Saturday, May 7, 2011

May 7 - Biker chicks, a black cowboy and zombies

Today I watched a triple feature of movies on DVD from a real mixture of genres.

She-Devils on Wheels (1968)
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Format: DVD (Something Weird)

This is one of two biker chick exploitation movies released in 68 by Herschell Gordon Lewis (the other being Just for the Hell of It). Having moved on from the gorefests (Two Thousand Maniacs, Blood Feast, Color Me Blood Red etc) by which he made his name, Lewis momentarily tried his hand at more traditional drive in fare.

She-Devils on Wheels follows the exploits of an all-female biker gang called the Hellcats, who race their bikes, use men as sexual objects (in a nice role reversal) and have to deal to a male gang that moves into their turf.

Don't expect much in the way of plot or acting (most of the women are genuine biker chicks, so they can ride their bikes but don't have much in the way of thespian skills), but the action is passable and some of the dialogue is great ("Go fumigate yourself craphead!"). The sex scenes remind me of when network TV cops visit strip clubs, in that there's no nudity (check out the fully-clothed orgies), and there's no swearing, making all of the rebellious carry-on a tad G-rated. Luckily there's a decapitation to keep it unseamly.

Obviously shot on a tight budget, She-Devils on Wheels has a certain charm to it but there are far better biker exploitation flicks out there.

Joshua (1976)
Director: Larry G Spangler
Format: DVD (El Paso Pictures)

I'm a huge fan of western movies and have seen all sorts of movies from that genre, but this is my first blaxploitation western. I'm aware of others from this particular branch of the blaxploitation tree (The Soul of Nigger Charley, The Legend of Nigger Charley etc), but haven't laid eyes upon one until now.

Director Spangler only has four movies to his name and two of them are black westerns starring former NFL player Fred "the Hammer" Williamson - 1973's The Soul of Nigger Charley and this one.

Joshua stars Williamson as a soldier who returns from fighting in the Civil War to find a gang of white outlaws have killed his mother. He hunts them down and... well, it's a western so you know the drill.

Williamson takes his lead from Eastwood's various silent gunslingers, offering only a few lines of dialogue. In fact there's plenty in Joshua to compare to the spaghetti westerns of Eastwood, Leone et al - long periods without dialogue, gritty characters and even an attempt at a Morricone-esque score (which is repeated over and over to the point of becoming annoying). Eastwood's great "they killed my family and I'm getting revenge" western The Outlaw Josey Wales was released several months before Joshua, and it's easy to guess that movie influenced Spangler here. Although on all counts Joshua is done with less style and finesse than any of the Eastwood vehicles.

Where other movies of this kind use a brooding atmosphere to their advantage, unfortunately Joshua just comes off as slow-moving and frankly a bit dull. Western fans won't find it a complete waste of time, but others would be well advised to give it a miss.

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)
Director: John Gilling
Format: DVD (Midnight Movies double feature w/The Reptile)

From the UK's legendary Hammer Studios comes this tale of reanimated corpses and mystery in the Cornwall countryside. Directed by Hammer veteran John Gilling (The Pirates of Blood River, The Mummy's Shroud), it stars Andre Morrell (Hound of the Baskervilles, Quartermass and the Pit TV series) and Diane Clare (The Haunting) as a doctor and his daughter called to a Cornwall village to help with a spate of strange deaths. It is soon apparent there's more than science at work.

Released two years before George Romero changed the landscape for zombie movies forever, Plague benefits from the stunning sets of Hammer's Bray Studios and some top-notch acting. These zombies aren't the shambling brain-eaters of Romero's world. They're connected to voodoo, as zombies generally were before Night of the Living Dead, but are just as frightening - the first appearance of one on screen sends chills.

Secret corridors, voodoo ceremonies accompanied by tribal drums, dark old houses, untrusting villagers - Plague of the Zombies is a fantastic gothic mystery/horror and one of the best Hammer offerings since their Universal reboots of the 1950s.

The biggest budget of the three movies I watched today and easily the most enjoyable.

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