I’m not ashamed to admit that “Red Sonja” is a childhood favorite. As a TV junkie, I spent a lot of my childhood watching movies on network TV and I constantly tuned in to “Red Sonja.” It was such a departure from the normal movies I watched as it sported a female heroine, Ernie Reyes Jr. trying his best to kick ass, and an unusual narrative that feels like a mix of “Barbarella” and “Wizard of Oz.” Of course this being 1985, you can sense Dino DiLaurentiis also trying to build his own movie series a la “Star Wars,” even featuring a battle with an underwater monster in a cave. I never caught on to it before, but this is also one of the rare action movies from the eighties where there is a heavily implied sexual affair between heroine Sonja and villainous Queen Gedren.
DC And Warner have at their hands one of the most iconic Batman narratives of all time, a narrative that asks the question if the Joker is truly someone too weak to endure a really awful life, or if he can submit someone to so much pain they can become exactly like him. All it takes is one bad day, he insists. “The Killing Joke” is surprisingly only seventy six minutes in length and still manages to feel way too long. For an iconic story with such a meaty premise, DC and Warner obviously have absolutely no idea how to put it to screen, and manage to botch this adaptation big time. With “The Killing Joke” we have to endure what is one long winded and dull prologue that leads literally to nowhere, just to allow the viewer to connect to heroine Batgirl.
I’ve never seen such a soul sucking and soul crushing film as “Bedeviled” in my life. That’s not at all a negative remark about Jang Cheol-soo’s drama thriller. It’s just my warning that if you go in to “Bedeviled,” be prepared for a film with absolutely no silver lining or hopeful plot twist. Like “Martyrs,” it’s a trip down the darkside of humanity, but you know, unlike “Martyrs,” this is a great film from beginning to end. It’s not often that Asian revenge pictures are given a sensationalist tone, but Cheol-soo’s drama is gut wrenching and really offers a glimpse at a small chunk of the world where sadness is pretty much a way of life.
If anything, “Cherry Falls” is a valiant attempt to deliver a game changing slasher film that tries to challenge the conventions of the sub-genre left and right. It has all the right ingredients for one excellent horror film, but in the end is just a fine and serviceable genre entry. I wouldn’t be so quick to say it’s mediocre, but compared to a lot of other “Scream” clones released at the time, “Cherry Falls” is a fine companion piece. It’s not often we get a slasher film about a knife wielding killer hacking virgins to death. This time rather than slut shaming as we saw in “Scream,” the victims are punished for not having sex, and that’s a formula that almost works. Almost.
I wish “The Crow” sequels took as much of an advantage with a creative premise as director Michael S. Ojeda does with “Avenged.” While his film isn’t exactly a revenge masterpiece, it’s a strong contender for one of the finer revenge films of the past five years, working as a tragic love story, and a vicious horror themed tale of vengeance. Amanda Adrienne Smith is rather compelling as the victimized Zoe, a deaf mute who ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Brenda is the leader of a pack of young girls in her town who spend their free time making trouble and raising hell. When they cross a male gang while partying and decide to wreck their car, they strike at Brenda by raping and violating her sister, Heather. Out of spite, they also murder her best friend. Having had enough, Brenda unleashes street justice on the bastards, with a slew of weapons, including her crossbow, switch blade and her street know how. Sure, Sure, Linda Blair. “The Exorcist” is a family drama, not a horror movie. No, we believe you. And “Repossessed” was a relevant Mel Brooks throwback. And “Chained Heat” was an indictment on the prison system. And “Savage Streets”? An honest look at the peril of American youths! What? Just because “The Exorcist” is my favorite horror film ever made doesn’t mean I’m at all bitter.
In either case, if you’re one of the few people that wondered what became of Linda Blair after “The Exorcist,” you’d be surprised to know that Blair became a B movie actress, and a bonafide grindhouse goddess. Once Blair went from adorable young kid to legitimately legal, Blair was a busty bombshell who could really dominate the screen with her curves and her fierce performances. Not to mention whenever she was on-screen, her gorgeous breasts seemed to act independently from Blair’s body. It’s shocking how much Blair’s bust seems to be their own character in “Savage Streets” as well as other noted films of hers like “Chained Heat.” Not that it’s much of a revelation, I mean I’m sure everyone seemed to notice this increase in bust size around “The Exorcist II: Heretic.” It just didn’t become kosher to point it out and enjoy it until Linda Blair began shedding her clothing and bathing with other women in grade A grindhouse fare. Her yaboes were only rivaled by the great Pam Grier. But enough about breasts for a while,
I digress. “Savage Streets” is that great youth gone wild film that would have been filmed in the fifties with a disclaimer in the finale, except it goes whole hog in to the dramatic revenge tale rather than calling attention to its ludicrous trappings. The film is inherently goofy, but you just have to love how Linda Blair takes charge in the finale.
Blair works very hard to own the role of Brenda, the alpha female of her school who runs a gang and gets in to spontaneous fights in the school showers in the near nude. Blair, with her cherubic face and warm smile struggles to convince audiences she’s this hard boiled no nonsense female hood, and likely spent hours in front of a mirror practicing her scowls and holding her cigarettes. But god help her, she just can’t pull it off. Granted, the woman is gorgeous, but not quite the street wise chick who leads a pack of young girls in to trouble and mayhem. Compared to the more realistic femme fatales in “The Switchblade Sisters,” Blair and co. are somewhat laughable. Her only salvation is her younger sister Heather, an innocent mute teenager who follows Brenda on her overnight adventures cruising stores and breaking laws.
Heather is played by the gorgeous Linnea Quigley in one of her earliest roles, where she is pretty much propped to be an angelic young girl who keeps Brenda from going over the edge in to full on criminal mode. Imagine the switch when Quigley would play the iconic punk goddess Trash in “Return of the Living Dead” years later. After crossing a group of guys in town by hijacking their ride and trashing it, they seek revenge by gang raping Heather in the lockers. Brenda of course was too wrapped up in a shower fight to notice her sister being tortured and sexually violated the entire time. And Heather is a mute, so she very well couldn’t scream for help. Angered and enraged, Brenda sets out on a path of violence, systematically eliminating the men that took her sister’s life, while the men retaliate by murdering Brenda’s friend. All of which culminates in a final showdown between Brenda–in full black leather regalia–and leader of the male gang that almost seems to be for a sequel.
Sadly, there was never a “Savage Streets II” and Blair went on to better–well–other things. No, but I kid Blair. All things considered Blair in her prime was a gorgeous curvaceous sight for the movies, and “Savage Streets” is a fine installment in the later repertoire of Blair’s career, where she embraced grindhouse and exploitation at every turn and looked for any excuse to show skin. And I thank her for that. Linda Blair never really could convince anyone that she was a hardcore gangster woman, but “Savage Streets” is still a tasty bit of eighties exploitation with a fun premise, and a one two punch of the almighty Blair and Quigley.
I’m personally a fan of revenge thrillers, and am quite surprised to see Stephen King of all people concoct a rape revenge thriller. Out of the sub-genre, they’re the most notorious of the sub-sub-genres. “Big Driver” is an often toothless and ridiculous rape revenge thriller about a writer who may possibly be going mad after being viciously and repeatedly raped in a road side gas station by a hulking driver. He’s known as “Big Driver,” and is a very menacing and horrific villain. That is until the narrative unfolds and then he becomes a cartoon. It’s not enough that he may possibly be a trucker that had an impulse to rape and victimize a gorgeous woman on an abandoned road.
And it’s not enough that perhaps he has snared his share of victims in the past. No, King has to keep piling on absurd twists and turns with our villain Big Driver, while pretending to say something about writers. Truly, the writers’ psyche can be a maddening and unusual place, but for Tess Thorne, she’s a woman who’s been victimized one too many times and has an odd selection of friends. She has her characters from her book series about knitting elderly women solving crimes, her GPS named Tom (the only trustworthy man in her life), a cat named Fritz, and a neighbor who may or may not be romantically involved with Thorne.
Nothing is ever really confirmed for the audience, as every element of the plot is thrown up in to the air and never really resolved. At one point it’s suggested the stylish revenge plot is all in Tess’s mind but it’s never confirmed. Then we’re told that her confrontation with Big Driver was planned. “That’s a little far fetched,” Tess thinks aloud. But lo and behold, it’s not too far fetched the primary narrative itself. And by god King goes all the way, with a dramatic confrontation, and an abrupt final scene that may or may not be one big imaginary sequence in Tess’ slowly unraveling mind. What is the horrendous life Tess had? Why does Tess come across another victimized woman? What insight does this moment lend her exactly?
Is Tom the imagining of an ex-boyfriend or just a creation of Tess’s to compensate for her lack of romance? If Tess really is so closed off to everyone, why does she live in such an open suburban neighborhood? And what of the loose ends like Tess taking a limo home after being raped? No one really reported her injuries? I’m not sure if “Big Driver” is supposed to be a meta-thriller about a writer who enacts revenge through means that seem almost too good to be realistic, and the almost ridiculous sequence of events are intentionally silly, but “Big Driver” is too haphazardly written and sloppily directed to really answer that for the audience. In the end, it’s a terrible thriller with more head scratching questions than answers.
Director Austin Chick’s “Girls Against Boys” is not just a polemic about the crime of rape and gender inequality, but is never afraid to depict men as anything but horny monsters that prey on women, when they’re not degrading them. Never has a movie been so hell bent on making men feel bad about their danglers. “Girls Against Boys” is a typical rape revenge movie, that’s also a mopey, whiny, and very homophobic thriller that can never seem to decide if it’s exploitation or melodrama. Sometimes it’s “Thelma and Louise,” sometimes it’s “I Spit on Your Grave,” and sometimes it’s “Ms. 45.” And never remotely as good as the aforementioned titles.