Wednesday, May 16, 2018

COFFY 1973


"They call her Coffy and she'll cream you !"




     In the early 70's AIP was looking to break into the burgeoning genre of what's now known as Blaxploitation and were set to distribute Jack Starrett's CLEOPATRA JONES when the deal fell through and looking to get some product quickly into the market they turned to writer/director Jack Hill. CLEOPATRA JONES was meant to be the first Blaxploitation starring an empowered female central character and Hill going with same basic formula (along with the undeniable presence of Pam Grier) created a classic of 70's cinema and the film that launched Pam's career. COFFY with revenge seeking bad-ass female character beat CLEOPATRA JONES and its similar plot line into release and ended up burying it at the box office.
     Starting off with a bang as it's wonderfully bloody & violent pre-credit sequence shows what looks to be hooker begging her john/dealer for a fix, she quickly dispatches him by blowing his head off with a shotgun and then forcing his minion to OD on heroin. We quickly learn that the "hooker" is nurse Pam Grier (whose last name is Coffin and only referred to as "Coffy" throughout the film) whose out for revenge after her younger sister was addicted to smack and is confined to a psychiatric hospital. She is also in a relationship with up & coming politician Howard Brunswick (Booker Bradshaw SKULLDUGGERY 1970) and friends with nice guy policeman Carter (William Elliott from TV's ADAM-12) with whom it's also hinted at she had a past relationship with.




     After Carter is brutally beaten and left brain dead Coffy sets her sights on the entire drug organization including drug kingpin gangster Arturo Vitroni (Allen Arbus from TV's MASH) and pimp "King George" (who has his own theme song on the soundtrack) played by Robert DoQui (GUYANA: CULT OF THE DAMNED 1979). In a scene that must rank among a highlight of 70's Blaxploitation cinema (or cinema in general for that matter) Grier decked out in a white bikini, massive sunglasses (and a hilarious fading in & out Jamaican accent) lounges by a pool on order to meet King George and infiltrate his stable of hookers. Becoming the favorite of the King, she incurs the wrath of blond haired hooker Meg (played with spit-in-your face brass balled perfection by the wonderful Linda Haynes from ROLLING THUNDER) which leads to massive cat fight during a party with plenty of ripped off dresses and some amazing (and painful it would seem) stunt work performed by Grier, Haynes and others.
   Grier has a magnificent presence here and although her acting is a bit wooden she carries this movie with gusto and Jack Hill's usual economical pull no punches direction and writing keeps things moving at a quick clip. Although the plot is standard stuff having a female in the lead role of the avenger was something new (along with Raquel Welch in 1971's HATTIE CAULDER) and would pretty much set the blueprint for Grier's 70's career as a kick-ass leading lady.
   She also plays the role as conflicted and confused - especially to the level of corruption she encounters and how much killing is forced upon her. Altough she does have a moral compass she clearly knows what she wants to do and the villains are played to such outlandish rottenness you can't help but root for their demise.




    With the "n" word thrown out in about every other line and a very bloody dragging death behind a car Coffy is awash in very gritty 70's un-PC atmosphere and like many urban dramas of the period it deals with the encroachment of drugs and crime (usually perpetrated by whites with Italian surnames) into black communities. It presents the entire system of police and politicians as totally and wholly corrupt with only Coffy's policeman friend being honest and he in turn meets with a very bloody exit.
    Filled with familiar character faces (including Sid Haig as a gangster enforcer), Stuntman Bob Minor (THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS), Leslie McRay (DEATH RACE 2000), Lisa Farringer (TRUCK TURNER) and an uncredited Marilyn Joi pops up as a prostitute. Pam had worked with Jack Hill previously for New World in Philippines for THE BIG DOLL HOUSE and THE BIG BIRDCAGE. COOFY features an excellent soundtrack Roy Ayers including the title theme "Coffy Is The Color".







     






Tuesday, March 20, 2018

THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS 1960


"Coffins Looted ! Cadavers Dissected !"  



