Friday, April 29, 2016

Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw (1976) review


Marjoe Gortner (Lyle Wheeler), Lynda Carter (Bobbie Jo), Belinda Balaski (Essie), Jesse Vint (Slick Callahan), Merrie Lynn Ross (Pearl Baker), Gerrit Graham (Magic Ray), Gene Drew (Sheriff Hicks), Virgil Frye (Joe Grant)

Directed by Mark L. Lester

The Short Version: A modern day exploitation western whose major claim to fame is the nude scenes of one of the most beautiful women in the world, a literal Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter. Director Lester imbues his movie with a striking amount of thematic relevance visualizing society's obsession with criminality; and the toxic allure of those who wish to attain some level of fame at any cost. A low budget, free-wheelin' version of BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), Bobbie Jo and her outlaw trudge along--like any other young, rambunctious couple in love--backed by a country soundtrack (a repetitive, croonin' tune by Bobby Bare) and enhanced by those signature, thunderously bombastic gunfire sound effects of the 1970s.

Bobbie Jo works at a burger joint and dreams of becoming a country singer till she meets Lyle--an all-smiles, curly-haired, young rebel drivin' a fast (and stolen) car. Hittin' the road with Lyle and her friend Essie, Bobbie Jo's stripper sister and her unhinged lover tag along for the ride. It isn't long before their free-wheelin' good time turns into a crime spree of robbery and murder that ends in tragedy and bloody shootouts. 

Most Drive-in movies barely had enough resources to get by, requiring many filmmakers to not only cut corners, but up the ante on sensationalism to keep audiences distracted from lapses in things like continuity, logic, and budget. Prior to his cult crime-road movie, Mark L. Lester had some experience in this area with independent efforts like STEEL ARENA (1973) and TRUCK STOP WOMEN (1974).

An AIP pickup, BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW efficiently mimics the greatest escapist trash produced by AIP or Roger Corman during the wild and woolly 1970s; only it's not as consistently slick, and suffers from sloppy editing.

There's nothing sloppy about the film's sensationalist qualities, though! There's plentiful action, funny lines, beautiful women, bloody shootouts, ample nudity and subtextual content for a film whose narrative didn't require any. The exploitational prospects aside, it's the underlying themes that elevate Lester's movie above others in this genre in spite of its budgetary and technical deficiencies.

One of the most fascinating things about BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW is how it presents some of its characters as if they're living in the Wild West but with all the modern accouterments of 1976. It's obvious the filmmakers are channeling BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), but have opted for a cowboy context to insert them. The film could easily be a western with its youthful, delusional band of hooligans going from one robbery to the next while the sheriff, his posse, and karma breathes down their necks.

Punctuated with moments of violence, BOBBIE JO is mostly light in tone till the last 20 minutes or so. Prior to its downbeat finale, these earlier instances of seriousness are laced with black humor. One such sequence finds our buffoonish sheriff Hicks (shades of Sheriff Justice in the following years SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT [1977]) thinking he's got Lyle and crew cornered at a sleazy motel. Unfortunately, he and his boys in blue unleash lead on the wrong room--putting to rest the participants in a menage a trois. When he's not the butt of jokes, Sheriff Hicks has his own running gag--repeatedly asking for "Ya'll to give yourselves up nice and peaceful like", only to open fire every time. One of the deputies is future director, Chuck Russell (1988s THE BLOB; see insert).

Vernon Zimmerman, the man who wrote and directed UNHOLY ROLLERS (1972) and FADE TO BLACK (1980), has written a fascinating script that's rendered frustrating--and even a little cartoonish--by plot holes (where did they get the bus and machine guns?) and peculiar editing choices. Where it shines is in how it depicts society's infatuation with villainy and mass murderers. Instead of turning Lyle Wheeler into a Mansonesque killer he's a caricature of Old West outlaws. Lyle is the perennial bad boy and innocent Bobbie Jo is attracted to his smooth-talkin' ways that win her over, despite lying to her more than once.

