March 24, 2017


The oddly titled LADY, STAY DEAD is an Aussie thriller from 1981, written and directed by Terrie Bourke, probably best known for his Worst Film of All Time contender INN OF THE DAMNED. It's a film that begins by juxtaposing a scene of a woman swimming naked in a pool with a scene of a bearded man in women's underwear cuddling up in bed to an exquisitely dressed mannequin. That man, Gordon, has a relationship with that woman, Marie. Not a romantic relationship, mind you. He's the caretaker around her large, expensive home, a home she purchased with the copious amounts of money she makes as a pop singer.

Gordon takes a bit of abuse from Marie. After all, she's a singer and singers are always divas in these kinds of films. When she heads down to the beach for a bit of exercise, Gordon follows her, masturbating as he watches her do her stretches. As he reaches orgasm, he begins seeing visions of nude women, all tied up with rope, all scared out of their wits. 

Clearly, Gordon has issues.

Those issues become crystal clear when he clumsily attempts to seduce Marie a little later on. When she tells him to take a hike, Gordon looses control. He violently rapes her. And when Marie refuses to show her rapist any gratitude for her bodily violation, Gordon looses it again, this time drowning Marie in a fish tank. Once he regains his composure, Gordon attempts to carry Marie's body out to his car, only to be interrupted by Marie's kindly old neighbor and his dog. Guess what happens to them?

So far, so family friendly. For most exploitation films, that might be enough, but because we're only 25 minutes (!) into a 90 minute movie, things start to go even further downhill. Marie's sister, Jenny, shows up at the house. She meets Gordon and, for awhile at least, everything goes well enough. As the night wears on though, Jenny begins to worry about her sister. She also finds the poor dead dog washed up on the beach. When she makes the trek over to the kindly old neighbor's home, she finds the kind, old fella strung up in his garage. Justifiably freaked out, Jenny runs home to call the police, only to have Gordon show up in a nice suit, all ready to spend a nice, relaxing evening with the new object of his affection.

What follows is a bit like STRAW DOGS, only shittier. LADY, STAY DEAD slips out of the murderer focused thriller territory and jumps headlong into the home invasion flick. Gordon cuts the phone, cuts the lights, attempts to break though the window, etc.. His attempts at gaining entry are thwarted at every turn by Jenny, who turns out to be rather capable of taking care of herself. But then two coppers show up for the long climatic battle and Jenny becomes as useless as a Comcast customer service representative.

LADY, STAY DEAD is a weird film with a constantly shifting tone and a rather blasé attitude towards its own violence. It wants to be a roughie, but it lacks the misanthropic fortitude. It wants to be a tension filled thriller, but its too damn lazy to put in the work. Instead, the film just tosses in violence because it knows movies like this contain violence. It tosses in a shootout because movies like this usually have shootouts. It turns our otherwise capable heroine into a screaming damsel in distress because films like this usually have them in droves. Hell, Bourke turns Gordon, an ordinary, nothing special individual into goddamn Jason Voorhees near the end of the film. Why? Because films like this usually contain antagonists that can shrug off grievous bodily injury for the sake of false endings.

And don't get me wrong. LADY, STAY DEAD is a perfectly watchable, sometimes quite enjoyable, cult oddity. But it's the “oddity” bit that kind of sticks in my craw. The film reminds me a bit of Luis Alcorzia's TERROR AND BLACK LACE, another weird thriller, this time from Mexico, that was released in the 1980s. Both films feature a bizarre lead villain (in Alcorzia's film, it's a sex pervert that collects tufts of women's hair; here, it's a dude that is clearly wearing a stolen pair of Marie's panties while he dry humps a mannequin dressed exactly like her) and a more than capable heroine that eventually gets the better of him. But Alcorzia's film largely wastes its more idiosyncratic flavor, devolving into something stereotypical and tiring. It becomes, in the end, just another light weight thriller that checks every single box on the long list of “things people expect to see in a thriller film”.

LADY, STAY DEAD ends up pretty much the same way. It never really steps outside the comfort zone and as result, it never really forms its own identity. It clearly had some kind of influence from films like PSYCHO or DEATH WALKS ON HIGH HEELS, both excellent thrillers in which our female leads meet sticky ends only for a new narrative to start up in their wake, both headed by a close relative of the victim. But LADY, STAY DEAD needed to do something different instead of simply repeating the first act all over again, only this time with more pots of boiling water. Sure, the arrival of the cops and the subsequent shootout (and a darkly hilarious accidental death by immolation) punches up the fun by a few notches, but the whole thing, while enjoyable enough, felt like a familiar walk through the same old damn park.

