December 19th, 2008

NORMA RAE (1979) ***

Sally Field stars as a Norma Rae, a white trash mill worker who has two kids and a stream of gentlemen callers.  One day a union organizer (Ron Leibman from Rhinestone) comes to town trying to get the mill workers to join the union.  Of course, the factory bosses don’t like him sniffing around their workers and treat him like dog doo-doo.  Norma takes a liking to him and tries to him the workers get unionized and she gets harassed and even jailed for having a big mouth.  Eventually everyone votes for the union and Norma can finally quit bugging everybody.


Norma Rae is a well acted, finely directed film that always holds your attention.  I can’t call it great or anything because it sometimes went the soap opera route when it focused on the potential love triangle between Norma, the union dude, and her husband (Beau Bridges).  It also doesn’t help that a textile mill isn’t exactly the most cinematic location for a film.


These quibbles aside, the flick works largely due to the fact that Field is pretty much irresistible in the role.  Sally was in between Smokey and the Bandit movies and must’ve figured she’d grab herself an Oscar before she jumped back in the Trans Am with Burt.  The scene in which she defiantly holds a “Union” sign in the middle of the work floor is pretty good and will have you humming “Look for the Union label...”  The supporting cast is also excellent and includes such exploitation favorites as Bob (Delinquent School Girls) Minor, Frank (Licence to Kill) McRae and Gregory (Plan 9 from Outer Space) Walcott.

HELL RIDE (2008) *

Quentin Tarantino produced this terrible homage to 60’s biker movies directed by Larry Bishop.  If you’ve seen Bishop’s Mad Dog Time you may know what to expect:  Lots of unpleasant people reciting bizarre, childishly written dialogue before blowing somebody away.  This time, the characters ride motorcycles though. 


Basically what happens (there’s no way I’m going to use the word “plot”) is that this bad biker gang called “The 666ers” are hunting down another gang called “The Victors”.  The 666ers want a key to a safety deposit box and will set you on fire if you don’t tell them where it is.  The Victors are led by Pistolero (Bishop) and their new recruit, Comanche (Eric Balfour) is the rightful owner of the safety deposit box because his mother was the first person that the 666ers set on fire.  Or something like that.


Bishop tries to tell the story in a Tarantinoesque fashion by hopping back and forth between the present and 1976, when the one chick got torched.  All this does is pointlessly muddle a story that was pretty thin to begin with.  There are a lot of montages of bikers riding down the highway to pad the running time.  The problem is that Bishop films EVERY scene like a montage so it’s hard to tell what the Hell is going on.


You would think that a movie that features so many supporting characters from Tarantino’s repertory company would be at least fun to watch from an acting standpoint.  While Michael Madsen, David Carradine, and Dennis Hopper all have roles in the film, none of them are given much to do besides say stupid soliloquies about God knows what.  I don’t know if Bishop was trying to ape Tarantino’s style when he wrote the script or what, but all the characters say the dumbest shit.  Like the scene where Bishop and Madsen say the word “six” like 57 times in one conversation.  It’s supposed to be funny.  It isn’t.  Or the scene where Bishop talks about pussy but uses “fire” as a euphemism.  He says “fire” about 300 times and all he does he beat an already unfunny joke into the ground for about three minutes.


Hell Ride only exists as an opportunity for Larry Bishop to film himself having sex with 20 year old strippers.  No less than six girls throw themselves at Larry during the movie (I’m counting the fourway he has during the biker party).  The girls actually finding the decrepit looking Bishop sexually desirable constitutes as the best acting in the film.


This is one ride that deserves to go to Hell.


Christina (Christina von Blanc) comes to a remote castle for the reading of her father’s will.  It’s not exactly a touching family reunion because just about everybody in the house is a goddamn weirdo.  Luckily for the audience, some of Christina’s cousins are hot as Hell and don’t like to wear clothes a lot.  Christina soon begins having strange dreams and starts generally freaking out, especially when a black dildo mysteriously appears in her room for no apparent reason.  Then her family somehow encourages her to participate in a lesbo Satanist ritual that results in some hot chick called “The Queen of the Night” (Anne Libert from The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein) taking her for a swim in the lake.


A Virgin Among the Living Dead, despite the title, is not a zombie movie and is more or less a ghost story with the hot young Christina slowly being seduced into the spirit world.  Those looking for a zombie movie will be severely disappointed.  Those looking for an arty Jess Franco movie just might like it though.  (Franco also appears as the mute caretaker too.)


Usually when Franco gets all arty on us, it’s boring as a dog’s ass.  A Virgin Among the Living Dead is certainly boring, but it’s far from the worst Franco movie I’ve seen.  I did enjoy at least one artsy Franco touch.  The dreamlike scene where Christina’s father’s ghost is floating around the woods by a noose was eerie and rocked pretty hard.  Everything else about the movie was more or less tedious.  Except for the healthy dose of nudity; that was awesome. 


The best part of the movie though was when that black dildo showed up for no reason whatsoever and Christina promptly smashed it.  That shit was priceless.  Equally hilarious was her cousin’s mournful cry:  “Poor soul!  You shattered the big ebony phallus!”


AKA:  Among the Living Dead.  AKA:  Christina:  Princess of Exorcism.  AKA:  Zombie 4:  A Virgin Among the Living.

GAS PUMP GIRLS (1979) *** ½

June just graduated from high school and has no job prospects, so when her uncle (Huntz Hall of the Bowery Boys fame) has a heart attack, she readily agrees to take over his gas station.  To lure customers away from the bigwig gas station across the street, June and her sexy friends all wear skimpy clothes and fill people’s tanks in a very suggestive manner.  The rival station doesn’t like losing money to a bunch of girls so they send some hitmen to rough up the gals and their biker boyfriends come to their rescue.  When that doesn’t work, they have the oil company put an embargo on June’s station.  In the end, June and the girls make a plea to the big oil company to get their gas back.


Man, this movie is just as topical now as it was when it was released.  It’s every blue collar person’s dream.  I mean who hasn’t wanted to take on Big Oil head to head?  And since it’s girls in very skimpy outfits pleading the case of the working man, it makes it that much better.


In fact, Gas Pump Girls is better than you’d expect in just about every department.  There are all the double entendres about various automotive parts (like “crank shaft”, “lube job”, and “piston rods”), nudity, and dumb teenage hijinks you’d expect from a flick like this, but the film always goes that extra mile and tosses in an unexpected extra laugh or two.  And that scene where the girls learn how to pump gas is a classic.


The cast is better than average.  There’s Kirsten Baker (the chick who went skinny-dipping and never came back in Friday the 13th Part 2), Sandy Johnson (Michael Myers’ sister from Halloween), and Dennis (Van Nuys Blvd.) Bowen.  The funniest dude is Joe E. Ross from Car 54, Where Are You?  The scene where he did his familiar catchphrase, “Oooh!  Oooh!” when he saw the naked gas pumpers was flat out hysterical. 


Gas Pump Girls is a classic of its kind and while it has its slower patches here and there, it never fails to put a smile on your face.  And oh yeah, did I mention it was a MUSICAL!  Okay, so there’s only one musical number, but it’s truly great one and the soundtrack is filled with some excellent tunes as well.


The excellent ad campaign read:  “They give new meaning to the term ‘full-service station!’”