The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Twenty years ago — has it been that long? — Paul Walker and director Rob Cohen made The Skulls together. Cohen got a deal with producer Neal H. Moritz and Universal Pictures. Looking for ideas, he asked Walker what his dream action movie would be. The answer? A mix of Days of Thunder and Donnie Brasco. After a May 1998 issue of Vibe detailed New York City’s street racing scene, they had their film. All they needed was a co-star.

After Gone In 60 Seconds, Universal wanted Timothy Olyphant but they got Moritz’s pick instead: Vin Diesel, hot off the success of Pitch Black. And then, seventy-eight wrecked cars later, we had a movie. Any similarity to the D.B. Sweeney and Charlie Sheen film No Man’s Land — which came out thirteen years before — is surely coincidental.

LAPD officer Brian O’Conner (Walker) has gone undercover to infiltrate the gang that has been stealing from trucks and disappearing. He soon makes it into the gang led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), who has been banned from pro racing after attacking the man who accidentally killed his father, but complicating matters is that he soon falls for Dominic’s sister Letty (Jordanna Brewster).

This movie was originally entitled Racer X (the name of the Vibe article), Race Wars and Redline, but then someone had the brilliant idea to ask Roger Corman if they could use the title of his 1955 film The Fast and the Furious. Getting paid again for a movie he already made? I can only imagine how delighted Corman had to be at the prospect.

This movie made stars of both Walker and Diesel. Waker would work with Ted Levine again — he plays one of his bosses here — in Joyride, while Diesel would refuse to be in the next few sequels to this movie.

This was a movie decimated by the critics. Actually it wasn’t until the last few movies that anyone would even admit they liked these. How times have changed.

The Historian (2014)

Written and directed by Miles Doleac (The Dinner Party), this is a story all about a young history professor who heads off to a new university where he finds that no one cares — not the students, not his department chair and, well, hopefully his new love interest cares. And hey — William Sadler is in it!

Beyond writing and directing this, Doleac also produced and stars in the film. He did well casting Sadler, who has been great in everything I’ve ever seen him in. This is a good opportunity for him to do more than he usually does, which is very nice to see.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi. Thanks to its PR company for letting us know it was coming out.

The Body (2020)

We previously reviewed Adam Weber’s movie The First Date and said that it was “a fun effort” with “decent FX.” Now he’s sent us his latest work, which is a quick little tale of two men and a dead — well, maybe — body.

Yes, these two characters have been asked to bury the body in the countryside, but things are never that simple when you have a corpse in the trunk.

Much like his last film, Adam knows how to use his production budget to make things look way better than they cost. I’m looking forward to the time when he moves past these short takes and attempts a longer narrative, as I want to see if he can sustain the same tension and humor across a longer story.

You can learn more at the official Facebook page. Thanks for sending us your films, Adam!

High School Hellcats (1958)

In October 1958, at an American-International Pictures luncheon for the Theaters Owners Association of America, producer Jerry Wald said that movies like High School Hellcats were “not the type of picture on which we can build the market of the future. While they may make a few dollars today, they will destroy us tomorrow.” Producer James H. Nicholson responded by stating “I’d rather take my children to see these pictures than God’s Little Acre.”

I mean, what movie would I be watching now if he was right?

Maybe he can explain how the star of this movie, Yvonne Lime, went on to co-found Childhelp and be nominated five times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This whole thing is a proto-Mean Girls, except Bret Halsey — yes, the same dude from several Fulci films — is the male lead.

Everything is going well until a game of Sardines leads to a young girl dead. Ah, these High School Hellcats!

For a movie that was banned by PTA groups, it all seems rather safe today. This was released along with Hot Rod Gang, which I’m sure upset them further. It was directed by Edward Bernds, who brought us The New Three Stooges show in the 60’s, as well as Queen of Outer SpaceReform School Girl and The Bowery Boys Meet the Monsters.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

Lo Sound Desert (2015)

I’ve always been obsessed with desert rock (Desolation Center), which I first discovered thanks to Kyuss and all the bands that spun off from that influential time. You’d probably know Queens of the Stone Age if you don’t know this scene, but I’d also recommend any of their Desert Session group albums if you want to hear some fuzzy, lo-fi magic. This film unites the leaders of the desert bands and shows why this style of music could only emerge from the Coachella Valley.

Where grunge blew up fast and destroyed the Sunset Strip hair metal era, whatever was getting played under the wide open skies miles away was completely different. Rougher. Sexier. Groovier Druggier? Well, more mellow drugs maybe.

Joerg Steineck also put together a doc about Truckfighters, which if you know this kinda music, you’re already hunting down. And if you don’t, you’re like, huh?

This is the kind of music that most hits my soul, as it combines punk, metal and even doom into its own thing, noodling out and getting weird. This movie features tons of people discussing this genre, but it never comes off as braggy as some other music interview docs get. It feels inclusive and welcoming of differences, which, if you think about it, is the main strength of the desert.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime.

The Decline of Western Civilization III (1998)

Penelope Spheeris went back one more time to Los Angeles’ music scene and it changed her life. But for years, she didn’t want to ever revisit the three films that make up The Decline of Western Civilization.

According to The Verge, she wanted her daughter Anna Fox to take over the family business of making movies and managing their rental properties around the city. Fox agreed, on one condition: that her mom finally release a collection of the Decline trilogy. What followed was a year of pure hell, as she’d call it, and the last film proved problematic, as it is so depressing that it serves as a rough close to the otherwise joyous film series.

