Technically this is the 5th event thus far of Tarantino's March Madness however it is only my 2nd attended. I was unable to attend the double bill of Bakshi animation with "Coonskin" and "Hey Good Lookin'" which played Friday and Saturday March 4th and 5th as well as "The Anderson Tapes" and "Road Games" which played Sunday and Monday March 6th and 7th. From here on out though, I will be at the Bev for nearly everything (except March 15th's "Grindhouse" and "Machete" double bill).
Apart of the New Beverly Cinema's traditional scheduling, Tuesdays are grindhouse nights and last night March 8th Tarantino set up three 1970's revenge films that are chalk full of exploits, brutality and lurid subject matter. I'd never seen any of these three films and was pretty excited going in. Truthfully I'm ecstatic about this whole month's programming. Nearly all of the movies I will be seeing during Tarantino's March Madness are first time views for me. The best part is so many of them are not available on DVD, so this is my best chance to see them, not to mention seeing them with a kick-ass crowd.
The first movie of the evening was "The No Mercy Man." A film that is not that far off from "First Blood" except 11 years before John Rambo had even hit the silver screen. We are introduced to the Hand family who are waiting the return of their son Olie from Vietnam war. Olie returns a different man. War torn and hardened. He suffers from flashbacks and remains in a state of depression. Olie's father is extremely proud of his decorated son but just can't seem to wrap his head around why Olie is so troubled. Outside of Olie's personal dilemmas he has returned to his small town only to see that carnival folk have overrun the town. Carnies who have a penchant for trouble and taking whatever they like. As you can probably guess the Carnies mess with the wrong family leading to Olie having a bit of a meltdown.
"The No Mercy Man" is all kinds of ludicrous. First and foremost you have a hilarious comedy relief filled gang of carnies overrunning the southwestern town. Their leader named Prophet (played by Rockne Tarkington) is a beacon of 70s style. Dressed in leathers that make you wonder if this brother has been hanging out with Native Americans on the side. Prophet is suppose to be the rock of his gang and a deadly fighter, sadly we never really see that description live up to its potential. Instead we see him having to clean up the mess of his bumbling partner in crime. 'No Mercy Man' opens and closes two hilarious folk songs that tie-into the movie and its plot. The opening song, "The No Mercy Man" is a sweet serenade that include the lyrics "His love is like being raped by the devil." No joke, that line sung repeatedly throughout the opening car chase got a huge reaction from the crowd (as it should), I mean come on, "raped by the devil" that is all kinds of awesome and were only in the first few minutes. The finale too features quite a song, however I will not include lyrics as to not spoil the end of this outlandish revenge flick. I will say that both songs had to be written after the film was made because they literally take major plot points and put them into song.
Some of the best moments in the revenge film are Olie's flashbacks and fighting sequences. Olie is a trained killer and can easily become a ticking time bomb. There are a number of moments in the film where Olie essentially goes apeshit. Its almost as if he is the Incredible Hulk and begins hulking out. Letting out grunts and moans as he attacks. Near the end of the film there is a scene where Olie busts out of a shed. Instead of using the door, Olie just slams through it. Guess he can worry about fixing the door after the Carnies have been dealt with. Director Daniel Vance must have really had a thing for slo-mo because nearly every action that Olie does is in slow motion and features some outlandish facial expression that is sure to conjure up at least a giggle. Steve Sandor who plays Olie, is pretty awful in the lead role but has a certain flair that makes him the right fit for a grindhouse film. He certainly has the look and I can imagine some studio exec back in the 70's thinking he was going to be the next big thing, he wasn't, but this movie is certainly worth hunting down to watch if only to laugh at.
While we may laugh at it, it does deal with some serious issues during the 70's. The struggle that plenty of men have had to cope with after coming home from a war. Granted they turn that story and fill it with a simple revenge plot, but beneath the surface "The No Mercy Man" does in fact have some impact and influence. I'd say Sylvester Stallone is lying if he said he had never seen this movie, because "First Blood" takes a number of notes straight form it. A final note the movie gets major props for a scene with a machine gun strapped to the roof of a pickup truck and the driver is simultaneously firing the weapon and shooting the gun. That is what I call dedication.
The first half of "Johnny Firecloud" is pretty uncomfortable. We are subjected to some extremely racist actions towards Johnny's father White Eagle played by Frank DeKova as well as a rape of Johnny's sister. Like most films of this era the majority of the actors playing the Native Americans are not actually Native American. Instead Frank DeKova is Italian while lead actor Victor Mohica (Johnny Firecloud) is Puerto Rican. Johnny's sister Nenya although is played by Sacheen Littlefeather a true Native American who has been politically active throughout her life. A side note, I did not know that women we already getting breast implants in the 1970's, but during Nenya's rape sequence it is plain as day her breasts are not natural. Anyways back to the terrible actions in the first half, we watch as drunken White Eagle is tormented by locals in a bar all for the sake of another drink. The treatment he endures is absolutely gut wrenching and really turned my good mood into a bit of depression. While I think "Johnny Firecloud" is a powerful film, the shift in tone was hard to cope with. That is a good thing. Not all film is meant to just be a laugh, even grindhouse movies filled with exploits. I'm thankful I endured the realities of 'Firecloud.' It is a time that Americans should be aware of and be ashamed about.
Once the film shifts from enduring racism to carrying out the revenge it picks quite a bit of steam. The kills that Firecloud begins to inflict on Colby's men are memorable and ring true to Native American stereotypes. Yes, that means we see hatchets and some scalping. Better yet, we see a man tied to a post then covered by a gunnysack filled with rattlesnakes. I'm terrified of snakes and that scene actually had me pretty freaked out. One other kill includes a man being buried up to his neck with his eyes gouged out and of course we get a shot of buzzards circling. I loved watching as Johnny Firecloud gets even with his victimizers. Its certainly the not best revenge plot of seen, but some great ingenuity and some very memorable kills.
"Johnny Firecloud" is a rough watch but features some awesome kills and it certainly remains a low budget grindhouse effort. The dialogue is pretty bad, but at the same time it gets the job done. You hate the white ranchers who constantly torment Johnny and his family. Also I shouldn't forget this film featured the greatest odd-ball line of dialogue ever. During a yelling match in the bar a local says to Johnny Firecloud, "Sooner or later we are gonna tangle assholes!" That line of dialogue got the biggest reaction of the night. What exactly is tangling assholes? Seriously, that line of dialogue left me dumbfounded and smiling from ear-to-ear. Hear it now, one day I will use that line of dialogue to intimidate someone that has pissed me off and I can't to see their gears begin grinding wondering what the hell I just said.
My biggest problem with "Summertime Killer" is its momentum. The film picks up speed with first person point-of-view chase sequences then slows way back down while Ray figures out his next move. I get that he is calculated and has to do things right, but that argument just doesn't become validated by all the time Ray spends not killing his father's murderers. Instead he lounges around in skimpy clothing wooing women. We also have a kidnapping in the movie which sent the film going in an entirely different direction than I anticipated. Olivia Hussey plays Tania Scarlotti the daughter of on Lazaro Alfredi. Lazaro is the final person Ray is dedicated to killing and in order to get closer to him he kidnaps his daughter. As you might of guess, the two end up falling for each other. Yes, extremely predictable. "Summertime Killer" obviously came way before it but the film reminded me of "Along Came a Spider," the movie with Morgan Freeman hunting down a kidnapper. Sure these movies are like 20 years apart but the similarities are there, especially once you see where Ray Castor keeps his kidnap victim. Last note on "Summertime Killer" is the memorable score by Luis Bacalov and Sergio Bardotti. The score has a number of themes that return over and over. More than anything the score lets the viewer know when the film will take its lackidasical turns or when the movie goes from chugging right along to a nearly dead stop.
Overall this was a genuinely fun night of revenge. The evening hit a few serious notes, but mainly kept things lively all the way through with three 1970's thrillers. One theme I noticed across all three films outside of revenge was brooding attractive men. Generally speaking in grindhouse films we see tons of naked women, but all three of these films featured men in skimpy or tight clothing doing their best to look sexy for the ladies. Now I've never gone in hoping for a night filled of men to get women going but in a genre that tends to mainly satisfy women it was a nice change to see the opposite side.
Quentin Tarantino's March Madness continues throughout the rest of the month. Check the New Beverly's website for full details and times. Also stay tuned for more coverage of March Madness as I will be continuing to do write-up's on the rest of the events scheduled.