Sep 1 2017

The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968)

Traveling rodeo star Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen, Avenging Angel) has just lassoed a different kind of filly: a purty new wife! Her name is Connie (Sherry Jackson, Gunn), and the couple is still in the RV-rockin’ honeymoon phase when a lithesome figure from Jeff’s past pops up.

It’s his ex-girlfriend, Shayne, for whom he was not crying to come back. With perfectly coiffed blonde hair unbecoming of a Honda hellcat, not to mention belies a nail-tough demeanor, Shayne (Diane McBain, Wicked, Wicked) is the leader of the she-devils on wheels who call themselves The Mini-Skirt Mob.

Still harboring quite the lady boner for an nonreciprocal Jeff, who left any bad-boy longings in the dust, Shayne won’t let the two lovebirds alone. In fact, with an assist from Lon (Jeremy Slate, The Centerfold Girls), she’s rarin’ to split them asunder. Why, if she can’t have him, no one will — except the Grim Reaper!

I can’t speak for you, reader, but having two beautiful women fight over you? To the death? I can relate.

Shot in the arid Arizona desert by House of the Damned’s Maury Dexter, The Mini-Skirt Mob is one of the more toothless biker pics to emerge from the era when they actually were in vogue. Despite a significant plot point’s commonality with Lee Frost’s comparatively ballsy Chrome and Hot Leather (they also share space on the official DVD), the AIP offering feels like adults playing pretend — not that there’s really anything wrong with that when you’re revisiting the bones of a long-expired genre. McBain’s villain is presented more as someone to be jeered, rather than feared, as if a catfight is bound to break out at some point. And it does.

The most interesting element to The Mini-Skirt Mob is in its casting of two supporting characters, giving The Bad Seed child star Patty McCormack a grown-girl part as Shayne’s sassy sister, and future Repo Man Harry Dean Stanton an early film role as bad boy Spook, perpetual drunk and dangler of bikini tops. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 27 2017

Chrome and Hot Leather (1971)

Hotheaded biker gang member Casey (Michael Haynes, The Dunwich Horror) breaks away from the pack of his fellow Wizards to terrorize two female motorists, and ultimately sends them over a cliff and to their deaths. One of the young ladies (future Charlie’s Angel Cheryl Ladd, in her motion-picture debut) was the fiancée of U.S. Army Sgt. Mitchell (Tony Young, Policewomen), who doesn’t take the news well.

In fact, when he returns from a stint in ’Nam, Mitch enlists three Army buddies (including singer Marvin Gaye, in his lone film role) to help him track down the Wizards, led by human muscle T.J. (William Smith, Terror in Beverly Hills). To do this, they go undercover as bikers as best as they can, starting with the purchase of four matching red Kawasaki dirt bikes, and traverse L.A.’s Bronson Canyon on their would-be hogs, inquiring about the Wizards’ whereabouts. (Actually, everyone throughout the film refers to T.J.’s gang as “The Devils,” despite its members’ sleeveless denim jackets clearly emblazoned with the word “Wizards” on the back.)

Released by AIP as demand for the biker pic began to wane, Chrome and Hot Leather tackles the disillusionment of the Vietnam vet under the unassuming guise of the two-wheeled subgenre, giving Mitch and his Green Berets the victory and respect our real American soldiers were denied. Now, how much of this was intended by director Lee Frost — the prolific exploitation filmmaker behind The Defilers, House on Bare Mountain, The Black Gestapo, Zero in and Scream, Love Camp 7, et al. — is up for debate.

But why bother debating? It’s easier just to enjoy Chrome and Hot Leather as is and at face value. (Speaking of faces, is it possible Casey served as the visual inspiration for Ben Stiller’s White Goodman character in Dodgeball? See Exhibit A.) Although somewhat relegated to supporting status in the third act, Smith is a hoot as head Wizard, particularly with the line, “Gabriel, can’t you see we’re menacing someone?” Keep your eyes peeled for Dan Haggerty, Erik Estrada and “Monster Mash” singer Boris “Boris” Pickett, as well as enough smoke and grime to make those peepers of yours water. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 22 2017

The Firing Line (1988)

The Firing Line is one of those low-budget action movies where, five minutes and 47 seconds into it, a solider trips over an electrical cord … in the jungle.

The Firing Line is also one of those movies that casts erotic-thriller queen Shannon Tweed, but never takes advantage of her particular talents.

In other words, The Firing Line is one of those movies that flat-out sucks. Reb Brown (Yor, the Hunter from the Future) plays Capt. Mark Hardin, a military adviser with a porn-star mustache and Beefaroni build who switches sides and pledges allegience to Central American rebel forces, for reasons I didn’t quite catch because the sound mix is so bad. (Yep, The Firing Line is one of those movies, too.)

Capt. Hardin meets sports equipment saleswoman Sandra Spencer (Tweed, Possessed by the Night) in a bar, where they becomes instant buds. But as soon as he gets into trouble, she’s right there, neck-deep in it, too. Don’t miss the scene where Hardin is tortured with sound waves — it’s not acting, but it’s something else, all right!

