If anyone from the future opens a 1977 time capsule stuffed with DVDs, the first impression they may reap is that everyone was having lotza sex this year. Sylvia Kristal (the most famous actress to essay the role) opens the year with Emmanuel 3. Laura Gemser (our Black Emanuel from ’75) takes over with Emanuel in America. Apparently native boys can’t get it up enough for her, so Laura branches out in Emanuel Around the World. She then plies her trade in the nunspolitation genre in Sister Emanuel, and finally takes on the cannibal movement with Emanuel and the Last Cannibals. After that, Laura gets some much needed R &R, and won’t return until 1980’s Emanuel: Queen Bitch.The 70s were definitely not political correct, as Chai Lee proves with Yellow Emanuel. It’s more of the same with a different skin hue. Lee shrugs off the racist title and slut shaming, declaring that her vagina is merely a muscle that needs exercising. Actually, it’s a tame affair.
Joey Heatherton took over the role of Xaviera Hollander for The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington. She’s a bitter fit than Lynn Redgrave was in 1975’s The Happy Hooker, and director William A. Levey was more at home with the trashy tales of the madame’s purportedly true exploits than Nicholas Sgarro had been two years earlier. Still, it’s dated soft-core titillation.
Adult film star Uschi Digard shows up for the “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” sexploitation segment of John Landis’ anthology, Kentucky Fried Movie. Despite his one time commercial standing and the cults around a few of his films (1978’s Animal House, 1980’s The Blues Brothers, 1981’s An American Werewolf In London), Landis never made a good film and proved what a lousy filmmaker he was going to be in this, his second film. At the very least, we have to give the hack his due because he got through this without crippling or killing anyone.
Tan, buxom blonde Cheri Caffaro was a minor 70s exploitation sex symbol. She began her path to “fame” after winning a Brigitte Bardot lookalike contest and is best known for her Ginger McAllister trilogy: Ginger, The Abductors, and Girls Are For Loving, made between 1971 and 1973 and written and directed by her then husband Don Schain. Ginger was a softcore female James Bond for the drive-in circuit. All of these were trashy and fun (we hope to cover the entire trilogy at a later date). Caffaro had branched out(sort of) playing different characters in Schain’s A Place Called Today (social commentary exploitation, AKA dull sleaze) and Savage Sisters (1974, directed by Eddie Romero), which is a somewhat tame but fun women-in-prison exploitation. Caffaro’s last film role (before divorcing Schain and becoming a beekeeper!) is Too Hot to Handle, which reunited her with husband/Ginger director. Her character name has changed here to Samantha Fox, but it’s essentially a darker variation of Ginger McAllister with a bit of Ilsa thrown in. Caffaro has fun playing a lethal lady, and it’s contagious. It’s kinky and inventive, but hampered by trying to do more than the budget allowed.
Death Game (directed by Peter Traynor) is purportedly based on a true story and opens like an old dark house thriller with two women (Sondra Locke—best known as Clint Eastwood’s ex, and Coleen Camp—best known for her 70s cleavage) seeking refuge from the rain. Unfortunately, Seymour Cassel lets them in, and before you can say menage-a-trois, he discovers himself tormented by lesbian psychos from the pit. Despite all the destruction and mayhem, Seymour doesn’t solicit our sympathies. Low budget, rude, crude, and with some of the most amateurish editing ever committed to celluloid, this was almost universally panned at the time, but it is exploitation at its deranged purest, with waaaaaaay over-the-top performances. Overdosing on ham, you’ll think its a holiday of sorts.
Fight for Your Life (the only film directed by Robert Endelson) is ultra-violent blaxploitation, and one of the best in that sub-genre. With all the racial slurs being bandied about, this Straw Weisman script would be an almost impossible to produce today. It’s a variation of Last House on the Left and, to a lesser degree, 1955’s The Desperate Hours, with a gang of thugs breaking into the house of black minister and his family. A lot of torment follows, until the tables are turned. It’s been described as vile and repulsive and that’s absolutely spot on. It’s actually superior to Wes Craven’s groundbreaking film, but inexplicably less well known. If you prefer white racism swept under the rug, avoid this like the plague.
We come down several notches for The Uncanny (directed by Denis Héroux). Produced by Amicus veteran Milton Subotsky, it’s another stab at the anthology genre, and a tepid one at that. Peter Cushing is the author/host who tries to convince his skeptical publisher (Ray Milland) that cats are evil spirits intent on taking over the world, which segues into a trio of tales. The first (and-sort-of- best) vignette stars Joan Greenwood as a wealthy socialite who has revised her will, leaving everything to her cats. The maid (Susan Penhaligon) tries to steal the will and the felines get pissed, making for a gory comeuppance. The two remaining tales are forgettable, with Donald Pleasance giving one of his worst performances as faded actor Valentine Death, whom everyone calls V.D. Get it? Fortunately, the cat literally gets his tongue. Cushing and Milland are quite good and the direction is competent, but its failure is in the scripting by Michel Parry.
