Thursday, September 30, 2010

Seven Rebel Gladiators (1965) review


Roger Browne (Marco Aulo), Jose Greci (Assuer), Alfio Caltabiano (Vadio), Harold Bradley (Tucos), Erno Crisa (Morakeb), Carlo Tamberlani (King Krontal), Arnaldo Fabrizio (Golia), Dakar (Dakar), Pietro Ceccarelli (Adenobar), Nazzareno Zamperla (Euro), Mario Novelli (Fisio), Jeff Cameron (Aspettatemi), Pietro Torrisi (Arminio), Pietro Tordi (Omar)

Directed by Michele Lupo

The Short Version: Lupo's concluding chapter in his gladiator trifecta is consumed in overt silliness of the highest order. However, the cast is in on the joke as if they were very much aware the genre was done. Possibly the lesser of the three, it's still a ton of fun and will be best enjoyed by less demanding sword and sandal fans who don't have an aversion to midget mania as that lovable Arnaldo Fabrizio gets tons of screen time.

Left to right: Pietro Ceccarelli, Roger Browne, Pietro Torrisi, Nazzareno Zamperla, Mario Novelli, Jeff Cameron and Harold Bradley

Vadio, a greedy and duplicitous Roman tribune working under king Krontal, makes a pact with the guileful Morakeb to win the hand of princess Asseur and the throne of Aristea. In exchange, Vadio will supply Morakeb with a steady supply of slaves to run an underground mechanism lorded over by the Kiva, a race of mole men. Meanwhile, Marco, a Roman centurion in charge of a frontier garrison, comes to Aristea to find out what has become of his legions war funds. He ends up arrested for treason and forced to fight to the death in the arena. Winning the respect of six other warriors, the seven men escape and launch an attack against Vadio and his plans on king Krontal's daughter and his throne.

Kaptured by the Kiva, alias the Mole Men!

Michele Lupo completes his gladiator trilogy with this riotously lively, rip roaringly goofy comedy peplum. The movie is fun from start to finish and the total antithesis of the first two chapters, both starring Roger Browne. Unfortunately, neither Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, or Gordon Mitchell return, but there's more than enough familiar faces filling out the cast. Many of these actors were mostly bit players in other sword and sandal flicks and also in the later spaghetti westerns. They get at least one film with which to shine and as brain dead as it is, it's a briskly paced actioner.

The comedy is glaringly self aware and intentionally tongue in cheek with numerous gags and near non stop fighting. One such bit has Little Goliath marking on a chalk board the number of thugs the seven gladiators take out. Occasionally creative, these fight scenes are mostly of the pratfall variety with lots of individuals getting clocked with all manner of tables, chairs and other assorted balsa wood accouterments. It's safe to assume that the acrobatic silent movie styled shenanigans of the later spaghetti westerns were inspired by the cinematic "fate" that befell the peplum epics.

The fights are, for the most part, well choreographed especially the one that introduces us to the seven of the title. Marco is pitted against six fighters in the arena. He defeats four of them and fights the last two together. Out of exhaustion, he is defeated, but the two men refuse to kill him since he showed mercy on the previous four warriors. They eventually escape the arena and plot the downfall of the scheming Vadio and his co-conspirator, Morakeb. This leads to more comical moments such as when the seven disguise themselves not once, not twice, but three times in order to get one over on the bad guys.

The first time they dress up like Middle Eastern officials bearing gifts in a ruse to kidnap princess Assuer. The second time, they manage to dress up as some of the mole men to fight their way out of the Kiva's underground lair and the third time, they disguise themselves as dancers in a last ditch effort to get rid of Vadio before he has a chance to marry King Krontal's daughter, princess Assuer and get his hands on the throne.

