May 18, 2015


Hello! Welcome to my blog! I talk about all kinds of things here, mostly horror and science fiction films. As of late, I’ve been trying to balance my screenwriting and obsessive video game playing with movie watching. While I can’t say I’ve been all that successful with my time management, I did watch a few movies this weekend. So here, pull up a seat and let’s talk about rape. 

What? Was that too sudden? Are you a little bit surprised by the nonchalant way I just brought up a very sensitive, very disturbing topic? Good. Now you know how I feel whenever I watch an exploitation film.

Rape is a bog-standard narrative device in exploitation films. Hell, European genre cinema doles out rape with all the mindless, self-serving glee of a Republican politician handing out tax cuts to giant corporations. Finding an exploitation film that doesn’t contain rape is like winning the lottery, and while I’m not oblivious to the potential narrative usages of rape (or the startling morality plays that sometimes result from it) I do often wonder whether or not screenwriters actually feel any outrage over the crime of rape. It’s used so frequently and with such reckless abandon that it’s simply become a lazy plot point, one step down the ladder from “they kidnapped my kid” but one step up from “they shot my dog”.

In fact, most of the rapes carried out in these movies are not seen as “crimes against victims”. In most cases, the rape of a female character is done as a protagonist provocation. It is not a crime against the woman. It’s a crime against the man who is dating or married to the woman. Worse, it’s usually done as a form of punishment, no different from scratching someone’s car because they cut you off on the way into the grocery store parking lot. At best, this is simple (but unforgivable) narrative reductionism. At worst, it’s just another example of territorial masculinity, the idea that women are property of men and therefore rape is tantamount to property damage, again like scratching someone’s car.

In the case of SAVAGE STREETS, a mid-80s action film about Linda Blair taking on and taking down the group of hyper-masculine dope dealers that raped her deaf-mute sister, the “women as property” angle doesn’t really come into play. In fact, the rape presented in the film is not really of any consequence at all. Although Blair’s character Brenda loves her sister (we know this because the writers have her say it a dozen times), it isn’t the rape of her sister that acts as the instigation point for the revenge side of the film. That, Dear Reader, would be the murder of Brenda’s friend Francine, who is tossed unceremoniously off the side of an overpass to her death by our group of thugs. So what exactly is the point of even subjecting the sweet, innocent Heather to a nasty bout of gang rape?

Simple audience provocation. That’s the answer. And I have a problem with that answer. In fact, I think most people should, even if what we are really talking about here are just exploitation movies.

Rape-revenge films (and yes, to an extent I think SAVAGE STREETS is one of them) usually masquerade as female empowerment fantasies, allowing their female characters to act as knife-wielding boomerangs bringing the force of sexual/power dominance smashing back into the faces of brutish men. And I would say that many rape-revenge films do this sort of thing quite well. For all its acting flaws, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (the original, that is) stands up very well as a feminist exploitation film. So does MS. 45 and DEATH WEEKEND. Sadly, SAVAGE STREETS, despite its female empowerment attitude, doesn’t quite seem to get its own message (or maybe I’m just wrong for thinking the film ever had an intended message in the first place).  The film rockets back and forth between moments of characterization and overt objectification. One minute Brenda is treated as a character, the next she’s catfighting in the shower, her thin white shirt soaked through so we can all finally see what her boobies look like. When Brenda finally completes her metamorphosis into leather clad avenging angel, her role as dominant woman should be cemented. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to scream “grrl power!” when your bad ass female protagonist cowers in fear whenever the man she just shot twice and stabbed once so much as grits his teeth in her direction.

Leaving aside my issues with the films sexual politics, gender representations and crass reductionism of serious matters for the sake of gross narrative punchlines, does SAVAGE STREETS work? No. Not really. My biggest problem with it as a simple exploitation film is that it never reaches critical mass in terms of outrage, action or animalistic titillation. It feels bored with itself, a fact never more evident than in Linda Blair’s dead-eyed, lethargic lead performance. Oddly enough, the only memorable performances are given by the actors portraying the disgusting raping, murdering thugs. They’re not given much to do but Robert Dryer, Sal Landi and Scott Mayer have enough energy between them to drag the dead weight of the tired narrative to completion.

Look, there are much better films of this sort out there. CLASS OF 1984 for example plays the same song as SAVAGE STREETS but has conviction and meaning behind it. SAVAGE STREETS, if anything, is a time waster, a film that unfolds at a leisurely pace, does a few offensive things, flashes a few tits and then fades from memory minutes after the credits roll. It isn’t a classic. It isn’t even a runner-up. It’s an exploitation film, one of tens of thousands, and nothing more.

May 5, 2015


We open in the Weston Hill Sanitarium, a medical facility where they give every inmate a telephone and never bother to lock the room doors. A nurse gets beeped by a particularly incessant inmate. When she enters the room, she finds the man dead. But let’s not dwell too long on that because there’s a kick ass, high octane basketball game going on at a local college. Despite personal drama, the meaty men’s home team comes roaring back and wins. Hooray! Time to party down! 

Well, not just yet. First we have to meet our gang of students. There’s Teddy, the dreamboat team captain and his best friend, Pete (also known by his nickname, “Maniac”). Pete is down in the dumps. He was kicked to the curb by his girlfriend Leslie. Leslie is good friends with Teddy’s main squeeze Lynn and Sheila, a fellow cheerleader who has recently dumped intense, possessive Mike for Benson, the team’s mascot. We also meet a half dozen other characters but for the life of me I can’t remember their names, sexual partners or what they looked like sooooooo

At a costume party, Teddy meets Dawn, a pretty blonde dating a well-off douche named something or another. While at the party, Mike threatens Sheila, calls all women “whores” and storms off. Meanwhile some radio DJ, who apparently only has one record to play over the air (Lovin Spoonful’s “Do You Believe in Magic?”, in case you’re curious), reads out clues for some major scavenger hunt happening on campus, an activity only two people seem to be taking part in. We also learn about Dickie Cavanaugh, an ex-student that went crazy, murdered the security guard’s daughter and is now residing behind an unlocked door in the Weston Hill Sanitarium. Or is he?

Sure as flies on shit, soon enough someone bludgeons two students to death with a shovel and stabs poor Benson to death. The killer fashions himself (or herself) a nice, new weapon to go along with his (or her) new disguise, Benson’s big, brown bear mascot costume, and begins randomly killing random people at random times, all the while calling into the radio station to tell the DJ that he (or she) has killed again.

GIRLS NITE OUT, the most deceptive title since STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR, was made in 1982. I mention that because the slasher film formula was well established by then. Say what you will about films that follow formula, but the strict adherence to a very particular narrative structure usually keeps most films moving along at a decent clip. GIRLS NITE OUT however feels like it has no internal structure. In fact, it is almost unbearably scatterbrained. Characters disappear from the screen for 20 to 40 minutes at a time, relationships between the characters change constantly and individual motivations are dropped scene from scene. The slasher action doesn’t kick in until about the 45 minute mark and when it finally does, the film just whips through a few murders, stops for some prolonged and completely unnecessary *ahem* character development and then resumes in a frenzy. It just feels off.

And I mean off. There are things here that simply don’t make any sense. The scavenger hunt includes a clue that requires girls to break into the school. At one point, two characters drive by on a motorcycle screaming nonsense for 30 seconds before crashing their bike off-screen. There’s an attempt at romance involving a guy farting under the covers. The big shocking reveal in the film revolves around an event we saw happen in the first five minutes. We have a long interrogation scene between two cops and various characters which was clearly shot at different times. The two cops are obviously not in the same room, no one’s eye line matches and the dialogue in the scenes is so obvious in its exposition that I’m convinced it was written just so people could make some sense of all the convoluted nonsense that came before it. The final big action scene involves a guy racing against time to save the woman he’s cheating on his girlfriend with from the killer. I mean, that alone is odd enough.

But for all my complaints, there are still things I liked about GIRLS NITE OUT. I liked the way the film sometimes subverted my expectations. For example, the film contains the typical locker room scenes, only here it’s topless men standing around talking about their feelings cross-cut with scenes inside the girl’s locker room, all the hot cheerleaders standing around fully clothed and discussing the joys of screwing around. Because the story and character motivations were all over the place, the film became somewhat unpredictable. I literally had no idea what the hell this film would throw at me at any given moment. I liked some of the subtle hinting at the film’s final reveal, from a certain secondary character’s name to an impression of a famous movie scene that a character does for a cheap laugh. The attempt to create red herrings is admittedly poor but I can’t help but marvel at the juvenile audacity of the attempts. I mean, the maniac killer in a bear costume… could it be the guy with the nickname Maniac? Or maybe the guy named Teddy? Hmm. Silly shit for sure but I couldn’t help but be amused.

Honestly, I have a really hard time hating GIRLS NITE OUT. I know it’s bad, or at the very least really, really not good, but it’s just so incredibly harmless and corny that I can’t really fault it for not being HALLOWEEN. It exists in that second tier of slasher films, nowhere near as good as something like MY BLOODY VALENTINE but not nearly as pain inducing as NEW YEAR’S EVIL. While it would have been much, much better on cable television with every-10-minutes Rhonda Shear intermissions and the usual spate of telephone sex line commercials, it’s still not a completely awful way to spend 90 minutes, even if you can probably think of much, much better films to fill that time with.