Starting At the End: Part Two "Leaving On a Jet Plane"

What better way is there to get into a franchise than through its final film? They must have perfected the series by that point, right? Right?!?!?

The Concorde… Airport ‘79



The first North American owned Concorde jet is disembarking on its maiden flight, flying to Moscow with a stopover in Paris. Among the diverse group of passengers is beautiful news anchorwoman, Maggie Whelan (Susan Blakely), who has recently obtained proof that her defense contractor lover, Dr. Kevin Harrison (Robert Wagner), knowingly sold weapons to enemy nations. Harrison tries to shoot down the jet by sabotaging a test of his new smart missile system, but thanks to the deft piloting of Captains Paul Mertrand (Alain Delon) and Joe Patroni (George Kennedy), his plan fails. They also manage to outmaneuver the fighter plane he sends after them, although the attack does force them to undergo a tense emergency landing in Paris. Determined to stop Whelan, Harrison hires a member of the plane’s mechanical crew to insert a timer that will open the storage cabin door and cause the plane to break apart through explosive decompression, but—once again—Mertrand and Patroni save the day and “thread the needle” by landing the Concorde in the middle of the Swiss Alps. At the scene of the emergency landing, Whelan reports on TV that she has important breaking news she’s going to share with the world as soon as she reaches Moscow, causing Harrison to take out a pistol and end his own life.

Pertinent Details

Comes After: Airport (1970), Airport 1975 (1974) and Airport ’77 (1977).

Was Not Followed By: Although the TV movie Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land was released as Airport ’85 in the Philippines (and was directed by ‘77’s Jerry Jameson) it wasn’t actually an official entry in the series, just a really entertaining rip off.

Returning Players: George Kennedy—the only actor to appear in all four Airport films—returns as Joe Patroni. Monica Lewis, the wife of Jennings Lang—who produced the three sequels, but not the original—also appeared in ’77, but as a different character.

Most Surprising Credit: The film was written by Eric Roth, who would go on to win an Oscar for his script for Forrest Gump, and be nominated three other times for his work on The Insider, Munich and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

You know what I miss? Movie posters like the ones up above. The actual images are pretty bland, but I love the rows of pictures on the bottom. Even as a young kid I came to appreciate that this was a marketing technique only ever employed by terrible movies. You especially knew something was up when the lineup of famous faces featured people who weren’t all that famous or whose golden years had long since passed.

Just take a look at the first one and see who you recognize. You’re on this site, so you’re probably an obsessive like me and know most of them (bonus points if you recognized the woman who played the demonic voice of Regan in The Exorcist), but I suspect most folks over the age of 30 could only pick out one or two and even then as the guy from Austin Powers, the other guy from reruns of Green Acres, and the old woman from those 80s Polident commercials.

This marks a noticeable decline from the other films, whose rows of famous faces feature a few true cinematic legends, including Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Jack Lemmon, and Dean Martin. True, none of them would have considered these films a high point in their careers, but they were all smart enough to stay the fuck away from what would turn out to be the series’ final flight.

Clearly the reason for this lies in Concorde’s low budget. Despite featuring some okay-for-the-era special effects, the majority of the film resembles a bland TV movie and is obviously making due with the best it can afford. That it chose to try and sell itself on its collection of TV stars, foreigners, old folks, Cicely Tyson and two pretty ladies (one of whom was the star of the softcore Emmanuelle franchise), indicates the kind of desperation that makes bad film lovers salivate like Pavlov’s dog.

It’s a promise the film delivers on with enjoyable grace. The Concorde… Airport ’79 is a great bad movie—the kind that never once approaches competent storytelling or filmmaking, but still manages to be rousingly entertaining from start to finish. I credit a lot of this to Roth’s amazingly uneven screenplay, which is filled with some truly epic plot-holes and logical fuck ups, but still manages to be populated with characters who never seem truly real, but are utterly charming nonetheless.

I liked this entire collection of broad stereotypes, including the aging Russian gymnast in love with the handsome American sportscaster, the cartoonish Russian coach with the deaf 6 year-old daughter, the old barn-storming owner of the airline who’s lucky enough to be married to Sybil Danning, and pretty much everyone else--especially Kennedy’s Joe Patroni, who comes across like a genuinely great guy.

It actually helps that they never seem like real people, since that would only highlight how little sense the film’s plot makes when you stop and think about it. This way you can just roll along and accept the stupidity without any tedious verisimilitude ruining the fun.

But now that I mention it, I should talk a little bit about how dumb the film’s story really is. You can tell the plot is going to take a beating right from the start when we see Blakely give a national news report that consists entirely of stories about a) the Concorde’s maiden flight, b) the new missile invented by her boyfriend, and c) the soviet gymnast who’s going to just happen to be on the flight. It’s the kind of shameless exposition dump that immediately places the narrative in a world we know doesn’t exist.

