VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: The Choirboys (1977)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the February 28, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Robert Aldrich had a long and varied career, well beyond being the king of psychobiddy movies thanks to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. He also made Westerns like Vera CruzUlzana’s Raid and 4 for Texas; the epic Sodom and Gomorrah; war movies like AttackThe Dirty Dozen and Too Late the Hero; even films as diverse as The Longest YardThe Killing of Sister George and …All the Marbles.

This was the second movie that he’d make for Lorimar Productions, a TV company making features, and it was written by Joseph Wambaugh and Christopher Knopf. Wambaugh had written the book this was based on and did the first draft. He said, “When I turned in my first script they said they loved it. Then there was total silence. I called but they didn’t return my calls.”

Aldrich said to Film Comment, “I think Mr. Wambaugh is going to be very unhappy with this film of his work. I haven’t figured out yet how to correct some of the things that are in the book and still make people who read the book want to see the movie – but I do intend to figure it out.”

The problem that he had with the book was that he couldn’t relate to cops: “I don’t know how to feel sorry for a cop. It’s a volunteer force. You’re not drafted to become a cop. So you’ve got to take some of the heat if you don’t like what people think about you. After all, that’s an extraordinary pension you get in twenty years; nobody else gets it. In fact, I disagree with Wambaugh to such an extent that I don’t think people really like cops.”

He went on to say that the book didn’t go far enough in showing how cops are racists and how they act in Los Angeles, even saying that Wambaugh couldn’t face the issue — the author was the son of a Pittsburgh cop and was on the LAPD from 196o to 1974, rising to the rank of detective sergeant — so it was never in the book.

Wambaugh said, “They’d mutilated my work,” and took out a full-page ad protesting the movie, finally demanding that his name be taken off the movie.

He hadn’t even seen the movie yet.

When he did, he exclaimed that it was a “dreadful, slimy, vile film… a sleazy, insidious film. There was no serious intent to it. It was an insult to me but also to every self-respecting cop in America.” He got a million dollars in a lawsuit with Lorimar and bought back the rights to his books The Onion Field and Black Marble  — which both ended up being directed by Harold Becker — from the studio.

Aldrich said — I got this quote from the magnificent site Hidden Films  — that he “changed the script a maximum of 1-3 percent…he wrote a dirty, tasteless, vulgar book, which I think I’ve managed to capture.”

What Aldrich did get right was his cast.

There’s Charles Durning as aging cop Spermwhale Whalen; Perry King as mild mannered S&M enthusiast Baxter Slate; Clyde Kusatsu as prank-loving Francis Tanaguchi; Tim McIntire as odious Southern redneck Roscoe Rules; Randy Quaid as his partner Dean Proust; Don Stroud as the Vietnam vet on the verge of violence Sam Lyles; James Woods as the nerd cop used to entrap sex workers, Harold Bloomguard; James Woods as Harold Bloomguard; the always dependably scummy Burt Young as Sgt. Scuzzi; Robert Webber as Deputy Chief Riggs; former cowboy actor and future Dallas actor Jim Davis as Capt. Drobeck; George DiCenzo as Lt. Grimsle; Charles Haid as Sgt. Nick Yanov and Vic Tayback as Zoony, a vice cop who literally goes to war with Roscoe.

Louis Gossett Jr. also shows up, as does a collection of actresses that is the dream of exploitation film lovers, including Phyllis Davis (Sweet SugarTerminal IslandBeyond the Valley of the Dolls), Barbara Rhoades (Scream Blacula Scream), Jean Bell (TNT JacksonThe Muthers and the first African-American woman to be on the cover of Playboy) and, most essentially, Cheryl Rainbeaux” Smith (LemoraThe Swinging CheerleadersMassacre at Central High and so many more movies worth watching).

The story revolves around what the cops call choir practice, which is them getting trashed and abusing one another at MacArthur Park. What sums up the way the cops act is when Rules and Proust are called to rescue a suicide jumper. Rules can barely be bothered, bellowing “Go ahead and jump, bitch!”

She does.

There are no heroes in this, the tone goes from horrific racism played for laughs to the cops covering up the death of one of their own and the music seems to be taken from another movie, not punctuating the action as much as it stands in sheer contrast to it.

You know how people say that movies trigger them today? Well, they should probably not watch this.

VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: Welcome to Blood City (1977)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the September 13, 2022 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

Sometimes, I just sit and search through YouTube looking for a movie to watch while I work. Often, that search finds horrible films that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy if I were truly paying attention to them. And sometimes, like with this movie, I end up taking a break from writing and find something I really enjoy.

Directed by Peter Sasdy (The Lonely LadyTaste the Blood of DraculaHands of the Ripper), this film was a UK/Canadian tax shelter affair. But don’t hold that against it! Five strangers all wake up at the same time and have no memories of who they are, other than that they are all killers. They must travel to a Wild West town called Blood City.

Once there, they will spend a year in servitude before they can become free. Then, they’ll be able to own a business and work toward becoming immortal — free from constant worry of challenges to the death. They get there by winning twenty challenges. And there’s only one law in Blood City — Frendlander, played by Jack Palance. It’s no accident that the bad guy from Shane is playing this part. Palance might only be known to younger folks from his Oscar turn in City Slickers, but in the 1970’s he was taking whatever parts he could get. And then he’d sink his teeth into them! He’s fabulous in this movie!

Keir Dullea (Black Christmas2001The Haunting of Julia) stars as Lewis, who finds himself coming up against Frendlander over and over again. The real secret of the film? None of them are in this town at all — it’s a virtual reality simulation to determine the best warriors in a future war. So basically, it’s a combination of WestWorld and The Matrix.

Samanta Eggar (The Brood) shows up as a scientist who falls in love with Lewis and inserts herself into the virtual reality experiment. Barry Morse is also in here, who you may remember as Lt. Philip Gerard from TV’s The Fugitive. And Chris Wiggins is in this as well. He was Jack Marshak on Friday the 13th: The Series.

If you’re looking for this movie, you can find a horrible transfer of it on the Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion 50 Pack. That said, the set is pretty worthwhile, as you also get stuff like The Crater Lake MonsterDeath Machines, Sergio Martino’s Hands of SteelHorror High, the Florinda Bolkan film Le OrmeThe Raiders of AtlantisR.O.T.O.R., Robo Vampire, one of the worst/best films ever Rocket Attack U.S.A. and more.

This is totally part of the doomed 1970s genre and the end — where Lewis chooses the fantasy of Blood City instead of the lies of modern life — still rings true today. I completely expected a ripoff of WestWorld and FutureWorld, yet was rewarded with something really good. It’s slow moving, but if you understand that and can see a movie for what it could be versus what it is, I think you’ll enjoy it.

April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama Primer: The Toolbox Murders (1977)

April Ghouls Drive-In Monster-Rama is back at The Riverside Drive-In Theatre in Vandergrift, PA on April 28 and 29, 2022.

The features for Friday, April 28 are Silent Night, Deadly NightChopping MallSlumber Party Massacre 2 and Sorority House Massacre.

Saturday, April 29 has ManiacManiac CopThe Toolbox Murders and Silent Madness.

Admission is still only $15 per person each night (children 12 and under free with adult) and overnight camping is available (breakfast included) for an additional $15 per person. You can buy tickets at the show or use these links:

The Toolbox Murders (1977): Not only does this movie excite me because it’s a slasher and a Cameron Mitchell movie, but it’s also a “based on a true story” riff, which is always fascinating.

Los Angeles producer Tony Didio wanted to make a low-budget horror film after seeing how well The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He knew the film’s distributors — uh-oh — and contacted them to see why they were re-releasing the movie again. While he should have realized it never really stopped playing theaters until the advent of home video — and even afterward for some time — he was smart enough to stay clear of working with the, and making and releasing his own slasher.

Supposedly based on a series of killings in either Michigan or Minnesota that were ritualistic and sex-based, this has famously been cited as one of Stephen King’s favorite movies.

If Pieces can say that “it’s exactly what you think it is,” The Toolbox Murders takes things even further into what I refer to as the pornography of violence, treating each kill as another scene in a gradually escalating orgy of evisceration. That said, the film then goes from slasher to character study in the final act, totally changing everything up on the viewer.

As for Mitchell, he’s completely off the rails in this and I loved every minute of his performance. And this being 1977, of course there’s an incest angle, because the 70’s were just greasy and sweaty and gross.

