Blacker than Black- “Urban Revenge” 15 movie pack…

Urban Revenge

This is my first purchase of flicks from The Garr Group (www.thegarrgroup.com , but good luck finding any useful information on their website- as it seems to be with most of these budget providers, their site is “Under Construction”), and they seem to specialize in multi-disc collections of Public Domain and ‘gray-area’ titles. After finding this, I think that I need to seek out some more of their collections if they are like this; some of the titles can be found anywhere, but others I had never seen anywhere on DVD…

 

I’ve always been a really big fan of 70’s “blaxploitation”; for a time in the early and mid 70’s some of these titles were allowed a freedom depicting an experience that other drive-in movies of that time. Most were very cheaply made, and, seams and all, showed a slice of life far from the way I was raised, but were exciting and daring (growing up we had an “inner city” drive-in that I would frequent, just so I could catch up on triple features no one else showed). Some great people came from that period of filmmaking, and some of them are still working today; people like Pam Grier (a personal favorite); Fred Williamson, Bernie Casey, Richard Roundtree and Jim Brown are just some of the names. Now, on a lower tier, people with VERY little money tried to jump on the gravy train to turn a quick buck; those are the titles (for the most part) included in this set…

 

The discs themselves come in a hard-sided double-width case with fairly serious cover art featuring Morgan Freeman (I do like on the back the little red circle that points out that “Warning- Some movies may contain explicit language, sex, violence and nudity”… REALLY? I wouldn’t have guessed that). The 15 movies are spread out between 3 discs, and as you’d expect from the dubious nature of this package, the quality is less-than-pristine. In fact, some of them are downright awful. Blurry transfers, video artifacts abound, rough prints, they’re all included here:

 

 

Disc 1-

 

1- Black Godfather (1974): A stalwart in these PD collections. Rod Perry stars in this urban take on Mafioso. Fairly flat and talky, but pretty well acted (you’ll recognize Tony Burton– Apollo’s right-hand man from the Rocky movies). Also features scenes in a warehouse, foreshadowing Reservoir Dogs. (94 min.  2 stars)

 

2- Black Hooker (1974): Not really blaxploitation; more of a drama about the cast-off son of a street walker and his life in the country, Some barnyard sex in the middle does nothing to spice up this lame and overbearing flick- shot and acted in parts like a play. Should never have been included in this set. (86 min.  1 star)

 

3- Velvet Smooth (1976): Now, this is more like it! It’s horrible and particularly badly-acted, but with the head-spinning action and the outrageous wardrobe, it makes most of its faults endurable in a bad-movie kinda way. A female detective and her co-workers are hired to takedown a gang of cardboard mask-wearing hoods. Someone thought that the lead actress (Johnnie Hill as Velvet) could carry this flick, and she did such a good job she never appeared in ANY movie again. (92 min.  2-1/2 stars)

 

4- TNT Jackson (1974): More karate chick action, this time it’s the distraught sister of a murdered man avenging her brother’s killer. Hong Kong locations give this one a different feel, and better acting by the leads (Jeannie Bell, a former Playboy Playmate, is a lot easier to look at than Velvet Smooth) as well as more professional behind the camera talent (Roger Corman produced, and Dick Miller (Bucket of Blood) wrote it) make this a not-too-bad time waster. Warning- the print used is particularly faded. (71 min.  3 stars)

 

5- Super Soul Brother (1979): AKA The Six-Thousand Dollar Nigger. Dr. Dippy (yep- Dr. Dippy) comes up with a drug that would make a normal man a “super man”. They use a bum (“Wildman” Steve) for their experiments, with comical (well, ATTEMPED comical) results. Not funny in the least, not even unintentionally. (80 min. that seem twice as long   ½ star)

 

 

Disc 2-

 

1- Jive Turkey (1974): Numbers racket action with Mafiosa trying to cut into a black racket. Not high on action at the start, and the women are not attractive at ALL, but the story isn’t bad and there’s a feel about this that seems pretty authentic. Stay tuned for the women who kills a guy with the heel of her shoe (84 min.  2-1/2 stars)

 

