Exploitation films

Lurid horror, women-in-prison movies, blaxploitation, etc.

Death Wish

death-wish-bronsonNobody slugs anyone with a roll of quarters anymore. And that’s a damn shame — an art lost for the ages.

For the victims of vigilante Charles Bronson in Death Wish, that’d be a preferable punishment for their transgressions (and one of ’em does get a sock wallop of coins).

This is the grandpappy of gritty revenge films, but it’s as sharp as Paul Kersey’s shooting and even more relevant today than it ever was.

Bronson is family man developer Paul, whose “heart beats for the underprivileged,” recalling the Irving Kristol zinger, “a conservative is just a liberal who has been mugged.”

When his wife and daughter are brutally victimized in his New York City apartment (one of the lecherous goons is none other than a shaggy-haired Jeff Goldblum) he immerses himself in his work to cope with the loss of his spouse, and the trauma of an indifferent NYPD up to its eyeballs in crime, with no leads, nothing to go on.

He heads down south to oversee a land development deal in Tucson. It’s there, he’s re-introduced to his Second Amendment rights by business partner Ames (“hell, a gun’s just a tool like a hammer or an axe”) and as a going away present, the Arizonian gives him a revolver.

DeathWish_And this doesn’t bode well for the Big Apple’s criminal element.

Back in NYC, Paul is a one-man Bernie Goetz*. He’s getting rid of the city’s scumbags and becoming something of a folk hero the cops are reluctant to investigate.

In a chat with his son-in-law, Paul puts forward the reasonable notion we’re all entitled to self-defense (something entrenched in law since Babylonian times). His son-in-law opines, “we’re not pioneers anymore.”

There you have it folks.

A line in the sand and a film that can be discussed and debated as hotly as sparks set off from gun control debates. And that’s a complicated issue, made even more difficult that there’s no distinct causal relationship between gun control and a state’s rate of fatal shootings. Then again, some are smuggled in from neighboring states. But in states with tighter controls, suicide victims choose another means, thereby skewing the numbers. There are just NO easy answers and each side right and left, is mired in confirmation bias.

Whatever way you slice it, Death Wish is a revenge film with smarts, smarter than anything Tarantino’s ever done. Nothing against him, but QT for all his formidable talent is a pop pasticheur who makes fun movies about movies; this is a movie about ideas, wrapped in a violent package.

Pacifist Paul is a real estate developer used to the orderliness of blueprints, budgets and constraints. When he’s thrust into a world for which there are no explanations, he’s forced to impose his own order, and whether you laud or loath him will resonate for years to come in political debates stateside.

****1/2 (out of 5)

[*Editor’s note: Soon after Bernie’s real-life vigilante act, there were “Ride with Bernie: he Goetz ’em” bumper stickers in New York City]

Don’t Look in the Basement

Not nearly as fun as Etta James’ floor shaker, In the Basement, this is a movie that’s ostensibly got something to do with a basement. And it kinda does. Very very tangentially, and not nearly as much as James’ song. Don’t Look in the Basement is also known as The Forgotten, which is a real soft ball title to lob a critic’s way.

Stephens Sanitarium is an understaffed healthcare facility overseen by one (almost literally one) Dr. Stephens. When he’s given the axe, so to speak, by one of the patients, the place is short-staffed. That’s where Charlotte Beale (Rosie Holotik from Horror High) comes in. She’s a nurse and new hire, who’s (barely) shown the ropes by attending physician Dr. Geraldine Masters, a possible veiled reference to researchers Masters and Johnson perhaps? Dr Livingstone we presume?

This is a genre one might call, “psychsploitation” in that the treatment of the mentally ill is rather…how shall we put it? Out of fashion. Then again, the psychiatric profession has a lot to answer for. Not to get all Tom Cruise, but it’s not too many generations ago where lobotomies* were the order of the day.

That might be an explanation as to why this thing is so odd. Of course, this was the 70s and that was definitely an “experimental” time for movies. And we’re just talking about the drugs.

In Don’t Look in the Basement, poor African American Sam, in a state of perma-infantalization, suffered through the hideous lobotomy procedure (though the ice pick was not depicted on screen). He’s left to play with a toy boat.

The rest of the hospice residents are filled out with a guy who thinks he’s a judge (played by Gene Ross of The Goonies), a nympho, a crazed ginger, an elderly lady with unhinged coif there purely for Margaret Atwood hair jump scares, a man who lost his platoon and still thinks he’s at war, and assorted other out-of-date and yet fascinating depictions of the mentally ill.

This movie is quirky and definitely worth a look.

*** (out of 5)


[*Editors’ note: Surgical pioneer Walter Freeman, even drove around the countryside in a mobile / recreational vehicle doing the grisly procedure!]