Saturday, November 27, 2021


"Right out of today's headlines! The youth cult...the buried bodies...the shocking impact of what is happening now!" 

Released in the midst of that early 70's sub-genre of murderous teens (or hippies) that came about post-Manson, THE TODD KILLINGS was based on the case of Charles Schmid ("The Pied Piper of Tucson"), who as a 23-year-old high school dropout in the mid-'60s killed several young girls in the region around Tucson, AZ. while using his Svengali-like hold over a group of local teenagers to help him dispose of the bodies.

Directed by Barry Shear (ACROSS 110TH STREET) and written by Dennis Murphy & Joel Oilansky, it stars Robert F. Lyons (AVENGING ANGEL 1985) as "Skipper" Todd a charming early twenties sociopath who becomes the social leader of a group of teenagers in a small California town. Featuring a terrific cast consisting of new faces including a pre-WALTONS Richard Thomas plus the wonderful Belinda Montgomery along with veterans Gloria Grahame (THE BIG HEAT), Barbara Bel Geddes (VERTIGO), Fay Spain (DRAGSTRIP GIRL) along with Ed Asner, Michael Conrad, and in perpetuum heavy William Lucking.

The film starts out with a deliberately disjointed storyline as we're shown three young people disposing of a body in the nighttime desert which is intercut with a police interrogation along with a mother reporting her missing daughter. As the group drives away immediately we see their hierarchy which includes the leader "Skipper" Todd (Lyons) and his two sycophants - Norma (Holly Near ANGEL, ANGEL, DOWN WE GO), a girl with obvious self-esteem issues who clings to Todd both physically & emotionally (and to whom he treats with a cruel indifference) and a toady named Andy.

Todd holds sway over the youth of a small California town whose main diversions include cruising the local main street or hanging out at a nightspot. Being several years older than them, they seem to look upon him with almost reverence as he strides among them like a wanna-be-God as he even arranges for sexual hook-ups between the teens (and himself). An aspiring rock star who spends his spare time writing (without too much conviction it would seem) songs, he tools about town in a purple dune buggy dressed in mod clothes while sponging money off his mother (Barbara Bel Geddes) who operates a somewhat lower-end retirement facility. There are some parallels to Manson, as he also had dreams of rock stardom and controlled the sex lives of his followers.  

At the start of the film while returning from the desert burial Todd and his two cronies pick up Billy Roy (Richard Thomas) a youth who knows Todd and is returning home from reform school. Todd drops off Billy Bob at and his home and charms his mother (Gloria Grahame). We never learn what Billy Roy was in reform school for (although we get the feeling that it involved a girl) and his shaved head & denim work clothes suggest a prison more than "reform school". It's here that we witness the off-kilter atmosphere of the town with that will continue through the film with oblivious adults & teachers along with young people devoid of a conscious all of which paint a very dark picture of American family life. 

Billy Roy, who is in awe of Skipper's magnetism with women, is attracted to a woman he remembers from school (Sherry E. DeBoer THE VELVET VAMPIRE) and he awkwardly tries to attract her while being prodded on by Skipper. At the same time Skipper is devoting much of his time to breakdown the refusal of high schooler Roberta (in a very nice performance by Belinda Montgomery) to surrender her virginity. Throughout this Shear intercuts scenes of Skipper's interrogation by detectives Michael Conrad (UN FLIC) and William Lucking (HELL'S BELLES) and it's revealed that one of his minions has turned him in.  

Although we see the killings and they are brutal, Shear does it more with restrained terror than outright horror that while this is to be commended for not using these to rub the viewers face in them, it doesn't begin to convey the shocking true events. It's this combined with Lyon's low-key approach to the killer is that causes the film to miss its mark as one of the great true crime films of the era. The actual Charles Schmid was short of stature and filled his cowboy boots with crushed cans and cardboard in order to appear taller while sloppily applying putty to make his nose appear bigger and painted a large mole on his cheek. Has this been incorporated into the film's plot it would be for a more bizarre (and interesting) killer as the movie version comes across as a murderer but one who's cool, polite to the elders, just slightly creepy as a result come across like a murderous Eddie Haskell. 

Despite the above mentioned, this a is an interesting hidden 70's gem, well worth a look, and deserves more recognition. Lyons gives a fine performance in what is an underwritten part and Belinda Montgomery stands out in her performance as the focus of Skipper's interest and it's always great to see Gloria Grahame even in a small role (you really wish that both she and Bel Geddes were given larger roles). THE TODD KILLINGS is available from Warner Archive on a MOD DVD.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Let's Go To The Movies # 3 Fri. 13 June 1975

 Here's a (hopefully) nice early summer Fri. evening in Detroit. So lets see what's playing!