2- Candy Tangerine Man (1975): Some Super Pimp action with The Black Baron having to keep his bitches in line (they even get a special credit in the opening titles: “The Actual ‘Hookers’ and ‘Blades’ of the Sunset Strip in Hollywood); between on-the-lamb chicks who steal and his money, and the Mob trying to horn in on his action- what’s a poor Mack to do? With a good score and some recognizable faces (Marilyn Joi was a fixture in these kind of movies, and Buck” Flowers was in a  bunch of both John Carpenter and Bill Rebane flicks). With gratuitous ‘golden shower’ scene- thank God the print for this one is really bad and blurry. (86 min.  2 stars)

 

3- Brotherhood of Death (1976): ‘Nam soldiers vs. The Klan in this better-than-expected revenge flick. Like The Black Six, the leads were NFL football players- a gimmick that worked pretty well in this flick as, for the most part, the guys did an OK job. Well-made for what they had to work with, with an interesting story and enough action to keep things interesting. I was glad I ran across this- one of the few titles on this that I had never heard of before. (77 min.  3 stars)

 

4- Children of the Night (1985): Made-for-TV movie stars Kathleen Quinlan as a social worker out to make lives better for Hollywood hookers. Too well-made to be in this set, it can’t really be considered exploitation because, well, it’s a mid-eighties TV flick; it’s well produced and acted, and doesn’t have a predominately black cast (Mario Van Peebles is the basically lone African-American star in this). Good use of “Hell is For Children” by Pat Benatar (however, there’s no way music rights were cleared to be included this on this set) based on real-life incidences and people.  (93 min.  2-1/2 stars)

 

5- Death of a Prophet (1981): Another Made-for TV flick (more like a SHOW with its short running time); this one detailing the life of Malcolm X, interspersing real life remembrances with re-enacted parts. Morgan Freeman plays Malcolm X going about the last day of his life through his assassination, intercut with newsreel footage and narration. Again, pretty good but shouldn’t be included in this mix (59 min.  3 stars)

 

Disc 3-

 

1- Mr. Mean (1977): OK but empty Fred Williamson exploiter (he stars and directs) with The Hammer playing Mr. Mean- one bad mutha who gets caught up in an international crime ring. Mostly shot in Italy with (rumored) borrowed equipment being used to make another film he was starring in at the time (the original Inglorious Bastards); the movie rambles on like pretty much all Williamson movies do (lots of people walking in and out of doors; people on the phone, etc.) but has a clunky charm to it all. (80 min.  2-1/2 stars)

 

2- Stigma (1972): Other than the racial prejudice on display over the Phillip Michael Thomas (yes, THAT ONE- Tubbs for Miami Vice) character, this is less blaxploitation than pure exploitation as Thomas plays a defrocked doctor in this expose of sexual diseases and the fun that can be had. A seventies version of the ‘it can happen to YOU!’ 30’s VD flicks, sleazy and hard not to watch, with the hysterical acting, dopey music, and all-over-the-place messages. Not to be missed- by the director of I Drink Your Blood, another insane drive-in flick. Look for an appearance by the DJ “Cousin” Brucie. (93 min.  3 stars)

 

3- Black Jesus (1968) I had heard about this and was really looking forward to finally seeing this rarely-screened ‘cult’ item starring Woody Strode. Again, not some much blaxploitation, this is more about political persecution and, in the end, martyrdom in the Congo. Strode is an actor of great charisma (an ex-football player who wasn’t as successful an actor in the States as he was overseas) and manages to make this heavy drama compelling and interesting. Backed and Directed by an Italian crew (81 min.  3 stars)

 

4- Black Force (1975) Jumping on the karate craze of the mid-seventies, this pointless and poorly-made fodder has a group of kung-fu experts hired to retrieve African artifacts. Owen Wat-son (who also appeared in Velvet Smooth) appears as the ‘leader’ and his wooden acting and puffed-up ego are hilarious. The credits introduce the actors along with what degree black belt they are, like that would somehow make the following action more authentic I guess (even someone who only provided a PHONE VOICE gets their 2nd Degree Black Belt credited!). Didn’t work- lame to the 5th degree (black belt). Also, don’t miss the credit playing up that “All martial arts sequences are authentic” and no special effects were used. If I were the filmmakers, I would have hired George Lucas’ team to spice up some of this “action”. One of the actors with the incredible name Warhawk Tanzania went on to make the insane Gang Wars a year later. (77 min.  1-1/2 stars)

