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August 23, 2010

'70s Cult Project: Part Two - To The Devil a Switchblade Sister Who Dreaded Sundown with a Kansas City Bomber

Wait, what?  I know, I know.  Quickie review posts are so lame.  But I've been watching way too many "cult" flicks from the '70s lately to give them each their own review.  So, let's move forward with some capsule reviews of the flicks I've been making sweet love to lately.

(Ok, maybe there was no sweet love making. But they're at least flicks I've been watching lately.)

Kansas City Bomber (1972, Dir. by Jerrold Freedman.)

There are some really obvious reasons to love a movie in which Raquel Welch wears the outfit you see in that poster (there is soooo no good reason for the zipper to be that low, and I love that about it) while skating and fighting.  Plus one of my favorite fellows, Piranha/Invasion of the Body Snatchers/UHF star Kevin McCarthy co-stars as the snaky owner of the roller derby team which Welch dominates (which, in the interest of full disclosure, is in Portland - not Kansas City).

But really, I kinda love Kansas City Bomber's brand of cheese.  It's got overly dramatic subplots which include, but are not limited to: an overly aggressive yet simple minded and sweet brute, a "this town's not big enough for both of us" feud, and a commentary on the sensibilities of living on a teammate's houseboat while the owner makes the moves on you.  Oh, and it all starts with Welch facing off with an overweight, mullet-sporting woman in a "match-race" that turns into a fist fight.  Yeah, really.  Let me reiterate -  If you ever wanted a movie where Raquel Welch fights a fat woman with a mullet on skates, this one's totally for you.

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976, Dir. by Charles B. Pierce.) 

Despite its rather modest reputation (I honestly only knew about it because of that one line of dialogue in Scream), I had really high hopes for this one.  So, I must admit, I was slightly disappointed when I saw the final product.  It was just one of those things that could just never really live up to that pedestal that the gnomes inside my mind had placed it on.

That said, I liked this movie.  At times it felt like I was watching a feature length re-enactment from Unsolved Mysteries (narrator Vern Stierman deserved an Oscar, or something), which - to me -  is a good thing.  Ben Johnson chews up the scenery as the police officer leading the charge against this bagheaded killer, and it was nice to see Gilligan's Island babe Dawn Wells (Side note: I'd still pick Ginger.  I mean, how could you not pick Ginger?  I've never understood that.  Mary Anne is nice.  Ginger is to hotness as The Blob is to blobness.) show up as one of the victims.  

The most interesting thing about The Town That Dreaded Sundown is most certainly its connection to the slasher films that would follow in its footsteps in the decade that followed.  The killer's image certainly draws comparisons to Jason's look in Friday the 13th Part 2, and there are some weird and inventive moments (I do not understand the purpose of that trombone scene, except that it's awesome) that remind of films like The Prowler or Graduation Day.  One of the final attacks, involving a window surprise, will stick with me for a long, long time.  

It's sad that the whole thing just doesn't seem to click thanks to some pacing issues and some weird attempts at humor (what was the deal with Keystone Cops wannabes in the '70s?).  But it's really good at times, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Switchblade Sisters (aka, The Jezebels) (1975, Dir. by Jack Hill.)

There are many dilemmas in a man's life.  One of the most difficult of these is the dilemma that occurs when a badass female lead character in a film is both a) cute and b) grating.  Thus is the case with Robbie Lee, who stars in Switchblade Sisters as the hard-nosed leader of "The Dagger Debs", Lace.  Luckily, she's challenged by a street smart babe in short shorts named Maggie (Joanne Nail) who is both a) cute and b) NOT grating.  Plus, she's backed up by an eye patch wearing pal, adequately named Patch (Monica Gayle).  (Personally, I was most interested in the tortured "fat" girl of the gang, Donut, played by the saucy-named Kitty Bruce.)

Attractiveness of alleged teen gang members aside, Switchblade Sisters offered a large dose of '70s cheese, complete with a ton of cool music and clothes.  But Ms. Lee's whiny voice and temper tantrums kind of drove me crazy at times.  Hill had made better bad babe movies in the '70s (Coffy and Foxy Brown come to mind) with the assistance of THE Pamela Grier.  While Switchblade Sisters is fun most of the time, it never clicked like those movies did for me.  And Lee's whinnies will keep me away from revisiting this one for a while, as sad as that sounds.

To The Devil A Daughter (1976, Dir. by Peter Sykes.)

These movies keep getting worse as this post goes on.  Tragic, really, because considering how much I love Hammer's adaptation of The Devil Rides Out (totally the most underrated horror film of all-time, I kid you not) by Dennis Wheatley, I was hoping this adaptation wasn't going to be as bad as its reputation.  For those who don't know, To The Devil a Daughter was - until their recent revival - the last film produced by the legendary Hammer studios. 

The film starts, shockingly with Christopher Lee - Dracula himself - wearing the robe of a priest.  I must admit, I checked my pulse.  Alas, it turns out Lee's priest is involved in "the black arts", and he ends up feuding with an author (Richard Widmark, totally slumming it) over the fate of a young girl (16 year old Nastassja Kinski, who goes full frontal anyway).  The film also features Indiana Jones' Denholm Elliott and Honor Blackman, which makes it one of the few films I've ever seen that features both full frontal nudity and Pussy Galore.

And, despite all's terribly boring.  Where The Devil Rides Out had cheesiness and campy performances, this one has Widmark and Lee blabbering on and on about the demon Astaroth and some silly scenes in which winds come out of nowhere.  Yes, deadly winds inside a church.  Boo hoo, not scary.  I'm so glad Hammer came back, because if this had been their final hour, I might have just cried a lot.

So....that's where I'm at in the '70s Cult Project after a very eventful weekend.  Will any of these movies make my list of The Most Essential Cult Films of the 1970s?  Will my list be able to stand up to the awesome lists posted recently by bloggers from all corners of the cyber-globe?  Stay tuned to FMWL all week for these answers, and more!


Hey! Look Behind You! said...

Damn I totally forgot about The Switchblade Sisters. And I have The Town that Dreaded Sundown for over a year now and I still haven't watched it yet. Hmmm.

Bryce Wilson said...

Great Work Mike.

Unknown said...

I love all these movies - you can't beat the 70's for quality exploitation!
"Kansas City Bomber" is a favourite of mine that a lot of people don't seem to have heard of.