Tag Archives: Exploitation

IT CAME FROM THE READER-SUGGESTED QUEUE: ROLLER BLADE (1986)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: Donald G. Jackson

FEATURING: Suzanne Solari, Jeff Hutchinson, Shaun Michelle, Katina Garner, Sam Mann

PLOT: During the Second Dark Age in the City of Lost Angels, a holy order of avenging roller-skating nuns battle evil mutants.

Still from Roller Blade (1986)

COMMENTS: It’s extremely important not to overthink Roller Blade, because Donald G. Jackson, the Z-movie legend who thought up the thing, absolutely did not overthink it. This is, after all, the man who dreamed up “Zen Filmmaking,” a commitment to scriptless, why-the-hell-not productions that make everyone else look as obsessive as . So let’s try and embrace the spirit of Roller Blade and just get to the heart of the matter.

This is a film that is made up almost entirely of lunatic choices. Placing the fate of humanity in the hands of a group of nuns on roller skates who wield switchblades that heal the wounded should clue you in, but Jackson happily goes further. The forces of good all speak in faux Shakespearean patois, even the highway patrolman who is the sisters’ only ally. The villains, meanwhile, consist of a man in a steampunk luchador mask and his mini-me, a wrinkly puppet that looks and acts like a bleached Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. (Speaking of which, one of the nuns is an actual dog.) The voice of wisdom is the order’s mother superior, a wheelchair-bound sage with a Latka Gravas accent and a propensity for astounding cosmic aphorisms like “The Cosmic Order of Roller Blade is the only force on Earth where all weapons and battle techniques are converted into tools of love” and “My visions have shown me a new world where it will one day be easy to trust every beast.”

The nuttiness extends to the filmmaking as well. The opening credits intercut incomprehensible images of women dressed like garden gnomes, a writhing woman enduring a restless slumber, and a group of hooligans on the attack, all to the tune of bombastic music cues that crescendo long before the list of names is complete, meaning the score has to keep restarting. With no natural sound, everyone is dubbed in the fashion of a Japanese monster movie, and the filmmakers are so committed to not showing moving lips that one character manages to play harmonica through a bandana.

And let’s not overlook Jackson’s commitment to crowd-pleasing nudity. Early on, three of the sisters are kidnapped and forced to engage in a naked catfight. When they are later rescued, they are brought back to the sanctuary to step naked into a recuperative hot tub and rub each other back to health. A character quickly peels off her bodysuit after being splashed with acid, and later kneels before a dying man to bless him with her uncovered body. Jackson has an audience in mind, and he’s prepared to fulfill their expectations.

It’s fun to list all that is quite nuts about Roller Blade, but the movie is actually less than the sum of its parts. It’s very slow, nobody’s motivations are entirely clear, and the tone is wildly inconsistent, swinging from broad comedy to awkward earnestness at random. So there’s no argument that there’s a lot of crazy stuff going on, but it never really coheres into anything watchable. It’s just Jackson coming up with ideas and immediately finding ways to film them. An impressive accomplishment, but an iffy product.

Creatively, it might be a mess, but Roller Blade was a financial smash, grossing $1 million off its $20,000 budget and earning Jackson the right to make the iconic Hell Comes to Frogtown. But his heart never strayed far from his humble beginning chronicling the adventures of bodacious babes in roller skates. Although he didn’t make good on the promise of the closing title card (advertising Roller Blade 2: Holy Thunder), he eventually helmed four sequels, each of which has a reputation for being strange. Donald G. Jackson wasn’t skilled, but he had audacity, and given how many times we’ve seen the reverse, his is a career to salute.

Roller Blade has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray and is available on vintage VHS only. At this writing, it can be found on Tubi, however.

A BRIEF HISTORICAL NOTE: Despite what the title might imply, no one in this movie who skates (and nearly everyone does) wears the inline skates of the title, but rather classic roller skates. That is because the product bearing the trademark “Rollerblade” was first commercially available in 1987, the year after this movie came out. I’m not saying that the movie inspired the mode of transport, but it does explain the confusing lack of Rollerblades in Roller Blade. 366 Weird Movies: out here doing the hard work so you don’t have to.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…embraces its cheesy, campy, exploitative and bad qualities to produce something bizarre, like a cheap Mad Max made while on acid and horny.”–Zev Toledano, The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre

(This movie was nominated for review by Phoenix. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

MIKE MCCARTHY/JMM – A (SOMEWHAT LENGTHY) PRIMER

Mike McCarthy – or JMM?

