count’s mansion. There, he hatches a scheme to resurrect the count (via a gnarly but disturbing blood transfusion scene featuring a bat) and build an undead army for purposes of world domination. That’s actually one hell of a logline, and Franco does his best to capture something of a restrained, gothic vibe, what with all the howling wind and ominous establishing shots of fog-drenched locales. Luckily, his grip on the script becomes a bit more slippery towards the end; otherwise, we wouldn’t be blessed with the out-of-nowhere introduction of a werewolf that becomes the village’s avenger during a pretty solid monster throw-down. If nothing else, this film is a potent reminder to always have both a village soothsayer and a village werewolf on hand just in case.

              There was only one real candidate to wrap-up Junesploitation since this final day also coincided nicely with my recent Stephen King kick. After briefly considering revisiting The Mist, I decided I couldn’t end such a raucous, celebratory month on one of the most infamous downer notes ever, so Graveyard Shift was the only real option here. In terms of King adaptations, it seems to be mostly forgotten, but I love that it’s a complete, unrepentant monster movie, one that’s soaked in latex, gore, and grime. Suffice it to say, you will be reading more about this one in October…

              …which is a perfect tease to leave you with, of course. With June over and summer quickly dwindling away, it’s never too early to look at that orange-tinted horizon and all the fun it entails. Not only will we be unleashing our 10th anniversary October Overflow (!) here at OTH, but F This! will also be indulging in Scary Movie Month, a celebration of all things horror during the Halloween season. Until then, stay tuned, and remember: it's also never too early to begin planning your all-night horrorthon.

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