White Lightning … Gator McClusky for President?

Now I am not sure of where Gator stands on most of the issues. I think he’s a one issue voter. With that issue being “kill the sumbitch sheriff who murdered my brother.”

WHITE LIGHTNING is the story of a bootlegger named Gator McClusky doing time in prison for running booze. They won’t let him go to his brother’s funeral, but the Feds have an idea he was murdered by a crooked sheriff, played by Ned Beatty. So they let Gator out and give him a supercharged beast of a Ford LTD, a super sleeper that no one in the county can catch. His mission? Run booze! Run it better than the Sheriff, so they can catch him at it.

Actually the mission isn’t all that clear once Gator is out of prison. He visits friends and family, he taunts the Sheriff by racing around town, he makes a few moonshine runs. He strong-arms a mechanic into sabotaging a runner’s car so he can take over, he sleeps with his buddy’s girlfriend, he shoots up a few crooked lawmen and races all over creation. This was before Reynolds got huge and let his ego take over, and he plays a backwoods boy quite well. He’s a little rough around the edges, but he can charm the bloomers off a sweet county clerk. I had never seen this minor classic, but I remember watching Gator, the sequel, on Videodisc back in the day. Yep, my father had one of those. I bought an HD-DVD player, so choosing the losing medium must be in our blood.

White Lightning was a lot of fun. It’s not quite up there with VANISHING POINT and BULLITT for car movies, but Hal Needham did the stunts, and it makes for a nostalgic and enjoyable night’s viewing. I drank an Abita and remembered a simpler time, when a fast car, a quick wit and a whole lot of guts was all you needed to wipe the county clean of evil. Movies like this, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, and Mad Max certainly inspired me to write  Jay Desmarteaux.

White Lightning

Blood and Tacos!

Johnny Shaw, author of the hilarious and heartfelt fiasco DOVE SEASON, has put together a new quarterly homage to the men’s magazines and pulp novels of the ’70s. Think Remo Williams, the Destroyer. I review an awful ripoff called RAKER, and there is fiction by Matthew Funk, Cameron Ashley, Gary Phillips and Johnny himself.

Blood & Tacos #1 is a buck for Kindle, and I guarantee you will be entertained. Look at that incredible cover by Roxane Patruznick. This one will be a load of retro fun.

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Tom Selleck vs. the Daughters of Satan!

A friend of mine asked me to find this movie. His wife is Filipino, and because this was filmed in the Philippines and stars Tom Selleck- who he has a man crush on- he wanted to see it. Let me tell you, James, this is no Jesse Stone movie. It’s pretty bad, but in a good, witch-sploitation way. They get the titillation out of the way in shot one, frame one, as we see a Filipino witch suspended topless over bamboo stakes by her evil coven, who demand she renew her vows with El Diablo. She is whipped by a witch with crazy eyes, who we later learn is named Kitty Duarte, and finally gives in… we see a rogue’s gallery of obvious baddies, including a guy with a witch’s peak doing down to the bridge of his nose, and a skeletal cackling fellow… we’ll see them all again.

We immediately cut to Tom Selleck, resplendent in a perfectly trimmed porn ‘stache, as he goes into a creepy little antique shop run by Mr. Widow’s Peak, who is selling a clueless tourist a witch’s knife. It’s a huge dagger with a serpentine handle, and the tourist is buying it “for luck.” I’m a knife nut and even I don’t have a Lucky Sacrificial Dagger… maybe I should get one? If I go to the Philippines, I’ll look for one. Maybe I’ll be attacked by titwitches. That would be awesome, except for the sacrificing me to the devil part. At the shop, Selleck sees a painting of witches being burned at the stake, where the lead witch is a dead ringer for his wife. Horror movie rule #43: Never buy a painting of a dead person that resembles you or your loved ones. It is haunted, you dumbass.

Even Tom’s hairy chest cannot protect him from what is to come. He looks like he rolled around on a barber shop floor, doesn’t he? (Thanks to Milky for that one.) His wife is played by Barra Grant, a hottie best known for being Miss America Bess Myerson’s daughter, and starring in the Bill Cosby flick MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED before giving up on film. She is immediately freaked out by the painting, and who wouldn’t be? There are two witches, a black dog, and a mustached Spaniard in conquistador gear in the painting, who looks like Selleck, of course. Even though she’s playing the Typical 70’s Housewife, who jumps on chairs when mice attack, and still faints at the sound of a dog fart, it’s pretty creepy for your husband to come home and say “Hey, I bought this painting of a woman being burned alive because SHE LOOKS LIKE YOU!”

