Saturday, October 19, 2019
Friday, August 9, 2019
The Mob vs. The Militia vs. … Fashion Models?
While not quite as insane as RAW FORCE (1982), 1984’s JUNGLE WARRIORS features its own brand of nuttiness, and includes CHAINED HEAT (1983) alumni Sybil Danning and John Vernon, not to mention Paul “Bluto” Smith (from 1980’s POPEYE live action film). By the time the film had unreeled it’s first 20 minutes I was engrossed despite the nagging from a friend who insisted we should’ve gone to another film. Nonsense!
My junior year of high school was only a couple months in, but like so many films before it, JUNGLE WARRIORS’ ad in the NY Daily News infected my brain early one Friday morning and was all I could think about. The school day dragged, dinner time dragged, but by the time my friends and I hit the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theater I was about as excited as anyone could be over a film I knew little about. And being a Friday night, the theater was quite packed for a film that to the best of my memory had no TV ad campaign.
It should be noted that the opening theme song (which I found out just recently was sung by a popular Italian singer named Marina Arcangeli) is so outrageously bad, those of us in attendance didn’t know if we should laugh, cry, cover our ears, or all three. I was expecting any glass inside the theater to explode at any second as this voice penetrated my ear drums. Yes, it is that bad and were the song released today, it would instantly be considered a YouTube joke. To make matters worse, the film’s end credits features the same damn song! But, onward…
A bunch of American fashion models travel to South America for an exotic photo shoot. But during one of their flights around the country (Peru? Chile? You tell me!) their plane is shot down by a private militia who guard a secret cocaine plantation. They survive the crash but are taken prisoners of drug lord Cesar Santiago (Smith), who happens to be in an incestuous relationship with his sister Angel. Cesar spends his days counting his money, throwing orders at his army and oil massaging his sister. So, yeah, this guy is the epitome of a sleazy coke dealer if there ever was one (and remember at this time, SCARFACE (1983) was only a year old and still in film fans’ minds). Cesar certainly made Scarface look competent and in control, but the audience at the Fox Twin howled with laughter nearly every time he was onscreen. Maybe it was his voice? Maybe this suburban crowd had only heard about incest through racy jokes and were nervously giggling as he did the horizontal mambo with his sister? Whatever the case, he’s convinced one of the alleged fashion models is a cop looking to shut down his operation, so he has his goons lock them in the basement and try to get info out of them.
As the models worry, wondering if they’re going to be killed or used as sex slaves for the private militia, a woman who works for Cesar helps them escape. Of course, they manage to find guns and help the film’s title become a reality.
Meanwhile, Mafia kingpin Vito (Vernon) arrives to talk business with Cesar. It doesn’t take too long into their meeting before things go awry.
JUNGLE WARRIORS is a terrible film, yet one that will appeal to exploitation film fans. It’s part rape/revenge, part women’s prison, part mafia, and the last twenty minutes is all action as the cocaine militia, the mafia, the local police, and our models (a.k.a. the Jungle Warriors) attempt to survive as bullets fly in every direction, fist fights break out, and one of Cesar’s henchmen, armed with a crossbow, causes unnecessary pain among the gunfire. And when Cesar attempts to escape the chaos in a helicopter, one of our models manages to thwart his plans.
The audience seemed to enjoy the film well enough, but there were plenty of laughs over the sub-par acting. One rape scene is a bit intense (and I’ve read over the years it was cut from some versions in an attempt to appeal to mainstream action film fans) and fans of the aforementioned actors will love seeing them in this (still) mostly unseen film.
With overtly racist dialogue, a militia member strutting around in an E.T. T-shirt (!), and a way too slow pace for today’s audiences, JUNGLE WARRIORS is the perfect time capsule for low budget 80s action films. And while everything explained above may sound a bit risqué for the time, the film isn’t as violent or as sexual as it could’ve been. Guess the budget for FX and nudity just wasn’t there?
For action, mafia, jungle, women’s prison, and crossbow completists only.
Danning, Vernon, and Smith head an incredible psychotronic cast in JUNGLE WARRIORS
To read the first 79 installments of this column with plenty of bonus material in a gore-geous package, check out SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE from Headpress Publishing, available in special edition hardcover, trade paperback, and eBook. Click link under book cover to order directly from the press NOW. The book goes on sale everywhere else February 2020. NOTE: the material in this book is not available online.
