Showing posts with label grindhouse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label grindhouse. Show all posts

Jun 20, 2020


If we can thank the bloated 2007 double-feature film Grindhouse for anything, it would be the impending encouragement to filmmakers who appreciate the obscure, pulpy, over-the-top features from the 1960s and ‘70s that allowed its filmmakers to side-step more traditional story presentation. Together, though it wasn’t a total success, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez unashamedly cobbled together a well-meaning grindhouse theater experience, complete with a host of trailers for fake films weaved in between. One of these, Hobo with a Shotgun, would later become a feature film starring Rutger Haur in the titular role. And from those loins it would seem that Office Downe, though based on a graphic novel of the same name, would emerge.

In a sort of mishmash of Robocop, Batman, and perhaps Bill Lustig’s Maniac Cop trilogy (coming soon as a series from producer Nicolas Winding Refn and Universal Soldier sequels director John Hyams), Officer Downe takes all the primary colors, unrelenting violence and insanity, and sense-assaulting presentation of Hobo with a Shotgun and implants it into a more (kind of) accessible story (and I use that term loosely, and in comparison with its cinematic roots). Designed with a Gotham City/Arkham Asylum mentality, the very proactive Officer Terry Downe works his way up the crime ladder of Los Angeles, encountering one strange group of bad guys, led by one strange semi-lead villain, after another, until he reaches a mastermind with whom he eventually meets his match. The villains are straight out of comic books, complete with garish wardrobes, operatic presentations, and a metric ton of dastardliness. Which is appropriate for all kinds of reasons.

The main reason to see Officer Downe is for its outlandishness, as well as Sons of Anarchy's Kim Coates having a grand time hamming it up, bad-ass style. Much like other grindhouse films both new and old, the gimmick is what draws in its audience. Very few grindhouse flicks felt the need to engage its audience with any kind of social message, though if you wanted to look hard enough I suppose you might find one every so often (mostly in the Blaxsploitation movement). It’s not that Officer Downe is about nothing, but it’s much more about spectacle than it is about substance. In real life, our relationship with the police has never been shakier, and seeing an undead(?), immortal(?) cop systematically resurrected from the dead to continue his very violent assault against the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles neither assuages nor solidifies our real fears of the police. The closest Officer Downe gets to a message is that we need cops like Terry Downe to do the things that we know need to be done, even if we have to play God in order to do it. But, when your “hero” spends much of his screen time blowing the heads off villainous nuns or mutilating a squadron of enemy ninjas, it would probably be wise to check your brain at the door and enjoy Officer Downe for what it is, rather than what you think it should be.

Fans of Grindhouse, Hobo with a Shotgun, Sin City, and other heightened silliness should have a reasonably good time with Officer Downe. Very low on substance but high on spectacle, violence, flying limbs, nudity, outlandishness (animal-masked villains, intentionally poorly dubbed villains, all the practical and CGI blood you can stand), Officer Downe never professes to be anything more than what it presents in its trailer: hard-bitten carnage courtesy of a beloved supporting actor enjoying a rare lead role and relishing in every moment. Casual film fans should look elsewhere, but those who seek the offbeat and the depraved should, at the very least, enjoy the ride, even if it’s a one-way trip.

May 6, 2020


The words “horror-western,” “cannibal tribe,” and “Kurt Russell” left me intensely excited for writer/director Craig Zahler’s directorial debut, Bone Tomahawk. After months of anticipation, finally seeing it was an underwhelming experience. Running at 2 hours and 12 minutes, the first two acts were slowly paced — lots of characters talking to each other and allowing their personalities to rub each other the wrong way. This was Bone Tomahawk’s overall biggest criticism, but it wasn’t something I personally minded, because when you’ve got actors like Russell, Bruce Dern, and Patrick Wilson playing these old west characters speaking to each other in that old west way, it was all very charming — not to mention well written, and very Linklaterish in that conversation realism, even if it didn’t seem to be leading to anything in particular. The third act, however, dramatically changes the tenure of the film, during which Russell and co. finally meet this cannibal tribe, and not everyone makes it out alive. What began as something different and daring ended with very cheap looking sets and graphic violence that kind of came out of nowhere.

Despite that, I made a note of Zahler’s name, largely because of how he approached writing and directing such a left-field kind of story while attracting A-list talent for a genre title. So when his sophomore effort, Brawl in Cell Block 99, began gearing up, I felt that familiar anticipation creeping in.

