Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Johnny Deadline: A Baker's Dozen of Dishes Best Served Cold

 by JB

Today is Junesploitation’s Vigilante Day. Here are some of my favorite flicks wherein PEOPLE TAKE THE LAW INTO THEIR OWN HANDS.

When someone ventures upon insult, I vow revenge. “You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that I gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely settled—but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

That’s always been my philosophy, anyway. It was Edgar Allen Poe’s too. The above quote is from his “The Cask of Amontillado.” How many of MY enemies have I bricked up, alive, behind a wall? Too many to count. That's why we had to move!

L’Arroseur et Arrose (The Gardener Gardened or The Sprinkler Sprinkled) (1896)

Here we see one of the very first instances, in the whole history of cinema, of someone taking the law into their own hands. The naughty boy steps on the hose, the poor working-class gardener gets a face-full. Does the aggrieved party call the nearest gendarme? No, the gardener will catch the boy and fuck his shit up—kicking the boy’s ass (literally) and then soaking him with the very same hose. The boy’s humiliation is complete—and has been on permanent display for over a century!

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1939)
Robin of Locksley (Errol Flynn) is unhappy with the way Prince John (Claude Rains) is running the country while his brother, King Richard (Ian Hunter), is off at the Crusades. Robin and his merry men proceed to fuck Prince John’s shit up. Oliva de Havilland is sweet and gorgeous as Maid Marian. I would say Basil Rathbone, as Sir Guy of Gisbourne, lacks only a moustache to twirl, but he has got a moustache. Terrific, swashbuckling fun, and the model for all historic adventure films for at least a decade.

Straw Dogs (1971)
Mousy mathematician Dustin Hoffman moves to the South of England to be alone with his formulas and his new wife, Susan George. When she attracts the attention of a local group of drunken rapists, Hoffman fucks their shit up. It's Sam Peckinpah’s great and grisly meditation on revenge. If any filmmaker knew anything about violence and getting even... it was Bloody Sam.

Coffy (1973)
Night nurse “Coffy” Coffin (Pam Grier) is aggrieved when her little sister is turned on to heroin by local drug dealers. She vows to fuck their shit up. As I mentioned last week in the comments section, “Coffy is most resourceful, a soul sister MacGyver: she kills with a shotgun, a heroin needle, razor blades hidden in her Afro, a stuffed dog toy, a sharpened paper clip, an automobile, another rifle, and a swimming pool. Impressive.”

Walking Tall (1973)
I was eleven years-old when I first saw this, and boy, did it fuck my shit up. Joe Don Baker plays the real-life Sherriff Buford Pusser, who once cleaned up his crime-infested, small Southern town... single-handed! The scene I always remember involves Baker wanting the bad guy to open a door for some reason. “Where’s your search warrant, Sherriff?” taunts the ne’er-do well. “It’s right here; I KEEP IT IN MY SHOE!” is the answer, and Baker kicks down the door. Magnificent American nonsense.

Death Wish (1974)
It was once very hard for me to watch this again, because I found the opening sequence involving rape and murder to be too disturbing. Still, that’s a measure of the film’s ability to propagandize in favor of the protagonist’s actions. When architect Paul Kirsey (Charles Bronson) discovers his wife and daughter have been brutally assaulted, he vows to fuck the criminal’s shit up by going on a one-man vigilante spree. Vincent Gardenia gives a career-best performance as the police detective trying to catch him. Even for a film made in the early 1970s, I am still amazed and impressed by its cynical ending. Christopher Guest has a bit part as a beat cop at the very end. I like to think he’s playing Corky St. Clair before he moved to Blaine, Missouri.

Rolling Thunder (1977)
Vietnam vet Charles Rane (William Devane) returns home after over a decade as a POW in Hanoi. His wife has married another man and his son barely recognizes him. When he is robbed by some local thugs, who also put his hand in a garbage disposal, Rane vows to fuck their shit up. He is ably assisted by his two-handed friend, Master Sergeant Johnny Vohden (Tommy Lee Jones). Don’t mess with Vietnam vets. Just don’t. This long-time cult film penned by Paul Schrader is finally getting the attention and respect it deserves.

