Return To The Amazon Grindhouse

Sept 9, 2020
My first excursions through the lower depths of Amazon Prime's more lurid content were rewarding enough that a return visit became an absolute must, the possibility of discovering a classic amongst the wealth of material available - from micro-budget Blaxplotation flicks to blood-splattered Italian horror - being too appealing to resist.

The trick is to always source a high definition versions of a film as unfortunately there are numerous dodgy copies of certain movies on Prime that seem to have used on old VHS tape as their source (this is possibly related to copyright issues, and may explain why there are four different versions of the Frank Sinatra/Sterling Hayden crime drama Suddenly available in varying degrees of picture quality, for example). The films discussed below are all HD on Prime (at time of writing), although the copy of the original print used may not be in the most pristine condition (film restoration is a costly enterprise so is generally reserved for more high brow material!).

In some cases the poster art is vastly superior than the actual finished product (and often completely misleading) but the following movies all have their individual merits, although some far more than others...

An attempt by Roger Corman's New World Pictures to inject some zietgeisty king fu mayhem into the standard Blaxploitation format works really rather well in TNT Jackson (1974). Tough talkin' patois mixes up with some entertainingly staged fight scenes, including one particularly memorable topless takedown of some distracted bad guys. Jeanne Bell isn't as well remembered as Blaxploitation queen Pam Grier but she acquits herself well in the title role here whilst Stan Shaw as the shady Charlie undergoes a succession of wardrobe changes that are so gloriously, outlandishly '70s in the most fantastic of ways that they almost steal the whole show.

In The Last Horror Film (1982) a NY cabbie is so obsessed by a horror actress that he travels to the Cannes Film Festival in an attempt to convince her to star in a film he believes he'll direct. Following his arrival in the French city the body count quickly begins to stack up. The film is actually a lot smarter than the generic stalker premise suggests, and the fact that filming takes place with the backdrop of the actual 1981 festival lends authenticity to it, with news broadcasts and various characters discussing screen violence and real world violence giving it a bit of a meta sheen. Joe Spinell makes a great impression as the compulsive, nervy taxi driver, Caroline Munroe less so as the object of his affection (being dubbed doesn't exactly help her out in that regard). Perhaps it tries to be too clever for its own good at times but the fact that it does attempt to escape its genre trappings marks it as a cut above.

Former NFL star and Blaxploitation legend, Fred Williamson (Black Caesar, Three The Hard Way) made his directorial debut with Mean Johnny Barrows (1976), also taking the lead role as the Vitenam Vet struggling to get back to civilian life when faced with societal racism and the temptations of criminal gangs. It's incredibly low-budget and sometimes pretty ropey in its delivery (a dissolve-heavy montage is excruciating) but Williamson has the swagger to make the long takes of him walking along the street to bass heavy soul palatable (a rather bizarre and flamboyant cameo by Elliott Gould livens things up briefly). There's some nice mobster action but the story goes off the rails a bit by the end, and in all honesty the title is misleading: Mildly Miffed Johnny Barrows may have been more apt.

Linda Blair (The Exorcist) stars in Savage Streets (1984), a rape/revenge potboiler where a deaf sister falls foul of a local gang (which includes a high schooler who looks like he’s closer to pushing forty than twenty). Locker room bitchiness and naked shower fights are arguably unsuccessful distractions as the promised revenge rampage takes a rather long time to arrive. John Farnham’s presence throughout the oh-so-80s soundtrack may increase the appeal for those not convinced by the promise of Blair in a catsuit with a crossbow.

Set in the distant future of 1990(!), where the Bronx has become a lawless area of New York ruled by marauding gangs, The Bronx Warriors (1982) clearing owes its existence to The Warriors (natch), Escape From New York, Mad Max and, to a lesser extent, Clockwork Orange. Obviously it doesn't come close to any of those movies, but it has its moments, whether it's a random drummer incongruously accompanying a dockland showdown or a gang that have fabulously combines tap dancing with violence. At 17, Mark Gregory doesn't quite have the chops to the carry the film, but Fred Williamson is fine as gang leader The Ogre and Vic Morrow is solid (until he loses at the end) as a mercenary named Hammer, in his final completed film role before the tragic accident on the set of The Twlight Zone: The Movie the following year. The exterior location filming in the actual Bronx highlights just how dilapidated sections of that borough were back in the early '80s.

Considered by many to be one of the finest of the genre, The House On Sorority Row (1982) is a pretty effective slasher flick. If you perceive an air of Hitchcock about the proceedings some of that may be attributed to director Mark Rossman's stint working for renowned Hitchcock acolyte Brian de Palma on the latter's Home Movies project. It certainly feels proficient in creating suspenseful situations although perhaps only the faintest of heart would term it 'scary'. Those familiar with genre conventions won't find many surprises here as most of the tricks and twists have now become clich├ęs in modern horror but they are still generally successfully deployed in this setting. Musos of a particular persuasion may also appreciate the extended appearance of obscure power pop act 4 Out Of 5 Doctors.

Bookended by a rather pleasing pulp sci-fi concept (that plays out like a discarded Star Trek plot set-up), Galaxy Of Terror (1981) veers rather swiftly into hoary Alien knock-off territory, not really a surprise considering when it was released, but it largely fails to much in the way of memorable spectacle. James Cameron's presence as production designer and second unit director lends it some importance in the trajectory of his career, particularly when you consider he went onto to direct Aliens just a few years later. Appearances by B-movie stalwarts Sid Haig and Robert Englund don't quite elevate it enough to make it truly recommendable and once the manifestation-of-fears plot device is revealed you do wonder what kind of individual is afraid of a giant sex worm above all else.

Italian cannibal horror movies are a pretty niche area of interest and many of the more well known entries became caught up in the 'video nasty' prosecutions back in the early '80s, including Cannibal Ferox (1981), which is a grim watch even if you have a higher tolerance for this sort of thing. While overshadowed by the notorious (and frankly superior) Cannibal Holocaust it's not without its attempts to provide gruesome imagery (one particular sequence involving a cast member hanging from hooks may be too much for some to stomach). The plot favours shock over logic for the most part and the sequences in New York, where one character feels the need to call everyone a 'shit face', are a jarring and downright peculiar digression.


That's it for now but ever since I started this journey, I've felt compelled to continue onwards, if not always upwards, so please continue watch this space for updates. Recommendations are, of course, always welcome.

NB: All films were available on Amazon UK Prime at the time of writing.


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