Film Review: Bucktown (1975)

Also known as: Bucktown, USA (alternate title)
Release Date: July 2nd, 1975
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Bob Ellison
Music by: Johnny Pate
Cast: Fred Williamson, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, Tony King, Carl Weathers

Essaness Pictures, Plitt Theaters, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not going to kill me. News travels fast. It’s bound to get to the state troopers. If they ask any questions, you’re gonna tell your black mayor to tell them that you’re holding the chief of police for breaking thew law. No, you’re gonna keep me alive. ‘Cause I’m gonna keep you black asses from burning in hell! ” – Chief Patterson

This is probably my favorite Fred Williamson movie after Black Caesar. Plus, it also has the always dynamite Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala, who I enjoyed in Blacula, as well as a small role for a young Carl Weathers, just before he’d go on to be immortalized as Apollo Creed, a year later, in Rocky.

The plot for Bucktown isn’t wholly original but that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one either. Fred Williamson comes to town after his brother’s death in order to bury him and settle his estate. He learns of the deep corruption in the town, which was instrumental in his brothers death. He decides to call in some friends to help him clean up the town from the dirty cops and politicians. While they succeed, these friends decide to rule the town themselves, making things even worse than they were to begin with.

The narrative has a lot in common with several westerns, which I know Williamson was a fan of and he even went on to make a few. This just had the blaxploitation twist to it, where the corrupt officials were bigoted racists and the people being oppressed were black. But it is clever in how it shows that the immediate solution, having a town run by their own people, faces the same challenges when it comes to power, greed and control.

Fred Williamson really commanded the screen in this. Not that that has ever been a challenge for him but his presence here is powerful just like in Black Caesar and Boss Nigger. Pam Grier obviously carries her own and adds a level of gravitas that enhances the badass nature of this motion picture. Man, I love Grier and Williamson and seeing them come together, being on the same page, fighting for the same thing is a real treat.

The finale of the picture sees Williamson take on his former friends in a S.W.A.T. tank. He blows up a car by smashing into it, crashes through the enemy’s stronghold wall and unloads bullets into the thugs that he was responsible for bringing to town.

While not the greatest film in the blaxploitation genre, Bucktown is still a high octane affair that felt tailor made for all of Williamson’s strengths and none of his weaknesses.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Black CaesarHell Up In HarlemCoffy and Foxy Brown.

Film Review: Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)

Also known as: Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan, lit. Earth Assault Order: Godzilla vs. Gigan (Japan), Extermination 2025 (France), Godzilla on Monster Island (US alternate title), Frankensteins Höllenbrut (Germany)
Release Date: March 12th, 1972 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube, Kunio Miyauchi
Cast: Hiroshi Ishikawa, Tomoko Umeda, Yuriko Hishimi, Minoru Takashima, Zan Fujita, Toshiaki Nishizawa, Kunio Murai

Toho, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Two monsters… One of them is Ghidorah. The other one is new. A completely new sound.” – Commander of Defense Forces

I’m just going to put it out there, this chapter in the Godzilla franchise is going to get a high rating from me. I know that it isn’t anywhere near the best that the franchise has to offer but it has always been a Godzilla film that I have loved and it features my two favorite Godzilla villains of all-time: the debuting Gigan and the always badass King Ghidorah.

Plus, this deals with an alien race of cockroach people that have a sinister plan that involves building a Godzilla branded theme park where their headquarters is actually a big building made to look like Godzilla himself. It’s crazy and bizarre and really encompasses all the things I love about ’70s Godzilla and Jun Fukuda’s run on the series.

On top of that, this teams Godzilla up with his oldest enemy, now ally, Anguirus.

This film is just incredibly bizarre but in a great way. Of course, you have to be a fan of kaiju movies and classic tokusatsu to truly embrace the madness but this really is a tokusatsu epic for its time. And ’70s Godzilla films almost feel like Ultraman episodes without Ultraman in them.

The weirdest thing about this picture is where Godzilla and Anguirus talk to each other. These bits work better in the original Japanese language version of the film. In the English dubbed version, which I grew up with, their voices are hilarious and it’s impossible not to laugh at it. It’s absurd but it’s enjoyably absurd and strangely enchanting.