 

5- Black Force 2 (1973): This re-titled flick (originally released as Brother on the Run and on this DVD with the title Man on the Run) has no karate action whatsoever. Instead, it’s a turgidly-paced lemon following the exploits of a shoplifter on the lamb and the nice-guy teacher who wants to help him. Terry Carter is the soft-hearted teach and the only other actor in here of worth (you’ll recognize the other- James Sikking from Hill Street Blues as well as playing Doogie Howser’s Dad); he’s pretty good, but just too weak to carry a dull picture like this. Only in the annals of exploitation would a sequel have been made two years before the original!  (84 min.  1-1/2 stars)

 

 

 

One last thing- for some totally unknown reason at the bottom of the package says “NOTE: Views or opinions expressed in this product are those of their individual producers and do not necessarily represent of those of TGG Direct, LLC”. Well, since none of these have separate audio tracks (or ANY special features), the disclaimer is a bit odd- is the Distributor afraid of being sued from someone watching these flicks? They don’t want to be sued when someone innocently watches Black Hooker and decides to devote her life to turning tricks? Right. Purchased at Kmart for $4.99- a deal at twice the price…

 

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K-Mart quickly becoming the Big Lots of DVDs…

 

 

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   I know that K-Mart has been in some financial mess for some time now and I’ve always hated shopping there, so I try to avoid the place like no one’s business (the stores are always a mess; they never have ad items, etc.); however, since I’ve moved from over-populated South Florida to the more sparse southern Tennessee, I’ve found that places to shop aren’t really “just around the corner”, so I find myself at K-Mart on occasion needing normal household items. Since I have to be there anyway, I end up drifting to the Electronics section and on my last trip stumbled into a nice little Collector’s niche (and, as always, Your Mileage May Vary)…

 

   First off they have a bunch of cheap Xenon titles. Xenonis a (basically) exploitation company heavy on “Blaxploitation” and Latin titles. They’ve been around for a long time, and are still pushing out “lower-rung” titles (third-tier National Lampoon titles; Urban karate titles), but hit their stride years ago releasing the so-bad-they’re good classic Rudy Ray Moore titles like Dolemite and The Human Tornado (one of the favorites in my collection is a signed copy of Tornado by the late Rudy Ray- he died in October of 2008. Oh, and he was born in Akron just like me!). So now, at $3.99 each, they had the following Xenon titles:

 

 

   * (Avenging) Disco Godfather– The last of his string of theatrical released flicks; probably his only PG rated flick has Rudy as the town’s hottest Disco record-spinner, who also acts as a one-man force out to stamp out “wack” (PCP). Crazy and funny- must be seen!…

 

   * The Human Tornado– The sequel to Dolemite and the only true follow-up to the original; this one is probably better than the first Dolemite(as in physically well-made) but still jaw-droppingly bad. Just try to watch this chubby guy karate-chopping guys left and right (missing them entirely and yet they still fall!) without laughing- it’s impossible…

 

   * Rudy Ray Moore: Rude– Rudy started off (and made his name) as a stand-up comedian (in the tradition of Redd Foxx- lots of filthy talk about various body parts and sex acts- at the time considered shocking but now just obnoxious) and this video is his act, filmed in 1981, interspersed with his buddies like Leroy and Skillet (setting back the black cause by thirty years)…

 

   * Petey Wheatstraw: The Devil’s Son-in-Law– An absolutely INSANE flick that has Rudy battling the Devil in HELL. Please watch sober; if you are impaired watching this it may actually cause permanent brain damage, and turn you into a drooling, blubbering idiot…

 

   They also have Penetentiary 1 and 3 (however, they don’t have #2- which is my favorite of the series and borderline-insane, and Mr. T’s first on-screen appearance); the prison boxing series starring Leon Isaac Kennedyas “Too Sweet” Cordone, who can gain his freedom by boxing in the joint. Pretty entertaining…

 

   K-Mart also has a bunch of Anchor Bay titles; these are all horror and most are out of print. They are classic titles; all single-disc, and are selling for $4.99 each. They have:

 

 

   * The Original Halloween

   * Hellraiser 1 & 2

   * The Original Dawn of the Dead(the Divamax edition- superior quality)

   * The Original The Hills Have Eyes (I HATE all these remakes- I shouldn’t have to by typing “The Original in front of all of these!)

