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VIC DIAZ-A-PALOOZA

You may not recognize the name Vic Diaz, but you’ll probably recognize his face; especially if you’ve ever seen an exploitation movie that was made in the Philippines. If so, then chances are you’ve seen a Vic Diaz movie. Vic is a guy that I think never quite got his due. I hope to change that with this column. To me, the man is quite simply the Filipino Marlon Brando. Today, we’re going to honor Vic by reviewing a mess of his movies.

BLACK MAMA WHITE MAMA (1973) ***

Black Mama White Mama is a Filipino gender-swapped remake of The Defiant Ones. But instead of Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier playing chained fugitives, we’ve got Margaret Markov and Pam Grier. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather see Margaret and Pam chained together any day.

So basically, Markov and Grier are prisoners in this jungle hellhole prison. They escape during a prison transfer while shackled together and go on the lam. Margaret wants to get back to her revolutionary boyfriend, but Pam just wants to run away and make a new life for herself. This of course leads to a lot of bickering and (fortunately for us) catfights.

Black Mama White Mama starts out as a rather great jungle hell Women in Prison movie. There’s a terrific shower scene where the sexy lesbian guard masturbates while watching the girls bathe. Markov and Grier also get into a fight and are sent to “The Oven” to cook in the hot sun. Then, when they finally escape, they spend a lot of time disguised as nuns, which is pretty funny.

However, the later scenes in the movie just can’t measure up. I’m not saying the stuff with the revolutionaries is necessarily bad; it’s just that they can’t top the great Women in Prison kicks the first half provided. Oh well, at least these scenes feature Sid Haig crawling around on all fours and giving topless girls horsey rides.

Vic Diaz is pretty great in this flick. He plays the crime lord who wants to find Pam and kill her. Diaz is given an awesome introduction scene where he watches a girl being tortured while he’s getting a pedicure. This is the kind of sleazy scene that really encapsulates what the Vic Diaz mystique is all about. If you’ve never seen a Vic Diaz movie, this is a great primer.

Co-writer Jonathan Demme also penned the similarly themed The Hot Box, the previous year.

AKA: Chained Women. AKA: Chains of Hate. AKA: Hot, Hard, and Mean. AKA: Women in Chains.

FLY ME (1973) ** ½

Producer Roger Corman scored big with his Nurse movies, so he figured he’d branch out into the Stewardess genre using the same exact formula. So he hired the prolific Cirio H. (TNT Jackson) Santiago to film a bunch of sexy girls in stewardess outfits to run around the Philippines. To keep things interesting, Santiago tossed in some random Kung Fu scenes just for the Hell of it. The result, Fly Me is a mess, but it’s a fun Only-in-the-70’s mess.

Fly Me is at its best when the sexy stews are getting into the usual hijinks and shenanigans you’d expect from an early 70’s drive-in pic. I particularly liked the scene where the one stewardess changed into her work clothes in the back of a taxi cab, which caused the driver (the one and only Dick Miller) to run off the road. (This scene was later stolen in D.C. Cab.) These scenes are a lot of fun.

After about a half hour though, the gals trade in their uniforms for civilian garb. It’s here where the movie slowly starts going downhill. While the scenes of our heroines battling white slavers are amusing, I still wish there were more scenes of the gals on the plane. Then again, I’m sure Corman was too cheap to rent the airplane set for an extra day.

Vic Diaz fans will be disappointed that he only appears in three brief scenes. However, his wardrobe is impeccable, so he’s got that going for him. Santiago and Diaz went on to become the Filipino Scorsese and De Niro, making over a dozen films together (and that’s only counting the films Santiago directed, not produced).

Credits Watch: Joe Dante was the dialogue director and Jonathan Demme directed second unit.

COVER GIRL MODELS (1975) **

Three hot models go to Hong Kong for a photo shoot. Unfortunately, someone thought that this wouldn’t hold our interest for 75 minutes, so there’s a gratuitous subplot filled with nominal intrigue. On the eve of a big fashion show, the seamstress puts some microfilm in one of the girls’ dresses. Bad guy Vic Diaz tries to get it back.

Directed by Cirio H. Santiago, Cover Girl Models boasts a cast of hot girls (especially Pat Anderson from Fly Me). They get naked too, which is a plus; and there’s a bit of gore as well (get a load of that decapitation). Because of all that, I couldn’t really hate the flick or anything.

