Junesploitation 2021: Uppercut Man (1988)

June 24: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is free space!

Sergio Martino made some truly baffling and wonderful movies in the late 80s. Perhaps even stranger, two of them — this film and American Rickshaw — were made in Miami, a place that Italian directors loved in the wake of Miami Vice (see also: Cy WarriorCop TargetThe Last MatchMean TricksFirst Action HeroPlanktonKarate Warrior 2Primal RageMoving TargetNightmare Beach, the Bud Spencer version of AladdinBrothers In BloodStrikerThe Wild TeamCut and RunMiami GolemSuper Fuzz*, Go for It* and Atlantis Interceptors*).

Also known as Qualcuno Pagherà (Someone Will Pay), Punhos de Exterminador (Terminator Fists, which is a great title), Vaincre ou Mourir 2 (Win or Die 2), Bloodfight and The Opponent, this movie is seriously everything I love about late 80s Italian bootleg cinema.

Daniel Greene was once Paco Queruak in Hands of Steel, which is why that Terminator Fists title makes sense, and now he is Bobby Mulligan, a boxer who works for Martin Duranti (Giuliano Gemma, Silver Saddle). His wife, Gilda (Mary Stavin from Strike Commando 2 and Born to Fight) ends up working our hero’s speedbag — if you know what I’m saying and I think you do — and Martin declares a vendetta against our hero.

Bobby was already in love with Anne (Keely Shaye Smith, who was in the “Stuck with You” video with Huey Lewis before marrying Pierce Brosnan), whose father Victor (Ernest Borgnine!) was once a boxer, which will come in handy later. He doesn’t trust anyone who is a fighter with his little girl, especially after he gets in a slaphappy battle with our hero in his grocery store.

Duranti, learning that he’s been cucked, wants Bobby to do the job in a fight against Eddy (James Warring, who was the World Kickboxing Association World Cruiserweight Champion), but Bobby has no idea what that means and wins the fight. So the mobbed out Duanti sends his men to break our hero’s right hand, pretty much ending his boxing career. However, Victor comes around and starts respecting our hero because he also refused to throw a fight. Guess what? His daughter comes around too.

Remember that opportunity for Victor I mentioned? That comes when the mob takes our hero’s ex-drunk coach Larry (Bill Wohrman, Porky’s), forces him to drink chemicals and drowns him in a scene that is a narrative and tonal shift, but so is the end of this movie, when our hero goes from the championship match to rescuing his woman in a junkyard and getting horrible and bloody revenge, but not before the bad girl turns good and pays for it with her life.

I really wish Martino had made more of these cover movies, because I love every single one of them. It starts with the conventions of the accepted boxing movie and just gets wild, as you hope that it will.

The montage where Borgnine teaches Daniel Greene to box with only his left hand is beyond joyous, as is the scene where our hero tries to do some road work and a car runs him down. Man, I got so excited writing about this that now I want to watch it again.

*Yes, I know, these were made years before Crockett and Tubbs got to town.

Omerta (2011)

Starring former pro boxer Paul Malinaggi, Will Wallace, Joe Estevez (The Zero Boys), Adam Nelson (Mystic River), Joe D’ Onofrio (A Bronx TaleGoodfellas), and Carmen Argenziano (Sudden Impact), Omerta tears the lid off the secrets of Bensonhurst, a place where connected men own all of the political and legal power. Yet one man learns that the code of loyalty simply means being a street soldier in a battle that he can’t win.

At once a religious and a mob movie, Omerta is written and directed by four-time Emmy nominated Craig Syracusa (Ring Of FaithWalk in Faith) and has music by Ceazar Reyes and Raekwon from The Wu-Tang Clan.

From the office of a priest to a bloody battle on the streets, mob fans will find something to like in this film, if only to see some of their favorite actors from those films in different roles.

You can watch this on Tubi or get the DVD from MVD.

Women In Chains (1972)

The ABC Movie of the Week for January 25, 1972, Women In Chains brings Ida Lupino to TV for her first made-for-TV movie, as well as bringing her back to the WIP genre that she made such a mark on with 1955’s Women’s Prison.

She plays prison guard Claire Tyson (Ida Lupino), a woman who can get away with anything that she wants to, as long as its within the prison walls. Parole officer Sandra Parker (Lois Nettleton, who was on the TV series form of In the Heat of the Night) gets the idea to make herself over as junkie Sally Porter to the protests of Assistant District Attorney Helen Anderson (Penny Fuller).