But that’s nothing compared to Wagner’s solution to his dilemma. While being accused of treason is probably the worst thing that could happen to his company, it’s very closely followed by having his multi-billion dollar missile system screw up during a launch test and accidentally kill hundreds of innocent people. In fact, in terms of pure negative publicity, I’m willing to call it a draw.

Less egregious, but still hilarious, is that after the missile fails to work, he gets in his private plane in order to fly to Paris and basically arrives there at the same time the Concorde does. This, despite the fact that he’s chasing after a supersonic fucking jet that had a head start!

We also have to ignore that literally the next day after they are almost blown out of the sky and endure a terrifying landing, none of the passengers have any problem getting in the exact same plane to fly to Moscow the next day. Plus, instead of just killing Blakely when he sees her during the layover, Wagner instead has a mechanic sabotage the jet, because apparently he really does want to kill a planeload of innocent people instead of the one person giving him trouble. What a jerk!

I don’t know enough about science and aeronautics to cast doubts on the action scenes, like the one where Kennedy manages to set one of the fighter jet’s missile off course by firing a flare gun out his window, but I will say that no matter how theoretically plausible they may be, the execution of these scenes do render them appealingly unrealistic.

But none of this matters, since I enjoyed every second of this foolishness. As easy as it is to understand why this effort killed the Airport franchise, I really wish they’d gone on and made a few more.

Chances of my watching other films in the franchise: 100%. I especially can’t wait to see 1975, where cross-eyed stewardess Karen Black has to land the plane all by herself!

Final Franchise Entry Rating: Four George Kennedy’s out of Four


Vanity Fear Vlog Review - "Duh-geons & Dragons"

Because I don't care if you hate my video reviews.


The Soul of the 70s: Part Three "Make It Right"

When it comes to 70s exploitation, always bet on black!

Willie Dynamite



Willie Dynamite (Roscoe Orman) is one of New York’s top pimps with a multiracial stable of 7 beautiful women working one of the top hotels in the city. But the law is squeezing in on his trade and his fellow top hustlers want to form a co-operative to make it through this tough time. Willie ain’t a team player, though, so he refuses. His life is further complicated by a former hooker turned activist named Cora (Diana Sands), who has dedicated herself to saving his girl Pashen from the life and finding her respectable work as a model. Thanks to Cora, her district attorney boyfriend (Thalmus Rasulala), and the two cops (George Murdock & Albert Hall) dedicated to bringing him down, Willie’s empire begins to crumble and he’s forced to ask himself if being the flashiest playa in town is worth all of the pain, misery and death it brings.

Pertinent Details

Big Hollywood Producers: While many Blaxploitation movies were made by low budget producers on the fringes of Hollywood culture, Willie Dynamite was actually the second effort by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown (I wrote about their first film, Sssssss, here) who had previously ran 20th Century Fox together before moving on to work as independent producers at Universal. Their biggest hit together would come a year later, when they made a film about a killer shark named Jaws and played a major role in revitalizing what was then a dying industry.

An Attempt at Authenticity: Because of Zanuck and Brown’s influence, they were able to make sure that their film about a black pimp actually had a black director calling the shots. Willie Dynamite would end up being the first of Gilbert Moses two feature films, the other being the 1979 Julius Irving basketball oddity, The Fish Who Saved Pittsburgh.

Posthumously Released: Though the film is called Willie Dynamite, the film’s most compelling character (and true protagonist) is Cora, who was played by Diana Sands, an actress who would be much better known today were it not for her death from cancer in 1973, four months before the film was released in January of 1974. She was only 39 years old.

Willie Dynamite is an example of a Blaxploitation film that plays with our expectations of the genre, providing us with all of the gaudy glamour and attitude we would expect from a film that features a male main character who walks around in fur coats and drives a purple Cadillac (I’m guessing—I know less than nothing about cars), while also attempting to be a serious examination of a criminal’s fall from grace and possible redemption. It’s a film that both wants you to laugh at it and take it seriously at the same time and the remarkable thing is that it very nearly gets away with it.

The biggest shock for most viewers is seeing Roscoe Orman in the title role—his movie debut. Though you may not recognize his name, if you grew up enjoying the urban adventures in a special place called Sesame Street, then you know his face, since he played the part of Gordon for 35 years. Thanks to his beard and flashy wardrobe he’s almost unrecognizable, but during those brief moments when his future self does show through, the effect can be chilling.

It’s a strong, if occasionally overwrought performance, affected as much by some over dramatic scripting and bad direction as anything else. The best thing about it is Orman’s refusal to seek out our sympathy. Willie is not a likeable guy and many, if not most, of his actions throughout the movie are deplorable, yet somehow, when he denies ownership of the purple car being towed away from his old apartment, it’s impossible not to feel some hope that this symbolic gesture is an actual sign of his choosing a new path and becoming a new man.

