By: Heather Seebach
On Saturday, May 3rd, I attended the fourth annual eX-Fest held by Exhumed Films at the International House in Philadelphia. It is a 12-hour marathon of exploitation films shown in glorious 35mm. The titles are kept a secret until they are screened (with only some hints to keep us guessing). Last year's event (read my recap/review here) was a blast, so it's easily worth the four hours of driving and lack of sleep because eX-Fest always delivers a good time! The movies, plus quality time with my PA/NJ friends and food trucks, make it a must-attend event each year! Here is the list of film clues posted at the door:
So, as you can see, there is a little bit of everything. I love the variety! Got any guesses as to the titles? Well, read on to see what they screened and what I thought:
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978)
A very young Jackie Chan (or rather "Jacky" as he is credited) starred in this martial arts/comedy directed by Yuen Woo-ping (Drunken Master). This was definitely one of the most entertaining flicks of the day, thanks to impressive choreography, the hilarious dubbing (particularly the protagonist's posh British accent), and the white "Russian" priest who keeps randomly popping up. The film surprisingly has a lot of slapstick comedy in it, so it's more accessible than your average kung-fu flick for non-fans of that genre. Still, the martial artistry on display is great, and Quentin Tarantino no doubt drew influence from this one when he made Kill Bill (most notably in the training montage).
My only complaint about Eagle's Shadow - and it's a big one - is the infamous cat vs. cobra scene where they used a real snake and cat. The latter is visibly pulled on strings and backed into a corner by a live cobra. The snake, too, is attacked and possibly killed on-camera. Obviously, animal protection laws were lax in Hong Kong then. The scene was later removed on UK DVD releases due to that scene violating The Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937.
Face to Face (1967)
This is the only film I missed in its entirely because I required food and got to talking with by blogging buddies, James (www.docterror.com) and Thomas (http://shitmoviefest.blogspot.com) so I cannot give you a review but I can tell you about the film. Directed by Sergio Sollima, this Italian spaghetti western is about a history professor (Gian Maria Volonté) who moves to Texas for his health but ends up becoming fascinated with outlaw life and joins a gang. He forms an uneasy relationship with the gang's leader (Tomas Milian) as he transforms from mild-mannered professor to greedy outlaw. The legendary Ennio Morricone provided the score.
Bamboo House of Dolls (1973)
In this Shaw Brothers production set during World War 2, a group of young nurses in China are taken prisoner by Japanese soldiers and, you guessed it, frequently used as sexual slaves. Naturally, there's a sexy, lesbian military captain, too! The first half of the film is a typical women-in-prison sleaze-fest, complete with rape, up-skirts, communal showers, and cat-fights. Countless shirts are ripped open as if they were made of tissue paper. I'm not someone who is offended by nudity or exploitative elements (albeit a little bored), but parts of this film - especially the very beginning - are a bit too heavy for me. In the opening scene, an American pilot and Chinese civilians are executed, and children are threatened next, so when it immediately transitioned to boobie-flying rapiness, well, I was not quite ready to laugh off the sleaze.
I got on board once the humor kicked in and the ladies started fighting back. Speaking of, I am bummed that the blonde heroine, Jennifer, starts off as such a bad-ass (slapping the shit out of an armed Japanese soldier) but becomes increasingly worthless as the movie goes on, needing to constantly be saved by a man. Still, once the film moves from the POW camp to the countryside, the excitement picks up and I enjoyed it overall. I just think the movie would have benefited from less-serious subject matter. We want Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, not Schindler's Lust, ya know?
The Best of Sex and Violence (1981)
The eX-Fest audience was unsure what to think when we heard one of the features would be comprised entirely of trailers. It could have easily been everyone's designated bathroom break but instead it was one of the night's biggest crowd-pleasers! Hosted by John Carradine, this 76-minute compilations shows clips from a variety of exploitation films and trailers. At first, I was not even sure they were real trailers, especially when we saw The Doberman Gang, the 1972 flick about bank-robbing dogs. Once previews for I Spit on Your Grave and Tourist Trap showed up, well, we were all on the same page then. If you're a fan of stuff like Not Quite Hollywood!, you'll love this one as it is sure to introduce you to some exploitation titles you didn't even know existed!