Arguably the best sequence in the entire movie is the gun duel between Lyle and a gas station attendant played by Virgil Frye (REVENGE OF THE NINJA). Ever since the opening Wild West show duel, Lyle's trigger finger has been itchin' to do it for real. With the law catchin' up to'em, Lyle has made the full transformation into the outlaw he admires. This next-to-the-last-stand is indicative of Lyle's complexity while shining a light on just how crazy, how totally out of touch segments of society had/has become. For the purposes of the cinematic world, this gun duel is extremely well shot and edited.

Lyle's extreme reverence for Billy the Kid and others like The Dalton Gang contains honorable qualities not present in the gunmen he idolizes. He's not the sort to shoot a man in the back. On the other hand, Slick Callahan, the man who is partially responsible for Lyle committing his first murder, is closer to Billy's personality than Lyle is--although the gunfighting skills are clearly in Lyle's favor. Both men complement each others twisted mindset. Lyle is the brains of the operation and Slick is the muscle.

Another impressive, symbolic moment is a single shot of Bobbie Jo staring at a guitar hanging in a music store window. The only thing between her and the guitar are the bars on the outside. She grips the bars tightly as her eyes adore the instrument--ardently determined to one day be on a stage playing to an audience. Unfortunately, that day will never come. The image of the bars foreshadows both her future and an unfulfilled dream just out of reach--separating her from the guitar--the object of her desire before Lyle enters her life.

A good chunk of the film's success can be attributed to its great cast; a highlight of this rough-hewn, yet highly entertaining example of Hixploitation heaven.

Marjoe Gortner is as energetic as always, playing 'the outlaw' with a peculiar blend of principled psychopathy. Obsessed with the Wild West and its plethora of gunfighters, he sees himself as Billy the Kid cuz "he didn't take no shit from nobody". Marjoe's Lyle Wheeler could've been written as a duplicitous character, preying on the weaknesses of those who follow him; but instead, there's a likability to him--maybe even a bit of victim of circumstance. His thievin' ways soon escalate into robbery and murder with the assist of Slick (Jesse Vint stealing some scenes of his own), Lyle's unstable partner in crime. Unlike Slick, Wheeler is a multi-faceted character whom the filmmakers never allow us to hate. Gortner, a former evangelist, basically played the same character, but with an increased dosage of turpitude, in WHEN YOU COMIN' BACK, RED RYDER? (1979).

BOBBIE JO has a bit of a reputation in the annals of Drive-in cinema. Most of the notoriety surrounds its lead actress--for being the only time you'll see Lynda Carter naked from the waist up. Playing Bobbie Jo Baker, the naivety of the character suits Carter's then inexperience as an actor. Bobbie Jo is innocence personified, but there's a level of impurity aching to bust out. With dreams to be a country and western singer, Bobbie Jo ends up tradin' in her guitar for an M-16 when she meets wild card Lyle Wheeler. By the end of the movie, the only singin' she'll be doin' is behind bars. She does fine till her cringeworthy line reading in the final scene which may have been the inspiration for Lynda Day George's memorable utterance of "BASTARD!" in J.P. Simon's PIECES (1982).

Lynda Carter had already starred in her WONDER WOMAN pilot for CBS just prior to making BOBBIE JO in late 1975. There was no assurance the series would get picked up so she did this movie in the interim in case a TV career didn't pan out. Not long after, Ms. Carter disowned the film, presumably embarrassed or regretful of having done the nudity and appearing in an overly violent movie.

Unlike Bobbie Jo, Carter did become an accomplished singer and dancer with numerous TV Variety Specials and Vegas shows. One of the most stunningly gorgeous women to ever grace this great Earth, her participation in this movie is one of its saving graces. Carter's nude scenes are minor in comparison to her natural grace and hypnotic beauty.

Elsewhere, Belinda Balaski's bespectacled Essie makes a memorable third-wheel (and later, after Pearl and Slick join, fifth-wheel) tag-along who is the one true innocent among the band; co-producer Merrie Lynn Ross is, like Carter, gorgeous to look at as Bobbie Jo's stripper sister; Jesse Vint gives Gortner a run for his money as the wild card Slick Callahan; and Gerrit Graham is the leader of some sort of makeshift communal hamlet.

Compared with other, similar Drive-in style car chasin', shoot'em ups, BOBBIE JO AND THE OUTLAW (1976) lacks finesse but makes up for it in other areas. Performances are mostly strong and everything you expect from an exploitation movie is here; including such bonuses as analogous social mores and the breathtaking beauty of Lynda Carter that could turn grit into gold. With a suitable road movie score by Barry De Vorzon (DILLINGER [1973], ROLLING THUNDER [1977], THE WARRIORS [1979]), some laugh-out-loud comedic moments, you can't help but go along for the rough and tumble ride with this outlaw band.

This review is representative of the Kino Lorber Bluray. Specs and Extras: 1080p HD widescreen 1.85:1; Audio commentary with director Mark L. Lester; interviews with Belinda Balaski, Merrie Lynn Ross and director Mark L. Lester; original trailer; running time: 1:27:49. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Texas Detour (1978) review


Patrick Wayne (Clay McCarthy), Mitch Vogel (Dale McCarthy), Lindsay Bloom (Sugar McCarthy), R.G. Armstrong (Sheriff Burt), Priscilla Barnes (Claudia Hunter), Anthony James (Beauregard Hunter), Michael Mullins (Billy), Cameron Mitchell (John Hunter)

Directed by Hikmet Avedis

***WARNING! This review contains one image of nudity***

The Short Version: Come ride with the Duke's son for a rockin' and redneckin' good time in a film that could've been another MACON COUNTY LINE (1974), but never quite crosses into the territory. The bits of sleaze scattered about hint at a bumper crop of Hixploitation gold, but fans will have to settle for a few ounces instead. Still, Avedis's movie is recommended by default for its kick-ass cast and an enormously catchy soundtrack by Flo & Eddie that plays near constantly like somebody just put a ten spot into a jukebox. This TEXAS DETOUR is a safe bet, just know there's gonna be some bumps in the road when reaching your destination.

Stuntman Clay McCarthy and his brother and sister are traveling from California to start work on a new movie in Nashville. Passing through Texas, they are run off the road by some cretins who take their wallets and steal their van. As they get to steppin' in the hopes of finding some help they encounter a man named Beauregard Hunter broke down on the road. Clay gets his car going again and Beau offers them a place to stay at his dad's country mansion till their van turns up. Once they get there, Beau's sister Claudia takes one look at Clay and it's love at first sight. Meantime, Beau doesn't have as much luck with Clay's equally attractive sister, Sugar, and violence ensues.

An incredibly fun little picture despite failing to fully embrace its potential, TEXAS DETOUR runs into some pothole sized logic lapses (What happened to the three prison escapees? Why does the Billy Forest character disappear midway through? What happened to the pool player who kills a major character near the end?) over the course of its 92 minute sojourn. Director Avedis's script has all the parts for a souped up Hixploitation classic, yet the motor sputters when it should be revving the hell out the engine. Nonetheless, fans of Southern Fried Cinema will want to dig in even if it's not as greasy as it should be.

For much of its running time, TEXAS DETOUR feels like it could coast on a PG rating. Occasionally hinting at its MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) lineage, the tone changes, albeit intermittently, as if to appease the restless natives in the audience expecting something more visceral. These erratic changes in tone become frustrating when the familiar genre tropes aren't allowed to remain wholly serious; or when the film transforms into something resembling a teen sex comedy. Even so, Avedis and company know what type of movie they're making. There's a reference to New World's MACON COUNTY clone JACKSON COUNTY JAIL (1976); and occasionally the flick feels like a failed pilot for a Hal Needham television series.

Viewed within the parameters in which the genre excels, TEXAS DETOUR fails dramatically in a few key areas..... areas which could've made for a much meaner movie....

We keep hearing how John Hunter has the whole town in his pocket, hinting that the sheriff is going to be the perennial crooked lawman--a staple of this genre. Shockingly, it never happens. Instead, R.G. Armstrong's sheriff is dangerous by just how gullible he is. 

Nor is Cameron Mitchell's wealthy John Hunter--a literal hunter--given a suitably despicable character to work with. When the crooked sheriff angle failed to pan out, I expected the film to take another detour into THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME territory since we hear multiple times about his hunting trips; but again, this never surfaces, either. Instead he's only slightly less bufoonish than the sheriff is.

