Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Legacy of Satan (1974)

In the world of adult cinema, Gerard Damiano is a legend. Or at least he should be, if for no other reason than he directed the notorious Deep Throat (1972). Sadly, one of the points that the documentary Inside Deep Throat (2005) touches on is that the kids today don’t really know who Damiano is – or at least they’ve never seen Deep Throat. And I’m talking about the kids who work in the adult film industry. This would be akin to the biggest Hollywood stars of today never having seen Citizen Kane (1941), or maybe Casablanca (1942) – which may, sadly, also be true.

I recommend watching Inside Deep Throat to get a sense of what an unbelievable phenomenon Deep Throat really was – and to learn about an important piece of pop culture history. Aside from that, it’a a darn entertaining documentary, and a story that will likely surprise you more than once.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Gerard Damiano was a good filmmaker. Some may have a hard time believing that of a man who mainly worked in hard core adult cinema, but at that time making X-rated films was not that different from making any kind of genre films. They were shot on film, had real stories, and were ultimately shown in real movie theatres. And plenty of mainstream filmmakers got their start making adult movies. Abel Ferrara, Wes Craven, Lloyd Kaufman and William Lustig all made at least one X-rated movie. Other serious-minded filmmakers found success is the adult film industry and remained there (or got stuck there, in some cases). Damiano, I suspect, is one of them.

Aside from Deep Throat, which was a massive success but not his best work, Damiano made acclaimed X-rated films such as The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), Memories Within Miss Aggie (1974), The Story of Joanna (1975), Odyssey: The Ultimate Trip (1977) and The Satisfiers of Alpha Blue (1981). Each of these films was well made, and seemed to be fueled by more creative ambition than the average adult movie. It’s not clear to me whether Damiano would have liked to cross over into making mainstream movies, or if he simply believed that that hardcore erotic cinema would (and should) one day merge with the mainstream and become the new mainstream. He can be seen lamenting the demise of serious adult cinema in Inside Deep Throat, and it’s hard not to agree with him.

Legacy of Satan (1974) is unique in Damiano’s filmography, as it is not an x-rated movie. I’ve heard differing theories about this. Some people feel that Damiano filmed an x-rated version, which was then edited by the distributor to create an R-rated horror film that could be sent out with Andy Milligan’s Blood (1973). This is a provocative theory, and there certainly have been X-rated films which were distributed in both “hard” and “soft” cuts. But I don’t think that it could be true in this case. First of all, there are no x-rated performers in Legacy of Satan. Damiano had already made Deep Throat, and other films like The Magical Ring (1971), so he certainly knew actors who were experienced in hard core sex films. If he had intended Legacy of Satan to be hard core, surely he would have cast some actors who had experience with that.

The main character of Maya is played by Lisa Christian, and this is her only credit on the IMDb. In fact, many of the actors in this movie have no other credits (or very close to it). John Francis, who plays Dr. Muldavo, has a respectable list of mainstream credits, including TV shows like Get Smart (1966-1969) and The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977). It seems unlikely that he would have suddenly decided to appear in an x-rated movie.

Christa Helm, who played “The Blond Blood-farm” in Legacy of Satan, was an aspiring young actress, who appeared on Starsky and Hutch (1975–1979) and Wonder Woman 1975–1979). She was murdered in 1977, at age 27, and that crime has never been solved.

Sandra Peabody is most famous for starring in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972). She also appeared in some soft core films like Voices of Desire (1972) and The Filthiest Show in Town (1973). Perhaps that makes her the most likely candidate to star in a hard core film, but it appears as if she never did. And she only makes a brief cameo in Legacy of Satan as one of the cult members. 

The other theory about Legacy of Satan is that Damiano had intended to make an x-rated film, but then changed his mind and rewrote the script as a pure horror film. This seems, to me, more likely than the other theory, but I do wonder why people think that Damiano couldn’t have just decided to make a horror film in the first place?

