Film Review: White Lightning (1973)

Also known as: McKlusky (working title)
Release Date: August 8th, 1973
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Written by: William W. Norton
Music by: Charles Bernstein
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley, Diane Ladd, R.G. Armstrong, Laura Dern (uncredited)

United Artists, 101 Minutes

Review:

“I was tryin’ to save these two buddies of mine from getting knocked up by a homosexual.” – Gator McKlusky

White Lightning is a decent movie but not anything exceptional. Yet it still holds a special place in history because it’s popularity would help it to kick off a new type of film genre in the 1970s. Without this, we might not have had all those other car and trucker movies. Hell, who knows what Burt Reynolds would have done had he not carved out his place in history with this sort of role.

This took that ’70s whitesploitation shtick and made it mainstream. This was a film put out by a major studio and had some semblance of a budget compared to the similar grindhouse pictures of the time.

Burt Reynolds, himself, referred to the film as “…the beginning of a whole series of films made in the South, about the South and for the South. No one cares if the picture was ever distributed north of the Mason-Dixon Line because you could make back the cost of the negative just in Memphis alone. Anything outside of that was just gravy. It was a well done film. Joe Sargent is an excellent director. He’s very, very good with actors. And it had some marvelous people in it whom nobody had seen before. Ned Beatty for example. I had to fight like hell to get Ned in the film.”

The film had a pretty good score done by Charles Bernstein, who would make that famous A Nightmare On Elm Street theme a decade later. The score here may sound familiar to fans of Quentin Tarantino, as he reused some of it for his Kill Bill films.

Reynolds was pretty good as Gator McKlusky and he would get to return as a character in the sequel Gator, three years later.

The plot sees Gator initially try to breakout of an Arkansas prison but his attempt is foiled. He then works out a deal to bring down a crooked Sheriff, who is responsible for murdering his brother. Gator wants revenge, the system wants justice and everyone loves moonshine and fast cars.

White Lightning isn’t my favorite film in the genre it helped popularize but it is still worth revisiting from time to time due to its cultural significance and because well, Burt Reynolds is cool. Although, I prefer him alongside Jerry Reed.

Film Review: Hit! (1973)

Release Date: September 18th, 1973
Directed by: Sidney J. Furie
Written by: Alan Trustman, David M. Wolf
Music by: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor

Paramount Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“You know the government pays me $18,000 to be a computer programmer. I’d trade every single cent… just for one night with you.” – Esther

I recently got the Amazon Video subscription add-on Brown Sugar. It’s a streaming service that showcases black cinema and television shows but also has a huge library of blaxploitation pictures, which immediately justified the $3.99 monthly fee. Perusing their library, I came across this. It’s a film I have never heard of before but since it stars both Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor, I had to click “play”.

Sadly, it didn’t live up to the expectations I had in my mind.

The story is about an FBI agent (Williams) that comes to find his daughter dead after she overdosed. His superiors take him off of the case, as he’s too close to it. So Billy Dee goes rogue, forms his own badass squad and goes after the drug pushers responsible.

The main problem with the film is that it is too long. The length draws the movie out way too much and honestly, this story could and should have been told over ninety minutes and not over nearly two and a half hours. It made the film slow and drab and it actually felt like it was three hours. It had some good moments and a few high points but it was jam packed with so much filler that it was like Taco Bell beef instead of a nice juicy Angus steak. It could have been that Angus steak.

Also, the ending just felt really anticlimactic after sitting through this long, drawn out epic.

Now the acting was good. I liked Williams in this a lot and Richard Pryor was great in his parts. There just wasn’t much else to sink your teeth into.

It was directed by Sidney J. Furie though and that right there could be the crux of the problem. Not to bash the guy but he also directed the abysmal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, some of the Iron Eagle movies and some other major duds. Granted, this is better than all of those films and he did helm The Appaloosa and Lady Sings the Blues, both of which were well regarded to some degree.

Hit! just isn’t as good of a film as it should have been. In an era of badass blaxploitation movies, it lacks excitement and gravitas. It really isn’t a true blaxploitation film though and maybe that’s why it misses its mark.

Film Review: Coffy (1973)

Release Date: June 13th, 1973
Directed by: Jack Hill
Written by: Jack Hill
Music by: Roy Ayers
Cast: Pam Grier, Booker Bradshaw, Robert DoQui, William Elliott, Allan Arbus, Sid Haig

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“It was easy for him because he really didn’t believe it was comin’, but it ain’t gonna be easy for you, because you better believe it’s comin’!” – Coffy

Jack Hill made some damn cool pictures in the 1970s. Coffy is the first time he used Pam Grier as his top billed star and it is her breakout role, even though she appeared in a handful of those “women in prison” movies before this.

