Shout! Factory reaches into the MGM vaults again for the second volume of their quadruple CULT MOVIE MARATHON with titles representative of the latter company's American International, Cannon, and Empire Pictures holdings.
Vietnam vet Mike Connery (Tom Stern, THE DEVIL'S BRIGADE) rides into Bakersfield to hook up with his old gang who are now part of Big George's (Jay S. York, PARADISE ALLEY) Madcaps to form a new gang. Mike isn't all about peace and love; when Big George objects to Mike running off with half his gang, Mike breaks his leg. Fed up with being oppressed by the fuzz, he envisions bringing all of the gangs together for a massive procession to show off their ranks to the man. Local police Captain Bingham (Jack Starrett, HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS) gives the gang a wide berth, but he lets Mike know that he'll personally hold him as leader responsible for the gang's behavior. When a run-in with a traffic cop leads to Speedy (Steve Oliver, THE NAKED ZOO) getting roughed up by arresting officers, Mike isn't content just to avenge what he deems to be police brutality; he escalates the enmity between the bikers and the cops resulting in tragedy.
Produced by Joe Solomon's Fanfare Films and distributed by American International, ANGELS FROM HELL is one of the latter company's poorer biker pictures despite its pedigree of biker film talent. Stern would go on to make HELL'S ANGELS '69 for American International while Oliver would play a more charismatic jerk leader of a biker gang in the more entertaining WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS. Starrett would step behind the camera the following year for the female biker film RUN, ANGEL, RUN followed by RACE WITH THE DEVIL and A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS among other 1970s cult films (the film was also a first feature role for SUPERMAN II's Pepper Martin). Whether intentionally or not, it's almost a pro-establishment biker film with Mike blazing into town and running roughshod over the lifestyle the gang has established as well as their "brown-nosing" arrangement with the law. Bingham's requests seem mighty reasonable for a lawman tolerating a biker gang (and he seems genuinely sincere in his promise to look into the actions of his men): stay out of the residential areas, restrict activities to the farm – owned by biker gal Ginger (Arlene Martel, DRACULA'S DOG) – and keep the fights in the family; but Mike – apparently a decorated veteran – is tired of being oppressed in some manner or another and sets about being generally disruptive. One of the most baffling incidents is the gang's decision to hassle a man whose only offense seems to be being middle-aged and riding a motorcycle; and he's pretty ineffective at controlling his gang or dealing with the outright psychotic behavior of "Nutty" Norman (Paul Bertoya, HOT RODS FROM HELL) which more than anything else was bound to bring the law down on them. The finale should be shocking, it should be cynical, but one is just thankful Mike finally shut up. It would have been compelling had the film been about Mike's conflict over holding true to his ideals as things were falling apart around him. Solomon regular Stu Phillip's (THE NAME OF THE GAME IS KILL) theme song suggests that "No Communication" – performed by The Peanut Butter Company – is the problem, but Mike's really just an insolent loudmouth rather than a rebel.
Out of the blue, hairdresser Penny's (Candice Rialson, PETS) CHATTERBOX! starts talking, quickly alienating her from boyfriend Ted (Perry Bullington, later casting director for Cannon as well as just about every one of Charles Band's Full Moon productions) and driving lesbian clients to distraction as well as upsetting her gay boss (Rip Taylor). Fearing that she is going insane, she consults psychiatrist Dr. Pearl (Larry Gelman, DREAMSCAPE) who sees fame and dollar signs, debuting her – and "Virginia" – at the American Medical Association conference in a musical act. Pearl turns agent and books her vagina into TV and film roles – from musical numbers for a film directed by ex-hairdresser Jon David (Robert Lipton, BULLITT), presumably a reference to Barbra Streisand's hairdresser-turned-producer Jon Peters – while advising Penny to listen to "Virginia"; however, as "Virginia's" stardom rises, Penny's loneliness becomes unbearable.
An R-rated film about a talking vagina must have seemed novel in the more permissive late 1970s, but former porn director Tom DeSimone (HELL NIGHT) was not the first to come up with the idea. French director Claude Mulot (THE BLOOD ROSE) beat him to the punch by two years with LE SEX QUI PARLE (produced in both hardcore and softcore versions) which was released stateside as PUSSY TALK; and a look at the two shows almost entirely different approaches. DeSimone's film (which could be a loose remake) is played straight up for laughs – with the advice that Penny should "listen to Virginia" a seeming jab at feminism – allowing DeSimone and company (including future SILENCE OF THE LAMBS cinematographer Tak Fujimoto) to indulge in Hollywood musical numbers (and plotting). Mulot's film is darker (although not without comic aspects and its drama diluted by requisite sex scenes in either fleshy softcore or full-out hardcore versions) but CHATTERBOX! at the height of its cheesiness – like "Virginia" at a restaurant asking if they serve a "box lunch" or a "tongue sandwich" – doesn't lose sight of Penny's disconnection from the rest of her body as she thrusts "Virginia" forward at her audience while looking away in embarrassment and anguish; but the film ends on a happy comic note (one that doesn't turn into a FROM HERE TO ETERNITY homage). The late Rialson (who died in 2006) made only twenty-odd films, and only a few of those were effective showcases for the actress; and I'd recommend PETS instead for her fans.