   * Creepshow 2

   * Children of the Corn

   * Re-animator

 

 

   My opinion is that you can skip Corn and the Hellraiser ones (and some people are really polarized on Creepshow 2 and yeah, it’s not nearly as great at the original, but still pretty entertaining), but if you are any kind of  horror movie fan you have to own the others- they are our generation’s Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman. Snap these up while you can!

“7 Lucky Ninja Kids” and Earl Owensby

 

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   Earl Owensby has been referred to by others as a “Hillbilly Roger Corman” or a “Southern-fried Orson Welles”. It’s a shame to label the guy, and I don’t think that either of the descriptions really suit him- he never had the pure output of product that Corman had (I think that Earl has only had his hand in about a dozen or so feature films), and he never released anything that could be considered an artistic vision and something on par with Welles. However, he did have Corman’s drive-in sensibilities- knowing his target (basically people below the Mason-Dixon Line who like adventure, thrills and a moral thread running through their flicks) and attempting to deliver the goods. And, as Orson Welles, he could be a Jack-of-all-Trades; at different points in his career he was Producer, top-lining Actor, Director- Hell, he even built his own studio after acquiring an abandoned and half-built nuclear power plant in a small town in South Carolina (http://www.earlowensby.com/)- and this ain’t no tin-roofed shack behind an outhouse either, but a world-class facility worthy enough of the likes of James Cameron (who shot The Abyss there). The only person that I can really equate him with would probably be H.B. Halicki- the Stuntman/Director/Producer/Star of the original Gone in 60 Seconds; a self-made man who made a few flicks before tragically dying while performing a stunt in a movie he was making…

 

 

   I’ve been fascinated with him long before I ever saw one of his flicks- I had read somewhere about him (OK- actually the SOMEWHERE was in an issue of “Penthouse” that a friend of mine had snuck out of his Dad’s sock drawer. See- sometimes we DON’T lie and really DO read the articles, even as a kid) and had never thought until then the possibility of someone; ANYONE; being able to make a movie that actually played in theaters that wasn’t located in New York or Hollywood. This was a real guy making real features. The next few years I was able to catch various Owensby movies either at local drive-in’s or on TV (Wolfman– another one of his that seems to be released by all kinds of bargain DVD companies and one I have to bring up on the blog again, a true Gothic/Southern werewolf movie that must be seen to be believed; Seabo (aka Buckstone County Prison– made in the wake of mid-‘70’s badass Southern cops on a rampage like Macon County Line and Walking Tall) and Rottweiler– released to cash in on the brief resurgent 3D craze of the early 80’s). I’ve also missed out on some beauties that I have to watch; like Living Legend (his take on the whole “Elvis Presley thing”) and Tales of the Third Dimension. One of his later works (and, if I’m not mistaken, his last film to date as a Director) is 7 Lucky Ninja Kids, a movie that would appear to have been made to cash in on 3 Ninja and its never-dying string of sequels and rip-offs. I would once in awhile find this in on DVD in unexpected places like FYE but never thought of purchasing it until too late, and then when I started to look for it in earnest, it ended up going out of print and fetching as high as $50 from used movie vendors on Amazon and eBay. Imagine my surprise finding it at a Family Dollar for 60 cents (that’s what it rang up as- even though there’s a printed-on-the-cover price tag selling it for $1). Yeah, it’s packed in a cardboard sleeve, and manufactured by some outfit called Dollar DVD (don’t bother going to dollar.dvd.com; that web page is long gone), but I thought that I could risk three quarters for this obscure little item…

 

 