I think I always connected to this chapter because the main character is a manga artist. When I was a kid, I was an aspiring comic book artist, so I always thought this part of the film was really cool. Plus, you get to see the inner workings of a manga company when this character makes his first appearance.

Another big plus about this film is that it has a ton of action. The big tag team battle royale seems to go on forever and it is actually a bloody affair, as Gigan literally has a buzzsaw for a stomach and the filmmakers had to emphasize the danger of that by cutting into the heroes.

Gigan is just a fantastic monster: one of the best kaiju ever created, hands down. He’s bizarre, deadly as hell and not a friggin’ pushover by any means. Granted, Gigan and King Ghidorah flee the scene like two little bitches at the end of the movie but the showdown between these beasts is incredible if you are a fan of classic kaiju battles.

I love this film. Always have. Always will. It’s not my favorite but it is the best from its decade.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Godzilla movies from the ’70s: Godzilla vs. MegalonGodzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Terror of Mechagodzilla and Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

Film Review: The Driller Killer (1979)

Release Date: June 15th, 1979
Directed by: Abel Ferrara
Written by: Nicholas St. John
Music by: Joseph Delia
Cast: Abel Ferrara (as Jimmy Laine), Carolyn Marz, Baybi Day, Harry Schultz, Alan Wynroth

Navaron Films, 96 Minutes, 94 Minutes (edited), 101 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Hey, while I was in the pizza parlor, this creepy old man came up to me and said, “sweetie, you don’t have to kiss to make babies.” So, I waited until it was about time to leave with the pizza, so I walked right up to him and said out loud, “I know, but you still gotta fuck!”” – Pamela

The Driller Killer is one of those movies that I think a lot of people love based off of memories from long ago. It was certainly controversial and was even banned in the UK, which helped to make its legend grow.

The problem with The Driller Killer is that it just isn’t a good film and it’s actually incredibly boring and doesn’t really get going until the last third of the movie.

Also, it is heralded as a gore fest but there are literally dozens of films with a lot more gore than this. I think the fear of getting murdered with a power drill is just an incredibly scary thought and the brutality of the idea is more terrifying than what actually happens on screen in this film.

I haven’t seen this in a really long time and my mind remembered something much more bloody than this. Or maybe I saw the director’s cut, back in the day, and didn’t realize that I was watching that version. What I just watched recently was the version that Amazon Video has for rent.

Everyone has to start somewhere though and Abel Ferrara would go on to make some good films after this. Most notably, King of New York and Bad Lieutenant.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Other gore filled pictures of the era: Cannibal HolocaustCannibal Feroxetc.

Film Review: Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Release Date: June 1st, 1976
Directed by: Richard Ashe
Written by: Bill Finger, Charles Sinclair
Music by: Robert G. Orpin
Cast: Chase Cordell, Leigh Drake, Gregorio Sala

Lizard Productions Inc., 81 Minutes

Review:

“I wish I was kidding Mac, I’m not! Now there is an answer and I think I know what it is and it makes me sick to think about it!” – Johnny Longbow

The world has seen werewolf movies a million times over. But were-lizard movies? Those are much harder to come by. Thank god we were given this film to satisfy the were-lizard fans of the world. Sadly, it is as excruciating to get through as a were-lizard gnawing on your face.

I guess it is worth noting that this film was penned by Bill Finger, a man who died in poverty after Bob Kane took all the credit (and money) for creating Batman. Hulu recently did a documentary about Bill Finger and you should check it out for the full story. But he’s a guy instrumental in the creation of my favorite hero, so I thought his involvement in this was worth pointing out, even if the end result wasn’t anything worthwhile.

This film stars no one that anyone would recognize. And other than Bill Finger’s involvement, I haven’t heard of any of the other people involved either.

The story is about this Native American guy trying to solve these strange murders. It plays out like a werewolf movie but it’s got that lizard twist, which makes it completely original. Well, not really. The creature, called the Moon Beast, is created by fragments of a meteorite coming into contact with just some normal human dude. Actually, it gets lodged into his brain… his brain! He goes on a killing spree because these things have to happen in these sort of pictures and eventually, he is destroyed by an arrow made of the same meteorite. In fact, the magic meteorite arrow makes his whole body explode because why wouldn’t it?