It’s a feeling of hope that wouldn’t be possible were it not for the performance of Diana Sands. Her Cora is the film’s true hero and easily the most sympathetic character. When her goal is to take Willie down and rescue Pashen, we remain entirely on her side, completely unconflicted as she breaks the law to do what she feels is right. Yet we also understand her ambivalence when she succeeds and Willie’s life stands in ruins. She doesn’t feel any joy or sense of victory. She’s sad for him and invites him into her house for coffee in the film’s most powerful scene:


But lest you think this all too melodramatic, Willie Dynamite never forgets how absurd and gloriously tacky so many of its characters really are. Because the genre demanded it, Willie gets his own catchy theme song, which we hear twice in the movie and is so awesome I would have bought it from iTunes immediately after I heard it if it were available:


This is a movie where we actually see a brotherhood of pimps discussing their business a la Black Dynamite (whose name suggest this effort served as a major inspiration). Their leader, Bell, is played so over the top by Roger Robinson, he actually could have been lifted whole and placed in that satire without changing a single vocal inflection. He’s a parody of a parody, but his presence doesn’t take the whole thing down. Instead he’s an amusing note in an often-serious film that takes pains to show that there are actual consequences for the women ruled over by these men.

Not a perfect movie, the film still manages to deliver the goods we expect, but in a way that allows us to enjoy the spectacle without feeling like we’re supporting it. Willie is less an anti-hero than an asshole with just enough humanity that after we’ve seen him taken down, we’re ready to see him built back up—hopefully as someone less destructive and with much better taste.

Bad Mother--SHUT YOUR MOUTH! Rating: 7 Fur Hats out of 10


B-TV: Part Six "Unsuspended Disbelief"

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century



Nasa astronaut Buck Rogers’ (Gil Gerard) 1987 solo mission in space does not go as planned and through a fluke of the universe he is frozen and left to float alone in the cosmos for 500 years. Found by an alien space station on its way to a mission to Earth, Rogers is defrosted and meets Princess Ardala (Pamela Hensley) and her second in command, Kane (Henry Silva). Before Rogers even has time to comprehend what has happened to him, they put him back on his ship and send him back to Earth, hoping the bug they implanted will informed them how to break through the planet’s defenses. Back at Earth, Rogers is examined and is determined to be honest and reliable by Dr. Theopolis (Howard F. Flynn), a sentient computer carried around by a tiny humanoid robot named Twiki (Felix Silva & Mel Blanc), but that doesn’t stop military commander Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) from being suspicious of him. Declared a spy by the Earthlings once the bug on his ship is discovered, Rogers is sentenced to death but is spared after an act of heroism during a space pirate raid. Suspecting that Kane and the Princess are secretly behind the pirates, Rogers seduces and drugs Ardala and manages to sabotage their attack force, ensuring their planned invasion of Earth fails before it even has a chance to start. At last, he earns Deering’s respect, as well as a new home in a strange future.

Pertinent Details

B-TV or Not B-TV: Originally conceived as the first of a series of TV movies made to capitalize on the success of Star Wars, this eventually became the pilot for a regular series instead. When the pilot of producer/co-writer Glen A. Larson’s similar sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica found success as a theatrical movie in Europe and some parts of North America, the decision was made to release Buck Rogers to theatres instead of debuting it on television as had originally been planned. There it grossed a very respectable $21 million and was later split into the first two episodes of the series that followed and would go to last for a season and a half.

Too Ballsy For Primetime: Some changes were made between the theatrical and TV versions. The theatrical version featured a memorable (see more below) opening credit sequence set to the song “Suspension” (performed by Kipp Lennon and co-written by Larson) in which Rogers lays around unconscious while Gray, Hensley and several anonymous models pose seductively, while the split TV eps used the show’s standard credits, set to an instrumental version of the song. Beyond this, scenes where Rogers calls Deering “ballsy” and Twiki refers to freezing his “ball bearings” were cut from the TV version. Several new scenes were also added to the TV version, so the resulting two episodes both came in at then-standard broadcast length. These new scenes haven’t been seen in awhile, since the released DVD set only includes the theatrical version.

An Old Established Character: Proving that 21st century executives didn’t invent the habit of going back to the past to follow and capitalize on new trends and viewer nostalgia, Buck Rogers was based on a property that was over 50 years old by the time the movie hit theatre screens. The character first appeared in a pulp fiction magazine in a story written by Phillip Francis Nowlan and subsequently became famous in other stories, a comic strip, a 1939 movie serial starring Buster Crabbe (who would go on to play a role in the first official episode of the 1979 series), and an earlier short-lived TV series that ran from 1950 to 1951.

My parents are often bewildered by my ability to recall certain details of the past that they had long ago obliterated from their memories. I don’t think I necessarily possess a better grasp of my childhood than any other average person, but it probably isn’t a coincidence that many of the most powerful remembrances of my youth are tied directly to film and television. Even at the earliest possible age I found that such entertainments mattered to me more than most.

It’s because of this that the earliest memory I have that I can specifically date (as opposed to those that might have come before but are impossible for me to determine when they actually happened) occurred in the summer of 1978, when I was two years old. In it, I’m sitting/standing (I was small enough that I could comfortable do both) in the back of the Dombroski’s station wagon. It’s parked at the Twin Drive-in and I am watching a movie I would later realize was called Star Wars, which had been re-released to theatres a year after it’s original run because home video hadn’t been properly invented yet. As much as the movie impacted me later on, the film itself is secondary to my memory of the interior of that car and the salty-buttery taste of the popcorn.

That’s the earliest memory I can put a general date on. The second comes several months later, in March of 1979 to be exact. This time I’m not in a car, but a regular old-fashioned movie theatre, where I’m sitting with my parents (who may or may not have been there with the Dombroskis—who I definitely know were around in May of 1980, when I saw The Empire Strikes Back at the age of 4). Predictably, I have very little recall of the film itself. Even though I’ve always known that I saw Buck Rogers in the 25th Century in a theatre, it wasn’t until I just watched it again 33 years later that I realized the only thing I actually remembered about it was this (embedding has been disabled by the copyright owner, so click on Erin to see the whole glorious video):

So, yes, this proves without a doubt that even at three years old, all I really cared about in movies was the pretty girls, which obviously still stands today, because were it not for the presence of Pamela Hensley and Erin Gray, I would now consider the film to be a total snooze. I actually feel compelled to thank my parents (and possibly the Dombroskis) for sitting through it all those years ago, as this obviously proves that they loved me and would endure all sorts of terrible entertainment for my benefit.

Viewed with the eyes of an old, old man, the film exists in an unhappy limbo where it’s too self-conscious to descend to the cheesy heights of absurdity that transform a film like Luigi Cozzi’s Starcrash from a bold-faced rip-off to an original classic of its own, while also being too inelegantly formulaic and commercial to disguise the disinterested rote-ness of its clinical professionalism.

In other words, it’s too well made to be “so-bad-it’s-good”, which is unfortunate because it also doesn’t have the budget or imagination to transcend the innate absurdity of its concept. This isn’t a problem for television, but for a theatrical movie it’s the touch of death. (Having gotten into the series itself, I can happily report that it itself manages to satisfyingly reach the “so-bad-it’s-good” status required to redeem its existence.)

The only way most sci-fi TV shows can afford to stay on the air is to use costly action and special effects as sparingly as possible—to the point that many such shows fall under the trap Joss Whedon refers to as “radio with pictures”. It’s a trap Buck Rogers cannot avoid, partially because of a lack of resources, but also because its chief creative mind, Glen A. Larson, was a television man through and through (his other more successful efforts included Simon & Simon, Quincy, Magnum P.I., Knight Rider and—my personal favourite—The Fall Guy) and the project’s small screen origins are so inherently a part of its DNA there’s no disguising them.

There’s no question that the movie or series would not exist were it not for the success of Star Wars, but as is typically the case, everyone involved failed to properly analyze the reasons for its success. Instead of determining that kids adored C-3PO and R2-D2 because they were a compelling comic duo who served as our gatekeepers to this strange and special universe (everything that had to be explained to them was actually being explained to us!), Larson and associates figured that kids just liked cute funny robot teams and thus gave us Twiki and Dr. Theopolis.

It’s a crucial miscalculation. Though kids were actually delighted by the comic antics of Twiki (because kids are stupid, see also Ewoks), he feels completely out of place in the context of the other characters. R2-D2 was adorable to be sure, but he not only fit in with all of the other characters, he actually managed to be as fully developed as they were—proving capable of genuine acts of heroism and generating affecting emotion. Twiki, on the other hand, is clearly just there to sell toys and make theoretically comedic comments in a voice straight out of a Loony Tunes cartoon. And Dr. Theopolis, rather than being the neurotic, tight-assed C-3PO, is just a boring clock with a face who spends all of his time telling Buck (and us) what’s going on. He’s so forgettable it wasn’t until I re-watched the movie that I remembered he existed and realized Twiki’s main purpose was to carry him around.

As Rogers Gil Gerard manages to have a few fun moments, especially those that compel him to channel his inner Han Solo, but the script both requires him to accept and deny his situation in frustratingly implausible ways, having him act more often to propel the plot than as a fully developed character.

This is also true for Erin Gray, who your eyes will note was about as gorgeous as any human being was capable of being in the late 70s, but who is poorly served by a script that has her acting like an unreasonable military tight-ass in one scene and a moony-eyed dish-mop the next. The scene were she gets upset watching Buck dance with the equally-gorgeous horndog Princess Ardala is supposed to be funny, but it actually makes no sense in the context of what we’ve seen before. She’s acting that way because in television that’s how the female co-star is supposed to act when the leading man dances with the other pretty lady, not because a human being would actually act that way.

But the biggest problem is the film’s lack of urgency, which is most tellingly illustrated in the scene where Rogers, Deering and crew engage in a dogfight with what they then believe are space pirates, but are actually Princess Ardala’s men in disguise. The pirates pick off the other crewmembers with ease, leaving just our two main characters alive. No sense of weight is given to any of these deaths, and Buck even makes a joke as they turn around and fly back to Earth, apparently indifferent to the human loss. If we can’t be expected to feel anything in a moment like this, then everything else is destined to feel similarly lifeless and flat.