In THE NAKED CAGE, Miss Goody Two-Shoes Michelle (Shari Shattuck, BODY CHEMISTRY III) leaves the farm to take a job as a bank teller. Unfortunately for her, her ex-husband Willy (John Terlesky, DEATHSTALKER II) and prison escapee Rita (Christina Whitaker, VAMPIRE AT MIDNIGHT) decide to rob her bank branch. They take Michelle hostage to get out the door and she jumps into the getaway car when Willy is shot. When they are caught, Rita lies about Michelle's involvement and she is sent to prison. Although she is initially afraid, Michelle earns a modicum of respect from the prison's butch drug pusher Sheila (Faith Minton, PENITENTIARY III) when prostitute Amy (Stacey Shaffer, BLOOD SCREAMS) tells everyone that Michelle is in for robbing a bank, and from the leader of the prison's black and Latina population Brenda (Aude Charles, NIGHT EYES) when she is hurt intervening in a fight. Michelle also has caught the attention of masochistic, lesbian warden Diane (Angel Tompkins, THE TEACHER) who offers her protection in order for snitching on Sheila. Just as things seem to be going smoothly for Michelle – who has also helped Amy stay clean and told off her pimp boyfriend Randy (Seth Kaufman, BODY ROCK) who is able to arrange private parties with the inmates as prostitutes – Rita is transferred in and wants revenge for her screwing up the robbery but Michelle is protected by Sheila who has taken over in Rita's absence. However, when Michelle refuses to spy on Sheila for the warden, Diane removes her protection and also helps Rita wrest control of the cellblock back from Sheila. She also puts Michelle in solitary for the attentions of rapist guard Smiley (Nick Benedict, SLAUGHTER'S BIG RIPOFF) who has a personal beef with Michelle after Randy embellished his account of how Michelle took Amy out of circulation.
Definitely the highlight of the package, THE NAKED CAGE – a co-production between Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus' Cannon and German producer Chris Nebe (who gave us Joe Sarno's trio of Marie Forsa films VEIL OF BLOOD, BIBI, and BUTTERFLIES) – is nevertheless a pale imitation of director Paul Nicholas' (JULIE DARLING) earlier women-in-prison film CHAINED HEAT with its corrupt warden (with a swinging pad for an office), prostitution and drug subplots (explored more superficially here making the plot thread involving Michelle's refusal to snitch somewhat unclear), the prostitute/snitch who gets murdered, raped by a guard, and black/white schism among the inmates (although Whitaker is no Sybil Danning and Charles is no "Duchess"). In fact, it almost seems like a digest version of the earlier film, with even the impact of the violence dulled (even during the climactic riot) and sex scenes blandly-if-prettily shot (the cinematography of ONE DARK NIGHT's Hal Trussell is attractive enough) and not particularly titillating. An undercover female cop posing as a guard (Lucinda Crosby, BLUE THUNDER) has been thrown into the mix to drive the plot forward in place of the same mechanisms better realized in CHAINED HEAT (which wasn't exactly Shakespeare but one of the best 1980s entries in the WIP genre). Although the film seems complete at 96 minutes and 45 seconds, there is an abruptness to the storytelling that suggests last minute trims (we do not see how Michelle reconnects with Willy, we just cut from him and Rita having sex to Rita spying on Michelle as she tries to help her ex). Also seemingly missing is a sense of build-up – suspenseful or otherwise – to some major events like Rita punishing Amy for thwarting her attempt on Michelle's life. CHATTERBOX's Larry Gelman appears as the prison doctor in one scene (the film was also cast by that film's co-star Perry Bullington) while ALLIGATOR's James Ingersoll and SCHIZOID's Flo Lawrence play Michelle's parents. Composer Chris Stone would return to the cellblocks for Empire Pictures' PRISON two years later.
