Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at atalentforidleness.blogspot.com, irabrooker.com and @irabrooker.
Check out the many many lists he has done for RPS over the years:
Combat Shock (1986, Directed by Buddy G)
Bleak, bleak, grime-smeared bleakness from a cash-strapped NYC filmmaker who’s clearly soaked up more than a few screenings of Taxi Driver, Eraserhead, and The Deer Hunter, and maybe a couple rounds of The Bicycle Thief too. Traumatized Vietnam vet Ricky Giovinazzo wanders the streets of mid-’80s New York, dodging gangrenous junkies, glad-handing yuppies, child-prostitution rings, and tiger-cage flashbacks as he searches for a job that doesn’t exist. At least the mean streets are more welcoming than his rancid apartment, which he shares with his hateful wife, mutated baby, and at least one carton of badly spoiled milk. Director Buddy G creates a jittery, nauseating experience that’s even grimmer than that description suggests, but laced with enough gallows humor to keep it from sliding into total nihilism. With America seemingly hell-bent on building a working simulation of the 1980s minus any sense of empathy, the time has never been better to expand the cult of Combat Shock.
The Gamma People (1956, Directed by John Gilling)
This supremely strange early Cold War nugget is a peculiar blend of sci-fi, comedy, and thriller that somehow hits all three marks, to the extent that I wish Paul Douglas and Leslie Phillips had become an Abbott and Costello-style horror-comedy team. Here they play a snide journalist and freewheeling photographer who wind up stranded in an obscure Eastern European village that’s totally cut off from the outside world. Naturally it’s just a matter of time before they stumble upon the exiled scientist who’s using gamma rays to amass dual armies of mindless zombies and super-intelligent children. Future Hammer mainstay John Gilling keeps the humor dry and the horror dreadful. The scene where a junior fascist upbraids a little girl for playing the piano with too much emotion jarred my sensibilities in the best way.
Kin-Dza-Dza! (1986, Directed by Georgiy Daneliya)
A middle-aged factory foreman and a young violinist attempt to assist a disoriented vagrant and instantly find themselves whisked to a desert world where people wear bells in their noses, travel around in steampunk flying machines and speak a dialect that consists mainly of the word “Koo.” The duo’s attempts to get back to Earth are complicated by an inscrutable caste system that seems to reward trickery and greed above all else. This strange Soviet sci-fi satire is regarded as a classic in its homeland, but it’s virtually unknown over here in the main target of its capitalist lampoonery. That’s a crying shame, as this is a bitterly hilarious artifact that would be an instant cult favorite, especially among Terry Gilliam fans. (And it’s not as if communism comes off a whole lot better - Kin-Dza-Dza leaves no ethos unscathed.)
A Gun for Jennifer (1997, Directed by Todd Morris)
Nearly everything about this grimy, no-budget revenge flick screams 1977, which somehow makes its actual 1997 timestamp all the more impressive. That isn’t to say that A Gun for Jennifer is some kind of self-aware retro exercise. This simple story of a gang of bad-ass women using a seedy strip club as a front for castrating and killing rapists and domestic abusers is a genuine grindhouse venture from an era that just didn’t make those kinds of movies. Despite its male director, this is clearly a woman-driven labor of love for screenwriter/star Deborah Twiss, whose righteous, feminist outrage gives the lie to any number of her movie’s rape-revenge precursors. It’s got a kick-ass grunge-punk soundtrack too, including a live performance by queercore legends Tribe 8. If you know anything about Tribe 8, that tells you a lot of what you need to know about A Gun for Jennifer.
Savage Weekend (1979, Directed by David Paulsen)
You can call Savage Weekend a lot of things, many of them unflattering, but you can’t call it predictable. That counts for a lot in my book. While this muddled tale of unpleasant yuppies heading to the country to unwind, bone each other and belittle the locals is nominally a slasher flick, it doesn’t get around to slashing anybody until the final act. By that point we’ve already seen a sardonic gay stereotype beating the hell out of a bar full of rednecks, an overtly and obscenely sexualized close-up cow-milking sequence, a feral William Sanderson raging to his buddy’s tombstone about gentrification, and a lot of vaguely unhealthy-looking ‘70s people getting naked and bickering. For a movie where not much happens until everything happens, this one is abidingly sleazy and endearingly amateurish in just the way I like best.
