Retro Film Report #32: Films of 1973
There were a lot of good flicks to come out of 1973: Soylent Green, The Wicker Man, The Exorcist, Badlands, Coffee, The Mack, High Plains Drifter, and American Graffiti. Plus, the gritty drive-in and grindhouse pictures that would gain cult status years later were in full swing. The restrictions were lifted on what movies could show, and the ratings board was asleep at the wheel. Thus, movies began to plumb the depths of bad taste. Like a preacher's daughter set free into the wild wild world, they seemed to revel in sin.
The Crazies, Mean Streats, Magnum Force, and Don't Look Now all came out in '73. All are classics in my book, and all contain that trademark grittiness. Here's a look at a few more movies from the year. Perhaps you haven't heard of some; if you have, please feel free to give your take on some of the films. I'd love to read them.
Meet Ellie and Myra - daughters of the late Bonnie. Ellie works at a greasy diner while Myra gets molested and beat by their vile stepfather. Yep, it's your typical 70s drama, full of loathsome characters and troubling plot points. Bonnie's Kids begins like an After School Special, but quickly turns into something more....
When Ellie gets home and catches her pervert stepfather in the act, she blows his ass away. The two sisters ditch the body and skip town.
This is what's good about Bonnie's Kids. Unexpected, batshit crazy twists and turns throughout. I've often heard that the only unforgivable sin in cinema is being boring. You can forgive bad acting and a thin plot, but not being dull... and "dull" is not a word I'd use to describe Bonnie's Kids.
The sisters crash with their Uncle Ben who is a rich fashion industry magnate (it would have been better if Uncle Ben was an instant rice magnate, but oh well). Naturally, Ellie poses nude for a fashion spread. Bonnie's Kids is just sleazy enough to elevate it above a Movie of the Week or Starsky & Hutch episode.
Ellie also makes the most of her newfound lifestyle. Things are just grand.... which means something horribly wrong is about to happen.
Turns out their Uncle Ben is into some pretty shady business, and he has a "job" that needs to be handled. There's a "pick up" of a kings ransom.in loot which he entrusts to a brawny P.I. named Larry (Steve Sandor).
Larry and Ellie plot to keep the money for themselves. Unfortunately, a couple of Uncle Ben's "associates" (who remind me of the Samuel Jackson/John Travolta characters in Pulp Fiction) are onto them, and are going to make damn sure they don't get away with it.
Tiffany Bolling plays Ellie. Bolling is primarily known for her drive-in and grindhouse work such as The Candy Snatchers, Wicked Wicked, and Kingdom of the Spiders. She was in a ton of seventies television, notably as The Spider Lady in Electra Woman & Dyna Girl.
Robin Mattson plays Myra. Mattson had her own cooking show on the Lifetime network called The Main Ingredient. After Bonnie's Kids, Mattson appeared in Candy Stripe Nurses, but then instead of continuing the sleaze, she entered the TV universe permanently. Not only did she pop in a million series (Happy Days, Barnaby Jones, Fantasy Island), but she ended up becoming a staple on daytime soaps for decades to come.
CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS
From the director that brought you Black Christmas, Porky's and A Christmas Story, Bob Clark delivers up a fairly good PG rated horror flick on a shoestring. Crazy hippies dig up a corpse to use in a satanic ritual (never a good idea), only to have the dead rise. The youth must hole up in an old house Night of the Living Dead style; let's just say things escalate quickly. If you can get past the woefully cheap look and feel, this is actually rather fun. It's rated PG, but I must say I'd never let my kids see it - some scenes are downright disturbing.
BECAUSE OF THE CATS
It's interesting to track the teenage delinquent movement in cinema. What began as relatively harmless biker gang and hooligan movies of the early to mid sixties, quickly devolved into ultra-violent rapists by the seventies. A Clockwork Orange is just one of many films featuring hoodlum youth run amok in once-safe suburbs.
No doubt the older generation feared what the Boomers had become, and without question there was extreme resentment running the other direction as well. The Boomers blamed the WWII generation on Vietnam, and made no apologies for the fact that they had every intention of taking over.