Monday, July 15, 2019
SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES no. 81:
It's Clobberin' Time!
by Nick Cato
After being assaulted by prime time and late night TV commercials, my interest was piqued for THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH LIVES, a film where, going just by its ad campaign, was hard to tell if it was a slasher or supernatural offering. It turns out neither, although since its release some have labeled it a pseudo-slasher. But by the time you finish reading this column you just may agree with me and consider it a sleep-inducing turkey. And in 1984, there were A LOT of sleep-inducing turkeys out there.
Once again, the (now defunct) Amboy Twin admitted my friends and me to a Saturday afternoon screening with just about half the theater filled up. Of course I was the only geek in attendance who recognized Patricia Pearcy (the actress who starred in the far superior 1976 creepy crawly SQUIRM) as soon as she walked onscreen, yet any hope I had for this flick ended just minutes later.
Meredith (Pearcy) is an in-home nurse who arrives at the mansion of an ill millionaire named Ivar Langrock (played by Joseph Cotten, who also starred in a superior horror film, 1980’s THE HEARSE, among dozens of others). She’s there to take care of him in his last days, and is joined by Ivan’s creepy, flaky, nerdy grandson Gabriel (who played one of the teens in JAWS 2 (1978)), and Ivar’s lawyer, Jeffrey (David Hayward, who had roles in Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE (1976) and VAN NUYS BLVD. (1979) among others). For most of the film, we hear Meredith narrating the story through her thoughts, but unlike 1972’s SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT, which employed this technique in a minor way and to far better effect, here it comes off as silly and had most of the crowd giggling and yelling for her to “Shit or get off the pot” (yep, this was actually blurted out by someone sitting close to the screen). After a while I wondered if she’d ever start talking with her mouth, and eventually she did (but we get more thinking narration before long). Ughh.
To break up the tediousness, visitors and butlers/maids are being killed off, and everyone is a suspect. Victims are beaten to death with the leg from a chair (don’t ask), hence giving me the title for this column. In the finale, when the killer is revealed, said killer does beat the living crap out of someone with said chair leg, which was the only thing in the film that earned slight applause from the audience who I assume was a bored as I was (if not for the Goldberg’s Dark Chocolate Chews and their wonderful sugar level, I’m sure even at 15 years of age I would’ve dozed off).
And speaking of beating people to death, I’d like to take a chair leg to the cranium of whoever gave this turd an R rating. The clubbings are more graphic in your average Bugs Bunny cartoon, there’s barely any blood shown, and the “sex scene” is quick and shot quite dark, hence nothing is shown. Even a scene where Gabriel walks into the bathroom as Meredith bathes shows nothing, making THE HOUSE WHERE DEATH LIVES an easy PG. But, in 1984, as it is today, R rated films sold more tickets, so…
The crowd at the Amboy Twin, along with my buds and myself, left the theater completely unsatisfied. This heavily advertized sleep-fest was more of a murder mystery TV movie of the week than an R rated slasher or haunted house film, and like many films released in the early-mid 80s featured a newspaper ad / theater poster (see above) that was way better than the film itself.
I recently revisited the film on YouTube after writing this column, and I have to say it was even more boring than I remembered. There’s a side plot about Meredith being sexually abused by her father I didn’t recall (most likely because it adds little to the plot), and regardless of her fine turn in the aforementioned SQUIRM, here Patricia Pearcy’s acting was, shall we say, less than stellar. Not bad, but for a leading lady in a widely released film, less than stellar. And I had forgotten all about one decent scene toward the ending, where Ivar pulls a predictable yet fun surprise on Meredith, but in the end I think everyone at the Amboy Twin knew who the killer was from early on. Also, there's a German shepherd named Nicholas. Great name!
The real victims at this screening were us, the suburban audience, who were lured into the theater thanks to a slick TV commercial and a newspaper ad campaign that was 99.9% FALSE.
The film was (first) released theatrically in 1981 and on VHS as DELUSION, I don’t think it ever came to DVD, and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until it comes out as a deluxe blu-ray (if it hasn’t already) to steal the moolah of unsuspecting newbies. If it does, they should at least re-title it THE HOUSE WHERE SLEEP LIVES, because that’s what viewers will surely be doing shortly after the opening credits.