Grier plays Coffy, a black female vigilante that takes matters into her own hands when she hunts down and kills all the drug pushers that she holds responsible for turning her sister and her community into addicts. Basically, she is like a black female Punisher but much sexier and a lot cooler. The film’s original marketing tagline read, “They call her ‘Coffy’ and she’ll cream you!” If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.

I first discovered Pam Grier when she had her recurring role on Miami Vice but I thought she was cool then and I had no idea about what she did in the decade before my childhood. As I became a teenager, I learned about Foxy Brown and this film and then experienced her return to form in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown. But Coffy, is really where Grier created the persona that would become her forte.

Grier carries this film. In some scenes, she has help from the always sinister yet entertaining Sid Haig, probably now most famous for playing Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. This is Grier’s film though and she shines. But it is cool seeing her play opposite of Haig.

This is a pretty gritty and raw motion picture and having a female lead was really cool, especially when you didn’t get to see women play these tough roles. The ’70s really shattered the damsel in distress formula and it was blaxploitation pictures that helped lead the way. And really, it was Coffy that was out in front of all the others. At least, in my opinion. It’s just an iconic picture and still, one of the best things Pam Grier ever did.

Film Review: The Bad Bunch (1973)

Also known as: Tom (original theatrical title), Nigger Lover, America the Beautiful, Kiss the Establishment Goodbye, Love In Our Time (all working titles), Mothers, Fathers and Lovers (alternate title), The Brothers (reissue title)
Release Date: October, 1973
Directed by: Greydon Clark
Written by: Greydon Clark, Alvin L. Fast
Music by: Ed Cobb
Cast: Greydon Clark, Tom Johnigarn, Jacqueline Cole, Bambi Allen, Aldo Ray

Dimension Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Let’s get that honkey!” – Everyone in the film

I was anticipating this being better than it was but I should have been warned by other people’s reviews of it. Also, it is directed by Greydon Clark, who also stars in it, and nothing he has done has been very good.

Two of his films were bad enough to be lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000Final Justice and Angels Revenge. Some of his other films are also duds: JoysticksBlack ShampooStargames and really, who am I kidding, all his pictures are dead on arrival.

The Bad Bunch or Tom or whatever you want to call it probably would have been on MST3K too, if it weren’t for the copious amounts of boobies and over the top racial hatred.

There’s really nothing positive about this picture. I love grindhouse movies and blaxploitation flicks but this is one of the worst I’ve seen. Based off of the premise, which sees an ex-GI from Vietnam go to Watts to give a medal to the father of his deceased friend and then finds himself in the ghetto being hunted by blacks full of hatred for whitey, I thought that this had some promise.

The hunt for whitey culminates into a one on about a dozen brawl, which is broken up by cops less than twenty minutes into the film. Then the rest of the movie is full of nonsensical scenes that mostly do nothing to advance the plot other than displaying racial hatred and a lot of breasts and ’70s bush.

A much better movie would have been the white guy on the run, trying to survive, using his military skills. This guy had no skills whatsoever and when his shirt was off, he looked like my old Uncle Claude, who never lifted a weight in his life.

This film is a prime example of wasted potential but maybe I’m jumping the gun, as there really wasn’t anything here that had potential, other than the premise. The direction was horrible, the acting was atrocious and not much about the plot made sense.

So does The Bad Bunch deserve to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Why, yes! The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: The ‘Blind Dead’ Film Series (1972-1975)

Amando de Ossorio’s Blind Dead tetralogy is a pretty unique take on the zombie movie formula. In his stories, the undead are actually members of the Knights Templar. Each film begins with a flashback of the knights doing some sort of heinous act, usually torturing young naked women. This is to foreshadow that they are evil and into Satanic rituals… or they just party a little too hard.

Each movie is pretty much the same with just a few minor changes to differentiate each chapter. Ultimately, the Knights Templar do some messed up shit, the people fight back, the knights claim they are immortal, generations later they wake up from a dead slumber because some hottie decided to sleep in their tomb (or meddle around their ghost ship).

So I figured that since these films are really just rehashes of the same thing, it would make more sense to review them together.

Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972):

Also known as: La noche del terror ciego, lit. The Night of the Blind Terror (Spain), Crypt of the Blind Dead, Night of the Blind Dead, Legend of the Blind Dead, Tombs of the Evil Dead, Revenge From Planet Ape
Release Date: April 10th, 1972 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Lone Fleming, César Burner

Interfilme, Plata Films S.A., 101 Minutes

Review:

Tombs of the Blind Dead kicked off the tetralogy. It is also the best story of the bunch but I do prefer the second film a hair bit more.

There is a train that happens to roll through the Portuguese countryside near a haunted tomb of the long dead Templar knights. The main girl in the film jumps off of the train because she’s nuts and doesn’t do anything logical throughout the entire film. She spends the night in this tomb, which wakes up the warrior Catholic zombies. She dies. Her friends that were initially on the train with her, go back to investigate. They obviously discover the cause of her death, a hoard of white robed, sword-wielding zombies that are too slow to properly swashbuckle.

