Rev | Varied Celluloid - Page 63

Disco Godfather

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 17 - 2010

The Plot: In the height of the disco age, our story focuses on a man named Tucker Williams who is best known by his alias, “The Disco Godfather” (played by Rudy Ray Moore). When the Godfather’s nephew, young Buckie, has his basketball scholarship dreams dashed by a friend who gives him a hot dose of the brand new drug called PCP… the Disco Godfather swears vengeance! The Disco Godfather, who is an ex-police officer, has all of the connections to convincingly hunt down the drug dealers who have poisoned his community with this new plague. He visits the local hospital, which is packed full to the brim with young kids who are suffering PCP induced comas, and he sets his mind to bigger things. He helps establish programs in order to “attack the whack” and put an end to this nightmare of drug horrors. However, as the Disco Godfather digs deeper and deeper into this assorted mess, he begins to discover that these drug cartels go up further than anyone could have ever imagined!

The Review
Rudy Ray Moore is a celebrity within the blaxploitation genre that draws some very different reactions. Depending on who you ask, you’ll either hear him revered as a saint or as a blasphemous curse on the entire genre. He is beloved within hip-hop and African American culture for his party albums during the seventies which were very popular. They were groundbreaking in their taboo subject matter, and pushed the limits of vulgarity as an art form. However, when it came to the cinematic scale, his movies were by no means “good”. His catalog has become the fodder of B-Movie fans who love the consistent continuity errors and dreadful acting.

To be completely honest, I am not a big fan of Moore’s comedy recordings. Although they most certainly have their audience, as a totally square cracker, the comedy simply alludes my own understanding. Despite it being slightly mean spirited, and lacking in compassion, I tend to enjoy Moore’s filmography as a connoisseur of really bad movies. That might make me a bad person, that might make me a less cultured hooligan, but it doesn’t make me wrong. Disco Godfather is a bad movie. Poor conception, poor execution and generally bad in almost every way except that one area that tends to matter most: entertainment. Disco Godfather, despite everything I may have to say about it, is ridiculous in its levels of entertainment.
Disco Godfather is a movie that you really CAN judge based entirely on its name. Do not feel bad about judging this book by its sequin-laden cover folks, because chances are you KNOW what this movie has in store for you. Simply from knowing Rudy Ray Moore’s involvement, as well as the title of the film, Disco Godfather more or less played out exactly as I had it built up inside of my head. My expectations were that the film would take place in a bizarre fantasy disco world that would be inhabited by caricatures. I expected some kind of conflict would take place, and it would ultimately draw the Disco Godfather from his discotheque, and then he would have to use poorly choreographed martial arts in order to destroy some kind of nefarious scheme that was, more than likely, concocted by the white man. As it turns out, I was right.

That really is Disco Godfather in a nutshell. As with any great piece of literature though, it isn’t ultimately about the destination of the story, but the follies along the way. Similar to Great Expectations or Moby Dick, while we are discussing literary works, Disco Godfather squarely places itself in a very certain time and a very certain place. That place is of course the tail end of the seventies disco subculture! If you have seen Dolemite!, chances are the last thing you ever expected to see was Rudy Ray Moore sporting a skin tight, baby blue, sequin covered jump-suit. Well, if you watch Disco Godfather… prepare yourself, because you’re treated to just such a sight within the opening minutes of the film. Rudy Ray Moore, sporting the biggest grin in cinematic history, pops and locks his way down the electric slide line in true seventies fashion. The moment is very surreal to say the very least, but never lacking in humor. Intentional or not.
Rudy Ray Moore is the MVP for this picture, without question. Although Disco Godfather is a step up in most technical regards in comparison to Dolemite!, the one consistency from both pictures is Moore’s performance. Equally intimidating and hilarious, Moore is the glue that holds the film together. His performance is generally poor in all fashions, but its the astounding manner in which he delivers his performance that makes the movie so unique in its entertainment value. Moore enters into scenes with a grin upon his face, despite there being no reason to be so upbeat and he generally fluctuates between two modes: suave and mad-as-all-get-out. He defines the two-dimensional performance here and yet remains so incredibly likable in his performance that it is hard to imagine any audience member walking away with any ill-feelings toward him. He may win over audiences in the most simplistic of manners, but he absolutely does win them over.