This time, I was not at all disappointed. On the contrary, it’s incredible — audacious, ballsy, (and daring) — a grindhouse flick that actually feels like a grindhouse flick rather than the gawdy Grindhouse double feature from Tarantino and Rodriguez, or its bastards Hobo with a Shotgun and the Machete series. From its mythical lead bad-ass (Bradley Thomas, as played by an intimidating Vince Vaughn), to its increasingly depressing prison settings (a popular environment for grindhouse flicks), to its array of cartoonish villains (a perfectly calibrated Don Johnson), Brawl in Cell Block 99 feels like the first film in a long time to not only properly make good on its grindhouse roots, but to present something sincere. What does that mean? It means that while something like Hobo with a Shotgun could be argued as being a fun and frantic experience, it’s not necessarily a good film. Brawl in Cell Block 99 is. It somehow manages to dip its toes into both pools with great success. Its special effects (all practical) are presented as purposely hokey; the level of violence Vaughn’s Bradley commits against his target is so graphic that it almost has to be — extremely realistic effects would have robbed the film from its intended camp value, and sometimes these hokey effects threaten to fly in the face of the otherwise razor-serious tone, but it’s a perfect balancing act; these two at-odds approaches complement each other rather than come to blows. Never in a million years did I think I’d ever see Vaughn and genre favorite Udo Kier sharing the screen — between that and the odd but somehow appropriate R&B/soul-driven soundtrack, Brawl in Cell Block 99 should be scattered and random, but yet it all works. And Udo Kier calmly driving down a quiet suburban street listening to soul is just hilarious to me — don’t ask me why. Perhaps the kidnapped, bound, and gagged pregnant woman and sadistic doctor in the backseat have something to do with the absurdity of the moment.

Far too exact to be coincidental, Brawl in Cell Block 99 also runs at 2 hours and 12 minutes (this must be Zahler’s lucky number), and while he again employs his very deliberate pace, this time it feels like a grand design — something part of the plan; incremental rising action. We already know from the outset that Bradley ends up in a hellish prison landscape, so the first half of the film plays with that, putting him on a path that eventually leads him there. Unlike Bone Tomahawk, the pace here is effectively executed — the film opens with a detectable amount of tension, and slowly builds and builds until those prison bars slam home behind the bald-headed and cross-tattooed Bradley Thomas. 

Film fans often seem surprised when Vaughn goes dramatic, but he’s played just as many serious roles as he has comedic ones, even having played a serial killer twice — in the horrid Psycho remake and the underrated thriller Clay Pigeons. And if we can thank the boring second season of True Detective for anything, it’s for reintroducing that idea of a serious Vince Vaughn to a wide audience. Vaughn rides that reasonable good will and ups the ante with Bradley Thomas, who makes for one of the best characters he’s ever played, and results in one of his best performances. It’s through his portrayal of his character that you never doubt for one moment the surreal violence he’s able to commit against those who deserve it — and a couple folks who don’t.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a huge surprise. Don’t miss it.

Jul 8, 2019


One of the most popular European cinematic sub-genres of the ‘60s and ‘70s was the giallo — a hyper-stylized approach to filmmaking pioneered by Italian filmmakers Mario Bava and Dario Argento, and largely credited as the inspiration behind the slasher sub-genre. Another movement also came to prominence during this time, spearheaded by European filmmakers less interested in depicting the ghastly crimes and more in the ensuing police investigations that looked into them—poliziotteschi: dark and gritty cop and crime thrillers that often offered the same kind of pulpy thrills and graphic violence, but in far less amounts. In American terms, films like Dirty Harry and The Laughing Policeman would fall under the poliziotteschi label, even though they were less graphic than their European colleagues. While poliziotteschi weren’t necessarily graphic with horrific imagery, they often could be.

Enter 1976’s The Tough Ones (aka Rome Armed To The Teeth – god I love Italian movie titles), directed by Umberto Lenzi (the giallo Seven Blood-Stained Orchids). Leaning back on the prior example of Dirty Harry, The Tough Ones tells your typical story of a police detective making it a personal mission to stop a killer while skirting “official channels” and “the book” in order to make that happen. Detective Leonardo Tanzi (the Frank Nero-looking Maurizio Merli) is that official channels skirter, furious with a system that coddles instead of punishes, and will absolutely, positively get his man -- by any means necessary. That man? The very Scorpio-ish Vincenzo Moretto (Tomas Milian), a hunchbacked slaughterhouse worker involved in much bloodier business than merely slicing cows down the middle, and who somehow manages to out-ooze Dirty Harry’s Andrew Robinson. (“I shat this out just for you,” he tells Tanzi at one point, holding up a bullet that Tanzi forced him to swallow in a total act of male dominance earlier in the film. Talk about having explosive poop! I’m sorry!)

The Tough Ones is hard-hitting and angry. Everyone is angry at everyone else. Tanzi hates Moretto, who hates him back. Tanzi and the police chief share an equal and mutual hatred. Tanzi, at times, even seems to hate the very woman he’s dating (Maria Rosaria Omaggio), as she basically represents the liberal society that releases all of the criminals he arrests on a daily basis. Like other films from this time period, and especially with it being an Italian production, The Tough Ones is very much indicative of its era. It’s impatient and cynical like lots of ‘70s cinema, with the added discomfort of pure misogyny, perpetrated against every single female character, and often at the hands of our lead hero. At the worst of them is a random rape attack committed by a group of thugs, most of which is thankfully left to the imagination, along with a disturbing insinuation that, post-rape, the victim was additionally sexually assaulted with a tree limb. There’s more than one instance of a woman being slapped, or talked down to, or outright threatened – not a single female character walks away unscathed in some form or another. Most cinephiles already well versed in this era of filmmaking likely won’t be surprised or turned off by this, but for those of you just getting started, best prepare yourself now.

Most importantly, Lenzi knows how to stage exciting action sequences, with the standout being an extended car chase that directly leads into the finale. The chase never reaches the heights of the graceful automotive ballet Bill Hickman achieved during his stunt driving in the likes of The French Connection, Bullitt, and The Seven-Ups, but only because Lenzi wants the car chase to look manic, gritty, and very dangerous instead. Leading up to that is an impressive barroom fight, which sees Tanzi taking on a Van Damme level of henchmen and reigning supreme. (A punk gets his head smashed through the glass top of a pinball machine and it’s the most satisfying thing.) The shootout during the climax, also, gets that blood pumping – that fun, unrealistically bright kind not seen since Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. Like most Italian genre flicks, the plot doesn’t fully gel, and the editing can sometimes make the film’s events hard to follow, but, like Bullitt, the plot of which is near incomprehensible, Lenzi’s visceral way of presenting the story and the action make up for the weak cohesiveness. 

From a technical perspective, The Tough Ones looks and sounds fantastic, lovingly restored for a 4K presentation. The release comes with both English and Italian audio tracks, along with English subtitles for the Italian track only. You can attempt to watch English with English, but the subtitles barely match; the intent is the same, but the dialogue is always different. (One of the best examples of this is when someone calls someone else a “dummy” onscreen, but the subtitles replace it with “proletarian,” which I found very amusing.)

As typical for a title from Grindhouse Releasing, this new edition of The Tough Ones comes absolutely packed to the gills with special content, not the least of them being a third bonus CD of the film’s soundtrack by Franco Micalizzi. Most viewers will likely start with the new interview with director Lenzi, which runs 55 minutes in length. Lenzi starts at the beginning of his career, talking about how he got started, along with his admitted comfort in working in the crime genre over horror, despite his having contributed several titles to the latter. But if there’s a must-watch supplement on this release, it’s the 90-minute(!) interview with Tomas Milian. He explores similar ground as far as his start in filmmaking and acting, but his interview begins with a deeply personal and sad account of his childhood at the hands of loveless and abusive parents. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be hooked on his every word following this stunning admission.

The complete list of special features included on this release is as follows:
  • Optional Italian language soundtrack with optional English subtitles
  • Audio commentary by Mike Malloy, director Of Eurocrime! The Italian Cop And Gangster Films That Ruled The 70s
  • NEW in-depth interviews with director Umberto Lenzi, actors Tomas Milian, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Sandra Cardini, Maria Rosaria Riuzzi and Corrado Solari, screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, and composer Franco Micalizzi
  • Special tribute to Maurizio Merli with appearances by Enzo Castellari and Ruggero Deodato
  • Vintage VHS intro by cult movie superstar Sybil Danning!
  • Original international theatrical trailer
  • Liner notes by Italian crime film expert Roberto Curti
  • Deluxe embossed slip cover
  • BONUS CD – original soundtrack album by Franco Micalizzi – newly remastered in stunning 24 bit/192khz sound from the original master tapes
  • LIMITED BONUS - Custom 30-Caliber Metal Bullet Pen – Strictly Limited to 2500 Units

The Tough Ones is now on Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing

[Reprinted from Daily Grindhouse.]

Aug 18, 2013


Father’s Day
is now my second immersing in the world of Astron-6, a small Canadian film production company responsible for some legitimately fun creations. After first watching Manborg, I knew I’d found something special. But now after watching Father’s Day, I think I found a new group of filmmakers to closely follow, as whatever these fellows create, I need.

Honestly, I think I’m in love.

Though Father’s Day was released by Troma Studios, please don’t let that be a deterrent, and please don’t think it has anything to do with Troma’s other infamous film Mother’s Day.

Father’s Day is so much more insane.  It is the blackest of absurd comedies masquerading as a grindhouse offering masquerading as a satanic 1970s thriller masquerading as an I don’t even know. It is incredibly graphic, incredibly sexualized, and incredibly hilarious.

The plot? Well, someone out there is raping fathers. That’s kind of fucked up, but there’s something about the phrase “raping fathers” that becomes inherently funny. Is it supposed to be? I honestly don’t know, but during the opening credit sequence awash in newspaper headlines that scream “MORE FATHERS RAPED,” I laughed.  Intentional or not, Father’s Day can bank it.

If you’re already familiar with Troma, you should know there’s not much they’re not willing to do to shock their audience. I wouldn’t exactly call myself a Troma fan; except for their one perennial hit, The Toxic Avenger, I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed any of their films (although a few non-originals they have licensed over the years have brought me unintentional enjoyment). This seems to be one of those non-Troma originals they are lucky to have distributed. Sure, Lloyd Kauffman man appear in the film as God, but this production reeks of something much more original and genuinely entertaining than anything that’s come down from the Troma offices in quite a while.

Father’s Day contains the aforementioned scenes of father rape, along with bodily dismemberment, incest, necrophilia, and not one, not two, but three scenes of penis mutilation.

You know, for kids!

This is not something I normally enjoy. Not because I am squeamish (though I think I can say without shame I don’t enjoy seeing penises destroyed), but because I just think humor like that is cheap. Anyone can build a fake penis out of plastic and cut it in half with a knife, but unless the film wrapped around this gag is worth a damn, then it’s just empty shock. But Father’s Day earns the right to destroy penises. Three times, in fact. This kind of over-the-top sight gag can sometimes seem out of place when juxtaposed against the film’s other far more innocent jokes (toxic berries vs. tasty berries; a man who hyperbolically compares life to the process of fermenting tree sap into maple syrup), but because the Troma brand is stamped on the case, we just kind of accept all the penis biting and move on.

Written and directed by the final onscreen credit of Astron-6, our cast consists of the usual mainstays: Adam Brooks plays Ahab, the eye-patched vigilante out for revenge; Matthew Kennedy plays Father Sullivan, the very gay priest whose job it is to find Ahab’s shack out in the middle of nowhere, and Connor Sweeney is Twink, another very gay young man whose father is murdered by the "Father’s Day Killer" and is out to clear his name.

Oh, and the killer’s name is Fuchman. Chris Fuchman. The first time you hear it, you may ask yourself, “Did I really just hear that?’

Yes, you did.

Played by the very brave Mackenzie Murdock, Fuchman bares all more than once and has no problem doing some naked grinding on top of other middle aged men.

Father’s Day
takes a little bit to get going. It starts off with a nice grindhouse feel, but soon gives off the wrong impression that it’s yet another Troma production with little reason to exist. The humor doesn’t kick in right away, and the film is very quick to show off some Troma-esque scenes of shock.

I implore you to keep with it.

Odds are you’re more familiar with Troma than you are with Astron-6. Based on this production, I think it’s safe to say preexisting fans of Troma will find a lot to love about Father’s Day. And Astron-6 once again proves they can play a little bit outside their wheelhouse and come up with something fresh, shocking, and legitimately hilarious.  The best thing that can come out of their association with Troma is more exposure to a broader fan base. They absolutely more than deserve it.

(I also wish we were friends. Because they must be the most fun men alive.)