Helen is the only one who knows about this undercover work, but when she’s shot and killed by the boyfriend of one of her cases our heroine is stuck in the big house. Her goal is to save an innocent girl named Lemina (Belinda Montgomery, Dooger Hauser’s mom) but she runs into Tyson’s henchwoman Leila (BarBara Luna, who was in the “Mirror, Mirror” episode of the original Star Trek). After asking so many questions, the word comes down. Helen/Sally is going to get killed, so she makes a daring escape that brings her directly into physical combat with Tyson.

Written by Rita Lakin (who wrote 464 episodes, eight movies of the week and two miniseries in her career, as well as the  Gladdy Gold Mystery book series) and directed by Bernard L. Kowalski (Night of the Blood BeastSssssss), don’t go into this movie expecting the normal WIP hallmarks. After all, this aired on broadcast TV. That doesn’t make this a bad film, however.

You can watch this on YouTube.

Junesploitation 2021: Dobermann (1997)

June 23: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is 90s action.

Dobermann (Vincent Cassel, Black Swan) got his first gun at his baptism. Now, he leads a gang of bank robbers, made up of his knife-throwing deaf girlfriend Nat the Gypsy (Monica Bellucci!), Olivier who is also a woman named Sonia, Pitbull and even a priest who likes to put grenades into the helmets of motorcycle cops.

A sadistic cop named Christini (Tchéky Karyo) has been chasing Dobermann for what seems like an eternity and he decides that this will be the night he catches him. He sets up an ambush in a club as the gang celebrates their latest bank robbery and his methods are even worse than the villains.

This film may have an opening CGI animation that looks dated and sure, it’s highly influenced by Tarantino, but it’s packed with action and incredibly cool villains as protagonists. There’s been a sequel planned for a long time and I hope that it gets made. If you’re into gunplay set to music by Prodigy, I mean, you really should watch this. I also realize that this is a very small subgenre of action film fans, but so it goes.

Director Jan Kounen and Cassel would go on to make Blueberry, which is based on the comic books by Jean “Moebius” Giraud. That makes sense, as this film is also based on a comic book by Joel Houssin.

Finding Opehlia (2021)

New York ad exec William Edgar (Jimmy Levar) has been experiencing a series of ultra-vivid dreams that he is obsessing over when life throws him a curve. He must choose between his real life and the fantasy world that a mysterious woman (Christina Chu) offers. Now, as he follows her down an increasingly strange path, he wonders if she’s the girl of his dreams or something much worse.

This is an auteur project, as Stephen Rutterford wrote, directed, produced, edited, did the cinematography, created the color design and co-scored this film. It’s a dreamlike 73-minutes that seems like you’re part of the lucid dreamworld of its hero, going along for the ride as he escapes reality and enters something and somewhere different.

This film transcends its small budget to tell a story that’s different than anything else you’ll see this year.

You can learn more at the official Facebook page and the official site for the film. Finding Ophelia is available on Amazon Prime, Google Play and Tubi.

Stiletto (1969)

Our three-day tribute to Bernard L. Kowalski continues!

Well, even after the abject failure of the intended, sweeping epic that wasn’t Krakatoa: East of Java (reviewed this week), Bernard L. Kowalski was still in the game with this AVCO Embassy-backed adaption of a Harold Robbins (a big deal novelist in the ’60s and ’70s) novel produced by Joseph E. Levine, who brought us the successful box office epics of Zulu and A Bridge Too Far.

The then A-List Alex Cord, Britt Ekland, and Patrick O’Neal, and an up-and-coming Roy Scheider, six years away from his huge, influential shark-based horror movie, star in this then de rigueur Bond-inspired flick. We also get the familiar character actor skills of M. Emmett Walsh and Charles Durning. Why, yes, that is Raul Julia (Eyes of Laura Mars and The Addams Family franchise) in his film debut. (For me: It’ll always be Frankenstein Unbound for my Raul fix.) And if you’re a fan of Danger: Diabolik (1968), and aren’t we all, Britt Ekland was a last minute replacement for that film’s Marisa Mell as Cord’s co-star. But that’s okay, since we got Marisa in Seven Blood-Stained Orchids.

Count Cesare Cardinali (Cord, of Genesis II fame) has the perfect cover for his secret life as a profession mob hitman-for-hire: he’s a famed jet-setting playboy. Of course, as with all of those hitmen before and after him, he decides it’s time to retire and enjoy the spoils — but when you know too much, you’ll have to be “eliminated” as well.

Courtesy of the Bondness-meets-The Godfatherness of it all, there’s lots of (stylized) scenes in casinos and on yachts with Cord and Elkand in Speedos and string bikinis in exotic places like Puerto Rico. Then the tux and dripping-with-jewels gowns are taken off the hangers for the usual New York penthouse sets. And while there’s an Italian connection in here, Puerto Rico doubles for Sicily — when it’s not being “Puerto Rico.”

Stiletto certainly isn’t awful, but the cops-chasing-robbers set-up is all very TV movie flat, which is why this received an early appearance on CBS-TV. And don’t forget: this all comes from the while successful, but cheesy, melodramatic pen of Harold Robbins. If you’ve never read one of his books or seen a movie based on his books, then maybe you know Robbins as result of his being named-dropped by the English new-wave band Squeeze in the lyrics — “a Harold Robbins paperback” — in their song “Pulling Mussels (From The Shell).” Or, since we are all Roger Corman fans around here, you know Harold Robbins by way of Corman’s 1970 post-apocalyptic Gas! – Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It, as a young couple uses a public library’s copies of the successful but critically-derided collected works of Jacqueline Susann (her books became the movies Valley of the Dolls, The Love Machine, and Once Is Not Enough) and Harold Robbins as kindling to keep warm.

Sadly, there’s no online streams to share, but DVDs are easily available, the best versions are from Kino Lorber, who also issued Stiletto on Blu-ray.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Repost: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Editor’s Note: We reviewed this third drive-in feature from television director Bernard Kowalksi on January 6, 2020, just because, no Mill Creek inducement required. We’re bringing it back as part of our three day “Bernard Kowalksi Week” tribute. For when you’re dealing with Bernard Kowalksi, you repost reviews of old to make readers aware of his greatness.

Gene Corman broke into the film industry before his brother Roger, working as an agent before becoming vice president of MCA, representing such clients as Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray, Richard Conte, Harry Belafonte and Ray Milland.

By the late 50’s, he moved to produce his own films before starting his own producing unit at MGM. and then becoming vice-president of 20th Century Fox Television.

This film is directed by Bernard L. Kowalski, who also created Night of the Blood Beast and Sssssss. It was written by Leo Gordon, who had hundreds of roles as an actor, as well as being the author of movies like The Wasp WomanThe Cry Baby Killer and Hot Car Girl.

Did you know that there are larger than human intelligent leeches that live in the Florida Everglades? Yep. There sure are.

Those leeches love nothing more than dragging human beings down into their underwater caves and slowly feeding off their blood.

Liz Walker (Yvette Vickers, who was Playboy‘s July 1959 Playmate of the Month in a centerfold that was photographed by Russ Meyer; she’s also the girl who starts all the trouble by cheating with the husband of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) is the first victim. Again, she plays a loose woman who is cheating on her husband, so she and her new man must pay.

Game warden Steve Benton (Ken Clark, who was Dick Malloy in the Agent 077 series of films), his girlfriend Nan Grayson and her doctor father are the heroes here and they deal with the leeches in the way that we all knew they would: they use dynamite to blow them up real good.

So yeah. Giant leeches. Wanton women. Dynamite. Cheap film making.

How cheap? Corman didn’t want to pay the grips the extra money for pushing the camera raft in the water, so at first, the director did it, then his brother and finally Corman himself. The cold water led to Corman getting pneumonia and ending up in the hospital. And yes, that is the same music from Night of the Blood Beast. The exact same music is also in Beast from the Haunted Cave.

This movie had some legs. In 1959, it played a double bill with A Bucket of Blood. Then, a year later, it ran alongside Corman’s brother’s film House of Usher. It was also remade in 2008 by Brett Kelly and written by Jeff O’Brien in a film that starred no one you’ve ever heard of.

You can watch this on Tubi with and without commentary from Mystery Science Theater. It’s in the public domain, so you can also grab it from the Internet Archive and watch it on Amazon Prime.

Repost: Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Editor’s Note: This review previously ran as part of our Mill Creek Pure Terror tribute month on November, 25 2019. It also ran on November 22, 2020, as part of our Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion tribute month. It’s time to bring it back as part of our “Bernard Kowalski Week” of reviews in tribute to his directing career. Be sure to click the “Bernard L. Kowalski” tag at the bottom of this review to populate all of his films we reviewed this week into one easy-to-reference list.

