The beauty of the 1970s is its obsession with multifarious genres and trends, but the hardly means all the movies are good. A case in point is Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, which jumps on the killer animal bandwagon started by Bruce the shark, who shows up here as a laughably fake big green scaly lizard. Naturally, Hooper taps into his own hayseed folk focus, which include Texas Chainsaw‘s tied-up Marilyn Burns, a very creepy Neville Brand, an almost unrecognizably made up Carolyn Jones, and a very kinky fellar named Buck, played by Robert Englund. Another 70s tendency, which would be unthinkable in the next decade, is the terrorization of tykes. Here, a poor little crippled girl gets to witness her doggy become gator bait. She’s further terrorized by dysfunctional parents, including a pappy lookin’ for a nonexistent eyeball (!) It’s a weird indie (but, by no means not List-worthy). Hooper is still in full exploitation mode before Spielberg ruined him with a professional filmmaking lesson for Poltergeist (1982)—not a bad movie per se, but with a few exceptions, it threw Hooper permanently off course.
No award will given for guessing what film Mako: The Jaws of Death (directed by William Grefe) is shamelessly ripping off. It stars Richard Jaeckel using sharks to exact revenge. Better is William Girdler’s Jaws-with-claws, Grizzly, which stars Christopher George and the busy Jaeckel (again). It’s an unadulterated rip-off, made all the better for its trashiness.
Jeff Liberman’s Squirm is a hoot. Think Jaws as a buncha earth worms. It’s roguish humor is winning. It was a video store favorite for years, usually found next to the sticky floor section.
Surprisingly Rattlers (directed by John McCauley) are a duller, less threatening lot than fish bait.
Frustratingly, The Rat Savior (directed by Krsto Panic) remains an elusive gem. It won several awards at genre festivals, was available briefly on beta-max, was shown rarely on television and in arthouse cinemas (where I caught it a quarter of a century ago), and is only available on YouTube, devoid of subtitles or dubbing. It has recently been released on a PAL DVD in its original Yugoslavian language, which will hopefully pave the path for an accessible statewide release. Based on the novel by Alexander Greene, it’s a rodent-infested variation on body snatchers crossed with John Campbell’s shape-shifting “Thing.” The nasty cheese-eaters kill and impersonate human victims. The resident scientist (Ivica Vidovic) develops his own pesticide. However, once the rats impersonate a human, there’s no way to differentiate them, and mistakes are bound to happen. The Rat Savior is allegorical, political paranoia; a one-of-a-kind film, awaiting rescue from obscurity.
The House With Laughing Windows (directed by Pupi Avati) is a rare giallo that’s more unsettling than stylish. Already covered at 366 movies (as a capsule), it’s a bizarre mystery centering around an enigmatic fresco of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian and warrants exploration for fans of the genre seeking something off-kilter.
How can an exploitation film starring Klaus Kinski and Josephine Chaplin, revolving around history’s most famous serial killer, go wrong? Simple: Jack the Ripper is directed by Jess Franco, who lazily adds gore to mask the lack of atmosphere, style, and enthusiasm. The performances can’t rescue it from Franco’s drab hands.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown is Charles B. Pierce’s obvious jump on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre bandwagon. Fortunately, it has its own attributes. Pierce, having previously done the pseudo-documentary horror The Legend of Boggy Creek (1973) (about the mythical Bigfoot) has a feel for the material, and injects a sense of hayseed humor in this tale purportedly about a real life, never caught Phantom Killer from 1946.
Snuff (directed—sort-of—by Michael Findlay) is really a hodgepodge that combines footage from a previous Argentine film, Slaughter(1970) together with a What’s Up Tiger Lilly spirit (but without Woody Allen’s wit). Of course, it’s not a snuff film at all, but it is beautifully idiotic—enough to be distributed on DVD by Blue Underground.
Now we come to the post- Ilsa(AKA Naziploitation) portion of our show with SS Experiment Camp (directed by Italian exploitation guru Sergio Garrone). It has everything you would expect: lesbian Nazis in lab coats, horny storm troopers, electrocutions, golden showers, and frozen camp prisoners.
Tinto Brass (whom we will run into again) made his contribution with Salon Kitty. It might even be seen as a precursor to 1979’s Caligula, with big budgeted nudity filling every inch of the screen. Of course, there are Nazis galore, and it has a “now I’ve seen it all” moment when footage from 1935’s Triumph of the Will is projected onto a woman’s awaiting nude body. Even amidst all that decadence, Ken Adams’ set design still demands to be noticed.
