1978 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MARTIN

The Mountain of the Cannibal God (directed by prolific trash guru Sergio Martino), is possibly the most well-known film of the Italian cannibal genre, primarily because it has name stars in Stacy Keach and Ursula Andress. Being Martino, it naturally revels in its nastiness, which runs the gamut from castration to decapitations, shots of human entrails, and actual footage of a monkey being devoured by a python. A nude Andress certainly helped its box office. It was yet another video nasty staple in the heyday of mom and pop video stores.

Starcrash (directed by Luigi Cozzi) stars cult fave Caroline Munro in a blatant Star Wars ripoff. There’s other people in it as well, like David Hasselhoff (in his film debut) and Christopher Plummer, but it’s Munro that audiences went to see, and it’s a hoot to boot.

Starhops is a sort of Star Wars parody, but it’s essentially juvenile sexploitation, surprisingly directed by a woman: Barbara Peeters. It’s obscure, for obvious reasons.

The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (directed by Leo Penn) is a Gothic horror TV mini-series starring grand dame Bette Davis, still riding high post-Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1960). Adapted from the Thomas Tryon novel, it’s winningly offbeat with a high camp performance from Davis as the town matriarch. For unknown reasons, it’s home video distribution has been spotty, only briefly becoming available on VHS in a badly mutilated version.

Jean Rollin goes zombie with Grapes of Death. Being Rollin, it naturally is going to have a twist—amusingly, zombifying wine. Opulently bloodied, the film has a reputation as being weaker Rollin. Actually, his virtues here outweigh his usual flaws.

They Call Her Cleopatra Wong (directed by Bobby A. Suarez) stars Marrie Lee as an Asian 007 kickin’ ass of a buncha baddie henchman disguised as nuns. Naturally, it was an epic influence on Quentin Tarantino. Low-budget explosions, scantily clad femme fatales, kung fu galore, and wretched dubbing. Sorry, but you can’t call yourself cool ’til you’ve seen it.

Now, when we think we’ve grown immune to a decade full of the unexpected, we encounter Charles Burnett’s “ blaxploitation” feature Killer of Sheep, which is one of the most unsettling films of the decade and entirety of cinema. The title refers to Stan (Henry Gayle Sanders) who works in a slaughterhouse and lives in the ghetto where there are principles, despair, poetry and, ultimately, a lack of liberty. Like Stan, the film does not progress, and it really should be required viewing for every Neanderthal who can’t seem to grasp the fact that an entire race oppressed for half a millennium here is not going to “bounce back” by itself in a mere fifty years. This was Burnett’s Masters thesis, shot on a mere $10,000 budget. It remained unseen for decades due to music rights, which eventually cost ten time more than the film itself. Startlingly heterodox, it demands to be seen.

Youngblood (directed by Noel Nosseck) stars Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs  (Freddie ‘Boom-Boom’ Washington of “Welcome Back Kotter”) as a Vietnam vet returning to the Bronx.  Often lumped in with blaxploitation, it’s a serious, well-written, winningly rudimentary look at black street life, but also undeservedly obscure.

Last House on The Beach (directed by Franco Prosperi) is obviously ripping off the similarly-titled Wes Craven film, with a bit of nunspolitation, armed robbery, and misogyny thrown in.

Richard Attenborough’s Magic was promoted as an “A” horror with Anthony Hopkins, Ann-Margaret, and Burgess Meredith. It’s about the possessed dummy of a ventriloquist. It was a moderate hit with audiences and a some critics, but like most of Attenborough’s work, it’s  ultimately pedestrian.

Universal executives predictably made a classic, clueless blunder with Jaws 2, making it about the shark instead of the shark hunters. Bruce the shark become Jason Vorhees underwater, mercifully slaughtering the teen population. Surprisingly, Roy Scheider returned, passing up The Deer Hunter for this. It was the first of numerous bad choices that eventually sabotaged the actor’s promising career. Less surprisingly, audiences came in droves, as they are apt to do with virtually anything that is heavily marketed. It’s directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who later gave us such classics as Supergirl(1984) and Santa Claus: The Movie (1985).

Joe Dante’s Piranha is stamped with this underrated director’s idiosyncratic humor, making it a far superior take on Jaws than the above. Like much of Dante’s later work (The Howling, Gremlins 2, and the essential Matinee), it became a cult favorite.

The vastly underrated Irvin Kirshner directed John Carpenter’s script of The Eyes of Laura Mars . The film itself gets a lot of flak despite it’s being skillfully crafted and paced (a Kirshner strength, as he proved again in the best of the Star Wars films, Empire Strikes Back), with hilariously creepy performances from Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, and Brad Dourif. Full of chic sadism and sexy horror, it’s a shrewd, All-American sendup of giallos with a tour de force performance from Dunaway.

If there was any doubt of  George Romero’s status as a horror director, Martin laid them to rest. “There isn’t any magic. It’s just sickness.” So says Martin (John Amplas) in response to Cuda (Lincoln Maazel), his fanatical uncle from Pittsburg. The sickness is banality. Such is the summary of the 17-year-old who may be an 84-year-old vampire, according to Cuda. Introverted Martin is the bloodsucker bred of popular culture and sophomoric mythology.  He dons a Bela Lugosi pose and mocks his uncle, stepping out-into the daylight, to live up to their expectations of a murderer. Romero succeeds in fulfilling the concept that Robert Hartford-Davies attempted in 1970’s Incense for the Damned (AKA Bloodsuckers) before the studio mutilated it. Romero’s grittiness is brilliant and in sharp contrast to the cocktail slickness of Universal’s vampire opuses. Visually influenced by Dario Argento, this is Romero’s most assured work, far better than populist fare like The Exorcist. Indeed, it’s one of the most extraordinary films of the 1970s.

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About Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is a fine arts painter, an award-winning independent filmmaker, and has a masters of theological studies in the arts. His Masters thesis was: "Justification By Imagination.The Marian Art Of Thomas Merton." For nine years, he has been a film critic (for 366 Weird Movies). His essays for that site have been published in the yearbooks and quoted in various film biographies. He is the author of the forthcoming novel, "Brother Cobweb." He currently lives in Gresham, Oregon where he performs his character, Brother Cobweb at The House Of Shadows.

4 thoughts on “1978 EXPLOITATION TRIPLE FEATURE, PART TWO: MARTIN

  1. I love reading the high praise for Martin. Romero could practically do no wrong between 77-85.

    Mountain of the Cannibal God is probably the slickest of the Italian Cannibal cycle. There are points where you can almost forget what type of movie you’re watching, then the shit hits the fan in the cave sequence.

    Cannibal Ferox and Cannibal Holocaust never let you relax like this one does.

    Same with Grapes of Death. Rollin’s a little more mainstream accessible here. Brigitte Lahaie is as stunning as ever. Not my favorite of his, but it is a ton of fun.

    I love reading your take on exploitation!

  2. Many thanks for your comments, dr. I’m still recovering from Cannibal Holocaust, having first watched it over 20 years ago. Naturally, I subjected myself to it again. I’m looking into publishing a book on the exploitation from 1960-1979 because regardless how many I cover, I discover more. Of course, there really is no way to cover everything from exploitation cinema’s two most prolific decades, but it’s a helluva lot of fun trying.

  3. Cannibal Holocaust is like a gut punch.

    Exploitation is such a broad umbrella now. Two of my favorite books on the subject are Mondo Macabro and especially Immoral Tales. I would always welcome another one on the shelf.

  4. Caroline Munro too naughty. Yum.
    Starhops lol. I just flicked through it on YT. I might actually have to watch that someday! hehe
    zombifying wine WTF
    I need to rep up my coolness and get on “They Call Her Cleopatra Wong” before it’s too late.
    “Killer Of Sheep” sounds really very interesting.
    I’ve been trying to see “Youngblood” for sometime as I have the excellent Soundtrack by “War” in my record collection.
    I love the way NUNS always seem to feature somewhere 🙂
    “Magic” was pretty great I seem to remember, one for a rewind one day I think.
    I’ve never heard of “Matinee” before!! and I love Joe Dante films. Slap wrist and goes to find it. Thanks for the heads up.
    Same goes for “The Eyes of Laura Mars” that sounds great too.
    “Martin” is a massive favourite of mine, I started my “blog” to write about my favs films like those but I keep watching new stuff. I have a half written draft of Martin which I must finish one day!.
    Thanks again for the superb movie trip. I really enjoy going through them.
    Cheers

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