Monday, June 27, 2016


Fred Williamson & Robert Forster Clean Up the Grimy Streets of 1980's NYC !!

"You're not safe anymore...And there's no way to stop them."

     After the release of his nihilistic horror classic MANIAC in 1980 producer/director William Lustig turned his attention toward the box office-friendly genre of urban action/revenge. Kickstarted by DEATH WISH in 1974 the genre also had roots with 1971's DIRTY HARRY which although featuring a police figure in the title role, it portrayed him a lone vigilante striking against useless courts and ineffectual police (both of which would be played up in the coming decades in DEATH WISH along with its many offspring).
    If there ever was a fertile setting for this genre it was NYC in the '70s and '80's as the city was awash in blight, out of control crime with dirty & dangerous streets and a police force that was still reeling from corruption scandals in the early '70s. In addition to DEATH WISH, out of this toxic brew emerged THE EXTERMINATOR (1980), MS. 45 (1981), the criminally unavailable  NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER (1980) among almost countless others (and leaving the confines of NYC) including the innumerable DEATH WISH sequels and Italian efforts such as VIOLENT ROME (1975) and MANHUNT IN THE CITY (1975).
   Released in 1983 VIGILANTE seems to be more of a throwback to the previous decade and although there's no doubt that Lustig and screenwriter Richard Vetere drew some inspiration from DEATH WISH they created something much more brutal and nihilistic here. Whereupon DEATH WISH showed a violent and dangerous urban environment, it also portrayed a dependable & professional (albeit pragmatic) police force and city that while crime-ridden was still livable. 
   VIGILANTE shows a New York City more in line with such post-apocalyptic Italian films such as 2019:AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK and 1990:THE BRONX WARRIORS as it shows an urban landscape where the lawless element seems totally in control as citizens cower in fear and the police and judicial forces are looked upon as worthless by both the criminals and victims. It's also interesting to note that while DEATH WISE showed its main character in the form of Charles Bronson to be a rather affluent upper-middle-class white-collar guy, the ongoing films in this genre mostly present the main protagonist(s) as working-class blue-collar types.

    Opening with Fred Williamson breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience as he extols to us the viewers that we need to arm ourselves and take back the streets while the films cut to a line of ordinary citizen types blasting away on a shooting range, all of which when combined with the guitar and synth-driven pounding score must have had the 42nd St. audiences rising out of their seats while cheering and wildly pumping their fists in the air. 
   The camera pulls back and we see Williamson addressing a group of people seated in a room. Playing Nick, he's the local organizer of a type of "neighborhood watch" although it quickly shown that they take their job very very seriously (without a lot of "watching"). Along with his cohorts Burke (Richard Bright from GODFATHER I & II) and Ramon (Joseph Carberry NIGHT OF THE JUGGLER). they drive around in a tricked out 70's van and dispense justice to lowlifes who prey on the neighborhood. We're shown this in an early scene where an elderly resident identifies the perpetrator of a violent assault on a young woman (after claiming ignorance to the police) whereupon Nick and the boys throw him in the van and the next morning his dead body is found.
    We're introduced to Eddie Marino (Robert Forster ALLIGATOR) a decent hard-working guy and family man with his wife Vickie (Rutanya Alda WHEN A STRANGER CALLS) and a small boy. Eddie is friends with the above mentioned Fred Williamson and co. Visiting their place of work one day they attempt to prod him into joining their group, but he declines believing that vigilantism will lead to the breakdown of society.

    Later that same day Marino's wife and child have a confrontation with a local street gang led by "Rico" Melendez (musician Willie Colón) and "Pargo" (Don Blakely SHORT EYES). Following them home the gang viciously attacks Vickie and young child in a brutally beautifully shot sequence with Vickie running amongst billowing sheets in the backyard while screaming to no avail for help (after earlier being shrugged off by the police on the phone) while the young boy is viciously and bloodily killed by a shotgun - which although taking place off-screen is still one of the more brutal sequences in 70's cinema.
    With his child dead and his wife near death, Eddie is contacted by a D.A. (Carol Lynley THE NIGHT STALKER) who is set to prosecute Rico for the crime. Unfortunately, the fix is in as the court system is totally corrupt as a slimy defense attorney (played to oily perfection by the great Joe Spinell) and a judge both make sure the case gets thrown out of court. An enraged Eddie throws himself at the judge and is tossed in jail for 30 days. 
    The plot takes a kind of odd turn at this point during the jail sequence. On one hand, you see it as the ultimate example of the corruption of the system and Eddie's final degradation bit it feels like something that was extended or added to the plot to increase the running time. In prison, we do however get Woody Strode as a fellow prisoner and protector of Eddie's, who even here at the age of 69 looks like he could still kick the ass of the entire cast (and probably even give Fred Williamson a run for his money). 

    During this time the neighborhood vigilante group has been busy as they work their way through the neighborhood drug industry and by moving up the corporate ladder discover city government involved in the narcotic traffics, which again leads into the plot point of corruption through the entire system. Eddie joins up with the vigilante group in order to track down his family's attackers. Although at this point the film would seem to be set up as a straight revenge finale, Lustig and Vetere slowly play with the conventions as they turn Eddie not into a revenge hungry killing machine, but as a conflicted man who goes through it not with a sense of satisfaction but hopefully just for closure with his now convalesced wife refusing to live with him, 
    A favorite of Lustig's, Forster is excellent here, but he's overshadowed by Williamson's larger than life persona as Fred jumps into his role with gusto, preforming is own stunts and making one truly believe that he could take on 1980's NYC by himself. Also because of the narration sequence, Forster's Eddie fades into the background at several points and at times it almost feels like we're watching two different movies, but Lustig (who as never really gotten the credit he deserves for being a truly fine filmmaker) keeps us so engrossed in the story and action that its not much of a hindrance. Shot in 2.35:1 Panavision VIGILANTE is a beautiful looking production with the widescreen photography giving the film an epic look that belies its low budget origins (and nobody can shot pre-Giuliani dirty & grungy NYC like Lustig). 
    Along with a nicely edited and shot car chase, the film contains several sequences of brutal violence (even by 70's standards) as we see bloody shotgun blasts, bodies disintegrating by machine gun volleys, baseball bat beatings, stabbings and in one particular sequence a woman is shot and she violently flies backward through a bathroom door before landing in a bathtub. 

All The Above Screen caps Are From The Blue Underground Blu -Ray

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Rosalba Neri News # 20 - Shameless TOP SENSATION DVD Update


    Shameless Screen Entertainment have updated their Facebook page with cover art and some extras for their upcoming release of Ottavo Alessi's TOP SENSATION (aka THE SEDUCERS). The listed 91 min running time is approx two minutes longer than the now OOP Camera Obscura release of a few years back so I'm curious to see what we end up with. The interviews (including Rosalba) are ported over from the Camera Obscura edition and the alternate scenes will most likely be the same VHS sourced alternate bits from the U.S. Jerry Gross distributed version titled THE SEDUCERS (with materials still MIA for a decent looking release of this version).   
    The trippy packaging certainly is an eye grabber and I'll post some screen grabs here as soon as I receive it. If you order directly from Shameless you even receive a free TOP SENSATION coloring book!


Sunday, June 19, 2016



70's Ecological Horror as Mercury Poisoned Giant Mutant Bear Runs Amok in Maine Woods !

"She Lives. Don't Move. Don't Breath. There's Nowhere To Run. She Will Find You."

     This late entry in the 1970's ecological horror cycle remains a curious schizophrenic mess of a film. I admit to having a certain fondness for it (which admittedly cannot be explained) ever since I first viewed it during its initial theatrical run on a double feature with PHANTASM during the summer of 1979. Released by a major studio (Paramount) and directed by John Frankenheimer, who although maybe not at his 60's zenith was still directing interesting pictures such as 99 AND 44/100TH % DEAD, THE FRENCH CONNECTION II & BLACK SUNDAY, it moves effortlessly from some beautifully composed & suspenseful scenes to ludicrously unintentional comedic sequences that never fail to raise laughter from a viewing audience.
      Mixing in environmental concerns, Native American mysticism, family dynamics and even shoehorning urban blight and abortion into the plot (along with a big monster) the script is somewhat muddled and the ham-fisted pseudo-scientific explanations to what's going on all make it just what it appears to be - a major studio attempt to replicate a Roger Corman type exploitation movie. Interestingly Corman himself would explore some of these same things (albeit in a more compact low budget endeavor) in the following year's HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP. 
      Subtitled "THE MONSTER MOVIE" (perhaps so not to confuse audience members who thought that it was going to that other mainstay genre of 70's horror cinema -devil worship), PROPHECY was released through a heavy ad campaign (the TV spots seemed to show up endlessly on late-night TV) and with poster art that was similar to 1979's other "monster in an egg" release Ridley Scott's ALIEN. As to be expected it was savaged by the critics, but went on to earn a respectable $54,000,000 at the box office - which makes you wonder how close PROPHECY II ever came to fruition (especially considering the film's open-ended climax).
    Robert Foxworth plays Dr. Robert Verne who has grown bitter and burnt-out from his job in Washington DC where he investigates rat-bitten children in the ghetto and rallies against slumlords. Thinking a change of scenery might do him good, his EPA boss sends him up to the woods of northern Maine (in reality British Columbia) to investigate the claims of Native American tribes that a paper mill is polluting the waters. Accompanying him is top-billed Talia Shire as his cello-playing wife Maggie. Having just learned that she's pregnant Maggie is agonizing over telling her husband as he's constantly railing against the state of society and how it would be wrong to bring a child in the world at this time.

    Upon arriving in "Maine" (PROPHECY was one of the first major Hollywood productions to be filmed in Canada), they're witness to a confirmation between a group of loggers led by the evil paper mill supervisor played by busy character actor Richard Dysart (who in a few years would memorably have his hands chopped off in the chest cavity of THE THING) and local Native Americans led by Armand Assante & Victoria Racimo. After helping break up a potential ax/chainsaw duel the couple learns that the local tribes have been suffering from black-outs and an increased number of birth defects. Disappearances of both Indians and loggers have also been occurring as in a pre-credit sequence (and one of the more atmospheric in the film) a search and rescue team from the paper mill is brutally dispatched by an unseen creature.
     A mythical creature known as the "Katahdin" is vaguely alluded to by Dysart and later while visiting the elderly tribal shaman Maggie learns that Katahdin is a creature "that bears a mark of each of God's creatures". Later Robert catches an abnormally large salmon and they also discover a freakishly giant tadpole all of which lead to the discovery of a huge mutant bear with a misshapen head and a love of tearing people limb from limb, which has been caused by mercury used by the paper mill. There's also Robert's talk of the mercury jumping the placenta wall in females which causes concern for Maggie and her unborn child.
    Eventually, a baby mutant bear is discovered entangled in some salmon netting and Foxworth deciding that it needs to be brought back as evidence (and in one of the film's more unintentionally hilarious sequences) enlists Maggie to carry the creature through the wilderness clutched to her bosom while it alternately yowls and chews on her with mama bear in hot pursuit.

     Frankenheimer seems alternately bored and inspired here as there's a standout scene in a tunnel (again reminiscent of ALIEN in its ventilation duct sequence) and the true highlight is the scene (which is ALWAYS remembered by viewers) as in a crazy combination of genius and "you can't serious" WTF film, a young child is frantically hopping away in his sleeping bag with the monster in pursuit before a swipe of its paw sends him cartwheeling into a rock followed by a huge explosion of sleeping bag stuffing.
     Robert Foxworth seems to be channeling some 70's jut jawed Charlton (SOYLENT GREEN and THE OMEGA MAN) Heston while Talia Shire (who was coming off GODFATHER I & II along with ROCKY I & II) seems mostly to be wondering what she's doing here. To be fair though her part is horribly underwritten, with the pregnancy angle seeming to drift in and out of the plot at various points (although she does get in some excellent screaming toward the film's climax).
     The make-up & puppet effects by the Burman Studio are quite good although the attack sequences are for the most part are unimaginably shot and take place at night where Paramount's decade old and somewhat murky DVD transfer does the film no service. There's a decapitation scene which is a great example of just how much you could get away with a  PG rating in the 70's. The original creature was much closer to the poster art and is vividly described in screenwriter David Seltzer's bestselling novelization as an almost Lovecraft like monster having large saucer like eyes, scales with membranous wings and would have been much closer to what's alluded to in the script.

    As stated I do have a fondness for PROPHECY, but the big thing that it has going against it, is that it just takes itself way too seriously. With the result being it makes its sometimes unintentional comedic sequences stand out like the proverbial sore thumb. The Native Americans led by Assante (who like Anthony Quinn in the 40's was the go to guy for various ethnic roles) are infused with such nobility that it almost borders on parody. You keep expecting Billy Jack to come wondering out of the underbrush to slowly utter a few words of wisdom and then judo kick the bear.
     Leonard Rosenman's sometimes over dramatic score ominously swelling over a tracking shot of the paper mill is the next best thing to having a flashing neon sign on its roof screaming out "Evil Paper Mill Here Polluting The River !!!". Shot almost entirely outdoors, it is a handsome looking movie as Frankenheimer and cinematographer Harry Stradling Jr. have an excellent eye for the wide-open vistas.
    In spite of it uneven tone and the chunkiness of the plot, there is something entertainingly goofy going on here and it makes an interesting comparison to what William Girdler did in DAY OF THE ANIMALS and GRIZZLY on a much smaller budget (and what a triple feature !) along with the above mentioned HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP the next year.

   A big thanks to Cinema Catharsis for hosting the Nature's Fury Blogathon !