Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Rolling Vengeance (1987)

Poster for Rolling Vengeance (1987)Rolling Vengeance (1987) by #StevenHilliardStern

w/ #DonMichaelPaul #LawrenceDane #NedBeatty #LisaHoward

A truck driver builds a special truck to get revenge on the rednecks who killed his family.

“Always use the right tool for the job.”

#Action #Revenge #Canada

Perusing the shelves of my local video stores, I would often see VHS copies of both Rolling Vengeance (1987) and Rolling Thunder (1977). I knew that one of them was supposed to be good, but which one was it…? Unsure, I would often pass both of them up and rent something else. Eventually, I figured out that Rolling Thunder was the more admired of the two – and it is indeed a very good movie. But any title that includes the word Vengeance is automatically appealing to me. So, when I found a reasonably priced VHS tape of Rolling Vengeance in a bargain bin, I grabbed it and headed for the till. Continue reading

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Stone Cold Dead (1979)

When I’m not watching movies, I can sometimes be found reading a book. Much like I love genre films and Not Quite Classic Cinema, I also have an appreciation for sleazy pulp novels and hard boiled crime fiction. As a teenager, I read all of Mickey Spillane’s classic books and had since moved on to more obscure novels that looked cool. One day I picked up six old beat up paperbacks for a dollar in a used bookstore bargain bin – and one of those books was The Sin Sniper by Hugh Garner. It looked like a sleazy crime story about a serial killer murdering prostitutes, which I hoped might make it a typical example of entertaining Not Quite Classic Literature.  But there was one thing that set this book apart from all the other pulp novels I had read: it was openly Canadian. I’m pretty sure that before that moment I had never encountered a book like The Sin Sniper that took place in Canada. Of course I had to buy it and check it out.

Book Cover of The Sin Sniper by Hugh GarnerSet on the mean streets of Toronto, The Sin Sniper was a good book – almost too good. It wasn’t the “so bad it’s good” kind of book that I might have expected. It made me curious to know more about the author, Hugh Garner, and when I came across other books by him at places like The Children’s Hospital Book Market, I picked them up and added them to my library. Most of them looked more like respectable literature than pulp crime novels. Cabbagetown seemed to be his most famous book, but he also won the Governor General’s award for Hugh Garner’s Best Stories. I did find a couple of other books that looked related to The Sin Sniper: A Nice Place to Visit (1970) and Violation of the Virgins (1971) – both of which had salacious looking covers. The more books of his I read, the more impressed I was with Hugh Garner, and I wondered why I had never heard of him. Despite winning Canada’s highest award for writing, Garner did not seem to be remembered alongside other great Canadian authors like Robertson Davies, Margaret Laurence, Mordecai Richler and Margaret Atwood. Maybe because he died of alcoholism at age 66, or maybe because he wrote pulpy looking mysteries toward the end – who knows? But I will always take an interest in any book with the name Hugh Garner on the cover.

I was surprised to learn, years later, that The Sin Sniper had been made into a movie – a Canuxploitation movie, no less – called Stone Cold Dead (1979). The movie was made at the height of the Tax Shelter Days, which I have talked about a few times before – most recently during my discussion of Sudden Fury (1975). Much like Sudden Fury, I had never heard of Stone Cold Dead. I had not seen it on late night TV back in the day, nor had I rented it with my friends during those glorious early days of Mom and Pop Video Stores. I first read about the movie in Gerald Pratley’s A Century of Canadian Cinema. Pratley, who can be very hard on movies – especially genre films, gave Stone Cold Dead a decent review. I knew that I had to track it down and watch it.

Until very recently, the only way to watch Stone Cold Dead was on an old VHS tape, and luckily I was able to locate one. I actually recognized the box art from the video store shelves of my past. I remembered seeing it, but somehow I had never picked it up and taken a closer look at it. If I had, I surely would have rented it long before now. In any case, I finally watched the movie and I liked it. I was surprised and pleased to see both Linnea Quigley and Michael Ironside making (admittedly brief) early appearances in it. I was also surprised, and less pleased, to see that the filmmakers seemed to be trying to imply that the story was taking place in New York City. The book had been clearly set in Toronto, and the movie was clearly mostly shot in Toronto. Pratley, in his review, had called it a “Steamy melodrama about a Toronto detective…”. I have read several other reviews that claim it’s set in Toronto – and even Wikipedia, at this very moment, says “A Toronto detective (Richard Crenna) searches for a serial killer who shoots prostitutes…”. So why does Julius Kurtz’s (Paul Williams) limo have New York license plates? And why is there an American flag prominently displayed behind the desk of Sgt. Boyd (Richard Crenna)’s boss?