That said, I do love that opening credit sequence I wish I could have embedded above. It’s the closest the film ever comes to feeling at all cinematic. Had the rest of the movie shown that kind of gaudy flair I suspect I would have one more treasured childhood memory, instead of one I can just attach a specific month and a year to.

Que sera sera.


The Other Side of Corman: Part One "Off Brand Models"

Roger Corman produced a lot of classic B-Movies. This is NOT their story.

Cover Girl Models



Two experienced models join a newcomer on a trip to Hong Kong and Singapore for a photo shoot. Their photographer, Mark (John Kramer), does his best to get them to take off their clothes whenever he can and can’t decide who he wants to bed more, the hard-to-get blonde Claire (Lindsay Bloom) or the eager neophyte Mandy (Tara Strohmeyer).  Barbara (Pat Anderson) has her attentions stolen by a suave Asian spy named Ray (Tony Ferrer) who rescues her when foreign agents attempt to retrieve the microfilm hidden in her couture gown. Claire gets in trouble trying to land a part in an upcoming movie, eventually getting kidnapped by Singaporean rebels while dressed like the American ambassador’s nymphomaniac daughter. It all comes to a head during a brief shoot-out at a bad guys mansion. Claire is a hit with journalists, but only gets offered the part of a model in the movie, not the lead, Mandy gets offered a $50,000 deal from a rival publisher, and Barbara has a date with her suave secret agent hero. Mark is taken to the police department for questioning, despite his hilarious protests.

Pertinent Details

This Says A Lot: Gremlins director Joe Dante has gone on record that Cover Girl Models was the worst film he ever edited a trailer for during his time working for Corman.

Returning Champion: Cover Girl Models was directed by Cirio H. Santiago, the filmmaker response for the previous Vanity Fear B-Movie Bullsh*t entry, Firecracker.

This Had a Script?: The film was “written” by Corman vet Howard R. Cohen who remains best known as the writer/director of the truly terrible horror spoof Saturday the 14th and it’s sequel Saturday the 14th Strikes Back.

Also Starring: Cult queen Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000, Eating Raoul) appears in one scene as the editor of the magazine doing the photo shoot. She’s definitely the best part of the movie. My guess is that this scene was shot in the States and put into the movie after it was finished to pad out the running time a la the nude karate fight in Firecracker (my suspicions about this having been confirmed by the extended special features interview with co-star Darby Hinton on the excellent Machete Maidens Unleashed DVD).

If you read the above synopsis and came to the conclusion that it read less like an actual plot description than a list of random events, welcome to Cover Girl Models—a film so devoid of urgency and momentum you’d might think it was a brilliant European arthouse flick if it had been filmed in Swedish or Italian. Unfortunately, though, it was filmed in English, which means being constantly aware of how terrible it is every single second of its brief (but interminable) running time.

Director Santiago was rather infamous for being so cavalier about his work that sometimes he couldn’t even bother to ensure that shots were in focus or that enough of the script was filmed to make sense or break past the 70 minute running time required to get a movie on most theatre screens. This explains the haziness of some of the film’s moments and why at least one sub-plot—Claire’s attempts to get a major movie role—makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever.

The problems with this scenario begin when she decides to pretend to be a hooker to research the role she covets and impress the producer with her knowledge. Naturally, this leads to her almost being raped by a drunken sailor. She’s saved by a guy who we think is the bar's manager, but rather than help her, he starts chasing her, even as she runs out of the club and hops a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. Instead of letting her go, he then has some friends join him on a bizarre Filipino moped contraption and chase after her—risking everyone’s lives in the process. The moped-thingie eventually overturns (and looks like it really injured the poor bastards in it at the time), and in the next scene we see Claire explain that she didn’t know the guy was a cop, because apparently they take arresting prostitutes REALLY seriously in Singapore (which is probably true—even if you can get a legal handjob in most shopping malls—but still seems absured as presented here).

Still, that pales in comparison to what happens next. After this—for reasons never explained—Claire decides her next best bet is to pretend to be the infamous daughter of the American ambassador by putting on a black wig. As a result of this she gets kidnapped by some sort of liberation army (even though the phrase "Singapore Rebel" is pretty much an oxymoron), and just sits there when confronted by their leader, even though he clearly thinks she’s someone she’s not. It’s only in the next scene, when she’s suddenly and inexplicably in his bedroom, that he comes in angry, having figured out she’s an imposter. He then rips her top off and starts to rape her, but stops for some unknown reason.

The next time we see Claire she’s with the other models, apparently unharmed and without a word to say about her traumatic experience. During the gunfight in the smuggler’s mansion, her kidnapper appears out of nowhere (literally, he’s all of sudden just there beside her in the middle of the action with no explanation) and saves her. Then, when it’s all over, he’s gone and never mentioned again.

And this is the most entertaining and intriguing part of the movie.

