Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Battle Creek Brawl / The Big Brawl (1980)

I remember renting The Big Brawl (1980) in a giant clamshell case back in my earliest days of home video viewing.

Okay, I didn’t actually rent the big clamshell case. I looked at it in the store, and then took it up to the front, where they exchanged it for a plain plastic case (either black or transparent depending on which store I was in) with the Beta tape inside of it. At least one of the stores I frequented used a tag system. Instead of bringing the box up to the front, you brought up a small tag which was attached to the box with velcro. If the tag wasn’t there, you knew the movie was rented.

The Park Theatre showing College Swing back in 1938 (which is a movie I like and own on VHS).

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Jackie Chan at that point. I had heard of Bruce Lee, who was a bit of an icon, but I don’t think I’d seen any of his movies. I had probably already seen Jackie Chan in The Cannonball Run (1981), which my whole family had gone to see in The Park Theatre, “the largest log cabin theatre in North America”, while on summer vacation. Jackie played one of the drivers of the Subaru in that movie. I certainly remember him in that, but I don’t think I had any idea who he was at the time.

I loved The Big Brawl when I first watched it, and I’m pretty sure I immediately watched it a second time (which I often did with movies I rented in those early days). I may have even squeezed in a third viewing before having to return the tape by 5:00 PM the next day. To me, the movie was non-stop action, with a bit of comedy, and I don’t think I’d ever seen anything quite like it. I used to watch AWA Wrestling on Saturdays, and in some ways, The Big Brawl evokes a bit of that atmosphere, as our hero has to face off against very large guys who look just like professional wrestlers (and in fact were, in some cases).

I couldn’t help but laugh, as Jackie Chan looked so tiny standing next to the other contestants in The Battle Creek Brawl. He may have been smaller, but as we were about to learn, he could fight like nobody else.

Jackie Chan, aside from being a really good fighter, was just so darn likeable. He was sympathetic, and seemed like an ordinary guy with problems with which other ordinary people could identify (such as a strict father who didn’t want Jackie to follow his passion; studying martial arts with his uncle). Jackie wasn’t a super-macho hero who always looked cool. He was funny, and he wasn’t afraid to look extremely “uncool” is some instances. Again, anyone who had ever felt awkward or embarrassed could identify.

I was surprised that I didn’t see more of Jackie Chan over the next few years. But I don’t think my Mom and Pop video stores had a huge selection of Hong Kong movies, and unfortunately, The Big Brawl had not been a rollicking success and Jackie did not appear in a lot of other mainstream Hollywood films at that time.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and I (along with the rest of North America) rediscovered Jackie Chan when movies like Rumble In The Bronx (1995) came out. The mainstream audience was finally ready for Jackie, and couldn’t have been happier. I explored many of his older films, like Drunken Master (1978) and I was amazed at how great they were. 

Watching The BIg Brawl for the first time in more than thirty years, it was obvious how restrained it was for a Jackie Chan movie. It is certainly not in the same category as films like Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow (1978). My understanding is that they were trying to make Jackie Chan more accessible for the North American audience. They believed that western audiences would not be able to handle the pure, unadulterated Jackie Chan. It’s hard to say if they were right or wrong, but The Big Brawl failed to find mainstream success in North America. Was it because audiences weren’t ready for Jackie (even in a watered down form)? Or was it because they had tampered with Jackie (and watered him down)? I suppose we’ll never know.

However, I found The Big Brawl to be a delightful, nostalgic return to my childhood. It contains some great moments, and Jackie is as charming as ever. Of course it can’t compete with some of the better Hong Kong movies, but that’s okay. It is what it is, and I like it. I was surprised by how well I remembered the music by Lalo Schifrin, which I found extremely catchy. The movie was directed by Robert Clouse, who is perhaps most famous for Enter the Dragon (1973) and maybe Black Belt Jones (1974) – both movies I like a lot. Enter the Dragon is the best of the bunch, and far superior to The Big Brawl in a lot of ways. But I have more of a personal relationship with The Big Brawl. It was the first movie of it’s kind that I ever saw, and as such, will always be very special to me. 

Battle Creek Brawl / The Big Brawl (1980) is a fine example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. There are better Jackie Chan movies, but none that I saw on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn when I was young.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Moonshine Love / Sod Sisters (1969)

I’ve always been fascinated by stories about amnesia. We all know how it works from watching television in the 1970s and ’80s: you hit your head once, you’ve got amnesia; you hit it again, your memory’s back. Simple. Or is it?

One of my favourite films to feature a character with amnesia is Someone Behind the Door (1971) by Nicolas Gessner. In it, Charles Bronson plays a man with amnesia who is manipulated by a doctor, played by Anthony Perkins, into believing that the doctor’s cheating wife is his own – and that he must kill her. It’s a very different kind of role for Bronson, and a very effective suspense thriller.

Other films I liked which feature characters with amnesia include The Bourne Identity (1988 and 2002), The Long Wait (1954) – which is based on one of my favourite Mickey Spillane novels; Who Am I? (1998) – a Jackie Chan movie with a final sequence of stunts and action so amazing that I watched it whenever I stumbled upon on on late night TV; The Sender (1982), an effective but lesser known British horror film; and even The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), in which Kermit loses his memory and becomes a boring Madison Avenue advertising frog named Phil. 

Imagine how intrigued I was to discover that I had an unheard of (at least to me) Hicksploitation movie called Moonshine Love (1969) hiding on one of my Something Weird double feature DVDs (as a bonus feature) – and it’s about a guy with amnesia!

The description said “Hillbilly harlots Jeannie and Lil take a hankerin’ for a two-bit robber with amnesia and a bag of stolen loot in the feature-length regional skinflick, Moonshine Love!” Not to downplay enticing phrases such as “Hillbilly harlots” and “regional skinflick”, but I was excited by “a two-bit robber with amnesia”.

The movie does begin with the planning and execution of a robbery, and it is #NotQuiteClassicCinema gold! The robbery doesn’t go as planned, and our hero double-crosses the other two thugs and runs off with the money. Unfortunately for him, he has a bit of an accident and hits his head (and we all know what that means). Very, very fortunately for him, the robber is found and brought home by the aforementioned “hillbilly harlots” – perhaps better described by the original title of this movie, which is Sod Sisters.

As one of my twitter friends pointed out (hello Peter!) the next sequence features a pretty amazing go-go dancer performing onstage while the two double-crossed robbers lament their situation. I love the fact that this dance gets its own title card in the opening credits: dance sequence by Pat McGlamry. It does go on for five and half minutes of the film’s sixty-one minute running time – which is substantial. Alas, as my friend Peter points out, this is McGlamry’s only credit on the IMDb (and presumably her only film appearance), which is quite a shame.

The bulk of the rest of the movie really focusses on the sexy, sleazy goings on at this backwoods homestead. Needless to say, the Sod Sisters take more than a passing interest in this man with amnesia, who really becomes a helpful hand around the property. Most of the hicksploitation films I’ve watched at the home drive-in have been salacious stories with a PG execution. In other words, they may have been “adults only” titles in their day, but you could see more extreme nudity and sexual behaviour on the average modern TV show. Moonshine Love, on the other hand, still earns a hard “R’ rating with a fair amount of full frontal nudity and an extraordinary scene in which one of the sisters pleasures herself with a rather large carrot. It’s not pornographic by any means. But it is graphic.

Eventually, the forward moving plot of the first ten or fifteen minutes returns and there is a showdown of sorts. There is suspense, and action and comedy. It’s not entirely satisfying from a storytelling perspective, but it is entertaining.

The IMDb lists the running time of the movie as seventy-four minutes, which is thirteen minutes longer than my version seems to be. This could suggest that there is even more story, or perhaps more exploitation, in some other version of the movie. However, this could just be an inaccurate listing.

Moonshine Love (1969) is a much more sleazy and entertaining film than I expected it to be. As an “extra” feature on a DVD set that doesn’t even advertise it on the front, I expected it to be dull. It is, probably, the worst of the three movies in terms of quality. But it is the most extreme of the three movies in terms of delivering the exploitative goods. If that sounds like something you could appreciate, do not hesitate to track this movie down and watch it. If, however, you prefer well written and performed monologues to romantic scenes with vegetables, you would be better off to stick to movies like Common Law Wife (1961) or maybe Jennie, Wife Child (1968). One thing is certain, all of these movies could spice up any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Future-Kill (1985)

I remember the box for Future-Kill (1985) staring at us from the video store shelf, daring us to rent it. “The Stars of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are back!” it shouted at us. We had rented The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) a couple of years earlier, but the print had been so bad that we couldn’t really see what was going on, and as a result we weren’t that impressed by it. This, of course, changed for me a few years later when I finally saw a good print of the film, but when I was 12 I didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. 

Still, I knew it was an important film; a legendary film – and incredibly popular to boot – so the fact the stars of that movie were in this one seemed like a ringing endorsement. But that wasn’t what got us all fired up about seeing Future-Kill. What made us pick it up and take it home that day was the image on the front of the box; the poster art.

It was designed by H.R. Giger, the renowned artist who had (perhaps most famously) designed the creature from Alien (1979). I’m not sure if we knew who Giger was at that time, or if we made the connection between Alien and the poster for Future-Kill, but we certainly thought it was a supercool image and it made us want to see the film.

We were young, and not all that discerning (as long as we could see what was going on), and the movie delivered an acceptable amount of action/violence, etc. so we enjoyed it well enough, but we didn’t LOVE it. Over the years, it became apparent that most people didn’t even LIKE it. The reviews I read were not kind. “…just another bunch of fraternity assholes trying to get out of the wrong part of town,” says L.A. Morse in Video Trash & Treasures II. “A sickening movie with nothing to counter balance its violence and nihilistic viewpoints,” says John Stanley in Creature Features. And whenever I found myself discussing the movie with another human being (which wasn’t that often) they would always say some version of this: “Really cool poster, really bad movie.”

The years went by, and I’d practically forgotten about the movie until late one night, when I turned on the TV and found myself staring at the opening credits of Future-Kill. Remembering all of the bad reviews, and practically nothing about the movie itself, I almost changed the channel… but something made me stop. And watch. And I was immediately puzzled. This was supposed to be a futuristic, sci-fi action/horror movie, but what I was seeing now was an off-kilter ’80s teen sex comedy. Or maybe a sub-par Animal House (1978). The “fraternity assholes” that L.A. Morse had described were engaging in such hilarious high-jinx as tarring and feathering a rival fraternity jerk and pulling a bait and switch with an attractive prostitute and a… how shall I say? …plus sized naked lady. What the -?

There was some news footage about a group an anti-nuclear protesters who dress like radiation scarred punks and refer to themselves as “mutants.” There is some suggestion that we are in “the future” and that there has been at least one nuclear disaster of some sort, but when we see shots of the city, everything appears to be pretty standard mid-1980s and non-apocalyptic.

The fraternity assholes, as a punishment for their out of control antics, are taken deep into the downtown “forbidden zone” of the city, where the “mutants” rule and things are dangerous. Their assignment is to kidnap one mutant and bring him back to their frat house. It should be a simple job for a group of strong and aggressive young assholes (one of whom is a bit of a macho muscle-head). Unfortunately, their leader decides to pick on the most dangerous looking, psychotic mutant of the bunch: Splatter, played by Edwin Neal from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. He’s big and mean, and he’s wearing body armour complete with a glove of spikes. And we know that he is actually a victim of radiation poisoning, which makes him a real “mutant” (unlike the make-up wearing activists), and as such, he’s just a little pissed off.

Not surprisingly, things go awry for our fraternity assholes and they find themselves stranded in the forbidden zone with Splatter and his mutant minions trying to track them down and kill them (why didn’t those morons just grab one of the small wimpy looking mutants wearing too much eyeliner?). 

Seeing all of this unfold on late night TV, I was immediately reminded of my initial assessment of the movie; it’s really a second rate version of The Warriors (1979), which was (and probably still is) one of favourite movies of all time. Some might argue that this is just another reason to NOT like Future-Kill. But I loved The Warriors when I was a kid, and I used to try to think up ways to rip it off that would retain the excitement of the original movie, without being too obvious that they were ripoffs. I could never come up with anything that I thought would work. And I’m not sure that the makers of Future-Kill quite did either, but damn it if they didn’t give it a four star college try (insert fraternity joke here).

Part of me has always been of the opinion that if you can’t be watching the movie you love, at least be watching a decent rip off of it. And Future-Kill seemed to fit the bill for me back in the mid 80s, and again on late night TV in the early ’90s. But as a young adult I could see so much more in the film than I did as a kid. It wasn’t just a riff on The Warriors. It was also a teen sex comedy, and a horror film (with some decent gore) and a weird apocalyptic sci-fi movie (minus the convincing futuristic images of a ruined city – people still go to college and play stupid pranks in this future world, after all).

But that’s not all.