Hudson's Bay coat like the one seen in Stone Cold Dead (1979)

Hudson’s Bay coat like the one seen in Stone Cold Dead (1979)

I knew something was up when an early shot of the city’s skyline included the Twin Towers, and there was also a montage of images from Times Square. These shots were, however, mixed with recognizable shots of Toronto’s famous Yonge Street. I thought perhaps the filmmakers were simply trying to fictionalize the city a little bit, or maybe make the unreasonably clean looking Toronto just a little bit grungier. This strange mashup of Canada and USA really came to a head for me during a scene in which a handful of American money is held up just a few feet away from a person wearing a Hudson’s Bay coat (an incredibly iconic Canadian thing). I can’t help but think that someone was laughing up his sleeve when this scene was shot.

I recently upgraded my old VHS copy of Stone Cold Dead to the new Kino Lorber Blu-ray, and I was shocked to discover that it’s a different cut of the movie. The one on the VHS tape is the 99 minute American cut, and the one that Kino Lorber has lovingly restored for the Blu-ray is the 108 minute original Canadian (and presumably director’s) cut. There are apparently many subtle differences between the two, which are itemized on The biggest difference, at least to me, is Linnea Quigley. To put it bluntly, she is in the shorter American cut of the film, but she’s not in the longer Canadian cut.

What the -?

Usually when a movie is restored to its longer, more complete form it has MORE scenes in it – not less. How can Quigley’s scene not be there? Mild SPOiILER ALERT for those who haven’t watched this movie yet: Linnea Quigley plays the first murder victim.  We see her get shot in the shower at the beginning of the shorter VHS version of the movie. I had seen this version of the movie a couple of times over the years, so I had strong memories of it. The longer, original cut of the film starts after the first murder has already happened. The police make reference to it, but we never see it. The first murder we see, is actually the second murder (and incidentally the victim is played by future star of Canadian stage and screen Jennifer Dale).

This brings up a question: Was this scene with Linnea Quigley shot for the original movie and cut for some reason (like running time), or was it shot and added later by the American distributor? I can’t find any reliable answer to this question. The Blu-ray includes an interview with the director, George Mendeluk, who went on to direct many TV movies and episodes of TV shows including Miami Vice (1984-1989) and Canadian favourite Night Heat (1985-1989). I had hoped that Mendeluk might talk about the different cuts of Stone Cold Dead, but alas he did not. Neither do film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, who do the commentary track.

The fact that there is an offscreen first murder in the original cut make me suspicious that the scene may have been shot and left out for some reason. It just feels a bit odd that we don’t start the film with that first murder. It might be different if they were saying that these murders have been going on for years, but the killing just started. If they treated the second murder (of Jennifer Dale) as if it was the first murder, then I might be more suspicious that the Linnea Quigley scene was tacked on later. As it is, I’m just not sure what to think. But either way, it’s unfortunate that the Blu-ray doesn’t at least include the Linnea Quigley scene as an outtake.

Incidentally, Linnea Quigley has shared the trailer for Stone Cold Dead on her YouTube channel, and you can see clips from her scene in it. The trailer included on the Blu-ray is different (presumably from the original Canadian release) and does not include Quigley’s scene. However, the poster art for the movie, which is included with the Blu-ray (and used as the menu of the Blu-ray) is an image of a woman who’s just been shot in a shower (if that’s not actually Linnea in the picture, it’s meant to evoke her). Of course, this poster might have been created to promote the American cut of the film, and not the original Canadian cut…

And so the mystery only deepens.

One thing I can be sure of, is that I need to hang onto my VHS copy as well as the new Blu-ray – which is stunning, by the way. The movie has never looked better, and I for one am always glad to have more of a good thing, so the extra eight minutes of footage is gold as far as I am concerned.

I’ve already gone on for far too long, but I have to say a few words about the performances in Stone Cold Dead. They are all excellent. Paul Williams is particularly brilliant as Julius Kurtz, a pimp and prime suspect in the murders. He is essentially playing a bad guy in this movie, but he manages to be three dimensional and even sympathetic at times. He can be scary and evil in some scenes, but then display a depth of human emotion and sadness that you do not normally see in a character like this. I grew up watching Paul Williams guest star on some my favourite TV shows, like The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries (1977-1979), The Love Boat (1977-1987) and Fantasy Island (1977-1984). I also saw him in movies like Smokey and the Bandit (1977), Smokey and the Bandit II (1980), and of course The Muppet Movie (1979). I also loved the songs that Williams wrote for that movie and I even bought the sheet music so I could try to learn how to play them on the piano.