   Well, there’s a reason that this has fallen into obscurity- THIS ISN’T AMERICAN MADE! It’s a painful redubbing of some Honk Kong kids comedy, with skilled acrobatic kids performing antics that would make the Three Stooges wince and atrocious dubbing with clever repartee like “You dumb jerk” 50 times, and gems like “You don’t believe me? You’re an idiot! You don’t know anything! Only how to sleep!”; and “Over here I’m ‘Rocky’, but in the states I’m known as ‘Rambo’!” (the last line said by a fatigues-wearing ten year old who’s appointed as the squadron leader). The basic plot has the 7 Lucky Ninja Kids stumbling on a diamond heist and murder, but in between the idiocy of Japanese Gangsters trying to find ways to stop the meddling kids are restaurant hijinx; stuttering hitmen; tough guys trying to stand on an ice rink; a BMX bike chase; and a desk that beats up the guy sitting behind it (don’t ask). It all culminates in a prolonged warehouse fight, when, after the kids are victorious (sorry to spoil the ending) is an apparent out-take of the leaping-in-unison shot in the credits, showing the crew rushing in to goof around with the suspended tykes…

 

 

   Framed incorrectly to the right, therefore cutting off a fair-sized sliver on the right and leaving a large black band on the right, it is distracting to say the least- it’s as if the telecine operator (the guy who transfers this obvious ¾ video master to DVD) couldn’t stomach to watch this, so he started up the machine, then left for the local pub to get a few drinks in him. On top of that, it’s horribly zoomed in, easily cutting off a total of a quarter of the picture on both sides, like if you were to try to watch a movie with your face stuck right on the TV screen, and the tracking is bad, especially at the top of the screen and an occasional picture warble. The sound is very flat and has a slight hum throughout; all punctuated by the highly exaggerated smacks and cracks of all the worst Kung Fu movies of the seventies. The dubbing is (naturally) just awful, and the tinka-tinka theme song sung by the kids (“Olalala-lalalala chi chi chi”) doesn’t help matters…

 

 

   The Director listed as Chau Chen Li (I think- between the cutoff titles and the white letters on a washed out white background, it’s hard to see ANYTHING). Even though it’s aimed at kids, I’m not sure that this is wholesome Disney-esque entertainment, with lines like “Goddamn foreigners” and “What’s you problem? Go to Hell!” Also, watching the kids get punched and kicked around by adults double their size is a little disturbing. As for how Earl Owensby is tied to this I have no idea- nowhere on either the film or the packaging is his name (or ANY English name) listed. If this IS somehow his, I would guess that he was a distributor for it, but there aren’t a lot of clues that THAT ever happened, either. And after watching this 80 minutes of celluloid (that, at times felt like twice as long) I sat in a stupor, not believing what I saw so I was going to watch it again just to make sure. But you know what it’s like to suck in helium? How your voice gets funny and it cracks everyone up around you and you feel light-headed, so it wears off and you try it again, only this time it’s not as funny, and the high isn’t as high and all you end up with is a slight headache? Well, when the headache started about 5 minutes into re=watching it I couldn’t go through with it, ejected the DVD and sleeved it. Oh, and even though the date is reported as “1989”, I have to think that it was made at least 10 years prior to that, judging by the cars and scenery…

 

 

   One more thing- come to find out that “Dollar DVD” is an offshoot of the late Brentwood/BCI- Eclipse – it appears to be BCI’s ‘sub-label. They’ve released a whole slew of very old PD titles- things that have been in bargain bins as far back as the old VHS days (like Charlie Chaplin shorts; The Road to Bali and The Beverly Hillbillies that are in Public Domain). So if you find it for under a buck, consider it “fair market value”; if, however, you run into somebody asking you to pay anything more than that, tell them to lay off the helium.

 

 

7 Lucky Ninja Kids– 1 out of 5*

 

 

 

More BCI-Eclipse- this time Wholesale…

 

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  This will be the first time that I’ve covered Wholesale sources for DVDs, but I ran into this Company online: 

 

 

   http://www.cdplusdolphinvideo.com/

 

 

   The rules are simple- $50.00 minimum order and shipping starts at around 10 bucks. And what do you get for that? Well- some pretty cool stuff:

 

 

   * Saturday Morning 70’s & 80’s stuff– they have some great titles that BCI released a few years ago. Including ARK II; Jason of Star Command; Bravestarr, HE-MAN and SHE-RA sets. All come with some wonderful Bonus Features, including interviews with the talent and Making-of Documentaries. These retailed at around $20.00 each and are being sold for under 5 bucks each…