A love scene (the first of two) between Patrick Wayne and Priscilla Barnes on some off-road locale with conveniently placed bails of hay lying around is another big tease (and backed by a rock tune, 'Rollin' In the Hay'); although you do get a rather lengthy sequence of Ms. Barnes alone in her room wearing nothing but her underwear towards the end.

The film finally greases its gears during the last ten minutes, but by then, it's too damn late. There's a last-minute DUKES OF HAZZARD style car chase and smash-up culminating in vehicles blowing up for no apparent reason. Had there been more of this throughout we'd be talking about a mini-classic as opposed to an efficiently entertaining footnote.

Now this is how I'd of preferred to see TEXAS DETOUR play out: 

Clay and his siblings are robbed by escaped convicts and seek help from the sheriff who seems more than a little disinterested and maybe a little deranged. They end up staying with the creepy Beauregard Hunter, his hot sister Claudia, and John, his dad, after Beau gives them a lift. The eccentric John Hunter has a vast number of animal trophies about his house and hints he'd like to hunt something other than a traditional four-legged critter. 

Clay's sister fears Beau, who persists with his advances, but her brothers tell her it's nothing and not to make trouble till they can find their van and get back on the road to Nashville. Clay is in town one day and finds the sheriff with three dead men that turn out to be the three convicts who stole his van. The Sheriff seems pleased with himself for gunning down the three criminals, yet still no van. 

Meanwhile Beau follows Clay's sister while she's out riding. He rapes her and leaves her there. Clay finds out and seeks out Beau and beats the hell out of him. The Sheriff shows up and arrests Clay. His brother and sister speak out and they too are thrown in jail. Learning John Hunter owns the town, they also discover the sheriff has had their van for some time. Clay and company figure they won't get out alive. 

After Claudia helps them escape, the Sheriff informs John, who now figures he has a chance to hunt something new; John, his son and the Sheriff begin tracking them. Clay uses his skills as a stuntman to fight back, managing to kill Beau, but Claudia is accidentally killed by their father. Clay's brother and sister are injured in all the ruckus, leading to a car chase with John and the Sheriff giving pursuit ending with a crash and burn finish.

Derivative? Yes. A possibly more satisfying exploitation experience? You betcha.

Cognizant of this genre's strengths, the filmmakers do tease us with modest touches of sleaze even if these never jump-start things into darker territory expected of its R rating. At the center of this is Anthony James, the ever-reliable celluloid scumbag of dozens of films. He gets a rare lead villain role as Beauregard ("Whatever Beau wants, Beau gets") Hunter. His degeneracy is at least potent enough to rile the audience to maintain interest; only we're denied a satisfactory payoff when the script does a detour of its own instead of taking the safer, more familiarly cliched route in regards to his character's comeuppance. 

Beau's sweet tooth for Sugar leads to a rape scene that should be the catalyst for revenge; instead it's more or less casually brushed aside afterward. The character Sugar spurns Beau for, Billy Forest, inexplicably vanishes halfway through and is never mentioned again. Billy embarrasses Beau in front of Sugar after laying him out, only the expected retaliation never materializes--another loose end left to dangle. A scene of Beau lustily staring at his sister (played by the luscious Priscilla Barnes) while she struts around her room half-naked at least adds a shade more repugnance to his character.

Aside from being mesmerized by the gorgeous body of Priscilla Barnes, what fuels TEXAS DETOUR is an amazing soundtrack by The Turtle's founders Flo & Eddie (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan). Apparently whipping up this score in two weeks, the former Frank Zappa/Mother of Invention singers managed some hard thumpin' tunes like the main theme rocker 'Get Away (Back to L.A.)' and others like 'The Big Showdown'.

Patrick Wayne baked himself a nice little Drive-in movie pie during the tail-end of the 1970s with SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER (1977), THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and TEXAS DETOUR (1978). The Duke's son is about as out of place here playing a fist-fightin' stuntman as he was essaying Sinbad the Sailor; yet it's nice to see John Wayne's second son headlining a film that isn't starring his iconic father. His starring role in 1973s BEYOND ATLANTIS was reportedly only secured under the provision that the film be PG; so there may have been some finagling with TEXAS DETOUR's content due to Wayne's participation.