Erno Crisa (right) with the mole men behind him

Underneath all the silly mayhem there lies a thin layer of seriousness with the usual elements of subterfuge and deception. Caltabiano and Erno Crisa are suitably villainous and look the part especially Crisa who also seemingly plays the same bad guy in GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963) even down to bearing the same lycanthropic eyebrows. He rules an underground race of mole men called the Kiva. This allows for some stock footage from the ridiculous MOLE MEN AGAINST THE SON OF HERCULES (1961) for a couple of scenes. There's also brief stock footage from COLOSSUS OF THE ARENA (1962; you can even see Dan Vadis in one of the chariots) and a peplum I don't recognize.

Roger Browne (left) as Marco and Alfio Caltabiano (right) as Vadio

Roger Browne is excellent the third time around more or less playing another wrongfully framed Roman caught in the middle of a coup for the throne of Aristea. In the first movie, he plays a Roman legionnaire who, after tragic circumstances, joins the rebels. For the second film, he plays a Roman tribune framed for releasing hundreds of slaves working under a cruel centurion. For the third movie, Browne plays the same character from the second film, only here, he's no longer a tribune, but a centurion officer who is framed yet again.

The absolutely lovely Jose Greci

Whereas the stunning Scilla Gabel played the love interest, this time we get the hypnotic beauty of one of the genres most prolific lovelies, Jose Greci (billed as Liz Havilland). She's simply gorgeous here as she is in all her movies, but she's especially sexy in this film. We also get a look at her legs when the unsung Italian muscleman, Pietro Torrisi carries her off fighting soldiers along the way. Greci always seemed to play a princess, or a woman of royalty masquerading as a peasant girl. She's easily one of the most sensual women to ever appear in these movies.

Dakar (left) and Arnaldo Fabrizio aka Little Goliath in one of many overly silly bits

Those who abhor the inclusion of little people in peplums may want to steer clear of SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS. It's the ultimate in midget mayhem. Arnaldo Fabrizio has the time of his life in this movie. He's in nearly every major sequence either rescuing the heroes, aiding them in a battle in some amusing way, or simply being a nuisance to the bad guys. Italian horror fans will also recognize Dakar (Fulci's ZOMBIE, ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, the spaghetti western NO ROOM TO DIE) playing one of the villains ruling over the gladiators. Getting back to Pietro Torrisi, he was late arriving on the muscleman movie scene and surely would have been a headliner if the genre wasn't on its last legs by 1964. He's one of relatively few Italian born actors to appear in these movies.

Pietro Torrisi (left) had a long career as a bit player. He got to partake in a lot of the action in this film, though. Jeff Cameron (right) appeared in a lot of spaghetti westerns.

The score by Francesco De Masi is one of the best ever heard in the sword and sandal genre. The score could just as easily fit into any spaghetti western and the main theme is one of those tunes that will have you humming it after the movie is over. Masi also served up a maestro worthy soundtrack for THE REVENGE OF SPARTACUS (1964), a score that was done in a far more opulent style. Here, the music is more playfully rhythmic and matches the constant flow of action. Little Goliath even gets his own silly theme that crops up on occasion during certain comedy relief moments.

Certainly the least serious of Lupo's gladiator trilogy, SEVEN REBEL GLADIATORS is a fun flick for more tolerant peplum fans who don't mind the comedy which isn't the least bit intrusive since the whole film is built around these moments. It's serious at times, but it's blatantly obvious the actors were simply enjoying the moment knowing all too well that the fun was coming to an end for this unjustly ignored genre of Italian cinema.

This review is representative of the Eagle Pictures region 2 PAL DVD

Switchblade Sisters (1975) review


Robbie Lee (Lace), Joanne Nail (Maggie), Monica Gayle (Patch), Asher Brauner (Dominic), Chase Newhart (Crabs), Marlene Clark (Muff), Kitty Bruce (Donut), Janice Karman (Bunny), Don Stark (Hook), Don Marino (Guido), Bob Minor (Parker)

Directed by Jack Hill

The Short Version: Awesome and super sleazy girl gang exploitation picture with soap opera overtones wedged between glaring stage play tragedy theatrics. Jack Hill made many a lean, mean movie dealing with the most malevolent and unsavory characters imaginable. This is Hill's outrageous 70's redux of such juicy juvenile delinquent filth as HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS and HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL (both 1958).

The Dagger Debs are an all girl gang working with the Silver Daggers, a male gang that controls a tumultuous and rundown school expediting sex and drugs to the student body. Another gang led by the sadistic Crabs feels the Daggers are intruding on their turf and decide to go to war. Meanwhile, a tough broad named Maggie shows she's no pushover and quickly joins the Debs. With this sexy new member trouble arises between the Debs and the Daggers while the Crabs wait in the wings to strike.

If one were to compile a list of classic exploitation movies from the 1970's, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS would be on there somewhere along with several other Jack Hill pictures. A master of making movies with zero fat on them, this slimeball soap opera, ghetto girl gang gutbuster represents what made trash cinema so immersive. Despite all the violence and squalor showcased during the movies breezy 90 minutes, the narrative is Shakespearean in its depiction of these sad, sometimes irritating, yet eventually tragic characters.

Robbie Lee, who played Polly McClatchie in BIG BAD MAMA (1974)--shedding her clothes in several questionable sex scenes (she looked all of 13 years old)--looks too young to be spearheading a violent all girl gang, but she makes it work over the course of the film. For the most part, she's an annoyance as the whiny, but lovelorn Lace, who, with the help of Patch, knows she's slowly losing her man when Maggie gets initiated as a Dagger Deb member.

Lace likes to humiliate those who piss her off including her own girls, Donut being one. She makes her oink like a pig during a scene at the beginning when she wants to buy a double cheeseburger. Later in the film, Maggie picks up some of these characteristics by walking over Hook making him say he's a "big fat yellow chicken" while she holds a knife at his throat. These two become fast friends for a time before things begin to fall apart about halfway through. The script is successful in making the audience feel sympathy for some of the characters even though the bulk of them are the lowest form of barrel scum. These individuals inhabit a grossly exaggerated dystopian world where brute force and sudden death are the order of the day.

Joanne Nail is the super sexy and resourceful female fighter who shows up the Debs when they try to intimidate her in a small eatery at the beginning of the movie. Lace's boyfriend, Dominic instantly shows a good deal of interest in her from the beginning. So much so that he ultimately rapes her. What makes this scene so surprising is that Maggie resists at first, but then begins getting off on the experience. Maggie eventually takes over the Dagger Debs while Lace is in the hospital. She also changes the name of the gang to 'The Jezebels'. It's also around this time that the gang is broken up from within as treachery and deceit splits the gang apart. Everything goes to hell during the final confrontation between the Jezebel gang members when the truth comes out and Lace attempts to take back her gang.

Hill's trash epic has a little bit of everything brewing in this toxic soup. There's tough gangs, lesbian wardens, misogyny, a machine gun battle in a roller rink, black revolutionaries and a wildly over the top war in the streets with an armor plated battle car that foreshadows the post apocalyptic actioners of the early 1980's. There's also political subtext with gangs following the words of Mao Tse Tung and Crabs wears a German cross with a swastika in the center. The movie also takes a grim, yet wildly over the top view of violence in the school system and youth in general. These punks run prostitute rackets in the bathrooms and sell drugs outside in plain sight. Look for television and exploitation personality Marlene Clark as the leader of the black revolutionaries and the esteemed Bob Minor, an accomplished stunt coordinator and supporting actor from dozens of movies playing a cop.

The dialog is voraciously witty and memorable. Often the actors' delivery is hammy in the extreme. Most of them shout their lines with the utmost seriousness and proclivity. It's this supercilious societal defiance of the characters married to the guttertrash dialog that makes the whole movie a supreme slice of sleazy scintillation. It's the 'R' equivalent of all those 'Youth Gone Wild' flicks of the 50's and 60's only this one rubs your face in skanky squalor, kicks you while you're down and it's in color. Don't miss this unwholesomely fun low budget gem.