The gang rape scene at the beginning of this film is, simply put, the most graphic I've ever seen.... and I've watched I Spit on Your Grave. The camera is unflinching; there's no music or fancy camera edits... it's like you're there. When the lady pleas for the help of her husband, who just stands there petrified, you feel the madness, the shame, the horror...
Ultimately, that is what this movie is known for, because the remainder of the film could pass for a TV Movie of the Week (minus a hippie orgy, of course, which occurs towards the end of the film).
Basically, the plot boils down to privileged youth enjoy killing and raping people, and a Dutch cop must find them out. It's all fairly tiring, and, frankly, after that opening gang rape, everything else seems dull.
Sylvia Kristel is in it, but all too briefly.
It's also interesting to note that, just as these delinquent movies were a reflection of the mutual fear and hatred welling up between the WWII and Boomer generations, a similar manifestation began to appear in the latter half of the decade. Movies like The Omen, Devil Times Five, and Bloody Birthday portray the youngsters as demonic hellspawns. Perhaps this reading too much into things, but it's still food for thought.
IT HAPPENED AT NIGHTMARE INN (AKA UNA VELA PARA UN DIABLO)
The two sisters that run the Spanish hotel Las Dos Hermanos have issues with the amoral youth culture, especially their sexual shenanigans. They must be punished. One after another, a beautiful and sexually free chick comes to stay at their hotel, only to wind up dead and incinerated at the hands of these two women. It's a lot like Psycho, but with two women in the role of Norman Bates.
When one guest attracts whistles for sunbathing, one of the sisters pushes her down a flight of stairs. Her head smashes into a religious stained glass window, and the gals naturally deem this a divine "accident". Another woman is murdered when the sisters learn she has a baby out of wedlock; a particularly troubling scene.
It'll never be a classic because it's not flashy or over-the-top. Plus, it's not particularly inventive, nor is the dialogue interesting. Vintage horror fans will appreciate it, but it's not something I'd excitedly recommend.
I first saw this back in 1986 on Night Flight. I'll spare you the plot synopsis and simply say this is the biggest animated head trip since Yellow Submarine. The art is is just downright spooky (with obvious Hieronymus Bosch influences). The style itself is highly unusual; I've never seen anything like it.
If marijuana is legal in your state, I highly recommend you light up and watch this film. It's thought provoking and an experience unto itself.
THE CANNIBAL MAN (AKA LA SEMANA DEL ASESINO)
You often hear the term "gritty" applied to movies of the seventies; certainly, when it comes to grindhouse films, the adjective is spot on. The Cannibal Man is a textbook example of the seventies grittiness:
The film coloration and overall quality is as if was marinated in a puddle in a gas station bathroom
There's an overriding sense of nihilism; an unshakable feeling that life sucks and has no meaning.
Unsavory characters populate the stage - with no makeup, no custom wardrobe, and no Hollywood beauty
Murder, rape, assault, nudity, butchery, stalking, and sweaty graphic sex are always on the menu.
Many directors have tried to recreate the twisted magic of seventies grit, but it's an intangible that just can't be mimicked. It has to grow naturally, and that's not something you necessarily want to cultivate.
The story is this: a butcher kills somebody and confides in his fiance. She insists that he go to the police; naively she assumes he won't be charged with murder - that he can claim self-defense. Our Cannibal Man doesn't see things this way, and strangles her to death.
This creates a domino effect, where he has to kill one person after another to protect his secret. He subsequently has to kill his brother, his brother's fiance, and his own father. Talk about escalating! Each body he carries to his filthy little room until he can take them to the sickening factory farm where he works.
There's actually no cannibalism in the film; so, the title is an absolute misnomer. The closest approximation to The Cannibal Man I can think of is Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Not family friendly fare by a longshot. Indeed, this film was included on the infamous Video Nasties list.
Well, there's plenty more from '73 that I'd like to go into, but they'll need to wait for another post. I know I tend to hover over the cult movies more than other great flicks. For instance, John Wayne's Cahill came out this year, as did Serpico and Live & Let Die. Retrospace has a bad habit of straying off the beaten path and wandering into odd and unpredictable territory. I think that's why it has kept my interest for 5+ years and still going strong. There is seemingly no end to the strange nooks and crannies of the seventies, and I aim to explore them all.