Unfortunately, the T & A alone cannot save the movie. It’s funny because Cover Girl Models plays almost like a reverse of Fly Me. With Fly Me, Santiago had a dynamite premise, but didn’t get a whole lot of mileage out of it. Here, he really plays up the idea of a Group of Sexy FILL IN THE BLANK’s in a Foreign Country, but the execution is definitely lacking.

Santiago also makes better use of Vic Diaz. He’s given more to do in this movie than in Fly Me, but it’s ultimately not enough. I did have fun seeing Rock n’ Roll High School’s Mary Woronov turning up briefly as the magazine editor.

Best line: “Your ass is a pain in my ass!”

TOO HOT TO HANDLE (1977) **

The opening credits inform us that Cheri Caffaro IS Too Hot to Handle!

I don’t know about you, but I love it when the opening credits tell us the main actor IS the title of the film.

Anyway, Cheri stars “Fox… Samantha Fox”. No, not the singer. (Or the porn star.) No, Samantha is an assassin who kills this one dude. A pair of cops (one of which is Vic Diaz) investigates and tries to nab her. Meanwhile Samantha gets a new assignment: Eliminate three underworld lowlifes. Will she complete her assignment before the cops catch up to her?

Too Hot to Handle was directed by Don Schain, who also directed Caffaro (his wife) in the iconic Ginger movies. And it’s a noticeable decline from those wonderful movies. I will say this for the flick; it does have its share of moments. There’s an excellent S & M scene, a hilarious part where Cheri electrocutes a chick while she’s getting a facial, a bizarre aside where she gets aroused during a cockfight, and a nutty scene where Caffaro disguises herself in brown face to kill a dude. But that’s about the only thing Too Hot To Handle has going for it; moments. Sadly, the snail-like pacing and rambling dialogue scenes pretty much sink all of the movie’s momentum and prevents the flick from really kicking into gear.

It’s also unfortunate that the indomitable presence of Vic Diaz is wasted here. That’s mostly because his underwritten character more or less acts as a mere sounding board for his partner to relay plot points to the audience. He also gets killed off in a punk manner (his car just runs off the road and blows up), which is a goddamn shame.

AKA: She’s Too Hot to Handle. AKA: Final Hit.

FIRECRACKER (1981) ***

Jillian Kesner stars as a Kung Fu expert who travels to Manila to find the man who killed her sister. The drug dealing bad guys catch onto her almost immediately and she covers her ass by saying she’s studying Filipino stick fighting. The bad guys also have an arena of death and plan to use Jillian as their latest combatant.

Firecracker follows the same basic premise as TNT Jackson, Angelfist, and Angel of Destruction. And like those fine motion pictures, Firecracker features some terrific topless kickboxing. And if you want my advice, if you have to steal from somebody, steal from the best.

Yes, the centerpiece of the film comes when Jillian Kesner is chased by two hoodlums through a warehouse. Throughout the chase, pieces of her dress keep getting ripped off until Jillian is in nothing more than her bra and panties. When one guy comes at her, she throws him face first into a table saw! The other guy cuts her bra off with a sickle and topless kickboxing ensues.

Folks, I’ve watched a lot of topless kickboxing in my time and I’ve got to tell you, this is some of the finest topless kickboxing you’ll ever see. What makes this fight so great is the background environment. During the fight when Jillian kicks a dude into some cardboard boxes, you can see that one of the boxes is for a product called “Rack Master”. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Honestly, I don’t know why they just didn’t call the movie Rack Master. I mean that sounds like one heck of a great title for a topless kickboxing movie.

Cirio H. Santiago, the man who invented topless kickboxing doesn’t rest on his laurels. He films the fight scenes that involve clothed participants in an equally plucky manner. But my favorite non-topless kickboxing moment came during Kesner’s love scene with Darby (Malibu Express) Hinton. He seduces her by taking out a knife and cutting off all of her clothes. Just to show Darby that she can give as good as she gets, Jillian returns the favor by cutting his pants off too!

Their relationship is the thing that makes Firecracker stick out from the rest of the pack. You see (SPOILER) it turns out that Hinton killed Kesner’s sister. But he loves her, so when they are pitted against one another in the arena of death, he tries to take it easy on her. Predictably, she’s hell bent on revenge and rewards him by shoving two sticks into his eyeballs!