What follows are:
• many, many repetitious scenes filled with gunfire;
• a cobra without fangs that nearly gums Sandra to death;
• Sandra asking loudly, “How safe?” without moving her mouth;
• and the binouclar cam, which is clearly a black board with two holes cut out, only director/co-writer John Gale (aka Jun Gallardo, SFX Retaliator) didn’t bother to make them perfectly round or equal in size.

Awash in utter amateurism, The Firing Line is one of those movies where some hick friends got together and decided to make a movie over the weekend. But only because backyard wrestling hadn’t yet been invented. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 16 2017

S.W.A.T.: Under Siege (2017)

Although S.W.A.T.: Under Siege officially springs from an iconic 1970s TV series, this third film — and the second made expressly for home video — contains much more of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 flowing through its DNA. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

It’s the Fourth of July in Seattle, but crime doesn’t take a holiday. S.W.A.T. commander Travis Hall (Sam Jaeger, American Sniper) and his team get called in by Capt. Dwyer (Adrianne Palicki, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) to accompany DEA in a narcotics raid on a cartel warehouse. Things don’t go as smoothly as expected — in fact, the team is comically sloppy for a so-called tactical unit — and certainly none of them expected the mission to end with the discovery of a man tied up for torture inside a shipping container.

They take that man, Scorpion (Michael Jai White, Spawn), into custody and back to headquarters for questioning. Seems the Scorp — perhaps so named for the neck-to-ass scorpion tattoo on his back? — possesses a lot of sensitive data that a preening British terrorist (Matthew Marsden, Resident Evil: Extinction) can’t afford to lose. Said terrorist orders dozens of his heavily armed, interchangeable goon to descend upon S.W.A.T. HQ and extract Scorpion, with collateral damage not only accepted, but encouraged.

And that’s as it should be! Although this in-name-only sequel is not as much fun as the previous direct-to-video entry, 2011’s S.W.A.T.: Firefight, it is fun. Working on a mere sliver of the budget of the 2003 S.W.A.T. feature film, director Tony Giglio (2005’s Chaos) is forced to keep the scale small and the story confined largely to one location, yet he maximizes what matters most: action. That’s not to suggest he has crafted Under Siege into some kind of gem — just that he has crafted it into a workable shoot-’em-up that, unlike the average Redbox rental, delivers what is promised. It helps that Giglio’s deck is stacked with several built-in reliables: Jai White’s martial-arts prowess, Jaeger’s square-jawed charisma, Palicki’s push-up underwire.

Oh, yes, and the S.W.A.T. brand name. While super-producer Neal H. Moritz (The Fast and the Furious franchise) prepares to unleash a rebooted S.W.A.T. on prime-time TV this fall, I’d rather he keep making these instead. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.

Aug 8 2017

Terror in Beverly Hills (1989)

When terrorists strike L.A.’s posh Rodeo Drive in the Reagan/Bush era, there’s only man to call: Stallone.

As in Sylvester, of course. But when the producers of Terror in Beverly Hills couldn’t afford him, they went with his brother.

As in Frank, of course. But when the producers of Terror in Beverly Hills couldn’t pay him past two days of filming, he walked. No problem! Willard actor-turned-writer/director John Myhers just assigned the scenes he hadn’t yet shot to this film’s next best thing: some other guy who isn’t really introduced, perhaps in hopes you won’t notice; he just kind of shows up and sticks around. I suppose a real-life analogy would be opening night on Broadway, with the understudy taking over for an ill leading man, and the program neglected to include an insert announcing the change. You won’t mind; with the move pushing Terror deeper into the terrible soup, the movie becomes that much more entertaining.

A Middle Eastern terrorist group arrives in the 90210 ZIP code and shoots up a clothing store in order to kidnap one particular shopper: the U.S. president’s adult daughter (Lysa Hayland, Fatal Passion). Mastermind Abdul (Behrouz Vossoughi, Time Walker) holds her hostage and demands the release of 55 Palestinian prisoners. The president (William Smith, Maniac Cop) calls the police captain (Cameron Mitchell, Deadly Prey), who calls former Special Forces officer / current karate dojo owner Hack Stone (Stallone) into action … or at least Myhers’ idea of action. His flick really should be titled Terror at the Old Bean Factory, because that is where most of it takes place and how characters keep referring to that location.

Stallone is hardly in the film; he appears at the beginning and then swoops in toward the tail end, in order to unload ammo into Abdul and anyone else who looks like a “filthy Arab,” to borrow the earlier words of an overdubbed white woman who dares enter an airplane lavatory after Abdul’s worried bodyguard (Sam Sako, Hidalgo) drops a mile-high deuce. Mitchell, meanwhile, pops up every now and then to shout his lines through bourbon-soaked breath, sometimes at the local TV newsman (Brian Leonard, Saint Jack) who unintentionally steals the show with his Jon Lovitz-ian lines, read at the rat-a-tat-tat speed of a Ben Hecht screwball screenplay: “Thanks, hon! The check’s in the mail!”

Cash that check in. And then rent this misfire of massive proportions. In terms of trash, it amounts to a hill of beans. —Rod Lott

Get it at Amazon.