Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '77 - World B Tweet ""

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Underrated '77 - World B Tweet

World B Tweet – worked in movie theatres and video stores almost non-stop since 1987. My first night in a movie theatre was opening night of the first “Lethal Weapon.” I’m a child of the 80’s drive-in scene, the long lost son of Sam Firstenberg, and I can be found talking movies on Twitter (@WorldBTweet) or at https://isawmommykissinggreydonclark.blogspot.com/.

Last time out, for Underrated 1987, I had a ton of films to choose from (over 150) so finding a half dozen or so “under the radar” pictures was a snap. When you get back to 1977, when releases were not as plentiful, and with a ton of the releases being big ones, it gets a little bit tougher and you have to dig a little bit deeper. I still found some fun stuff to talk about all the same.
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OUTLAW BLUES – Peter Fonda is a soon-to-be-released convict who is also a budding country songwriter/singer. When a famous country performer decides to do a live recording at Fonda’s prison, the convict (and his warden) think it’s a great idea to show the big-timer what a little convict could do. Said performer is so thrilled with Fonda’s song that he steals and records it for himself. Fonda gets out of prison, and with one of the star’s backup singers (Susan Saint James) in tow, he does everything in his power to get what he deserves.

Less “redneck-y” than most of the 70’s and 80’s hicksploitation oeuvre, OUTLAW BLUES goes out of its way to be slight and likeable throughout its runtime. Fonda does a nice job with a low key hero role, and I can always appreciate the spunky and cute Saint James in everything she does (she really was underused during her film career, spending most of her time on television). Directed by Richard T. Heffron (whose I, THE JURY is one of THE hidden films of the 80’s), OUTLAW BLUES is that perfect gap film for those who liked SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT but didn’t think they were prepared for GREAT TEXAS DYNAMITE CHASE.
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GREASED LIGHTNING – Before his troubles began in the 1980’s and his film output truly started to feel like a “star for hire” in one lackluster production after another, Richard Pryor parlayed his stand-up comedy success into a short stretch of diverse, interesting films that moved fluidly between genres. Although not as successful as SILVER STREAK or as memorable and iconic as BLUE COLLAR, GREASED LIGHTNING represents the perfect example of a star who wants to succeed being paired with a director who is equally engaged. Coming off a knockout one-two punch of COOLEY HIGH and CAR WASH, Michael Schultz chose the true life story of black stock car racer Wendell Scott as his next project. Having been a WW II veteran and a moonshiner, Scott finally finds a home in the world of NASCAR racing. Pryor acquits himself very well in the role, getting to move back and forth between comedy and drama, giving what could have been a stock performance in a biopic some true juice. The cast also is first rate, with Pam Grier, Beau Bridges, Cleavon Little, Vincent Gardenia and Richie Havens lending stellar support. Interesting and thoughtful as a biopic, fun as a sports film, the film is a nice look at what Pryor could do when everyone was fully invested in a solid project (and a little sad to think that there weren’t a ton of these still to come).
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THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN – It took me quite a while to finally catch up with this one. The television commercials and advertisements frightened me something fierce during its original theatrical release, and once I was man enough to handle it, the film seemed to disappear from distribution. Only through the last few years has it made its presence known again, and boy, this film is certainly…. Something.

An astronaut (Alex Rebar), while on a mission to Saturn, gets too close to the sun, and upon re-entry to earth, finds that he is beginning to, um, melt. This does not sit well with him, so he goes on your standard path of destruction though the small town that he is taken to for medical treatment. A doctor, “Ted Nelson” (which is obviously important because he identifies himself by first and last name so many times that I lost count) is brought in to join NASA and the military in tracking and stopping our newly gooey man, although none of them are very successful at all.

INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN - is filled with blah performances and not-scary-at-all scare scenes (what was I worried about in the 70’s???) but it does have a great raison d’etre for recommending… the fantastic early work of Rick Baker and Greg Cannon in creating the gory, gooey, melting effects. The Melting Man looks great (well, looks disgustingly great) and there are a few other solid effects pieces in the film as well. We’re a few years before the “Golden Age” of FX masters at this point, but the good parts of this film would fit comfortably in the portfolio of that era.
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FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE — This is not an easy sit by any means, but if you accept it as a film of its era, and you were a fan of LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT and some of the rougher Blaxploitation films, FIGHT FOR YOUR LIFE may just come off as very effective to you. Featuring a very powerful (and very hate-filled/ racial-epithet throwing) bad guy performance from William Sanderson of “Newhart” fame (Larry!), the film is about three escaped convicts who hole up in the home of a black minister and his family while they try to come up with a better plan for getting away. All three men are particularly nasty (one runs up a decent body count during the film), but this picture is Sanderson’s all the way. Someone must’ve convinced him from the get-go that he would not be harpooning his future career by doing this role, because he is called upon to not only utter every racially-insensitive phrase out there but also to mix and match the phrases and invent new words of his own. Sanderson is utterly hateful from frame one in this film, and that is the point.

The film is also commendable for not making the victimized family come off as weak and powerless. At no point does the minister and his family (which includes a son played by the writer of GET ON THE BUS and BIKER BOYZ) simply accept their fate and roll over. They are a strong, faith-filled unit that is planning on doing whatever it takes to escape the clutches of the three bad men. This leads to several powerful and violent confrontations. The film packs a powerful punch by the conclusion, no matter how much hate and brutality you have to get through first.
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SUDDEN DEATH – Being a small child who spent hours on end in front of a television, there were no more famous people to me than those who were leads in weekly prime time shows. They were my gods, my heroes (besides athletes) and could do no wrong. As I transitioned slowly into being a movie watcher, I was stunned to find that people who were the biggest names in television weren’t ALSO the biggest names in film. What do you mean the best Lee Majors could do was KILLER FISH and THE NORSEMEN? If Morgan Fairchild is in THE SEDUCTION, that film is going to be the biggest film of the year! How could anyone not want to check out Gabe Kaplan in FAST BREAK???

I was late to the game on this one, but I would have fallen out of my beanbag chair and dropped my Legos if I had known that superstar Robert Conrad had moved from WILD WILD WEST and BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP to…. SUDDEN DEATH. The man who captained one Battle of the Network Stars team after another was now… doing a low, low budget film in the Philippines. And you know what? It’s a pretty damn good amount of fun.

The immortal director Eddie Romero puts Conrad through the paces as an ex-CIA agent who gets involved in the murder of an American family that points back to a business syndicate that is trying to take control of natural resources on the Philippine island. He gets help from Felton Perry (MAGNUM FORCE, WALKING TALL), who gets to use his not-very-good martial arts skills to take out a bunch of bad guys. The pair, after a bunch of bloody shootouts and violent escapades, eventually end up being pitted against Don Stroud, with Conrad and Stroud having what seems to be the final battle in this film, man to man, hand to hand. Alas, there is a stinger scene that is quite effective AND unexpected.

