Friday, July 19, 2013

Worth Mentioning - WIP It Good

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody talks up Roger Corman, Pam Grier, and Dustin Mills.

DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)

After the World Crash of 1979, the United States were rebuilt from the ground up by the facistic political alliance The Bi-Partisan Party, led by Mister President, who was established as the leader of the country for life.

In 1980, the government-sponsored Transcontinental Road Race began, an annual nationally televised "sporting event" in which gimmicky drivers in tricked-out automobiles race each other from New York to New Los Angeles.

Now it's the year 2000, and this year's racers are Mary Woronov (The House of the Devil) as cowgirl Calamity Jane (her vehicle is designed to look like a bull, horns and all), Roberta Collins (The Big Doll House, Women in Cages, Minnie and Moskowitz, Terror on the Beach, Hardbodies) as Nazi-themed Matilda the Hun, Martin Kove (The Karate Kid) as Ancient Rome-styled Nero the Hero, Sylvester Stallone as mobster-inspired Machine Gun Joe Viterbo, and David Carradine (Lone Wolf McQuade) as Frankenstein, a longtime veteran of the race who has gradually lost most of his limbs and parts of his head in crashes over the years, but in this futuristic world they have the technology to rebuild him and have done so rather well.

There's an intense rivalry between Machine Gun Joe and Frankenstein, although it really only exists on Joe's part. They are the top contenders in the race, Joe is the only driver other than Frankenstein who is a surviving previous winner, but while Frankenstein is a national hero, Joe is merely "loved by thousands and hated by millions".

Each with a navigator sitting in the passenger seat, the drivers head out across the country, with two twelve hour pit stops scheduled along the way, one in St. Louis and the other in Albuquerque. As they go, they rack up points by running over pedestrians, scores for kills determined based on gender and age. Highest score points come from children under 12 or adults over the age of 75.

The drivers step on the gas at about the 10 minute point, and from there the rest of the movie's 80 minute running time is almost non-stop action, comedy, and violence, with breaks for nudity. While we focus on the drivers, we also get insight, both from the race's commentators and civilians, into how the country feels about the race itself. Most people seem to be very accepting of it, if not big fans and followers of it. Some of its most fervent supporters even think there's a wonderful spirituality to it, standing in the road and willingly sacrificing themselves. The staff of a geriatric hospital sees the race as the perfect opportunity to get rid of some patients, wheeling the old folks out into the street.

One group that does not support the race is the Army of the Resistance, revolutionaries who intend to take back the United States. They intend for this to be the last Trancontinental Road Race ever, and set out to make sure it is by sabotaging drivers and planting one of their own in the race: Frankenstein's navigator is actually the granddaughter of Resistance leader Thomasina Paine.

Directed by Paul Bartel, Death Race 2000 is one of the greatest and coolest movies to be produced by Roger Corman during the height of the drive-in/grindhouse era, and that's really saying something. The satirical comedic elements and over-the-top characters are really funny, the concept of the race is both amusing and disturbing, the cast is great, and the vehicular action is entertaining. It's a badass movie that basically has it all. A definite must-see.



After the success of 1971's The Big Doll House, the film's producer Roger Corman brought its director Jack Hill and stars Pam Grier and Sid Haig back together to shoot another women-in-prison flick in the Philippines with a title very similar to their previous hit's.

As these Philippines-lensed WIP movies tend to be, The Big Bird Cage is set in an unspecified tropical country where revolutionary fighters are planning to overthrow the authority figures. However, with Sid Haig's lackadaisical Django at the head of the revolution, they may not ever get around to actually going through with their plans. Pam Grier plays Django's girlfriend Blossom, who he promises will one day be First Lady of their country. She's anxious to get into the action, but Django keeps pushing things off until "tomorrow".

Then, seeing Django and Blossom cavorting with each other, the revolutionary forces come up with an idea. Their leader is the only one of them who has a girlfriend, nobody else has any women. Ladies are just what this group needs, say about two hundred of them. And where's the best place to find two hundred women? Why, a womens' prison, of course.

There is such a place not far from the revolutionaries' camp, a prison where inmates including former Price Is Right girl Anitra Ford as sexy socialite Terry, Candice Roman as the desperately horny Carla, Teda Bracci as the wacky Bull Jones, Carol Speed as the tough-talking Mickie, and the towering Karen McKevic (apparently around seven feet tall) as the towering Karen, are doing hard labor harvesting sugar cane and pressing out the sugar in the dangerous titular contraption under the watch of the homosexual male guards and the despicable Warden Zappa (first introduced kicking a dog so we know to hate him immediately).