Vance Kingsley, Mitchell’s role in this, tries to rise above all the sin by using every tool in his, well, toolbox to perforate, slash and decimate every sinner he meets before being killed for love, which then uses scissors to escape into the night. There’s even a square up card at the end for a “this really happened*” shocker.

Wesly Eure loved being in this, relishing the opportunity to do something subversive after being the goody Will Marshall on Land of the Lost. I wonder how Pamela Ferdin felt, as she is better known for being the voice of Lucy on Peanuts (though she is also in the original The Beguiled).

Director Dennis Donnelly would go on to direct plenty of TV, including one of The Amazing Spider-Man episodes in the 70’s, along with SupertrainHart to Hart and The A-Team. That makes sense, as this really does look like a TV movie, unless you take into account all the nudity, sex and gore. And speaking of carnal knowledge, that’s adult actress Kelly Nichols playing Dee Dee, the woman who gets nail gunned in the tub (she was still working in the field doing makeup as Marianne Walters, the name she used for this film, as late as 2015).

Despite a 1986 sequel never happening, in a strange twist Tobe Hooper would direct the remake to this in 2004, which was followed by an official sequel in 2015 and an unofficial one, Coffin Baby, in 2013 that used footage from a scrapped sequel. That movie was tied up in legal wrangling, but has since been released. They all have a more supernatural element than the down-to-earth feel of the original.

*But totally didn’t.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: Gizmo (1977)

April 27: Until You Call on the Dark — Pick a movie from the approved movies list of the Church of Satan. Here’s the list.

Howard Smith started his career as a journalist and is best known for his column “Scenes,” which ran weekly for twenty years and became known for its cutting-edge coverage of the emerging counterculture. Not only did he report on the Stonewall Riots, he was inside the building as it happened. He also produced and directed,  along with Sarah Kernochan, one of my favorite documentaries ever, Marjoe.

This is a movie of clips, mostly concerning inventors trying to be the one that changes the world. And it’s also about stunt people who challenged that world, like John Ciampa, who was known as the Human Fly, the Flying Phantom and the Brooklyn Tarzan. He was an early parkour athlete before anyone even knew what that was and he was used by Paramount to publicize their Tarzan movies. In this film, you can see him enjoy dinner with his family before he climbs trees, leaps across buildings and even uses a drainpipe to scale a building.

You’ve seen the photo of Frank “Cannonball” Richards, but do you know his name? Gizmo shows more of him, a man who twice a day was shot in the stomach with a hundred pound cannonball.

Narrated by Milt Moss and written by Kathleen Cox, Nicholas Hollander (who would go on to write Animaniacs) and Clark Whelton, this film ends with this: “Maybe there are three kinds of people in this world, those who make it, those who don’t, and those who criminate in this movie. They believe in the impossible, and they try to make it chorus in. Because in the heart, when you want to trade in life, you find the mountain, in the failure of triumph. Because in the heart, people see air and I know, if you have the thing to go, reason hard to see, the corona star, the spirit, the mountain, and man’s Rex afore. Or to say it another way, man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

Most of the newsreel footage in this movie had no dialogue. A lip reader was hired to determine what they said and actors dubbed in the dialogue. Two of the songs, “Let It Go” and “Somewhere” were written by J. Stephen Soles and his wife at the time, P.J. Totally.

How is this a Satanic film? Anton LaVey loved ballyhoo, which this is full of, and strange inventions, such as the automatons of Dr. Cecil Nixon, a dentist who created Isis, Galatea and more creations that he kept in his San Francisco mansion, The House of a Thousand Mysteries.

You can download this from the Internet Archive.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: The White Buffalo (1977)

April 20: Screw the Medveds — Here’s a list of the movies that the Medveds had in their Golden Turkey Awards books. What do they know? Defend one of the movies they needlessly bashed.

Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) is so haunted by dreams of a giant white buffalo that he hunts the monster like he’s the Ahab to its Moby Dick, soon to be joined by Crazy Horse (Will Sampson), who also hunts the beast as it killed his daughter.

Director J. Lee Thompson and Bronson worked together quite a bit. This was written by Richard Sale, who would also write Assassination for Bronson.