It’s low budget cheese, but it is effective cheese. The action is pretty much non-stop, the leads have decent chemistry, and Stroud is, as always, Stroud. (And for those of you into the actioners of the Philippines… yep! Vic Diaz shows up, too.)
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MR. BILLION – A few years after 1977, Terence Hill tried to find U.S. box office success with SUPER FUZZ. He did not find it, and for good reason. It was not good… at all. In 1977, Hill also tried to attain box office success here with MR. BILLION, and although he didn’t, the film kinda works. When his billionaire uncle dies in a freak accident, Hill’s character, Guido, finds out he is the heir to the billionaire’s fortune and is invited to the U.S. to sign the paperwork to make it official. All the while, the executor of the will, played by Jackie Gleason, is trying to do anything in his power to sabotage Guido.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox, with Hill’s biggest budget, best cast (Gleason, Valerie Perrine, Slim Pickens, Chill Wills, Dick Miller, and R.G. Armstrong) and an honest to goodness real director (Jonathan Kaplan!), MR. BILLION isn’t completely successful (a lot of the comedy is too broad; the film moves tones at times a little too wildly) but it’s a sometimes charming, often sweet look at an innocent from abroad who comes to a foreign land and tries legitimately to bond and understand his new surroundings. Hill’s character makes a wonderful attempt (a running gag that pays off greatly at the end) to let everyone who helps him along his way know that he will be there to pay them back. This is Hill’s best attempt to break through here; and he is quite winning. Kaplan shows his usual nice directorial touches as well. If Hill had continued along this path (or if a studio had given him another shot), who knows—he might have been a U.S. star after all.
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CAN I DO IT TIL’ I NEED GLASSES/CONFESSIONS FROM A HOLIDAY CAMP – Back in the 70’s, everyone had an uncle who liked to tell dirty, off-color jokes, or a book of dirty jokes, or at least a copy of MAD Magazine. R-rated comedy wasn’t the shocking over-raunch that it is today; it was the light, snickering naughty humor of burlesque and Redd Foxx. On both sides of the Atlantic, there were efforts being made to capitalize on the new freedom in cinematic limits. Not close to porn but also not anywhere near family/mainstream entertainment, these two films were built upon a foundation of cheap puns, double entendres and racial stereotypes, as well as a healthy spoonful of naked women. The U.S. produced GLASSES looks like it was made for $400, and it was probably made in about three days. It is simply a filmed version of a joke book. Take a joke, use a couple of semi-professional actors (plus Robin Williams in two VERY quick flashes), and shoot it as quickly as possible. Is it good? Not really. Does it remind me of being in my uncle’s living room, him with a glass of bourbon in his hand, holding court with us children, telling all of the jokes in his head? It sure does.
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CONFESSIONS FROM A HOLIDAY CAMP works better. The fourth, and the final, of the British CONFESSIONS series, features Robin Askwith as cheerful, klutzy (and utterly desirable to all women) Timothy Lea, and Anthony Booth plays his put-upon brother-in-law Sidney. Each film has Timothy Lea taking on a new occupation and not being able to perform a single task due to his being hounded by every woman in the neighborhood. HOLIDAY CAMP, obviously, takes place at a summer camp, which gives the film the opportunity to put every female in bikinis, or less. Timothy and Sidney have been given the task to put on a successful beauty pageant or be fired. Clumsiness and libidos get in the way for the full 85 minutes as Timothy just cannot keep his pants on long enough to fully complete his task. Filled with naked British women, stereotypes, bad jokes and a cheerful “can-do” attitude, HOLIDAY CAMP might not make you laugh but also isn’t mean spirited or “rapey” like some of the 80’s sex comedies were in America. And, if that doesn’t make you want to watch, we have Linda Hayden, trying on a French accent. That did it for me, by the way. (Note: Any of the 4 CONFESSIONS films would basically have the same review. They are pretty interchangeable.)
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SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS -- When I was growing up, my two younger sisters and I never agreed on any movie whatsoever. STAR WARS? They hated it? Disney films or CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG? I had no interest at all.
There was never a trip to the movie theatre that had 100% agreement the entire time from my childhood through me leaving for college. Not one movie ever made us all happy at the same time. Except SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS.

We ended up stumbling upon it in the very early 1980’s when it played on a UHF channel on a Saturday afternoon. The three of us had absolutely no clue what we were watching, but we were transfixed. They loved the cheerleaders; I just thought it was weird. And through to the end we were laying on the floor around the black and white television. It was strange; it made no sense…. And it was fascinating.

Other people must’ve felt the same way, because the same channel ended up re-running SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS (which, by the way, is the tale of a group of high school cheerleaders who, while on the way to a competition, have their bus thrown off course and end up in the clutches of satanic cult members) once or twice a year. And once we realized this was the case (Thank you, TV Guide!) we always checked the listings. Always Saturday, always 4:00pm. And in front of that black and white (and later color) television we sat.

I can’t tell you how many times I saw the film, or parts of the film between 1980 and 1990, when we had all moved off to college, but it was a lot, and they were always there. It was a bonding moment like no other film for us. I ended up being a champion for the film when I went off to school and I actually had a cruddy looking VHS copy of it that I had bought… until someone stole it out of my apartment. I think I talked it up too much.

I won’t go into detail; I want you to experience the joys and surprises that SATAN’S CHEERLEADERS holds. Directed by Greydon Clark, the master… before WITHOUT WARNING, before JOYSTICKS, before THE UNINVITED. Featuring supporting performances from Yvonne DeCarlo and John Ireland. This film is coming out from VCI on Blu-Ray soon. Eternal damnation to those of you who do not buy it. Satan commands you.
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