That said, for those impressed by the sight of attractive women in no clothing, the film isn’t as easily dismissed. Redheaded beanpole Strohmeyer only appeared in 11 movies in her short career, but managed to make a major naked impression in most of them (especially Hollywood Boulevard, Kentucky Fried Movie and The Student Teachers). Her breasts get the most running time, but not because Bloom and Anderson weren’t trying. Perhaps the most imaginative use of nudity comes in the scene where Barbara is being chased by Taiwanese agents and tries to get a beat cop supervising a local dance contest to help her, only to finally get his attention when she desperately flashes the crowd from the stage.

It says something about my affection for such material that as terrible as Cover Girl Models is, I find it impossible to actually hate it. It’s such a harmless, lightweight nothing of a movie that getting worked up about its incompetence is surely a waste of one’s rage reserves. Will I ever watch it again? Nope, but I also probably won’t forget it. If only for this scene featuring the immortal Vic Diaz:

Crappy Corman Rating: 1 Reel Out of 7


Vanity Fear Vlog Review - "Gonna Need a Bigger Carrot"

Because I don't care if you hate my video reviews.


The Soul of the 70s: Part Two "An Unfortunate Show of Good Taste"

When it comes to 70s exploitation, always bet on black!

Black Eye



Shep Stone (Fred Williamson) used to be a L.A. police lieutenant before his sister died of a drug overdose and he started doing more than just arresting pushers. Since being fired from the force he spends most of his time finding runaways and drinking bourbon in his favourite bar. When his hooker neighbour is killed by a psycho named Chess for a silver topped cane she stole from the gravesite of a dead silent movie star, he convinces an old friend from the force to let him investigate the crime for $200 and a gun permit. Around the same time a worried father named Dole hires him to find his missing daughter, Amy. Investigating both cases takes Stone into the worlds of pornography, the occult and a local “church” whose flock consists of young hippy Jesus freaks, until they converge and lead Stone to the same MacGuffin—$250,000 of uncut heroin.

Pertinent Details

Unfaithful Adaptation: Black Eye is based on the 1971 Jeff Jacks novel, Murder on the Wild Side, but—according to this review—differs significantly from this source material in several ways. Jacks’ protagonist is white and was kicked off the force for stealing money from a drug bust. He’s also based in New York, instead of Los Angeles. Also instead of a voluptuous redheaded hooker/porn star/medium, his murdered neighbour in the novel is an old lady known as the “The Handkerchief Woman”. In the book Stone agrees to investigate the murder to get his P.I. license, not a gun permit.

Religion Sucks: Williamson's romantic co-star in Black Eye was the extraordinarily lovely Teresa Graves, who remains best known as the star of the Blaxploitation inspired TV series Get Christie Love. After Black Eye she starred in only one other film—the 1975 Clive Donner directed David Niven oddity Old Dracula—before giving up acting because it conflicted with her newfound Muslim faith.

Best Hack in the Business: Black Eye was the first of two Blaxploitation movies made by Jack Arnold (the other being Boss, which also starred Williamson), the director of Creature From the Black Lagoon, Tarantula and The Incredible Shrinking Man (as well as 26 episodes of Gilligan’s Island).

Despite being one of the biggest names in the genre, Fred Williamson has never made it a secret that he hates the Blaxploitation label, repeatedly asking the question, “Who was being exploited?” whenever he discusses the subject. Watching Black Eye it’s easy to understand where he is coming from. Despite its title, the film bares little resemblance to the outlandish films so expertly parodied by Black Dynamite and I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and is instead a fairly straightforward private detective picture that just happens to have a black protagonist.

As a result, Black Eye both benefits and suffers from its lack of traditional Blaxploitation trappings. Director Arnold was one of the best pros in the business and gives the film a solid professional look, and Williamson is outstanding as Stone, a character who never descends into stereotype and who could have easily appeared in more films had this one proven to be a success. The problem is that the script takes what appeared to have been very exploitation friendly source material and annihilates it in an unfortunate show of good taste. The film was rated PG, despite being based on what looks like an X-rated novel.

Williamson does his best to carry the film on his broad shoulders, but its not enough and he’s weighed down by slow-placing and a plot that is never as interesting as it thinks it is. The one intriguing element that does remain (the grudgingly respectful relationship he forms with his girlfriend’s lesbian sugar-mommy) gets short shrift and ends up being unresolved and feeling superfluous.

Fans of “The Hammer” will definitely want to give this one a look, but it’s likely going to bore those who expect some goofy tackiness in their Blaxploitation movies. The best Black Eye can offer up in that direction is this brief "lovers frolicing" scene and—as much as I love it—it just isn't enough.


Bad Mother—shut your mouth! rating: 5 out of 10


The WWTTM Pantheon - Part One "Eastbound and Down, Down, Down for the Count"

WWTTM: A film so misconceived and obviously doomed for failure that it forces the viewer to ask one question: What Were They Thinking?!?!?

Smokey and the Bandit Part 3



After twice failing to get his hands on the legendary speedster known as Bandit, Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason) has decided to retire and move to Florida with his simple-minded son, Junior (Mike Henry). Almost immediately bored, he decides to return to Texas, but before he can leave, the father and son team of Big and Little Enos Burdette (Pat McCormick and Paul Williams) compel him to make a bet. If he can make it back home from Florida in 35 hours, he wins $250,000, but if he can’t they get his badge. The Burdette’s aren’t above cheating to win, but when their roadblocks prove less than reliable, they call on the Bandit’s partner-in-crime, Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed), who seizes the opportunity to literally step into his hero’s shoes. Partnered with a hitchhiker named Dusty Trails (Colleen Camp) he repeatedly steals the plastic fish Sheriff Justice needs to have to win the bet, but he ends up letting the sheriff win, because, “You can’t have a Bandit, if you ain’t got a Smokey.”

Pertinent Details

Urban Legend: The production of this WWTTM sequel is so mired in secrecy and bad decisions it’s literally the stuff of Urban Legends and has been discussed on More on this below.

Not a Good Year: Coming off the success of the first two Smokey and the Bandit movies, Jackie Gleason’s movie career came to a sudden halt when this and another WWTTM sequel, The Sting II both bombed at the box office.

First and Last: This was the first and last feature film of Dick Lowry, who remains best known for his work on such memorable TV movies as Angel Dusted, Kenny Rogers as The Gambler, Pigs Vs. Freaks and the Mr. T vehicle, The Strongest Man In the World.

Inconsistency: The film is titled Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, even though the previous film, Smokey and the Bandit II, used Roman numerals to indicate its sequel status.

Despite the fact that many of the folks involved in its production are still very much alive, the full official story of the debacle that resulted in Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 has still never been fully revealed. The film’s failure and terrible reputation have spared the participants from ever being interviewed for DVD retrospectives or participate in Alamo Drafthouse screenings, which means the facts of what happened are still open to debate and conjecture.

The one thing everyone knows is this—when it came time to make the film, both star Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham decided to pass and make Stroker Ace instead (an admittedly lateral move in retrospect). Co-star Sally Field, who by then had already won one of her two Oscars, also passed, as did Jerry Reed. This left only the series' Smokey, Jackie Gleason, willing to return.

In a more sensible time, this would have been enough to cancel the project and enjoy counting the megabucks the first two films brought in, but the studio and producers believed there were more dollars to be mined from the franchise and decided to try and think of ways the series could continue with only its antagonist at the wheel.

And here’s where things get murky. One thing we do know is that this teaser trailer was made:


From this we know the film was original conceived not as Smokey and the Bandit Part 3, but as Smokey IS the Bandit, but the question no one has completely been able to answer is just what exactly that film was meant to be.

Popular myth has it that—in a bizarre bit of post-modernism—the decision was made to have Gleason portray both Sheriff Justice AND the Bandit in the film. Legend has it that when they showed this version of the film to an early test audience, they were so confused that the decision was made to scrap the scenes with Bandit-Gleason completely.

Less fantastic, but much more plausible (until the above trailer was found), is the theory found in the Snopes piece linked above (a theory I personally came to on my own as I was watching the film for the first time in preparation for this post). It suggests that the “IS” in Smokey IS the Bandit wasn’t meant to be taken literally, but instead indicated that in this third film, Sheriff Justice’s situation had been reversed and he had in essence taken on the role the Bandit served in the previous two films—the chaser had become the chased and the lawmen was now the outlaw. In this case, the test audience complained not because they were confused, but because they hated the idea of a Smokey and the Bandit sequel that had no Bandit in it.

This second theory makes more sense owing to the fact that it isn’t totally fucking stupid, and—despite its popularity as a filmmaking legend—years had passed without anyone seeing a single piece of evidence that supported the idea that scenes of Gleason as the Bandit had ever been filmed. That was until a couple of years ago, when this photo appeared online:

This puts us right back at square one. Whichever version is true (and it is possible it is a combination of both), the result of the test screening debacle was that the producers managed to convince Jerry Reed to return and shoot new scenes of him as Cledus, dressed as the Bandit, driving around with an utterly superfluous Colleen Camp (who wears such a ridiculously conservative outfit, she doesn’t even seem to be there for added sex appeal). These scenes were edited into the previously shot material (which explains why Gleason and Reed never appear in the same shot during the entire movie) in a way that almost makes sense, so long as you acknowledge how hopelessly ridiculous the film’s entire premise was to begin with.

If the notion of Gleason playing both the hero and the villain took the film in a strange meta direction, the decision to have Reed play a character “playing” the Bandit isn’t any more conventional. Just watch this scene and try to comprehend how it must have been viewed by fans of the original movies who came to this expecting a traditional sequel experience (Note: The clip isn't embeddable, so click the picture to go to the YouTube page--AND THEN COME RIGHT BACK!!!!):

As a premise, Cledus IS the Bandit is no less strange than Smokey IS the Bandit, and it puts the film in the same uncomfortable territory as the Pink Panther movies that Blake Edwards kept making after Peter Sellers died. Rather than merely glossing past Burt Reynolds' legacy in the role by recasting the part with another actor, the filmmakers instead highlight it by having a character from the other films acknowledge his transition into the Bandit persona. However, instead of placating the audience, all this does is make us even more aware of Reynolds' absence. The lesson is the same one the computer learned at the end of War Games—the only way to win is not to play the game.