It’s hard to believe this forgotten—and to be honest, not very good—62-minute Roger Corman quickie shot in 1958 for a mere $68,000 over the course of seven days wound up in WGA arbitration, but it did: Writer Martin Varno disputed the writing credit given to Roger’s brother, Gene. Even harder to believe: Harold Jacob Smith, who worked on the film’s rewrites/dialogue doctoring, won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Defiant Ones (1958). But, hey, look at what happened to James Cameron (Galaxy of Terror) and Ron Howard (Grand Theft Auto). (By the way: Don’t forget to read my “October 2019 Scarecrow Challenge” review of Ice Cream Man starring Ron’s brother, Clint.)

Damn this 27th galaxy to hell!

Starting out as a screenplay “Creature from Galaxy 27” and influenced by the Howard Hawks box-office smash, The Thing from Another World (1951), Night of the Blood Beast tells the story of the return of the first deep space astronaut—implanted with an alien embryo. Although astronaut John Corcoran’s body seems “dead,” it maintains a blood pressure and harbors strange, alien seahorse-like cells his blood stream that grow into a lizard-like fetus. Then the film goes off into a weird, homosexual subtext with the alien and Corcoran “protecting” each other.

Ah, a human male as a walking alien-baby incubator? I’ve seen this before. Well, besides the homosexual subtext, it does sound familiar, doesn’t it? Well, doesn’t it Dan O’Bannon?

Sadly, while Night of the Blood Beast is clearly an Alien antecedent, the film—because of its low-budget quality further stymied by the amateurish acting of TV series bit-players—goes unmentioned alongside the more formidable Alien precursors of Forbidden Planet, It! The Terror of Beyond Space, Queen of Blood, and, especially, Mario Bava’s Planet of Vampires. Well, doesn’t it, Dan O’ Bannon?

During its initial success, literary critics noted Alien’s similarities to the Agatha Christie tale, And Then There Were None (1939), and the short stories “Discord in Scarlet” and “The Black Destroyer” in A.E van Vogt’s collection, The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950), which could have possibly influenced Martin Varno’s storytelling. It certainly did influence—although he flat out denied it—O’ Bannon’s storytelling: so much so that 20th Century Fox settled with van Vogt out of court.

Speaking of familiar: B&S readers are familiar with Corman’s house of recycling: Stunt footage from Eat My Dust and Grand Theft Auto turned up in several of his ‘70s hicksploitation films . . . and how many times did we see Battle Beyond the Stars SFX shots reused? Thus, you’ve seen Night of the Blood Beast’s alien costume before: In Teenage Caveman (1958), which wrapped two weeks before Blood Beast began shooting. Some film reviewers describe it as “a bear crossed with a moldy parrot”—and they’re right! Is the costume as bad as Richard “Jaws” Kiel’s The Solarite—with the light bulb eyes—in Phantom Planet (1961)? Yep. And since when does an alien, only by monitoring Earth’s radio broadcasts, develop a dialect worthy of a Royal Shakespearean Company actor? Book this parrot for the CBS Evening News. He should be holding a skull and crying out for Desdemona. “The parrot is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille!”

If you need more fun-filled, Roger Corman sci-fi tomfoolery, check out Night of the Blood Beast’s John Baer in Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959) and Ed Nelson in Attack of the Crab Monster (1957).

If you want to go deep into the Alien cottage “homage” industry with B&S Movies, then surf on over to Ten Movies that Rip-off Alien and A Whole Bunch of Alien Rip-offs All at Once.

It freaks me out that I’ve seen all these movies. I don’t know if that makes me cool or just a very sad excuse for a human being. Is my admitting that a trope or a cliche?

Hot Car Girl (1958)

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our first review in our three-day “Bernard Kowalski Week” tribute that takes us from 1959 to 1989. If you don’t know his film work, you know his TV work. Kowalski directed multiple episodes of the hit ’80s series Knight Rider, Magnum, P.I., Jake and the Fatman, and the epic (it was for me), Airwolf. Here’s his first movie for Roger Corman.

Oh, be sure to click that “Bernard L. Kowalksi” tag and the end of all of the reviews this week to popular the reviews in one easy-to-use list. Let’s get day one started, shall we!

“She’s hell on wheels . . . and up for any thrill!”

Seems Mr. Screenwriter dipped the pen into the Shakespearian ink; for this is Othello with hot rods.

Duke (Richard Bakalyan; you’ve seen him across his 150 TV credits into the early ’90s) and Freddie (John Brinkley, who’s traveled this rockin’ road before in Hot Rod Rumble, Teenage Doll, and T-Bird Gang) finance their hot roddin’ lifestyle by stealin’ cars n’ strippin’ auto parts for a fence. When they, along with Duke’s girl, Peg (June Kenney, also of Teenage Doll, but also of 1959’s Attack of the Puppet People and Roger Corman’s Sorority Girl), are goaded into a road race by the resident bad-girl, Janice (Jana Lund, also of High School Hellcats with Yvonne Lime, Elvis Presley’s Loving You, and the rock flick classic, Don’t Knock the Rock . . . but since this B&S About Movies: it’s all about Frankenstein 1970 for our Lundness), a motorcycle cop dies. Let the frames and double crosses, blackmailing and betrayals begin, Desdemona.

Oh, almost forgot: Bruno VeSota is in this as Joe Dobbie (seriously). What ’50s and ’60s film wasn’t the Big V in? Yep, there he is in Attack of the Giant Leeches, A Bucket of Blood, and The Wasp Woman . . . but also of the early rock flicks Daddy-O, Rock All Night, and Carnival Rock. It is actors like you that gives our lives at B&S meaning, Mr. VeSota. We bow to you, sir.

And it’s all brought to you by a man whose directing career we’re tributing this week: Bernard Kowalski, who followed this up with Night of the Blood Beast, then his third film, Attack of the Giant Leeches. Before going into business with Roger Corman, Kowalski got in start in television, directing episodes of the ’50s westerns Frontier and Broken Arrow, along with the David Janssen-starring cop drama, Richard Diamond: Private Detective, and the military drama, The Silent Service. Has anyone ever encountered his lost TV Movie pilot for the Peter Graves-starring Las Vegas Beat (1961)? We’d love to see it. You know us and TV Movies around here.

We previously featured Hot Car Girl as part of our weekly “Drive-In Friday” featurette.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

Junesplotation 2021: Zeder (1983)

June 22: Junesploitation’s topic of the day — as suggested by F This Movie — is zombies.

Zombies are boring. Let’s face it — the best things that had to be said about them really didn’t escape the 80s. And outside of perhaps Train to Busan, how can you improve upon movies like Dawn of the DeadZombi and Return of the Living Dead? People try and well, you have to give them credit for it. But I was really trying to stretch during Junesploitation and find a zombie movie that no one would choose, as well as one that might rekindle my love for these movies.

Released in the U.S. as Revenge of the DeadZeder doesn’t go for the Fulci throat — or eyeball — like nearly every zombie movie made in the wake of the Godfather of Gore’s tribute to the living dead.

The film begins in 1956, as a psychic girl named Gabriella is brought to the French mansion of Dr. Meyer. As a test of her abilities, he takes her into his basement where she immediately begins to claw and dig into the dirt, searching for something. Soon, she’s attacked and taken to the hospital and a corpse is discovered that is identified as Paolo Zeder.

Fast forward three decades and change and we meet Stefano (Gabriele Lavia, InfernoDeep Red, Sleepless), a novelist who has been given the gift of a typewriter by his wife. He starts to investigate the ribbon of the ancient machine and finds a series of letters from Zeder that detail phenomena he called K-Zones, which are places where death does not exist and even those deceased may be reborn.

Our hero soon loses everything — his wife, any semblance of normalcy, his mind — to penetrate the web of conspiracy that surrounds Zeder and the K-Zones. His wife is even murdered by those who want to keep the existence of the undead world a secret, so the film closes with Stefano attempting to bring her back.

Beyond the dependable as always score by Riz Ortolani, there’s a great scene near the end where a tower of video monitors replays the rebirth of the supposedly dead priest Don Luigi Costa arise in grainy glory.

This was written and directed by Pupi Avati, who is still making movies to this day, but is probably best known for House with the Laughing Windows.

The American VHS art for this — when it was released by Lightning Video — made it seem like this was going to be everything you expect from a zombie film. I’m happy to report that it is not. Instead, it’s a dark mediation on secrets and death.

You can watch this on YouTube.