I Spit on Your Grave (1978)
Innocent Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) is brutally raped by local cretins, so she proceeds fuck their shit up (cutting, chopping, breaking, and burning them beyond recognition)—but no jury in America would ever convict her! Nauseatingly violent, but not without a keen sense of fun. A favorite target of Siskel and Ebert when they were both still alive.

Ebert wrote in his original review: “A vile bag of garbage named I Spit on Your Grave is playing in Chicago theaters this week. It is a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it's playing in respectable theaters [...] But it is. Attending it was one of the most depressing experiences of my life. This is a film without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship. There is no possible motive for exhibiting it, other than the totally cynical hope that it might make money. Perhaps it will make money: When I saw it at 11:20 a.m. on Monday, the theater contained a larger crowd than usual.” C’mon, doesn’t that want to make you see it JUST A LITTLE BIT?

The Exterminator (1980)
I still remember seeing this during its first run at the late, lamented Rialto Theater in Champaign, Illinois, when I was a freshman in college. It was my first taste of New York-style, 42nd Street Grindhouse cinema. This film squeegeed my third eye quite clean, thank you.

John Eastland (Robert Ginty) has had enough when some local toughs injure his best friend Michael Jefferson (Steve James) in a fight. Eastland vows to fuck their shit up.

He is very resourceful and very successful, meting out revenge via M16 rifle, flamethrower, basement full of hungry rats, and industrial meat grinder. Meanwhile, Detective James Dalton (Human Cigarette Christopher George) catches wind of the vigilante’s shenanigans and vows to catch him. Will Dalton fuck Eastland’s shit up?

The Substitute (1996)
After eleven years as a public high school teacher, I delighted in seeing this film, in which Vietnam vet Jonathan Shale (Tom Berenger) gets a job as the titular teacher in a troubled, inner-city high school to avenge his girlfriend Jane Hetzko (Diana Venora). Hetzko ran afoul of a local gang, the Kings of Destruction, who proceeded to fuck her shit up. Shale starts teaching there and, from Day One, proceeds to fuck THEIR shit up. There’s a delightful scene where Shale, at the blackboard, experiences a delinquent student throwing a soda pop can at his head. Without flinching, Shale catches the can and throws it back with such force that he sends the kid to the emergency room. Go, Shale! Ernie Hudson is the corrupt principal; he’s fucking EVERYBODY’S shit up. More fun than it has any right to be. Shale became the teacher that I aspired to be. Followed by three sequels!

Munich (2005)
Palestinian militant group Black September carries out an attack at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, resulting in eleven Israeli athletes being murdered. Mossad agent Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) vows to fuck Palestine’s shit up. Thoughtful, serious, and never cynical, this is one of the best films about political revenge and retribution ever made. This film was made right in the middle of the period where Steven Spielberg’s films are so bloody excellent, they’re just taken for granted. After seeing this opening weekend, I thought Eric Bana’s career would be huge.

Taken (2008)
“I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will... fuck your shit up.”

Kick Ass (2010)
Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides to become super hero Kick-Ass because he is tired of his crime-ravaged town. During his first crime-fighting foray, local toughs fuck his shit up. After somewhat modifying his approach, he meets disgraced former cop Damon Macready (Nicolas Cage) who also aspires to be a superhero, Big Daddy, whose sidekick Hit-Girl is his own daughter Mindy (Chloe Grace Moretz). The three intrepid vigilantes vow to take on local Staten Island thugs and fuck their shit up.

What a violent, thrilling breath of fresh air this little independent film was when it was first released in 2010. Bombastic, over-the-top, crazy fun with some of the best action sequences of the decade. Hit-Girl’s run through the “corridor of gangsters” is one for the film history books. Want to know what a miracle Kick-Ass is? Watch the miserable sequel, which gets the tone all wrong.

Please exercise caution and have fun today. As a side note, if you are less than pleased with this little column, please please please... DO NOT VOW TO FUCK MY SHIT UP.

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