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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brute Corps (1972) review


Paul Carr (Ross), Joseph Kaufmann (Kevin), Jennifer Billingsley (Terry), Alex Rocco (Wicks), Michael Pataki (MacFarlane), Felton Perry (Hill), Charles Macaulay (The Colonel), Roy Jenson (Quinn), Parker West (Ballard)

Directed by Jerry Jameson

The Short Version: This rare 70s exploitation item is an occasionally interesting, if disappointing concoction of various elements that fail to gel into a cohesive whole amidst some good cinematography and a strangely out of place soundtrack. There's an astonishing flirtation with opposing views of those for and against the Vietnam War, but this gets dumped once the LAST HOUSE style humiliation takes over before that, too, is abandoned for a 'hunting humans' storyline peppered with moments straight out of a western movie. Only die hard 70s completists need sign up for the BRUTE CORPS. All others will likely go awol.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

A draft dodger and an amorous hippie are terrorized by Burckhardt's Bastards, a group of mercenaries camped near the US-Mexican border awaiting orders for their next mission in Central America. The girl is gang raped and the man is hunted down by the mercs. One of the group is sympathetic and aids the two outsiders in an attempt to escape a cruel death at the hands of the psychotic military specialists.

There's potential for a grim and grand good time here, but director Jameson frequently fumbles the ball keeping the proceedings from scoring an exploitation worthy trash touchdown in this recently uncovered obscurity. Still, the script does manage some striking social commentary and a few good scenes that make the film worth at least one viewing. While there's more or less zero plot, the storyline derives elements from STRAW DOGS (1971), LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) and any number of American or Italian made westerns. Probably the most satisfying portion of the film is its flirtation with America's involvement in Vietnam. Unlike other movies, these moments don't really condemn the war, but present a point of view from both the soldiers perspective and that of the "Make Love, Not War" counterculture.

The Vietnam allegory is blatant, but never heavy handed. In fact, this angle could have done with some more exploration. One of the most successful moments in the film is when the demented Wicks has a conversation with Kevin, the passive wanderer who escaped the draft. One side is turned off by death and the other is turned on by it. These fleeting minutes are among the best in the film and they add a lot of tension to this sequence where the mercenaries playfully, yet calculatingly let their true intentions be known regarding the sexually liberated woman. Not long after there's also a My Lai reference which ends the then current events subtext giving way to a lot of running around, some gun-play and an attempt to get the intimidated Mexican villagers to stand up against the militaristic oppressors.

The movie starts off on a wonderful, ghoulishly humorous note wherein Burckhardt's (Inglorious?) Bastards run afoul of a group of bikers prior to taking advantage of the citizens of a small Mexican border town. The opening is possibly the best portion of the film and if only the remainder was able to maintain that level of jovial insanity, this would likely be an uncovered jewel among exploitation enthusiasts. We then meet the two protagonists. One is a draft dodger and the other is a free spirited female who loves to "ball" and gets more than she bargained for later in the film. By the time the two wanderers are lured into the mercs camp, the notion that these men are far more sadistic than initially perceived creeps in.

Unfortunately, the movie stumbles about halfway through. It's not a total loss, it just fails to capitalize on several opportunities to expand on its brutal concept. Instead of embracing the savagery of LAST HOUSE, it instead segues into conventional western conventions culminating in a typical tumbleweed showdown. The films score is woefully out of place with not a single cue feeling like it belongs. The music is all upbeat and a detriment to the action onscreen. Instead of heightening what should be a perilous situation, the music perpetuates a less than suspenseful atmosphere. Nevertheless, there are a couple of shock surprises towards the end and the cast ultimately provides more consistent curiosity value than the film itself.

This type of offensiveness couldn't be done today, but if BRUTE CORPS had more of it, it would be a more satisfying piece of sleazy 70s cinema.

Alex Rocco (BONNIE'S KIDS) steals the show here as the deranged Wicks. When his character is disposed of, the film loses nearly all of its momentum. You could say that Wicks is the 'Krug' of the film although it's a shame he's snuffed out first. One gets the impression he will take over the unit, but when the Colonel (played by BLACULA's Charles Maucalay) allows the men to fight it out to see who gets first turn with the girl, it's surmised that all of the men are unhinged, just not as wacko as Wicks.

Prior to WALKING TALL (1973) alongside Joe Don Baker, Felton Perry played one of the demented mercenaries in BRUTE CORPS. His role as Hill is virtually interchangeable with the others, but all the performances are fine for the material. Genre stalwart Michael Pataki (ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA) also plays one of the sadists and partakes in a friendly Judo display with Perry's character.

The director of THE BAT PEOPLE (1974) and AIRPORT '77 (1977) fails to make his ingredients cook in this exploitation pie. The dichotomy between those who fought in the war and those who ran away from it makes for a startlingly feasible addition to a production that fails to take full advantage of its glaringly vicious subject matter. THE BRUTE CORPS (1972) has a great title and concept, only it could have been so much more than an average time-waster with barely enough brutality and lude behavior to satisfy the very crowd this type of picture catered to back in the day.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD

Brute Corps DVD link


Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Is it about time I started adding Code Red titles to my film library? As a distributor, are they worth investing in Brian?

venoms5 said...

If you're a fan of 70s exploitation films good and bad, I'd say yes. Code Red is uncovering a lot of "crap" but a lot of good "crap" that many have only ever seen on VHS tape or late at night on TV. I watched another really rare movie they put out with Joan Hackett and Robert Klein called RIVALS (1972). Bizarre barely describes that one. I collect their releases because I have a fondness for these movies whether out of nostalgia, or curiosity. I've seldom been totally disappointed with one of their movies that I hadn't already seen in one form or another. They've just released NIGHTMARE, a video nasty that went by the title of NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN down by your way, I think.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

The title I was most curious about was THE VISITOR, which I remember seeing many years ago. It left an indelible impression (whether the film is good or bad I don't recall) and I wouldn't mind revisiting (pardon the pun) that one.

Yes Scavolini's NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN was one of the more notorious video nasties. Probably due in no small part to the title it went under in the UK. A better example of bad title ideas was the tame grindhouse flick LISA LISA re-titled on its UK video release to AXE. I think it would have vanished without trace under its original name. NIGHTMARE is a seedy and tacky little film, but seeing it in a decent print would be rare for me.

When I've finally got around to filling in the gaps in my Blue Underground collection, I'll give Code Red a go.

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