 

 

   * Karate and Kung-Fu flicks– sometimes you have to have a crappy dubbed action movie, you know? Well, they have lots of sets, including a lot of Sonny Chiba and Bruce Lee collections as well as some rarer, non-PD stuff…

 

 

   *Westerns– for some reason, lots of Westerns; old and new, TV and movies, have fallen into Public Domain. Some of the better collections for sale here are things like The Vigilantes (Volumes 1 & 2)- each has 4 movies on 2 discs and go for $1.25 each; Great Western TV Shows– which has 26 episodes of some good shows including Kit Carson; Bat Masterson, Bonanza and The Rifleman– going for $2.25 each; and Bad Boys of the West– 4 disc movie set for $1.50 each…

 

 

   *Horror– some great bargains, including: Toxie Blood Bank Ten Disc set– boxed in a weird tin and includes some second-tier Troma pick-ups like Evil Clutch, Scream Baby Scream and Play Dead– going for four bucks; Aztec Mummy Boxed Set– 3 absolutely ROTTEN Mexican Mummy movies in a nice set for $1.75’ Back From The Grave– 12-movie set with borderline PDs like Legacy of Blood; Slave of the Cannibal God and Murder Mansion for the micro price of $1.75 each; and Kiss of Death– another 12 movie collection with some old (Kill Baby Kill; House on Haunted Hill) and newer flicks (Little Corey Gorey; Slashdance)- this one is going for $1.50 a set…

 

 

   They show how many copies they have left, and from what I’ve read elsewhere these can come and go pretty quick, so if you find something you’d better jump on it. I found it very easy to hit the $50 minimum, but in case you don’t, you may want to go in with someone else to split the cost. I suggest that you poke around and see what you find- happy hunting!

 

 

 

 

 

R.I.P. Ray Dennis Steckler- King of the Cheapies

 

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   Ray Dennis Steckler was probably the cheapest filmmaker out there (with apologies to Ted Mikels and the late Andy Milligan), and having passed away January 7th I figured that a few words would be in order…

 

 

   Just in my teens, I saw my first Steckler movie (and his highest-budgeted at $38,000)- The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-up Zombies at one of the last Saturday Matinees that was still around in the late ‘70’s in Orlando. I had already loved crappy movies as a little kid; my Mom and I shared very little in the way of interests but we would park ourselves on the couch to watch Tampa’s Channel 44’s “Creature Feature” With Dr. Paul Bearer and his absolutely gonzo double features. But “Incredibly” was something else- my first real “cult” movie; before I would trek religiously to Midnight Movies at least weekly to catch Rocky Horror; Heavy Metal or Dawn of the Dead. From then on I would look for any of his cheesy-yet-fun movies any time they would (very rarely) play on late-night UHF TV, and even called him (after lots of microfiche and out-of-town-phonebook research at the local library) just to let him know that I was a fan (he was curt but semi-appreciative before brushing me off with a quick “Good Luck, Kid”)….

 

 

   Eventually I was able to catch most of his films on VHS and later on DVD and became hooked by most of his 60’s output- The Thrill Killers; Rat Fink a Boo Boo (which was SUPPOSE to be titled Rat Fink AND Boo Boo but when the titles were made for the movie someone in the lab goofed and he didn’t want to spend the extra movie to correct them!) and especially Wild Guitar, which is an amazing rags-to-riches rock and roll story…

 

 

   Wild Guitar stars the fleshy-faced Arch Hall Jr. as the hayseed “Bud Eagle” a starry-eyed rock-and-roller with nothing but 15 cents in his pocket (he can’t even afford tax on his meal at a diner), a crummy guitar, a giant blonde pompadour and a dream to make it big in Hollywood. Ten minutes after arriving he meets the pretty blonde Vickie (Nancy Czar), who, as luck would have it, is just on the way to her big break- dancing on a TV Variety Show. After her jiggling and writhing, the singer who’s suppose to follow her gets so nervous that he bails, so a stage hand at the urging of Vickie (who, by the way has never seen her new friend sing), lets ol’ Bud go out there to sing- and after tripping onto the stage, regains his composure and belts out a song that, at the end of it, has the girls in the audience go nuts. This gets the attention of a sleazy Producer Mike McCauley (played by his real-life Dad Arch Hall Sr.), who insists that he A) “Call me Mike”; and B) will handle everything. Well, he does and HOW- soon Bud is a huge star on national tours and records but only has a rented apartment, six new suits and a shiny guitar to show for his efforts as fatherly Mike is cookin’ the books and pocketing a chunk ‘o change. After more drama Mike suddenly gets smart and, with a scheme that could only be dreamed up in a movie where someone becomes a national superstar after only being in town for eight hours or so, ends up with the money and the girl (and a recalcitrant Mike seeing the error of his ways). That this was made in glorious Black and White at a cost under $30,000 in 1962 is truly astounding, and a personal favorite of mine as a junk-food movie…