Since Reed winning as the Bandit didn’t match the ending with Gleason that had been shot, the filmmakers were forced to contrive an excuse for his losing, and what they came up with is the film’s most explicit recognition of its own meta-narrative (Note: For some reason this one was embeddable. YouTube is fucked):

Without even wanting to, the film's very existence forces Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 into Charlie Kaufman territory.

The other reason why Cledus/Bandit has to lose the chase seems especially ironic, considering how quickly the failure of this film killed the franchise—Smokey needs to keep his badge in case they wanted to make Part 4 (or IV). It also allows for Reynolds’ brief cameo in the film, in which the delusional sheriff hallucinates that Reed is the actual Bandit and makes the decision to let him go rather than wither away in the Bandit-less world of retirement (Note: Click for video):

Strangely, for all of its behind the scenes mythology and utter failure to resemble anything like a normal movie, you don’t hear a lot of people discuss Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 in Bad Movie circles. Having just watched it for the first time, I think it definitely qualifies for cult status. There’s something extremely compelling about watching a successful franchise permanently self-destruct right before your eyes. There's no doubt that this was a film made for the most craven and desperate of reasons, even though everyone involved had to clearly know it had no chance of ever succeeding. For that reason it is an essential entry in the WWTTM Pantheon.


Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: Part One "The Squad With the Misleading Name"

Girls just want to have fun, but there are so many psychos out there who refuse to let them. Mark my words, those bastards are gonna pay.With their balls!

Rape Squad



Linda (Jo Anne Harris) is a part-time student and food truck operator whose peace is forever shattered when she’s raped by a maniac in an orange jumpsuit and hockey mask. Based on his nasty quirk of forcing his victims to sing “Jingle Bells” while he attacks them, the police determine she’s his fifth victim, but haven’t figured out a way to identify or stop him. Frustrated by the law’s impotence, Linda convinces her fellow victims to form a “Rape Squad” dedicated to protecting other women and getting revenge on rapists who’ve escaped the law. Their attacker notices their efforts and devises a plan to relive his vile experiences—this time with all five women at once. Only fate will tell if the “Rape Squad” is ready for him.

Pertinent Details

Alternate Title: Probably because Rape Squad sounds more like a movie about a squad dedicated to committing rape, rather than avenging it, the film was also released—and is currently available—under the title of Act of Vengeance.

Use of Sporting Goods: Rape Squad’s villain disguised himself with a hockey mask a full eight years before Jason Voorhies famously adopted the same look in Friday the 13th Part III.

Feminist Fake Out: Though some viewers might be led to believe that the presence of female writer Betty Conklin would result in a more tasteful and less exploitative depiction of its difficult subject matter, the reality is she didn’t exist and is instead the pseudonym of David Kidd, who also co-wrote (with Jack Hill) The Swinging Cheerleaders as Conklin that same year.

Of all the various exploitation genres, rape/revenge films are easily the trickiest and most problematic in today’s cultural landscape, especially those made in the 1970s, when many of them were made to titillate as much as they were to educate. Even those with the noblest of intentions remain controversial and find themselves accused of contributing to the misogyny they would appear to be fighting against.

Rape Squad isn’t one of those noble efforts. As much as it pays lip service to the way the justice system violates women as much as any rapist and allows its characters to confront the asshole dudes clueless enough to mock their violation, the fact is the film remains mostly an excuse to showcase their bodies in various stages of undress. Each of the film’s various rape scenes are clearly more focused on exposing the breasts of each actress rather than the crimes they are supposedly depicting.

It also hurts the film that each member of the “Rape Squad” is so poorly drawn. It wasn’t until the end of the movie that I finally knew all of their names, and—besides Linda—none of them are given a clear personality to separate themselves from one another. They’re all just victims, several of whom only seem mildly interested in the project that unites them.

Still, there are some good moments to be found and nuggets that suggest director Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream) could have made a better movie if he had a less feeble script to work with. The scene where the squad confronts a rapist who was acquitted by a court biased against women is as good as any you’ll find in this kind of film, even if it chickens out in the end. Even better is the scene where the squad take down a pimp trying to force a woman who wants to escape “the life” back out onto the street.

Ultimately, though, Rape Squad is too timid for its own good. The sudden violence at the end feels out of place in a film previously more interested in exposing flesh than depicting vigilante justice. The result is far more Lipstick than Ms. 45.

Cut Their Balls Off Rating: 1 measly testicle out of 5.


Vanity Fear Vlog Review - "Don't Ruin It...."

Because I don't care if you hate my video reviews.