An Angel for Satan (1966, Directed by Camillo Mastrocinque)
This year I watched two different 1966 movies where Barbara Steele’s arrival in a European hamlet spurs the resurrection of a malicious witch who was drowned in a lake centuries earlier. I dig them both a lot, but with all due respect to The She-Beast, this is the better entry in that ultra-specific genre. It’s gorgeous black-and-white work from veteran director Camillo Mastrocinque, overbrimming with atmosphere and goth as all heck. Steele owns the show like she always does in a dual-personality role, shifting easily from the naive heiress to the sadistic seductress who relishes making the villagers tear each other apart with lust. Nobody ever did it better.
Rats: Night of Terror (1984, Directed by Bruno Matei and Claudio Fragasso)
A gang of post-apocalyptic punks on a scavenging mission stumbles on a warehouse stocked with ample food and a sustainable indoor gardening facility. But guess who got there first? (Hint: check the title.) This wild Italian cross-breeding of Mad Max knock-offs and nature-in-revolt flicks teems with ludicrous gore, surprisingly graphic nudity and wriggling rats both live and rubber. It’s hugely entertaining and intense throughout, but ask anybody who’s seen it what they think and the first thing you’ll hear is, “Oh god, that ending!” That reaction is 100% justified. It is indeed one hell of an ending.
Death Car on the Freeway (1979, Directed by Hal Needham)
Now look, if you’re gonna accept Death Car on the Freeway into your life, you’re gonna have to make peace with the concept of a fiddle-jazz-loving serial killer whose M.O. is forcing female drivers off the interstate with his van. Once you’re cool with that logistically baffling scenario, you’re ready to luxuriate in one of the finest hidden gems of the TV-movie era. The appeal here is largely in ex-stuntman and Smokey & The Bandit writer/director Hal Needham’s mastery of automotive action, with plenty of pulse-pumping tension generated from repeated showdowns between a clunky panel van and sensible coupes. More surprisingly, the whole thing works as a feminist metaphor. Shelley Hack is mighty good as the dogged journalist trying her damnedest to get a patriarchal police department to acknowledge that women are being targeted at all. (There’s even one on-the-nose scene where a detective brings up the victims’ spotty driving records to suggest they were “asking for it.”) You also get cameos from Peter Graves, Abe Vigoda, Dinah Shore, Frank Gorshin and George Hamilton, but this one stands on its own regardless of star power.
The Man Without a Body (1957, Directed by W. Lee Wilder and Charles Saunders)
I’ve made it one of my life’s missions to seek out weird artistic artifacts, and this movie ranks right up among the weirdest goddamn things I’ve ever stumbled across. It’s a tale as old as time, really: a miserly old bastard tries to cheat death by decapitating Nostradamus’s corpse and stealing his head in hopes of a brain transplant, with a backup plan of pumping the head for stock tips if that Swiss watch of a scheme proves unfeasible. Not one element of William Grote’s screenplay comes across like the product of a remotely healthy mind, but Billy Wilder’s oddball brother directs all of this insanity with a cheap, straight-faced approach that makes this a uniquely disturbing cinematic experience.
Hot-Blooded (1996, Directed by David Blyth)
OK, this one’s a bad movie, and not the good kind of bad. This story of a young sex worker enlisting a squeaky-clean college boy to escape her rapist trucker father (Burt Young!) is sloppy, ludicrous, morally reprehensible stuff, dragged down even further by lurid direction and a gormless dishrag of a leading man. I’m including it on this list for one reason only: Kari Wuhrer. Kari Wuhrer goes for it in this movie. No one involved with this production could have had any reason to believe it would be anything but the multi-titled* scrap of direct-to-video sleaze that it is, but Kari Wuhrer tackles her lead role as though she’s vying for the red carpet. I love that kind of dedication to a lost cause. The woman is a genuine trash film treasure who ought to get far more love from the kind of weirdos who read and make these lists. Some day she’s going to have the cult she deserves.
*I saw it as Hit and Run, but the default title seems to be Hot-Blooded, and it also goes by Red-Blooded American Girl II despite the original Red-Blooded American Girl apparently being a vampire flick. It’s that kind of movie.