Lies. He never fights Satan.

I mean, if Firecracker came home with a photo of a guy being hanged who looked like me, I’d hide all the damn rope. And her instincts are correct. Not long after the painting comes home, than weird things start happening. A black Rottweiler appears in the yard, and he loves Barra but snarls at Selleck. We see the dog run off, and fade into the grass. Wouldn’t you know it, the dog in the painting has faded away? Hmm, wonder what that means. Soon, one of the women in the background fades, just as their new housekeeper shows up for work. And guess who she looks like? Cue the theremin! Creepy shit be afoot!! Really, I hope the horror movie association gave Dr. Theremin some posthumous award for all he’s done for these films. The soundtrack here is relentless, and it does help, because it’s all rather silly.

Soon Barra falls under her housekeeper’s spell, and investigators are brought in, and die suspicious deaths! Tom gets knocked out, put in his Triumph roadster on the edge of a cliff, with blocks of ice chocking the tires.  Will he survive? This is a rare case of a film giving away plot twists with its lobby cards, as you can see below. Wifey gets witchy, and shows off her jugs at the one hour mark as she too is suspended over the bamboo spikes, forced to say the devil’s prayer. It’s all rather predictable and over the top, and can be a lot of fun if you know what you’re getting into. I was surprised that Turner Classic Movies showed it uncut, because the topless scenes aren’t quick shots. This is pure ’70s exploitation. I liked the ending, but wish there were a lot more witchy goings on, and that Tom Selleck battled Satan, like the poster promises.

I love a good ’70s occult flick, and this one delivers. I also love cheesy films from the Philippines, like the Weng Weng James Bond spoofs. So this is a win-win for cheesy horror, perfect for this witchy time of year. If you can track it down, it’s worth seeing, if only to see early Tom Selleck battle a coven of sexy witches.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

5 Reasons We’re Living in the ’70s Again

If you’ve lived through the ’70s, things might start feeling a little familiar.

#5: The Economy Has Gone To Shit

I’m pretty sure you’ve noticed that the economy has taken a giant shit in its mommy jeans, unless you’re having this read to you by silken-voiced servants while your nethers are delicately scrubbed by concubines, or you work for Goldman-Sachs. In the ’70s we experienced an economy so shitty they had to make up a new word for it: stagflation.Sounds like a perverted sex act involving an air compressor and a whitetail deer, but it meant job and economic growth were stagnant, and prices were also going up. No one wants to admit we’re experiencing inflation, despite everything costing more, and there are 8 unemployed shmoes for every job listing out there. Which means if we employed them as gladiators, they’d have to kill seven other gladiators before we could give them a job as a Walmart greeter. Which sounds like a great idea.

#4: The War Won’t Friggin’ End

Sure, we have ended combat operations in Iraq. Tell that to the Fifty Thousand soldiers we plan on leaving there to help the Iraqis control the country we took a giant smartbomb shit on. It’s no Vietnam, thank goodness. They were smarter this time and didn’t enact a draft, which makes wars unpopular. Instead, they just send the same poor bastards back over and over again, let their families suffer from predatory lenders as they scrape by on low pay, and ignore their post-traumatic stress when they get home. We sure love our troops. Hey, who’s on Dancing with the Stars this week? Bristol Palin?! I forgot about Iraq already! And Afghanistan, where we got so close to catching bin Laden that they had to be called back, lest we end this enormous corporate welfare giveaway of a war too soon.

#3: Polluting the Crap Out of Things

In the ’70s, pollution was so bad a fucking river caught on fire. American Indians were crying on television at what we’d done to the land. People would practically drop their bell bottom disco hot pants and shit in the streets. Then that socialist President Nixon pushed through environmental legislation that made drinking water less chunky. Now, after 8 years of having regulators snort coke off the tits of corporate lobbyists, I’m surprised the Indians aren’t throwing wet bags of shit at us on the freeway. BP left a 3 inch deep layer of oil on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and now they’re planning on drilling “a relief well,” so they can get some of the oil they haven’t spilled yet.

#2: Play That Funky Music, White Boy

Turn on the radio and you’ll feel the funk vibe from bands like The Black Keys, The Heavy, and nine billion side projects of Jack White, Dangermouse, and the dudes who used to be Gnarls Barkley. They’re everywhere, and they’re making great music, but damn if it doesn’t feel like Eric Burdon, War, and Sly and the Family Stone are back. Thankfully Lady Gaga isn’t quite a disco allegory, but all the autotune shit from the pop charts might be a good stand-in. Can’t sing? Let’s make you sound like you’re taking through an oscillating fan and remix some song that was a hit back when people needed talent, not just a pretty face and a complete lack of dignity.

#1: President Nerdboy

Remember Jimmy Carter, that well-meaning, ethical guy who had an idealist vision of the world, and wanted to play nice? You probably better remember him as a punchline to a political joke. That’s what happens to nice guys, and unfortunately, we elected a nice, smart, reasonable guy who gets painted as a radical socialist because you can’t say the N-word anymore. Obama is to the right of Clinton, who was to the right of President Nixon, for fuck’s sake. Nixon wanted universal health care that makes Obama’s reform look like a corporate giveaway. He pushed through environmental reforms that make our treatment of BP look like carte blanche to dump toxic waste directly into our children’s throats. Reagan taxed us more than we are now, for most of his presidency. That’s how far to the corporate ass-kissing side we’ve swung. The Democrats have always approached the playground of politics like the nerdy kid, who wants to rationally debate why the big bully is dumb as a box of Palins, while the Republicans just shout “Duh, Butthead!!” and give them a wedgie, like Biff from Back to the Future. The Prez has done a lot of good, but needs to fight, instead of trying to buddy up with jackasses who think he’s a Commie Nazi Muslim Antichrist.

So, grow out your hair, throw on a rust-colored shirt and beige corduroy pants, and get ready for a shitty decade.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

All for One, and One for All

“I need a bath. I reek of England and Calvinism.”

Two of my favorite films of the ’70s are Richard Lester’s films, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers starring … well, pretty much everybody. That’s part of the fun, but he imbues the films with the same lighthearted fun that the famous Beatles flicks had, despite not having the Fab Four starring as originally intended. That could have been fun too, but this is better.
Michael York plays the young hothead D’Artagnan, who wants nothing more than to join the ranks of the musketeers; Everyone’s favorite drunkard and man’s man Oliver Reed is Athos, Faye Dunaway plays the sexily sinister MiLady de Winter, Charlton Heston is the conniving Cardinal Richelieu, Christopher Lee is his eye-patched and wily henchman Rochefort, Porthos is played by Richard Chamberlain, and Frank Finlay digs into the role of Aramis with relish. Whew! And that’s not even including the secondary cast, such as the gorgeous Raquel Welch as D’Artagnan’s lover Constance, Roy Kinnear as the musketeer’s servant Planchet, and so many more. Even Spike Milligan as Constance’s father, who’d reprise his role in Mel Brooks’ spoof, History of the World, Part 1!
The battles are a perfect mix of serious and slapstick, and don’t shy away from the violence inherent in a swordfight. Hands are cut, arms are stabbed, necks slashed… and we take it all in stride, for this is the life of a musketeer. When they’re not mock-fighting in a pub to steal bread and wine because they’ve gambled their money away, or making bets that they can make breakfast on a battlement held by the enemy, they are battling with the treacherous swordsmen of Cardinal Richelieu, who wishes to further the religious war with the Protestants and gain power over the King. While there is plenty of time for character-based, bawdy humor, the plot isn’t given short shrift, and especially in the sequel we see the reasons for the intrigue as the unlikely heroes do their best to serve the king and queen without them ever knowing it.
I mentioned bawdy humor, but it is all solidly PG and certainly fine for children of proper mental age. Okay, my favorite gag is when Constance (remember, Raquel Welch in all her busty glory) hides from assassins by hopping on the side of a man’s coach and finds her bosom framed in his window. With classic Lester panache, we merely see the aristocrat arch an eyebrow and blow on his fingertips to warm them, and then we cut away to hear Constance squeak and run from her hiding place. Naughty for sure, but deftly crafted as a joke on parents watching as well.
There’s a lot to love in these movies. Christopher Lee as the towering villain and one of the greatest swordsmen; Charlton Heston enjoying his cameo as the power-hungry Cardinal; and of course, Faye Dunaway as the seductress spy and assassin MiLady, with her acid-filled glass daggers and feminine wiles- but the camaraderie between D’Artagnan and his musketeer friends is infectious. They quarrel and fight, but as the most infamous tagline of all time states, they are all for one and one for all. Brooding Athos is one of Reed’s best roles, and when we learn the source of his pain it’s a lovely twist. Porthos and Aramis tend to be more foppish but Chamberlain and Finlay have a lot of fun with the roles, and Michael York has never been better as the young firebrand who learns how to be a gentleman- of a sort- from these lovable rogues in the king’s service.
Sadly, the third entry- The Return of the Musketeers– also directed by Richard Lester and starring most of the gang, is not available on DVD. It came out shortly after Lester’s career fizzled, due to being terribly miscast as the director of the Superman franchise. The Saran-wrap “S” on Supe’s chest smothered any hopes of Lester continuing to make great films. But he made his bones by changing film history with A Hard Day’s Night and these films are just as much fun.

