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March 12th, 2017

THE KILLING OF AMERICA (1982) ****

Of all the mondo movies released in the wake of Faces of Death, this is probably the best. It’s more in your face than Faces of Death, but it somehow feels less exploitative, if that makes any sense (probably because none of the sequences are fakes). There’s an unapologetic cynicism that runs throughout the picture that is unrelenting. You’ll need a cynical viewpoint to in order to stomach it all. Even then, even the most cast-iron stomachs will probably walk away a little queasy from this one. You know the filmmakers have accomplished what they set out to do when you feel like you need to take a shower after you see their film.

The long sequence that focuses on political assassinations is equal parts fascinating and horrifying. We see the Zapruder film. We see newsreel footage of Reagan being shot. We see George Wallace shot down. We see RFK moments before being gunned down. (Sirhan Sirhan is interviewed.) It’s scary how lives can be altered, ended, and the country irreparably changed in the matter of a couple of seconds.

From there, the film focuses on the rise of mass murderers. Snipers like Charles Whitman and cult leaders like Jim Jones are featured. Surprisingly, they don’t spend a whole lot of time on Charles Manson. (Maybe because they thought he was too easy of a target.) The movie draws a direct line from these sorts of crazies to full-blown serial killers like John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy.

The film concludes with a segment on gun mania. The statistics for the number of guns in this country is astounding and has gone up exponentially over time. The flick ends on a hopeful note as camera crews follow a vigil for the recently-slain John Lennon while “Imagine” plays on the soundtrack.

The Killing of America was co-written and co-directed by Leonard Schrader, the brother of Paul. You have to wonder if Paul’s script for Taxi Driver had any influence on the sequence involving hookers on Hollywood Boulevard. Because of that, the two films would make for an ideal double feature, especially when you consider that John Hinckley tried to assassinate Reagan because he saw Taxi Driver too many times.

Some of this is indefensible. Some of this is off-putting. All of it is gripping, intense, and unrelenting. If you don’t want to be appalled, don’t see The Killing of America. However, if you thought that Faces of Death and Mondo Cane didn’t go far enough, then this should be right up your alley.

AKA: Violence U.S.A.

WOMEN OF SAN QUENTIN (1983) ***

Most horror fans know Amy Steel as the feisty Final Girl Ginny from Friday the 13th Part 2. Two years after leaving an impression on moviegoers, she migrated to the small screen for Women of San Quentin. This is a different kind of Women in Prison movie. Instead of the women being inmates, they’re the guards!

Stella Stevens is excellent as the head guard who runs the toughest cellblock in the prison. Steel is the fresh-faced new recruit who is taken under Stevens’ wing. Steel not only has to put up with sexism from the male prisoners, but other guards as well. Meanwhile, Stevens is torn between accepting a promotion and staying in a job that just flat-out kicks ass at. While they both deal with the emotional struggles that come with working in the prison, they also have to contend with an impending race riot that is brewing within the prison walls.

The only knock against Women of San Quentin is that it’s a TV movie. That means it can't get as down and dirty as it really should get. Since the great television vet William A. (Get Christy Love!) Graham was behind the camera, the flick is well-shot, has a breezy pace, and features some dynamite acting.

Seriously, no matter what faults it has, it’s hard to hate any movie that contains:

• Debbie Allen as a tough-talking guard.

• Yaphet Kotto as the experienced guard who shows Steel the ropes.

• Gregg Henry as a nice inmate who might be a potential weasel.

• Hector Elizondo as the crew chief who is carrying on an affair with Stevens.

• Ernie Hudson as the reluctant leader of the black gangs.

• William Sanderson as a nut who tries to cut a guard’s throat.

Oh, and did I mention it’s co-written by Larry Cohen? Don’t you feel like you want to see it now?

TROUBLE MAN (1972) **

Robert Hooks stars as the badass “Mr. T”. I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that a certain star of Rocky 3 might’ve stolen his name from this character. Nah, I pity the fool that’d do something like that.

Anyway. Mr. T is a bad man, but he does good things for the neighborhood. He goes after negligent slumlords and accepts bail bonds from people who can’t afford to go through the proper channels. A friend in need, Chalky (Paul Winfield) hires Mr. T to find out who’s been busting up his illegal crap games. When Chalky kills the gunman, T is blamed for the murder. Since the stick-up man works for the local kingpin Mr. Big (Julius Harris), Mr. T has to clear his name to both the cops AND Mr. Big.

Trouble Man was included in book The 50 Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way), but I can think of dozens of other Blaxploitation action flicks much more deserving of inclusion. The cinematography is crisp, and the action is well-staged. The opening pool hustling sequence is badass enough to keep it far away from ever receiving a Golden Turkey Award. (The same goes for the cool theme song by Marvin Gaye.)

Still, it ain’t all that great. Once the plot is set into motion, the pacing gets increasingly bogged down. All the double-crossing and triple-crossing is clumsily plotted and ineffectively executed. The flick also suffers from a lack of action, which mostly just bookends the film. Hooks’ performance carries it as far as it will go, but in the end, Trouble Man just isn’t really worth the trouble.

Hooks’ son, Kevin went on to direct the classic Black Dog.

THE “LEGEND OF DINOSAURS” (1977) *

A woman hiking in the wilderness falls into an underground cavern and disturbs a prehistoric egg. It hatches and a plesiosaur emerges. Pretty soon, it starts hanging out at a lake and eating tourists. Before long, a pterodactyl joins in and the two eventually start a fight over who gets to eat the tourists.

I'm a sucker for a rubber dinosaur movie, but this one deserves to be placed on the lowest rungs of the ladder. As a fan of these types of films, I’m at peace with the fact that all the stuff with the humans is going to be bad. However, The “Legend of Dinosaurs” (those funky quotations aren’t mine, that’s how it appears on screen) contains some of the dullest human interaction scenes ever seen in a dinosaur flick. The romance between the leads is almost unbearable and it's made worse by the atrocious music (which often doesn't fit the scene).

I did like how the plot cribs from Jaws. We get a scene where the beaches are closed, as well as a part where some kids wear a fake fin to scare swimmers. You know it’s bad when the most memorable parts of your film are stolen directly from another movie.

All of this would’ve been okay if the film delivered on the dinosaur action. Unfortunately, these dinosaurs are pretty weak. They look alright, I guess, but the designers didn't figure out a way to make them move convincingly. Only the occasional shot of someone struggling inside the chomping jaws of the dinosaurs are worth a damn. Even then, there aren’t nearly enough of them to warrant watching it.

AKA: The Legend of the Dinosaurs. AKA: Legend of Dinosaurs and Monster Birds. AKA: Legend of Dinosaurs and Ominous Birds.

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