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August 18, 2010

'70s Cult Project: Part One - I Spit on Billy Jack in 60 Seconds

By now, all you lovely readers who are absolutely smitten by this blog know about the latest call to action I've posed, regarding my quest to find the most essential cult films of the 1970s.  If you don't know, read this.  Whilst others are coming up with their picks, I've been doing some work to swim through some of the cult films of said decade that I've either a) missed thus far, or b) wanted to revisit for whatever reason.  Thus, I recently powered through three cult films of the decade, and will now discuss

First up, I finally took a look at the reviled rape and revenge romp I Spit on Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman).  I'd let this one slip past me for years - the same way I skipped the more accessible The Last House on the Left until the last couple of years - because I wasn't quite sure horrors based on "The Big R" were my cup of tea.  It was only after searching through horror blogs (including one that's totally named after the movie) that I started to consider that there might be some merit to the film.

If you don't know it, ISOYG/DOTW stars the lovely Camille Keaton as a writer who heads to a quiet, secluded cabin to work on a book.  She draws the attention of some local boys who just wanna have fun (This was the '70s, Cyndi Lauper hadn't taken "wanna-ing to have fun" for girls yet), mainly by getting on that girl.  What follows is an extended series of rapes, which end in the weakest member of the group leaving Ms. Keaton's character alive.  She recovers and plots her revenge.  Considering her methods, I'm convinced that she misheard that old Klingon proverb as 'Revenge is a dish best served nude'.

There are some brutal and memorable scenes in the film, but I've still never understood some of the tactics in these rape and revenge flicks of the decade.  I can see the reason for Keaton's character to use her feminine wiles to help achieve her revenge against her attackers, but she takes this to an extreme that's slightly unbelievable.  If I was attempting to get revenge on a slew of rapists, I wouldn't spend so much time sexing them up.

I Spit on Your Grave delivers what you'd expect from such a revered "subversive" film.  I can't imagine it's going to have much replay value for me, but I admired its willingness to be bold and stick to its guns.  Keaton is a strong presence in the lead, which helps make this one memorable and effective in most regards.

The second cult flick I sat down with this week was the Native American gone angry flick Billy Jack.  I must say, this movie did very little for me.  It's aged very poorly and seems to go on for far too long.  Tom Laughlin's titular character is presented well, but the events surrounding him seemed too drawn out at times.

The plot focuses on a native american "school" which Billy Jack is protecting from the white man, and far too much time is spent inside this school with musical assemblies and dramatic recreations of pot smoking.  There's some rape in this one too (Were the '70s the first decade when rapes happened, or something?), and it all boils down to a moral dilemma instead of an action scene.  I know, that was the message of the movie, but I wasn't buying it.  This was a microcosm of that time in society, and I just don't think it translates to today's viewers.  (Also, this apparently was a sequel and spawned two more sequels?  Really?  I just assumed it went along with that crying Indian commercial.)

(Side comment as I look below where I'm typing - How ridiculously cool are these '70s movie posters?  OMG, I want them.)

Lastly, I checked out H.B. Halicki's original, Nic Cage-less, Gone in 60 Seconds.  Now this....this is the kind of flick I can get behind.  I'd heard it featured the longest car chase in cinema history (it sure did!), but I was surprised how much I enjoyed the plot behind the film and some of the side events along the way to that super-chase.  If you've seen the big budget remake, the original has basically the same plot - a bunch of "professional" car thieves have to acquire a list of vehicles and deliver them to the docks by a certain time - but cuts out the fat (no family or romantic subplot, thankfully) that was added to the Bruckheimer produced extravaganza.

Instead we get a lot of low-tech, indie magic as Halicki and crew actually dismantle and destroy plenty of real vehicles along their path to making the movie work.  The whole production feels surprisingly real, and I had a blast with it.  I'm not completely blown away - it's a little slighter than some of the films of its type I love - but I will definitely be revisiting it again in the future, and I think it'd make a fine "party" flick with a bunch of chums.

Will any of these three movies show up on my list of Essential Cult Films of the 1970s?  Maybe they're on yours?  Stay tuned to FMWL for more as the '70s Cult Project continues through the end of August!


Anonymous said...

I love the Billy Jack films!!! Truly a cult classic! The original Gone is 60 Seconds is FAR superior to the remake! I Spit on Your Grave, great film. Can't wait to see the completed list! Hope you already checked out mine
Dreaded Dreams
Petunia Scareum

stonerphonic said...

Another interesting and well written instalment to your 70's Cult Project man. All 3 are def up there in the cult-worthy stakes.

And, as promised, here goes my own 5 into the hat...