Did I spoil the plot? Well, the entire film spoils itself and everything it comes in contact with.

I guess I have to give some props to the filmmakers, however, as they completely steal the most iconic scene from a great 1940’s horror film, Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man. It’s the scene where someone is trying to get into their house, a loved one leaves them locked outside to teach them a lesson and then the loved one hears horrible screams from the other side of the door, as a pool of blood creeps into the house from outside. Granted, this sequence was completely butchered and looked like shit in this film but it was a nice attempt at an homage that most people would never pick up on. Or maybe it was just outright thievery.

Lastly, there is a band in this movie that plays a set that is entirely too long and feels like it takes up half the damn film. Okay, maybe like five to ten minutes but man, it’s terrible, terrible stuff.

This film is only worth your time if you watch it get riffed on MST3K. It was featured in the final season of the show’s original run.

So this is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: Other films featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that deal with body transformation: WerewolfBlood Waters of Dr. ZI Was a Teenage Werewolf and The Incredible Melting Man.

Film Review: Season of the Witch (1972)

Also known as: Jack’s Wife (working title), Hungry Wives (original title), George A. Romero’s Season of the Witch (alternate title)
Release Date: May, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: Steve Gorn
Cast: Jan White, Raymond Laine, Ann Muffly

Latent Image, Jack H. Harris Enterprises 130 Minutes (original cut), 89 Minutes (theatrical), 104 Minutes (extended cut)

Review:

“[reading from the Witchcraft primer] ‘The religion offers, further, a retreat for emotional women, repressed women, masculine women and those suffering from personal disappointment or nervous maladjustment.’ Christ, what other kind of women are there? No wonder this stuff’s getting so damn popular.” – Shirley

Season of the Witch is kind of a weird movie. While it has some horror themes to it, it really isn’t horror in a traditional sense. It’s got some witchcraft and some creepy imagery but ultimately, it is more of a feminist drama.

The film was originally called Hungry Wives and wasn’t marketed in a way that showed that it was a film about witchcraft. In fact, it was pushed out like it was a softcore porn film in the height of the grindhouse era. Upon its initial release, the film was a failure.

The story is about a bored and abused housewife from suburban Pittsburgh, who meets a local witch and develops an attraction for her pagan practices. She starts doing things that were once uncharacteristic of her, like having sex with a young charmer that had sex with her daughter earlier in the film. She also finds herself and develops confidence and her own power.

The film was directed by George A. Romero and he came up with the idea while researching witchcraft for another project. Around the same time, he also became aware of the Feminist movement and was inspired by it.

Ultimately, the film is pretty dry and certainly won’t satisfy the palate of Romero fans looking for something similar to his more famous work. There is little to no terror and dread in this other than a few visions and a creepy mask.

Also, the original negatives are lost, as is the original cut of the film. All that’s left is a chopped up, much shorter version of the final film. So some of Romero’s vision is probably lost and it’s possible that the quality of the film suffers because of this.

Still, what has survived makes a coherent enough story to follow and yet it is still rather boring apart from less than a handful of scenes.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Romero early films: The CraziesNight of the Living Dead and for something more modern, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch.

Film Review: Detroit 9000 (1973)

Also known as: The Holy Hill Caper (working title), Detroit Heat (video title), Police Call 9000 (Canada), S.O.S. Black Guns (France), Call Detroit 9000 (UK & Ireland)
Release Date: August, 1973 (Detroit)
Directed by: Arthur Marks
Written by: Orville H. Hampton
Music by: Luchi de Jesus
Cast: Alex Rocco, Hari Rhodes, Vonetta McGee, Herb Jefferson Jr., Ella Edwards, Scatman Crothers

General Film Corporation, Rolling Thunder Pictures (1998 re-release), 106 Minutes

Review:

“Was this a honky caper to keep black power from taking over the state Senate?” – Reporter

Detroit 9000 was originally marketed as a blaxploitation film during the height of that genre’s run. In reality, it is less blaxploitation and more urban crime thriller.

