Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Vice Squad (1982)

I remember the VHS/Beta box staring up at me from the the video store shelf. I instantly wanted to rent it, more so than many of the other boxes on the shelf. Why? I’m really not sure. Did I recognize Vice Squad (1982) as a film that might push some of the same buttons (on me) as movies like movies like Death Wish II (1982), Dirty Harry (1971) and 10 to Midnight (1983), which I had already enjoyed?  Could I sense that Vice Squad inhabited a similarly sleazy, and violent but visually exciting world? Maybe, but it’s hard to see how.

The movie box (which would have been Beta for me at that time), was relatively simple: The title of the movie overtop of one photograph of a bruised and bloody man (I think I would have presumed him to be a cop) pointing a gun out through the shattered windshield of a car.


He is in fact vice squad cop Tom Walsh, played by Gary Swanson. The back of the box features two tasteful photos of the same cop; in one, he’s holding a gun and pressed up against a wall, in the other, he’s talking to a woman on a stretcher. Nothing terribly lurid or sensational.

Perhaps it was the description on the back of the box that pulled me in, which promised a “tough, uncompromising story set among the sleazy bars, motels, porno movie houses and massage parlors of Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, where ‘Sex for Sale’ is the name of the game.” Maybe, but I don’t think so. I knew I wanted to rent that movie before I even picked it up and turned it over.

So, what’s left? Intuition? Some sort of psychological phenomenon? Just a random feeling?

I’ll probably never know for sure what made me slap my money on the counter and take Vice Squad home with me all those years ago. But I was sure glad that I did. It became an instant personal favourite, and I wound up watching it several times over the next few years.

Vice Squad was directed by Gary Sherman, who made another favourite of mine from those early days of bringing home movies on Beta: Dead & Buried (1981). I did not make that connection at the time, but it’s interesting to realize it now. The only other movie of Sherman’s that I remember seeing when it first came out was Wanted: Dead or Alive (1986). I enjoyed it (and have a copy in my collection) but probably not as much as the other two. Sherman’s first feature film (and the only one her made prior to Dead & Buried and Vice Squad) was Raw Meat AKA Death Line (1972). It’s a British horror film with a cult following, but I didn’t see it until last year. 

As for the cast of Vice Squad, I didn’t recognize any of them when I first saw the movie. Gary Swanson, as the tough cop, was not a star like Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson. Season Hubley as Princess, the hooker who runs afoul of a psychopathic pimp, was a complete unknown to me. I was a fan of Linda Blair, who I first saw in Summer of Fear (1978), and then later in The Exorcist (1973). The 1980s saw her embracing the sleazy and violent worlds of movies like Chained Heat (1983) and Savage Streets (1984). It wasn’t hard for me to imagine Vice Squad fitting in perfectly with Linda’s new grown up persona, but alas, she wasn’t in it.

Even when re-watching Vice Squad last week, I did not recognize the name Season Hubley, although it turns out that she has quite a respectable list of credits. I have undoubtedly seen her in a few things over the years, most notably Escape from New York (1981) and Hardcore (1979), but I only remember her, very strongly, from this one performance in Vice Squad

Wings Hauser is, of course, the breakout star of Vice Squad. I did not know him at all when I first saw the movie, but he is so over the top brilliant as the crazy, violent pimp Ramrod, that his future status was undeniable. I can’t count the number of movies that I have enjoyed him in, from high quality serious films like A Soldier’s Story (1984), to the lowest quality of z-grade trash like Geteven AKA Road to Revenge (1993) – which everyone needs to see, by the way (but that’s another story). As far as I am concerned, Vice Squad is the start of Wings Hauser’s brilliant career. And anyone who has ever enjoyed him in anything should take a look at this film.

It’s always an exciting #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn when I am reunited with a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite of my younger days. I can’t explain why I haven’t watched Vice Squad (1982) in over 25 years, any more than I explain what made me rent it in the first place back in the 1980s. But none of that really matters anyway. The important thing is that it is now in my personal library, and I will not let another 25 years go by before I enjoy it all over again. And again. And again…

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Double Face (1969)

I’m not sure when I first saw Klaus Kinski in a movie. It could well have been Jess Franco’s Count Dracula (1970). I saw several versions of Dracula on TV when I was young, and I’m sure that it would have been one of them. But my memories of that are, to say the least, hazy. I remember seeing the movie box of Jack the Ripper (1976), also by Jess Franco, every time I went to my local video store. It intrigued me, but somehow I didn’t rent it until I was an adult. I did take notice of the name Klaus Kinski, and the images of him on the box. I think I had already heard of him, through reviews of movies like Fitzcarraldo (1982) on Siskel & Ebert’s TV show. I also remember seeing the box for Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), which I think I had likewise seen reviewed by Siskel & Ebert. But much like Jack the Ripper, I did not see the movie itself until years later. 

For some reason, I distinctly remember seeing (part of?) a movie called Buddy Buddy (1981) on TV when it was first aired. My mom has always been a fan of Jack Lemmon (and Walter Matthau, I suppose), so she was watching the movie. I think I just wandered into the room at some point and got pulled into it. It was the story of a suicidal man (Jack Lemmon) who stumbles into a awkward friendship with a professional killer (Walter Matthau). Lemmon’s wife is leaving him for a crazy, cult-leader-like doctor named Zuckerbrot – played by Klaus Kinski. I really enjoyed this offbeat movie, and Klaus Kinski made an impression on me as the crazy doctor. 

Later, I rented movies like Schizoid (1980), in which Kinski plays a psychiatrist who may or may not be murdering his patients, and Crawlspace (1986), which presents Kinski as the demented son of a Nazi surgeon, who may be killing people in his apartment building. I was starting to recognize a possible pattern in Klaus Kinski’s performances…

I should also note that I saw him in movies like The Soldier (1982) and Creature (1985), which I rented in my junior high school days. I also saw him in Marquis de Sade’s Justine (1969) on late night TV. It is yet another film directed by Jess Franco, and Kinski plays the titular Marquis (a role that seems to fit nicely with the mad doctor type characters I had come to expect from him). 

David Schmoeller, the director of Crawlspace, made a short (9 minute) film about the making of that movie called Please Kill Mr. Kinski (1999). It’s quite an amazing personal account of what it was like to work with Klaus Kinski – and somehow also fits perfectly with the kind of characters Kinski would create on screen. If you have not seen it, seek it out and give it a shot.

Double Face (1969) is a movie that I had never even heard of, prior to finding the (relatively) brand new Blu-ray from Arrow Video. I have always enjoyed Klaus Kinski’s performances – plus this movie had the look of a giallo, which is always a good sign to me – so I decided to take a chance on it. 

It’s not a hard core giallo, as it lacks many of the typical tropes of that genre. It’s almost more like a classic film noir, or crime story. I’m not terribly familiar with the krimi genre, but as Double Face is a German co-production (with Italy) it may well be an example of that. It should perhaps be noted that Lucio Fulci is one of the credited writers on this film, and he made a couple of my favourite giallos: Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971). Perhaps if he had directed Double Face, it would have been more giallo-like. 

In any case, I enjoyed Double Face quite a bit. I’m just as big a fan of old fashioned film noir as I am of giallos, so it’s no problem if this film falls a little more on the noir-ish side of the spectrum. Klaus Kinski is great in this film, but he is not playing a crazy mad doctor. In fact, he is much more the leading man hero type (although slightly on edge due to circumstances). He is perfect as the (relatively) normal man caught up in extraordinary and mysterious circumstances. His sanity will be called into question before the movie is done, and you may find yourself wondering (as is so often the case in a Klaus Kinski film) if he is in fact a murderer.

The music, the production design, the atmosphere of swinging London in 1969 are all reasons to enjoy this movie – at least they were for me. I am very pleased to add it to my #NotQuiteClassicCinema library. And I find myself wondering what other obscure films starring Klaus Kinski I shall one day discover on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Bees (1978)

Watching Not Quite Classic Theatre back in the 1980s, I saw a lot of movies about bugs. They were usually giant bugs, like in Tarantula (1955) or The Deadly Mantis (1957). I also saw quite a few made for TV movies, especially horror films, as I was always scouring the local newspapers’s TV Scene looking for anything that looked like it might be scary. I remember watching Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo (1977), Ants! (1977), and possibly The Savage Bees (1976) or its sequel Terror Out of the Sky (1978). My memory is a bit hazy on the details, but I’m sure I saw at least one movie about killer bees. 

I also remember hearing about The Swarm (1978), but the word on the street was that it was possibly the worst movie ever made. I did not see it until many years later, when I was well into adulthood – and I did not think it was the worst movie ever made, but that’s another story.

I did not see The Bees (1978) as a child, either. In fact, I had never even heard of it until relatively recently, but it conjured up memories of the various giant and killer bug movies of my past. I knew I had to see it, and last Friday I finally did.

The first thing most people notice about The Bees is that it stars John Saxon and John Carradine – both genre legends. I’m always happy to see those guys, even though their presence is not a guarantee of cinematic excellence. Saxon has appeared in almost 200 movies (so far), and Carradine a whopping 352! With numbers like that, they can’t all be classics – or Not Quite Classics for that matter. The third star of The Bees is Angel Tompkins, who plays Carradine’s niece and Saxon’s love interest. I remember her from such films as Murphy’s Law (1986), The Naked Cage (1986) and Relentless (1989) – not to mention appearances on TV shows like Charlie’s Angels, Knight Rider, and Simon & Simon. All in all, a pretty amazing cast for a low budget killer bee movie.

Someone asked me if The Bees is better than The Swarm. The short answer is, I really can’t answer that because it’s been way too long since I watched The Swarm. My response was a question: Would you define better as actually a better made movie? Or better, as in more campy fun (so worse, in a way)?

I have to think that The Swarm is a better made movie (in spite of its reputation for being horrendously bad). It has a much larger budget, a longer running time, and an even more star studded cast. The Bees, on the other hand, is the epitome of low budget campy fun. It rates a 3.7 on the IMDb, while The Swarm manages a 4.5 – hardly a definitive difference, but a possible indicator nonetheless. I think that what this is telling me, is that I really need to watch The Swarm again.

Regardless of which 1978 killer bee movie is the best/worst, I found The Bees to be a wonderfully entertaining throwback to the giant bug movies of my childhood (albeit with clouds of much more normal sized bugs). I could describe some of the jaw dropping moments of insanity, but why would I want to take the delightful surprises away from other fans of #NotQuiteClassicCinema? If you think this movie is up your alley you’re probably right. Check it out and experience the madness for yourself.

I will certainly be revisiting The Bees on some dark and stormy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn of the future. But perhaps not before I revisit The Swarm and can make a proper comparison. Incidentally, Warner Bothers apparently paid New World Pictures to delay the release of The Bees so that it would not conflict with the release of The Swarm. I guess this makes them the cinematic equivalent of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, who had an agreement to never release their singles at the same time.

If that doesn’t convince you to see The Bees then nothing will!

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Homicidal (1961)

Much like Scream of Fear (1961), Homicidal (1961) is a post Psycho (1960) psychological horror film shot in black and white. Also like Scream of Fear, Homicidal features a character in a wheelchair. Both movies also contain some clever twists and turns. Scream of Fear is the better of the two, in my opinion, but Homicidal is still an entertaining and effective little thriller.

Homicidal was made by William Castle, who was famous for his gimmicks, like Percepto!, the attaching of electric buzzers to some theatre seats during The Tingler (1959), or Emergo, a giant skeleton that would fly over the audience during The House On Haunted Hill (1959). The gimmick in Homicidal is a 45 second “Fright Break” during which members of the audience who were too scared to continue watching the movie could leave the theatre and receive a refund.

Unfortunately for Castle about 1% of the audience took him up on his offer of a refund (presumably because they hated it, not because they were scared). Castle fought back by creating a “Coward’s Corner” which filmmaker John Waters described in his book Crackpot:

“When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn’t take it any more, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward’s Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stencilled message: “Cowards Keep Walking.” You passed a nurse (in a yellow uniform? … I wonder), who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring, “Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward’s Corner!” As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity – at Coward’s Corner you were forced to sign a yellow card stating, “I am a bona fide coward.” Very, very few were masochistic enough to endure this. The one percent refund dribbled away to zero percent…”

William Castle is certainly an important figure in the world of #NotQuiteClassicCinemaHouse on Haunted Hill (1959) has been a personal favourite of mine for years. I also really enjoyed The Tingler (1959). Castle did produce one undeniable classic as well, which is another personal favourite of mine: Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The story goes that Castle could only get the rights to Ira Levin’s book of the same name if he agreed NOT to direct it. Thankfully he went ahead hired a young, up and coming director named Roman Polanski, and the rest is history. 

