Saturday, March 26, 2011

SCREAM FOR HELP (1984)

The moment this tape arrived I embarked on a bi-polar coaster ride for over a week before actually inserting it into my VCR. I was initially apprehensive because “Scream For Help” was an unlikely marriage of talents. Not that writer Tom Holland and director Michael Winner are diametrically opposed in terms of what they do. Both are responsible for some of my favorite films of all time. In fact, I’d categorize this pairing as a ferocious dream team. Unfortunately, in my experience, collaborations between two strong and talented personalities usually results in a big, fat let down.

Holland wrote some of my favorite films of all time, including “Class of 1984,” “Cloak & Dagger,” and “The Beast Within.” He also wrote and directed the phenomenal “Fright Night,” as well as “Child’s Play.” The man also has cajones forged from the magma of a netherworld volcano for tackling the intimidating task of penning “Psycho II.” As a screenwriter, I’ve often ponder what it must have been like to have been handed the job of writing a legitimate sequel to what is considered by most to be one of the greatest movies of all time. Going into that project, you had to know there was no way you were going to win. Even if you wrote something that managed to supersede the original, no one would ever admit it out of reverence for the original. People were going to be predisposed to bashing it. Ultimately, Holland wound up creating a respectable sequel. On the other hand, Michael Winner directed, what is in my opinion, one of the greatest movies ever made, “Death Wish 3.” As I mentioned before, sometimes you combine two ultimate badasses and they crack horns ‘til their both drunk, or cancel each other out, and the results are tepid. That's sort of what I was expecting here, because this pairing is like the cinematic equivalent of mana.

You can call “Scream For Help” a success, but it doesn’t come near the sort of artistic achievement most typical people demand before calling a film “great." The dialog here broadsides out of left, frequently veering into unintentionally hilarious territory. The acting has the sort of speech fluidity you only hear on a “Learn To Speak English” tape. The score by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones comes in tacky, jarring slabs. In fact most will notice that some of the later music cues wound up being used in Jimmy Page’s “Death Wish 3” score. The story itself feels like a compacted season of a soap opera, amplifying its outrageousness. All of these things combine to form a truly entertaining and engaging film. You'd have to have a petrified branch up your ass to not have fun while watching this.

Predating “The Stepfather” by several years, the story begins with a narrative by young Christie Cromwell who is convinced that her mother’s new husband, Paul Fox, is out to get them both. The opening moments of the film harkens to the spirit of innocent William Castle brand fun, ala “Thirteen Frightened Girls!,” but they eventually dump a wild bouquet of vulgarity, blood, tits, and sleazy sex into the mix that occasionally catches you off guard.

The accidental death of a maintenance man arouses Christie’s suspicion in her stepfather. She believes the fatal scenario was intended to claim the life of her mother. Christie decides to shadow Paul and soon uncovers an extramarital affair. Her friends eventually become entangled in her quest for proof, with lethal results. Here’s one of my favorite scenes from the film.

Fucking awesome!

Eventually, Christie convinces her mother of Paul’s infidelity with a little photographic proof. Soon after, Paul and his gang of homicidal conspirators invade the Cromwell mansion with a plot to kill mother and daughter and make it look like a burglary gone bad. The film has an ironic twist, as Christie defends her mother and bumps off the goons using a batch of methods derived from Paul’s earlier failed murder attempts.

Mince chunks of "Square Pegs," "Dallas," early "Dark Shadows," and cut the intensity of “Fight For Your Life” with the suave noir of “The Desperate Hours” all together and you wind up with "Scream For Help." In spite of its loud, over the top qualities, the movie remains relatively obscure. Some feel that the tape's blase packaging effectively camouflages and discouraged most people from picking it up. Don’t let this ordinary looking box detour you, though. Inside this pale looking clamshell exists a wild piece of microwaved trash that stands up to repeated viewings. A super-fun must-own tape for any collector. As a collaborative effort between two heavyweights, it definitely lives up to whatever expectation you might build up in your mind before hand, which makes this movie all the more exceptional.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

STREETWALKIN' (1985)

There’s probably more exposition on the back of the box than there is in the actual movie, and that is perhaps "Streetwalkin'’s biggest problem. Similar films from this period usually feature likable characters who get over on their moxie, whereas this flick's protagonist barely gets by on nudity. In fact, "Streetwalkin'"s Cookie verges on unlikable at times, due mainly to the fact that she is creatively flat. She is naive and vulnerable, and seems pretty happy-go-lucky sucking strange dick for cash. I also kind of get the impression that if her pimp weren't occasionally abusive, life would be pretty perfect for her. There is no hint of displeasure when it comes to what she's become. Still, every streetwalker should have an edge, and Cookie comes comes across as dumb and grinning for the most part. It is her complete and utter lack of tenacity or toughness that makes it virtually impossible to feel anything for her.

The story begins as Cookie and younger brother Tim arrive at New York's Port Authority, which was like an in-door post apocalyptic wasteland at the time this film was shot, and in fact I'm surprised no one did some 42 Street sleaze that used it as a primary setting. Cookie immediately calls home and vague conversation informs us that her alcoholic mom blames her daughter for the sexual advances of her stepfather. Charming predator Duke is fast to pick up the pieces, winning the distraught girl’s trust. An undetermined amount of time flashes by, and by that point Cookie has settled into a life of prostitution, turning tricks out of Duke’s apartment. In fact, she even has a crush on him. According to her demeanor, life seems pretty carefree. Except for the fact that Duke will occasionally slap the shit out of a bitch.

In “Vice Squad,” which is the undeniable mothership of movies on this particular topic, and an obvious influence on this film, the main character, Princess, is clearly caught up in a moral struggle regarding her career. She does what she must to support her daughter, and the scenes where she sells her body for money are either funny or creepy, but never sexy. Even the title character in the classic “Angel” has been driven to a life of prostitution following the death of her mother, but she is certainly ashamed of her path. Both of these characters embody an admirable toughness though that makes them feel like underdogs worth cheering for. Cookie on the other hand is very weak. In fact, the villain is, unintentionally, the only sympathetic character in this movie.

Similar to “Vice Squad” in basic plot, the bulk of the story has to do with a tough pimp out for vengeance against the prostitute who wronged him. After her friend and fellow working girl is brutally beaten by Duke, Cookie jumps ship, joining rival hustler Jason's stable of bitches. To protect Cookie, Jason orders Duke’s execution. Duke fights his way out of the hit, though, and he’s soon back on the streets looking for the traitorous Cookie.

Dale Midkiff, whom most will recognize as Louis Creed from “Pet Semetary,” delivers a performance packed with pathos as Duke. He may be a woman abusing scum bag, but there are key scenes that really make you connect with his sense of betrayal. In particular, the scene where he returns home after escaping Jason’s hit to find Cookie gone is extraordinarily well done.

In all, “Streetwalkin’” is at the very least a watchable-to-fun offering. Supporting performances by Julie Newmar, Antonio "Huggy Bear" Fargas, and Khandi Alexander are entertaining. Ultimately, though, it’s incredibly derivative of other films from its respective subgenre, and the key characters that should carry the story are one dimensional and therefore seemingly absent.

Six years later, director Joan Freeman’s screenplay was reworked into another film entitled “Uncaged." It's virtually the same bullshit story, only it takes place this time in Los Angeles and stars Leslie Bega, who is way hotter than Melissa Leo.

Friday, March 4, 2011

SAVAGE BEACH (1990)

The previous entry in Sidaris’ Lethal Ladies series, “Picasso Trigger,” paddles wildly to catch up with the insanity of “Hard Ticket to Hawaii,” and it comes watchably close to that goal. But “Savage Beach” on the other hand never even tries to breach the business of its predecessors, and that may very well be why it succeeds. It’s nowhere near as chunky in terms of its story. In fact, this one actually feels like a real movie even at the onset. Maybe Andy was just getting better at working with what he was given, but the production values seem a little higher here, too. Overall, there’s enough to sate fans of the series that had by this point grown to expect a quota of bare breasts and strange action. What’s important is in tact. Otherwise, this may well be the “For Your Eyes Only” of this particular franchise in that it strays toward simplicity in terms of its story.

The basic plot revolves around the search for a shipment of plundered Filipino gold lost at sea during World War II. Rodrigo Obreg√≥n returns as a brand new heavy, Martinez, a South American revolutionary who’s working with the American government to retrieve the loot. However, Martinez intends to steal the gold once it’s been located so he can funnel it into his own radical interests. Meanwhile, Dona and Taryn, while on an errand of mercy for Molokai, are caught in the eye of a storm which forces them to crash land on an uncharted island. Soon, the girls learn they aren’t quite alone and find themselves faced with a dangerous castaway. Coincidentally, the operation to retrieve the lost gold brings more deadly company to the island.

The rotation of characters, too, is pared down. Another Abilene is briefly introduced, but plays a far less integral character here. Lisa London is brought in as Rocky, assuming the function of the Edy character, assisted by the returning Patty Duffek as Pattycakes. Familiar Tong faces from “Big Trouble In Little China” are also featured here. Most will instantly peg the legendary Al Leong as one of the badass red turbans from the Carpenter flick. James Lew, who even got a few words in with Kurt Russell as one of the Chang Sings, is here, too. Sadly, “Savage Beach” is the last film to feature Hope Marie Carlton’s Taryn character.

Overall, the unique storyline makes for one of the more worthwhile entries in the series. In spite of its odd clarity, this still feels like a Sidaris movie, albeit strangley more refined.

By the way, someone recently pointed out that I never acknowledge "Malibu Express" as part this series, and I feel the need to explain myself at the risk of taking this shit way too seriously. In "Hard Ticket," Taryn has a "Malibu Express" movie poster on her wall, which I think would disqualify the events of that film as part of Dona and Taryn's reality. I know they acknowledge that an Abilene became an Actor in "Hard Ticket," but that doesn't make the events of "Malibu Express" a reality in this universe. I can't believe I'm arguing logic pertaining to these movies, but there ya go.