It was never hugely successful but it had a resurgence in the late ’90s when Quentin Tarantino helped to get it in the public eye by sampling it on his Jackie Brown soundtrack and by helping to get it redistributed into some theaters. A DVD release followed that.

The film stars Alex Rocco and I love seeing him in his younger days. He’s a guy who I’ve appreciated in just about everything he’s done. Here, he plays a cop trying to do things by the book in a town full of corruption, crime and racial tension. His partner is black and played by Hari Rhodes. The two of them had a dynamic relationship that works well on screen.

You also get to see Vonetta McGee, one of the queens of blaxploitation cinema, and Scatman Crothers as a charismatic preacher.

The one thing that this film had working for it was the action. Sure, there are some flaws, like a noticeable squib on a guy’s neck before it blows open and that same guy firing an assault rifle in the most nonsensical way possible, but this picture is action heavy with a lot of gravitas.

It also feels gritty and real. While that was normal for urban movies of the era, this one just has an extra level of authenticity. It was filmed on location in Detroit and the city really is a character in this film in the same way that New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles really came to life in some of the top film-noir pictures of the 1940s.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I’m a fan of blaxploitation flicks and while this isn’t a true blaxploitation picture, it was kind of better than that style’s average offering due to being more of a straight up crime picture. Yes, racial issues were at the forefront but this felt less like a political and social statement and more like a buddy cop action movie that just happened to take place in that cinematic landscape.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: Cotton Comes to HarlemBlack CaesarThe MackTruck Turner and Bucktown.

Film Review: Family Plot (1976)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s 53rd Film, Deceit, Deception, Missing Heir (working titles)
Release Date: March 21st, 1976 (Filmex)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Based on: The Rainbird Pattern by Victor Canning
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Karen Black, Bruce Dern, Barbara Harris, William Devane, Ed Lauter

Universal Pictures, 121 Minutes

Review:

“[to Fran] We’re gonna have to kill these two ourselves.” – Arthur Adamson

Family Plot has the distinction of being Alfred Hitchcock’s last film. It also proves that even in old age, the director was a true auteur that never lost his mojo. This is an engaging and entertaining motion picture that while it isn’t Hitchcock’s best, probably deserves more recognition than it has gotten over the years.

The plot is about one giant misunderstanding. Unfortunately for the nice duo, it becomes a big mess, as the other duo locked in this cat and mouse game aren’t nice people and in fact are pretty evil and dangerous.

Barbara Harris plays a fake psychic that swindles rich old ladies out of their money. She partners up with a crafty cab driver played by Bruce Dern. The two of them are given a job that will reward them with $10,000 upon completion. That job is to find a long lost heir to a family fortune and return him to the fold. What they don’t know is that this heir is a career criminal and conman. The conman thinks that he is being pursued by the duo because of something heinous from his past. The heir is teamed up with a often times reluctant accomplice played by Karen Black. The film becomes a chase where the mostly good guys keep finding themselves in over their heads and the bad guys are running in fear of what these do-gooders may have on them.

The plot is well structured and executed marvelously for the most part. My only real complaint about the film is that it seems a bit too drawn out. Hitchcock loved a two hour-plus running time and frankly, this could have been 100 minutes and been just as good.

I loved seeing a younger Ed Lauter in the movie and with Bruce Dern and Karen Black, this just has a really cool cast. The fact that these actors also got to work with Hitchcock is kind of impressive. Not because they aren’t capable, they certainly are, but because it’s a teaming of great talents from different generations.

Speaking of which, it was also really neat that John Williams got to score a Hitchcock picture. Two different artists that defined two different generations in very different ways came together and made something that worked to benefit both parties. Williams score here isn’t anywhere as well known as those that he’d do for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg but it enhanced the overall experience of Hitchcock’s Family Plot and gave it some life it might not have had with a less capable composer.

I really enjoyed Family Plot. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it exceeded any expectations I could have had, even if I knew more about it before diving in.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: A lot of Alfred Hitchcock’s later work from the late ’60s into the ’70s.