Using the money from Senseless, a movie that she hated making for the Weinsteins, she funded this movie all on her own. “When I did Decline III, it was totally life changing for me. I had no idea that shit was going on out there. At that point in my career I was really rich from being paid millions of dollars for doing studio movies, and I did not have a sense at all what real life was like. That’s when I went out and got my foster parent license. I had five foster kids to try to help a little bit — we all should, because it’s a fucking mess out there.”

Instead of focusing on bands as much — although Final Conflict, Litmus Green, Naked Aggression, and The Resistance perform and Keith Morris and Flea appear — this installment focuses more on the gutter punks who are roaming the streets of Los Angeles, lost and nearly all alone, save for one another.

This one isn’t as life affirming as the other films and while there are moments of humor, it is few and far between. That said, I still feel that this is an important watch and shows that across three different generations, problems may not have changed all that much, but hopelessness has only grown.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Masacre en Río Grande (1988)

Mario and Fernando Almada are back at war with one another in the sequel to 1984’s La Muerte del Chacal. Yet while that movie was a giallo ala Mexico, this one is content to be a slasher, placing victim after victim in the path of its killer.

Drills to the head, three women stabbed in the same room while one of the victims tries to hide behind a coat hanger, a sobbing mother who wonders where she went wrong and more strippers than you can handle — actually, I have faith that you can handle it — and this movie takes the somewhat restrained — well, as restrained as 1980’s Mexican murder movies get — first installment and goes completely wild, even setting up a third movie that sadly never came.

I mean, it’s not enough for the killer to murder every dancer backstage. No, he has to start riddling the audience with bullets. This is a man who loves his work. Sadly, his brother has to start cleaning up the mess or more people are goign to pay.

I feel as if I completed a quest, both finding this film — thanks to BobyBoy on Letterboxd — and it being the last film of my several week odyssey of hunting down and watching some of the roughest films Mexico had to offer. I feel that I am a much better and more well-rounded person for the journey. And I have an even greater suspicion that I will be down this road again soon.

Ahi Va el Diablo (2012)

You need to get to know Adrian Garcia Bogliano. Beyond this movie and Late Phases, he has a movie called Black Circle that’s trying to get picked up in the U.S. I have no idea why it hasn’t, because it has a story about possessed vinyl records and one of the first roles for They Call Her One Eye star Christina Lindberg in decades.

The thing is, just from watching this movie, I could see the films that this Spanish born director loves. I mean, he used to use the name Massaccesi, Margueritti & Pandersolli for the films he directed. If you just got happy, you’re a maniac like me. After all, Aristide Massaccesi is Joe D’Amato. His company Paura Flicks takes its title from the Italian word for fright. And within the credits of his films, Bogliano credits what he refers to as the ayuda espiritual (spiritual guidance) of Nicolas Roeg, Henry James, The Exorcism of Hugh, Sergio Martino, Eloy de la Iglesia, The Centerfold Girls), David Cronenberg, Donald Cammell, Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Entity, Los Iniciados, T.E.D. Klein, Sebastián De Caro, Dust Devil, William Finley, Marilyn Burns and classic rock station KGB San Diego. He’s also referenced Sorcerer, Lucio Fulci, Takeshi Miike, so he could fit in around here.

The movie starts as pure exploitation. A lesbian couple makes love and then discusses how one of them isn’t sure how to tell others that she is gay. That’s when a serial killer attacks, taking the hand of one of them before being beaten. He runs into the night, bleeding everywhere, into a cave where he is never seen again.

The very same cave claims brother and sister Adolfo and Sara, who enter it and never really come back. Their parents are too lost in passion to realize how long they are gone. Something is wrong from here on in their lives and nothing, not even murder, can stop what happens next.

I want you to be as surprised as me at this movie, a film that caught me within the first minutes and never let go. This is a film that understands the power of 70’s horror without being a carbon copy of what has come before. And those quick zooms throughout — Fulci would be proud.

I’ve been reading reviews of this film that disliked the hypersexualization of the story, as well as the “out of nowhere” levitation scene. Seeing as how The Entity is referenced at the close, that’s exactly where that comes from. It all felt natural and new and vital to me.

You can watch this on Tubi.

We Are What We Are (2013)

This film is a remake of Jorge Michel Grau’s 2010 movie of the same name (Somos Lo Que Hay), but made with an entirely Westernized crew. It’s all about the Parkers, a family who is engaged in a myriad of rituals that help them survive in the modern world. However, all, as always, is not what it seems.

The film begins with the matriarch of the family bleeding from the mouth and drowning. Her daughters Rose and Iris argue over which will take over her duties in the family’s religious ceremonies when we learn that they are all killers, taking turns murdering a girl that their father had abducted.

Director Jim Mickle didn’t want to make an outright remake of the original, instead finding inspiration in the pacing of Japanese horror.

There are plenty of gruesome sights here, as we learn just how deeply the family’s roots of cannibalism stretch.

There’s a great cast here, with the mother played by Kassie Wesley DePaiva (Bobby Joe from Evil Dead 2), Julie Garner (Sin City), Ambyr Childers (The Master), Bill Sage (who was just in The Dinner Party), Kelly McGillis, Wyatt Russell (the son of Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell) and Michael Parks (if I have to tell you who he is…).

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

El Eco del Miedo (2012)

America does not have a copyright on haunted house stories, as this modern Mexican horror film reminds us.

A young woman is in dire need of cash. A child is in a new and unfamiliar place. And there’s a dog that links them both as they struggle to spend two nights in a house that really should be condemned.

Known here as Echoes In the Dark, this movie proves to me that no one does scary dolls quite like Mexican filmmakers. They still make me jump in their films while they come off boring up here in the U.S.

This was Sam Reyes first full-length film and while it’s not groundbreaking, it’s competent and delivers a few scares. You can check it out on Tubi.