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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New from Shout! Factory: CULT MOVIE MARATHON VOLUME ONE






INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS
(US - 1973)

This drive-in and late-night TV staple was previously released on DVD by MGM as part of the late, great "Midnite Movies" line but is back on DVD once more, kicking off a rather random four-film Shout! Factory "Cult Movie Collection."  A sci-fi satire on Women's Lib, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS is a sterling example of early '70s exploitation trash as men in a college town are being screwed to death by a hot-and-heavy band of radiation-mutated hotties under the command of entomologist Dr. Susan Harris (Anitra Ford).  The government sends in State Department security agent Neil Agar (legendary B-movie badass William Smith) to investigate.  Teaming up with campus librarian Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri, aka Angela Dorian, 1968's Playmate of the Year), and local cop Peters (Cliff Osmond), Agar is expectedly one step behind as one lecherous prof after another turns up dead.  BEE GIRLS was directed by Denis Sanders, whose credits include 1962's WAR HUNT (the film debut of Robert Redford) and the 1970 concert film ELVIS: THAT'S THE WAY IT IS, and written by Nicholas Meyer, who would go on to direct such highly-regarded films as TIME AFTER TIME (1979) and STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982).  It's silly and stupid, but it seems to know it's silly and stupid, which really helps. 1.78 anamorphic.  (R, 86 mins)




THE DEVIL'S 8
(US - 1969)

This low-budget DIRTY DOZEN ripoff from AIP is sort of a hybrid men-on-a-mission/moonshine actioner that's noteworthy for its cult-ready cast and behind-the-scenes personnel who would go on to much bigger things in the coming years.  Fresh off the ABC series THE RAT PATROL, Christopher George stars as Faulkner, a Federal agent undercover on a chain gang so he can stage an escape and round up a group of convicts for an elite mission: infiltrate and take out the operation of backwoods moonshine king Burl (Ralph Meeker).  Among the convicts are Fabian, Tom Nardini, Robert DoQui, Joe Turkel, Larry Bishop, and Ross Hagen as Frank, whose brother was killed by Burl, who's also taken up with Frank's girl (Leslie Parrish).  The clich├ęs abound and the film, directed by Burt Topper, runs a bit long and would've been a lot tighter if it was cut down to 80 minutes or so, but what a fantastic cast.  Expanded from a story idea by future 48 HRS/PREDATOR/DIE HARD producer Lawrence Gordon, THE DEVIL's 8 was the screenwriting debut of a pair of recent USC graduates hired by AIP: Willard Huyck (MESSIAH OF EVIL, AMERICAN GRAFFITI,  INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM, HOWARD THE DUCK) and John Milius, who would go on to write a ton of guy-movie classics like JEREMIAH JOHNSON, MAGNUM FORCE, APOCALYPSE NOW, and EXTREME PREJUDICE, as well as directing CONAN THE BARBARIAN and RED DAWN.  There's some vintage Milius tough-guy jawing throughout and some smartass one-liners.  When asked "How'd you get this job?" George's Faulkner growls "They had a popularity poll.  I lost."  Known mainly as a TV actor up to this point, George's big screen career never really took off outside of a friendship with John Wayne that kept him busy in late-period Duke films like EL DORADO, CHISUM, and THE TRAIN ROBBERS.  He starred in the surprise 1980 hit THE EXTERMINATOR and had one of the all-time great death scenes as the villain in 1981's ENTER THE NINJA, but primarily became an in-demand TV guest star, B-movie and exploitation fixture by the late '70s until his death from a heart attack in 1983 at either 52 or 54, depending on the source.  He's terrific here, more than adept at playing a gritty, cynical tough guy, especially when Meeker's Burl says "You're crazy" and a grinning, wide-eyed George simply replies "Yeah."  You can definitely see and hear Milius' style popping up in its infancy throughout THE DEVIL'S 8, and while the film leaves a bit to be desired with its really draggy middle and the corny, repetitive, TV-level shitkicker score, there's certainly some historical value for B-movie addicts and Milius completists.  Also with Cliff Osmond as Burl's dopey flunky, a young Ron Rifkin as a rookie agent helping Faulkner, and George's then-girlfriend and future wife and regular co-star Lynda Day (soon to become Lynda Day George) in an uncredited cameo. 1.78 anamorphic.  (M, re-rated PG-13, 98 mins)


THE UNHOLY ROLLERS
(US - 1972)

Cranked out quickly to cash-in on MGM's Raquel Welch hit KANSAS CITY BOMBER, the Roger Corman production THE UNHOLY ROLLERS is a meaner, grittier look at the world of Roller Derby.  Chronicling the rise and inevitable fall of Karen (Claudia Jennings) as she quits her job at a cat food factory and aces a tryout for the L.A. Avengers, THE UNHOLY ROLLERS doesn't really break any new ground as far as these kinds of stories go, and gets off to a slow start, but director Vernon Zimmerman (best known for the 1980 cult horror film FADE TO BLACK) and veteran Corman screenwriter Howard R. Cohen eventually find their groove.  It's helped by a strong performance by Jennings, the troubled 1970 Playmate of the Year who would die in a tragic car accident in 1979 at just 29.  Zimmerman and Cohen take a risk in making Jennings' Karen a frankly unlikable, self-absorbed bitch from the start, and it makes a little too easy to see her downfall coming, especially when team owner Mr. Stern (Louis Quinn) makes obviously prophetic statements like "Every #1 started out as a #2."  So, just the way Karen toppled the team's star player Mickey (Betty Anne Rees), so shall happen to her with the introduction of Beverly (Charlene Jones).  Karen soon becomes an out-of-control liability as her success turns her into a monster and alienates her from her teammates.  Jennings does a great job playing a thoroughly despicable person, and Zimmerman handles the Roller Derby sequences very well, probably with some assistance from editor Martin Scorsese, who made BOXCAR BERTHA for Corman the same year and would soon hit the big time with 1973's MEAN STREETS.  Also with Roberta Collins, Alan Vint, Candice Roman, Victor Argo, and Kathleen Freeman as Karen's trailer-trash mother, who rejects a kiss from her estranged daughter and responds to her financial gift with "I got my cigarettes, I got my TV...what more do I need?" The packaging indicates full-frame, but it's actually 1.78 anamorphic.  (R, 88 mins)


VICIOUS LIPS
(US - 1987)

The prolific Albert Pyun has made nearly 50 films over the last 31 years, and none of them were as good as his debut, the summer of 1982 sleeper hit THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER.  His productivity has tapered off in recent years as he's been focusing on what are basically home movie-level semi-sequels to his earlier hits (ABELAR: TALES OF AN ANCIENT EMPIRE was a SWORD follow-up and his latest, CYBORG NEMESIS, combines the titles of past Pyun films CYBORG and NEMESIS).  Another recent project, ROAD TO HELL, was a sort-of follow-up to Walter Hill's STREETS OF FIRE, a film which didn't even involve Pyun.  Whatever promise Pyun might've shown back in 1982 was long-gone by the time he made 1990's infamous CAPTAIN AMERICA, which ended up going straight to video, which is where Pyun's stayed since.  It hasn't been all bad:  he made a few films for Cannon that were OK (1986's DANGEROUSLY CLOSE, 1987's DOWN TWISTED, and their last hit, 1989's CYBORG), and a couple that weren't (1988's ALIEN FROM L.A. and 1989's JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH--credited to Rusty Lemorande--a botched grease fire where Pyun's footage for an ALIEN FROM L.A. sequel was spliced in with Lemorande's unfinished JOURNEY remake, though it solves the age-old question "How bad does a movie have to be for Albert Pyun to demand his name be taken off the credits?"), and his early '90s work like 1991's DOLLMAN and 1992's NEMESIS were very popular video store staples.  And the less said about his Bratislava-shot "Gangstas Wandering Around an Abandoned Warehouse" (© Nathan Rabin) trilogy, the better.



VICIOUS LIPS is still early Pyun, and he's already in decline in his only film for Empire Pictures.  A sort-of companion piece to his 1986 film RADIOACTIVE DREAMS, VICIOUS LIPS centers on an all-girl new wave band called Vicious Lips, who've just hired a new singer, Judy Jetson (Dru-Anne Perry), rechristening her "Ace Lucas" before taking a lucrative gig on a distant planet.  On the way, they crash-land and they're chased around the ship by a crazed wolfman-type creature.  There's also a lot of fighting and yelling, and some extended rock montages.  The whole thing ends up being some weird fever dream about Judy being driven mad by her quest to be a star.  There's about ten minutes of plot stretched out to an interminable 81 minutes, though in all fairness, the songs are pretty good.  VICIOUS LIPS is pretty much an amateur-night endurance test across the board, and it's hard to believe that it's by the same Pyun who showed so much promise just five years earlier with SWORD AND THE SORCERER.  Like the similarly-derided Uwe Boll, Pyun can be a competent director-for-hire when he wants to be, but he seems to have self-deprecatingly embraced this whole "straight-to-video-era Ed Wood" niche he's carved for himself over the years.  With its '80s time capsule look, effects work by Empire mainstay John Buechler, with contributions from the Chiodo Brothers (who went on to direct the immortal KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE the next year), I suppose VICIOUS LIPS is campy enough to have attained a small cult, and the climactic production number features a club MC who looks like ALF's hard-drinking uncle, but other than some of the music, there's nothing here.   Still, Pyun's recent announcement that he's retiring from filmmaking due to health issues related to multiple sclerosis was sad to hear.  The guy's been such a regular fixture in bad movies for so long that it seems unthinkable that he won't be cranking out any more.  But he made one very good one and a small handful of decent ones, so we'll always have those, and fans of bad cinema will have...well, just peruse his IMDb page and pick something. VICIOUS LIPS may be terrible, but a part of me is glad that it exists.  1.78 anamorphic. (R, 81 mins)

The madness continues in CULT MOVIE MARATHON VOLUME TWO

1 comment:

  1. I'm excited that this INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS transfer is *uncut* as opposed to the Midnite Movies DVD that is missing several bits of footage, including Beverly Hills' topless scene.

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