Tag Archive: Bill Landis

ginger_posterThis month (March) is the 43rd anniversary of the premier of the first of Cheri Caffaro‘s three Ginger movies.  (The others being The Abductors (1972) and Girls Are For Loving (1973). Caffaro’s Ginger is known as one of the more amoral and cynical sexploitation heroines of that decade, according to author Randall Clark’s At a Theater or Drive-In Near You: The History, Culture, and Politics of the American Exploitation Film, which is why we still love these films. Being shot in Jersey and the subpar interior set design up the sleaze factor in this flick, making it an annual watch for me.

Ginger was the brainchild of director Don Schain, who started as director of the softcore flick The Love Object, starring future pornstar Kim Pope. His idea for Ginger, according to Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford in The Sleazoid Express, was “taking a female character and putting her in a role that was traditionally reserved for a man.”  In this case, that character was a cross between a female James Bond and a contract killer. Ginger is also known for having one the first male full frontal nude scenes, and for having gay pornstar Casey Donovan in a supporting role. 


Caffaro, the “legendary cult movie star” has left the building

Cheri Caffaro had a too brief career in which the Ginger films appeared to be her high water mark.  On her own–apparently abandoned–website she calls herself a “legendary cult movie star” which seems several orders of magnitude more than what she was. She and Schain ended up married for ten years, divorcing at some point in the early 1980s. That the film was promoted in the manner of porno chic–big bold ads with lots of innuendo–was cause for a bit of nervousness for Caffaro, but that was apparently wiped away when it did so well.  Ginger was a top-50 film for 1971.

Today, Caffaro’s pretty much disappeared back into private life away from show business.  Schain is still active as a producer for Disney Channel saccharine sweet TV movies–he brought us all three High School Musical dreck.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that I prefer the older stuff.

spaghettibannerI’m very happy to help fellow cinema aficionado Nitrate Diva in this year’s Italian Film Culture Blogathon, but it is a bit intimidating to take on a subject that so many have already taken on.  For instance, we should note at the outset Cannibal Holocaust started the “found footage” genre–with later examples being Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project.  Many, many cinema bloggers have taken up the film, and to try and find something new to say about Cannibal Holocaust seems a tall order indeed.

The consensus is that this film is one of–if not the most–violent and exploitive films ever produced.  It is rumored that there is a much longer version out there, but this 96-minute version is more than sufficient.  Despite the title on the video, this version is dubbed into English, and there are no Spanish subtitles:

This epic revolves around the viewing of found footage from an ill-fated journalistic expedition to South America to find cannibalistic tribes.  Ratings-hungry studio execs are looking to a local anthropologist who recovered the film to make a documentary of the ill-fated expedition.  The anthropologist, played by hardcore porn veteran Robert Kerman (NSFW), urges the execs to cool their heels until he shows them all of the found footage.  Once they see the intrepid journalists engaged in all manner of depravity towards the flora, fauna, and inhabitants of the jungle–including a couple acts that could be legitimately prosecuted as war crimes if our explorers were military folks instead of journalists–and then get their just reward in the final scene, the head honcho exec orders the footage burned, and Kerman wonders who the real “savages ” are–the white explorers laying waste to all they encounter, or the brown “primitives.”  This last bit is the key to the whole film, and offers a sort of weak rationale for why this films is so violent.

Robert Kerman in Cannibal Holocaust

Robert Kerman in Cannibal Holocaust

The film is most notorious for the scenes of the journalists killing animals–these were real, not staged; in all 6 animals were killed on film.  In the most infamous scene a large turtle is caught, beheaded, totally dissected and finally eaten by the actors.  Also, a pig is shot, and a coatimundi (often mistaken for a monkey) is also killed on camera and consumed.  The actors were not aware animals were going to be killed on set, and the incident with the coatimundi nearly caused a mass walkout by the cast–until they remembered they were miles and miles from anywhere.  The lead journalist–Alan Yates, played by Carl Gabriel Yorke–refused to speak publicly about his role in this film for 25 years.

This sort of activity filled the set with tension, as you might guess: Kerman refused to have anything to do with killing the pig, and privately according to Clifford and Landis, Kerman said later of director Ruggero Deodato “The guy is a real sadist.”  Kerman prayed that God would punish Deodato and the movie would flop. Clifford and Landis concluded: “It says something when a director can drive an actor who’s been desensitized by years in the sex industry to prayers of destruction.”  For Deodato’s part, he often says that he grew up in the countryside and has a different relationship with animals than cityfolk.  But it’s hard to imagine that someone with simply a different relationship to the animal kingdom would go as far as he did–to the point where much of the cast was wretching in the jungle off camera.  Says Deodato:

[People] don’t make the connection between the food on the table that mummy has cooked from the supermarket, and the fact the animal has actually been killed. When you go to a Third World country people kill animals. I saw pigs and rabbits being killed growing up on a country farm when I was young. My son has not seen this because times have changed, he hasn’t had the experiences I have, for him it all comes pre-packed.

This seems a pretty weak argument for what we see in the film, and strikes me as unconvincing.  Deodato makes the point that his film is about casual acceptance of violence–if he were serious about that, I would expect to hear more about that, rather than this bit on having a different relationship to the animal kingdom when I was a kid…

Director Ruggero Deodato on set of CH.

Director Ruggero Deodato on set of CH.

