Friday, June 16, 2023

Notes on Film: Junesploitation Never Sleeps

 by Anthony King

No matter what, sleaze travels.

I may be on a family vacation as we speak, but Junesploitation rages on. I may be writing this huddled up in the corner of a hotel lobby while parents chase after unwieldy children with grandparents lagging behind, but duty (and love for this site) calls. I may have gotten the worst sleep of my life last night, but my scrambled brain and bloodshot eyes are exactly what exploitation movies require. In the brief moments I've stolen away from my family, I'd like to share with you what Junesploitation has thrown my way in the past week. The good, the bad, and the worse.

For the past couple years I'd planned on watching Menahem Golan's The Apple (1980) for Cannon day, though for one reason or another I'd opted for more traditional Cannon fare. But this year I pulled the trigger and traveled to the future of 1994 to do the BIM. Wow, what a piece of shit this movie is. Here's my theory: people who enjoy actual musical theatre despise The Apple, and people who can't stand actual musicals love The Apple. Listen, I'm down for non-traditional musicals any day of the week. The Blues Brothers? Phantom of the Paradise? Masterpieces in their own ways. The Apple is a failed experiment soaked in the chemicals used to make crystal meth. Everybody in this movie looks like they've been kidnapped and are being forced to act at gunpoint. I imagine that if the cameras turned 180 degrees we'd see actors' loved ones bound and gagged with duct tape being held hostage while whatever The Apple is unfolds before them. I can appreciate a movie loaded with camp, of which this one has none. While The Apple isn't boring, it's just not good, and not ironically bad, which is shocking to me that I don't find anything enjoyable about it. Ah well, you can't win 'em all during Junesploitation...
… Which is a bummer because – as is the case quite often during this joyous month – my Fred Williamson pick was also not a winner. The Black Cobra (1987) could've fit in Poliziotteschi! or Rip-offs! because this is a straight up Italian rip off of the Sylvester Stallone actioner Cobra (1986), which is one of the greatest '80s cop movies to ever exist. In hindsight, I don't think I gave The Black Cobra a fair shake, and I'll be going back to it eventually, but I was not in the mood for another sub-par movie after The Apple. Like the original, our hero is charged with protecting a helpless woman from psychopaths. The thing that will bring me back to this movie is how ruthless and mean-spirited the bad guys are. Instead of a weird cult of steelworkers in Cobra, The Black Cobra's baddies are a gang of bikers who rape and pillage at will. Williamson does his thing, but I could tell his confidence was down a notch or two having to work with an Italian cast and crew. Nevertheless, he's still badass and cool as a cucumber, and my first reaction was clearly wrong. I'll be back.
Kung Fu day has quickly become my favorite regular day of Junesploitation. I have discovered so many memorable movies because of it. I was finally able to sit down and watch Lau Kar-leung's The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978). For whatever reason I'd never finished this movie. It seemed every time I pushed play something kid-related would come up. So this time I locked myself in a room and dedicated two hours to uninterrupted Shaw Bros. brilliance. Gordon Liu, star of my favorite kung fu movie, Dirty Ho (1979), is in top form, showcasing his lightning-quick hand and foot movements, but also his weapons work. Matt Bledsoe tweeted during Kung Fu day that he gets a comforting feeling from Shaw Bros. movies he couldn't explain. I get the same exact feeling, and I think it's because of a couple different factors. 1.) Many of the same actors appear in Shaw movies so we become accustomed to spending time with them. 2.) The sets and soundstages on which they're built have a beautiful charm to them. The colors pop. They seem like sets you could spend hours just exploring all the minute details. The 36th Chamber is a movie full of comfort. If you haven't seen it, include it in your Revenge! day viewing.
I'd mentioned in a previous column that I had one more Lenzi included in my Junesploitation. It turns out this Lenzi is a Lenzi just on a technicality. Umberto Lenzi was signed on to direct Nightmare Beach (1989) before realizing it was too much like his film Seven Blood Stained Orchids (1972) and backed out. He remained on set, though, acting as technical advisor to the screenwriter James Justice who stepped in to direct. Either way, Lenzi's name is on Letterboxd as co-director so it bumps my Lenzi total up to 11. Nightmare Beach rules! The killer is clad, head to toe, in leather, donning a mirrored motorcycle helmet, and rides a death bike that can electrocute people. Michael Parks shows up as a real sus doctor. John Saxon is the small beach town's asshole chief of police. Misogynists get their comeuppance. Religious zealots meet their maker. Boobs bounce to and fro. Tanned and oiled bodies populate the screen to everyone's delight. This will definitely go down as an all time Junesploitation highlight.
Finally, for Animals! I watched the baboon-who-hates-doors movie. Cheesy? Sure. Bad? Not even close. Scary? Hell yes. I went into Shakma (1990) thinking it would be a cringe watch. I was wrong. While, yes, I kept asking myself, “What the hell is Roddy McDowall doing in this movie???” I thought this was a rather intense animals attack movie. I also found myself audibly gasping at one of the deaths. It's an absolute crime this movie is 101 minutes long. Christopher Atkins spends 10 dialogue-free minutes stumbling around at the end, and I almost threw my shoe through my tv screen. But everything with the baboon scared the shit out of me, because it looked like these actors were in real danger on set. The plot may induce some heavy eye-rolling, but it's all about the monkey. At a research hospital, the baboon being experimented on is thought to be dead and left to be disposed of later. Meanwhile, the teaching doctor (McDowall) and the oddest, most unbelievable group of med students gather to play a D&D-type role playing game. None of these people would be friends, let alone the type of people to play a game like this. Everything about the story is shaky at best, but none of that matters once that monkey starts BRUTALLY killing people. This isn't one of those “so bad it's good” movies. This is a bonafide classic in the animals attack genre.

Coming up next week:
Day 15: Rip-offs! – The Dungeonmaster (1984)
Day 16: Yakuza! – Cops vs. Thugs (1975)
Day 17: Fulci! – Zombie 3 (1988)
Day 18: 90s Comedy! – Eight Days a Week (1997)
Day 19: Blaxploitation! – Foxy Brown (1974)
Day 20: Free Space! – American Rickshaw (1989)
Day 21: Aliens! – Arena (1989)

Ok, back to family time. See you next week!

1 comment:

  1. Glad you found some success after a couple early misses! I went to add Nightmare Beach and Shakma to my Junesploitation watchlist, only to find Nightmare Beach was already on there from someone's review during a previous year. I'm also maybe going to see Foxy Brown. I haven't seen any of Pam Grier's '70s movies, and both Coffy and Foxy Brown are on Tubi. Foxy Brown had the better poster, so I'll go with that.

    It's a bit tricky balancing family and Junesploitation. I wish my kids could be involved more, but it's the exam period for them, so they've been busy. Also, they're teenagers and have their own stuff going on. We'll get at least one "family Junespoitation evening" in before the month is through.