Naturally, star Dyanne Thorne and director Don Edmonds returned to outdo the competition in Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks. It ups the ante of the previous film with more nudity, more gore, and more S & M. Humor, killer dildos, and Bond-like adventure are also thrown into the mix. 70s exploitation cinema can probably be summed up here.
Black Cobra Woman is essentially Joe D’Amato’s “Emmanuel Goes To Hong Kong.” It’s typical D’Amato—and typical Emmanuel, for that matter—lots of skin, and no plot worth writing of.
Sisters of Death (directed by Joe Mazzuca) is yawn-inducing drive-in revenge for an accidental sorority death. No doubt drive-in audiences were visiting the snack bar often.
Before you blame John Wayne Gacy for perverting our vision of clowns, you may want to blame Canada first for The Clown Murders (directed by Martyn Burke). John Candy has a small, early role. I’ll save you precious time here. Read the title. That’s what it’s about.
Mansion of the Doomed (Directed by Michael Pataki) stars Richard Basehart, Gloria Grahame, Lance Henriksen , and Vic Tayback. Its a low-rent but underrated variation on Eyes Without a Face that could be dubbed “a face without eyes.” Commendably disturbing drive-in fodder.
Director Paul Bartel and star David Carradine ape their own Death Race 2000 only a year later with Cannonball! Unfortunately, it was already one rehash too many.
Young, Violent, Dangerous (directed by Romolo Girolamo) is youth-gone-wild-meets-Dirty-Harry Italian exploitation.
Apache Woman (directed by Giorgio Mariuzzo) is Native Americansploitation that emulates Sergio Leone with a “message”—and, of course, a hottie (Yara Kewa).
One of the most infamous 1970s drive-in films is Bert I. Gordon’s The Food of the Gods, about giant, man-eating rats (and chickens!). It stars Ida Lupino and is allegedly based, in part, on H.G. Wells. It goes well with gas station jalapeño pickles.
Future World is the inevitable followup to Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1973). Unfortunately, it’s flatly directed by Richard T. Heffron, who had no feel for the material.
Pete Walker was a natural in exploitation, enough that Redemption has recently released a Blu-ray collection of the director. Schizo is about an ice skater stalked by a psycho killer. As usual with Walker, it’s not so much about the plot as it is an excuse for stylishly staged homicides, which includes a knitting needle to the eye. The short-lived (and later wife of Peter Sellers) Lynne Frederick stars, and has considerable charisma.
Blood Bath (directed by Joel M. Reed) is a “comedy horror” anthology that makes one pine for the weakest Amicus efforts.
Track of the Moon Beast (directed by Dick Ashe) is a New Mexico drive-in feature about a (sort of) werewolf, combined with a lizard, driven to considerable angst by a meteor lodged in his belly.
Despite its title, low-budget, and some atrocious acting, Massacre at Central High (directed by Ray Daalder) strives for something off the beaten path with rudimentary political and social allegories. It doesn’t quite succeed. The violence, which feels like a marketing ploy, is poorly executed and seriously undermines it, along with the flaws listed above. Strangely, there are no adult actors. It hammers home the message of previous underdogs becoming the new oppressors. It was a box office flop and critics primarily ignored it, but it deserves to be seen for its effort alone.
Another entry in Arrow’s “ American Horror Project: Volume 1” is Matt Cimber’s The Witch Who Came from the Sea, starring Millie Perkins as Molly. Cimber’s reputation as a pure exploitation director gets seriously challenged with this complex, richly symbolic film. Incest, rape, pedophilia, and castration are unsettling seeds for Molly’s homicidal tendencies, which come to fruition when she invites a couple of beefcakes up to her place for a gang bang, ties them up, and shaves them. It’s far more detached than it sounds. Water imagery abounds in this provocatively surreal indie. It’s also paced like a disorienting dream, which may prove challenging to ADHD viewers.
The focus on misogynistic mythology is vividly amplified by Herschell Gilbert’s superb score, which was his last. (Once a student of both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, the bulk of Gilbert’s work was for television). One can compare elements of the film to other arthouse films, such as Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide, Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, or even the work of David Lynch, but Cimber conjures a gloomy, idiosyncratic flavor, aided by Perkins powerful performance. If we weren’t down to our final 90-odd titles, I’d even recommend this flawed gem for an outside shot at a 366 Weird Movie’s List entry. Still, it’s essential for weird movie lovers, and a fitting finale to 1976.