Ultimately, none of this matters. Damiano has left us with a straight up horror film about a satanic cult. It only runs 68 minutes, which might be why some people think there is some missing hard core footage out there somewhere. I must admit that there were a couple of moments where the film seemed to have been edited (or censored), but I can’t find a longer cut of the film anywhere. My guess is they made a few trims back in the day, and the uncut version never got released. I suspect that all we are missing is a few seconds of nudity that made someone nervous, or some censor scissor-happy. But I guess we’ll never know.

Legacy of Satan is not a great film. It’s reputation is that it is terrible. The soundtrack music in particular seems to inspire a lot of negative comments. My experience was somewhat more positive than the average, it seems. I kind of liked the strange, dissonant, primitive synth score. People say it’s irritating, or an assault on the ears, but maybe that was the point, to make us uncomfortable and unnerve us. Whatever the case, I found it charming. 

The visuals and atmosphere are pretty good. There are a few moments of artistic beauty. The problem is that you have to have a lot of patience for a story that doesn’t move along very quickly. And, ultimately, it does feel a bit like something is missing. Perhaps the rumoured (but likely non-existent) hard core (or at least more graphic soft core) sex scenes would have done the trick to keep people more engaged. As it is, Legacy of Satan seems to lack some of the creative spark that makes Damiano’s adult movies some of the most admired of the golden age. 

Still, Legacy of Satan is a must see for fans of Damiano who are curious about what he might have been like as a non-adult filmmaker. It is also a must see for fans of extremely low budget, early ’70s Satanic horror films. It is unlikely to be the best example that you have ever encountered, but it should provide enough diversion for 68 minutes of your time. It is the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that would work well as the third or fourth feature of an all night movie marathon on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. I’m not sure if it will get many repeat screenings at my home drive-in, but I’m glad that I got a chance to see it, at least once.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Street Trash (1987)

I first rented Street Trash (1987) with a couple of friends in the very late ’80s. I’m not sure if we had any idea of what we were getting into. I was a big fan of horror films, but one of my friends was not. We enjoyed watching B-movies, and what we might refer to as “bad movies”. This generally meant movies that had been intended to be serious, but were instead campy and inadvertently funny to our young, modern minds.

We had discovered The Troma Team, and enjoyed movies like The Toxic Avenger (1984) and Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986). These films were in a slightly different category. They were sometimes referred to as B-movies, but they seemed very different than the black and white B-movies of yore. They weren’t quite “bad movies” in the same way as some of the incompetent films we had watched. They were, it seemed to us, deliberately made to be “bad” or campy. Almost in the vein of, say, Mel Brooks doing a parody of monster movies. The Troma Team knew that they were making “bad” films and they were having a really good time with it. They wanted us to laugh – and we did. Sometimes uncontrollably. 

Street Trash is firmly in the same category. In fact, it has been compared to Troma movies over the years. Lloyd Kaufman, co-founder and president of Troma – and perhaps their greatest auteur – has let on that he is not a fan of Street Trash. He never explains why, and in some ways it puzzles me. It could be that it is simply too much like a Troma movie, and Lloyd feels that the filmmakers were trying to ride his coattails. I don’t know.

I’m not sure if my friends and I knew that we were about to watch a masterpiece of deliberate camp humour, but that’s what we found ourselves doing – and enjoying immensely. The special gore effects were completely over the top, and yet somehow totally convincing. The single most incredible moment, which had us rolling around on the floor laughing, was the very unusual game of “keep away” (which in the interest of not spoiling anything for the uninitiated, I will not describe in any more detail). Suffice it to say that if you are a fan of Troma style insanity, and you have not seen this movie, you really should seek it out. And it’s not hyperbole to say you must see it to believe it.

A few years later, I was lucky enough to buy a copy on VHS. For some reason, it was not a very common tape on video store shelves. And I never saw it for sale brand new, in stores like Eaton’s or The Bay (go figure). it was such an awesome movie, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t better known. Maybe it was just too edgy and offensive for most viewers. Maybe people couldn’t tell what it was from the title and the box art. Maybe it WAS a successful movie on home video, but I just never saw it in the stores I frequented. I don’t know. But the fact is, that for many years I was the only person I knew who had a copy of Street Trash. And as such, I felt it was my duty to show it to people.