I should also mention that I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada – and as such, Paul Williams is practically royalty to me. He was the star, and wrote the music for, Phantom of the Paradise (1974), which flopped all over the world but was a smash hit in Winnipeg and played here for years. I remember reading the movie listings in the Winnipeg Free Press and seeing Phantom of the Paradise and  The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) playing every weekend at midnight. I was too young to go, but I really wanted to. I was able to see Phantom of the Paradise when it debuted on TV – and it was still playing the theatres in Winnipeg. Needless to say, I loved it and it only furthered my appreciation of Paul Williams as an actor, musician and songwriter. Anyone who wants to know more about the story of Winnipeg and Phantom of the Paradise, should check out the documentary Phantom of Winnipeg (2019).

Newspaper ad for Phantom of the Paradise (1974), starring Paul Williams who was also in Stone Cold Dead (1979)

It’s hard to believe that a fairly obscure Canadian film like Stone Cold Dead could add even more fuel to my Paul Williams appreciation fire, but it does. I loved his performance in this movie, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s essential viewing for any Paul Williams fan.

Stone Cold Dead (1979) is an unfairly forgotten Canuxploitation classic. It could be compared to Dirty Harry (1971), Vice Squad (1982), and even Dario Argento’s giallos. It’s not quite like any of those things, as it tends to be more strangely nuanced and (dare I say) realistic – at least in terms of having three dimensional, human characters. This is rare for a piece of certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema, and some might call me mad for even suggesting it but I’m okay with that. I now feel like I need to re-read The Sin Sniper to see how it compares. And then I will definitely be re-visiting the movie on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

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.

Rituals (1977)

As mentioned previously, I have a lot of records (LPs, EPs,12″ singles, etc). Digging through bargain bins of old vinyl has been a favourite pass-time of mine since I was a teenager. When you do this in a lot of thirft stores, you start to notice certain records (or artists) popping up with varying degrees of frequency. One name that I would come across from time to time was Hagood Hardy. I had no idea who he was, but after inspecting the backs of a couple of his albums I noticed that he appeared to be Canadian. I have a certain affinity for Canadian artists, particularly ones who were recording in the pre-CanCon days, when it was so much harder for Canadian artists to get airplay on Canadian radio stations. Hagood Hardy appeared to be such an artist, having started recording in the 1960s.

A brief look into his past revealed that he was mainly a jazz and easy listening musician, which meant that he fell outside of my usual areas of interest. He had a hit song called The Homecoming in 1975. It’s an instrumental single that charted in both Canada and the USA, and went gold in Canada. A quick internet search provided many ways to hear the song, and I must say that I knew it really well. I had no idea what it was called (being an instrumental), but I used to hear it all the time back in the ’70s (and probably the ’80s). It’s one of two or three iconic instrumentals from my childhood. I’m sure they used to play it on the old Environment Canada Weather Channel, which my parents used to leave on in the background when no one was watching TV.

This gave me a certain respect for Hagood Hardy, and The Homecoming was definitely a nostalgic blast from the past, but it still wasn’t the kind of music I would typically collect, so I continued to pass his records by when I would see them in the bins. One day I stumbled upon one that I did not recognize called Tell Me My Name. For some reason I turned it over and looked at the back…

The second song on side two was called Reunion (Theme from Rituals).

Theme from Rituals?! The Canadian horror film from 1977? A film that I have had a particular fondness for since I was a kid? Could Hagood Hardy have actually written the theme from that movie?

I looked closer. He did write the song. And it was clearly labelled “Theme from Rituals”. And the record was released in 1977 – the same year as the movie. It would be too much of a strange coincidence for this be a different movie, or TV series – or whatever. It seemed to me that I had found an unexpected treasure; an old LP that contained the official theme of an obscure Canadian horror film from the ’70s – and one of my favourites to boot.

It goes without saying that I had to buy this record.

I couldn’t help but notice that two other tracks on the record were also identified as a “Theme” from something. And since that time, I have confirmed that Hagood Hardy scored several films and TV shows, including Anne of Green Gables (1985) and Anne of Avonlea (1987).

The fact that he did Rituals blows my mind.

Rituals (1977) is a movie that I have a had a relationship with since, probably, 1983. It was directed by Peter Carter, who made the Canadian classic The Rowdyman (1972) and the truck-driver comedy High-Ballin’ (1978) – which is a movie I loved as a kid. His final film, Highpoint (1982), seemed like it must have been a good idea that went bad somewhere along the line. I have a copy in my collection, but I really need to take a closer look at it someday to try to figure it out. 

Rituals has a stellar cast of character actors – including Hollywood Icon Hal Holbrook. It’s a horror film, but it’s also a drama, with great scenes of dialogue and character conflict that make it feel almost like a play at times (even though it takes place in the rugged outdoors). Characters struggle through dangerous terrain in a attempt to reach safety, but they are also on a more personal, inner journey of self-discovery – and they must face up to many unpleasant truths along the way.

Rituals could be described as a survival horror film, and it was almost certainly influenced by Deliverance (1972). But in some ways, Rituals is more like a slasher film (and that’s the way that my teenage mind perceived it back in the day) even though the slasher genre really didn’t get started until after Halloween (1978).  

