Thursday, April 25, 2019

HIT MAN 1972

"He aims to please"

     Based upon Ted Lewis's 1970 novel Jack's Return Home which was the basis for the superb GET CARTER from 1971 starring Michael Caine, director/writer George Armitage's HIT MAN moves the action from the grim industrial north of England to the seedy underbelly of 1970's Los Angeles and the porn movie industry while mixing in some film noir elements. An underappreciated and early entry in the 70's Blaxploitation wave, it has a charismatic lead turn by ex-NFL player Bernie Casey as an out-of-town and out-for-revenge mobster and best of all the ultimate 70's ass-kicking goddess Pam Grier (here billed as Pamela Grier) as a tough as nails porn star here immediate post-Filipino/ women-in prison stage of her career.
    Oakland based ex-con/mobster Tyrone Tackett (Casey) arrives in Los Angeles for his brother's funeral after an alleged suicide and to check on his niece Rochelle (Candy All THE SWINGING CHEERLEADERS). Finding the wild living Rochelle not receptive to his offer to live with him, Tyrone hooks up with his brother's business partner/ used car salesman Sherwood Epps (Sam Laws TRUCK TURNER) and begins poking into his brother's death. The trail quickly leads into the L.A. crime underworld and porno movie industry.  Meeting up with a succession of low-lives and gangsters (including Paul Gleason from THE BREAKFAST CLUB & Roger Mosley from MAGNUM P.I.) all of whom basically tell him to stop asking questions and go back home, he begins to uncover unpleasant lifestyle choices related to his niece and dead brother. 

    Taking Ted Lewis's story of honor and revenge and moving into the world of 70's Blaxploitation and urban crime seems like it would be a natural and although Armitage claimed he never saw the Caine film, his script (which the basic story was given to him by producer Gene Corman - Roger's brother) follows it with the originals downbeat ending changed. Armitage's script meanders a bit through the first while as Tackett arrives in L.A. and begins questioning his brother's friends and business associates as there even some odd humor that seems weirdly out of place including a scene where Tackett and Epps get drunk and Tackett begins talking in a high feminine voice  and a bit with Epps as he tries to film a TV commercial and mistakenly saying "mother-fucker"
     Things pick up quite a bit during the film's second half as Tackett hooks up with porn actress Grier (wonderfully named Gozelda & sporting a tremendous natural Afro) and begin his bloody vendetta. Although there are some scenes in gangsters' mansions most of the film takes place in a gritty world of low rent motels, ill-light porn theatres, brothels, and dinghy streets. For the most part, this is not the beach and palm tree L.A, all of which is beautifully captured by cinematographer and future director Bruce Davis (THE FUGITIVE). Armitage, who had started out with the Roger Corman school of film production (PRIVATE DUTY NURSES), makes great use of actual Los Angeles locations including the Watts Towers and a wild animal park that is used a couple of times, while maybe seeming odd, does figure into the climax and leads to one character's demise. 
     Although obviously staged there's a winch inducing sequence showing a dogfight which maybe can be augured shows the mindless violence in the which characters reside and be taken in the context of the era's film making & ratings, but still it's something the film could have done without as it has nothing to do with the plot. Like a lot of Blaxploitation films HIT MAN shows the higher up figures in the crime world to be white (and mostly of Italian descent it would seem) who are dealt out a bloody comeuppance during the finale

     During its later half HIT MAN lives up to his 70's R rating with bright red bloody shoot-outs (including a machine gun invasion of a gangster mansion) and nudity with most of the female cast seeming to drop their clothes in every scene. It's also worth noting some comparisons to Paul Schrader's HARDCORE from 1979 as Tackett becomes immersed in the world of porn and finds out his nieces' involvement in that world with Grier becoming his guide (as is Season Hubley for George C. Scott in HARDCORE) and his discovery of the truth while viewing a porn film with brings out slow simmering anger in him.  
     Casey is quite good here, bringing an air of dignity and family honor to the role with his graying Afro even while decked out in full 70' regalia if even though we initially see his action as noble, it's soon relieved that he is just as evil as the men he's pursuing with only his revenge lending his character some credence for the violence that he engages in. He would alternate in major studio film supporting roles like THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, T.V. and Blaxploitation titles like BLACK GUNN and DR. BLACK MR. HYDE. He passed away in 2017.
    Although she'd been sweatin' it up in the Philippines for a couple of years, this is the film where you can really see Pam come into her own and while not the tough take charge female protagonist we would see later in films such as COFFY, you can see an icon in the making here.
     Marilyn Joi (billed her as Tracy Ann-King) makes an early appearance here and would go on to appear in bunches of 70's classics including THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES, BLACK SAMURAI, THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN, ILSA HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHEIKS and CHEERLEADERS WILD WEEKEND.  
      Released as part of the Warner Archive program, it's a great looking DVD with those gaudy 70's colors popping out and combined with a nice gritty feel that really brings out the seediness of the film's locations. Davis's cinematography makes for one of the best-looking films in this genre and hopefully, we can get a Blu-ray someday.  

All the above screen caps are from the Warner Archive DVD

Thursday, April 18, 2019


"Eight Graves! Seven Bodies! One Killer...And He's Already Dead"

      Released amid the 70's satanic horror boom and with such films as THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT pushing the intensity level, 1974's THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN CORPSES must have seemed curiously out of place. Devoid of any bare skin and with just a few dollops of blood, its haunted house/family curse setting is almost quaint compared that that decade's other horrors. Because of its PG rating (and a really soft PG for the '70s), it was a favorite on the afternoon/early evening broadcast TV and cable well into the '80s. I remember as a kid this running almost perpetually in the late afternoon movie.
     Featuring a typical John Carradine grouchy old man performance, some solid work by Hollywood "B" listers John Ireland (who would soon go on to SATAN'S CHEERLEADERS) & Faith Domergue (THIS ISLAND EARTH & former girlfriend of Howard Hughes) it's helped immensely by some great locations featuring the old Utah Governor's mansion. With its movie within a movie storyline, there's a kind of meta thing going on here as it's a modest budget horror film that rather appropriately has as its central plot a small group of filmmakers trying film a low budget horror movie.

     In the prologue, we were shown the various past members of the Beal family and their grisly deaths which include shooting, stabbing, hanging & bludgeoning, etc. with each member having a portrait hanging in their namesake house. We then see a satanic ritual being played out by Faith Domergue and upon pulling back we're shown a movie being made as curmudgeonly director Eric Hartman (John Ireland SALON KITTY) has arrived with a small crew & cast to film a horror movie at the Beal house. Grouchy old caretaker Edgar Price (John Carradine - in one of five films he appeared in this year) interrupts the shoot to tell the history of the house and its murders.
     Along with semi-has been actress Gayle Dorian (Domergue) and director Ireland, there's embittered ex - Shakespearean actor Christopher Milan (Charles Macaulay BLACULA), young actress Annie (Carole Wells THE LIVELY SET), and her boyfriend (& all-around lackey for Hartman) David (Jerry Strickler). After the opening credits parade of murder/bloodshed the film falls into the drama and arguments associated with film production as Eric yells at everybody and film sequences in single long takes (just like Hitchcock's ROPE it would seem).
    Things get a bit interesting when David handily finds a copy of a grimoire which here is The Tibetan Book of The Dead and some of the passages are incorporated into the script of the movie dealing with devil worship and the raising of the dead (which the actual book has nothing to do with).

     At times feeling like a NIGHT GALLERY episode stretched out to feature-length, once the book is introduced into the plot the horror elements start to slowly (maybe a bit too slowly...) emerge. Gayle's cat is gruesomely killed and ol' Edgar (Carradine) begins slinking around in the background, even once climbing down into a crypt in the old Beal family graveyard and it's revealed that he has a workshop in the cellar (!?!). Although only in the movie to be the proverbial red herring Carradine does have a bit more screen time than expected and his appearances help keep the horror elements moving along and in the foreground. Gayle is also hotly eager to have a roll in the hay with her director, but he roughly casts her aside with a remark about her "past profession" and things don't move too far along and this is the only instance where sex is even vaguely mentioned.
   With the graveyard, the book, and the family history of the house, it's not too difficult to see where this is headed and at the climax, things get a bit muddled (is there one or two zombies...?) and compress an incredible amount of death into a short time. It takes its time getting there, but when it gets there it does pretty well. The zombie makeup is fairly effective in some shots (kept in the dark for the most part), a close-up of rotted toes wiggling in a ragged shoe, and the resurrection scene in the graveyard has a nice atmosphere to it in spite of some iffy day for night shots.
     The director John Harrison was a TV director, and this was his lone big-screen effort which explains the TV movie feel that drifts in every so often. The film was produced by an outfit called Television Corp. of America, which makes me wonder if this had its genesis as a TV movie? The cinematographer Don Jones had a solid resume in 70's exploitation in various behind the camera jobs including directing SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS (1973), THE LOVE BUTCHER (1975), SWEATER GIRLS (1978) and the 1982 bizarre slasher THE FOREST.  It's unbelievable seeing Carradine in this and then realizing he's going to be acting for another 20 years!!

Saturday, April 13, 2019


"Danny, Shooter, Fatback and the Kid. They learned a trade in the army. Killing."  

    Best known today for the classic MACON COUNTY LINE from 1974 three years earlier Richard Compton directed this 1971 film which is an early film entry dealing with Vietnam vets returning to an uncaring country. Written by Guedron Trueblood (who in 1973 would direct THE CANDY SNATCHERS) it also fits with the road movies of the era which started with 1968's EASY RIDER and would continue in the '70s. These movies featured individuals or sometimes disparate groups of both men and/or women who were searching for America on a journey to more often than not ended up nowhere while the country itself was being torn apart by the political and social upheavals of the time. Most often though the barren landscapes of the west and featuring gas stations, diners, and small towns dropped along endless highways these journeys also often grew darker as they went on.
    Four Green Berets including Danny (Joe Don Baker WALKING TALL), "Shooter" (Paul Koslo MR. MAJESTYK), "Kid" (Alan Vint MACON COUNTY LINE), and "Fatback" (Elliott Street HONKY) are discharged from the Army after serving in Vietnam. The uniformed men are unceremoniously dropped off at a bus station with no one to meet them. Danny discreetly removes a large bundle of cash from a locker and it's unclear to what the origins of it are although it's implied that perhaps it's through an illegal enterprise such as drugs. He splits up the money between the four which is several thousand dollars each and it's revealed that the group has a plan to drive cross country to California to live on a cattle ranch that has been inherited by Vint.

    They purchase a used Cadillac in a humorous scene (in stark contrast to future events) in which they keep bartering down the price as the car is disassembled by Shooter and finds mechanical flaws. Danny seems to be the leader of the men (he's the only one referred to by his actual name) not because of their service rank as the others just defer to his decisions and each of them seems unable to function socially outside of the group. The first night on the road they pick up a woman (Jennifer Billingsley WHITE LIGHTNING) and take turns having sex with her in the backseat. They offer her $100.00 but she demands $500.00, bringing up the Mann Act as they have crossed state lines whereupon Baker angrily throws her out of the fast-moving car. Although she is most likely killed the men don't seem to give it much concern and drive on.
    There's a point where they stop at a totally vacant motel run by (in a very weird performance) Geoffrey Lewis and a bevy of prostitutes appear (including Luanne Roberts from THE PSYCHO LOVER and BONNIE'S KIDS) turning in to an orgy. In one of the film's gentler moments, Baker relates to one of the women that the only thing he knows how to do anymore is "killing" and Vint shares a battered picture of their ranch with another.
    It's here that the story takes a progressively dark turn, and this continues with a stop at Danny's home and a family reunion with his parents (With his father played by character actor Lonny Chapman) that turns out ugly as the family scoff at their idea of the cattle ranch. Later their car breaks down in a small town and finding the car needs major repairs. Feeling they are being taken advantage of and becoming more & more at odds with the townsfolk, including an ugly barroom scene with Korean War veterans chiding "We didn't come home until we won", the sheriff (Billy Green Bush FIVE EASY PIECES) places them in jail for protection. 

    Upon leaving the town, it's discovered that Fatback's money is missing, and this leads to a brutally violent climax in a small town ironically called "Hope" which is instigated by something as unassuming as a locked gas pump. The climax packs a punch even to this day and it's easy to see the filmmakers were going for a comparison to the infamous 1968 Mai Lai massacre and the cinematography turns jerky handheld looking like the Vietnam newsreel footage that was showing up nightly on network news. It's only after the violence that the four men seem to totally relax and as the camera pans through the bloody destruction it's almost with a sense of resignation of the inevitable.
    Best known for his role in WALKING TALL along with appearances in three James Bond movies Baker was a fairly major star in the 70's starring in several movies and despite his brawn, there was always a certain gentle demeanor about him. A much better actor than ever given credit for he can also bring a darker side to the surface as he does here. An instantly recognized face Koslo spent almost his entire career playing weaselly underlings and slightly off-kilter personalities and he's one of those actors that always bring a smile to my face. Vint would later appear in MACON COUNTY LINE and would show up once again with Joe Don Baker in the CHECKERED FLAG OR CRASH a Filipino off-road racing from 1977.
    There's a country-tinged soundtrack from The Country Gazette with songs by Ronee Blakley who would later appear in Robert Altman's NASHVILLE. After years in home video purgatory, this has recently been given a full-frame transfer DVD release from Fox in their Cinema Archives line.