There's a double feature of COMBAT COPS (aka THE GET-MAN aka THE ZEBRA KILLER) and last year's DETROIT 9000(aka POLICE CALL 9000) at The Fox.

In most other markets DETROIT 9000 (Visit the murder capital of the world--where the honkies are the minority!) was playing as POLICE CALL 9000 but for the added publicity the original title was kept for its hometown run. COMBAT COPS ("Savage and Wilson are Combat Cops! A Hard Way To Live... An Easy Way!"was directed by the great William Gridler (ASYLUM OF SATAN & GRIZZLY!) and was re-released by Arthur Marks under several titles but never really caught on with audiences. It's a solid little police action thriller concerning a serial killer and is one those mega-violent 70's PG movies that would easily get an R today.

One of the more controversial releases of the decade and in addition one of the grimiest films ever released by a major studio MANDINGO ("Now you are ready for "Mandingo!") is being held over at several are theatres.

Directed by Richard Fleischer (20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA) and it features heaps of nudity, some still shocking sequences and a great performance by Susan George that tends to get lost in all the sleazy goings-on. James Mason later admitted in only appeared in it in order to cover his alimony payments. According to IMDB Sylvester Stallone appears as an unbilled extra although I've never been able to spot him.

H.B. Halicki's great GONE IN 60 SECONDS ("See 93 cars destroyed in the most incredible pursuit ever filmed!") is still getting lots of playdates 4 weeks after its opening and would continue racking in money for years (I first saw it the next year on a dbl. feat. with THE GUMBALL RALLY).

Halicki would tragically die in 1989 while filming a sequel.

Proudly bearing its 70's PG rating the violent and surprisingly downbeat WHITE LIGHNING ("WHITE LIGHTNING never strikes twice - 'cause once is enough!") from the previous year is getting re-released. Starring a just on the cusp of mega-stardom Burt Reynolds and directed by Joseph Sargent it would continue to play at drive-ins (particularly in the south) well into the 80's. Burt would follow it up in 1976 with the slightly more family-friendly GATOR.

Downtown at the Grand Circus is THE KUNG-FU MASSACE ("Wholesale Murder by a one-man kung-fu army!") from 1974 and FORCED TO FIGHT from way back in 1971. 

Getting a wide release is CAPONE starring a scenery-chewing Ben Gazzara. Directed by Steve Carver it was produced by Roger Corman as part of his deal with 20th Century Fox which resulted in Roger Corman New World type films with a bit more gloss and budget.

John Frankenheimer's underrated THE FRENCH CONNECTION II (or as billed here "Number 2") is still in wide release as it enters its ninth week. One of my favorite roles by Hackman it's an intensely gritty film and the withdrawal sequence is still harrowing. 

Considered "unfilm-able" for decades director John Schlesinger & writer Waldo Salt's take on Nathaniel West's nightmarish novel of the dark underbelly of the 1930's Hollywood dream factory is being held over at 6 local theaters from its May premiere. 

At the Palms (which in now The Fillmore concert hall) is an interesting double feature in the Israel/U.S. co-production of LEPKE starring Tony Curtis and directed by a pre-Cannon Films Menahem Golan.

The second feature is one of my favorite Blaxploitation films BLACK SAMSON on re-release from 1974 ("If you mess with the 'hood, he'll mess with you!") and starring Rockne Tarkington and the always welcome presence of the wonderful Carol Speed.

For some porn on the artier side the Studio 4 is bringing back EMMANUELLE ("Let's you feel good without feeling bad") starring Sylvia Kristel which would spawn an entire sub-genre of films in the coming decade. 

Lots of stuff around for your XXX night out including SOMETIME SWEET SUSAN which is the film that Robert De Niro took Cybill Shepherd on their ill-fated date at NYC's Lyric Theatre in TAXI DRIVER. And of course, there's also the always running somewhere DEEP THROAT. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2021


"They Committed Murder, Rape, Arson and One Mistake...They left The Farmer Alive"

"He doesn't get mad. He gets even." 

After decades of being unavailable and morphing into one of the great holy grails of '70s exploitation revenge cinema, THE FARMER has finally (sort of) escaped out into the wild. Long teased by Bill Olsen at Code Red for a DVD release going as far back as 2006 (the trailer popped up on several of his releases) and in addition several screen grabs from the restoration were posted. Since then, he's talked of music rights, unpaid IRS tax liens on the film, etc., and claiming that only "23 people would buy it".  