Despite Rudy Ray Moore’s awful/brilliant line delivery (“Bucky! What have you HAY-AD!?”), the rest of the cast are generally decent. There are a few spotty moments here and there, but for the most part the cast does a good job in supporting this far fetched, PCP ridden, story. Carol Speed (Abby, The Mack) is good here but her role might as well have been billed as a cameo. At the end of the day, this is Rudy Ray Moore’s show and it is as ridiculous as the man himself ever thought of being. A favorite moment of mine came towards the end of the film and shows Rudy Ray Moore hunting down the PCP traffickers in a alleyway, and this of course proceeds to escalate into a kung fu battle. The choreography is honestly a vast improvement for Moore, but what makes the sequence memorable is when a jogger stumbles upon the brawl and asks “Hey, what’s going on here?,” to which Moore replies “These guys are selling PCP!,” which causes our jogger to throw off the towel from around his neck and join in saying “PCP? Well then, let’s kick some ass!“. If that doesn’t define this movie, what does?

The Conclusion
Ridiculous. Stupid. Hilarious. Brilliant. All are words that describe Disco Godfather adequately. You, as a film fan, should know whether this is a movie you want to track down. I will say that it at times has pacing issues during the first half, where Rudy Ray Moore seems to spend more time at the disco than he does tracking down any PCP dealers. When the movie picks up, the silliness rarely lets up. Part of me wants to sway anyone from ever seeing this movie and then another part of me wants to implore everyone to search it out. For my rating, I have to sway towards the side of entertainment. I give the movie a three out of five. It was a close vote and almost made it to a four, but those previously mentioned pacing issues really slow things down during the first half. Regardless, check out this ridiculous piece of fluff as soon as possible!

SS Girls

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 15 - 2010

Written for Varied Celluloid by Prof. Aglaophotis!

The Plot: It’s war in the 1940′s. The efforts of the Third Reich are being threatened by traitors amongst their ranks. Nazi General Berger is ordered to assign the eccentric Count Hans Schellenberg to assemble a crack team of prostitutes, trained to have sex under any condition and convert his manor into the private brothel Blumenstrauss. It is here in Blumenstrauss that the conspirators are treated to countless delights, to lure them into admitting their turn-coat ways prompting their immediate execution. However, the love blossoming between the hostess and Schellenberg is starting to rub Schellenberg’s ex-flame Frau Inge the wrong way. Will Blumenstrauss continue to stand against the love triangle inside or will it collapse at the end of the war?

The Review
Of what few Nazisploitation movies I’ve seen, I can honestly say SS Girls is one of the most unique. That may sound awkward considering that the premise behind SS Girls has been done before (Nazis rooting traitors out through sex), but its presentation is unlike any other I’ve seen. It isn’t dark and cruel, it isn’t straight forward and serious. No, SS Girls is actually… kind of funny.

SS Girls is the kind of movie that you can imagine being adapted from a comic book because its so zany, over-acted and sexual that it almost mocks the theme of the sub-genre it’s in. Hans Schellenberg is a thoroughly funny and cartoonish character brought to life by Gabrielle Carrara’s attention to physical acting, his enormous Scicilian grin and wild, beady eyes (as well as an almost Joker-esque dub actor). Despite this, he has his intense moments too, particularly when he’s confronted by Frau Inge about their past relationship. Every character in the movie is very much like Hans, though; everyone has either a very humorous or light attribute about them that adds to the movie’s overall theme of silliness and seriousness. There’s one character who is known for mutilating people indiscriminately and mixing women’s blood with his cognac, but rather than coming across as scary he’s just plain nutty. That’s not even getting to his sidekicks, which consists of Crazy Kurt from Women’s Camp 119 and a Japanese Imperial soldier with a Sharpie Swastika on his head band named Wang!

Being a B-Movie lover, I feel the need to point out a familiar face in this movie. If your a fan of Strike Commando, Exterminators of the Year 3000 or Yor: Hunter from the Future, then the character of Prof. Jurgen will look awfully familiar. Just picture him with a scruffy beard and he’ll look just like Le Due/Papillion/Pag. Yep, Luciano Pigozzi is in this movie! He’s actually not too bad in the movie, though it’s probably the most serious role I’ve seen him in so far.

