Color, 1968, 90 mins. 53 secs.
Directed by Lee Frost
Starring James Arena, Joseph Mascolo, Virginia Gordon, John Alderman
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Something Weird (DVD-R)

Color, 1969, 104 mins. 21 secs. / 94 mins. 20 secs.
Directed by Lee Frost
Starring John Bliss, Maria Lease, Bruce Kimball, Michael Dikova, Roda Spain, Uschi Digard
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Something Weird (DVD-R) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Along with moving through their own phases like nudie cuties, sexploitation films got very strange results Hot Spurwhen they swirled in popular Hot SpurHollywood genres to get moviegoers in seats at any cost. For some reason roughies, those sweaty and violent softcore films that usually worked in heavy elements of film noir, seemed to work really well when they were fused with the western, especially after the game-changing success of Clint Eastwood's Sergio Leone trilogy and Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch in the latter part of the 1960s. Titles like Brand of Shame, The Ramrodder, and Indian Raid, Indian Made all threw together enough western elements and undressed actresses to satisfy their audiences, while later on during the porno chic era, the tradition continued with oddities like A Dirty Western and Sweet Savage. Not to be outdone before the hardcore renaissance, Lee Frost (Love Camp 7, The Defilers) and frequent producer / writing collaborator Bob Cresse made two particularly vivid western roughies at the end of the decade, Hot Spur and The Scavengers, both of which had irresistible trailers and became early, longstanding entries in the Something Weird library during the VHS era. Since then they weren't given a whole lot of attention, bypassing the DVD era entirely (apart from SWV DVD-R options and a bootleg from Alpha Blue Archives), but in 2024 Severin Films corrected the situation with a vengeance with pristine restorations on separate special edition Blu-rays.

First up Hot Spuris 1968's Hot Spur, which turned heads among SWV collectors with one of the most outrageous trailers of its Hot Spurera. Feeling pretty much like a rough draft for Love Camp 7 staged on a TV western set, the film follows the ruthless vendetta enacted by Carlos (Arena), who offers to help take care of the horses belonging to Jason O'Hara (future soap star Mascolo) and his bully buddies. Things escalate quickly when The Mex fails to stop the nasty cowboys (who call him "Mex" or "Chico") from raping and murdering his sister, so he enacts a plan to get them by ingratiating himself and kidnapping Jason's wife, Susan (The Muthers' Gordon), doling out at least as much abuse and degradation as his family suffered.

Mean and gritty but shot with a vibrant color scheme, Hot Spur is still a rude and often uncomfortable reminder of what it looked like when exploitation showmen pulled out all the stops to compete with their studio counterparts. In many respects this anticipates where mainstream revisionist westerns were heading in a couple of years with all-star offenders like The Hunting Party and Soldier Blue, painting a picture of the American West as a landscape of nonstop trauma and violation without a sympathetic character in sight. Of course there's also a lot of nudity to help the film live up to its poster even veering into full frontal territory that was mostly forbidden shortly before this outside of nudist camp movies. Adding to the film's drive-in credentials is a recognizable cast of heavy hitters, most notably John Alderman who somehow spent his career bouncing back and forth between mainstream TV, character parts in hardcore features, and glorious scuzz like The Erotic Adventures of Zorro, Dandy, and the incredible Little Miss Innocence.

