Thriller: They Call Her One Eye

I’ll cry when I’m done killin’

Thriller: A Cruel Picture was recommended by Moon in the Gutter, a fine movie blog. It’s Swedesploitation- a Swedish revenge picture, about a girl who was rendered mute by a sexual assault at a young age, who undergoes even more horrors in early womanhood, and wreaks her justice upon those who have wronged her. She cannot scream for vengeance, but she sure can inflict it.
Never get in a car with a guy named Tony

A very matter of fact depiction of what would have been called “white slavery” in the ’70s, young Madeleine misses her bus, takes a ride with a handsome cad in a sportscar, has a drink and wakes up shot full of heroin and forced to sign a contract that makes her a whore. Our mute heroine is played by the innocent darling Chrisina Lindberg- a gorgeous pin-up girl ubiquitous in the ’70s- a feisty yet naive brunette who is soon entrapped in a hell of addiction and debasement. She claws the face of her first john, and Tony brutally maims her to break her spirit, cutting her eye out with a scalpel. According to IMDb the shot was done with a corpse, and it’s easily one of the most disturbing eye shots you’ll see this side of Un Chien Andalou.
From then on “One-Eye” performs with a pink eye patch, servicing her customers silently to feed her addiction. The film proceeds with a minimalist neorealism, as One-Eye meets fellow enslaved prostitutes like Sally, who tells of her plan to save enough to flee to Switzerland to a rehab clinic. Eventually One-Eye manages to return home to her parents- who have killed themselves in their grief over her disappearance. Soon after, she spends her money on lessons in karate, shooting and stunt driving, in preparation for her revenge. This is interspersed with her sex work- johns such as a twisted photographer, a sadistic woman who wants to dominate her, and hardcore scenes with a beefy ape impaling her to disturbing synth tracks- a descent into madness.
Her revenge is a slow-motion death dance as she shotguns and kicks her way through johns, pimps, and police. Most impressive was a punch that spewed a laser whip of bright red blood from the victim’s mouth, as if he had a chameleon tongue. When the time comes, she changes into a black eyepatch and dons a long black coat- in fashion way before The Matrix and steals a police car, straight out of Vice City. It reminded me more of El Topo (full review) than anything else, though it lacks the obvious symbolism. Bright red blood, stylized death dealt without excitement. One-Eye’s silence becomes evocative as she quietly mows through her victims and coldly serves an unimaginable, fairy-story torture on her pimp, showing that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it pull a man’s head off. Or can you?
The film was brilliant to me in its Michael Haneke-esque indictment of the viewer, taking a Penthouse and Playboy centerfold, making her a mute sex assault victim and a maimed prostitute, and making us watch her in hardcore sex scenes. It certainly drained the eroticism out of seeing her gorgeous body, whether that was director Bo Arne Vibenius’s intention or not. According to his bio, he wanted to make a sleazy picture to recoup the losses from his previous film and made an unlikely hit. It’s arthouse meets grindhouse, and just as disturbing today.

The Arnold Project #10: The Villain

Blazing Saddles it ain’t! Also known as Cactus Jack, The Villain stars Kirk Douglas as the titular bad guy who can’t do anything right; Arnie plays the Handsome Stranger, with a seven-shot six-shooter, and Ann-Margret is Charming Jones. But they might as well be Wile E. Coyote, because that’s the kind of movie this is- a live action cartoon that just can’t get it right, despite the cast.
You know, the kind of movie where the Villain talks to his horse and it listens, sort of. Cactus Jack figures out what bad guys do by reading a pulp book, and everyone has a theme song. That worked in Cat Ballou but not so much here. The busty damsel Charming is tasked by her prospectin’ pappy to pick up a loan to expand his mine, Handsome is hired to protect her, and Cactus Jack is given a deal by Jack Elam’s crooked banker- make sure Charming doesn’t get home with the money.
Set in Monument Valley, we get a gorgeous backdrop for Kirk Douglas mugging and goofing around, trying his Acme tricks to catch Handsome and Charming. They even use classic Looney Tune sound effects for stuff like the boulder that lands on him. Handsome Stranger (yes, that’s his real name) is terminally naive, and it’s painful to watch after Arnie’s award-winning debut in Stay Hungry (full review). Sure, it’s a farce, but they aim really low in this one.
The best part are all the cameos, most notably Paul Lynde in his final role as Chief N-n-n-ervous Elk, and seeing Kirk Douglas in all sorts of ridiculous get-ups as he tries to trick Arnie and Ann-Margret. His shiftless horse “Whiskey” is pretty amusing too. The gags are really repetitive- usually involving Kirk Douglas being dragged by a rope and falling off a cliff- but some are inspired. It’s a bit disappointing from stuntman director Hal Needham, who gave us Smokey and the Bandit. Then again he also gave us Megaforce.

Overall, The Villain isn’t that bad, and you see Arnold really trying to play an oaf when he’d rather be ravishing Ann-Margret. The problem is that the movie goes halfway- Cactus Jack is a walking cartoon, who bounces around on the rooftops after Charming smooches him, but those scenes are few and far between. They even re-enact the classic Tex Avery “paint a tunnel in the mountain” gag, which doesn’t work when you can see the paint on the rocks. Though I give Douglas credit for walking face first into that wall so convincingly.
The most memorable part remained Paul Lynde’s final role as Chief Nervous Elk, which he dived into with relish. He’s the only guy who gets any barely risque jokes. This one’s more for Kirk Douglas fans than Arnie fans, but it’s still good viewing if you want a dose of ’70s nostalgia.

Stay Hungry

As part of my quest to see all of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films, I dipped back to his first big role- Stay Hungry, with Jeff Bridges. He plays a bodybuilder named Joe Santo, who even wears a Mexican wrestling mask sometimes, like Santo of film lore. It’s not really an Arnold film, but he plays a major part and doesn’t use his “Arnold” persona at all- he’s in the gym working out a lot, and gets to be himself.

Thank you masked man!

Jeff Bridges is Craig “Buck” Blake, an idle southern gentleman whose family wants him to make something of himself; but the movie isn’t so much about plot as the mood of its era, and character. He’s been whiling away his inheritance by big game hunting, escaping to the wilderness, and playing the part of the dilettante. Willie the house servant, played by Scatman Crothers, ups and quits over Buck’s shenanigans.

What’s up, Doc?

Craig becomes good friends with Joe and his girlfriend Mary Tate (Sally Field) in this freewheeling ’70s tale of the joys of shunting responsibility to just “be.” Directed by Bob Rafelson of Five Easy Pieces fame, and written by Charles Gaines of Pumping Iron, you get a comfortable melding of the two. Joe Santo, the bodybuilder who runs Olympia Gym, is played cool and collected by Arnold; he has great challenges ahead, but he takes them in stride, and is always broadening his horizons- playing the fiddle with some backwoods boys, letting Mary Tate have a fling with Craig- he has a Zen-like philosophy, from which the film takes its title. Craig on the other hand, avoids all responsibility, and when he tries to involve his friends with his family and their southern gentility, is boorish and self-absorbed.

Just another trophy

Sally Field is excellent as Mary Tate, who doesn’t want to be “another trophy on Craig’s wall,” or one in Santo’s trophy case either. In ’70s movies women often got the short end of the stick- this was the era where angry young men fought for civil rights, and then told the “girls” they could help by getting coffee and maybe doing the typing. The movie isn’t about that either- it’s about making something of yourself. Craig’s one confidante in his family is Uncle Albert (character actor Woodrow Parfey) who tells him this gem of advice: “To make something useful out of a life, it doesn’t matter what you do. Just that you do something, and do it unsparingly.” He then adds, “Why don’t you shit or get off the pot?”

I refuse to do your dirty work, no more…

The movie is full of grotesques, and setting it in a bodybuilding gym where the sport of sculpting one’s own body was only just being accepted in mainstream society was a perfect move. Arnold’s Joe Santo appears as a Rennaissance Man, surrounded by misfits and pikers. One is a manic Robert Englund- aka Freddy Krueger- who plays a hyper yet likeable gym member. Another is the gym owner Thor (R.G. Armstrong) a randy old man with a toupee and a penchant for poppers, and his right-hand man, a black bodybuilder he doesn’t know is gay.

Hasta la hootenanny, baby

The weakest part of the movie is the shoehorned plot regarding mob boys wanting a “deal” with Thor and Craig; it’s unnecessary and out of place, but leads to Craig’s belated coming of age, when he comes to Mary Tate’s rescue. And some of the funniest scenes, as Thor finds novel uses for the gym equipment when the gangsters drop off some hookers to sweeten the deal; the same benches become a battlefield for the end scene, as the film spirals into absurdity. Santo is competing for Mr. Universe, while Craig is saving Mary Tate- with the help of all the bodybuilders who already competed. The famous shot of the muscle men posing on tops of buses, and running down the street, posing and flexing, comes from here. It’s Rafelson’s nod to Fellini’s parades of grotesques, I guess, and it helps deflate the unnecessary drama.

Another one rides the bus

Overall this is a fine piece of ’70s cinema for fans of Jeff Bridges and Sally Field, and if you want to see Arnold play a part completely straight. Though he does get asked by an interviewer if bodybuilders are homosexual. “No, I can only speak for myself, but if you want me to prove it…” I wonder if Arnold ad-libbed that one, since it could be right out of Pumping Iron outtakes. Things do get a little pretentious, but we do get Joe Santo’s message: “You’ve got to stay hungry. You can’t grow without burning.” And Arnold delivers it with panache.
As much as I like watching him blow things up and then spout awkward puns, I like to wonder what his career would have been like without it. The scene in Total Recall where the two sides of his character talk to each other must not have been too hard for Arnold to pull off. Arnold won a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut for this film, but didn’t get another memorable role until he became Conan.

Arnold playing the fiddle

And while Sally Field only bares her bottom, the scene with the busty hooker trying to seduce the gay masseur is pretty funny- but she’s quite a looker too.

Freebie and the Bean

Freebie and the Bean is one of the prototypical buddy cop movies, this stars natty dresser and crazy driver James Caan as “Freebie,” and the hot-tempered but by-the-books Alan Arkin as “the Bean,” so called because he is Mexican. When they’re not trying to kill each other they’re a great team of detectives, but they tend to destroy lots of property in the process. Sound familiar? Well, this is one of the early ones, sort of a West coast version of The Seven-Ups. There’s a hit on by Michigan Phil. Our two unorthodox street detectives have to stop the hit, with their zany method of crime fighting.

Unorthodox methods

Arkin and Caan have some terrific comic energy and riff off each other very well, so seeing them blunder and bellow through typical cop movie scenes is very entertaining. This one sets up all the cliches- oil & water buddies, loose cannon cops, ridiculous car chases, and the “gotcha” ending- but does them so well that it doesn’t feel weathered. There are multiple set pieces – the first car chase establishes how crazy Freebie is, then they top it a few times. They jump a moving train. They get stuck in San Francisco traffic so bad that Freebie commandeers a dirtbike and chases a van through a park during an art exhibition, knocking down a huge set of dominoes.

“let’s get a taco”

Richard Rush doesn’t even bother to linger on the dominoes, they just tumble in the background as a sight gag as the chase goes on, and never interrupts the pacing of the movie. There are a lot of stunts and memorable scenes, but director Richard Rush (The Stunt Man) nonchalantly keeps the story going, and focused on the characters. Both guys have lives other than cops; Bean is convinced that his wife (a hilarious Valerie Harper) is cheating on him; Freebie has his girl, but we never get “drama” shoved in our faces for its own sake. It’s sad that Rush made so few movies, because he makes this seem effortless.
Before The Blues Brothers put a cop car “in a truck!” these guys put one in a 3rd floor apartment. This is also where the “let’s get a taco” line from Reservoir Dogs comes from; Bean is always hungry, and when he beats up a huge redneck with a billy club up his sleeve he says casually “let’s get something to eat.” Later on he’s clamoring “I need a taco!” but I’ll leave you to discover that very funny scene. But even with all that, the majority of the fun comes from Arkin and Caan strangling each other as they drive each other nuts during their police work. These are two of our best actors, enjoying themselves and we get to share in the fun. This is a lost gem of the ’70s and fans of Arkin and Caan should definitely hunt it down. It is criminally not on DVD, but can be found on youtube.

The cycle chase

The Inglorious Bastards

I saw this back in the early ’80s and loved it. It had everything a growing boy needed- Nazi killin’, explosions, corny humor and gratuitous nudity. In the wake of Tarantino’s similarly named WW2 epic being released this summer, I decided to revisit this gritty classic where Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson star as soldiers escaping court martial, who end up taking out an armored train carrying a new V2 rocket.

You’ll never catch Tom Hanks doing that!

This is something we’ve rarely seen since Saving Private Ryan came on the scene- a World War 2 movie meant to be brash, unadulterated fun. Now they all need to be gritty and heroic, and while I love Band of Brothers as much as anybody, sometimes you need a movie about Bastards who accidentally kill a commando squad of American infiltrators, and redeem themselves by taking their place and completing their mission. It’s The Dirty Dozen, but we get to see their crimes.
What does inglorious mean anyway? Is it like in-famous in Three Amigos!? Does it mean really glorious? No, it means disgraceful. It’s a real exploitation title, because they’re really not that bad. There’s a thief and a forger who looks so much like a biker from central casting that it’s hard to remember this is supposed to be the ’40s, and a smooth talker named Tony who’s so obviously dubbed Italian-style that he seems even creepier when he rides the black guy with racist cracks. That’s Fred Canfield (Fred Williamson, Black Caesar) the tough-as-nails bad-ass of the group, and they’re led by rogue pilot Bob Yeager (Bo Svenson, Walking Tall Part 2), who’s in trouble for flying to see his girlfriend in between sorties. They even have a token German who’s tired of seeing Hitler destroy his country, who vows to lead them to the Swiss border.

Happiness is a warm gun

Fred Williamson and Bo Svenson make the picture- Fred is a born action star, and when he grabs his tommygun while saying “didya miss me baby?” we know all we need to know. He killed a racist officer in a fight and is sent to be hanged, but he loves killing Nazis so much that they’d be better off dropping him on Berlin like a black atomic bomb. Bo Svenson is pure cool in his aviator jacket and shades, lazing around when he’s not being a natural leader for a bunch of wild cards. We’ve got the star of what’s arguably the least exploitive blaxploitation film- Larry Cohen’s Black Caesar, which is essentially American Gangster– and the guy who replaced Joe Don Baker as Sheriff Buford Pusser.

Camelot! It’s only a model. Ssh!

The action is 70s-fake with bodies flying like ragdolls, bright red blood, and bursts of machine gun fire knocking Nazis down like bowling pins, but it’s still a blast, even when you can tell the castle is a matte painting. I was hoping they look at it and say “behold, Castle Wolfenstein!” and mutter “it’s only a model.” The mattes actually look pretty good, and when a German supply column gets totaled by bombers, seeing the destruction stretch into the distance is sobering, even after seeing Fred mow down Nazis by the score. But there’s humor, too. They wander into a stream where German W.A.C.’s are bathing, and manage a brief idyllic interlude until Fred wanders in. It still manages a coarseness similar to The Big Red One, one of my favorite war films.

They mow down Wehrmacht so casually that when they realize they killed a commando squad of Americans in German uniforms, they just pretend to be them. When they meet up with the French Resistance, the American officer waiting for the squad realizes he can either work with them, or scrap his mission- so makes them redeem themselves by participating in a risky scheme to steal an armored train carrying secret V2 rocket technology into Allied territory. The finale combines Von Ryan’s Express with the brutal body count of The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare, as they work to re-route the train, infiltrate it, and kill every Nazi S.O.B. that gets in their way. As a fan of the Castle Wolfenstein games, it felt as close to a B.J. Blazkowicz movie as we’ll get any time soon.

The Inglorious Bastards is great fun, well-paced but terribly unrealistic- not that you’ll care. If you plan on seeing Tarantino’s movie in August, you owe it to yourself to see this one first. Bo Svenson is rumored to have a cameo; not sure about Williamson, who was in From Dusk Till Dawn. Hopefully there’ll be a place for both of them.

If you don’t like Fred Williamson you are a godless commie heathen.

Petey Wheatstraw

If you’ve seen Dolemite, Petey Wheatstraw is Rudy Ray Moore’s third movie, and better in every way. In this one he ends up being the Devil’s Son-in-Law, when he’s massacred with his family by his club owner rivals. Lucifer- aka Lou Cipher, in a play on words long before Angel Heart did it- is a nattily dressed old fellow who says he’ll bring Petey and his family back, and let him avenge himself, if he’ll marry his ugly daughter.

The Devil Wears Tracksuits

The Devil lends him his cane, which gives him all sorts of astonishing powers, from being able to make men say what he wants or shit their pants, or sleep with a harem of women in one evening. This one spends more time on humor than badassery; there’s still plenty of goofy ’70s kung fu, but there’s plenty more slapstick and corny comedy. Whether it’s the Benny Hill-style sped-up orgy scene with the harem set to old ragtime piano, tells the tale of how he sprung from the womb at 10 years old, or when he chases junkies who stripped his car down the street, it has a much more consistent tone, and is a lot more fun.

If you don’t love Rudy Ray Moore after seeing this, you’ll never get him.

Rudy Ray Moore is much funnier when he’s not busy directing the movie himself- his raunchy, hilarious dialogue fills every scene, whether he’s trying to lawyer his way out of kissing Satan’s butt-ugly daughter, who’s thankfully hidden behind a veil like a horrifying face in a Looney Tunes cartoon, or trash-talking with his rivals. The effects are lower than low budget- sometimes Satan’s mighty cane looks like a stick with tin foil wrapped on the end, but that just adds to the charm. When he has to fight the legions of devils in bad make-up, that’s what it’s all about.

I would kill to have his wardrobe today.

This is pure ’70s blaxploitation done right. Plenty of humor, gratuitous nudity, outrageous fashion, and ridiculous kung fu fights, and a story straight out of a folk tale set in the ghetto. Who doesn’t like a story about outsmarting the Devil? Rudy Ray Moore was an original, a comedian and forefather of rap, and this is one of his best movies. Dolemite is good fun too, but this is better. I’m told the sequel to Dolemite, The Human Tornado, is even better- and that will be the next entry in this column.

Slap Shot

Hey it’s winter, let’s watch a hockey movie! Slap Shot stars Paul Newman as a coach of a bunch of hockey bums who always lose, in a mill town whose mill will be closing. So the team knows nothing matters and they’ll be shut down at the end of the season, and they go all out to win at any cost and be entertaining as hell for the fans. For hockey fans it’s a classic, and for the rest of us, it’s still good fun. The Hanson Brothers- three goons in coke-bottle thick horn rim glasses- and Melinda Dillon from A Christmas Story make it unforgettable.
We meet the Chiefs at a home game against a team with a drunken player and they still manage to lose. The fans get more fun out of cursing them out than watching them play. Newman plays Reg Dunlop, an aging hockey star leading the team under the bumbling manager Joe McGrath (Strother Martin, looking completely different than he did in Cool Hand Luke!). When he hears the town mill will be closing, he decides to go out with a bang- he tells the team that someone in Florida wants to buy them, and they have to play their hearts out. But McGrath has his own idea, when he picks up the rowdy Hanson Brothers for the team. They’re your typical hockey kids- hockey hair, roughneck players that Reg meets when they’re bashing the hell out of a Coke machine for stealing a quarter.
He sees them making brass knuckles out of aluminum foil under their gloves, and benches them for the season until a series of fouls force them onto the ice. They get their revenge on the other team by slamming, sticking and punching their way to victory, and the crowd loves it, so Reg decides to play things the Hanson Brothers way. He sleeps with an opposing goalie’s ex, played by Melinda Dillon, to get some tips on how to intimidate him. There’s a surprisingly long topless scene were she talks to him in bed.

Now, not only is it freaky seeing Mom from A Christmas Story naked, but Melinda has nipples you can hang beach towels on. Paul Newman might have gotten a foul for high sticking, but she could get one for eye gouging. But aside from the boobies, she has that same easy manner that made her performance in the Christmas classic so memorable. Seeing it now is like seeing Mom’s wild youth. Anyway, Reg’s plan works and he uses secrets gleaned from this dangerous liaison to taunt the goalie into a rage that has him dive into the penalty box to get at him.
Reg and the Hanson Brothers’ antics get so many fans whipped up about the team that even he begins to believe his bullshit story about a sale. Some towns welcome them, others picket them- and get mooned for their trouble. Finally, for their championship game, the opposing team puts together a gang of roughneck rowdies so brutal that even the Chiefs are worried. Their games have gone too far. Reg wants everyone to play clean, old school hockey against the brutes… but can they win? or even survive?
Slap Shot is a true classic, hell there’s even a band named after the Hanson Brothers who sing about hockey and girls and beating people up. Canadian punkers NoMeansNo have a side band, so it’s actually good. It’s one of Paul Newman’s best, because it’s a self-effacing role- he’s playing an athlete past his prime, with his usual grin, glint in his eye, and biting sense of humor. And for hockey fans this movie is a Communion wafer that must be taken regularly, lest you be forced to confess in the penalty box.