I think the only character who isn’t light or humorous in the movie is Ivano Staccioli who is once again playing a straight-laced high-ranking Nazi officer. He is a lot more animated and shows a lot more range in this than in Women’s Camp 119, so there’s still some fun to him. Plus, I think Bruno Mattei realized how classy this guy looks playing piano because he has Ivano doing the same here as he did in Women’s Camp… although here he’s smoking a cigarette while a drunk Flapper in a sheer dress dances on top of it. Funny enough a lot of actors and actresses showed up here from Women’s Camp: Gota Gobert, probably the only German performer in the whole movie, shows up again though she doesn’t get the best line in the movie this time… in fact, I don’t think she has any lines. She doesn’t even beat anyone up! Marina Daunia is really good in this movie as she brings a lot of intensity and power to the role and still manages to come across as being a longing and sexual person. Yet in Women’s Camp 119 Daunia’s role amassed to a Jewish prisoner who had maybe one line, a few staring shots and some lip syncing… before her character got shot in the head. Even the random Nazi Doctor in the poison bullet scene from Women’s Camp showed up in this as a groping butler. This use of actors reminds me of when I was doing High School plays and the class would be split into two groups performing the same play, but no one played the same character.

The movie is pretty well shot; it has its signature Mattei extreme close-ups and overall smooth camera work to it. Granted, the cinematography isn’t on the same level as say, Andrezej Zulawski; there’s nothing really impressive and the camera tends to go over a few rough pans, but the man knew where to point the camera and that shows here. I think the only time the lighting and shots don’t match up is when Magal is strip teasing in a room lit by red light, but once we get a close-up of her the red light is barely there. The setting is also very good, there’s a lot of fairly impressive architecture, almost like the crew traveled to Loire Valley, found and furnished one of its many lost castles and filmed Nazi Porn there.

The props in this movie are pretty neat, especially the ones made specifically for the film. Ever seen a Nazi Pope? You will if you see this movie! There’s even this ridiculous sexual Training Montage (guest starring Salvatore Baccaro again) where a woman is having sex with a… uh… I actually have no idea what she’s having sex with. It looks like a starved prisoner of war who is literally just skin and bones making him look like a huge special effect… but its head is moving perfectly and actually looks like a human head attached to the skin and bones body! Speaking of which… there is some bestiality in the movie. Nothing overt mind you, just a bunch of very happy looking dogs laying on top of naked women as they caress their coats. Sadly, the sex can get a little tedious here and there, like one scene where Magall and Daunia are making out during a thunder storm and the scene feels like it goes on for ten minutes. The girls are VERY sexy, though. They found some very lovely looking ladies to be nude in the movie, though if you’re not a fan of overgrown bush… be prepared to see several small forests.

Typical of Bruno Mattei there is a fair share of stock footage, although it’s actually fairly seamless. The stock footage soldiers, complying to their Captain’s orders against on-coming tanks, matches pretty well. For a moment I was actually under the impression that this movie had a budget beyond Nazi uniforms! The stock footage soldiers and action started to bust open when the soldiers attack the Russians in the ruins of a village and the only authentic footage is of the Captain shooting wildly at the camera (in front of a chain link fence that looks like someone’s backyard).

Once again, this being a Mattei film, this movie has a great soundtrack. The score – composed by Gianni Marchetti – mostly consists of saucy Italian Jazz with just a hint of Bossa. The soundtrack makes every scene sexy, intense and overall delicious with its combination of playful female vocals, harmonicas, piano tunes and guitar strings.

Sadly, as much fun as I had watching this movie, I can’t bring myself to give it full credit. I’ve watched enough Nazisploitation films to get the idea that many clichés were required, seeing how most Italian exploitation movies were knock-offs and unofficial sequels anyway. Also, considering this is WWII we’re talking about, most of the time the movie won’t have a happy ending and I get that. However, did THIS Nazisploitation movie need such a depressing ending? Halfway through, the zany sexiness just peters out; it’s like the movie suddenly remembered it was taking place in WWII and realized it needed to be more realistic. Suddenly, characters who seemed so confident or comical break down and become so overly serious and remorseful that they simultaneously become irrational. Hell, even the hookers hop aboard the Irrationally Depressed Nonsense Train when they have no real reason to be depressed in the first place!!

