Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975)

I’ve touched on this before, but back in the early days of renting VHS and Beta tapes, you didn’t always get what you expected. Movies were retitled and given box cover art that was extremely misleading. One of the most common tricks was to make you think that a movie was brand new when it fact it was from ten or fifteen years earlier. This was not an entirely new trick. Movies were often distributed to drive-ins under new titles in the hopes that they would do better business than the first time they went out. Sometimes it wasn’t a question of the age of a movie, but rather the subject matter. A dull story with no violence or nudity could be retitled to sound like it was going to be the next Chained Heat (1983).

I used to tell people that Grace Jones was my favourite actress (if you’ve read my ode to her movie Vamp (1986), you will know what I’m talking about). So, when I found a VHS copy of something called Deadly Vengeance (1981) – starring Grace Jones – on the shelf of Star Time Foto Video – I told my friends we had to rent it. It was an oversized box mostly covered by a picture of Grace Jones’ face. “They Killed her lover. Now she wants revenge.” What could be better than that? We excitedly took it home and popped it into the VCR.

First of all, the movie appeared to be considerably older than the stated release date of 1981 (home drive-in crime #1). Secondly, Grace Jones was not playing the woman whose lover was killed – and more importantly, she was not playing the woman seeking “Deadly Vengeance” (home drive-in crime #2). Sadly, this was all too common in those early days of home video. If a famous actor (or not so famous actor, but maybe someone you might have heard of in passing once or twice) appeared in a movie for more than one second, sleazy distributors would paste his or her image and name all over the box cover. Sometimes the actor actually had a big part, but the film was made 20 years before they were famous and they looked completely different. No problem, the distributors would simply put a more recent and recognizable photo of the actor on the cover.

In the case of Deadly Vengeance, Grace Jones was very young, and did not have her iconic ’80s look. She was almost unrecognizable to us, and her part was very small. She played the girlfriend of the main bad guy. But as I recall it, we only saw her in one or two brief scenes. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But according to one internet source, Grace’s part was INCREASED for this 1981 release. Increased? How small could it have originally been? The same source claims that Deadly Vengeance is a re-edited combination of two much older films: Dirty Tricks (1972) and Sweet Vengeance [1970]. Those older films were apparently X-rated, whereas Deadly Vengeance was rated R. I do seem to recall extended (soft core) sex scenes in it, so it’s not hard to imagine that there could have been a more explicit version (or versions). Just for the record, Grace Jones is not listed as being in either of those earlier films, so I guess her part was INCREASED, as in ADDED to this version. Not sure what the real story is, but needless to say, the Grace Jones fan in me was not too thrilled by this movie rental experience (extreme sleaziness notwithstanding).

A while back, I wrote about how I originally discovered giallo movies – and it was basically a result of this kind of home video false advertising. The movies were packaged like 1980s slasher films, when it fact they were 1960s or ’70s giallos. As it turned out, I was very pleased to discover those films, and giallos have become one of very favourite things to screen at the home drive-in.

Last week I decided to watch a giallo that I had never seen before, The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975). It was directed by Sergio Martino, who made many excellent movies, including some top notch giallos like All the Colours of the Dark (1972), Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972) and Torso (1973). I was quite surprised to discover that The Suspicious Death of a Minor, despite its very giallo-esque title and poster art, is not really a giallo. It does have some moments that are very giallo-like, and the opening sequence seems to fit that description, but the movie quickly turns into more of a poliziotteschi, or Italian crime film. More surprising than that, the movie takes on a tone that is quite comical – almost slapstick comedy at times. But perhaps the most amazing thing of all, is that it really works.

The Suspicious Death of a Minor is a very entertaining movie. Claudio Cassinelli gives an amazing performance as our hero, Paolo Germi. We don’t know this at first (and perhaps this is a mild SPOILER), but Germi is a police officer as unorthodox as Dirty Harry, only much more comical. There were several scenes that had me laughing at loud as I watched Germi’s way of dealing with obstacles and enemies. In spite of the humorous tone, the movie also manages to deliver some legitimately suspenseful and even scary moments. It may not be a horror film like Torso, but I did not feel cheated by the almost bait and switch style plot maneuverings that take us from giallo to poliziotteschi, to slapstick comedy. A lot of directors would have fallen on their face attempting such a mash-up, but Martino somehow pulled it off, and I am glad that he did. 