Anyone who waded through Something Weird's old transfer of this one will be stunned by the 4K restoration from the original camera negative on display on the Severin Blu-ray; it's a gorgeous presentation that gives the candy-colored offerings from Warner Archive a run for their money. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 English mono track is also pristine and comes with optional English subtitles. A thorough and informative audio commentary by Vinegar Syndrome’s Joe Rubin and Severin Films’ Andrew Furtado (scarfing down pie on and off together) covers the budgetary limitations of these kinds of films, the ins and outs of Cresse and Frost's careers, the influence of underground and art film culture, the discovery of these films' negatives in France(!), the roughie breakthrough of Festival Girls, the threat of having films seized by vice squads, and tons more. The last 18 minutes introduces a third participant, Bob Cresse pen pal/onetime Something Weird General Manager Tim Lewis, who has plenty to say about his late buddy and the ins and outs of working at the Seattle home video game changer. A third audio option and one definitely not to be missed is a recently unearthed conversation about Frost and Cresse with Something Weird founder Mike Vraney and the legendary David F. Friedman; anyone who's heard the epic audio commentaries by the duo (both of whom are sadly no longer with us) knows how great their rapport was, and this is no exception with lots of fun stories about roughie "wars," pranks, exhibition tactics, and much, much more. The earlier work of Frost-Cresse is represented with the inclusion of an entire bonus feature film, 1963's Hollywood's World of Flesh (64m16s), shot in black-and-white (despite some early narration shenanigans about Eastmancolor) showing the various forms of modeling, burlesque, and escort work around L.A. It's fairly tame stuff, at least until the ridiculous climax showing a strip pool party. The film is presented in SD but looks fine for what amounts to a quick, cheap quickie with lots of sleaze value. Then you get the Friedman-directed short The Casting Director (6m17s), showing a day in the life of the titular profession complete with awesome vintage exploitation posters and The Scavengerssome mild stand-and-pose nudity, plus a goofy twist ending. Cresse himself stars as the casting director at work, which makes it worth a look by itself. Also included are the wild, 6-minute theatrical trailer and a quick but insane teaser that packs in more graphic nudity than the film The Scavengersitself.

The following year, Frost and Cresse mined similar but more overtly violent territory with The Scavengers, focusing on the looting and debauchery inflicted by a bunch of Confederate soldiers unaware that the Civil War has come to an end. John Bliss (who went on to lots of mainstream TV and also appeared in Frost's The Thing with Two Heads) stars as the despicable Confederate Captain Steve Harris, whose soldiers would rather sit around playing the banjo and goofing off in the woods. With vultures swirling all around, Harris and his increasingly food-starved men (who are resorting to cutting meat off their dead horses) end up in a town where they've gotten wind that a Yankee supply wagon with a gold shipment is about to travel by. However, they also decide to essentially annex the town for their own indulgence, which they soon push too far by attacking a black woman whose former slave companions turn out to be very good with firearms.

The ScavengersFor some reason (perhaps due to some unexpected critical enthusiasm for Hot Spur), The Scavengers was prepared in two versions, an official R-rated cut (which did the rounds in Australia and served as the basis for the really awful-looking earlier Something Weird version) and a more elusive, much longer unrated version more suited to the The Scavengerssexploitation market. Either way it's actually a pretty solid dramatic action film with some well-executed shoot outs and an unflinching depiction of the racial tensions that were boiling up again in the U.S. at the time of its release. The sex scenes in the spicier cut are still pretty grim but not as explicit as Hot Spur, and while this actually runs longer, it cuts to the quick faster and makes for speedy, compelling viewing with a nice E.C. Comics-style sting in the tale at the end. On the drive-in casting side, the big draw here is a short but scene-stealing appearance by none other than Uschi Digard, who brings her usual enthusiasm to a saloon encounter.

The Severin Blu-ray is another magnificent presentation that completely obliterates the earlier releases, taken from the negative and presented here in perfect shape with impressive colors and detail. Again the DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track sounds great and features English SDH subtitles. Rubin and Furtado are back with another commentary (this one was actually recorded first), still enjoying pie and rattling off a large amount of info about the cast, crew, film releasing conditions of the era, and more. This time their special guest pops in much earlier, and it's none other than Temple of Schlock's Chris Poggiali who puts his encyclopedic knowledge to good use here with lots of info about Frost in particular, whom he got to know and interviewed near the end of his life. They also go into the presence of production manager Ron Garcia (who went on to shoot Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me), the welcome character actor Bruce Kimball (Drive-In Massacre) who also howls the theme song, and more. Other extras included standard and "hot version" trailers, plus a thick insert booklet duplicating the "Our Family Album" promotional program.

Reviewed on March 18, 2024