I keep getting the feeling that Bruno needed to give Ivano Staccioli’s characters more back story; it’s like Bruno kept looking at the guy and saying ‘your character will change EVERYTHING in the end’ and Ivano just quirked an eyebrow and shrugged as if to say ‘Sure thing, boss.’ Ivano’s character does have more reason for his actions here than Women’s Camp 119, but it’s still abrupt and hollow. Besides, in Women’s Camp 119 it was thematically appropriate because the movie was dark and depressing to begin with, but this one was the exact opposite. Not that I really wanted a completely upbeat ending – I know not all stories about WWII ended lightly – all I’m asking for is a little consistency.

This review covers the release done by Exploitation Digital. The transfer is pretty good and viewable, although the other source material used to present the movie as it was meant to be seen is a little off. There’s a scene near the end where Ivano’s character shoots an injured soldier and the only line he says is muted much like the deleted scenes in Red Nights of the Gestapo. I’m assuming the line was muted to cover up the original Italian dialogue, yet the ending of the movie leaves the original Italian dialogue in place. It’s too bad they never dubbed it, the last lines would’ve been perfect if they were dubbed… glad I know a little Italian.

I’m going to check out the Shriek Show release of SS Girls, though, because apparently this one is missing a few scenes: much like the DVD releases for Trick or Treat and The Serpent and the Rainbow, the back of the box features two screen shots that aren’t shown in the movie, one of the executioner laughing his head off and the other of the Crazy Kurt guy pointing a revolver at Gabrielle Carrara. There is a pretty good interview with Bruno Mattei on it though, most of which he spends talking about his inspiration for SS Girls and how the Nazisploitation craze sprung up in the first place.

The Conclusion
Well, as much as I practically despise the padding and out-of-place ending of this movie, I honestly can’t help but recommend SS Girls because let’s face it: with movies like Women’s Camp 119 and The Gestapo’s Last Orgy, a sub-genre of exploitation this cruel NEEDS a movie as fun as SS Girls. It’s a well shot, funny, sexy romp into Exploitation. Trust me, it’s the most fun you’ll have in this sub-genre.

Kill, Baby, Kill

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 12 - 2010

The Plot: Our film begins with a young woman being shoved out of a window by a child-like figure. When she falls to her death, landing on a spiked fence, inspector Krueger begins searching out the explanation behind this woman’s strange fall. The locals all seem to know what happened and they tie this death with a whole string of deaths that were supposedly caused by a curse that rests on this small town. Inspector Krueger sends for Dr. Paul Eswai, who enters into the picture looking to perform an autopsy on the recently deceased woman. The doctor and inspector begin to delve into the case, and they soon discover that everyone is involved in hiding this conspiratorial secret. While performing the autopsy, Dr. Eswai finds an anomaly within the heart of the dead woman. Inside of it there is a coin, but who put it there and is it tied to these superstitions.

The Review
Mario Bava is a filmmaker that I have ashamedly put off from discovering for many years. Sometimes, we film fans can become so enraptured in what is most current, or popular, that we shrug off the roots of cinema despite knowing how much we would enjoy digging into these films. Although he is the genesis for all things Giallo, Mario Bava’s work has remained a bit of a mystery for me. I absolutely loved Blood and Black Lace however, which is partly why I decided to continue my exploration of his work with Kill, Baby, Kill. As is the case with many Italian horror filmmakers, Bava was a master of composition. A visual stylist who redefined genre cinema not just in his home country, but abroad as well. Kill, Baby, Kill is one of the director’s more popular works, and shows his love affair with both the supernatural and man-made horror. A mix that has often been imitated but never duplicated, Bava does a great job at balancing these two concepts. Kill, Baby, Kill, in its finest hour, will probably be remembered as a creepy piece of atmospheric horror that still manages to elicit scares. In its very worst moments however, it could be seen as a piece of horror you have probably seen elsewhere many times before.

Bava manages to create a tense and brooding atmosphere throughout the entire production, but if there is going to be a hindrance for audiences it is going to be in the fact that you have seen a lot of this done elsewhere. The film is very conventional in its initial plot devices. We are introduced to the rational thinking characters in the form of Inspector Krueger and Dr. Paul Eswai, who both scoff at the notion of any supernatural events taking place within this guarded community. We as viewers know however, due to the familiar material, that ultimately these two are going to discover there is more to these murders than what can be rationalized by man. Bava also imports the creepy ghost kid, the de facto villain, which we are all quite familiar with and is a device that is recycled more in this day and age than ever before. Despite the film having this by-the-numbers sort of mentality, where Bava manages to impress is through his atmosphere. We watch this seemingly generic story unfold, but Bava still manages to creep his audience out! He manages to do so by not being vastly different in his technique, but by simply being successful.

An interesting, and early, entry into the “creepy child” staple of horror cinema, Kill, Baby, Kill showcases one of horror cinema’s freakiest little kids. Melissa Graps, who is actually played by a boy, manages to stand out amongst the scariest of ghost children. Bava takes full advantage of this boy’s eerie stare, as he seems to pierce right through to the viewer. If there is one visual that audiences are likely to walk away with, it is of this little “girl” peering in through the window with her wide eyes and expressionless face. The scares rarely cause you to jump out of your seat, but instead they simply leave you unsettled. The visual experience is all a part of this, as it usually is with Bava’s work. The gothic atmosphere is highly effective and doesn’t feel nearly as embellished as some other horror works from this time period did. The reality is heightened just to the point where style and atmosphere meet, and it creates a nice flow within the picture. During the outside sequences that take place in the graveyard, with the gnarled trees and religious architecture, it becomes clear how inspirational Bava’s work must have been on filmmakers such as Tim Burton or Michele Soavi. You can clearly see Bava’s fingerprints all throughout both of their filmographies.

The music, provided by Carlo Rustichelli, is really worth noting. Despite the film being set during the nineteenth century, there is a certain modernism to the music that I really liked. The thudding base line that echoes throughout turned my mind to Dario Argento and his work with Goblin. You wouldn’t think something like this would work, but they balanced things out with a more traditional side of the score. Hearing those bass notes I also couldn’t help but be reminded of Ennio Morricone’s use of an electric guitar during his Sergio Leone westerns. The score sets of Bava’s visionary skills, which are truly unmatched. The cinematography from start to finish blows the mind. These amazing sets that Bava both found and created are so perfect for photography. Bava puts his genius of photographic manipulation to good use throughout the film, using spiraling staircases as a way of disorienting the audience amongst other notable tricks. A favorite shot of mine features the camera on a crane that somehow manages to emulate a swing set as it dives backwards and forwards. Bava also incorporates hidden visions throughout the picture as we see young Melissa Graps hidden inside of windows or darkness throughout much of the feature.

The Conclusion
Although it didn’t jump right up to the top of my list for Mario Bava favorites, there’s no getting past how well made this movie is. Not only that, it is genuinely entertaining as well. The only problem going into it will be audience prejudice based upon what is now relatively old-hat material. Regardless of that, Bava does it better than many ever could. I give the film a four out of five and highly recommend it for Mario Bava novices like myself.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 10 - 2010

The Plot: Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion begins with Nami Matsushima, aka: Matsu the Scorpion (played by Meiko Kaji), trying to escape from federal prison. During the attempt however, her friend’s menstruation gives away their location to the dogs that are chasing her. When she is returned, the warden decides to make an example out of Matsu and punishes the rest of the inmates in an attempt to turn the population against her. Matsu herself is locked away in solitary confinement, with her hands and feet tied behind her back, as the rest of the prisoners are routinely tortured. During this time we learn of Matsu’s past and the reason for her imprisonment. Matsu once loved a man named Sugimi who was a narcotics officer on the Marijuana squad. Using Matsu for her good looks, he decided to place her undercover in a sting operation at a nightclub. The sting didn’t go well and Matsu was raped for her troubles, but Sugimi simply shrugged it off and made it known to Matsu that she was entirely disposable in his eyes. Feeling scorned, Matsu attempted to murder the evil Sugimi but was taken down by the law in the process. In contemporary time, Sugimi still worries that Matsu will actually get out and finish the job she once started. So a plan to kill off Matsu within the prison is established, but unfrotunate for them Matsu is as tough as nails and thwarts every plan that they put into action. Will Matsu the Scorpion have her sweet revenge or will this hardened prison reduce her to rubble?

The Review
When one talks about the Pinky Violence genre inevitably someone has to bring up Female Prisoner Scorpion #701. It was never an atypical example of the pinky violence genre, but its place in history is sealed as one of the more intelligent personifications of the self made, and empowered, female in this genre of Japanese cinema. This first film by director Shunya Ito would show all of the bravery and creativity that would define all subgenres of the pinku film. Similar to my beloved Yasuharu Hasebe’s introductory film Black Tight Killers, from five years previous, Ito took the film as a challenge to put all of his imagination to work. Having Nikkatsu’s biggest female star in the lead certainly didn’t seem to detract from his gumption as a filmmaker, as he deftly maneuvers through pretension and wades competently into the world of artistry.

Having recently read through much of the history involving production companies Toei and Nikkatsu, I find Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 to hold a very interesting place in Japanese cinema history. At the time, facing inevitable bankruptcy, Nikkatsu had decided to move away from action and charge directly into their roman porno line. Roman porno, or romantic porno, were softcore sex films targeted towards couples. These films took their inspiration from the very popular, but independent, pinku films of the day. This move by Nikkatsu left many of their top stars and directors feeling rather left out due to a lack of interest in the material. Meiko Kaji had grown into one of Nikkatsu’s biggest stars, but the inevitable charge into roman porno ultimately pushed her into the waiting arms of Toei who were more than adequately equipped to continue Kaji’s image of a tough and independent woman. Meiko Kaji had never shown any skin in any of her productions for Nikkatsu, but it is interesting to note that in this, one of her first features for Toei and a film that was directed by a new artist, she shed her clothing. One can only deduce that Kaji’s exodus from Nikkatsu was based more on principal, fearing that her roles would be reduced to rape victims and pressured women, than the inevitable sexual undertakings that these films would entail.

The history proves to almost be as interesting as the film itself, but the start of the Scorpion (or sasori) series proves to be a blend that is almost impossible to top. A chaotic mix of style and substance, director Shunya Ito throws everything and the kitchen sink at his audience. During a time when productions generally lasted three or four weeks on average, Female Prisoner #701 took a whopping 90 days to complete and the incredible attention to detail shows in every frame. Not simply another addition to the women-in-prison genre, Scorpion completely demolishes the sad pastiche and completely rebuilds it using an endless series of visual techniques that recall the horror movie patterns of Teruo Ishii (who Shunya Ito worked under before his debut film). With wild camera angles and a bleak and dark atmosphere, Scorpion creates an imposing gloom upon the audience. The prison that the majority of our film’s time is spent in may top the list for most disgusting and grimy cinematic prisons ever shown. The walls are caked in a mildew-esque green, mixed with black soot, and brown dirt. The movie never lacks in believability as we see just how sorrowful and evil this incarceration really is.

During a time of great social change in all countries, not just the US or in Japan, this Scorpion character could be seen as a parable for the injustice of all women. She is a woman done wrong by the male-dominated system, and during her time spent in prison she learns her own inner power. Some might point out that this wasn’t the first, nor the last, women-in-prison title that would follow many of these same stereotypes. Ito however makes it very clear that his movie is speaking directly to (or more vividly, wagging an angry finger at) his audience. The use of the Japanese flag during the introduction and the close of the film is not the most subtle way of pointing out the blame that his nation would have in such actions, but it grabs the audience by the collar and shows the anger of a challenging filmmaker. The phallic comparison of the prison guards with their billyclubs is very physically present throughout, as well. During a scene where the guards beat Matsu to get information, they indeed hold their clubs in the position of literal penises and try to stick them in her mouth and in between her legs. These are very obvious examples, but Ito manages to craft a complex story that doesn’t necessarily berate the audience with loud neon signs that proclaim “subtext”.

What will immediately command the attention of the audience however is the visual style and complexity of the film. It is experimentation with style throughout, with Ito running a triathlon of visual devices at all times. Not interested in telling a flat or dry narrative, the movie continually amazes with its visual power. Ito mixes dream logic, strange otherworldly lighting, and non-reality into one wildly entertaining mixture. The most talked about and innovative sequence would have to be Matsu’s retelling of the origins of her imprisonment. A series of visual concepts that blur into a strange mix of styles, we see the horror movie earmarkings of Mario Bava as Meiko Kaji’s face is lit brightly in orange and green while Ito defies all logic. The scene takes a theatrical cue by involving moving-sets that switch around in mid-shot in order to begin a new scenario. Female Prisoner Scorpion #701 is at no point boring from a visual standpoint or a narrative one.

  • The first and last time Meiko Kaji would go topless in any film.

  • When shooting the film, Meiko Kaji had issues with the rude language that was called on for her character as it was stated in her contract that this would be changed. She and director Shunya Ito ultimately resolved the situation by removing much of Matsu’s dialogue.

The Conclusion
Although it is generally agreed that Jailhouse 41 may be the best film in the Female Convict Scorpion series, I can’t help but confess a true love for Prisoner #701. Mind you I have not seen Jailhouse 41 in years but I absolutely adore this first entry in this poignant and important series. If you like action and tough heroines, then this is the film for you. If you like strange and beautiful filmmaking, then this is the film for you. I give it my highest rating, a five out of five. If you’ve never experienced this series, track them down but start with this first!

Black Tight Killers

Posted by Josh Samford On November - 3 - 2010

The Plot: Hondo (Akira Kobayashi) is photographer covering the Vietnam war. While on leave and heading home he meets a lovely young stewardess named Yoriko on the plane. The two hit it off well enough and Hondo manages to talk her into a date at a local restaurant later that night. They soon notice a man standing in the background watching them. As Hondo approaches the mysterious stranger, Yoriko turns up missing. When Hondo heads outside to find Yoriko, he finds the mysterious man and heads to confront him but instead witnesses him being murdered by a group of three women wearing black tight leather. With Lopez dead, Hondo attempts to fight with the women only to be thwarted with their Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet (I’ll get to this shortly). Hondo is at first taken in by the police for suspicion of murder, but is released after a friend speaks up for him. Hondo now has to find out just why Yoriko was kidnapped, who has her and who are these black tight killers?

The Review
Yasuhara Hasebe is a filmmaker that despite anything you say about him, definitely did things his way. A creative force within the Japanese exploitation film world throughout the seventies, he worked in all facets of genre film but his primary focus was in the sexy-girls-doing-bad-things market. Black Tight Killers actually marks the debut film for Hasebe, and would showcase many of the strengths of the director. Made in the mid-sixties, there is a marked difference between the culture and atmosphere that permeates Black Tight Killers as opposed to what can be found in Hasebe’s later Stray Cat Rock series. The psychedelic ideas and laid back atmosphere make the film quintessentially groovy. The differences between the sixties and seventies from an aesthetic level are not that drastic, but when you watch something like Black Tight Killers the differences really do stand out. Here we have a budding and less world-worn Hasebe delivering this kitschy little adventure tale, and it works for all of the right reasons!

Produced by Nikkatsu before they eventually went full steam into their Roman Porno line in the early seventies, Hasebe deftly delivers this spy romp with all of the gusto and enthusiasm one would expect from a filmmaker who had spent the better part of the decade working as an assistant director (to Seijun Suzuki no less) and now had the chance to really prove himself. Often lumped together in the Pinky Violence genre, it is both deserving of the title and not in many regards. For one, the film is produced by Nikkatsu which immediately sets it at odds by many definitions of the Pinky Violence genre. Toei, by all consensus, is considered the one true “Pinky Violence” studio as they created and established these films. These ninja women who wear the black tights that our title comes from are also secondary characters, and are ambiguous in their motives throughout the first half of the movie as well. Hardly what we expect from our Pinky Violence bad girls. In an argument for its inclusion however, I will say that all of the color, style and fashion from the genre is present and accounted for with the female ninja gang showing all of the youthful defiance and energy that the genre would certainly bring about.

There are many great elements that combine and make up Black Tight Killers, but one of the first I should mention has to be the cinematography. This film looks amazing! Despite the obvious age, all of the style and visual motifs still absorb the viewer instantaneously. The lighting throughout continually defies all logic and instead places us inside of a hyper stylized cartoon world. For instance, the wallpaper in a room may be orange but the overall lighting could be dark green and our two main characters standing in the foreground could be covered in a light pink spotlight that shines down on them. These colors shouldn’t work together, but they are so differentiated that they actually do and we as the audience are left with a smorgasbord of visual treats. The camera work is rarely static throughout, with Hasebe and cinematographer Kazue Nagatsuka (a cinematographer regularly used Seijun Suzuki) trying to make a unforgettable impression. The camerawork is at all times fluid, jumping between techniques and odd angles and making great use of depth. Cramped hallways turn into sprawling and claustrophobic caves that we track in and out of, the camera flips around with a steady stream of whip pans and zooms that dazzle the eye and there’s even some excellent handheld work to be found.

Part of the reason that the film ends up looking as beautiful as it does comes down to the amazing set design used throughout. The Tokyo streets at night are pitch black aside from neon signs that burn, rooms are painted black with white couches glowing in the darkness and inside of alleys there are dozens of barrels stacked to the ceiling in the background with each one painted green or yellow. There are so many set pieces in this movie that I loved. The black room just mentioned, I love it for the amazing staircase in the center of the room that has no conventional steps but instead features glowing white discs that stand out amidst the darkness. We also have the awesome single-colored backdrops, similar to the opening sequences in many Shaw Bros. films where martial artists would show their forms with red or orange backgrounds. During the introduction of the film we see our ninja Go-Go dancers doing some unison dance moves, but it also comes back into play during an amazing dream sequence where we watch as each layer of these single-color backdrops are ripped apart like paper in a desperate chase sequence.

Black Tight Killers is so over the top that it is amazing that the studio wasn’t disappointed with Hasebe’s effort. They had wanted a very James Bond style movie from what Hasebe has said, and it is kind of interesting that Hasebe went so far as to directly reference a myth perpetuated from the set of Goldfinger – the concept that if one is completely painted, the skin can no longer breathe and thus the person dies. This is brought up several times during the course of the movie and even though it has no basis in reality (as we have all seen via Mythbuster), it is easy to forgive due to how outrageous the rest of the movie is. Did I mention that the film has ninja Go-Go dancers? The audience HAS to realize that this picture does not take place in anything that resembles reality. The ninja weaponry used throughout the movie essentially replaces James Bond’s gadgets. The Go-Go dancers surely have the best and most insane weaponry/ninja techniques used, especially in comparison to Hondo’s simplistic laughing gas. There are hairbrushes that quickly reveal themselves to be knives and tape measures that are razor sharp that are used like swords. When it comes to ninja techniques… these girls have it all! The previously mentioned Ninja Chewing Gum Bullet shows one of the girls spitting two lumps of chewing gum into the eyes of our leading man Akira Kobayashi, which of course leaves him temporarily blinded. These girls also have the ability to disguise their voice in any way they choose, even taking on exact duplication of a man’s voice! Notably these girls can also use 45RPM records as ninja stars, impaling them several inches into hard walls. Did I mention the fact that this movie was a little over the top?

Throughout the movie, which is already fantastical and lighthearted, there are some great bits of comedy that are carried by our leading man Akira Kobayashi. In the opening moments of the movie, while on the battlefield in a life or death situation, this Hondo character (Kobayashi) lifts up a beer in order to have the top shot off in a humorous little moment. It perfectly encapsulates Hondo as well as the heights of absurdity our feature will ultimately end up taking us. Hondo has the answers for everything, but Kobayashi plays the character raw and is so charismatic here that you can’t help but fall in love with this guy. His martial arts technique on the other hand is… interesting, to say the least. The fight choreography within the movie isn’t what I would call the most labored or technical, but it gets the job done and shares that same “sloppy but effective” look to it that Sonny Chiba and Jimmy Wang Yu primarily created. In the dramatic, most of the cast acquit themselves well but ultimately this is Akira Kobayashi’s show and he makes good in every scene.

The Conclusion
I really loved this movie, I don’t know if I have made that clear enough at this point. It is a spy caper that isn’t afraid to be silly, but the craftsmanship that went into the visual style shows an insane amount of creativity behind the scenes. For fans of Japanese cinema during this era, you really owe it to yourself to track this one down. I give the movie a solid four out of five stars and I actually thought about going higher! Black Tight Killers is pure adrenaline driven fun from start to finish. Make sure to check it out!




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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.