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Hey, we’re not birds! We’re a Jug Band!

The grass does not grow on the places where we stop and stand!We’re the River Bottom Nightmare Band!

Ah, Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas Special. It was one of my favorite Jim Henson creations. The music is great, the characters come to life, in the end Heavy Metal TRIUMPHS. It doesn’t have a smarmy happy ending; there’s no miracle, and the otter family still has to struggle. But they’ve come together and found their talents, and perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for the years to come, if Doc Bullfrog is true to his word.

It’s a simple tale based on O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi,” as Ma Otter and her son Emmet both vie for the prize in a talent contest so they can buy one another the gifts they want for Christmas- a piano, and a guitar with mother of pearl inlays. It’s based on a children’s book by Russell Hoban, who may be more famous for writing a cult classic post-apocalyptic novel called Riddley Walker. I had no idea. Strange coincidence, is it not? The songs were written by none other than ’70s icon Paul Williams, he of The Phantom of the Paradise who appeared on many Muppet show episodes too.

It all comes together as a tale of bittersweet poverty that reinforces the adage that your health and your loved ones are the real gifts to be thankful for, and that talent and hard work never go unrewarded. Even if the biker gang rock band leaves you in their dust. I haven’t watched this one in a few years, but recently found that my sister has a copy, and we’ll be watching it this Christmas Eve, I’m sure.

Since the internet is bare of the music, here’s a band covering the Nightmare song at Lee’s Liquor Lounge in Minneapolis:

The Killer Elite

“There’s not one power system that really cares about its civilians!”
This was written as a contribution to Agitation of the Mind’s Peckinpah Month blogathon! go check it out.

James Caan. Robert Duvall. Burt Young. Mako. Sam Peckinpah. Sounds like fun, don’t it? Well it is. This lesser known Peckinpah film was made during the nadir of his relationship with Hollywood, when no producer would give him a dime; eventually Mike Medavoy of United Artists assigned him this film because he believed in Sam’s talents. Made after his classic nihilist tale Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, the same cynicism pervades this film, but the story isn’t Peckinpah’s, and it’s often treated as a joke.
James Caan and Robert Duvall had just finished The Godfather, Part II and were probably looking for lighter fare; Caan would also make Freebie and the Bean (full review) this year, and he still has some of that carefree attitude that made that film a classic. The story opens with them playing Mike Locken (Caan) and Gerry Hansen (Duvall), two off the record operators for a shadowy government agency, taked with rescuing a foreign national from assassination. They blow up the building as they leave, tearing off in a land yacht, cracking sarcastic jokes all the while. After the job, they go to a party and Locken gets laid; later Hansen tells him he found a doctor’s note in the gal’s room saying she’s got VD, and shows him the paper.
The plot hinges on a betrayal that makes little sense, but that is the point- that the government’s shifting and mercurial alliances during the Cold War were cynical in the extreme and put civilian life at a lower priority than maintaining the current power structure. Not long after fooling Locken into thinking he’s got the clap, Hansen pulls a double cross and shoots their foreign national in the head, and Locken in the knee and elbow. He slips away after leaving his ex-partner with this deliciously dark goodbye: “You just retired, Mike. Enjoy it.”
While the film doesn’t delve too deeply into why they do this job, as Frankenheimer’s Ronin did, Peckinpah does inject a bit of absurdity later on. He said he prepared for it by watching Bruce Lee movies, which makes a bit of sense, as Mike recovers from his crippling injuries using tai chi and kung fu, and his final job will be escorting Mako and his daughter to a ship bound for China. I was quite interested in watching Locken’s training, because he’s saddled with a cane and uses it to fight. Beyond the usual wizened, cane-wielding master in kung fu films, cane fighting is a serious martial art- check out Cane Masters sometime- but Sam doesn’t take it very seriously. The slow-motion fighting recalls his later film The Osterman Weekend, which seemed to fetishize it and mock it at the same time.