Recently it showed up on YouTube posted by Van Lukassen in a transfer from a bootleg VHS he had purchased. The upload was removed about a week later due to copyright infringements (reportedly instigated by Bill Olsen) but not before it had been downloaded and since then has shown up on the Internet Archive (although it seems to be gone from there as of this writing), but has appeared on "that"  torrent site.

Obviously derived from a multi-generational tape source (see the screengrabs) with several instances of tape roll and audio/video dropouts although far from pristine it's watchable and back in the pre-DVD days of VHS collecting, I paid $20.00 for bootleg VHS tapes (usually with burned in Greek subs or such) at Chiller Theatre Conventions or via mail order that looked on par or worse than this. 

Produced by and starring Gary Conway (I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN 1957) it was directed by editor David Berlatsky (THE DEEP 1977) in his only directorial credit. Filmed in the summer & fall of 1975 around Atlanta GA., according to the AFI Catalog website the film went through financial difficulty during production before being picked up by Columbia in 1976 for distribution and had its world premiere in Detroit, MI. on Feb. 25, 1977. It seems to have had a limited theatrical run (sometimes titled BLAZING REVENGE or THE KILLER FARMER), although allegedly it ran at Marine Corps bases throughout the country. According to Variety (via the AFI website), the film had to be reportedly trimmed to avoid an X-rating for violence from the MPAA.  TV Guide called it "A totally negative film of violence that barely avoided an X rating". 

Of course, the big question is - does the film live up to its decades-long quest and hoped for status as one of the great revenge exploitation films of the era? The answer is yes and no. Falling into the category of "decorated returning veteran seeks vengeance" genre, the film is interesting in that it sets its timeframe in post-WWII rather than the usual Vietnam era '70s, and to its credit, it does attempt to address the issue of race and prejudice. On the downside, there is a highly convoluted & drawn-out plot that takes much too long to get where it needs to go and to what we're all waiting for.

Conway plays Kyle Martin a decorated WWII Sgt. who upon returning home to his family farm finds it destitute and in dire financial shape after the death of his father. It's been looked after by an African American caretaker, Gumshoe (Ken Rendard TRUE GRIT 1969) and with whom Kyle seems to have a close relationship (which will play out in the film climax) Immediately Kyle runs into problems with the local bank who demands payment for the back taxes owed. 

In the aftermath of a road accident near his farm, Martin rescues gangster Johnny "O" (Michael Dante THE BIG SCORE 1983) from his wrecked car, and as a reward, Johnny gives him $1500.00 which is still short the amount needed for the bank. There is also Betty McCrail (Angel Tompkins THE TEACHER 1974) a former girlfriend of Martin's, who now works for Johnny "O", and she rekindles her relationship with Martin. Later Johnny is blinded in a gangland altercation and offers Kyle more money if he will take vengeance for him on those responsible. Kyle waffles initially but is soon forced into a bloody vendetta when the gangsters violently attack those close to him. 

The movie works as expected (you basically know which characters are destined to die the moment they're introduced) but because the film takes almost an hour to get both the reason for and the actual instigation of the title character's vengeance it seems rather meandering for that first hour and the ending is highly implausible which is a shame as the film would end nicely without that last scene. 

The film does have some interesting moments including Martin hanging his uniform and Silver Star on a scarecrow and the action sequences are terrifically brutal and live up to the hype (Martin is particularly effective with his shotgun) along with being well-edited (which makes sense as the film's director is an editor). For a low-budget film, there is an excellent feeling for period detail including clothing & vehicles, and an actual parade is neatly integrated into the plot.  

Conway does a good job as the title character often wears aviator sunglasses which hide his eyes and give him a blank expressionless stare. As mentioned, the violence is extremely brutal including acid thrown in a face, a man burned alive, non-flinching close-ups of shotgun blasts to bodies, point-blank shootings to the groin & face, and an especially harrowing & brutal rape in a barn. 

The music is by Hugo Montenegro (I see the soundtrack pop up occasionally in used bins as it's much easier to find than the film itself) and features a song by ex-Byrd Gene Clark titled American Dreamer which was also used in the Dennis Hopper film AMERICAN DREAMER in 1971.

Since the film's appearance on YouTube Bill Olsen has made statements yet again concerning a possible release at some point, now with "only 26 people wanting to buy it" (which at least is three more than before).

Here are some screengrabs that Code Red DVD posted back in 2006 showing their restoration work: