Saturday, April 21, 2012

Attack of the Killer B's

I've been pulling up some old DVD reviews from the cybertomb that once was Hope you enjoy. This was actually one of my first "Video Risk" columns from November 2000.

Anyone who grew up in the South in the 1960s and 70's probably developed a love for "B" movies. The humidity, the Drive-ins and southern women with their special type of hospitality resulted in many a passionate night in the back seat of the old Chevy Impala with its Holley four-barrelled carb, 350 V-8 engine and glass-pac mufflers.... Oh well enough redneck reminiscing. If one was unlucky enough to have to watch the movie showing on the screen of the old drive-in theater they developed a love for low-budget action films, which in some rare occasions are still worth a look today via video.

The following three films illustrate what is great about "B" movies. "White Lightning," "Fast Walking" and "Vice Squad" each embody the quirky, charismatic, action-packed, sexy, testosterone-driven celluloid which made drive-in theaters popular.

"White Lightning" (1973) features the ultimate drive-in movie cast: Burt Reynolds, Ned Beaty, Matt Clark, Bo Hopkins, Jennifer Billingsley and Diane Ladd. Look for Ms. Ladd's daughter, Laura Dern making her screen debut as a poor-white-trash yard ape.

As the credits roll the evil sheriff of Pulaski County, Arkansas (Ned Beaty) sadistically murders an "outside hippie agitator." This is a big mistake because the victim just happens to be the younger brother of the number-one-turbocharged moonshine driver in the state, Gator McKluskey (Burt Reynolds). The feds spring Gator from the Arkansas State penitentiary in order to infiltrate the rouge Sheriff's organization and bring him down.

"White Lightning" is pure evisceral entertainment. It offers car chases, fist-fights, sexual innuendo (just what does "Shaky Pudding" mean anyway)?, machismo and brainless fun. The performances are well above average for this type of film. Several later Oscar nominees and winners populate this trashy fun.

Ned Beaty is the personification of evil. The fact that he is so low-key and subdued makes his performance all the more chilling after the murder he commits during the opening scene. To anyone who did not grow up in the 1970s, one viewing of this movie will let you know why Burt Reynolds was the highest paid star during that era. His portrayal of Gator McKluskey shows the wide range he has as an actor. Despite the comic book tone of the movie, Reynolds shows a depth of humor, sexuality, and the pain and obsession of a man whose kinfolk must be avenged in his portrayal of Gator. Gator is a macho good-old-boy who is misunderstood and grudgingly admired by the same folks who put him in jail. According to Gator, "There are only two things I'm afraid of...women and the po-lice." The truth is that it doesn't matter if the women love him and the po-lice fear him. (By the way, please do not under any circumstances rent the sequel, "Gator" it sucks. It illustrates all the characteristics of the worst of "B" movies.) I'm not going to harp on this movie anymore, either you'll rent it of you won't. I don't care 'cause I've already seen it. If you want to go to your grave without seeing this redneck gem then be my guest!

I saw "Fast Walking" on cable back in the 1980s. I watched it mainly because I had been an extradition officer during the 80's and had seen the old Montana State prison in Deer Lodge during one of my trips. I recognized the old prison shown in the opening credits, so I watched it. What a great quirky movie! James Woods plays "Fast Walking" Miniver: a corrupt prison guard who is involved in plots to both free and kill an African-American militant prisoner (Kevin Hooks). This movie has so much going for it that I have a hard time knowing where to start. Kay Lenz plays "Moke," the sexiest woman to ever traipse across a redneck's fantasy. Is she a kindred spirit of Wood's or is she playing this poor sap like everyone else? M. Emmett Walsh brings his usual excellence to this film as an over the hill cop. Kevin Hooks brings just the right touch of dignity and righteous indignation to his performance as the 1960s radical. But what really sets this movie apart; what really makes this movie worth watching is the Oscar-caliber performance of Tim McIntire as "Wasco," the pure-d evil, megalomaniac prisoner who holds all the strings of the rest of the puppet-like characters.

Tim McIntire brings a charisma to this character which is seldom seen on celluloid. His performance alone is worth the price of a rental. Wasco sees himself as God. He manipulates the other prisoners and guards with the same ease that Hitler manipulated the Germans during W.W.II. For me, the standout scene takes place in the prison chapel between Woods and McIntire, as McIntire feels out the amoral guard concerning Woods' sincerity about killing Hooks character. Woods' character has no character so McIntire cannot be sure of his loyalty. The question becomes, will "Fast-Walking" Miniver grow a conscience or not? Who can be trusted?

Trust me folks, if you want to be enthralled by the magic of a performance rent this movie. Tim McIntire's performance is incredible!

The final killer "B" is the 1983 movie "Vice Squad." This little sordid gem was produced by Frank Capra Jr. (My how his daddy would spin in his grave!) The plot of this movie concerns an L.A.P.D. detective (Gary Swanson) who tries to use a hooker with a heart of gold (Season Hubley) to catch a vicious killer-pimp named Ramrod (Wings Hauser). Why should you rent this movie? Two reasons (really one serious reason and one trivial reason). The first and main reason is to witness Hauser's "Ramrod", one of the most vile bad guys ever put on screen. I am a criminal defense lawyer and I would have big trouble defending a real person as evil as this character. In one scene "Ramrod" is approached by an elderly street woman hoping to rescue a young prostitute that he is abducting. He shoves a lighter in the old woman's face and says "I'm the Devil baby" (or words to that effect). This is one of the more tame scenes, and lesser offenses that "Ramrod" commits in this movie, but it is the sheer delight with which Hauser delivers the lines that shows just what a badass he is.

There is much more to this movie than just Hauser's performance. Season Hubley and Gary Swanson have a definite chemistry. The kink factor is also high. As a warning, there are a couple of violent scenes which are hard to watch. This warning is especially true during the scene in which "Ramrod" punishes his errant working girl "Ginger" (former MTV vee-jay Nina Blackwood). I don't have a problem with movie violence as long as it is not presented for titillation purposes. This scene comes close and I am still bothered by it even though I have seen the movie numerous times. The scene illustrates the way that those particularly low forms of life know as "Pimps" abuse and exploit lost women for their own benefit. So, if you rent this movie, and are bothered by this type of scene then fast-forward your VCR when "Ramrod" comes knocking on "Ginger's" motel room door. I don't like "spoiler" reviews of movies, but I feel that it is only fair to warn you about this scene.

The second reason I liked this movie is the fact that Gary Swanson said "Go ahead, make my day!" one year before Clint Eastwood said it in "Sudden Impact."

Well folks, I figured you needed a little light entertainment after the several serious films I have thrown at you the last few weeks. Don't worry, though. Next week I''ll be reviewing, "Shoot the Moon," Alan Parker's harrowing study of divorce. Until then, pop open a six-pack of Schlitz beer, kick back and hoop and holler with one of these Killer B's.

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