Empire Pictures' SAVAGE ISLAND is actually a patchwork assembly of footage from the Italian/Spanish women-in-prison films ORINOCO: PRIGIONIERE DEL SESSO (aka HOTEL PARADISE) and ESCAPE FROM HELL aka FEMMINE INFERNALI (which was released unmolested by Charles Band's Wizard Video under the title ESCAPE) – which were released in some territories with hardcore inserts – with new framing footage and narration featuring Linda Blair. It's a mess through-and-through, and one wonders what the point was since Charles Band released other foreign exploitation films without augmentation. The films were two of five collaborations between director Edoardo Mulargia and star Anthony Steffen (THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE) and featured some of the same cast members. Credited solely pseudonymous "Nicholas Beardsley" with the Los Angeles-based footage shot by Gary Thieltges (RETRIBUTION) – original cinematographer Manuel Mateos is also given credit – SAVAGE ISLAND has Blair as Daly, who has escaped from an island prison where the female inmates are forced to mine for emeralds which are sold to Los Angeles dealer Luker (Leon Askin, DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS). Daly shows up to kill Luker, but not before telling him how she has arranged for the destruction of his island operation (Penn Jillette also features in the new scenes as a security guard who is thankfully dispatched quickly). Four days prior, she sent in Maria (Cristina Lai), a plant among the new batch of prisoners being shipped in by amoral Captain Orinoco (Stelio Candelli, NUDE FOR SATAN) and his men (including assistant director Gilberto Galimberti, stunt coordinator and weapons handler on a number of Fernando Di Leo films). Orinoco and the group are ambushed by Daly's other contact Laredo (Steffen), the leader of a band of jewel thieves. Laredo promises Orinoco a share of the emeralds if he can help his men pose as new guards for the island prison/emerald mine run by sadistic Jordan (Luciano Rossi, the lovelorn incestuous hunchback of Joe D'Amato's DEATH SMILES AT MURDER), his warden (BARON BLOOD's Luciano Pigozzi aka Alan Collins, Italy's answer to Peter Lorre) in footage from ESCAPE FROM HELL, head guard Cesare, and turncoat inmate Marika (BLOOD LINK's Yael Forti, also in ESCAPE FROM HELL footage). While Laredo and his men case the joint for jewels, Maria finds herself at the mercy of the guards and her lesbian cellmates Katie (Cintia Lodetti, THE PORNO KILLERS), Muriel (Ajita Wilson, THE NUDE PRINCESS), and Mary (Maite Nicote).
It seems more complicated than worth the effort to meld two films and wraparound footage into a cohesive narrative (including re-dubbing for the new plot turns and for characters featuring in both films under different names), and SAVAGE ISLAND does not succeed. Not only does the wraparound footage not even remotely match the original footage, but the plot is hopelessly muddled by not re-dubbing all of the old footage. Blair's Daly makes it sound like the jailbreak was always the plan, but then it appears as if Laredo and company were just planning to infiltrate the prison to steal the emeralds before being moved by the deplorable conditions and atrocious treatment of the inmates; at which point they elect to blow the prison apart with dynamite. The filmmakers (or post-producers) failed to make use of the film's most exploitative material, retaining only a handful of nude scenes and a lot of the violence apart from the climax (which includes some explosive squib hits courtesy of HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD's Giuseppe Ferranti). The score by Marcello Giombini (ANTHROPOPHAGUS, which incidentally was also titled SAVAGE ISLAND on export prints) is replaced with sleep-inducing synth tracks by uncredited Mark Davies and Phil Ryder (who jointly scored Band's TRANCERS films). While Empire can be commended for crediting the original cast and crew members, and giving them preferential billing in the opening titles and end credits, the cast list is full of errors. Ajita Wilson is credited as Maria and Cristina Lai as Muriel, Pigozzi is listed as Laredo's right hand man Paco, Candelli as Jordan, and Rossi as head guard Cesare. The original version of HOTEL PARADISE – both softcore and reconstructed hardcore (respectively 86 minutes and 94 minutes at PAL speed) – are available on an English-friendly import from Danish company Another World Entertainment while ESCAPE FROM HELL is available in VHS-quality from Shock-O-Rama Cinema as part of their WOMEN IN PRISON TRIPLE FEATURE that also includes Rino De Silvestro's WOMEN IN CELL BLOCK 7 and Joe Viola's THE HOT BOX.
Shout!'s anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer of ANGELS FROM HELL isn't one of their HD remasters, but it at least appears to be an anamorphic digital transfer rather than an upscaled video master. It's colorful and reasonably sharp if not exactly detailed, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono is in fine condition. Shout!'s transfer of CHATTERBOX! utilizes an aged fullscreen master. One optical dissolve is hard-matted while a couple other opticals seem cropped, but a few dipping boom microphones suggest that it's mostly open-matte (although some shots are also windowboxed). The image is colorful and it helps that the night scenes were well-lit, but it's regrettable this one didn't get a remaster when MGM was restoring some of AIP's more prestigious titles. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is fine in rendering the dialogue and songs. THE NAKED CAGE is a fullframe tape master that is reasonably colorful and sharp but rife with aliasing and murky in the dark basement scenes in the jail. The Dolby Digital 2.0 rendering of the Ultra Stereo track is suitably bold starting with its credits rendering of Fabulous Thunderbirds' "Tuff Enuf". SAVAGE ISLAND is also a fullscreen tape master (presumably the one used for Force Video's early 1980s release). Colors vary with the new footage looking better than the "flashbacks" but the cropping is evident throughout the original footage. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is in fine condition. SAVAGE ISLAND is also available on DVD from Full Moon, but one can assume that the MGM-sourced Shout! version is superior. There are no extras for any of the films. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS