MAMA'S DIRTY GIRLS
Color, 1974, 78 mins. 40 secs.
Directed by John Hayes
Starring Gloria Grahame, Paul Lambert, Sondra Currie, Candice Rialson, Christopher Wines, Dennis Smith, Mary Stoddard
Color, 1977, 90 mins. 26 secs.
Directed by Lamar Card
Starring Mark Schneider, Katie Saylor, Morgan Woodward
Color, 1972, 92 mins. 47 secs.
Directed by William Gibson
Starring William Smith, Peter Brown, Ahna Capri, Tom Simcox, John Villegas, Julie Tecca
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
If you thought the widely abused gimmick of slapping the word "grindhouse" on a package of multiple scratched-up '70s movies was long gone, Code Red is bringing it back into circulation with this Blu-ray triple feature of unrelated drive-in programmers from the Me Decade. First up is Mama's Dirty Girls, an above-average crime/T&A films obviously meant to cash in on such recent films as Bloody Mama, Big Bad Mama, and Bonnie's Kids. Here the obligatory Hollywood star is Gloria Grahame, the scandal-ridden Oscar winner whose career had suffered major hits the previous decade. She was still enough of a recognizable name to market the film though, and she's perfectly cast here as Mama, a cold-blooded matriarch obsessed with owning property who has a sweet scam set up. We see it in action right at the beginning as her seductive daughter, Becky (Pets' Rialson), seduces Mama's current husband only for Mama to burst in and accuse him of statutory rape. He's contrite right away and agrees to write out a sobbing confession letter that also doubles as a suicide note when Mama and company bump him off.
The joke's on Mama though when he turns out he was actually buried in debt and was only renting his home, so it's off to find another dupe to marry and murder. She sets her sights on widower Harold (Lambert) and tells him she's due to inherit a significant estate from her late husband so he doesn't become suspicious of her motives. However, she has no idea that Harold's being blackmailed for drowning his previous wife and plans to do the same to her... but that's just one complication as Becky and Mama's other two daughters, Addie (Class of '74's Currie) and Cindy (Stoddard), become romantically involved with local men who will play a role in the violence that soon explodes.
A film that has its exploitation credentials and then some, this film was penned by Gil Lasky (also behind the wonderfully perverse Blood and Lace with Grahame) and directed by John Hayes, the modest but fascinating helmer of such films as Grave of the Vampire, Garden of the Dead, The Hang Up, and Sweet Trash. It even has Rialson disrobing over the opening credits to make sure butts stay in the seats, and while the rival murderer scenario loses a bit of steam in the second half, it's plenty of pulpy fun. There's even a small role here for Anneka Di Lorenzo, the ill-fated Penthouse Pet who appeared in Caligula and Dressed to Kill! The film first turned up on VHS from Trans World back in '86, running 79 mins. 39 secs., a bit short compared to the announced theatrical running time of 82 minutes. (If anyone has a 35mm print handy, maybe they can verify whether that's accurate.) The Code Red version is faded and features a lot of damage, with some heavy splices hacking out several lines of dialogue throughout. As a result, it runs about a minute shorter than the VHS. The DTS-HD MA English mono track is, like its co-features, listenable but in less than prime condition; this film fares the roughest of the three since it has a nasty patch in the second reel with a loud buzz overwhelming the soundtrack for a few minutes.
A surefire candidate for the most archetypal pop culture '70s drive-in title would have to be Supervan, a feast of CB slang, vans, sappy '70s AM-friendly music, airbrushed auto art, pie fights, wet T-shirts, gay stereotypes, a guy with a jack-o-lantern on his head, and bumbling cops. The gimmick here is a solar-powered van rejected by the auto industry that aspiring Clint (Schneider) wants to enter in a tournament called the Invitational Freak Out. His first van (called the Sea Witch) got demolished while he was saving a rich runaway named Karen (Saylor) from some aggressive bikers, and Karen's dad who runs the tournament isn't prepared for the souped-up, cop-defying, laser-quipped Vandora that's about to change history.
No one would argue that this is a great film by any means, but it's a ton of fun if you're in the right mindset for a lowbrow wallow while wearing an iron-on T-shirt and drinking an RC cola, this should fit the bill. Plus it's got a cameo by Charles Bukowski! There's a really rotten bootleg DVD of this 1977 favorite out from Cheezy Flicks (sourced from an ancient VHS), but Code Red rescued it in two formats, first via a 2011 DVD under its short-lived "Saturn Productions' Exploitation Cinema" line. Culled from a 35mm print with all the debris you'd expect from that vintage, it's still a significant improvement in color and clarity with a rugged grindhouse veneer. Paired up with that PG-rated film on the DVD is the significantly saucier Jailbait Babysitter from the same year, also directed by Hayes. Sort of an odd coming-of-age drama and an odd precursor to Risky Business, it's the story of 17-year-old Vicki (Therese Pare) who decides to exploit her babysitting gigs by throwing wild parties for her friends where they can all make out to their heart's content. She winds up staying at the house of a prostitute who coaches her in the ways of love since Vicki hasn't been willing to give it up for her boyfriend; however, the next step to an actual client doesn't quite go as planned. Given the subject matter, this one's surprisingly tedious and ultimately comes off like an Afterschool Special with some nudity and sexual banter thrown in; according to the liner notes, a young John Goodman is supposedly floating around in here somewhere as an extra, but the video quality (taken from a very, very blurry VHS source with tracking noise) is so murky it's hard to say for sure. (Code Red also recycled it as a co-feature on DVD with Trip with the Teacher.) The version of Supervan on the Blu-ray appears to be from the same print with an obvious upgrade in detail, but it's also a different transfer with more muted colors. (Here's a sample grab from the DVD.)
Last and certainly least in terms of entertainment value is Piranha! Piranha!, also shown as Piranha, Piranha and even just plain old Piranha as it's suckered in paying viewers since 1972. A seemingly endless slog through the jungle disguised as a violent adventure film, it only delivers on its promised thrills in tiny short bursts scattered throughout the tedium. On top of that it stars exploitation stalwarts William Smith and Peter Brown, whose presence promises far more, in the story of a photographer named Terry (Capri) who ropes her brother, Art (Simcox), into heading into the wilds of South America for a down and dirty photo shoot of diamond mining in the midst of nature at its most savage. They hire a guide named Jim (Brown) to keep them safe along the way, but along the way they run afoul of ruthless hunter Caribe (Smith), whose name happens to mean "piranha," and who has a tendency to hunt more than just big game.
For some reason almost everyone in this film seems to have appeared at one point or another on the two-season TV show Laredo, but this is a nastier piece of work with some stock footage of animals dying in their natural habitat. That's gotten this one labeled as an early forerunner to the whole Italian cannibal craze, but that really makes this sound a lot more extreme and fascinating than it actually plays out. Huge stretches of the film consist of characters wandering from one place to another, all accompanied by ambient nature sounds and occasionally swapping a few lines of dialogue or being attacked by our title character. However...
Piranha has been turning up on numerous single and multi-disc public domain editions over the years from labels like Platinum in a fullscreen print (possibly for television exhibition) that clocks in at 89m6s. The print used here runs substantially longer and features a greatly extended, far more graphic finale with the (actual) piranhas enjoying their meal in much bloodier detail. It definitely gives the film some added punch and doesn't feel like such a pointless slog in the end, so there's that. Print quality is comparable to the other two titles, faded but watchable and featuring its fair share of wear and tear. No bonus features are included.
Reviewed on April 10, 2018.