    The historical horrors of Edinburgh's infamous murdering/grave robbing duo of William Burke and William Hare have long fascinated filmmakers and writers. Starting in 1948 there was Tod Slaughter's THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART (British censors forced name changes) and recently there was John Landis's BURKE & HARE in 2010 along with the excellent THE BODY SNATCHER from 1945. In the late 1950's producer/writer/director John Gilling (THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE REPTILE) formed Triad Productions for the specific purpose of producing THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. Gilling had previously written 1948's THE GREED OF WILLIAM HART and frustrated with his inability to bring historical accuracy to the film because of the censors looked again to the project in the more liberal post- Hammer period of British horror.
     In the early 1800's Edinburgh Scotland was the center of anatomical study in Europe with the shortage of fresh cadavers forcing doctors to deal with grave robbers (or "resurrectionist") who dug up freshly buried corpses or in the case of Burke and Hare turned to murder. Public outcry led to the passing of the Anatomy Act of 1932 which allowed the donation of corpses for medical study and ids a plot point in the current BBC series THE FRANKENSTEIN CHRONICLES.




    Written (along with Leon Griffiths) and directed by Gilling this stands among the finest of British "historical horrors" and features one of Peter Cushing's best non-Hammer roles after that studios THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA propelled him to stardom. At the same time, there was an un-produced script by Dylan Thomas floating about (that would emerge as THE DOCTOR AND THE DEVILS in 1985) so the script was re-written by Griffiths in order to not have too much in common with the earlier Slaughter film and the Thomas script.
   Although closely based upon the actual events (with a few ghoulish details added mostly regardarding the climax) the story adds the character of Chris Jackson (John Cairney) and his relationship to Dr. Knox (Peter Cushing) and the two resurrectionists William Burke (George Rose) and William Hare (Donald Pleasence). Set in 1828, medical student Jackson is employed by surgeon/teacher Dr. Knox to aid his assistant Dr. Mitchell (Dermont Walsh) in the procurement of corpses for his classroom work. At one point Jackson is dispatched to a pub to pay for a recently delivered specimen and there he meets feisty prostitute Mary Patterson (a young Billie Whitelaw) and begins a relationship with her (and a rather lusty one for 1960 censors)




   We're also introduced to Burke who along with his wife Helen (Renee Houston) runs a seedy boardinghouse with one of the tenants being Hare. After another boarder suddenly dies the duo sells the body to Knox and begin their string of murders (historically sixteen are credited to them) to expedite the process. Jackson and Mitchell both bring their concerns to Knox concerning the freshness and signs of violence (suffocating or "Burkeing" as it was called was their preferred method) upon the bodies provided by the pair. Things are brought to the forefront horrifically (especially in Jackson's case) in the film's climax and while sticking mostly to the facts does have a more grislier comeuppance for Hare then happened historically.
    Shot in B&W scope (Dyaliscope credited here as "Dylacope - one of the many cheaper Cinemascope knock-offs) by Monty Berman (THE CRAWLING EYE) while looking a bit more upscale with the widescreen compositions still has certain grungy look about it (fitting its setting & plot). Shot at Shepperton it was able to use some of that studios more spacious sets helping it avoid a "set bound" look for the most part. Like several other British horror films produced during this period such as JACK THE RIPPER and THE HELLFIRE CLUB, it was shot with a few alternate scenes for a "continental" version for showing in Europe. Consisting of few glimpses of topless barmaids (but not Billie Whitelaw) and a close-up of a hanging climax they're included on the Image DVD (released as a part of their EuroShock Collection and now OOP).
    Cushing is excellent here portraying Dr. Knox as a man of high principles who turns a blind eye to what part he takes in the crimes and his role here can be seen as an extension of his Dr. Frankenstein in the Hammer films. This can be seen especially in the sequence where he haughtily talks down to his fellow doctors. Speaking of eyes, Cushing's Knox displays one droopy eye (the result of childhood chicken pox) of which the historical Dr. was afflicted and it was used predominately in the films artwork. The historical Dr. Knox though while ostracized from the medical community escaped any form of punishment which caused a public outcry and is the basis for Robert Wise's excellent THE BODY SNATCHERS.




    Donald Pleasence is wonderful as the wanna-be dandy Hare. Wearing a well-worn top and raggedy dress clothes he fussily plays with his ring and snuff box and constantly tries to suck up to the more refined Knox ("would you take a bit of snuff doctor") while being constantly rebuked by him. The loathsome hatred of having deal with the likes of Hare is brought to the forefront beautifully by Cushing. Rose and Pleasence have some great dialogue together, while sometimes getting close to comedy, it does add to the characters evil charm. There's a bit of unnecessary subplot with Cushing's niece coming for a visit and while initialing setting up a love interest for Dr. Mitchell this goes nowhere and is likely added to pad the running time.
    It was released by Valiant Pictures in the U.S. under various tiles such as MANIA and PSYCHO KILLERS and in 1964 was cut by 23 minutes and released by Pacemaker under the title THE FIENDISH GHOULS. The Image DVD contains both the 94 min British theatrical print (complete with its "X" certificate) and the 95 minute "continental" version with the naughty bits.










