Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '75 - Josh Obershaw ""

Friday, June 5, 2015

Underrated '75 - Josh Obershaw

Josh Obershaw is a genre cinema enthusiast and a budding artist who showcases his words and art on his blog, Son of '77. You can also find him on Twitter: @DoctorSplatter.

The 1970s are, hands down, my favorite decade for movies. A little of that has to do with the fact that I was born in 1977. My first memories involved the fashion, decor, and pop-culture icons of that era, so there was already an affinity for that time. But mostly though, I became enthralled with 70s cinema in my teens, because it seemed to me a decade with no rules. The culture of that era, brought upon by the sociopolitical upheaval of Vietnam and Watergate, and the outrageous results onscreen appealed to my sensibilities greatly. My love for 70s movies has only grown since then. The films of that era continue to visually allure me like no other decade. And with each new film I discover, my respect for the reckless artistic abandon of that time only increases. Here are five little-seen or under-appreciated titles from the year 1975.

Black Moon (1975, dir. by Louis Malle)
This list gave me the opportunity to seek out films from the 70s I had never seen before, and I immediately dove head first into this French/German film I found via Hulu's Criterion section. Kathryn Harrison plays a girl named Lily, who is trying to escape the horrific war happening all around her. She wanders into the countryside and discovers an old manor populated by a very strange family. The strangest being a bed-ridden old lady who berates Lily and speaks with an unknown person via radio. She also converses with a rat. Things get even weirder as Lily finds herself chasing a black unicorn across the property and becoming an observer to the family's odd- almost pagan- behavior and rituals. Nothing I was seeing was making any sense, and it became clear I was watching something more avant-garde. Black Moon is all about surreal imagery, and a lot of that imagery has to do with nature. Director Louis Malle gives us plenty of that, filming on his own estate and employing what seems like hundreds of animals. Given a couple more watches, I could be able to tell you what Malle was trying to convey with this picture, but even on first viewing, Black Moon is so visually striking it will stick with you long after it is over.

Black Moon is available on Criterion Collection Blu-Ray, and you can stream it on Hulu.

A Boy and His Dog (1975, dir. by L.Q. Jones)
Based on a novella by Harlan Ellison, the title characters are Vic (played by a really young Don Johnson) and Blood, his telepathic and cranky canine. They roam a post-World War IV wasteland in search of food and females. Their already antagonist friendship is put to the test when one female, Quilla (played by Susanne Benton), manages to win Vic's heart. She lures him into an underground city- essentially a cult- so devoted to recreating and maintaining this wholesome, All-American small town way of life that existed before the world went to hell. Turns out, Quilla was sent to bring Vic down so that he can impregnate their women. Only not in the way he- or any guy, for that matter- would like.
Pre-Star Wars science fiction of the 70s has always been known for having a downer of a viewpoint on the future: humanity sucks, and things will only get worse. At least with A Boy and His Dog, we get a quirky and very funny look at the apocalypse. Much of that is centered on the relationship between Vic and Blood, but the film also humorously suggests the futility and danger of nostalgia with the underground town. And then there's the ending, which takes the phrase "bros before ho's" to an extreme.

A Boy and His Dog is available on Blu-ray, courtesy of Shout! Factory.

Last Stop on the Night Train, AKA Night Train Murders (1975, dir. by Aldo Lado)
It's always been said that the best cover tunes are the ones where the musicians add something new that improves on the original take. Jimi Hendrix's version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is the obvious example. And I think the Manfred Mann's Earth Band cover of "Blinded By the Light" kicks the crap out of Springsteen's original. If there is a cinematic equivalent to that idea, it would be the 1975 Italian thriller I know as Night Train Murders. Two college girls are on their way from Munich to Italy to stay with family for Christmas. They hop aboard an overnight train to make it in time, and run afoul of a couple of ugly thugs and a mysterious blonde woman. The ladies end up being trapped in their car with the odious trio, who proceed to torture and assault them. Things end up pretty bad for the girls, but a grimmer fate awaits the blonde and her brutes. They eventually find themselves at the home of one of the girls' parents. When the parents find out what the trio had done to their daughter, they begin to seek out vengeance.
What, is this sounding familiar to you? It should. This is basically Wes Craven's notorious 1972 film, The Last House on the Left. By all rights, anyone watching this movie would dismiss it as a complete rip-off. I couldn't. Even as I was aware of the plot similarities, I was still taken in byNight Train Murders. Craven's novice as a director does indeed give the brutally raw Last House a sense of verisimilitude. With a bigger budget, Euro setting, cinematography, color, and an Ennio Morricone score, director Aldo Lado creates a visual experience that, while certainly nightmarish, is nonetheless more mesmerizing to watch. Night Train Murders is a giallo cover tune of The Last House on the Left that proved itself to be more satisfying than the film that inspired it.

Night Train Murders is available on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of Blue Underground.

Night of the Seagulls (1975, dir. by Amando de Ossorio)
One of my favorite horror discoveries of the last couple of years is Spanish director Amando de Ossorio's Blind Dead series of films: Tombs of the Blind DeadReturn of the Evil Dead,The Ghost Galleon, and Night of the Seagulls. Not so much chapters of a singular story, but rather each movie was a variation on the concept of a fictionalized Knights Templar who are executed in medieval times, and then resurrected to extract revenge on the living. In the final film, Night of the Seagulls, a doctor and his wife move to a quaint seaside village only to find out the locals must routinely sacrifice a young girl to the undead Knights. The Blind Dead movies quickly won me over with its gothic locals, ominous music, and slow-motion zombie Templars, who resemble the Ringwraiths from The Lord of the RingsNight of the Seagulls proved one of the stronger entries, with its oceanside setting adding another layer of creepiness to the series. This is one horror franchise that definitely ended on a high note.

Night of the Seagulls is available on Blue Underground DVD, either as a standalone disc or as part of The Blind Dead Collection.

Switchblade Sisters (1975, dir. by Jack Hill)
I have to admit that I'm a newbie when it comes to the filmography of Jack Hill, and Switchblade Sisters is my first. It's kind of appropriate, considering me being a fan of 70s Queens of Noise, The Runaways. Lace (Robbie Lee) and her "Dagger Debs" are a group of inner-city hoodlums who take in loner Maggie (played by Joanne Nail) as one of their own. The film starts out with the girls and their low-life boyfriends, "The Silver Daggers", going around committing acts of juvenile delinquency in a somewhat innocuous tone reminiscent of such movies from the 50s. But when Maggie catches the eye of Lace's man and quickly rises in the ranks, that's when things turn vicious and violent. Deception and betrayal leads to murder and all-out war with a rival gang.
Switchblade Sisters is a gutter rat of a good time. There's not much in the depth- or politically correct- department, just pure 70s exploitation about ladies who don't take s#!t from anybody. That alone puts a smile on my face, but it was also fun spotting the likes of That 70s Show's Don Stark as one of the Silver Daggers, as well as Kate Murtagh (AKA "Mom" from Doctor Detroit) as a slimy security guard. She made rubber gloves a little scary.

Switchblade Sisters is available on DVD, and you can stream it on Netflix and Amazon.

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