The film, to the degree it has a moral center, revolves around the question of “who is the real ‘savage’?”  Deodato often takes to the convention circuit and gives us his rationale.  Mainly, this film was a response to the casual acceptance of horrific levels of violence in contemporary society.  In a 2011 interview he mentions the actual Holocaust as one example, and in another conducted by his son in 1998–(part one; part two) he explains: he was appalled at media coverage of Red Brigade political violence and terrorism in Italy in the 1970s.  Specifically, how the media of the day was stepping all over one another–and victims of the violence–to get the most salacious stories of suffering on the air.  That’s interesting, and this rationale brings to mind works like Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness, but I’m not sure how it explains what others saw as pure sadism on set.

But this comparison may overthink CH‘s rationale.  The disparity between an artistic meditation on apathy towards violence and a movie that was designed as a receptacle simply to put successive acts of extreme violence on film seems too much to overcome–and suggests the debate we see every time Quentin Tarantino releases a film: is it art or is it trash?  With CH there is also the matter of it being an alleged snuff film–that the violence in the final scene was so realistic as the cannibals set upon the journalists that a court was going to charge Deodato with murder.  To drum up publicity, he made the cast not appear in other films or the press, which helped give the illusion that he had indeed created a snuff film. This sort of thing does not strike me as something someone trying to make an artistic examination of the role of excessive violence in our society–it sounds like publicity stunts or perhaps performance art.  It all seems a bit much to start comparing CH  with works like Apocalypse Now, and I doubt any amount of  retroactive rationales or rehab will bring Deodato and Cannibal Holocaust into the realm of art, but it will remain a solid hit with the cult exploitation film community, as well as those who can’t look away, for some time.

Long Live “I Drink Your Blood”

PDVD_275This is one of my all-time favorite exploitation movies.  It really has it all–a good sampling of exploitation tropes, quirky casting decisions, and lots of graphic footage.  If the exploitation bug has bitten you only recently, this is a good film to start with.  It was also one of the first films to be rated X for violence, not sex.

The crux of the film is that the van of nihilistic satanist hippies–how likely is that?–breaks down in a small town, our merry bunch make pests out of themselves.  A young kid in the only moment of greatness in his life decides to lace their food with rabies-infected dog blood as revenge for the beatdown–and acid–the hippies gave Grandpa.  The hippies eat the bad food, which has an odd interaction with the copious amounts of acid they’ve already taken onboard, and they emerge as mindless, zombie-like monsters who, despite their mindlessness, have the uncanny ability–bordering on on a superpower–of finding the nearest blade and going after the others of their group or townsfolk.  The only thing to do is to put them down like the mad dogs they are.

This film comes and goes on YouTube.  It was there a couple years back, then removed.  It was posted again in late April 2013, but was removed less than a month afterwards. It has recently (26 April 2013) been again reposted in its entirety.  But it has been reliably available at Daily Motion. The version below appears to be nearer the 86-minute director’s cut, as opposed to the 77-minute version that’s also out there:

The second half of the movie, the hippies as mindless zombies half, is “a blatant a blatant bid to ride Night of the Living Dead’s cult coattails,” in the words of Joe Kane. Being derivative does not make this flick any less enjoyable, thankfully.  But not everyone seems to have thought so. When this film appeared as a double feature with Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, Craven’s son was teased in school.

Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford say of this film, I Drink Your Blood is the pinnacle of the blood horror movie.  It’s fast, unrelentingly violent, and sexually explicit, dishing out a new shock every few minutes.”  All true, but what I like about this film is that it is a kind of exploitation “sampler.”  Consider all these tropes: the then- (and in some places, still-) current stereotypes of country bumpkins (“hixploitation“), as our small town residents are not at all prepared for the trouble our satanist hippies bring with them.  Then, there are our hippies themselves,  as the film relentless describes them as being a dangerous subculture.  It’s also obviously exploits the recent Charles Manson murders, as pointed out by both Landis and Clifford and Kim Newman.  Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, playing the hippies’ leader “Horace Bones” plays up the unpredictable nihilism that reminds us very much of a more comprehensible version of Charles Manson.

Jadin Wong getting a blood facial

Jadin Wong getting a blood facial

We also see exploitation of Asians in the presence and behavior of the character of Sue-Lin, a silent, malevolent Asian woman.  Her presence and demise by self-immolation is unnecessary to move the story forward; her death exploits images that were then not too distant memories of the war in Southeast Asia of silent Buddhist monks making the same decision.  The most peculiar casting decision is Jadin Wong as the aforementioned Sue-Lin.  Wong, who would have turned 100 years old this year (she passed away in 2010 at age 96) was already a mainstream star, having gotten her start in show business at a young age, and entertained troops in Europe during World War II.  Wong was a pioneer of Asian-American women in entertainment, but only made ten movies as an actress.  Her real mark was as an agent for younger Asian-American actors and actresses for nearly a half century.  In 2004 the US House of Representatives and President George W. Bush recognized Wong for her 70+ years in show business and her cultural contributions.  All this does not add up to Wong taking a role in a low budget exploitation flick.

By this point, I’m way over-thinking this movie, so it’s probably best I end here.  This is an excellent exploitation flick that has a bit of everything in it, and is worth 83 minutes of your precious time.

This post was modified: removed dead YouTube link and added a line about IDYB coming and going on YouTube. (28 May 2013).