I was studying film (and theatre) at university when I saw this movie for a second time, and I could really appreciate the visible low budget can-do attitude of the filmmakers. It seemed obvious to me that they had just taken it to the streets and shot a bunch of footage late at night, most likely without permits, and I found it all incredibly inspirational. The soundtrack also inspired me, as it was a synth score (horribly out of date in the ’90s, but currently retro-cool). I played keyboards in a few basement bands starting in the 1980s, and I still had the out of date synthesizers to prove it. I had always imagined that I would score my own movies (like John Carpenter) if I ever got the chance, and the synth score of Future-Kill sounded like something I could actually do!

It should also be noted that I spotted the boom mic about a dozen times while watching the movie that night. This not only added to the campy fun, but also the sense that my friends and I could make a movie if we put our minds to it. By the time the credits rolled at 2:00 AM, I was a bonafide fan of Future-Kill. I bought a copy on VHS and watched it a few times over the years. Recently I upgraded to the collector’s edition DVD, which has some nice extras. The movie still looks (and sounds) cheap, but the boom mic is no longer a supporting player (as the image has been matted).  But that’s a small complaint.

Future-Kill (1985), for all of it’s shortcomings. will always be a special movie to me. Watching it is like visiting an old friend. I can’t say that everyone will love it as much as I do, but if you are a fan of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, it is undoubtedly a shining example of some of things you love to hate (or is it hate to love?), and I believe it is worthy of spending a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

When I was a kid, my Dad would come home from work and lie down on the living room couch with a newspaper in his hands. If I came into the room a few minutes later, I would often find him asleep, with the newspaper still open. If I spoke, or made a noise, he would wake up and tell me that he was just resting his eyes.

I often wondered how he could be sleeping at 5:30 PM. I would go to bed at 9:30 PM and lie awake reading for hours some nights.

Nowadays, I go to bed much later, after having watched a movie long after I should have been asleep. I still try to read, but often can’t make it through an entire page before I need to give up and turn out the light. During the day, I spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, trying to figure out what to type next or how to solve an editing problem. And I must admit that sometimes I find myself waking up with a stiff neck, having fallen asleep sitting up with my head hanging down at an awkward angle. I’m never sure how long I’ve been out, but if I didn’t work at home alone I might tell people that I’ve been resting my eyes.

So, the secret to falling asleep during the day might be not getting enough sleep at night. Or it might just be getting older. I’m sure that some combination of the two is what works best for me. I used to laugh at one of my university professors who once said “I don’t know about you, but when I wake up from a deep sleep, I get up, stagger around, and don’t know where I am.” Now, I would simply nod my head in agreement (if my neck wasn’t too sore).

And speaking of waking up from a deep slumber…

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964) was Hammer Films’ second attempt to revive the legendary monster first unleashed by Universal Pictures in The Mummy (1932). Unlike most of the monster franchises, like Dracula and Frankenstein, the Mummy movies tend to be about different mummies every time. The original Mummy, played by Boris Karloff, was arguably the best and, unfortunately, only a one-off character. The Universal sequels, such as The Mummy’s Hand (1940) were all about a different mummy named Kharis. They had a very different feel from the original film as well. Kharis was a shambling, stumbling monster who did the bidding of others. And he never spoke. Karloff’s Mummy was intelligent, and much scarier in a way. The Kharis films were still entertaining, but they lacked the creepiness of the first film.

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is more related to the Kharis films than Karloff’s. The monster is a mummy named Ra-Antef and, like Kharis, he is a shambling, bandaged figure who seems to be controlled by whoever holds a certain amulet.

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is not Hammer’s best film. It’s a little slow to get going, and even features a long sequence recreating (if one can recreate an imagined historical event) the theatrical unveiling of Ra-Antef to an eager crowd. It’s convincing, and interesting, but seems to take forever to get to the point. However, once Ra-Antef starts to bring his own brand of justice to those who violated his tomb, the movie becomes quite entertaining. There are some very effective moments, and one particular entrance that would make Jason Voorhees proud.

In some ways, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is a perfect example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema. It’s a monster movie from years gone by, which might have played on late night TV back in the 1980s (and probably did). It’s not The Mummy (1932), or even The Mummy (1959) – Hammer’s first foray into the series. It’s one of the less revered sequels, and as such, it would have been right at home on Not Quite Classic Theatre (the much revered TV programme of my youth). They never showed Dracula (1931), but they did show Dracula’s Daughter (1936). If they had bought a package of films from Hammer, I could imagine that this one would have been a part of it.

In any case, I’m glad I finally saw The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), and I would happily watch it again on a future dark and stormy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.