As an added bonus, Vic Diaz is also in the movie as one of the bad guy’s lackeys. He gets a great scene where he threatens Kesner with a poisonous snake. Naturally, it doesn’t work out well for him.

Kesner gives a great performance. I’m not sure why she never really became a bigger name because she’s pretty awesome in this movie. Not only that, but she looks terrific topless.

Even at 77 minutes, Firecracker still has some lulls. But whenever things threaten to slow down too much, Kesner will Kung Fu a bunch of people, so it’s all good. The flick also benefits from a rather snazzy score too.

Santiago’s next was Stryker.

AKA: Naked Fist.

CAGED HEAT 2: STRIPPED OF FREEDOM (1994) ***

Never mind that 2.1 rating on IMDB; this is a pretty good sequel to the 1974 Jonathan Demme Women in Prison classic. Naturally, it has nothing to do with the first movie, but don’t let that stop you from checking it out. It’s miles better than countless other unrelated sequels released twenty years after the original. The first film was novel in that it took place in an American prison while so many of its contemporaries were set in banana republic prisons. Caged Heat 2 is one of the banana republic ones.

Jewel Shepard stars as a CIA agent who helps fake the death of an unpopular king. During the staged assassination, his daughter gets arrested and thrown in jail. It’s then up to Jewel to go undercover to get her out.

By the time this was made, Jonathan Demme was too busy winning Oscars and shit to make a sequel to one of his best movies. Lucky for us, Cirio H. Santiago is a more than capable replacement. Santiago gives us just about everything we could possibly want from a Women in Prison movie. We get female mud wrestling, hose downs, prison breaks, rape, stripteases, shower scenes, catfights, whippings, and foodfights. There’s even a scene where Jewel gets strung up by her hair just like in The Big Bird Cage.

But notice I said “just about everything” and not “everything”. Tragically, there are no lesbian scenes in this movie. I think this major oversight probably cost the movie a Half Star, if not more.

Lucky for sleazy movie fans, Caged Heat 2: Stripped of Freedom contains a great performance by Vic Diaz. Vic has played a lot of prison guards in his time, but in Caged Heat 2, he gets promoted to warden. He’s particularly great in his scenes where he trades sexual favors with the prisoners. I also thought it was a nice touch that he had a big bird cage in his office. (A not-so coy nod to his most famous role.)

I’ve got to say that Jewel Shepard gives a great performance here. I especially liked it when she tried to talk tough. Sometimes she sounded like Clint Eastwood; other times she spoke like Stallone. The surprising thing is; she pulls it off rather well.

While doing research for this review, I learned Jewel is currently battling breast cancer. I just wanted to take a few moments to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to her. Jewel has always been one of my favorite Scream Queens and I wish her a speedy recovery.

Naturally, Vic Diaz gets the best line of the movie. It comes when he wants the black Pam Grier-ish type girl to get it on with Jewel. He tells her: “Don’t you know salt and pepper are my two favorite spices!”

AKA: Prisoners.

Well folks, there won’t be any Paloozas next month. That’s because I’ll be doing my fourth annual Horror Movie Franchise Review a Day throughout the month of October. I more or less have every movie picked out, but I have to say after four years of this nonsense, some of the horror franchises I’ll be reviewing are pretty pathetic. (Then again, The Skulls trilogy just might be frickin’ awesome; you never know.) See you then Vacuumers!

Comments

( 3 comments — Comment )
darksteel6
Sep. 11th, 2012 06:08 am (UTC)
I saw the Skulls trilogy a few months ago and i'm hard-pressed to think of a more mediocre and forgettable trilogy then that one, the first one had a good car chase, but that's about all I remember from it, the sequels i'm drawing a complete blank on.

BTW can't wait for your Van Dien legend column!
comeuppancereviews.com
Sep. 12th, 2012 11:04 am (UTC)
Nice write-ups!

Can't wait to watch Firecracker. Picked up the Corman triple feature collection a few months ago.
thevideovacuum
Sep. 12th, 2012 07:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks man! Shout Factory has been doing a bang-up job on their Corman Collection series.
( 3 comments — Comment )

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