While the convicts are put through the women-in-prison movie motions - the most famous bit of cruel and unusual punishment in this one has Terry getting strung up by her hair - the revolutionaries plot to bust into the prison, liberate the women and take them for their own, rationalizing their desires by equating this action to the French Revolution starting with the storming of the Bastille.

Jack Hill always thought the idea of women-in-prison movies was ridiculous, so when this one came along he decided to play on the absurdity of it all and amp up the humor, making it an entertainingly silly movie. The actresses are attractive and handle their roles nicely, Grier is given opportunities to kick some ass, and Haig is hilarious, whether he's being lascivious, lazy, or lusted over by the gay guards.


Inspired by horrendous real world events, Bath Salt Zombies kicks off with a five minute animated opening sequence that's presented like one of those old timey anti-marijuana "reefer causes madness" shorts, but with a foul-mouthed and bloody bath salt twist.

Then it's on to the meat of the story, which is set in a "present day" New York City that's actually a "not too distant future" in which there has been a major government crackdown on the sale of bath salts in the United States. Shops were closed down, imports stopped. Dealers and addicts have been driven out of the southern and midwestern states, migrating to the northeast, NYC in particular.

Junkie Richie's dealer gives him a free sample of a new batch of bath salts cooked up by an enterprising young chemist. Disguised in cigarette form, this super strong strand is said to be "the filet mignon of designer drugs". Richie becomes the first person to smoke it... and in the time it takes his pal Mona to strip to a song, Richie transforms into an out-of-control bath salt zombie and proceeds to rip his friend's face off.

Waking up covered with blood is enough to scare Richie into flushing his stash, but his addiction is greater than his fear and he's soon out to score some more of that new stuff. He even shares it with friends, who also become immediately addicted. Every time they smoke, they become rampaging, murderous maniacs.

As it turns out, the chemist made a major mistake when he was designing this strand, as he mixed in a stolen batch of methicathinone trioxin (there's a Return of the Living Dead reference in there), an experimental chemical that was developed by the military in the '80s and ultimately deemed too dangerous and inhumane to use against our enemies. Now it's being passed around on the streets of New York.

The Puppet Monster Massacre/Zombie A-Hole/Night of the Tentacles filmmaker Dustin Mills was commissioned to make this movie by producer Clint Weiler, who also provided a treatment for Mills to flesh out into the script. Weiler wanted a drug-fueled punk rock movie set in New York and to get it made he hired a filmmaker who, as Mill says about himself, knows nothing about drugs, punk rock, or New York. In fact, it was filmed in Toledo, Ohio, where Mills lives. Any shots of New York are either stock footage or second unit shots. Even though characters hang out in New York clubs, stand in front of windows overlooking the city, and there's a fight sequence set in the subway, they never actually set foot in those locations, they were green screened into them. That definitely looks odd, but the whole movie is so goofy and insane that it just fits in as part of the visual style. Some locations are entirely CG, like the military base that a CG Hummer arrives at early in the movie.

The scope of the movie strains the limits of its tiny budget, people who are so inclined could nitpick it to death for not being Hollywood perfect, but Mills did a good job with what he had to work with and fit in plenty of violence, some nice gore, nudity, a puppet creature... And yes, he works in characters named Iggy and Mona. They don't have sex in this movie, but Mona does get nude, and they do die.

There's even three separate massacres; one an action movie style raid, another a zombie feast, and the third a highly stylized sequence, sort of like a motion comic, in which Richie, his face deformed by the drugs, takes on an entire SWAT team single-handedly.

While the zombie horrors are going on, a lone DEA agent is out to put a stop to this trioxin bath salts business, and that agent is played by Josh Eal, who I was glad to see show up in this movie because he was awesome as the zombie hunting badass Frank Fulci in Zombie A-Hole. Eal's character is a badass in this one as well, decimating an entire gang of masked hoodlums as part of his introduction.

Some other actors who return from previous Mills joints: Brandon Salkil, who plays not only Richie but also every military soldier, gang member, and SWAT guy in the movie with his face obscured by masks or helmets and such. Ethan Holey, who voiced the lead character in The Puppet Monster Massacre, steps into a live action role this time. Jackie McKown plays a nicer character than in Night of the Tentacles. Dustin Mills and his dog Charlie both have roles. Notable new additions include Bella Demente, Dave Parker, who I recognized from his YouTube channel, and up-and-coming actress Erin R. Ryan.

Bath Salt Zombies is an enjoyably wacky horror/action/comedy that's worth giving a watch if you're into this type of flick. I admire the effort that went into it, and even if you don't like it as much as I did, at least it won't take up too much of your time. It runs a brisk 64 minutes, followed by 6 minutes of slow crawl end credits.

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