 

 

   Ray’s output slowed down in the 70’s on, and the dozen or so movies he did make weren’t quite as fun (he even delved into hardcore porn for awhile) but were even cheaper (it’s said that he never spend anything more than he did for “Incredibly Strange Creatures”!). He ended up getting a divorce from his wife (and featured performer) Carolyn Brandt, opened a video store and make the occasional movie until he died of heart failure in early January…

 

 

   As for his output on DVD- you can find a great sample of his best work on 2 boxed sets readily available at places like Amazon or Best Buy for under $20 each: “Midnight Movie Collection”- which collects Strange Creatures…; Rat Fink A Boo-Boo (probably my second-favorite of all his movies); The Thrill Killers and The Lemon Grove Kids (Ray’s take-off of The Bowery Boys with him as the lead “Kid” and looking very much like Huntz Hall); and “Midnight Movie Collection 2”, which has his more recent works like Blood Shack; Body Fever; and his almost-silent soft-core horror dual features The Hollywood Strangler Meets the Skid Row Slasher and The Las Vegas Serial Killer. Each movie is on their own disc and cased individually, all with commentaries by the engaging Steckler as well as interviews and promotional materials…

 

 

   Don’t wanna spend 20 bucks? Break open the piggy bank and spring out 4 quarters and head to your nearest Walmart; Dollar Tree or check cashing store; ‘cause you’ll probably find Digiview Productions DVD of Wild Guitar there (along with a 2nd great feature The Beatniks; another singer-plucked-from-obscurity feature (this time from a dirty beatnik gang) starring a pre-“Big Valley” Peter Breck acting particularly crazed). Granted, the picture isn’t the silvery- B&W you would find on a carefully restored Criterion disc, but some movies, like Ray’s, can be enjoyed through the splices and scratches just fine- thank you very much. RIP Mr. Steckler- I just wished that I had the chance to shake your hand or have something signed; that would have been a true honor …

 

   PS- One more way to get his movies would be through his web site (http://www.raydennissteckler.com/) but I’m not sure if the Store is operational now that he’s passed- at least you would know if it IS that some of the money would be going to his family…

 

 

   Wild Guitar– (4* out of 5)

 

 

 

BCI-Eclipse shuts down (R.I.P)…

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   I was hoping to squeeze in one more (semi-) review before the New Year (oddly-enough for one of their releases) when it was announced that BCI-Eclipse was being shuttered by their holding company Navarre. This is a pretty big announcement to those that collect not just budget titles (I know that Drive-in Cult Classics Volume 4 was due in January), but they also put out some great Saturday Morning TV shows like Isis; Ark II  and Space Academy  (all three are great sets for those who are as nostalgic about 70’s TV as I am) as well as some import product. Navarre says that they will still be operational and will be releasing some of the announced titles, but doesn’t go into specifics, but (as some rumor followers are saying) they’ve already cancelled some Game Show Compilation discs for “What’s My Line?” and “Tattletales”. Bummer- they might not have cleaned up their prints to immaculate shape, but they did have a sense on what some of their more fun titles should be like (like their Exploitation Cinema line- one of their newer releases was the Mausoleum/Blood Song double feature that even had a Commentary)- I hope that sense of goofiness is carried over should Navarre release any similar discs. It seems like the down-turned economy is even hitting the economy-minded vendors (*sigh*). The link to the Official Press Release is below:

 

 

   http://ir.navarre.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=105157&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1237333&highlight=