For some reason, Wild Bill has a steampunk look to him*, but man, that opening gunfight is great. A lot of the crew came from King Kong, which was also produced by Dino De Laurentiis, including actors Ed Lauter and David Roya, composer John Barry and special effects magician Carlo Rambaldi, who created the animatronic life-sized bison for this movie.

In The Golden Turkey Awards, the Medveds said, “Another De Laurentiis epic about a giant buffalo that chews on Indians for bite-sized snacks. Charles Bronson manfully does his bit to sink this infamous White Elephant.”

With roles for Jack Warden, Kim Novak, Stuart Whitman, Clint Walker, John Carradine, Slim Pickens and Maryin Kove — did I cast this film? — I was always led to believe by this being in the Medveds book that it was horrible. Nope.

*Quentin Tarantino is also a fan of this movie, which explains the similar glasses that Django wears in Django Unchained.

You can watch this on Tubi.

APRIL MOVIE THON 2: The Van (1977)

April 15: King Yourself! — Pick a movie released by Crown International Pictures. Here’s a list!

The song in this movie, “Chevy Van” by Sammy Johns*, is a lie, because the protagonist of The Van, Bobby (Stuart Goetz), drives a 1976 Dodge B200 Tradesman customized by George Barris.

As for me, I grew up with two Ford Custom vans, one a basic panel van that I used to be a landscaper and the other a fully customized one with tables and chairs and shag carpeting. Yeah! 9 miles to the gallon!

Crown International Pictures took what worked for American-International Pictures and their beach party movies and added sex and drugs. This movie comes from the days before AIDS, before women truly being characters with agency in movies (well, not all the time) and even before Porky’s.

What it does have is Danny DeVito as Bobby’s friend Andy. And such well-known vans that two of the automobiles from this movie, Straight Arrow and Van Killer, were released as toy cars.

Bobby wants Sally (Connie Hoffman) but she’s already dating tough guy Dugan (Steve Oliver). So he tries to get with Tina (Deborah White), who is way too good for him, before racing Dugan and rolling his van. He survives and moves on vanless.

Director Sam Grossman only directed this film. Writer Robert J. Rosenthal also wrote The Pom Pom GirlsMalibu Beach and Zapped! while Celia Susan Cotelo was also a writer on Malibu Beach.

If you liked this, I can also recommend Van Nuys Blvd. and, of course, Supervan.

*Nine other songs by the artist are in this: “Early Morning Love,” “Jenny,” “Rag Doll,” “Hang My Head and Moan, “Country Lady,” “You’re So Sweet,” “Peas in a Pod,” “Bless My Soul” and “Hey, Mr. Dreamer.”

NEW WORLD PICTURES MONTH: A Hero Ain’t Nothing but a Sandwich (1977)

The last theatrical film of Ralph Nelson (CharlyLillies of the Field), the screenplay for this film came from the author of the book that it’s based on, Alice Childress. It’s all about teenager Benjie (Larry B. Scott), who goes from marijuana to heroin and nearly dropping not just out of school, but life itself. Can his family — mother Sweets (Cicely Tyson), grandmother Mrs. Bell (Helen Martin) and replacement father figure Butler (Paul Winfield) — save him?

This is a movie that tries so much, presenting a story about drug use, a story about black men losing their fathers, about how black men and the education system don’t mix well, about a young black couple trying to make things work and build a family, all within one story that really wants to do well but keeps trying, as I said, too much in too little time.

That said, the cast is beyond likable and if this were a series, this could have adjusted and been all of those things. It’s preachy, sure, but it has the right message from a heart that is in the proper place.

You can watch this on Tubi.


Also known as The Town That Cried TerrorNight Hunter Assault in Paradise and Maniac*, this was directed by Richard Compton (Angels Die HardMacon County Line, tons of episodic TV) and written by John C. Broderick (who wrote and directed The Warrior and the Sorceress; well, kind of…read my interview with William Stout) and Ronald Silkosky (The Dunwich Horror).

The town of Paradise is run by the rich William Whitaker (Stuart Whitman). He’s being targeted by a Native American named Victor (Paul Koslo), who starts killing people and demands a million. If he’s not paid, more will die. Instead of relying on the police, Whitaker pays Nick McCormick (Oliver Reed) to end his problems.

Seeing as how the desert is an area he doesn’t know, Nick hires a tracker (Jim Mitchum). Now, both these two are supposed to be efficient killers, yet they keep getting lost and Nick spends most of his time drinking — Oliver Reed, playing not against character — and getting down with a TV reporter named Cindy (Deborah Raffin).

