Friday, June 14, 2024

Notes on Film: Still Perfect After All These Movies

by Anthony King
One week, three discoveries of the year.

It was a big week of Junesploitation for this writer. Three movies I watched for the first time were added to my working list of favorite film discoveries. A couple movies barely made the cut (got a heart on Letterboxd), and a couple more were perfectly fine exploitative fare. Let's get into it.
I've got a half dozen films this month that have been mainstays on my watchlist for years. Last week I crossed off Truck Turner (1974); this week I crossed off two more. For Buddy Cops day I watched the lone directorial feature by actor Robert Culp, Hickey & Boggs (1972). Like many people my age I grew up watching The Cosby Show. Bill Cosby was a staple in our house growing up. From his stand-up specials to his commercials, he was such a big part of my childhood it's impossible for me to divorce my nostalgic feelings. Yes, he's a terrible human being. Nevertheless, Hickey & Boggs showcases a Bill Cosby I'd never seen before. Cosby is Al Hickey, a private detective who, along with his partner, Frank Boggs (Culp), is hired to find a missing girl. Along the way the two private dicks run into all sorts of nefarious characters and get into a criminal ring far above their heads. Both Cosby and Culp are subdued and grizzled. It was the cynical '70s after all. It's a wonderful Los Angeles-set neo-noir with interesting direction from Culp. It's by no means a perfect movie, but it's my discovery of the month so far and has earned a spot on my discoveries of the year so far.

For Kaiju Day I headed to Japan, but for what one may think. I watched Noriaki Yuasa's Gamera, the Giant Monster (1965) and had a blast with it. I normally have to be in the mood for a kaiju movie, but luckily Patrick forces all of us to watch whatever the day dictates. It's cheaper than a Godzilla movie and more family oriented along the lines of All Monsters Attack (1969). I'll admit, though, I don't think giant monster movies are my thing. Unless they're being hosted by Svengoolie, or if Ray Harryhausen didn't do the effects, I rarely turn to the genre. I'm sorry!
For Kung Fu Day I turned to my Shaw Bros. Volume 1 boxset from Arrow and pulled out Chang Cheh's Five Deadly Venoms (1978). With their stock company of actors, beautiful sets, and by-the-books scripts, most of the time you know what you're getting with a Shaw Bros. movie. Five Deadly Venoms is no different, although it is the most violent Shaw Bros. movie I've ever seen. An elderly master sends his final student to find his previous students, all with specific fighting styles. There is some beautiful Wuxia choreography in this film, with a story that admittedly took about 30 minutes for me to get into. But once I fully committed, I was immediately transported.
For Shark Day I could've easily turned to any one of the thousand Asylum-wannabe-shitty-graphics cheapies, but I knew I would absolutely hate myself for watching Rectum Shark of Titsville so instead I turned to Burt Reynolds and Sam Fuller. Shark (1969) is about a gunrunner who gets stranded on the coast of Africa. He's hired to go treasure hunting on a sunken ship and run afoul of greedy bad guys. Shark isn't a bad movie, but it's instantly forgettable. Burt is charming as always, and Fuller's direction is solid, but Fuller's career is so interesting to me. The man was a cult director through and through. From Shock Corridor (1963), to Pickup on South Street (1953), to Forty Guns (1957), Fuller is THE standard for cult direction.
I thought I had Italian Horror Day in the bag. I'm not a huge giallo fan, but I love the illogical storytelling and artistry of guys like Fulci and Lenzi and Margheriti. In Antonio Margheriti's Cannibal Apocalypse aka Invasion of the Flesh Hunters (1980), John Saxon plays a Vietnam vet coping with the effects of PTSD while trying to assimilate back into the real world. He had rescued his two buddies in a POW camp while in the jungle. After returning home the men discover they have a craving for human flesh. Their disease spreads to friends, family, and strangers alike and New York City becomes an apocalyptic hotspot. This is surprisingly light on the horror as it's more of a psychological drama. I'm not complaining, though, because it's a wonderful mix of the illogical nature of Italian horror and post-war exploitation.
Next up is another one that had lived on my watchlist for far too long, and another entry into my discoveries of the year list. Fritz Kiersch's Tuff Turf (1985), starring James Spader, Kim Richards, and Robert Downey Jr., is the biggest surprise of the year so far. I was expecting a cheesy coming-of-age melodrama of the '80s. I got that, but I also got a sleazy gang war-type film filled with incredible musical performances from Jim Carroll, Jack Mack & the Heart Attack, and J.R. & the Z-Man with Dale Gonyea. Spader is the new kid in town, on to yet another high school, where it's apparent he's had trouble in the past. He's a bit of a musical genius who befriends Downey Jr., who plays drums in Jim Carroll's band. Spader develops an obsession for Richards, who is the girlfriend of gang leader Nick Hauser (Paul Mones). Spader is quick-witted, self deprecating, and ballsy, and unlike a lot of the characters he played in the '80s, he's super likable. This movie is funny, exciting, heart-wrenching, and shockingly violent. It's everything Junesploitation is about.
Finally, I wrapped up the week on Ozploitation Day with John D. Lamond's Nightmares aka Stage Fright (1980). Although this one came first, I much prefer Michele Soavi's StageFright aka Aquarius (1987). Both movies are about a killer picking off cast and crew members of a stage production. The one thing the Australian version is missing is the giant bird head. Nightmares is a movie full of awful performances; there ain't one that's good. But it's surprisingly explicit. You want to see a dude rubbing a woman's vagina in close-up? Watch Nightmares. You wanna see a throat cut from ear to ear in close-up? Watch Nightmares? You wanna see a naked woman with big boobs stumble in the rain while her guts spill out? Watch Nightmares. If you told me Lucio Fulci directed this I wouldn't bat an eye. All the boobs and muffs and blood and guts still doesn't excuse the cringeworthy performances and embarrassing editing, though. Still, Nightmares gets a heart from me, thus continuing a perfect Junesploitation!

Can the streak continue next week?

Beach House (1982) – Beach!
Toys Are Not for Children (1972) – Free Space!
Little Godfather from Hong Kong (1974) – Brucesploitation
Four of the Apocalypse (1975) – Fulci!
Brothers Till We Die (1977) – Gangsters!
From Beyond (1986) – 80s Horror!
Sugar Hill (1974) – Blaxploitation!

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