Getting off to a good start, Hikmet Avedis's backroad barn-burner runs out of gas kinda fast but manages to stay in the game due in no small part to the hummable, exceedingly catchy rock and country soundtrack. TEXAS DETOUR isn't a great scenic route, but you'll see some nice sights and have a good time getting to where you're going.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD. Specs and Extras: Anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. Extras: Code Red Trailers; running time: 1:32: 08.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spasms (1983) review


Peter Fonda (Dr. Thomas Brasilian), Oliver Reed (Jason Kincaid), Kerrie Keane (Suzanne Kincaid), Al Waxman (Crowley), Miguel Fernandes (Mendez), George Bloomfield (Reverend Thanner)

Directed by William Fruet

"It comes from an island in Micronesia called Niraka Pintu. In the native tongue it means... Gates of Hell.... The natives believe that the island is full of the dead... of lost souls on their way to Hell. You see, it's a kind of purgatory. They say that every seven years the island is visited by a great serpent... a serpent that rises from Hell... to claim the souls and take them back".

The Short Version: It's Oliver Reed vs. a telepathic, Satanic serpent in William Fruet's oft-maligned tale of quasi-supernatural Ophidian terror. Peter Fonda is basically playing himself and Kerrie Keane just stares wide-eyed throughout. The real star is Ray Mendez's mechanical snake and the few memorable sequences we get to see of its venom-dripping fangs sinking into unlucky humans. Dick Smith delivers a nasty highlight of bodily destruction in Al Waxman's literal flesh-shredding meltdown. Much better than its reputation suggests, although the picture on the whole is gimp-legged like Reed's character from numerous production problems. It could of used some more SPASMS, but as is, this minor footnote in rampagin' reptile cinema sheds its skin over the course of 95 minutes, coming out with more things to recommend than to condemn.

Doctor Brasilian, a psychiatrist doing studies in ESP, is summoned by wealthy hunter Jason Kincaid to help him both import and study a deadly, enormous snake captured on a Pacific Island. His brother killed by the giant snake on a previous expedition, Kincaid was bitten but did not die, retaining a telepathic connection with the demonic viper. He sees what the snake sees. When it kills, he sees it kill. Bringing the reptile from Micronesia to Canada, Kincaid hopes to learn the nature of his hellish link with the beast; although he isn't alone in his obsession with the creature--a Satanic church hires a seedy man to steal the serpent, but it escapes and kills several people before it comes face to fang with Kincaid.

The giant killer snake sub-genre is thick with entries but thin on memorable ones. SPASMS, for all its faults, is quite good; especially when the snake is onscreen. The filmmakers manage to scrounge some nifty jump scares out of their premise, but by the end, you're left wishing there had been more to it. Most of William Fruet's movies, as entertaining as they are, always seem to be missing something--and there are a few places where things are lacking in his giant snake flick.

Movies with serpentine antagonists didn't find much of an audience till 1996s ANACONDA. Its popularity ensured more Ophidian terror would slither its way across movie screens, only those screens were predominantly of the kind residing in virtually every home in America. Prior to that, there were a great many movies featuring snakes of all shapes and sizes yet none of them left a mark like WILLARD (1971) or even Spielberg's 1975 monster blockbuster did.

Compared with other killer snake movies of the time period, SPASMS had the benefit of some talented people working on it both in front of and behind the camera. You had Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed; and Oscar winning makeup FX king Dick Smith to name three. Based on a fast-paced novel by two ambitious writers inspired by the success of JAWS (1975), and armed with a fairly healthy budget of approximately 3 million dollars, the cards were in favor of this horror movie being a success. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

The sort of production problems suffered on this Canadian financed horror movie weren't unlike those encumbering other motion pictures; just that a lot of the obstacles could have been avoided altogether. Unruly film stars and ill-advised producers don't always defy the odds, equating to a successful end-product. For starters, not long after filming began, one of the production company's, Filmpro Limited, went out of business leaving banking firm, Cinequity, to go it alone. Apparently feeling lucky, the company spent 5 million on SPASMS and two other failed projects--one of which was a film version of David Hemmings' Magic Show that never got off the ground. The 3 million spent on SPASMS ended up being wasted in other ways. Random people hired off the street turned out to be drug dealers and other unsavory types. When William Fruet was brought on to replace a previous director, he had difficulties keeping Oliver Reed in check. The combative actor was apparently fond of farting incessantly on set.