Monday, March 12, 2018

THE YOUNG CYCLE GIRLS aka CYCLE VIXENS 1978


"Ravaged - robbed and busted from county to county"


     This sometimes-uneasy mix of feminism, EASY RIDER, exploitation and 70's road movies was a late entry in that decade's "R" rated drive-in fare and tardy in latching onto both the "road" and "biker" genres that proliferated earlier. Also channeling some of the dangers of the road plots from such films as JOYRIDE TO NOWHERE (1977), THUMB TRIPPING (1972) and GIRLS ON THE ROAD (1972) it's recently turned up in its uncut form after years of (rightly so, some would argue) obscurity and believe it or not this was something of a holy grail for me.
    It was produced by Peter Perry Jr. who spent the 60's producing & directing such soft-core sex films as the monster rally KISS ME QUICK (1965), THE NOTORIOUS FANNY HILL (1966) & THE JOYS OF JEZEBEL (1970) and directed by Jack Arnoldy who served as second unit director for JAILBAIT BABYSITTER (1977) and SUPERVAN (1977) among others. Perhaps both were looking to go legit and/or move up in food chain of film production but it their endeavor seems to have faded into obscurity quickly after release.



     Opening with a title card that reads "The Time.. Like Now..." we're introduced to sisters Sheila (Daphne Lawrence) and Sherry (Deborah Marcus) who along with their best friend Priss (Loraine Ferris) are getting bored with summer break in Boulder CO. Looking to take a breather from swilling beer with the locals from the back of a van at the local burger joint they impulsively decide to drive their motorcycles to California to "see the ocean". Sheila and Sherry parents while skeptical agree to the trip while Priss's parents forbade it necessitating her to ruff off without permission.
    They embark on the trip and run into various comedic and/or horrific situations and it's here that the film rears its schizophrenic nature. Unlike EASY RIDER whose characters found their journey darker as it progressed this film jumps from such lighthearted fare as the trio attempting to give a lift to a guy and his overweight girlfriend to a particularly brutal attack and rape sequence and a malicious policeman. In addition, the girls make some bone-headed moves throughout the film which doesn't help with our sympathies for them including flashing themselves at a creepy pervert peeping tom and inviting a very sketchy couple into their nighttime camp (both of which lead to tragic results).




    The cast is interesting in the fact that this their only acting credit across the board with the expected acting results in full display. The three leads are attractive and exceed a 70's sexy wholesomeness and to the films credit there is a modicum of effort to give them distinct personalities. The plot is sometime painfully padded with riding sequences (and a pinball game that stretches into whole minutes) with shots of the three riding abreast on an obvious towing rig as they randomly jiggle throttles and clutch handles.
    Filmed for the most part it would seem around the California's Mojave Desert, a sense of travel is conveyed by shots of state line signs with the girls giving a thumbs-up and pointing and there's some fascinating looks at vintage roadside America including billboards, diners and a stop at the now closed Lake Dolores Water Park in Newberry Springs, CA. - which gives our leads the opportunity to change into bikinis in full view of the camera. For anyone who came of age in the 70's there's a nostalgia tinged sequence where a group of teenagers lay on the hood of their cars while drinking beer and tuning their car radios to the same station ("Right on, tune it to 108") and ends with the classic deflowering of the nerd sequence by Sheila.




     There's a Byrds like country rock song (another nod to EASY RIDER) that plays endlessly on the soundtrack ("Cruisin'...Yeah cruisin' down the road...") until its forever drilled in your brain and the EASY RIDER-like downbeat ending is a bit of a jaw dropper but not surprising considering the films main influence in the Dennis Hopper/ Peter Fonda classic. The film closes with a head scratching trying-to-be art house sequence that only adds to the its all over the map approach.
      I first encountered this movie back in the 80's on a VHS rental where it was re-titled CYCLE VIXENS with three models on the cover straddling choppers looking they just stepped off the set of a hair metal band video. As part of my all-encompassing desire to view biker films I was very disappointed after discovering it played out like a TV movie and I had the distinct feeling something was missing. Awhile back I discovered this DVD and happily found it contained the uncut version with the requisite "R" rated content intact under the original title. Hey, it doesn't take a lot to make me happy.