The film isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit, as darkness takes over the screen and obscures too much of the picture. Regardless, these are still some of the coolest zombies in cinema history.

One cool thing about the undead in this film is that they have horses. They are slow like zombies but their steeds of death can outrun any human trying to hightail it away from the site of the haunted tomb. I thought it was weird that their horses were just hanging out for centuries and that they don’t freak the hell out from the zombie state of their masters but it is revealed in the second film that the horses are undead too. That wasn’t so clear in this movie.

Tombs of the Blind Dead is entertaining enough to kill ninety minutes or so. It is not a great zombie picture but very few of them are.

Return of the Blind Dead (1973):

Also known as: El ataque de los muertos sin ojos, lit. Attack of the Blind Dead (Spain), Return of the Evil Dead, Mark of the Devil 5: Night of the Blind Terror
Release Date: September 14th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Tony Kendall, Fernando Sancho, Esperanza Roy, Lone Fleming, Frank Braña, Luis Barboo

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

This chapter in the series is my favorite, overall.

I’d say that the first chapter is a better movie, as the ideas and the concepts are still new but I liked this one for the fact that the undead knights take on a whole village and that it was action heavy and flew by pretty quickly, until the last act of the film, which then slowed everything to a halt.

The people in this chapter are at least not as stupid as the people from the first movie. They’re still idiots but at least there is a couple and a young girl that survive this time. Plus, that finale was pretty good and suspenseful.

The highlight of this film is when the village folk are burning effigies of the evil Knights Templar and then the undead knights show up to spoil the party, putting their swords through all the villagers, trapped within the stone walls of the small town.

Return of the Blind Dead, from a narrative standpoint, is the most fluid picture. It is also the least hokey out of the tetralogy.

The Ghost Galleon (1974):

Also known as: El buque maldito, lit. The Damned Ship (Spain), Horror of the Zombies, Ghost Ships of the Blind Dead, Horror of the Evil Dead, Ship of Zombies, The Blind Dead 3, Zombie Flesh Eater
Release Date: June 28th, 1974 (West Germany)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Maria Perschy, Jack Taylor, Barbara Rey

Ancla Century Films, Belén Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

The Ghost Galleon is where the series took a big shit on itself. Although, it did introduce some cool elements to the mythos and it has the best sequence out of all the films. Unfortunately, most of this is a big piss sandwich.

In this chapter, a couple hotties on a tiny boat get lost in a fog. They then get hit by a large wooden ship. The women, at different times, decide to explore this pirate looking vessel. Both of them end up having a really bad time and we are treated to one of the most bloodcurdling zombie kills ever captured on celluloid. Not because it is violent and awesome but because the damn girl literally screams for like five minutes and it is the most annoying scream I’ve ever heard. I can’t necessarily blame the filmmakers, as the scream came to me courtesy of the English dub track. But man, I really wanted to punch my TV because that bitch wouldn’t friggin’ die.

I do like the pirate ship and the swashbuckling aesthetic of this chapter but the story isn’t exciting and the film, overall, is boring as hell.

But we do get rewarded for sitting through this drab movie, as the final sequence is the best in the series. It shows our two heroes escape the wrath of the Knights Templar, as they reach the beach after drifting on a piece of wood all night. Once they collapse in the sand, the living dead, in their robes, rise one-by-one out of the water and slowly walk up onto the beach, surrounding the exhausted heroes, who open their eyes to see their doom finally huddling over them.

Also, the glowing demon skull in the film was a nice touch.

Night of the Seagulls (1975):

Also known as: La noche de las gaviotas (Spain), Don’t Go Out at Night, Night of the Blood Cult, Night of the Death Cult, Terror Beach, Night of the Evil Dead, The Blind Dead 4, Zombi 8, The Bloodfeast of the Blind Dead
Release Date: August 11th, 1975 (Spain)
Directed by: Amando de Ossorio
Written by: Amando de Ossorio
Music by: Antón García Abril
Cast: Victor Petit, Maria Kosti, Sandra Mozarowsky

Ancla Century Films, Profilmes, Pérez Pareja, M. Flor, 89 Minutes

Review:

Night of the Seagulls is better than The Ghost Galleon but not by much.

We return to a beach setting in this one, as de Ossorio probably enjoyed the nautical theme of the previous chapter and its beach ending.

In this chapter, a doctor and his young wife move to a small coastal town. The locals don’t like them because locals of villages never like outsiders, especially in horror movies. The doctor and his wife are eventually confronted by the town’s dark secret; every seven years, the undead Knights Templar rise out of the sea and haunt the village for seven nights, demanding the the sacrifice of a young woman. It is up to the doctor and his wife to try and save one of the young girls from a horrible fate.