The experimental House (directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi) has a small cult following. The experimental elements are essentially film school variety, but they’re loony enough for a good time, and to warrant a Criterion release. It’s more trippy comedy than outright horror—the idea was taken from the director’s 10-year-old daughter. The house is a hoot and there’s plenty of kung-fu styled slapstick amidst the chaotic psychedelia, which includes a sadistic piano and a singing kitty.
The killer car sub-genre was born with Steven Spielberg’s high throttle Duel (1971) and climaxed with John Carpenter’s hugely successful take on Stephen King’s Christine (1983). In between those is the cult favorite, The Car, directed by Elliot Silverstein, who had previously directed A Man Called Horse and Cat Ballou. Silverstein’s entry in the genre is slick, in a way that a decent budget affords, and plays like a feature version of the work he had been doing in the “Twilight Zone” series. Basically, it’s Jaws on wheels. It’s pretty good in the popcorn popping department, but go with Spielberg’s more flavorful original.
For being a witless ripoff of Jaws, Tentacles (directed by Oliver Hellman) inexplicably has a name cast, including John Houston, Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Bo Hopkins, and Claude Akins. It’s a dreadful affair that inspires one to wonder if these actors fired their agents one and all.
Dino De Laurentiis was born without an ounce of shame, so it’s no surprise that he produced two blatant ripoffs of Jaws with Orca (directed by Michael Anderson) and White Buffalo (directed by J. Lee Thompson). Actually, Orca is as much a variation of “Moby Dick” as it is Jaws. It’s a revenge-on-the-sea yarn with the killer whale going after Richard Harris’ Captain Ahab for killing Orcaette. Bo Derek loses a leg to Ennio Morricone’s score. White Buffalo features Charles Bronson as Wild Bill Hickok, who has a death wish against the title critter. There’s plenty of fake snow for an obviously fake beast. Bronson does good work, such as it is, and gets ably supported by character actor Jack Warden. There’s a roster of cameos from John Carradine to Kim Novak, and they’re wasted one and all. The movie flip-flops between Thompson’s pseudo-artiness and Laurentiis’ Jaws-in-the-West concept. The result was an epic bomb everywhere except in Asia, where audiences devoured all that colorless pretension.
William Girdler, who brought us Grizzly last year, ups the ante with Day of the Animals; a killer beast smorgasbord including tarantulas, birds, mountain lions, and bears. Again, it stars the tragically short-lived Christopher George (he died from a heart attack due to an accident on his cult television series “The Rat Patrol”) along with his wife Linda Day George, Leslie Nielson, Richard Jaeckel, and Ruth Roman. The cast and Girdler’s direction render it spirited schlock.
OK, now we have a double feature of a brand-new killer animal sub-genre: the lethal dog , which is of course pre-Stephen King and pre-pit bull epidemic. The Pack (directed by Robert Clouse) stars Joe Don Baker against a… pack of dogs. It’s not rocket science, but Clouse, who is best known for Enter the Dragon, keeps the pace at a rapid-fire clip.
When WTTV 4 slapped Dracula’s Dog (directed by Albert Band) on horror host Sammy Terry (the late Bob Carter), he knew it was time to hang up the cape. He complained for years after that he had gone from classics like The Bride of Frankenstein to slumming it with Dracula’s Dog. After watching it, you’ll see his point.
Let’s shrink it down a tad with Empire of the Ants; another minor dung heap from Bert I. Gordon. Decorative Joan Collins whoops up the considerable camp quota in this bad movie must.
Ants (directed by Robert Scheerer) has two babes (Linda Day George and Suzanne Somers) battling against the picnic pests. Veteran Myrna Loy doesn’t fare as well in this wad of horrific bubble gum.
If you don’t have an A -list babe to go against nasty creepy crawlers, what do you do? You get Shat, dammit, and that’s precisely what director Bud Cardos does for Kingdom of the Spiders. This well-remembered ‘ 77 favorite has real arachnids, a fun script, and a wham-bam despairing finale. It’s dated, in a good way. Besides, can anyone really resist T.J. Hooker battling the brood from “Charlotte’s Web”?
We end a year of much derivative schlock with David Cronenberg’s startlingly original Rabid, which shrewdly features ex-porn star Marilyn Chambers. The film, financed by the Canadian government, caused quite the uproar, probably much to Cronenberg’s delight. The director’s subsequent movies seem to have buried the reputation of Rabid, which is unfortunate because this underrated second commercial feature, although undeniably rough, shows Cronenberg in full-throttle obsession mode. Vampirism, zombies, and, of course, mutilation are themes he filters through his idiosyncratic aesthetics. A motorcycle accident lands Rose (Chambers, in a good performance) under the knife of a mad doctor who grafts a vampire penis into her arm pit. She uses her sexuality to lure victims and those who survive her armpit’s phallic bite are transmitted into rabid zombies. Cue a city-wide plague. Now, we can officially say we’ve seen it all in 1977.