Somehow I had never seen Homicidal until last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. I enjoyed it very much and will be happy to watch it again in the future. Sure, it may be overly influenced by Psycho (1960). Yeah, maybe it isn’t William Castle’s best film. But it starts with one the most intriguing opening sequences I’ve seen in a long time. If you haven’t seen it, give it a shot. For the first 20 or 30 minutes, I thought it might be my new favourite movie.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Common Law Wife (1961)

I don’t think I have ever used the word Hixploitation prior to tweeting about this movie. The Wiktionary defines it as: “A genre of exploitation film that relies on the stereotypical (and often negative) depiction of rural whites of the American South and Appalachia.” I didn’t even know it was a genre, and I certainly haven’t studied it in detail. But then again, I tend to view all movies as being part of a genre – even the ones that are considered non-genre movies. This is one reason it drives me crazy when people talk about genre films as if they are of less value than “regular” films. Or “serious” films. They use terms like “elevated genre”, which I guess is supposed to mean “it’s a genre film, but it’s better than a genre film.” Huh?

The top rated movie on the IMDb is, and has been for some time, The Shawshank Redemption (1994). It also gets 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, so it is clearly a critically acclaimed movie, as well as an audience favourite. It’s classified as a drama. I look at it and think “it’s part of the prison genre,” or the “wrongfully imprisoned genre.” It’s based on a book by Steven King, who is considered a genre writer. A quick look at the top five rated movies on the IMDb reveals The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974) – both part of the “gangster genre”, The Dark Knight (2008) – the “superhero genre”, and 12 Angry Men (1957) – the “courtroom genre”. They are all great movies, and they are all genre movies as far as I am concerned. So, where are these non-genre movies that are so much better?

Common Law Wife (1962) was directed by Larry Buchanan, who made close to 30 movies including The Naked Witch (1961), Mars Needs Women (1967) and Mistress of the Apes (1979). There is some suggestion that Common Law Wife was really directed by a man named Eric Sayers, using footage from an earlier, unreleased film by Buchanan called Swamp Rose. Eric Sayers only has two directing credits (plus two producing credits) on the IMDb. I can’t find any other information about him. Could Eric Sayers be a pseudonym for Larry Buchanan?

Common Law Wife is a strangely structured movie. It starts off by establishing a twisted love triangle involving Shug, “a rich old man,” Linda, his live in lover of five years, and Baby Doll, his “young, sexy niece who worked as a stripper”. Linda learns, through talking to a lawyer, that she is Shug’s common-law wife in the eyes of the state, and as such she cannot simply be tossed out of the house. Baby Doll wants to move in and inherit all of Shug’s money when he dies, but Linda digs her heels in and refuses to leave. It seems, after the first twenty minutes or so, as if the rest of the movie will be a battle between these two women – plus a battle between Shug and the common-law marriage laws that he knew nothing about.

However, the movie takes a strange turn when Baby Doll goes to visit her sister, Brenda, and her husband, who happens to be the town Sheriff. It seems that Baby Doll and the Sheriff used to be an item, before Baby Doll dumped him and left town. It doesn’t take long for a whole new love triangle to be established. And if that wasn’t enough, the local Moonshiner sets himself up as a rival for the Sheriff when he makes a play for Baby Doll’s affections. It seems like a couple of triangles too many for a movie of 80 odd minutes, but it’s all so entertaining that I didn’t mind one bit.

One of my twitter friends (hello @QuandaryMan) summed it all up rather well: “Larry Buchanan was producing the kind of sleaze they really wanted to see in their soaps.” He also came up with a great name for the genre: “Backwater Shakespeare.” I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing that here, but if you think it’s as brilliant as I do, I encourage you to check out his blog.

Common Law Wife (1962) is adult cinema of a bygone era. There’s no hardcore sex, and not much actual nudity, but the story is (or was) intended for adults. It’s less graphic than what a person could see on a current TV series, but it’s a fascinating peek at what once used to pass for shocking and illicit entertainment. It may be #NotQuiteClassicCinema but it features better acting and writing than some of the more respectable productions I’ve seen – and it’s way more entertaining. I look forward to seeing more of Larry Buchanan’s work on a not too distant #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.