Tuesday, July 9, 2019
SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES no 80:
Slapped by the Devil’s Hand!
by Nick Cato
June, 1981: The seventh grade was ending, my friends and I were looking forward to the summer (which readers of this column know was a great one for me), and a casual browse through the Friday section of the NY Daily News revealed the glorious ad seen above. Like most horror films at that time, DEMONOID: MESSENGER OF DEATH was released with little fanfare other than newspaper ads and brief trailers seen on late night television (which, for some reason, I didn’t see). And when said ad contained the warning “Certain scenes could be too shocking for those of you who are not true believers in the Devil!” you can bet your life I hauled my (then) 13 year-old Catholic ass down to the (now defunct) Amboy Twin for a Saturday afternoon screening and dragged two buddies along. Unfortunately, the Amboy Twin wasn’t in on the other gimmick seen in the above ad (“Demonoid Diplomas” were given out to the first 500 patrons at certain theaters), but I sucked it up and entered the theater diploma-free.
After a promising opening which had the small crowd’s attention (300 years ago, devil worshipers in white hooded robes cut off a topless woman’s hand in an underground lair), DEMONOID quickly loses steam. Jennifer (played by Samantha Eggar, taking a major backslide after starring in 1979’s THE BROOD) meets her husband Mark down in Mexico where he’s leading an archeological dig. But his workers refuse to go any deeper into a mine after he discovers a hidden chamber, which sure enough was the site of the ancient Satanic rituals seen in flashback just a few minutes earlier. Among the items Mark and Jennifer bring to their hotel room from the discovery is a case shaped like a hand. As they sleep, the dust inside the case turns into a disembodied hand, and it manages to find its way to Jennifer’s leg, causing laughs from the mostly teenage crowd. But as Mark tries to remove it from his wife, the hand vanishes, and it’s not until a little bit later we learn the hand “jumps bodies” and its first victim is Mark, whose hand is now possessed. This was six years before Bruce Campbell’s became possessed in EVIL DEAD 2, but thankfully Bruce made the insanity work. In DEMONOID, everyone who gets taken over by the “Devil’s Hand” becomes laughable, especially a cop who drags Jennifer to the ER and threatens to kill the doctor unless he cuts his hand off!
I remember laughing through most of DEMONOID, but my two buds weren’t as enthralled with the low budget crapfest as I was. They had just spent their hard earned allowances on something they really weren’t too interested in seeing in the first place (more on that in a minute). And yes, I paid dearly.
The ONLY thing I liked about this film was Father Cunningham, played by the great Stuart Whitman. Who better to take on the fruits of an ancient cult as much as the guy who played the ultimate cult leader in GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED (1979) just two years earlier? And even more importantly to this young trash film hound, Whitman had starred in the absurd 1972 giant killer rabbit epic NIGHT OF THE LEPUS. But unlike his bunny-killing skills and ability to make hundreds of people drink tainted Kool Aid, here Whitman is pretty much lifeless as a priest, even when he’s trying to cut off and torch his hand during the finale when it becomes possessed. I always wondered about films like this and THE EXORCIST (1973), when Catholic priests become possessed, even temporarily. Why? I thought they had God protecting them? Either way, my young theological questions would have to wait as I had to deal with two ticked off friends who wanted to leave, an audience full of people who sounded as if they were at a comedy, and an usher who kept his eye on me throughout the film after catching me trying to let my friends in the side door (I had played it off like I was walking the wrong way when I was spotted, so I went to my seat and hoped my friends would join me. They eventually realized I couldn’t get the door open, and paid to get in and spent the rest of the weekend breaking my chops for picking such a cinematic turkey). But it wasn’t the first or last time they let me pick the film and I think I still have the bruises on my arm from getting punched to prove it!
After everyone she knows dies, the film ends with Jennifer receiving a package in the mail. It’s about the size of a shoe box, and although I figured the hand had somehow survived and was in it, instead there is a black candle … and the possessed hand, again disembodied, comes out of the sink! It latches onto Jennifer’s face and slams her through a glass coffee table. The End. My friends booed and called me a dick. The rest of the audience laughed as the credits rolled. And once again we had been the victims of false advertising.
DEMONOID: MESSENGER OF DEATH ended up being one of my least favorite films of the 80s, and like so many other films looked at in this column, it has gained somewhat of a cult following over the years. In 2015, Vinegar Syndrome released a blu-ray edition that features an interview with the director (this was his 21st film but only second attempt at horror) and a bunch of other goodies those into this mess will prbably enjoy. Me? I’ve only had this one theatrical viewing until just recently when I felt compelled to revisit after writing this column. I found it on some RoKu channel, and my opinion stands: it’s a terrible film, it wastes a talented cast, and the ONLY way to enjoy it is in a theater full of patrons mocking it or after a few cases of your favorite brew. There are far better films dealing with possessed/killer hands if this is your thing (may I suggest the FAR superior thriller, THE HAND, released just two months before DEMONOID, starring the great Michael Caine?) Yeah. Go for that one.