I showed it to my friend Ian, who happens to be a respected award-winning playwright, and I guess he liked it a lot. The next day I accompanied him to a special talk that he was giving to theatre students at a nearby university. One of them asked Ian “Where do you get your ideas?”

He stood in front of the crowd of eager young learners, with all the seriousness that only an award winning playwright can muster, and said “I get my ideas in all kinds of different places. Just last night my buddy Angus showed me a movie called Street Trash, in which people drink old, contaminated alcohol and then proceed to melt…”

I think I started to choke on my water. What the hell was he doing?! He’s describing the plot of Street Trash in a serious theatre class as if it was a source of inspiration for future plays he might write?!

Incidentally, he has never written a play remotely like Street Trash. That is more like something I might do. And in fact, I did write a play called The Inner City Dead which was about gangsters and a corrupt politician dumping toxic waste in the inner city and causing poor, homeless people to turn into zombies. It was, as much as any play could be, a Troma Team styled comedy. I actually named one of the characters Mr Troma, as an homage to Lloyd et al. This was before I showed Street Trash to Ian – and before he told a roomful of budding theatre artists that it could be a source of ideas.

In my humble opinion, a more correct answer that Ian could have given on that day might be something like “I get ideas from real life. The behaviours that I see people engaging in, and the injustices that I perceive in this world.”

That, I believe, is closer to the truth. And that is also why he is an award winning playwright, and I am writing this blog.

That beat up VHS tape served me well for a long, long time. But I am now thrilled to have the super-deluxe, Special Meltdown Edition Blu-ray from Synapse Films. It comes with a ton of great extras (including a two hour documentary on the making of Street Trash) which somehow makes the experience even more mind-blowing.

Street Trash (1987) has been a personal favourite of mine for many years. It is #NotQuiteClassicCinema that is clearly not for everyone. Some of the over-the-top offensive humour would probably be considered politically incorrect today, to say the least. But for those with a taste for edgy and disgusting material that still manages to push the boundaries more than thirty years after it was created, Street Trash just might be the perfect choice for your next  #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Jack the Ripper Goes West aka A Knife for the Ladies (1974)

When my friend Ian gave me a DVD set that contained four movies, I assumed that they were recent(ish) low budget horror films. I have a number of DVD sets that are exactly that, some with as many as 25 movies included. Upon closer examination, I discovered that the movies in this cheap looking release were all much older than I expected. The listed release dates of the movies ranged from 1973 to 1982 – which was exciting news to me, as I am particularly fond of movies from the ’70s and ’80s. The weird part is that these were all movies that I had never seen (or in some cases even heard of). Having spent a lifetime watching movies from the ’70s and ’80s – particularly horror films – it is fairly rare to come across any titles that are completely unknown to me. This is especially true when dealing with what appears to be a cheapjack public domain DVD set. Certain titles pop up again and again on these discs (Night Of The Living Dead (1968), Horror Express (1972), etc.).

The first movie in this set is Jack the Ripper Goes West (1974) and I can honestly say that I had never heard of it. I do recall watching a movie starring David Hasselhoff called Terror at London Bridge (1985), which was about Jack the Ripper killing people in Arizona, but this was clearly not it. A movie about Jack the Ripper style murders in the Old West sounded like it could be a good time to me, but there was only one thing wrong: the movie was listed as 51 minutes long.

As one of my Twitter friends said, “51 minutes? does that qualify as a film?” My first reaction was that this “movie” must really be an episode of a TV series. It made sense to me. The weird mix of Western and Horror (and Private Detective) conventions could also be explained by this. Thinking back, I can recall some of my favourite ’70s TV shows doing episodes that were ghost stories (Charlie’s Angels (1976–1981) for one). I have another public domain DVD set of Western movies that includes episodes of an old (failed?) TV series called Cade’s County (1971–1972) starring Glenn Ford. So, it didn’t seem impossible that there could have been a short-lived Western series in 1974 that included a Jack the Ripper mystery episode.