Further calamity came off the set when both Reed and Fonda would hit the bars. Anyone familiar with Oliver Reed knows that he and alcohol are as dangerous a combination as gas to a flame. Reed had reportedly brought along a British bodyguard with him, nicknamed 'The Major'. After several drinks and picking a fight, if Reed was getting trounced 'The Major' would step in and finish the scuffle. Not to be showed up, Peter Fonda, on another occasion, got drunk and threatened a patron with a broken Bourbon glass; only to slip and fall onto the glass shards cutting his forehead so severely he required plastic surgery and a flesh-colored band-aid to finish the movie.

The slithery villain had its own share of problems behind the scenes. Going from live snakes, to hand puppets, then finally, mechanical ones, the hydraulically controlled critter devised by Ray Mendez and his crew wasn't ready for its closeup till the final week of shooting.

For a more expansive article on the making of the movie with behind the scenes pics read the Celluloid Trails article HERE.

The script from Don Enright and William Fruet is somewhat faithful to the novel in places, but deviates greatly in others. Instead of a straightforward killer animal movie, they inserted a supernatural angle, emphasizing a demonic attribute to the monster that's only used as native superstition in the book. One of these script revisions is an area that seriously hurts the picture. Involving a satanic cult whose head reverend desires the devilish serpent, the opportunity to have the snake (N'Gana Simbu in the book) instill a bit of divine intervention at the church never happens. The snake worshipers are abandoned immediately after the creature escapes during a bungled (and blood spattered) attempt to steal it. Not only is an integral plot point left to die, but a fantastic opportunity for an attack sequence is wasted.

The snake attacks themselves are very well done and exceptionally edited. The snake sound effects and the music (by Tangerine Dream) make these sequences even more intense. The highlight of the movie is an attack on a house full of female roommates. The giant scaly monster enters the home and chases two of the women around while a third is upstairs in a shower. One woman runs up the steps as the monster pursues her from the POV of the camera. Ferociously biting her over and over, slinging her from one side of the hallway to the other, she is then violently thrown through the air with such force, she crashes through the bathroom door; followed by the angry Ophidian who, like a fanged-toothed Norman Bates, breaks through the shower stall to get at the naked flesh inside.

This attack sequence had a bit of subtext added to it as well. If you pay close attention, you'll notice a poster of the original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) adorning the wall in the hallway as the snake viciously bites a victim. A portion of the tagline is in view, "Who will survive and what will be left of them?"; and what an apt description of this tensely memorable moment in the picture.

If you're wondering where the title originates, it's to do with the effects of the snake's venom. When it bites you, wherever that might be, those areas begin swelling--followed by bubbling; the skin opens up, leaving a nasty wound with the flesh literally falling off the body. There are a couple scenes where we see this happen--the first being aboard a ship near the beginning. The major set piece is the scene near the end when Al Waxman is repeatedly bitten after the massive snake comes through the back of his van. Courtesy of Dick Smith, we see Waxman (his head, anyways) reduced to an unidentifiable, pulpy mass of flesh and eyeballs. Even though Smith wasn't satisfied with the effect due to lack of time, it looks great to this reviewers eyes.

If there had been more scenes like this, SPASMS could have been a minor classic.

Elsewhere the film has some additional moments of crudity. One victim, a groundskeeper, is bitten but never suffers the same bodily destruction of the snake's other casualties; instead he looks like a slasher victim with little more than a big gash on his head. During this same sequence, Reed--who has a telepathic link to the Satanic snake--takes forever walking through his darkened house while the snake taunts him with images of his past victims. This "stalking" scene goes on way too long; and the man-vs-snake battle that follows it is good, but has been cut down from what was originally shot, leaving a somewhat abrupt finish.

Some might say Oliver Reed is overacting, but he plays the tortured hunter very well. Adding the limp to his character, you get a sense of both torment and obsession from his performance. He has a few outbursts but they're warranted under the circumstances. 

He fares much better than Peter Fonda who is basically playing himself. He doesn't do much except utter the required hero dialog these roles demand; and what he's given to say isn't all that good, anyways.

