A cinephile can't live on Netflix and Amazon Prime video streaming alone, no sir. Sometimes, against our better judgment, we have to venture out of our darkened living rooms and into the daylight to find that odd video treasure. This week, a tribute to some recent half-priced (or less) finds.
The Black Gestapo (1974): In my opinion, The Black Gestapo is bested only by one other film when it comes to the most far out example of what the "Blaxploitation" genre had to offer. This plot takes the theme of absolute power corrupting absolutely and jacks it up to 11 with a story that involves the mafia shaking down the poor citizens of the Watts area of Los Angeles. The kindly General Ahmed (Rod Perry), who runs a kind of peaceful black panther group, wants to find a non-violent way for his "people's army" to drive the goons out, but his second-in-command, Colonel Kojah wants to take a more direct route. With Ahmed's blessing, Kojah starts a paramilitary offshoot of their army and begins to violently drive out the white mafia, but Kojah gets greedy and starts oppressing the very people he vowed to set free. Its up to Ahmed and his group to stop Kojah and show the people of Watts true freedom. The Black Gestapo can be silly, and it does manage to go a bit over the top at times (Nazi references are a stretch), but if you're a fan of the genre, then I'm sure you would find this would be worth the three dollars it cost.
The Candy Snatchers (1973): I almost let out a schoolgirl shriek upon seeing this DVD sitting on the shelf of the books-that-are-half-priced store. The Candy Snatchers concerns three wannabe criminal masterminds who hatch a half-witted plan to kidnap sixteen-year-old Candy while she's on her way home from school and hold her for ransom. The kidnapping goes without a hitch, but problem is...nobody wants to pay the ransom, leaving our abductors in the lurch. It may not be the best "grindhouse" movie ever made (although I have it in my top ten), but Candy Snatchers is a perfect example of what made "grindhouse" movies so great: actors with a can-do spirit so strong that it completely nullifies the need for real acting talent; a script that, while maybe not the most polished thing ever written, never blinks, or waters down the story it is trying to tell; and an overall determination to entertain at any cost. Nearly every character in the film is completely reprehensible, and some real twisted stuff happens (really, this movie is mainly for the more ardent grindhouse fans only), but I can't help but admire the makers of this film's willingness to throw every crazy idea he has at the screen to see what would stick. You just don't get this kind of strange at your local resale shop everyday.
Lost Boys (1987): You may think you're cool with your Twilight vampires and all their "emotions," but when I was a kid we didn't have a pasty-skinned Robert Pattinson -- we had Kiefer Sutherland rockin' a mullet as David, the leader of a bloodthirsty (and super fashionable) gang of vampires. Add to the mix; the Coreys (Feldman and Haim), a broody Jason Patric, Jami Gertz, and Barnard Hughes, and you have a heck of a night watching people better looking and more stylish than you saying things you could never think of so fast. Now, honestly, Lost Boys is a touch dated, but I'm happy to sit through any film with the confidence to take a terror break long enough for the shirtless saxophone solo.
Salem's Lot (1979): Many books by Stephen King get turned into movies. Many of those movies are awful. Salem's Lot is not one of those movies. Actually it's one of the better King adaptations out there. Originally airing on CBS as a miniseries in the late '70s, Salem's Lot still manages a surprisingly large bounty of creepy moments. The vampire story unfolds thusly: Writer Ben Mears returns to the small town of Salem's Lot to write a story about the creepy old Marsten house that folklore says is haunted, but that house isn't nearly half as creepy as its new owner, a Mr. Richard Straker. As our hero digs deeper into the mystery behind this new owner, bodies start piling up and Mears discovers that Mr. Straker has some very nefarious plans for Salem's citizens. For a TV movie from three decades ago, there are a plenty of creepy and scary moments too be had thanks to director Tobe Hooper, no stranger to making very scary movies that contain very little blood -- he co-created and directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Death Race 2000 (1975, Also available on Netflix Streaming): If you've seen Jason Statham's Death Race, then you were witness to a pale, bland remake of a truly whacked-out and wildly original action movie. In the film's dystopian future of 2000, America is now a police state that keeps its citizens satiated with bloody sporting events, one of them being the Transcontinental Death Race, where teams of two (a driver and the navigator) race across the country not only to see who can get to the finish line fastest, but who can kill the most innocent pedestrians with their cars. Now, that may sound a little dark, but Death Race 2000 is so completely loony, with almost every scene being played for laughs (unlike the turgid remake, ugh), that it's hard not to be taken in by its very satirical vibe.