Wednesday, May 28, 2014

DETROIT 9000 1973

"It's The Murder Capital Of The World. And The Biggest Black Rip-Off Of The Decade"

"It's gonna get solved....or the town's gonna explode."

   During the 1970's the city of Detroit made national headlines as it was tagged with the monikers "murder capital" or "murder city" U.S.A thanks to its ever escalating homicide rate and along with NYC became one of the symbols of urban decay in America. Producer Arthur Marks (who also was the director here) used this aspect in the films print & radio ad campaigns ("It's the Murder Capital of the World !") and while often labeled in the blacksploitation genre it actually more of an urban police/action drama, with having a passing resemblance to the excellent 1972 heist drama ACROSS 110TH STREET and even references a classic scene from DIRTY HARRY. Re-released under various titles including POLICE CALL 9000 and DETROIT HEAT , this was one of Mark's most successful productions and because of its box office returns he went to work for A.I.P. directing the somewhat tame FRIDAY FOSTER (with Pam Grier) and J.D.'s REVENGE. He would later helm a few episodes of STARSKY AND HUTCH and THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

   Anchored by a solid performance by Alex Rocco (who had made a memorable appearance earlier for Mark's in the classic BONNIE'S KIDS from '72), like most of Mark's movies DETROIT 9000 shows the entire world as outside the law,corrupt and/or with less then 100% moral motives (here complete with a lecherous preacher played by Scatman Crothers). Although perhaps indicative of the obvious total co-operation given by the Detroit police dept. it does paint the authorities in favorable light (although the closing does leave Rocco's character's motives somewhat ambiguous). Filmed entirely on location in it's namesake, Marks really goes out of his way to let us know where we're at with close-ups of newspaper headlines, licence plates and various official Detroit municipality buddings. The original title was MOTOWN 9000 but that ran onto the obvious copyright problems (9000 was the Detroit police code number for an officer in trouble).
   Dealing with the robbery at a fundraiser of sleazy politician Aubrey Clayton (Rudy Challenger), along with its aftermath and the subsequent police investigation - all punctuated with chases, bloody shoot-outs, loud suits, wide ties and big hats with everything filtered thru a gritty 1970's setting. As this being a more straight forward police action type film, Marks does tone down the more sleazy aspects that perpetrated his past films such as the above mentioned BONNIE'S KIDS (along with THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS and THE CANDY SNATCHERS - all worth seeking out) but it does offer up some nudity and exploding blood squibs to keep things firmly rooted in its lineage.

    Perpetually pissed off detective Danny Bassett (Rocco - who was best known to audiences at this time for getting shot thru the eyeglasses while getting a massage in THE GODFATHER) is assigned to the case along with cool as heck black detective Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes). The film plays up the overall racial divides and dis-trust of the police dept., but doesn't really get into the two detectives working relationship as Bassett's initial distrust of Williamson (he's the ex-jock & local celebrity that's the star of the dept. while Basset is portrayed as the working class guy) is dispensed with quickly and they get on with the job. Williamson gets most of the action scenes and racks up a pretty impressive body count by the end of the movie blasting away numerous suspects with his chrome plated automatic. Each of the two detectives are given their own personality quirks with Williamson trying to quit smoking and Bassett suffering from sinus problems ("Your trouble is Danny is that your allergic to Motown !") and having to deal with a sick (and racist) wife.

     Starting with the elaborately staged heist the film moves into a sometimes difficult to follow plot (which to its credit keeps your attention and never lets you know more then detectives themselves know) with many names and quickly introduced characters thrown into the mix with everything wrapped up by a flashback. The climax leads to a really terrific running 20 minute gun battle thru a cemetery and abandoned rail yard. The film's action sequences are very well done and choreographed (along with being appropriately bloody) and makes great use of its Detroit locations - although the city did ask the filmmakers not to show any of the still burned out ruins from the 1967 riots.
    Also with an excellent performance by Vonetta McGee (SHAFT IN AFRICA & BLACULA) as a hooker, plus local celebrity and DJ Dick Purtan, a blink and you'll miss her appearance by 70's favorite Marilyn Joi and June Fairchild (PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW) shows up as a hooker. Also in a kind of weird cameo is Detroit chief of police John Nichols (playing himself), who was running for mayor at the time against Coleman Young and thought it was a good idea to appear in a movie where cops blow away suspects about every 20 minutes.
   Available on DVD from Miramax as part of a few DVD's that Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures put out out back in 2000 that also includes MIGHTY PEKING MAN and Jack Hill's very fun SWITCHBLADE SISTERS. Now we need for someone to put Arthur Marks's ROOMMATES from 1973 (with Roberta Collins & Pat Woodell !!) on DVD.

Friday, May 23, 2014



"HE will be PLEASED !"

    Excellent little creepy B & W British horror film that along NIGHT OF THE EAGLE (1962) and NIGHT OF THE DEMON (1957) help form a nifty lineage of that wonderful English affinity for producing serious and unsettling movies concerning witchcraft, wicca & sorcery which would continue thru the 60's and early 70's with THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968), BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971) and THE WICKER MAN (1973). Sometimes refereed to as "folk horror" this tradition continues to this day with A FIELD IN ENGLAND and the very excellent LORD OF TEARS. Although produced in England THE CITY OF THE DEAD (U.S. title HORROR HOTEL) is set in America (which some might say puts it outside of this realm) but it does have a very "British" feel to it (even with forgoing the accents) and does fit into this lineage in terms of atmosphere and the seriousness of which it approaches the subject (probably the closest American cinema had come to these was the Val Lewton produced THE SEVENTH VICTIM from 1943).

    Starting out with the time honored prologue of a witch burning (this time in Puritan New England) where the center of attention is witch Elizabeth Selwyn (a wonderfully creepy performance by Patricia Jessel) along with a whole bunch of angry & vengeful townsfolk yelling "Burn !!", while her confederate Jethrow Keane ( British character actor Valentine Dyall) glares on from the crowd as Selwyn intones her curse upon future generations. THE CITY OF THE DEAD then jumps forward to contemporary times where we initially focus on student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) who's taking a course on witchcraft being taught by the very enthusiastic Prof. Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee). Wanting to continue her studies more deeply Nan heads off to the remote & seemingly perpetually dark & fogbound New England village of Whitewood (scene of the prologue's witch burning) at the suggestion of Prof. Driscoll and much to the dismay of her cynical & disbelieving boyfriend Bill (Tom Naylor) and brother Richard (Dennis Lotis).

     Arriving at the small village (but not before picking up hitchhiker/resurrected warlock Jethrow Keane) she finds hostile villagers, a blind priest in a deserted church and a creepy inn (complete with commemorative plaque for the witch burning) which is presided over by the contemporary form of Elizabeth Selwyn. Also introduced is Betta St. John as Patricia Russell who serves as the one friendly face and later as a nominal love interest for brother Richard. Its at this point that there's a couple of plot points eerily similar to Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO (released the same year) as what you are led to believe is the main character disappears and a relative and significant other go to the town to investigate.
     Made about the same time that Hammer was kicking it into high gear (and branching out from horror) THE CITY OF THE DEAD is about as different from that look as you can get. Although they were still using B&W for some of their thrillers and film noirs the horror was all about blood drenched color at Hammer. In addition unlike the Hammer films which in spite their sometimes meager budgets always had a spacious richly designed look to the the them, THE CITY OF THE DEAD has a claustrophobic stifling feel to it - which works beautifully in its favor. Literally dripping with Gothic atmosphere it was shot entirely on a sound stage with just a few interior sets and with the village of Whitewood consisting and a of a few buildings (and of course a graveyard with skeletal tress and leaning tombstones) along with the ever present swirling fog and constant darkness, all of which lend to the feeling of total isolation and the village being totally cut off from the outside world.

    With not a large amount of screen time Lee is a magnificent presence here as he totally dominates whatever scenes he's in (even taking into account the compact cast) and along with Jessel and Dyall they all overshadow the rest of the cast. After 1959's THE MUMMY Lee began to branch out in his horror roles (in addition to non-horror) and began working quite a bit on the continent and probably found roles such as this a refreshing change without make-up (along with not getting killed by Peter Cushing at some point). The beautiful cinematography by Desmond Dickinson (who started out in the silents) is amazing to behold with almost every shot looking like a perfectly composed still. Besides directing this, Director John Moxey worked almost exclusively in TV and later directed the original made for TV movie of THE NIGHT STALKER. This production can also be looked on as a precursor to Amicus Productions as writer Milton Subotsky and producer Max Rosenberg would join forces and form this Hammer competitor in 1962.
   In a rather bizarre scene Venetia Stevenson (who was married to both Russ Tamblyn and Don Everly of The Everly Brothers) strips down to stockings and a corset (?) (which DOES seem like something out of a Hammer film) and strikes a few pin-up like poses- which were probably meant to create some eye catching promotional material. THE CITY OF THE DEAD is available on a spiffy DVD from VCI containing the British cut of the film and a commentary by Christopher Lee.



Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Creepy 70's Made For T.V. Version of CAPE FEAR with Lloyd Bridges & Family (including Eve "Jan Brady" Plumb) Stalked by a Supernatural Psycho Ex- Con !! 

    Originally shown as an episode of TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED this was the eighth (and last) episode of this short-lived 1977 Quinn Martin produced TV series. Premiering on the 13th of March this two hour episode (the others being 1 hour) is a pretty blatant knock-off of the 1962's CAPE FEAR with no credit given to original author John D. MacDonald or screenwriter James Webb. THE FORCE OF EVIL moves the main action to the Arizona desert but as in the original works a houseboat into the finale and being a Quinn Martin production we get the ominous William Conrad opening and closing narration.
   Except for the setting and changing the family dynamics around a bit this sticks pretty closely to the original story with Lloyd Bridges playing doctor and family man Yale Carrington who along with wife Maggie (Pat Crowley -who was on about every TV show during the 70's), daughter Cindy (Eve Plumb - with between this and DAWN : PORTRAIT OF A TEENAGE RUNWAY was still trying to free herself from the shackles of THE BRADY BUNCH) and son John (William Cullen) are being terrorized by recently paroled murder/rapist Teddy Jakes (William Watson) whom Dr. Carrington had informed on to the police. The blond curly haired Watson was a regular heavy and /or bad-ass in bunches of westerns along just with about every cop/detective TV show in the 70's and brings a truly evil presence to the proceedings here and is the main reason for watching this.

   Because this being a TV movie Jake's end plans for his reign of terror over Carrington's family (especially toward the wife & daughter) is perhaps not as explicitly hinted at as was Robert Mitchum's in the 1952 version, although its still fairly obvious what his plans are - in particular toward the daughter Cindy. THE FORCE OF EVIL mixes in some supernatural elements with Jakes seeming to be an almost unstoppable (and unkillable) force hellbent on destroying Carrington's family. Also in the plot is the ineffectual local sheriff (who happens to be Dr. Carrington's brother) and is played by veteran character actor John Anderson. The two brothers have a bit of a tense relationship and although Jakes breaks the law at several points the sheriff seems unable to do anything and when an ambush is set up at one point by the two brothers its almost laughably easily how their over powered & outwitted.

    The whole movie is structured rather oddly (intentionally or not) with everybody who attempts to confront Jakes failing with Wile E. Coyote like ineptness including the son and his football buddies attempting to beat the crap out of him. This reaches its height with Carrington seemingly killing Jakes at one point (by slipping him some poisoned insulin) and then with the help of his wife dumping his body down a rat infested well, whereupon he reappears later giving credence to maybe he is some kind of force from beyond the grave.
   Along with the pre- slasher movie/Jason like resurrecting powers, the horror elements are played up here a bit more as in the 1952 version the family dog is killed by the revenged minded ex-con while in this version Jake's burns down the family's entire horse barn at night killing the horses and at one point he even mails a disembodied arm to the misses disguised as a box flowers. Jakes seemingly invariability combined with the police & families helplessness all add to the strange atmosphere of the film and at times its hard to figure if its intentional or just an oddly written script. At 100 minutes sometimes it does appear to be an hour long TV show script expanded out to feature length (as well it might have been) as there's lots of driving around.

   The movie is helped immensely by the presence of Watson as the psychotic stalker. Most times wearing a pair of mirrored sunglasses while constantly grinning and chewing gum he brings a aura of true evil without ever resorting to histrionics or scenery chewing.  There's a very creepy & uncomfortable scene with him and two young bikini clad girls and a later there's a fairly brutal episode where he runs over a young water skiing girl with a speedboat while the rest of the violence is pretty much limited to him and Bridges engaging in some good ol' fistfights. The desert setting helps with the eeriness and it always fun to watch the Brady girls in somewhat more grimier & exploitative scenarios (along with sister "Marcia" Maureen McCormick in TEXAS LIGHTNING or MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS
    Appearing here a bit before his second career wind in AIRPLANE ("Guess I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue") Bridges looks to be doing most of his own stunts, although it is kind of weird seeing him as a somewhat slow to action presence (you keep waiting for Lloyd to start kicking some ass) and he seems to leave up to his family or the police (specifically his brother) to handle the threat until his daughters immediate danger kicks him into gear. Plumb who was eighteen at the time is refereed to as 14 years old in the movie (and as to be expected looks a bit mature for 14), but this was probably done to add some more salacious aspects of Jakes stalking of her.

I love telephone shots in movies (John Frankenheimer was the master of these)