While this is a better movie than The Ghost Galleon, it is the least interesting. It’s as if de Ossorio ran out of good ideas and just threw together some lowest common denominator horror tropes. Maybe this was just an effort to capitalize on the success of the series but it was lazily crafted and didn’t open the door for any further sequels.

The undead Knights Templar would not rise again.

Film Review: Psychomania (1973)

Also known as: The Death Wheelers, The Frog, The Living Dead
Release Date: January 5th, 1973 (West Germany)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cameron
Cast: George Sanders, Beryl Reid, Nicky Henson, Mary Larkin, Roy Holder, Robert Hardy

Benmar Productions, Scotia-Barber, Scotia International, International Film Distributors, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It’s easy to kill live people.” – Jane Pettibone

When I read the premise of this film, I got massively excited. I had to see it! However, watching it was a massive disappointment.

The premise stated that the film was about a small town biker gang called The Living Dead. They are a wild bunch with skull helmets that like to hangout in cemeteries and obsess over dead stuff. The leader kills himself to actually be reborn as “the living dead”. The rest of his crew follow suit and we get an evil biker gang that is seemingly immortal, indestructible and have super strength.

This film could have been something really cool but in the end, it was mostly a bore without any real frights or scares and it was all just really nonsensical and pointless.

The biker leader is the bratty son of some rich psychic lady with ties to some ancient power or something. The biker brat gets some mysterious frog and they are able to harness its mystical powers so that the young man can become a handsome leather clad zombie biker. In fact, when the biker brat emerges from the grave on his motorcycle, he has no dirt on him and his hair looks like some model’s from a 1970s Short & Sassy shampoo commercial.

The movie suffers from the fact that there isn’t a likable person in it. Everyone is actually kind of deplorable. The one character that is supposed to be the innocent girl about to be victimized by the zombie bikers is actually a member of the gang that just doesn’t have any interest in being undead. Still, she is a part of this gang of nincompoops and the audience shouldn’t really give a shit about her.

Our biker zombies never really become zombies anyway. They just look the same but they can easily murder people with their bare hands and Incredible Hulk grip.

This is a dumb and pointless movie and the music throughout it is horrible. I don’t hate it though; it isn’t total shit. It just sort of exists in a weird limbo. It could have been something interesting but it failed to be good and it failed to be bad. Had it been atrociously bad, it could have been somewhat endearing. It was just a boring dud with no style and not a lot of substance.

Film Review: Lisa and the Devil (1973)

Release Date: May 9th, 1973 (France)
Directed by: Mario Bava (as Mickey Lion), Alfredo Leone (English version scenes)
Written by: Alberto Cittini, Giorgio Maulini, Romano Migliorini, Roberto Natale, Francesca Rusishka, Mario Bava, Alfredo Leone
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Telly Savalas, Elke Sommer, Sylva Koscina, Alessio Orano, Alida Valli

Euro America Produzioni, Cinematografiche, Leone International, Roxy Film, Tecisa, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I prefer ghosts to vampires, though. They’re so much more human; they have a tradition to live up to. Somehow they manage to keep all the horror in without spilling any blood.” – Sophia Lehar

I’m a pretty big fan of Mario Bava’s work. Some of it is brilliant but some of it misses the mark. Unfortunately, Lisa and the Devil is one of the films that fits in with the latter.

I checked it out because I also love Telly Savalas and Alida Valli, due to her work with Dario Argento, most notably Suspiria and Inferno. Also, the premise sounded really cool.

The story is about an American woman who is sightseeing in Spain. She sees a fresco that features the Devil. She then bumps into a man that looks exactly like the Devil from the painting. She tries to avoid him but he keeps popping up. Eventually, after losing her tour group, she takes a ride from some aristocrats who break down in front of a Spanish mansion in the country. The mansion’s butler is none other than the man the American woman kept seeing. Stranded at the mansion, things get interesting.

Well, things should have gotten interesting but they really don’t.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it is so surreal that it is hard to follow. It is also disjointed and takes rapid twists and turns that don’t really do anything other than complicate the narrative. To be completely honest, I have no idea what the hell was happening in this picture from the midpoint on. The American edit of the film is even more confusing, from what I’ve heard, as it had major changes that complicated it further, as it tried to mimic The Exorcist and ultimately got critically torn apart for blatantly ripping off that superior film.

The positives of this film are too scant to really redeem it in any way.

Telly Savalas is cool as the Devil character but he just isn’t explored enough.

Also, the cinematography and use of colors was cool but it didn’t save the cheap looking sets and poor overall design of them. The mansion comes off as just pieces of ornately painted flat walls, which it probably was.

Lisa and the Devil was most likely a failure because it had too many chefs in the kitchen and Bava went too far over the top and needed to reel it in a bit.