Of course, it could have also been the pilot for a TV series that never got picked up. Either way, if it was indeed an episode of television, it would not qualify for a screening at the Home Drive-In. After doing more research, I was able to determine that there was a much longer cut of the movie (86 minutes) released as A Knife for the Ladies (1974). This sounded more like my Friday night cup of tea – and it was available to watch for free on YouTube. But I still had a problem. I had the 51 minute cut of the film on DVD and, being a completist, I felt that I needed to watch it. But how could resist seeing the (hopefully) uncut 86 minute version of the film?

So, I did what any insane connoisseur of aging cinematic trash would do: I watched both versions of the film so that I could compare them.

I started with the 51 minute Jack the Ripper Goes West, and I have to admit that it was pretty entertaining. It did feel a lot like an episode of a ’70s TV show, but I grew up watching ’70s TV shows and I happen to like them, so that was no disappointment. There were a few oddities that made me think “there has to be something more to this” – which, of course, I knew to be true. I’ll give one example from early in the movie (no spoiler alert required):

There is a murder in the Old West town of Mescal, and Simeon Hollyfireld, president of the town bank, writes/narrates a letter to a big city private detective asking for help. We see a montage of travel footage while the letter is being narrated. Hollyfield arrives at the office of private detective Edward R. Burns, played by Canadian actor Jeff Cooper. They say two lines and then suddenly we cut back to Mescal, where the town Sheriff (played by Jack Elam) is expressing his anger that a private detective is being brought to town. It happens so suddenly, that for a few seconds I thought that Jack Elam was pounding his fist on some furniture in the private detective’s office. When I realized that we were back in Mescal, I assumed that we were going to cut back to the private detective’s office at some point. After all, why would they bother filming a sequence of travel, and decorating a location (or set) with period furnishings and a hand painted glass door that says “Edward R. Burns Detective Agency St. Louis, Mo.” just for this:

Burns: “Three murders? But your letter only mentioned two.”

Hollyfield: “Night before I left, Lettie Mills, a girl who lived in the hotel, she was stabbed just like the others….”

Before Hollyfield is even done saying his line, we are already watching Jack Elam bursting through a door looking angry (hence my momentary belief that he was entering the private detective’s office). We never actually see Burns’ office again, and that bothered me for the rest of the 51 minutes of Jack the Ripper Goes West.

When I watched A Knife for the Ladies, I was pleased (and not surprised) to see an entire scene played out in Edward Burns’ office, during which lots of important information is revealed – including the history of the town, its important citizens, and details of the murders. Hollyfield even sets up the character of the Sheriff before we cut to him angrily bursting through a door. The scene takes exactly two minutes (from 5:14 – 7:14). In Jack the Ripper Goes West, the scene takes under ten seconds (from 4:00 – 4:09). Needless to say, the two minute version of the scene sets up the entire film and makes it work better. The nine second scene just puzzled and frustrated me.

It would be a stretch to call either version of Jack the Ripper Goes West / A Knife for the Ladies (1974) a good movie, but I actually did enjoy both versions in their own ways. I also enjoyed comparing them. The 86 minute version is clearly the way to go if you are only going to watch this movie once. It’s a strange mix of genres (perhaps a mash-up before anyone ever used the term mash-up). It’s not much of a horror film, although the beginning and the ending do kind of resemble one. It’s not a great western, either. But it does feature a few good moments of western action. It’s probably most successful as a 1970s TV-like detective story. If you have a taste for that kind of show, you may find some nostalgic enjoyment here.

What makes Jack the Ripper Goes West / A Knife for the Ladies appropriate viewing for a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, is the fact that it IS a strange mix of these three genres. It’s hard to tell what exactly it wanted to be. And the results are at times campy and fun, while occasionally delivering a satisfying more serious moment. It was directed by Larry G. Spangler, who mostly specialized in westerns and ex-football players. He worked on the The Joe Namath Show (1969) and The Last Rebel (1971), which was a western starring Joe Namath. He also made three westerns starring Fred Williamson, as well as the non-western The Life and Times of the Happy Hooker (1974), which featured X-rated legend John Holmes in lieu of a football player. I think it’s fair to say that Spangler has earned his home drive-in credentials. 

It’s also fair to say that Jack the Ripper Goes West / A Knife for the Ladies (1974) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema, that is simultaneously bewildering and accessible. Bewildering for its strange mix of genres, but as accessible as an old TV show. It makes for a perfectly acceptable time passer on a lazy afternoon. I may never watch either version of this film again, but I enjoyed the double-barrelled experience of doing it at least once.

Final Note: It also has a kick ass theme song that plays during the closing credits. It’s called Evil Lady and is written by Bobby Hart, Danny Janssen and Dominic Frontiere – Sung by Michael Stull. Give it a listen and see what you think.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Blue Sextet (1971)

I had never heard of Blue Sextet (1971) until I bought the special edition Blu-ray of I Drink Your Blood (1971) by Grindhouse Releasing. Blue Sextet was included as a bonus feature (along with I Eat Your Skin (1964), which was often paired with I Drink Your Blood as a double feature). In fact, this Grindhouse Releasing Blu-ray marks the first time that Blue Sextet has ever been released on home video.

Blue Sextet is said to be from 1969 on the back of the Blu-ray box. The IMDb and other sites list the release date as 1971. Turner Classic Movies claims 1972. What does this mean? I’m only guessing, but I would speculate that the movie was shot in 1969, and not released until (probably) 1971. It must not have been a very wide release, allowing for some uncertainty about the exact date, which could explain TCM’s calling it 1972.

Blue Sextet centers on an egotistical artist named Jeffrey Amber, played by actor John Damon, who only appeared in seven movies but was known by 4 different names: John Damon, Jack Damon, Don Canfield, & Paul Dare. Damon was also the long time companion of David E. Durston, the director of Blue Sextet. In an interview after Durston’s death, Damon was credited as John DiBello.

David E. Durston is best remembered as the guy who made I Drink Your Blood, which is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite, and I have had a personal relationship with it for many, many years. But that is another story.

Durston also directed a movie called Stigma (1972), which I saw for first time just a few years ago and I loved it. Still, I didn’t know quite what to expect from Blue Sextet, considering that it seemed to be a long forgotten film, but I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it was. It’s beautifully shot, with a great production design. It also has a cool soundtrack, and loads of psychedelic atmosphere. It could be called an art-house exploitation film. That means there’s lot’s of nudity and sex, but it’s very artistically done. 

As I’ve come to expect from late sixties sexploitation films, the story and the performances are much better than you might see in a more modern sex film. Blue Sextet is a real drama, not just a bunch of erotic scenes strung together with no point other than to be erotic. I have a particular fondness for the styles and sounds of the era, so my experience of the movie may be coloured by that. I can get a lot of joy from just listening to the soundtrack when not much is happening on the screen. I also have a lot of patience for storytelling that takes its time. Some other people have said that they got bored while watching this film. I most definitely did not.

Another criticism I’ve read, is that the characters are not sympathetic. This is certainly a complaint that I’ve made about other films from time to time. Certain recent horror films have been particularly guilty of this. They feature characters who are so obnoxious and unlikeable that you wind up rooting for the killer (or monster) to disembowel them. I did not have this feeling while watching Blue Sextet. Although part of the point may have been that Jeffrey Amber, the character at the centre of all the drama, may have been (literally and figuratively) screwing all of his friends. 