This review is representative of the Miramax DVD

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Corleone To Brooklyn (1979) review


Maurizio Merli (Lieutenant Giorgio Berni), Van Johnson (Lt. Sturges), Mario Merola (Michele Barresi), Biagio Pelligra (Salvatore Scalia), Venantino Venantini (Commissioner Danova)

Directed by Umberto Lenzi

The Short Version: Lenzi bids farewell to the poliziesco with this last crime movie, one of the best of his career, and with the genres patron policeman saint, Maurizio Merli. Trading in mindless violence for a suspenseful mood, this works greatly in Lenzi's favor. Essentially a chase movie where Merli must keep a witness alive to testify at a trial, Lenzi tones down the excessive brutality of his earlier hits. Still, fans expecting Lenzi style violence won't be disappointed; and it comes complete with a nifty, if downbeat ending. Merli plays his 'violent cop' as a by-the-book officer seeking justice through less forceful means. It's a surprisingly well made little action thriller and a high-point of the genre during its last, dying days.

Italian mobster, Michele Barresi heads for the safer climate of Brooklyn after his chief rival is gunned down in the small Sicilian town of Corleone. Commissioner Berni learns of his involvement so Barresi takes out a contract on the only two people alive who can put him away. One is Barresi's hired assassin and the other is his girlfriend. Unable to save the girl, Berni manages to arrest the assassin, Salvatore Scalia. The plan is to get Scalia from Palermo to New York to testify against Barresi in court. But the mafia has no intentions of allowing either Berni, or Scalia, to make it to New York alive.

Umberto Lenzi take his bow in the Italo crime genre directing his last violent, yet surprisingly subtle entry before moving on to literal greener pastures with gory jungle adventures and bloody horror movies that would, sadly, become the staples of his long career. Lenzi is/was seemingly in love with New York City. So many of his movies have scenes shot there and this time, a good portion of this Italian made potboiler is set on the streets of Manhattan and Times Square. This adds a great deal to the exploitation appeal of the picture; and with Lenzi's name attached, it's an instant sale.

You might think that with this being the outspoken directors last cinematic hurrah of gunblazing cop thrillers, that it's a wildly violent actioner; well, you would be wrong. Surprisingly taut and suspenseful, Lenzi dispenses with nasty scenes of shock value opting instead for a tight little chase movie that ends on a somber note surmising far more trouble ahead for our determined Lt. Berni. Possibly Lenzi's most polished crime picture, it resembles an American style action film with its 'point A to point B' approach and myriad number of set pieces. Also, the film jumping back and forth from Italy to America adds a bigger scope to the proceedings.

As with his other cop films from this time, Merli plays Berni much differently when compared with his earlier, interchangeable incarnations of Leonardo Tanzi, Commissioner Betti and one or two other similar 'killer cop' roles. Berni plays things by the book as opposed to letting his fists do the talking. That's not to say Berni isn't a man of action, just not the short-tempered, ball busting, bitch-slapping hero of past films. By this point in his career, Merli was trying new approaches to these cop roles he had become famously associated with. There had been comedic touches (FEARLESS FUZZ), a new look without his fabled mustache (HIGHWAY RACER) and even a more serious, dramatic portrayal (THE REBEL) among others.

The uneasy alliance between Berni and Scalia as they attempt to get to New York alive is a fun script idea attributed to Lenzi's original story. Biagio Pelligra played many small roles as crooks in these movies, so it's refreshing to see him graduate to a co-starring role alongside Merli in a more complex role. Mario Merola (see below) was good at playing rotund mafiosos although he's less mysterious here than he was in HUNTED CITY, another Merli vehicle from 1979. 

Franco Micalizzi's score also deserves mentioning as it lends an immeasurable amount of weight to this movie.

On his impressive resume, Lenzi has worked with the likes of John Huston, Henry Fonda, Henry Silva, George Peppard and Jack Palance to name a handful of great actors that have appeared in his movies. His films with Maurizio Merli were distinguished by his lead stars charisma and verisimilitude. Often brutally violent, the crime films were some of the directors best work. Lenzi excelled in crime, adventure and war pictures. With the ambitious FROM CORLEONE TO BROOKLYN, Lenzi said 'arrivederci' to the Italian crime genre, and went out with an exciting, oftentimes tense, and occasionally despondent and gloomy bang.