What the film needed was one detour, one new route through the old stomping grounds. But hey, what the film does, it does well enough to warrant a recommendation. I suppose not every film needs to reinvent the wheel, right?

March 21, 2017


“The evening news on television keeps reminding us we live in a violent world. After sundown most of us try to keep off the streets, and stay out of public parks. We feel safe in our homes behind locked doors. The last place we would feel threatened is our neighborhood coffee shop. The film you are about to see depicts what happened in one of these coffee shops.” 

That's the opening text crawl from Mark G. Gilhuis' BLOODY WEDNESDAY, a cult oddity that was released on VHS in 1987. At first, I didn't know what that title referred to. I figured it was just another lazy, direct-to-video slasher film, like SPINE or 555. But no, the title BLOODY WEDNESDAY refers to a real life event, a mass shooting that occurred at a McDonald's restaurant in San Diego on Wednesday, July 18, 1984.

To be honest, that all but killed my buzz. Here I was, bored and in desperate need of entertainment, and what film do I choose to watch? A movie based on what was, at the time, the single deadliest mass shooting in American history.

But truth be told, BLOODY WEDNESDAY is as concerned with an accurate portrayal of those events as I was interested in watching an accurate portrayal of those events. What Gilhuis, working from a script by Oscar winner Philip Yordan (do NOT let that fool you into thinking this is an award worthy film), delivers is about as realistic as Celebrity Death Match. This is perhaps the shining example of exploitation. It takes a real life tragedy and reduces it to camp fodder. BLOODY WEDNESDAY might be inspired by atrocity, but it is beholden to idiocy.

Our lead character is Henry, a man having a bit of a rough patch. His unnamed (and probably undiagnosed) mental troubles have left him unemployed. He is long since estranged from his wife, almost entirely reliant on his older accountant brother to live, and, to put it bluntly, quite bonkers. After wandering through a church service naked, Henry is locked up in an asylum. He meets with his psychologist, Dr. Johnson, a statuesque, lovely blonde. She thinks Henry should be locked away for good. Naturally, Henry disagrees. But Dr. Johnson persists, calling him a danger to others, but Henry assures her that he doesn't want to harm anyone, that he just wants to leave. After three or four minutes of being condescended to by his doctor, Henry finally snaps, giving Dr. Johnson a nice verbal lashing. Instead of that outburst confirming her suspicions about Henry's temper, Dr. Johnson decides to let Henry go.

Someone take this woman's license from her, please.

With nowhere else to go, Henry's brother sets him up in an abandoned, probably condemned, hotel. Henry spends his days talking to his stuffed teddy bear and playing with toys in the bathtub, only occasionally bothered by the usual things. You know, ghosts, hallucinations and a trio of thugs dressed like Rambo. After a short time living in his new digs, Henry's condition begins to worsen. He imagines a friendly bellhop, a jovial chap that tells him about all the nasty things that went down in room 1327. And as all of this is going on, I'm sitting here in front of the TV asking myself 


Well, Henry finally does go on a mass shooting spree, albeit in a diner, not in a coffee shop (this film is a fucking liar), but that little bit of slightly unnerving action only takes place in the final 10 minutes of the film. And that's a big problem because the other 80 minutes are spent watching Henry bounce around inside this obvious and uninteresting clone of THE SHINING. At one point, Henry becomes desperate for money. He asks his friend the bellhop where he can get his hands on some moola and the bellhop tells him all about a rich jerk that comes by now and then looking for a suitcase full of money. So what do we get to watch Henry do? We get to watch him fight a man for a suitcase full of money. 

Only we know the man isn't real. We know the bellhop isn't real, either. And we damn well know that the suitcase Henry finds isn't going to be full of diamonds. So what's the point of this eight minute sequence of events? Is it to illustrate that Henry is going insane? That's clearly evident already. In fact, it's been evident from the first scene in which a despondent Henry all but says “yo, I'm going nuts”.

I suppose the point of putting such an obvious bit of nonsense into the film was to make us doubt the veracity of pretty much everything else in front of us. At one point, Henry is chased by the returning trio of thugs. He produces a gun from inside his stuffed bear and holds the three jerks hostage, all before playing an impromptu game of Russian roulette with them. He then lets the three men go, only to have them show up again later on. They decide, instead of dealing with Henry directly, to give him the machine gun he desperately wants. Better for Henry to get himself offed or arrested than to risk arrest for killing him themselves.

But did that really happen? We know that Henry hallucinates a seduction scene between himself and Dr. Johnson, but are Henry's other visits to Dr, Johnson hallucinations too? Henry's soon-to-be ex-wife visits him at the hotel and attempts to seduce him. Henry drowns her in a bathtub. As her body floats in the tub, Henry's brother visits. When he goes to take a piss, there's no body in the bathtub, but when Henry walks into the bathroom after his brother leaves, the corpse is still there. So what was the hallucination? The murder or the visit from his brother?

This kind of thing could have been incredibly interesting had any of it served any real purpose. As it stands, very little of the first 60 minutes informs the final 30. For most of the film, Henry is a passive character, doing little more than sitting around, having freak outs and being berated by his brother. Had the troubles in his life, like his madness, his failing marriage, his unemployment, been used as a vehicle to push him towards his date with destiny, it would have felt like a meaningful progression. Unfortunately, none of that is of any real consequence. Instead, around the 60 minute mark, the film suddenly takes on unprovoked anti-classism attitude. Henry becomes angry at the rich people, the people with good jobs and security, all the things he's lacking. As a result, Henry kills a diner full of working class people because…?

The allegory doesn't work because the allegory isn't earned. The violent coda of TAXI DRIVER, another obvious influence on this film, works because it was the logical conclusion to its story. It served a purpose. The violence that caps BLOODY WEDNESDAY feels tacked on, added just so the film could earn that “based on a true story” tag line. The logical progression from Henry the off-his-rocker sad sack to Henry the machine gun totin' mass murderer doesn't make much sense here. It's a weird shifting of tone and action that feels completely at odds with itself. Sure, it's a tough scene to watch, especially with the knowledge that it was based on a real life massacre. But that's really all it amounts to, just a tough scene to watch. It's a proper ending to some story. I'm not convinced though that it was the proper ending to this story.

March 17, 2017


Trying to review THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is a bit like trying to review silence. No matter how you approach it, you're just going to wind up talking more about absence than substance. Because what exactly can you say about silence? What exactly can you say about this movie? The phrase “nothing happens” is usually tossed out to describe how boring a movie is. Of course it isn't true. Things happen in every film. Hell, things happen in THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. But just barely. Just enough for it to qualify as a movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

The movie is about four college kids spending time all alone in a soon-to-be renovated dormitory. They spend their days tossing out desks and cleaning the place up, and their nights being spooked by some weirdo with Art Garfunkel hair. Soon enough, a killer shows up to bump them off one by one. That's it. That's the plot of THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that those three sentences comprised the entirety of the films screenplay.

So yes, things happen in this film, but every action and plot point exists without explanation or clarity. For example, why are these four college kids tasked with doing a floor-by-floor clean-up, all alone, of an extremely large campus building? What's the story behind that large group of college kids we saw at the beginning of the film in the pick-up truck? Who was that guy that got killed just before the credits? We never saw him before and we certainly never hear of him again. What's the story with John, the creeper at the dorm? Is he an ex-student? Does he work there? He clearly isn't some random guy because everyone knows his name. So what's his story? Why does the film set up a love triangle between Joanne, our Final Girl, her boyfriend (a character so memorable I can't even remember his name) and bashful Brian if Joanne's boyfriend leaves the film around the 15 minute mark? 

Worse, the film introduces yet another love interest, but only in a single scene, then has that character disappear for nearly the entirety of the film, only showing back up for the final five minutes so the film can have an oh-so-ironic twist at the end. We have a killer whose motive revolves around being madly in love with Joanne even though the film never once hints at anything close to that when we spend time with the killer pre-final reel reveal. Everything here, everything the film throws at us during its last hour, feels made up on the spot. Nothing gels and nothing holds together, all because the film is missing vital connective strands of narrative. Without those bits and pieces, all the action feels disjointed, random and even pointless. Sitting here now, trying to review it, trying to think of a way to somehow connect those dots...

I'm reviewing silence. All I can focus on is what is missing. All I can think to do is to describe the absence.

Truth be told, the first 15 or so minutes of the film are decent. We meet our characters, get acquainted with the setting, and get our first taste of blood. The triple murder of the lovely Debbie (played by the always fetching Daphne Zuniga) and her parents is suitably nasty. It's a good set-up for a slasher film. After that, the film just meanders and the whole thing goes off the rails. I kept waiting for it all to gel, for the film to finally commit to doing something, ANYTHING, with its characters and its set-up, but it never did. Everything after those first 15 minutes is lazy, half hearted and utterly empty. Sure, there's some gnarly deaths from time to time and the film does manage to get its shit together for a longer than usual climatic chase, but all I could think about the entire time was how little actual story this film was telling.

I don't even need to mention the terrible acting, the lackluster direction or the score that desperately wants to be the score from FRIDAY THE 13TH. I don't need to mention the idiocy of some of the scenes, like the way the pre-reveal killer behaves as if there's a camera on him at all times, even pretending to knock himself out to throw us off, as if there was anyone else around to see it except the audience. I don't need to mention any of that, because that isn't really a problem with a z-grade slasher film. I can accept all of that to some degree. No, what truly sinks THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD is the utter lack of gravity and narrative cohesion.

There's no story here. There's no motivation. There's nothing to hold my interest, no real characters to give a shit about, just people on screen doing uninteresting things for reasons never clearly explained. The level of narrative reductionism present here is absolutely aggravating. There's a moment in the film where a character named Craig talks about how he sweet talked a professor into giving him a good grade. When his love interest tells him that she thinks students should earn their good grades through hard work, Craig scoffs at her. That is THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD in a nutshell. It does the bare minimum of work, tossing out a few nasty death scenes along the way, all in hope that the sight of a drill splitting open a skull will so utterly charm us that we will forget that what we're watching is just a lazy, incompetent do-nothing.

March 12, 2017


It's tempting to think that KONG: SKULL ISLAND was written as a quasi-apology to the dissatisfied people who purchased tickets for Gareth Edwards' 2014 GODZILLA thinking it would be some kind of epic monster-filled fight fest. It's also tempting to think that KONG: SKULL ISLAND was written in an attempt to erase Peter Jackson's wistful, misguidedly romantic remake from memory. The Kong in Jackson's film was written as a lovelorn, tragic figure, an oversized gorilla with a heart of gold. The Kong director Jordan Vogt-Roberts offers up here is the Cooper-Schoedsack monster on steroids and thankfully the film isn't stingy with his appearances, more than making up for the lack of monster action in Edwards' otherwise superb reboot.

It's also a Vietnam allegory, a fact it simply will not allow you to forget as it pummels you with anti-war rock and roll, and images lifted straight from other anti-Vietnam films like APOCALYPSE NOW. Given the year the film takes place in, the allegory fits, but I must admit it seems odd to be watching a KING KONG reboot made in 2017 that relies heavily on anti-Vietnam sentiment for its subtext. I have to wonder if that was the only thing they could think to do with the film in the writer's room.

And to be honest, the moment to moment writing of the film is its weakest attribute. It's a simple story. Mere days after the US announces that it will be abandoning Vietnam, a war-loving commander is hired to escort some wet behind the ears scientists to an uncharted island. Once they arrive by helicopter, seismic bombs are dropped to help map the guts of the place, an unfortunate choice of scientific instrumentation that draws the ire of Kong, a massive ape-like monster. In short order, helicopters are destroyed and our band of adventurers are split. One group, headed by Sam Jackson's cranky “kill 'em all” military alpha male, decides to put killing Kong at the top of their bucket list. The other, which includes Tom Hiddleston's suave British tracker and Brie Larson's tough anti-war photographer, just wants off the damn rock. Our second group meets the traditional band of Skull Island natives, here playing host to John C. Reilly's Hank, a World War II pilot that crashed on the island well over 25 years ago.

And that's your dichotomy, folks. One group is out for blood and the other just wants to leave nature as it is and head home. The interplay between the two groups never reaches its full potential and things are not so much worked out between the two, either by fisticuffs or heated debate, as continually interrupted by all kinds of nasty beasties who eye up our cast like they were items on a well stocked buffet.

And I said “cast” rather than “characters” because all the personalities on display here are thin, if not wholly transparent. The actors chosen to fill the roles were clearly cast because of the attitudes and personalities we often associate with them. You don't really need to spend time building the character of the stern and blood frenzied Preston Packard when you can just hire Sam Jackson to do that heavy lifting for you. Need a relatable, kindly father figure for your film? Just hire John Goodman. Need a sexy Brit who can charm the audience? Hire Tom Hiddleston. Need a pretty Chinese actress to satisfy your Chinese investors? I think you get the idea.

In that respect, KONG: SKULL ISLAND is not going to pacify the people who felt that GODZILLA was full of understated, if not downright boring, characters. That isn't to say that the people we spend time with on Skull Island are uninteresting or even dull. They're just not well rounded. No one has an arc. Everyone leaves (well, not everyone; people die by the truckload here) just as they came. They're not audience surrogates. They're moving targets for larger than life monsters with insatiable appetites.

And that is why I will say that KONG: SKULL ISLAND is a tale of two films. Because once the monster stuff started happening, every single complaint I had went straight out the window and the film became astoundingly great fun.

There's an undeniable appeal to watching one large thing beat the snot out of another large thing, but KONG: SKULL ISLAND isn't all ape-on-lizard action. What would a trip to Skull Island be without a giant spider, adorably large buffalo, some prehistoric pteranodon-like flying creatures and the occasional enormous octopus? The “new” threat introduced in the film (and I say “new” because they're more or less just a re-imagined version of the two legged lizard thing that threatened Bruce Cabot after Kong tossed his friends into a ravine) are the skull crawlers, all tooth, claw and tongue. They're great monsters, unique in design, but familiar enough to bring back those old childhood memories of Kong tussling with a tyrannosaurus. The monster action is surprisingly nasty at times too, with people having their limbs torn off, being crushed against rocks and, in my favorite scene of the entire film, being impaled from mouth to ass, a la CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST.

Behold! The first skull crawler.

The decision to untether Kong from his previous big screen adventures allows the filmmakers to reinvent the character as a kind of ferocious guardian angel. One moment, he's crushing gun toting soldiers to death, the next he's carefully lifting a crashed helicopter off a poor, struggling giant buffalo. Naturally, we have the requisite scene of Kong looking in awe at the gorgeous white woman standing in front of him and there is a nice call back to the 1933 original when Kong accidentally gets himself wrapped up in chains, but for the most part, Kong feels less like a rehashed character and more like a brand new imagining. We feel something for Kong because, like all good heroes, he's an orphan, the last of his kind. But we never once forget that Kong is, above all else, a wild animal, both frightening and majestic in equal proportion.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that this Kong will be as fondly remembered as his previous incarnations, if only because this Kong doesn't get shot off a skyscraper. KONG: SKULL ISLAND is meant to be the second entry in a much larger cinematic universe, one that will soon include Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. As such, the film doesn't feel like its complete. It feels like its missing something, some kind of resolution that would make the film resonate long after you've left the theater. Helicopters crash, some people die, some people leave. That's pretty much it. KONG: SKULL ISLAND is a damn great roller coaster ride that you get on, have a few screams and a nice, big adrenaline rush, and then get off and move on with your day. It needed something more and for the life of me, I can't really pinpoint what that something more is. 

I can only say this: for the better part of two hours, I was hugely entertained. I ate my fill and then some. But an hour later, I was hungry all over again.

March 9, 2017


The premise is deliciously outlandish. A doctor attempts to cure his son's terminal leukemia through radical heart transplantation, replacing his son's heart with the heart of a gorilla. For a short time, the operation seems to have been successful. Unfortunately, there's a nasty side effect. The son soon transforms into an (wholly unconvincing) ape monster and goes rampaging through the city, leaving a trail of raped and mutilated bodies in his wake. Naturally, this bloody carnage attracts the attention of a stalwart police detective. Can the not-so-good doctor contain his son long enough for the side effects to go away or will the detective and his men continue to follow the trail of freshly torn bodies straight back to the doctor's secret laboratory?

I love love LOVE that premise. It's just the right mix of The Murders in the Rue Morgue, Kurt Neumann's THE FLY and George Waggner's THE WOLF MAN. Alas, a premise alone is not enough to carry a film and it turns out, ironically I might add, that what sinks Rene Cardona's NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES is a total lack of heart.

The film begins at a wrestling match. It's here that we meet Lucy, a luchadora. During the match, Lucy tosses her opponent out of the ring, severely injuring her. For much of the first 20 or so minutes of the film, we think Lucy will be our main character. We see her visit the hospital, wracked with guilt. We see her lose her nerve in the ring after her opponent takes a nasty spill. We become invested in her. But Lucy's character development is little more than a bait and switch. Lucy is only featured in the film so we can meet her boyfriend, a police detective named Arturo. Compared to Lucy, Arturo is a personality vacuum. He's a necessary component, the copper chasing the criminal. Both his role and his characterization are perfunctory. His character exists because it has to exist. It's another one of the films great unintentional ironies. The character that needs to exist in the world of the film is dull and lifeless while the character that didn't need to be included in the film at all turns out to be the best character the film has to offer.

The film does earn a bit of sympathy though. Dr. Krallman may be responsible for creating an ape monster that loves to pluck out eyes and tear the clothes from nubile young women, but his plight is easy to sympathize with. He is a man willing to go though hell and back to save his son. It's laudable. Noble, even. But it becomes increasingly difficult to align yourself with the character as the film goes on. Not only does Krallman conceal the identity of the killer from the police, he even goes so far as to murder a young woman (the same woman Lucy injured at the start of the film), cutting out her heart and transplanting it into his son in an attempt to reverse his metamorphosis. At that point, all pathos goes straight out the window and we're back to having no one to care about.

Given that the film is largely patterned off the werewolf film (the son turns back into his human self several times as the film goes along), I wonder why no effort was put into giving the human son more of a presence in the narrative. Was he aware of what he was doing when he was in beast mode? The film never tells us. It never even gives us a scene of the son struggling to control himself. He just lays in bed the whole time. Plain and simple, Cardona was not interested in creating anything other than a monster flick.

And to be honest, that's perfectly fine. I love a good monster flick. I suppose my lukewarm reaction to NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES is a result of having seen simple monster flicks of this sort countless times in my life. I've seen this film done better. It's difficult to erase THE WOLF MAN from my memory. It's damn near impossible to watch this film and not hold it up against the dozens upon dozens of other films that play this exact same game. Overall, NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES simply doesn't compare well. It's missing the dramatic component that could have given the film some kind of weight. As it stands, it's just a gore fest.
And if a gore fest is all you're looking for, I would recommend giving this film a watch. It's surprisingly nasty at times (and laughably hokey at others), enough so that it earned a spot on the DPP Video Nasty list. Granted that probably had much more to do with the sexual violence and the inclusion of a few short minutes of authentic open heart surgery footage than it did the gooey scenes of the ape monster tearing off heads and scalps, but the fact remains that NIGHT OF THE BLOODY APES scratches that itch for wanton violence and bared breasts just fine.

March 1, 2017


The simple mathematical equation “Italian police action film + writer Fernando Di Leo + director Ruggero Deodato” should have resulted in a film so full of nihilistic energy that it would have leapt off the movie screen to create a black hole of meaninglessness so vast that it could swallow the entire universe whole. So how then did we end up with LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN? It's a perfectly valid question that I simply don't have a perfectly valid answer for. To say that this film is a little bit idiosyncratic is like saying the sun is a little bit hot. It's a weird film, both in its construction and its motives. Half of me wants to dismiss it as some kind of joke. The other half is too busy chuckling.

It seems like Deodato is playing the same game Andrea Bianchi played with STRIP NUDE FOR YOUR KILLER. Bianchi's 1975 giallo film is half send-up, half serious genre entry. But while Bianchi took everything the giallo is known for (the machismo, the sleaziness, the violence, the sex) and cranked it all up to 11 in an attempt to see just how seaworthy his flimsy vessel was, Deodato and Di Leo take everything the poliziotteschi was known for and… well, they just screw around with the equalizer a bit until it all sounds decent.

Our main characters are Fred and Tony (played by pretty boy actors Marc Porel and Ray Lovelock, respectively), two cops assigned to an unnamed and unexplained “special squad”. They're not just partners, they're roommates too. In fact, the pair seem inseparable, doing their jobs together, drinking coffee together, raising a cage full of love birds together. In short, the homoeroticism is pretty evident. From the opening scenes of our two handsome men riding a motorcycle through the streets to the way they playfully roll around in the dirt while shooting tin cans for target practice, they're one “I wish I could quit you” away from being nominated for an Oscar.

In fact, from what I can gather, the original intention WAS to have these characters be closeted gay men. That little bit of characterization would have clarified much of the overt “look how much masculinity I can project” mannerisms these characters give off throughout much of the film. As it stands, Fred and Tony's sexuality feels a bit odd, like the way they half-heartedly flirt with a secretary or engage in a bit of sex with a young nymphomaniac with a level of excitement that registers one notch above “meh”. Italian genre films usually treated gay men as perverts, red herrings or comedic relief. I can imagine the glee Di Leo, the purveyor of some of the roughest police actioners ever made, felt when he came up with the idea of subverting the straight, macho action hero. But alas, that angle was dropped. 

And to be fair, it feels like a lot of angles were dropped here. This is ostensibly a movie about two special squad coppers trying to take down a mob boss named Bibi, a ruthless man not above plucking out someone's eye to settle a debt. But the film constantly veers away from that narrative to give us wholly unconnected (or very flimsily connected) scenes of Fred and Tony driving their motorcycles, taking down whole gangs without breaking a sweat, and even torching a whole parking lot full of cars. It feels like we're watching a condensed version of a television series about two good looking cops that play by their own rules. Throughout the action set pieces, I kept expecting the screen to freeze and hear a voice say “looks like the boys have gotten themselves into quite a pickle”. To my surprise, there was no scene of the increasingly frustrated special squad commander lifting his fists into the air, shaking them wildly as he screams “MAVERICKS!!!”.

There's a real playful air about the film. We see our coppers getting chewed out for always leaving dead bodies in their wake. They decide to go get a cup of coffee immediately after and within two minutes are shooting a whole gang of would-be bank robbers to death in the street. Fred and Tony are, in every way, shape and form, Paul Kersey with badges and more cheerful dispositions. They show up to a hostage situation, tell the person in charge of the entire Rome police force to back off, and then proceed to drive their motorcycles through the windows of the home, gunning down every hostage taker in sight. They rack up a higher body count than most slasher film villains and they do it all without ever once appearing stressed, angered, depressed or cynical. They are, without a doubt, gods among men, the kind of action heroes these films love and admire. 

Only they have their sexual advances spit back into their faces by every woman they meet, except a nymphomaniac to whom their charms matter less than their ability to simply get an erection. They also don't even get to finish off the bad guy in the end. They're too busy being distracted by a barely clothed Swedish girl (who also appears to be totally uninterested in them). They're also told that they're little more than delinquents, robbing them of the kind of authority movies like this tend to heap upon their heroes. We're supposed to be impressed by how masculine these characters are and how macho they appear, but in the end, that air of awe inspiring masculinity comes across as a facade. They're just pretty guys with guns who are actually not very good at their job. They're just better shots than their opponents.

Of course, LIVE LIKE A MAN, DIE LIKE A COP has the unmistakable whiff of social commentary these films always have. Political and police corruption always creep into the narrative of poliziotteschi. This film is no exception, but the harder edges of the poliziotteschi have been sanded down here. For as violent as the film can sometimes be, nothing is really of consequence. Actions rarely lead to dramatic gut punches. An early scene of a special squad member getting gunned down in front of our heroes doesn't lead to a rousing speech about vengeance and resolve. It's followed by a lightly comedic scene of Fred and Tony setting fire to a bunch of cars. The film never reaches any kind of critical mass in terms of drama or tension. As I said, this is a sometimes very bloody affair, but the weirdly cheerful and playful tone, while downright intoxicating for fans of that kind of stuff, always reduces the blood and misery to little more than a punchline.

This might very well be the most lighthearted poliziotteschi film I've ever seen and for as inconsequential as it all is in the end, LIVE LIKE A MAN, DIE LIKE A COP is still a movie I would recommend watching. Personally, I find the schizophrenic tone confusing and the lack of dramatic pull disappointing, but I'll be damned if the film isn't wildly entertaining at times, even if I never quite knew what the hell I was supposed to be feeling as the film unraveled before my eyes.