What can I say? I have a soft spot for movies of a bygone era. They literally don’t make ’em like Blue Sextet anymore. The entire sexploitation genre pretty much died out when hardcore adult cinema became the norm in the 1970s. In terms of  David E. Durston’s body of work, Blue Sextet may not be as exciting as I Drink Your Blood, or even Stigma, but you can bet that on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, I’ll be checking it out again. Maybe it will rise in my estimation upon second viewing. Maybe it will fall a notch or two. Or maybe it will simply endure, an artifact of a mostly defunct genre of #NotQuiteClassicCinema, continuing to entertain nostalgia-prone trash connoisseurs, like me, until the lights of the last home drive-in go out.

The Bloody Brood (1959)

One of my obsessions is Canadian cinema, particularly movies that were made before there was much of an industry for making films in Canada. This would include movies from the 1970s and 1980s – although those decades were in some ways quite good for Canadian filmmaking (the famous Tax Shelter Days as they are often called) – but more importantly, films that were made before the 1970s. I’m less interested in the 1990s and beyond, because by that point there was a fairly healthy system of independent filmmaking in Canada. On the plus side, this meant a lot of interesting filmmakers got to do their thing, including people like Winnipeg’s Guy Maddin (although he technically got started in the ’80s). On the down side, it meant many more serious, art-house pictures were being made – and not so much genre output (which is, of course, my main interest).

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love horror movies, and vigilante movies, and women in prison movies – basically all kinds of B-movies and exploitation movies. And any of those films that were made in Canada are of particular interest to me – especially if they were made a long time ago. The term Canuxploitation is sometimes used to describe those movies, but no matter what you call them, some of my favourites can be found among their ranks.

When Séan Weathers invited me to be a guest on his YouTube series, Rotten Apples FIlm Reviews, I asked him if he had a list of movies he was hoping to feature. He did, and as I skimmed through the titles one jumped out at me immediately: Rituals (1977). It is a movie that could be described as Canuxploitation – and it is also a movie I happen to love. So right away I told Séan that I wanted to do it. I wrote a blog post about the movie, and you can watch the episode of Rotten Apples… on Séan’s YouTube Channel. You can also watch it on my YouTube Channel, but if you go to Séan’s you can watch the entire movie there (as well as many other fine episodes of the show).

For those who don’t know, Séan Weathers is an accomplished filmmaker who, according to Wikipedia, “specializes in making low-budget films primarily in the erotic and horror genres using skeleton crews and guerrilla filmmaking tactics.” How cool is that? He’s got a page on Wikipedia!

Seriously, he makes low budget genre films, which are the best kind as far as I’m concerned. Check out that filmography!

I had a great time talking about Rituals with Séan, and he graciously invited me to come back and talk movies again sometime. Having looked at his list a little more closely, a second title had already jumped out at me: The Bloody Brood (1959).

The Bloody Brood is another Canuxploitation classic (or not quite classic, depending on your point of view). What makes it particularly interesting (and unique) is the fact that it was made in 1959. That’s very early for English-language Canadian cinema of any kind. Yes, there are some isolated examples of earlier films. But it was a pretty rare thing – especially for a genre film – to be made in English-language Canada prior to about 1970. Not that this is the definitive measuring stick, but a quick search on the IMDb reveals a list of 146 movies tagged with the keyword “canuxploitation” – and only three of them were released before 1970. The Bloody Brood is, in fact, the first one on the list.

The Bloody Brood was directed by Julian Roffman, who was a pioneer of Canadian (and Canuxploitation) filmmaking. He is perhaps best remembered for his second feature, The Mask (1961) which was filmed partly in 3D. He went on to produce several movies, including the often admired Canuxploitation classic The Pyx (1973).

I’ve seen The Bloody Brood more than once over the years, and I quite like it. Séan, on the other hand, recently watched it for the first time. What did he think? What weird areas of film and social history did our discussion illuminate? What do Alfred Hitchcock, Roger Corman, Orson Welles and William Shakespeare have to do with it? And what exactly is a Beatnik, anyway? Just go to Séan’s YouTube page and watch the video to find out. And after we’ve finished discussing The Bloody Brood, you can stick around and watch the entire movie – for free. What could be better than that? I can’t think of anything, so head on over and get started.