Color, 1976, 90m.
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Starring Peter Fonda, Lynn Lowry, John Doucette, Scott Glenn, Philip Carey
Color, 1976, 91m.
Directed by Charles S. Dubin
Starring Stephen McHattie, Kay Lenz, Lonny Chapman, Will Geer, Eddie Albert
Shout Factory (DVD) (US R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Corman veteran Jonathan Demme (Caged Heat, Crazy Mama) teamed up with Roger one last time behind the camera at Fox for Fighting Mad, a stripped-down and solid revenge drama about a battle for farmland in Arkansas that erupts when Tom Hunter (Fonda) and his son return to their family ranch now run by his brother, Charlie (Glenn). Some land developer goons are trying to pressure Charlie to hand over his property, but when that doesn't work, they decide to do a little home invasion that leaves Charlie and his immediate family dead. Tom takes up the mantle and, after some heart to hearts with his girlfriend Lorene (Lowry), decides to dish out a little payback on horseback with the aid of a bow and arrow.
Even in his early exploitation days, Demme always displayed a keen sense for dialogue and local flavor with the characters' relationships and daily habits getting a higher priority than the required sex and violence. He certainly dishes out enough of that here to fit the Corman formula (with the always great Lowry from Score and I Drink Your Blood supplying some nonchalant T&A), though apart from some terrific overhead helicopter filming during a nocturnal compound assault, the vengeance aspect here isn't handled with quite the same panache and savagery found in more famous '70s classics. The film is really more of an actors' showcase and a melancholy portrait of American rural life being devoured by encroaching greed; if you watch it on those terms, the film is quite satisfying.
Certainly speedier and more frivolous is the peculiar Moving Violation, which Corman produced the same year. The still-busy Stephen McHattie (star of Pontypool, Corman's Von Richthofen and Brown, and the same year's completely insane made-for-TV sequel, Look What's Happened to Rosemary's Baby) is a drifter named -- no, not John Rambo -- Eddie Moore, who's passing through a small midwestern town where he immediately gets on the bad side of Sheriff Rankin (theater legend Chapman). He later strikes up a rapport with waitress Cam (Lenz) and goes for a skinnydip in a pool owned by the town bigwig (The Waltons' Geer). Next thing you know, they're witnessing the Sheriff commit cold-blooded murder and, framed for the crime, embark on a wild chase across the countryside with the police in hot pursuit.
It's not surprising that Moving Violation came from a TV director, Charles S. Dubin, as the film really pulls its punches way too often (it's rated PG, fer crying out loud) and never quite hits the gritty, breakneck stride that could have made it a classic. The cast is certainly odd enough to have plenty of cult appeal (and you get Eddie Albert, too!), and the script by David Osterhout (the madman who also penned Don't Answer the Phone! and The Gay Deceivers) had the potential to be a real classic; there's a particularly melancholy bent to the last act that should have carried over a little more into the rest of the film. Though he would excel in other roles during his long career, McHattie also seems oddly cast here; he seems a little too serious and passive here, and it's tempting to wonder what someone like, well, Peter Fonda could have done with it instead. This is still a swift, entertaining ride throughout, and most importantly, you get lots and lots and lots of car chases and crashes.
Despite decades of unavailability after the '80s VHS boom, both of these films have been staples on the Fox Movie Channel for years in soft-looking widescreen versions that are easily eclipsed by this DVD pairing. The image quality here is infinitely better than the cable versions with vivid color and crisp detail; it's nice to see Fox had good elements for these still tucked away in the vaults. Even better, you get a couple of superior audio commentaries that put both of these films in much-needed context. The biggest star power is found in the Fighting Mad track, which unites Demme, Fonda, Lowry, and Corman together for a fast-paced history of the film loaded with great bits of trivia. For example, you'll find out the shenanigans they pulled to get those helicopter shots, how Demme got around the fact that Fonda didn't really know how to fire a bow and arrow, and how they dealt with shooting Lowry naked on her first day on the set. It's a huge amount of fun and easily worth the pricetag by itself. For Moving Violation, Dubin, McHattie, Corman, and producer Julie Corman team up to talk about the film (too bad Lenz wasn't available, as she's still busy acting); they all remember the experience well and seem to have a lot of affection for the production, which was mounted with the usual Corman economy and executed with some inventive stuntwork to keep the story's pace chugging along in the second half. They also share some interesting tidbits about the late Chapman, Geer, and Albert, who aren't folks you normally expect to pop up in a Corman film. Theatrical trailers and TV spots for both films, along with bonus trailers for other Shout Fox acquisitions like Gordon's War and Race with the Devil, round out a very healthy package for two action films that certainly deserve more than the marginal cult status they enjoy today.