Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '76 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Monday, July 4, 2016

Underrated '76 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.

Check out his Underrated '96 & '86 lists here:
God Told Me To (1976; Larry Cohen)
Larry Cohen’s utterly batshit melding of genres that feels like a more politically deft TARGETS by way of FIRE IN THE SKY. Moments of cringe worthy violence, ambiguous genitalia and a perpetual atmosphere of WTF.This is the grindhouse colliding with the art-house and it works 100%. Cohen’s best.

The Witch Who Came In From the Sea (1976; Matt Cimber)
Mermaid cinema by way of 70s feminism. The castration anxiety is only usurped by the threat of anything nautical. Beaches, seaside dive bars, boardwalks – it’s all fair game. Sexual abuse melodrama at its most fantastical. If Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO, is the grindhouse colliding with the art-house, this is the art-house flat out fucking seizing the grindhouse. As hallucinogenic as it is exploitative.

Alice In Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy (1976; Bud Townsend)
Nearly X-rated in title only – there’s very little actual hardcore content even in its uncut version – this straddles the line between the porn chic of the early 70s and the more ribald, mainstream sex comedies that would befall American cinema in the decade to come (heh). A surprisingly rich adaptation of its source, with eccentric set-pieces to spare, this is “adult” cinema at its most spectacular and flat out fun. Oh, and the songs are really, really good. Makes a great erotic fairy tale ’76 double bill with the animated (and much more hardcore) ONCE UPON A GIRL.

Obsession (1976; Brian De Palma)
Quite possibly the most terrifying of De Palma’s “Hitchcock” films, with some virtuoso sequences and red herrings galore. Impressively restrained at times, to the point that it’s hard to believe that the dirty motherfucker that gave us BODY DOUBLE and DRESSED TO KILL could make something so seemingly classical in its approach to both the genre and taste. And the other behind-the-scenes luminaries are in top form too; script by Paul Schrader, score by Bernard Herrmann and shot by Vilmos Zsigmond. If it weren’t for PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, this would be De Palma’s most underrated.

A Labor of Love (1976; Robert Flaxman/Daniel Goldman)
One of the best and most unheralded docs about filmmaking let alone about the making of porn. Running an all too brief 70 minutes, its charms are frequent and never overstay their welcome. A LABOR OF LOVE follows the creation of a now forgotten Chicago shot skin flick titled THE LAST AFFAIR and – like the best behind the scenes stories – nothing goes according to plan, with things only complicated by the topic at hand (and on screen): sex. It’s an often hilarious, beguiling work that also offers up some of the best conversation on the adult industry of the day as well as sexual mores of America in the mid 70s. Vinegar Syndrome brought the film back from obscurity via DVD and it’s ripe for (re)discovery.

Kidnapped Coed (aka Date with a Kidnapper) (1976; Frederick R. Friedel)
Frederick Friedel’s follow up to 1974’s AXE plays out like a sort of proto-BUFFALO ’66 with a grimy abduction thriller soon giving way to an aberrant relationship tale that is at once utterly sincere and tonally confounding. Not quite as exploitative as its title would suggest, KIDNAPPED COED packs in a couple scenes of expectedly rough violence but spends more time dispensing its own brand of gallows humor – much at the expense of crazy old men. Friedel didn’t have a long career, but what he made is solid gold and this pairs very nicely with AXE, both of which have recently been restored and put out onto blu-ray by Severin.

J.D.’s Revenge (1976; Arthur Marks)
This Blaxploitation twist on DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE – coming out in the same year as the much sillier DR. BLACK AND MR. HYDE – makes little sense but carries a sense of confidence that we seldom see in genre cinema this offbeat. The basic gist is that a young law student in 70s New Orleans gets possessed by the soul of a 1940s mobster who wants to get revenge on those that killed him, which leads to all sorts of shenanigans and choice dialogue (some of which was sampled by Ghostface Killah for his album Ironman). Good use of razors.

Cannonball (1976; Paul Bartel)
AKA the other car movie that Paul Bartel made in the 70s, directly on the heels of DEATH RACE 2000. It’s not quite as good as that one, but you can’t really improve on that. Still, this one has fun to spare and a great cast of Bartel/Corman regulars, headlined by Frankenstein himself, David Carradine. Plus, it features a scene where Corman, Stallone and Scorsese share a bucket of fried chicken, which may be the single best screen moment in all of ’76.

Jackson County Jail (1976; Micheal Miller)
SILENT RAGE director Michael Miller helmed this lean genre offering a few years prior to making what is arguably Chuck’s best screen outing. Featuring a young, pre-ROLLING THUNDER Tommy Lee Jones and Yvette Mimieux facing off against corrupt, sleazy American law enforcement. This is actually an impressively dark outing for Corman and co and is even more disheartening when viewed 40 years later, knowing that most of what Mimieuxis subjected to is likely still happening. Rough, urgent 70s cinema that doesn’t get nearly the attention that it deserves.

Fighting Mad (1976; Jonathan Demme)
Jonathan Demme’s third directorial effort for Roger Corman is classic anti-establishment cinema starring a shaggy Peter Fonda hell-bent on keeping his land from the hands of greedy corporate folk. It’s sort of the gritty 70s answer to STEP UP REVOLUTION. Solid use of a bow and arrow.

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