Twins?

Actually, both are one and the same. When John Michael McCarthy started in comics, he branded himself with the JMM logo. And if you’ve seen JMM’s work either in comics or movies, your impression is probably:

GIRLS! (Nudity!!)

GARAGE! (Rock and aesthetic)

GARISH! (look, plotting, dialog, attitude)

ELVISNESS!

Basically, what was/is considered to be the rudiments of American pop culture of the 20th Century. If you really want to get into subtopics, specifically Southern American Pop Culture, including the films of David Friedman, early , and lots of others I can’t begin to list…

JMM started in the late 80’s/early 90s, just ahead of the Nu Garage/Greaser/Glam Explosion* of the late 90s, which he and his work helped spread.

[* – NOT an official genre term]

McCarthy’s pinnacle (?) was possibly Superstarlet A.D., which was picked up for distribution by in 2000, making it the easiest of his films to find. After that… that Garage/Greaseball/Glam Boom slowed down and got overshadowed by Whatever New Thing was current. And although McCarthy got notice and acclaim overseas, back home he was just what was called a “cult figure”; an interesting but obscure branch of underground film. Meanwhile, others in the Memphis film scene broke through to studio interest, and money.

As McCarthy has stated himself, as a mantra: “My work is UNPOPULAR“.

I’ve long wondered why. Full disclosure: I was a crew-member on Superstarlet A.D. for the last half of shooting. But I was a fan of McCarthy’s before that, having seen The Sore Losers in Kansas City during the “Vice Parties” tour. My San Francisco roommate was a fan of Russ Meyer, which is how I started discovering that particular corner of film. So when an opportunity came to check out that type of filmmaking, I jumped right in—but that’s another story for another time…

Afterwards, I delved more into McCarthy’s work, and tried to keep an eye on what he was up to. If there’s a genre label for McCarthy/JMM, it’s “Redneck Art-house.” He remarks in the Blu-ray commentary for Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis that a reviewer once referred to him (and the film) as a “Pawnshop .” Both terms sound derisive, initially; but they’re both on-the-nose and correct, and not in a bad way.

McCarthy’s work follows two distinct paths:

JMM comix adaptations. McCarthy’s lo-fi versions of his own personal Cinematic Universe: Damselvis (1994), The Sore Losers (1997), and Superstarlet A.D. (2000) fit in here, along with his comix “Cadavera”, “SuperSexxx”, and “Bang Gang.”

Mike McCarthy graphic novel adaptations. These include features Continue reading MIKE MCCARTHY/JMM – A (SOMEWHAT LENGTHY) PRIMER

37*. TEENAGE TUPELO (1995)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

“Everything Revealed! Nothing Explained!”–tagline for Teenage Tupelo

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: D’Lana Tunnell, Hugh Brooks, Wanda Wilson

PLOT: Voluptuous D’Lana Fargo is knocked up by local Tupelo singer Johnny Tu-Note. Her mother sets up an adoption, and Johnny wants her to get rid of the baby. D’Lana falls in with a group of “Man Haters” who are fans of stripper/sexploitation filmmaker Topsy Turvy, who is the spitting image of D’Lana.

Still from Teenage Tupelo (1995)

BACKGROUND:

  • Teenage Tupelo was the first (and only) original production released by Something Weird video. It was released directly to VHS but never made the transition to DVD, going out of print and becoming unavailable for decades.
  • Produced by legendary exploitationeer David Friedman, a longtime collaborator of who also produced such oddities as The Acid Eaters (1968) and Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S. (1975).
  • The film was shot on Super-8 for $12,000.
  • McCarthy’s adoptive parents appear as extras in the diner; their younger alter-egos are played by actors.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Almost certainly, you will remember the birth-of-a-baby scene (borrowed from the 1948 roadshow shocker Because of Eve). Even if you’ve seen a live birth before, it’s still shocking to see this sight casually shuffled into a narrative film context—and, accompanied by a tinkly music box rendition of “Frère Jacques,” it comes across as decidedly unwholesome. Viewer beware!

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Battered Johnny Tu-Note serenades vixen; chainsaw devil tattooist

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Teenage Tupelo plays like director McCarthy took Something Weird Video’s entire vintage VHS catalog, ran it through a woodchipper, and used the resulting pulp to sculpt his own phantasmagorical autobiography. It’s utterly unique, history’s first postmodern grindhouse film.

Trailer for the soundtrack release of Teenage Tupelo

COMMENTS: Not too many exploitation films open with an epigraph—even if it does come from a fortune cookie—but Teenage Continue reading 37*. TEENAGE TUPELO (1995)

CAPSULE: DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS (1994)

366 Weird Movies may earn commissions from purchases made through product links.

DIRECTED BY: John Michael McCarthy

FEATURING: Sherry Lynn Garris, Adimu Ajanaku

PLOT: Country girl Ilsa discovers she is actually the daughter of the dead god Helvis, and travels to the pyramid in Memphis to resurrect him, while Black Jesus races to stop her.

Still from Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis (1994)

COMMENTS: In the first few minutes, standing in a muddy Mississippi field, Black Jesus shoots one of his followers in the head and immediately resurrects him. And so begins Damselvis: a schizophrenic mix of Southern Gothic, grindhouse shocks, and rockabilly culture shot through a distinctively kitsch-surreal lens. It also begins the wild extended universe of John Michael McCarthy (or JMM, as he sometimes styles himself).

Damselvis is a simple hero’s journey (complete with a closing epigram from “Joseph Cambelvis”). Young Ilsa discovers her divine heritage as Damselvis and goes on a quest to fulfill her destiny. There is an unexpectedly serious theme about paganesque iconography (represented by Elvis, the chief deity of the pop culture pantheon) replacing the role of Christianity in American culture (a trend McCarthy celebrates); in other words, how rock n’ roll became bigger than Jesus. But it’s all done in a wacky, surreally comic sexploitation style: the journey is far more important than the destination. You keep watching for the abundant nudity (including a lesbian encounter in the woods), the campy biker violence, and the goofy supernaturalism, which climaxes with resurrected giant-eyeball Helvis emerging from his guitarcophagus to battle Black Jesus, who has transformed into a Rastafarian werewolf. You’re guaranteed never to have seen anything quite like this before (unless you’ve seen another JMM movie).

As a first outing, Damselvis‘ two-thousand dollar budget is painfully obvious. The camcorder photography gives it a Polaroid quality look. (Some cheap, lurid-yet-muted lighting and filters appear during the film’s more psychedelic moments to liven things up, but it still looks cheesy as hell.) The sound goes in and out (closed captions are recommended, though sometimes even they read “inaudible”). Locations are remote fields, back roads, junkyards, attics, cheap diners, and abandoned houses in Mississippi and/or Tennessee (there’s also one surreptitious shoot at a cool waterfall, and a brief stint inside the Egyptology display at the University of Memphis). Makeup is ridiculous. The actors are clearly amateurs winging it. The soundtrack is raucous lo-fi psychobilly from local Memphis bands (including JMM’s own Rockroaches). The highest production value goes into Damselvis’ costume: all angel-white, consisting of a vest with long fringes (reminiscence of a Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit), thigh-high lace-up boots, and hot pants. This aesthetic is charming to some, and certainly fits the film’s redneck surrealist atmosphere, but I would argue JMM’s future shot-on-film efforts benefit enormously from the infusion of a few extra thousand bucks.

Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis was a surprise Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome (via shot-on-video specialist partner-label Saturn’s Core). Given its shot-on-video provenance, the movie’s audiovisual quality is awful, including occasional VHS tracking errors. That’s as it should be; it’s key to the movie’s DIY authenticity. Since it’s under the Vinegar imprint, the disc includes a ton of special features, including a commentary from and interview with the director, a reel of behind-the-scenes footage that’s almost twice as long as the movie itself, JMM reading from his own “adult” comix (including the original “Damselvis”), footage of a Helvis-themed punk concert in Memphis, and trailers for other sleazily weird Saturn’s Core releases. JMM recently self-released his third film, The Sore Losers (1997), on Blu-ray, but we’re praying to Helvis to see his second, the long-unavailable Teenage Tupelo (1996), resurrected soon.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…an utterly bizarre but completely enjoyable sixty-three minutes of rock n roll craziness… an odd mix of parody, black comedy, exploitation and overall cult movie strangeness.”–Ian Jane, Rock! Shock! Pop! (Blu-ray)

CAPSULE: HALLUCINATION GENERATION (1966)

AKA Hallucination

DIRECTED BY: Edward Mann

FEATURING: George Montgomery, Danny Steinmann, Tom Baker, Renate Kasché

PLOT: A young man becomes embroiled with beatniks, drugs, and…  murder!

Still from Hallucination Generation (1966)

COMMENTS: Hallucination Generation is a cautionary tale about the dangers of vacationing in Ibiza, doing free drugs, and falling in love. This is not your typical ‘60s scare-tactic film, though. For one thing, it’s full of beatniks, not hippies. For another, the first (and only) freak-out doesn’t start until the halfway mark, meaning writer/director Edward Mann is either bad at exploitation or he’s trying to make a real movie here.

Danny Steinmann, who would later helm the likes of Savage Streets (1984) and Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985), plays our lead, William Williams. Bill Williams goes to Ibiza on vacation and falls in with a group of layabouts who follow Timothy Leary-esque guru Eric (George Montgomery). It’s all bikini babes and smoking pot out of two-foot-long pipes, until Bill falls in love, immediately gets married, and is cut off by his wealthy family. After determining that his terrible poetry isn’t going to support him and his new wife, instead of getting a job, Bill flees back to Eric’s, solo.

As the drug-pushing guru, George Montgomery may be the best part of this movie (besides the psychedelic special effects). He was well known for his chiseled good looks and his work in dozens of Westerns, even guest starring on “Bonanza” the same year Hallucination Generation came out. Sinking his teeth into something different, Montgomery goes for it here. The “enlightened” Eric is mean to his son and cheats on his wife, spouts ridiculous wisdom, and he hatches a plan for Bill to steal from a timid old man in Barcelona.

Finally, some LSD! Eric uses it to brainwash Bill into agreeing with his plan. (Drugs are bad, kids!) In this early attempt to represent an acid trip on film, photographer Paul Radkai and editor Fima Noveck are constrained only by the technology at hand: quick cuts, loose focus, a gun turning into an animated bat, color swirls, painted faces, fractals, rats, more animation, naked women, masks, more swirling colors.

Two versions of Hallucination Generation are included on Blu-ray: one is black and white, the other is tinted pink (although distributor Diabolik calls it “sepia”). The pink one has the trip effects in color.

As far as cautionary tales go, Bill’s dialogue while dosed doesn’t seem well-crafted to warn people away from the drug: “Don’t want to go too far in, I would get to like myself.” “Why question? It’s enough just to be.” Of course, he’s also yelling, “It’s bad!” between statements of self-transformation, which is pretty convincing.

Still from Hallucination Generation (1966)

There’s a botched robbery, a murder, a weird pick-up, and the climax has fantastic funky architecture and giant sculpture. But really, the whole second half of the movie feels tacked on and too long. There are fun details, like, where did the dog on the bed come from? Or where will Bill’s wife’s accent be from in this scene?

Hallucination Generation has pacing problems, acting problems, and equipment problems (e.g., unintentional shaky cam). But it’s also a time capsule, a pre-hippie bad-beard-beatnik psychedelic freak-out-in-Ibiza time capsule. And for a certain kind of viewer, it is right up their dark, prostitute-filled, Barcelonan alley.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…this is the type of boring flick that could give illegal psychedelic drugs a bad name! Fun for the tolerant Acid Flick completist though.”–Steven Puchalski, “Shock Cinema”