Needless to say, Mike Locken wants revenge. After proving that he’s still dangerous with a metal arm brace- which he learns to bash heads with- and a cane, his old boss Weyburn recruits him for another job, in Chinatown. Escort Yuen Chung (Mako) and his daughter to a Naval transport before ninjas and assassins can take them out. Gig Young plays the boss, and has that WASPy sense of old family cool befitting a paranoid Cold War thriller. This was done to much better effect in Three Days of the Condor, but this one’s got more action; it’s from the Max Von Sydow perspective. Mike puts together a team of old pals, including Miller the Sniper (Bo Hopkins) who we meet skeet shooting by the Golden Gate bridge; and Mac, the car expert, played by Burt Young as a bit of a schlub who’s got it when it counts.
Mac hooks them up with a bulletproof taxicab. “Some union guy put it all together, bulletproof glass, and then they shot him in bed. I got it from his widow.” Oh, the irony. The pickup in Chinatown of course leads to a shootout, that Hansen is behind- who else? The story is predictable, but at least the performances and Peckinpah’s casual attitude toward the material make it entertaining. The bullets fly, and while nothing recalls the frenetic mayhem of The Wild Bunch, we get a sense of the cheapness of civilian life as gunfire riddles the city streets with abandon. This is later punctuated after Mac manages a reliable San Francisco car chase and ditches the cops, only to find a bomb wired under the car. The tension builds as a motorcycle cop senses something awry, but it’s played for laughs; the inconvenience of a traffic stop while the timer ticks away. Mac ends up handing the bomb to the cop, and they tell him to throw it in the harbor.
Ebert missed the payoff in his lukewarm review, as it’s the opposite of the ’66 Batman “some days you just can’t rid of a bomb” gag; they drive off to the shipyard, and as they get out of the car, a distant explosion is heard. I liken this to another hilarious wink Peckinpah gives in Convoy, when the trucks are circling by the flag-draped coffin of their compatriot. That’s almost too ridiculous to take, but it’s the kind of pompous gesture the establishment would demand to assuage the public’s ire. But the bomb made me wonder, was Sam just trying to be funny by giving the hated ’70s icon of the motorcycle cop- mocked so well in Harold & Maude– comeuppance, or was he having the callous “elite” kill off an innocent casually to underline the clumsy yet memorable line of Mac’s that leads this post:

Mac: Damn it, Mike! You’re so busy doing their dirty work, you can’t tell who the bad guys are!
Mike Locken: Don’t worry! I know who the bad guys are: anybody who tries to hurt me!
Mac:
They’re all tryin’ to hurt you Mike! All the goddam power systems! All the wheelers and dealers at the top with their gin and fizzes! They need guys like you to do their bloodletting, while they’re busy making speeches about freedom and progress! They’re all full of bullshit! There’s not one power system that really cares about its civilians!

That seems to be the kind of cynicism Sam would like; the modern world having no place for honor. Locken is robbed of his revenge by expediency, in a Mexican standoff that in most films would have ended with his fast-draw besting his rival’s. The final battle aboard a decommissioned battleship between gunmen and ninjas might have had the melodrama of The Last Samurai, but no one takes it seriously; it may work on paper, but in broad daylight it ends the only way it should, with cloaked swordsmen cut down like wheat before the scythe. When Mako faces his challenger, Locken and Mac want to “just shoot the guy,” but he demands the ceremonial battle. Caan ad-libs with snarky comments, but is it because he knows his own concept of honor is a fraud? The ending recalls a buddy picture like Freebie, and The Killer Elite is too vague and unfocused to make any grand or weary statements, but is still enjoyable enough to watch.