Cult Film Faves Not On DVD: The Soul of Nigger Charley (1973) review


Fred Williamson (Nigger Charley), D'Urville Martin (Toby), Denise Nicholas (Elena), Pedro Armendariz Jr. (Sandoval), Kevin Hagen (Colonel Blanchard), Kirk Calloway (Marcellus), George Allen (Ode), Bob Minor (Fred)

Directed by Larry G. Spangler

The Short Version: An even bigger sequel to the controversial Fred Williamson western. The 'R' rating allows for bloodier shootouts, but this sequel is less offensive with the slant towards racial bigotry downplayed in favor of a more sprawling storyline. Williamson plays Nigger Charley as larger than life here, but does introduce pathos towards the end.

***NOTE: Brighter images taken from the movie trailer***

Charley and Toby happen upon a town massacre by the cruel Colonel Blanchard, a Southern madman attempting to jump start a reformation of the Confederacy. Charley amasses a small army of freed slaves living in a small village with Quakers in a bid to stop Blanchard from obtaining $100,000 in gold from a train to be split with his partner, General Marcus Hook. Charley plans to get to the train first to use the gold to buy back the slaves from Hook, but the General has no intentions of bartering with Nigger Charley.

Spangler took over the directing reigns for this more ambitious sequel in addition to encoring on scriptwriting and producing duties. The film is slightly less offensive than the previous one, but definitely more violent as provided by the 'R' rating. The sequel is also a far more cohesive affair at 110 minutes in length. The makers have essentially doubled the number of characters in this movie that has a noticeably bigger budget. The stunts are more prominent and the sets more expansive. No doubt Paramount was more generous with the funds considering the success of the first movie. The bigger scope allows for an increased sense of adventure than before.

Another aspect of this film that becomes strikingly apparent is that it veers more towards a traditional western than one of the blaxploitation variety. The soundtrack this time is more of a mainstream score, but fluctuates from time to time with a cue bearing those funky 70's beats. The character of Charley is glorified as something of a larger than life hero reinforcing the comic book nature of the Nigger Charley persona. Clearly Williamson is having a ball playing this near invincible protagonist who makes a mockery of the bad guys and acts as a magnetic sex object to any woman in his vicinity.

The villains aren't quite as comic book as before, nor are they particularly as fiersome. Colonel Blanchard is first seen as this vicious force to be reckoned with, but by the 30 minute mark he's cunningly outsmarted by Nigger Charley and continues to be ten steps behind the bulk of the film. But once the mission to free the slaves from General Hook's fortress is implemented, the film takes a somber turn akin to the violent opening massacre.

Williamson furthers the Nigger Charley character in this sequel elevating him to a much higher stature, but was far more natural the first time around. It's always a pleasure to see D'Urville Martin, a very good actor, by the way. Here, he encores as Toby, Charley's wise ass partner and friend. Pedro Armendariz Jr. probably puts in the best performance as Sandoval, the Mexican gunman who aids Charley in taking down Blanchard and the mysterious General Hook, whom we hear a lot about, but never really get to see.

The finale is well done even if Charley's band and the Mexican banditos run roughshod all over Hook and his army with little in the way of opposition. The theme used here is a rousing spaghetti cue that carries 'El Grande Battaglia' off in style. That doesn't stop the picture from ending on a sad note, though. The only major flaw is that you never seen General Hook save for a brief, but obscured glimpse of him during an ambush. He's not billed in the credits, either.

This big and loud western strives to work outside the blaxploitation parameters and is successful much of the time. The film is still hurt from weak villains (a nasty albino character is dispatched early on), but is a better constructed production from the previous picture. Blaxploitation fans may be indifferent towards it since it doesn't necessarily follow the guidelines popularly associated with the genre, but it's noteworthy for its scope and well done action scenes.

The DVD-R can be bought here at TRASH PALACE
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