The Charles Band production includes sleazirrific fairy tales (like 1977's Cinderella), blaxploitation, horror, and more. If you love ridiculous 70s trailers (like me), this collection is your bread and butter. I can't remember what film it came from, but the line "He's a booby-snatcher! A tit maniac!" had me rolling. Best of all are John Carradine's bewildered, pervy, punny, and occasionally racist reactions to the trailers. Even his sons Keith and David make appearances.
The Mafu Cage (1978)
This is an over-the-top but thoroughly fascinating drama/thriller directed by Karen Arthur. Carol Kane stars as a Cissy, batshit crazy girl who grew up among African tribes and has not quite let that go. She and her older sister Ellen live in a mansion adorned with African artifacts and a large cage where Cissy keeps her pet apes - until she inevitably murders them. Did I mention she is CRAZY? Meanwhile, Ellen chooses to ignore her sister's mental illness by keeping the girl locked up in the house and just giving her more pets to murder. Needless to say, that powder keg situation does not end well for anyone.
Kane chews up all the tribal scenery with her fiery hair and ever-revolving collection of costumes, but she plays insane well. In addition to her bipolar, monkey-killing antics, there is a LOT of bizarre shit going on in this movie, the most disturbing of which being the prevalent incest. Kane's performance, all the weird goings-on, and the thumping African percussion throughout keep the movie ever-unnerving. It's a dark exploration of mental illness and family dysfunction. My only complaint is the pacing, as this 102-minute film felt more like 2.5 hours.
Class of 1984 (1982)
No doubt the best-known film of the day, this 80s cult classic was a ton of fun. Directed by Mark Lester (Commando) and co-written by Tom Holland (Child's Play), this action flick is about mild-mannered music teacher Mr. Norris (Perry King) who is driven to violence by a gang of thugs at his high school. As the punks deal drugs, torment the good students, and ultimately target Norris himself, the cops will do nothing so the teacher takes matters into his own hands. Michael J. Fox plays one of the good students and Roddy McDowell is awesome as a biology teacher driven to the brink. My mind is also blown since I realized that the leader of the thugs, Peter Stegman, is played by Timothy Van Patten, who is the very same Tim Van Patten of Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire fame! Needless to say, this is a great flick everyone will enjoy, whether you like exploitation or not.
Full disclosure: during this penultimate movie, I had begun nodding off, so I don't have a real opinion about it. It would not be fair to judge it considering I probably missed at least half of it. Ralph Bakshi (Cool World; Fritz the Cat) wrote and directed this live-action/animation satire on race relations in America starring Barry White and Scatman Crothers. Like Bakshi's other works, nudity, language, and violence ensure this is no cartoon for kids! The lead characters are a rabbit, a fox, and a bear, who deal with the mafia and corrupt cops in Harlem. The film has both been accused of being racist and hailed as brilliant. It simply needs to be seen, and I regret that I was so fucking tired at this point in the night!
The Eager Beavers (1975)
(aka The Swinging Barmaids)
Believe it or not, this is not a porno! There is no shortage of tits, though. That poster also has nothing to do with this slasher movie. In a nutshell, it's about a creepy guy who likes to strangle pretty cocktail waitresses. He is especially obsessed with one of them. The weird thing is how much this movie ends up focusing on the killer, to the point where you almost like the guy! He was the only remotely entertaining thing about the movie for me. Well, him and the hilariously low production value. When Mr. Creepy (aka Tom) strangles Ilsa herself, Dyanne Thorne, she continues to visibly blink and move her limbs minutes after dying. Upon witnessing this murderer who has the most unmistakable blonde hair and beard EVER, the other barmaids tell the police he has "dark brown" hair, much to the bewilderment of everyone watching the movie. As Tom, Bruce Watson is kind of hilarious, though not always intentionally. Eager Beavers/Swinging Barmaids is not quite bad enough to be hilarious, but it has some pretty funny moments.
Before the big show, Exhumed Films also announced forthcoming shows, including a Starman/Escape from New York double (June 20th), A Lost Film Festival, A Best of the Fest, and a Star Trek III: The Search for Spock/Dune double. For information on those events, follow Exhumed Films! I'd also like to give a little shout-out to Ranch Road Taco Shop for providing me with my Mexican lunch. I especially appreciated this cute little sight that was all-too appropriate considering I was missing a spaghetti western to indulge in my taco: