Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Junesploitation Diaries Vol. 1

by Rob DiCristino
Thoughts on our first week of exploitation madness!

Day One: ‘80s Action! - Action Jackson (1988)
Does a Joel Silver production get any more Joel Silver than Action Jackson? Carl Weathers leads a ham and cheese epic of corporate espionage and police brutality that knows exactly when and how to favor incoherent fun over plot cohesion or logic. I knew my #Junesploitation was off to a good start when I saw names like Craig T. Nelson, Vanity, Thomas F. Wilson (Back to the Future’s Biff Tannen), Bill Duke, Robert Davi, Sharon Stone, and Die Hard’s lovable Argyle, De’Voreaux White. The plot concerns the untamable Sergeant Jackson’s reunion with corrupt Detroit auto magnate Peter Dellaplane, whose son went to prison thanks to Jackson’s investigation. Dellaplane plans his revenge while also targeting union officials for some kind of Corleone-esque takeover. To be honest, I didn’t catch all of that. What matters is that Jackson punches people, beds ladies, and inexplicably drives a sports car up an interior staircase. You’re welcome.

Day Two: Slashers! - Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)
I described this one in the Day Two comments as “The Exorcist or Possession meets Don’t Look Now by way of Scream for Help,” and I think I’m in the ballpark. It’s certainly a Catholic-centered horror film that explores the dangers of sin, hedonism, and obsession, and it has the psychological Adult Fear tones of Don’t Look Now. New Jersey architect-turned-writer/director Alfred Sole also peppers his low-budget production with odd instances of reckless child abuse and moral neglect (a la Scream for Help) that makes for an interesting watch. Look out for Alphonso DeNoble as Mr. Alphonso, the slovenly landlord whose odd affect and cat obsession feel straight out of a John Waters film. He’s the worst person in a cast full of terrible people, but special mention also goes to the elderly Mildren Clinton’s Mrs. Tredoni for reasons that will become clear as Alice, Sweet Alice approaches its unexpected climax.*

Day Three: Monsters! - C.H.U.D. (1984)
This one I sold as “the crew behind Repo Man making Jaws.” What I mean by that is that it’s an alarmingly-prescient examination of authority and class structure told through classic monster movie trappings. I remember Film Twitter really ringing C.H.U.D.’s bell after John Heard’s 2017 death, and I regret waiting so long to check it out. I was surprised most by director Douglas Cheek’s patience in building and executing effective drama; C.H.U.D. is most definitely a B movie, but Cheek and screenwriter Parnell Hall never use that as an excuse to cut corners. Those in my age range might also be shocked by comedian Daniel Stern’s very human performance as true believer A. J. Shepherd. Cheek and Hall’s metaphors get a little on-the-nose as we drift further into the nuclear-waste-turns-homeless-people-into-monsters plot (personified by George Martin’s seedy bureaucrat, Wilson), but C.H.U.D. takes so much care and does so many things right that we can only applaud the effort.

Day Four: Westerns! - The Painted Hills (1951)
I have trouble with Westerns day every year, for some reason. I wouldn’t describe the genre as a personal blind spot, but I will say that I have yet to find that Western that gets me really excited about the genre. I think I’m more of a samurai guy, honestly. Furthermore, the demands of #Junsploitation leave me unable to really commit 150+ minutes to a single film (Westerns are so long!), so today I punted and went with Mystery Science Theater 3000’s presentation of the Lassie vehicle, The Painted Hills. It’s not a good film, nor is it a particularly good episode of MST3K, but can we talk for a second about how there was an entire media empire centered around the adventures of a live-action dog? I mean, this isn’t news to anyone, but doesn’t it seem kind of quaint in 2019? Eleven films! A radio show! Novels! Television appearances! Five generations of dogs getting work! Imagine the thinkpieces if this happened today: “Not All Collies: Why Lassie’s Hero Complex is Problematic” or “Actually, the Children Trapped in Your Well Deserve to be There.”

Day Five: Blaxploitation! - Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975)
Patrick has been singing the praises of Welcome Home, Brother Charles for quite a while now, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint. Shooting on a shoestring budget while still a UCLA film student, writer/director Jamaa Fanaka crafts the sobering an unrepentant revenge “fantasy” of Charles Murray (Marlo Monte), a black man assaulted by a racist police officer before spending three years in prison. Revealing the nature of that revenge would be spoiling too much (seriously, go in as blind as possible), but suffice it to say that what appears to be a typical Blaxploitation hangout film becomes something very different in its last reel. Fanaka’s powerful imagery and symbolism are at play much earlier than that, actually, but Welcome Home, Brother Charles so effectively layers its social commentary that what feels like a shocking development is actually the most logical remedy for what’s ailing Charles and the most lethal poison for all those who would prey on him. This one is a trip.

*Title of my sex tape.


  1. There are tons of great westerns around 90 minutes! No need to watch a classic epic. Not that there’s anything wrong with your choice, just saying options are there.

    1. You're right! I think I'm just so behind that most of obvious "movie shame" type stuff is all 2+ hours. I always feel like I need to get through those first.

  2. If you're a Samurai fan looking to get into Westerns, check out Red Sun. It stars Toshiro Mifune trying to get back a sword stolen from the Japanese ambassador on his trip to the US, with Charles Bronson reluctantly helping him, and it kicks all the ass. It's what I watched for Western day, and it's easily my favorite discovery of the month so far.

  3. I don't know if you saw the recent In A Valley of Violence, but it's great. Ethan Hawke and John Travolta (seriously) give fun performances in this modern western filled with gun violence. Highly recommend!