Somehow, this movie also has an end song by The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn and Patrick Ferrell, as well as a score by jazz musician Don Ellis, who also did the score for RubyThe French Connection and Kansas City Bomber.

It’s kind of a slasher, kind of Native Americansploitation, kind of a socially aware movie and also, totally not because Paul Koslo is a white guy with blonde hair playing a Native American.

*See all the ads in this article at the essential Temple of Schlock. 1977’s Maniac! release has a different opening scene by Miller Drake and Joel Rapp where a killer in a clown mask shoots a young couple in a convertible Son of Sam style.

NEW WORLD PICTURES MONTH: A Little Night Music (1977)

An adaptation of the 1973 musical A Little Night Music, which was based on Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, this seems like an odd film for New World to release. It was directed by Harold Prince, who spent most of his career directing for the stage.

Despite negative reviews, Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics for the film — the “Night Waltz” theme and a new version of “The Glamorous Life” — have been added to many of the later productions of this musical when it’s performed on stage.

Widower Frederich Egerman (Len Cariou) is married to a much younger second wife Anne (Lesley-Anne Down) who has kept her virginity for the first year of their time living under one roof. His son Erich (Christopher Guard) may be studying to be a priest, but he lusts after his stepmother while Frederich falls again for an old lover, actress Desiree Armfeldt (Elizabeth taylor), which upsets his young bride.

As for Desiree, her mother Madame Armfeldt (Hermione Gingold) is raising her daughter’s teenager Fredericka (Chloe Franks) and as you can guess, she just may be the daughter of Frederich. All manner of hijinks occur — as much as attempted suicide and Russian roulette can be hijinks — and all ends happily. And hey — Diana Rigg is in it!

That’s really Liz singing in this. I didn’t think so, but then I found out that yes, she’s really singing.

Man, only Roger Corman could get an Elizabeth Taylor musical on this site.

NEW WORLD PICTURES MONTH: Ilsa, the Tigress of Siberia (1977)

The third sequel to Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, this film finds Ilsa — didn’t she die a few times along the way? — changing sides from the Third Reich to the USSR as she runs Siberian Gulag 14, where she mentally and physically decimates men.

When Stalin dies, Ilsa burns the camp to the ground leaving no one alive except for Andrei Chikurin, who escapes and vows to get revenge. Twenty years later, he learns that Isla now runs a brothel in Canada when the Russian hockey team plays several games there.

According to the amazing Canuxploitation, Ilsa is actually a Canadian creation. When Lee Frost and David F. Friedman made big money with Love Camp 7 in Canada, Cinepix’s Andr Link and John Dunning wrote the script for Ilsa and got Friedman on board as a producer. Despite being the man who hired Dyanne Thorne for the role, issues with Cinepix and producer Don Carmody would have Friedman disown the movie.

Amazingly, this was produced by Ivan Reitman (using the name Julian Parnell).

This movie has a Siberian tiger named Sasha that Ilsa feeds men to, as well as many icy and watery graves and a scene where men arm wrestle over a running chainsaw. And each night, the men wrestle one another while a nude Ilsa challenges them to be the only two to come to her room where she’s definitely ahead of the adult film curve and very into DP (and I thought that was popularized by Ginger Lynn). She also has a mad scientist named Leve who has figured out ways to use photos and music to get into people’s brains.

Andrei Chikurin (Michel Morin) is the one man that she can’t break. He’s the one who killed her tiger and escaped the gulag and now, as the manager of the Russian hockey team, he somehow finds the one Montreal bordello called Aphrodite that Ilsa is the boss of. As he sits in the waiting room, her men take him and she tries to break him again — and make love to him, of course — before he’s freed by the Russian mafia and all manner of near Eurospy wildness goes down.

Director Jean LaFleur also made The Mystery of the Million Dollar Hockey Puck which has a lot of footage that was taken for this movie. It’s in no way as insane as the other Ilsa films — I mean, they have to contend with Jess Franco’s insane Ilsa, The Wicked Warden — but there’s lots of silly fun to be had. There’s also the ending, where Ilsa is left in the midst of nowhere, left with just her money to burn to stay alive.