Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Allan Mott ""

Monday, July 11, 2016

Underrated '76 - Allan Mott

Allan Mott was once accused of being a narcissistic goth lesbian by an unhappy Amazon book reviewer. That pretty much sums up his writing career thus far, which includes almost 13 books, a whole lot of web content and a metric tonne of advertising copy. His xoJane piece on Zoë Lund is identified as a source on the Ms. 45 wiki page, so you should probably listen to him—he’s an official authority. Follow him on Twitter at @HouseofGlib.

Check out his Underrated '86 list here:
Massacre at Central High (1976, Rene Daalder)
Viewers new to Massacre at Central High (which many of us fans discovered through the second entry in Danny Peary’s formative and influential Cult Movies book series) could be forgiven for experiencing a certain sense of déjà vu. It’s the kind of film that would be easy to accuse of being a rip off of a much more famous work, were it not for the fact that it actually precedes its cinematic doppelganger by a comfortable 12 years.

Heathers isn’t credited as a remake of Massacre, but there’s no denying the liberty with which it replicates director/screenwriter Daalder’s original plot—right down to the same ending. The key difference here is one of tone. Heathers is a satiric comedy, while Massacre is a political allegory disguised as an exploitation horror film—a cinematic essay on the essential corruptibility of power punctuated by boobs and explosions.

In truth, Heathers is the better film—regardless of its refusal to credit its obvious inspiration—but Massacre remains a must-see for genre fans (if also a hard-to-see, since it’s never enjoyed an official digital release in North America) thanks to its admirable attempt to rise above its genre requirements to make an interesting, if a bit murky, point with characters traditionally drawn only for titillation rather than illumination.

The Gumball Rally (1976, Charles Bail)
One of two films made in 1976 that were inspired by tales of the legendary illegal cross-country road race known as the Cannonball Run (there would, of course, be others in the years ahead), The Gumball Rally is the more broadly comedic and gentler of the two. Like all the films in this enjoyably daffy sub-sub-genre (which all seem to take their inspiration from Stanley Kramer’s It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), Gumball features a large cast of characters who are each invested with winning the titular race in their own unique ways. Michael Sarrazin is the nominal star, but the biggest impression—in my view—is made by future Piranha II: The Spawning lead, Tricia O’Neil, as the most YOWZA of the racers. Superior in every way to the much more famous films that followed it, it is nonetheless not quite as good as:

Cannonball (1976, Paul Bartel)
This second film from 1976 about oddball strangers racing from the east to west coast is the rare example of a film whose greatness lies in the fact that its filmmaker really didn’t want to make it.

Just a year earlier, Paul Bartel had defied producer Roger Corman’s dictates and turned Death Race 2000 into a comedy with the result that it was a huge hit and (in my estimation) the greatest exploitation movie of all time. Rather than take this as a sign to allow Bartel to follow his own muse, Corman instead offered him another car crash picture, hoping box office lightning would strike twice. Inexplicably unable to find other work, Bartel grudgingly accepted the assignment, only to allow his antipathy for the genre to show in the film’s infamous climax.

“You want to see car crashes?” Bartel asks his audience. “I’ll fucking show you car crashes.” And he does with an apocalyptic fury more in keeping with a Mad Max film than a broad character comedy. For then-contemporary critics, like Roger Ebert (who also hated Death Race 2000), this juxtaposition felt crass and tasteless, but today it plays as an angry meta-commentary on the whole genre (not unlike Michael Hanake’s two attempts to play Funny Games). Instead of allowing us to indulge our impulse for vehicular mayhem without consequence, Cannonball’ s finale forces us to confront the carnage that kind of automobile pile-up would actually create in real life—a fact that hits 10x harder thanks to the relative lightness of what occurred before it.

Add this to the fact that it’s a movie with a scene where Bartel (playing an effete but ruthless gangster) eats KFC with Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese—while also featuring cameos from future directors Allan Arkush and Joe Dante—it’s not hard to appreciate why Cannonball is my favourite film on this list.

Hollywood Boulevard (1976, Allan Arkush & Joe Dante)
Speaking of Dante and Arkush! Hollywood Boulevard was their reward from Corman for helping to sell some of his direst offerings thanks to their tried and true trailer editing formula, which wasn’t above inserting scenes of action from completely other films to create the illusion of excitement. In fact, their creative use of stock footage was the angle they used to sell the idea to the famously frugal producer. Contriving a comedic plot about the shooting of a low-budget film called Machete Maidens of Mora Tau, they figured out how to shoot it for $60,000 using short ends and shots from other movies. The result is a truly affectionate parody of life in the Corman machine at its peak that (as advertised in it’s memorable one-sheet) is “Shamelessy loaded with sex and violence”. It’s a must for anyone who’s a fan of that style and era of filmmaking. And in a fun twist of history repeating itself, a scene was lifted whole from the film and used by Jim Wynorski to pad out the running time of his 1988 remake of Corman’s Not of This Earth.

St. Ives (1976, J. Lee Thompson)
Each year I tend to find myself attracted to a group of films I’ve previously known about, but thus far kept at a distance. 2016, it would seem, will go down as the year where I dove into the films of Charles Bronson, with an emphasis on his frequent collaborations with one of cinema’s great journeymen, J. Lee Thompson. St. Ives marked the first of the nine films they made together. Based on the second of five novels by Ross Thomas (writing as Oliver Bleeck) about a professional writer/go-between named Philip St. Ives (changed to Raymond for the film), St. Ives is a brisk entertaining crime thriller that allows Bronson to be his typical tough-guy self, but with a slightly debonair edge his characters were very seldom allowed to exhibit. It also doesn’t hurt that the film features peak Jacqueline Bisset as the sexy (natch) ex-cop now in league with master-thief John Houseman, who hires St. Ives to find the stolen plans for his next heist. Also featuring early appearances by Jeff Goldblum (who also appeared in Bronson’s most iconic film—Death Wish) and Robert Englund, St. Ives isn’t the best film in either Bronson or Thompson’s filmographies, but it’s a good start to a cinematic relationship worthy of further investigation.

Werewolf Woman (aka La lupa mannara, 1976, Rino Di Silvestro)
Busty French Sondra Locke-lookalike, Annik Borel (Truck Turner), plays Daniela—the titular character who isn’t actually a werewolf, but who is driven to madness and murder by her inability to meet anyone who doesn’t eventually try to rape her. A truly ridiculous movie, Werewolf Woman is also a surprising hypnotic one—the kind of Euro-sleazefest that pushes past the boundaries of good taste with such idiosyncratic dedication that it achieves its own perverse authenticity. The movie doesn’t make any sense and is obviously just an excuse to get Borelout of her clothes as frequently as possible, but rather than detract from the experience, this incoherence gives the film an unearthly dreamlike quality that lingers with you long after the movie has ended.

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