Rituals was made during the Tax Shelter Days of Canadian filmmaking. The Tax Shelter was a double edged sword, because it made getting a film financed a lot easier, but it also meant that the financiers didn’t really care about getting the film in front of an audience – they just wanted a tax write-off. So, Rituals fell victim to that attitude and was never widely seen. I might have never known about it if it hadn’t been for one person: Stephen King.

Yes, THAT Stephen King. Horror writer extraordinaire, whose stories have been made into many successful movies. Stephen King told me about Rituals way back in the winter of ’83… or was it ’84…?

I recently told the whole story to New York City Guerrilla Filmmaker Séan Weathers on an episode of Rotten Apples FIlm Reviews. We talked about Rituals at length, exploring many different aspects of the film. For those who are interested in hearing what we had to say, you can check out the video on Séan’s YouTube channel.  You will also get to see some clips from the movie – and you even have the option of sticking around and watching the entire uncut version of the film for free.

But speaking of uncut horrors, you will also see yours truly sporting an uncut Covid beard. Yes, that’s right. I haven’t trimmed it since this whole pandemic started back in March of this year. It wasn’t a plan, it just sort of happened. I guess I figured why bother trimming it when no one is going to see me…? But now you ARE going to see me. So, be warned about that…

I suppose I could claim it’s thematically relevant to Rituals. I’m paying homage to the bearded characters at the end of the film (played by Jack Creley and Michael Zenon). Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

Some other things I find interesting about Rituals  (that Séan and I did not have time to discuss):

Robin Gammell plays a gay character at a time when that was unusual. His straight friends just accept him as one of the guys, and the fact that he is gay is not even talked about until fairly deep into the movie.

Jack Creley, who plays one of the bearded mountain man at the end of Rituals, also played the iconic Brian O’Blivion in one of my other all time favourite movies, Videodrome (1983).

Hagood Hardy did compose the theme to Rituals, as well as the entire score. I like it very much, because it is a style of melodic soundtrack music that you don’t often hear anymore -particularly in modern horror films. Here is a sample from the very record that I purchased all those years ago (if you like it, consider buying a copy wherever fine music is sold):

Reunion (Theme from Rituals) by Hagood Hardy (from my personal vinyl LP)

But why are you reading this? Head on over to YouTube and watch the video.

Many thanks to Séan Weathers for reaching out to me, and making it all happen. It was my first time as a guest on a YouTube show, and my first time Zooming (my computer is so ancient that I had to borrow another one). I enjoyed our conversation very much, and look forward to doing it again in the not too distant future (about a different movie, of course).

Friday night at the home drive-in: Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Fiend Without a Face (1958) is a movie that I’ve been aware of for many years. I first saw images from it in a Famous Monsters magazine that I bought in a drug store when I was a kid. I loved that magazine, and would flip through it regularly, looking at all the pictures. Most of them were from films I had never heard of – although there were images of Dracula, Frankenstein and Chewbacca from Star Wars. I recall staring at pictures from movies with titles like Enter The Devil and Night Beast and wishing I could see the films. The poster from Fiend Without a Face, which featured a creepy brain that seemed to float in the air, was one of the many intriguing images. Continue reading

Friday night at the home drive-in: Caged Men Plus One Woman AKA I’m Going to Get You… Elliot Boy (1971)

I first read about Caged Men Plus One Woman AKA I’m Going to Get You… Elliot Boy in Gerald Pratley‘s book A Century of Canadian Cinema. I’d been working on a a research project that had me searching for obscure Canadian crime films, and Pratley’s book had been a good source of unfamiliar titles. Unfortunately, a surprisingly large number of them were impossible to track down. In some cases, I wondered if the movies had ever had a real release. Pratley saw them, so they must have played a festival, or had a premiere screening somewhere.  But it seemed like some of them had never secured a real distribution deal, and simply vanished. Others may have been distributed, either theatrically, or on VHS back in the day, but were now totally out of print and/or circulation. Continue reading

Friday night at the home drive-in: Evil Judgment (1984)

I bought Evil Judgment on VHS many years ago. I had never heard of it, but it looked like something that I might enjoy. The first time I watched it, I was surprised by how different it was from what I had imagined. It was not a slasher film. It was not a vigilante film. It was a strange mix of things, including gangsters, prostitutes, cops that seem to be involved in a conspiracy, and several giallo-like scenes involving a black-gloved killer whose identity is kept secret for the majority of the film. It was also set on and around The Main, Montreal’s iconic Boulevard St-Laurent. Needless to say, I enjoyed the movie quite a bit. Why? Because it was different. It was hard to decide what exactly it was; what genre it fit into. I wasn’t sure whether to put it on the shelf with my horror films, or somewhere else. And I liked that. Continue reading