Note: To read the first 79 columns of SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES, along with a bunch of nifty extras, grab this heavily illustrated, gore-geous collection from Headpress Publishing. Also note these first 79 columns are NO LONGER available online...
Monday, July 8, 2019
Originally schedule to be released December 2019, the UK's Headpress Publishing has unleashed SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE: FROM STATEN ISLAND TO TIMES SQUARE AND ALL THE SLEAZE BETWEEN by Nick Cato on 5/31/19 exclusively through their website in trade paperback, eBook, and a special limited edition hardcover. The book will be released everywhere else early next year, in February, 2020 (pre-orders are available on Amazon). If you'd like to grab a copy now, just visit HEADPRESS and you can choose from one of the options mentioned above. This gorgeous volume collects the first 79 installments of Cato's SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column, which ran from 2010-2018 on the (now defunct) Cinema Knife Fight website. There's also plenty of new material, including updates, interviews with exploitation film directors and stars, and lots of rare ads and images throughout.
Early reviews have been quite good:
"Nick Cato's desire for sex, blood and filth fleshes out the lesser-known neighborhood venues were lone pervs would anonymously gather to get their collective rocks off. An essential addition to the grindhouse scholar’s shelf, Cato’s roadmap to cinematic depravity relights those long-dimmed and demolished dingy marquees, comforting us with the gentle solace and reminiscence of what can only be experienced in the darkest shadows of the cinema."
-Shade Rupe, author of DARK STARS RISING
"No movie is an experience in and of itself. There’s a big difference between seeing Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a nice, shiny DVD in your living room and seeing it the way God intended–in a theater full of filth, cigarette butts, broken bottles and used syringes. In SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE, Nick Cato becomes the Marcel Proust of trash cinema, resurrecting memories of the kinds of late, lamented, Mom and Pop fleapits in which seeing an anti-social movie with your buddies was a gloriously anti-social act. He writes about the total experience of seeing exploitation movies, and each entry in SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE is a bite into a memory-packed Madeleine full of delicious sleaze."
-Michael Marano, Mediadrome movie columnist for Cemetery Dance
"There was a time not long ago when I figured that I’d never have to read another book of movie reviews again. I’d been there and done that–I thought I’d seen (and read) it all! Well, I was wrong. Boy, was I ever wrong. Nick Cato’s Suburban Grindhouse is, quite frankly, one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. Funny, in your face, and most important of all, informative, SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE is a rare treat, indeed. And– like my favorite movies–I look forward to visiting it again and again."
-John Szpunar, author of Xeroxferox and Blood Sucking Freak: The Life and Films of the Incredible Joel M. Reed
"So ‘you are there’ real you can smell the urine mixed with popcorn and cigarettes! You may even check your shoes for gummies! This one’s SO much fun to read."
-Dennis Daniel, Deep Red Magazine
Nick Cato's SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES will be returning to this blog soon with his 80th column. Continuing where he left off in 2018 at the late CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT website, Nick will continue to recollect his experiences in local theaters in Staten Island and NJ, as well as visits to Times Square during it's heyday. At the time of Cinema Knife Fight's folding, Nick had several columns in the works and currently has over two dozen new entries ready to go. Subscribe to this blog (see details at bottom of right hand column) or follow our Facebook or Instagram page to keep abreast of new postings.
The SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE podcast is currently getting several new shows together, and of course you can listen to them right here as soon as they go up.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
On this episode, Mike "McBeardo" McPadden joins us in the Grindhouse to discuss his forthcoming book TEEN MOVIE HELL, and we also yak on about old school fanzines, Times Square, and plenty of obscure teen sex comedies.
Please forgive the less than stellar sound quality during the first 6 and last 5 minutes of the show. Thank you!
Please forgive the less than stellar sound quality during the first 6 and last 5 minutes of the show. Thank you!
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Film columnist, author, and creator of the CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT website, LL SOARES, joins us in the Grindhouse as we discuss his latest novel as well as Boston Drive Ins, Andy Milligan, Lucio Fulci, Jess Franco, the music of Andrew Hung and a lot more...