The Suspicious Death of a Minor (1975) was not at all what I expected, but it managed to deliver a wildly entertaining #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It is a unique example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that doesn’t quite fit into any of the usual categories, but somehow feels completely right. You can rest assured that I will be screening it again in the not too distant future.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Vamp (1986)

One of my favourite movies of the 1980s is Fright Night (1985). I saw it when it first came out and I loved the clever mix of horror, humour, and vampires. So, when I saw an ad for Vamp (1986) a few months later, I got excited. It looked like it had all of the elements that I had loved in Fright Night – plus Chris Makepeace and Grace Jones!

I was a big fan of Meatballs (1979) and had watched it on TV several times as a kid. I also saw My Bodyguard (1980) and, for some reason, had read the movie tie-in novelization repeatedly. Chris Makepeace was the teenage star of both of these movies. I was also aware that he was Canadian, which made him somewhat of an inspiration to me. 


I’m not sure how I first became aware of Grace Jones. I saw Conan the Destroyer (1984) and A View to a Kill (1985), but I already knew who she was before those films. Maybe it was because I saw her being interviewed on The Tonight Show, or other programmes – I’m not sure. I knew she had been a successful model and singer, particularly in Europe. My overall impression of her, at that time, was that she was a unique, tough, larger than life personality who had once slapped a talk show host and held her own opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Bond! I thought she was cool, and when a teacher asked me who my favourite actor was – in French class of all places – I answered “Grace Jones.” 


It should be noted that I liked to give strange answers in French class. I’m not sure why. Maybe because my classmates seemed to take everything a little too seriously. In this case, they would have been naming the most respected actors that they could think of. I had only seen Grace Jones in a couple of films at that point, but I named her as my favourite actor because I knew that it would flummox people. And it did.

However, the act of doing so somehow seemed to turn me into a Grace Jones fan. I wound up buying a couple of her records, even though I was primarily a hard rock/heavy metal guy in those days and she was more like pop/disco/funk. I rented movies like Deadly Vengeance (1981) because the box had her name and picture on the front (a dirty trick, as it turned out – but that’s another story). And when I found out that Grace Jones was starring in this new movie Vamp, it was one more reason to get excited about it.

When I saw Vamp I was not exactly disappointed in it. I actually found it to be quite enjoyable. It was funny, and entertaining, but it didn’t quite reach the heights of Fright Night for me. One of the problems was that there wasn’t quite enough of Grace Jones in it, although I loved her silent, but commanding performance. I eventually bought a copy on VHS and watched it a few more times over the years. I resisted upgrading it to DVD (although I was very tempted to). When I found a reasonably priced copy of the new Arrow Films Blu-ray, I could no longer resist. It was great to see it again (as it had been a few years) – and especially in such high quality! The amazing ’80s colours, the costumes – the entire production – has never looked better.

One interesting note: Concrete Blonde, one of my favourite bands from the 1990s, can be heard on the soundtrack of Vamp. I wouldn’t have known who they were in 1986. In fact, they weren’t even called Concrete Blonde yet. Song For Kim (She Said), is one of my favourite tracks on the very first Concrete Blonde album (Concrete Blonde released in1986), but it is credited to Dream 6 at the end of Vamp. This means that it was included in the movie before the album had been released. Four years later, Concrete Blonde unleashed Bloodletting (1990) on the world and it became their most successful album. The sort-of title track, Bloodletting (the Vampire song), was apparently inspired by the novels of Anne Rice. But now I can’t help but wonder if Vamp had helped to get the creative juices flowing. Probably not, but it’s an intriguing thought.

By the way,  Bloodletting (the Vampire song) was featured in the Canadian vampire film Blood and Donuts (1995), which I’ve always admired. Now there’s a film that could use a remastered Blu-ray with extras. But I digress…

Vamp (1986) is not a perfect movie. It is generally rated lower than #Certified ’80s vampire classics like Fright Night (1985) and The Lost Boys (1987), and I would agree that this is appropriate. Still, I somehow find Vamp irresistible, and I will always be happy to see it on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. After all, it is the imperfections that often make a movie a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic.