Friday, June 7, 2024

Notes on Film: A Junesploitation Comeback!

by Anthony King
The triumphant return of a mediocre film journal!

There's no better time than the Official Month of Sleaze to revive my thought-to-be-dead column. This month is turning out to be busier than the previous – a feat I never thought possible. But Junesploitation rests for no one, and I'm squeezing my exploitation whenever possible. So here's how the first week went down.
I kicked things off with The Wild Angels (1966) for our Roger Corman Tribute day. While watching Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra cruise the highway on a hog I realized biker movies are a favorite sub-genre of mine. Fonda is Heavenly Blues, the leader of a Nazi biker gang. After Loser's (Bruce Dern) bike is stolen, the gang hunts the suspected thieves and comes upon a rival Hispanic biker gang. Accusations and slurs are tossed about, a melee breaks out, and Loser is severely injured. The second half of the film sees Blues turn inward and start to contemplate his life as a troublemaker. Nancy Sinatra plays his girl, Monkey, who is torn between life as a biker's lady or life on the outside with the man she loves. Among bikesploitation films, Wild Angels ranks up there behind Tom Laughlin's Born Losers (1967) but ahead of Anger's Scorpio Rising (1963), Russ Meyer's Motorpsycho (1965), Dennis Hopper's Easy Rider (1969), C.C. And Company (1970), and Psychomania (1973). I'm by no means a motorcycle guy, and I hate loud noises, but watching dudes on two wheels is something I'm into I guess. Just behind The Intruder (1962), this is now my next favorite Corman picture.
For Zombie day I turned to the magic of 1970s television and the master Dan Curtis. The Norliss Tapes is a made for TV movie that debuted in February of 1973. Told in flashback, it tells the story of David Norliss, an investigative reporter who has recently disappeared after uncovering the story of a man rising from the dead. The plot gets a little bogged down with voodoo-esque rituals and mythology, but it's prime TVM with juicy melodramatic turns from Roy Thinnes as Norliss, and Angie Dickinson as the wife of the walking dead man. The now-stand-alone film was originally shot as a pilot for a television series at NBC but was never picked up. Possibly a reaction or counter-programming to Jeff Rice's The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), plays out like a Carl Kolchak mystery albeit a little darker. The Norliss Tapes is further proof that the world at large would benefit from a TVM boom in the Blu-ray market.
If possible, I'd like to incorporate as many unwatched Blu-rays as I can into this year's Junesploitation. For Revenge day I was able to dip back into Arrow's Savage Guns: 4 Classic Westerns box set. From director Edoardo Mulargia El Puro (1969) is a perfectly fine Spaghetti Western. Keeping it from falling into the forgettable category is a surprising ending that caused a Grinch-like smile to form on face. It's the story of a once-great gunman-turned drunkard who finds solace in the arms of a dancer. Along with her Madam, they convince the gunman to clean up his act in order to fend off a quintet of bandits. Again, it's fine, but probably more for the western completist.
For our first Free Space day I watched a film that has entered the company of my small Discoveries of the Year list. Jonathan Kaplan's Truck Turner (1974) is everything I look for in an exploitation movie: guns, bad language, ladies of the night, a killer soundtrack, and Yaphet Kotto. Speaking of Yaphet Kotto, the man is quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite actors. Isaac Hayes plays Mac “Truck” Turner, a bounty hunter who, along with his partner, Jerry (Alan Weeks), go around Los Angeles collecting their bounties. They're latest is Gator, a pimp who recently skipped his bail. After Gator is murdered, his stable of girls goes on the market. Gator's madam puts a hit out on Truck, Jerry, and their boss, Nate. The local union of pimps get together and go on the hunt in order to win a new crop of working girls. Isaac Hayes is an absolute badass, a Blaxploitation icon, in this film. Plus he sings his own soundtrack! Exploitation icons abound here, including Nichelle Nichols, Charles Cyphers, Scatman Crothers, and Dick Miller. It's an absolute cornucopia of exploitation pickings.
I headed to Hong Kong for '90s Action day and found Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen kicking ass in Wing Chun (1994). Yeoh is the titular character who runs her family's bean curd shop. A young widow recently arrives in the village and begins working at the shop. Yen plays Wing Chun's childhood sweetheart who has recently returned after years away training in kung fu. The film plays out almost as a series of vignettes. Bandits pillage the town until Wing Chun decides to stand up against the baddies. There's lots of goofy comedy, magical fighting sequences, and lightning quick hands. Like an Italian horror movie, logic tends to fly out the window in these types of kung fu movies and, after watching so many (thanks to Junesploitation), I'm always along for the ride.
Finally we went outside the box and got to celebrate and rarely celebrated director and actor: Paul Naschy. I'd never seen a Naschy movie before so I was very curious to see what was in store. Night of the Werewolf (1981) is about an evil witch who resurrects a woman sentenced to death hundreds of years ago for murdering young women. Naschy is the executed woman's werewolf henchman who was also put to death. Now, both are alive and back to their old hijinks. Naschy's werewolf makeup is very good. It pays terrific homage to The Wolf Man (1941) with a terrifying update. Julia Saly as the evil witch scared the hell out of me for some reason. I was impressed by my first Naschy and can't wait to dig further into his filmography.

There has only been one year since I've been participating in Junesploitation where I've enjoyed the first six movies, and never has there been a year where I've enjoyed the first seven. Will my choice for Buddy Cops set the record? More next week!

Hickey & Boggs (1972) – Buddy Cops!
Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965) – Kaiju!
The Five Venoms (1978) – Kung Fu!
Shark (1969) – Sharksploitation
Cannibal Apocalypse (1980) – Italian Horror!
Tuff Turf (1985) – New World!
Nightmares (1980) – Ozploitation!


  1. You've maybe seen it, but Electra Glide in Blue (1973) is another great bike movie from that era. It's Robert Blake who is a motorbike cop. Kind of like Easy Rider flipped on it's head. Conrad Hall was the DP and it's worth watching for the gorgeous scenery in the southwest.

  2. Truck Turner is a lot of fun. It is always interesting to see the original Star Trek cast (Uhura in this case) in very different roles. This is one I intend to re-visit.

    I watched a biker film called Bury Me An Angel for Revenge day. As an idiosyncratic road movie with a female lead, it was different for the sub-genre.