Kerrie Keane (of 1982s INCUBUS) is pretty to look at, but she, too, doesn't do much except going so overboard with the wide-eyed staring, you feel like her eyeballs will fall out of her head at any moment.

Published in 1979, the 'Death Bite' novel (the title was christened by co-author Maryk's eight year old child), like many book-to-film adaptations, was radically altered for its celluloid interpretation. The authors were so disenchanted with the numerous revisions, they tried to have their names removed but were unsuccessful. Below are a handful of the differences. 

1. The film's narrative follows the book rather faithfully at the beginning, but swaps out Kenji Tasaki, the Japanese snake wrangler, for a South American hunter named Mendez.

2. The settings are different: the main action takes place in Southern California in the book while Fruet's film takes place in and around a Canadian university. 

3. The name of the island the creature is captured on, Niraka Pintu, remains the same in both vesions. The English translation of Niraka Pintu as 'Gate of Hell' is mentioned in both book and movie; only the supernatural connotations are exceedingly more profound in the film version. A taipan in the book, Oliver Reed's Kincaid refers to it as a type of taipan, but wants to study it to be sure. 

4. The major characters have some slight resemblance to their written-word counterparts but, in most cases, have different names. Two characters from the novel that survive with their names intact are Crowley (named Warren Crowley in the book) and Reverend Thanner (named Fritz Thanner in the novel). In the book, Thanner is a gangster who wants the snake's powerful venom for assassinations. In the film, Thanner is the head of a Satanic cult that wants the snake because he believes it's the embodiment of the Devil. Crowley is essentially the same foul-mouthed character in both works, but his comeuppance is different.

5. The snake attack on the three women in the house plays out differently in the book as opposed to the movie. Differences in the book is the inclusion of a cat, and not all the women die. The bit with the girl in the shower is included in Fruet's film but is executed differently as well.

6. The finale of Maryk and Monahan's novel is one of the more drastic deviations in the movie version. Kerrie Keane's character stays out of the action while her counterpart in the book, Ioka, a Eurasian, features prominently. The Crowley character has a much larger role in the book and, unlike the film, figures into the book's climax.  

Amazingly enough, the authors of 'Death Bite' got more publicity than the movie did. Publishers Andrews and McMeel sent both Maryk and Monahan on a two week jaunt across the country to promote their novel. At the time, being bitten by a snake was #3 on a list of public fears (coming in behind arachnophobia and talking in public). One such stop was on a Baltimore television morning show. The resulting on-air snake snafu sounds like something out of a comedy. Deciding to bring a real Indian Rock Python on the set with them (along with the reptile's owner), co-author Michael Maryk was handling the snake. In an attempt to straighten him out, Maryk lost his grip and the huge snake whacked him in the face with its head. He dropped it and that was the cue for the audience to run screaming out of the studio while the blind co-host was losing it yelling, "Where is it?! Where is it?!".

In the end, the authors made a lot of money off the book and its film licensing, but it didn't translate into an even more prosperous career. SPASMS ended up surviving a lethal dose of failed theatrical venom with a revived interest on video and cable, retaining its own tiny circle of fans in the process. 

Sadly, the film still has yet to receive a quality home video release. The Code Red DVD is from a tape source that has several defects throughout (see four of them above). There are approximately a dozen of them that occur at different points throughout the film. The worst of which takes place at 0:38:14 (see bottom left image at top). This may or may not be an issue for potential buyers, but for those expecting a film source they will want to know what they're getting beforehand. Since the film was announced as far back as 2009, sources have cited an available film print that was missing a reel. Still, even with the glitches, this is the best SPASMS has looked on the home video format for the time being.

Heavily flawed, but far from an awful movie, SPASMS will be essential viewing for fans of the 'Nature Gone Awry' sub-genre. It delivers what it's selling, only you might feel a bit short-changed at the end. Even so, William Fruet's critically slighted snake horror drips with just enough venomous entertainment value to keep you mildly enthralled for 95 spasmic minutes.

This review is representative of the Code Red DVD. Specs and Extras: anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1. There are no extras nor menus. The disc begins and when it ends it starts over again. Running Time: 1:35:21.
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