Bite Size: Alabama’s Ghost (1973)

Of all of the fly by night indie filmmakers who snatched up a handful of genre credits in the wild and wooly 70s, Fredric Hobbs might have one of the most unusually highbrow pedigrees. An Ivy League educated former Air Force officer, he had a long career as both a sculptor and a painter, with his work still in the holdings of several large museums. In addition to traditional fine art, he experimented with self created forms such as his proto Burning Man “parade sculptures”, which reinvented cars as rolling installations covered in elaborate detail. In 1969 he began his experimentation with film, the (comparatively) best known of which is likely his 1973 cinematic swan song, Godmonster Of Indian Flats. Alabama’s Ghost was the second to last of Hobbs’ quartet of feature efforts, and had a limited theatrical release earlier that same year, before vanishing with little fanfare. The film briefly resurfaced on VHS in 1985, as part of Elvira’s Chiller Theater series, before disappearing a second time.


Within the first 3 minutes of viewing Alabama’s Ghost, it is very easy to see why this film quickly joined the ranks of the cinematic mole people. The opening narration is a god tier dump of exposition that reeks of being added in post production to even begin to make sense of the insanely complex plot.

A Nazi doctor of robotics named Dr. Houston Caligula was tasked with hunting down a stage magician named “The Great Carter”, who had gone on a deep sabbatical in the slums of Calcutta. He had discovered a magical substance called Raw Zeta. While bearing a surface resemblance to the “Cartoon Khaki” strain of hashish, Raw Zeta could be combined with acupuncture to create Deadly Zeta. Deadly Zeta is so called because it is a powerful tool of mass mind control. Before Dr. Caligula could locate Carter and his mysterious substance, the magician vanished. He was given a spirit funeral in the mid 1930s, as he was assumed to be dead.

Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, there’s still plenty of time to be perplexed, as we cut to the modern day and the main plot, where an old fashioned Dixie band is playing a bleating song (ever so cleverly titled “Alabama’s Ghost”) that provides even MORE plot details.

“Who’s the ghostest with the mostest? Who’s the best from coast to coastest?”

“Carter’s come back to Frisco land, He’s the ghost from Alabam.”

Now that we’ve added a haunting to the 453657567 other plot elements, we finally meet the titular Alabama (Christopher Brooks, The Mack), an aspiring musician working at the club to make ends meet. When he accidentally crashes a forklift into the cellar, he discovers all of Carter’s magical gear, including the Raw Zeta, which Alabama assumes is vintage hashish and smokes. Locating Carter’s aged sister (Ken Grantham) and grand niece Zoerae (Peggy Browne) from an address on one of the treasures, he convinces them to let him learn Carter’s tricks. With the additional help of Carter’s former assistant Moxie (Ken Grantham, again) and a cellar’s worth of magic gear, he begins to transform himself into “Alabama, Ruler Of The Cosmos”.

Despite his nightclub act consisting of shuffling animals about in a cabinet and making a young Spanish boy cry over his dead grandpa, Alabama is successful enough to warrant a personal manager named Otto (Steven Kent Browne), a dizzying array of tricorn hats and lamé turbans, and a car that looks like what Fred Flintstone would drive in a monster truck rally (one of the director’s art pieces).

Otto suggests a psychedelic concert tour of open air rock festivals with a pile of hippie groupies that mostly serve as an excuse to pad the runtime with generic groovy music and the sort of wild bohemian dancing featured in pretty much every exploitation film that even mentions the word “hippie”. Lots of arm waving, hips on the 1 and 3.

As his success grows, Alabama is haunted by Carter’s ghost, warning him not to use the magic with greed in his heart, or else he risks being attacked by vampires, who he has unwittingly already met. Carter’s sister/Moxie is actually Gaunt (Ken Grantham, once more with feeling) the vampire king, whom the audience sees remove “her” wig and bare fangs early in the film. Gaunt then positions himself as a TV producer, offering a big payday if Alabama will do his disappearing elephant trick at a massive music festival, which will be broadcast worldwide. Alabama also has to reveal how the trick is done, another big magical no no, which causes Carter’s ghost to haunt him even harder.

This is more than enough plot for any movie to have, and I commend all of you for reading this far. Needless to say, the TV special is a ploy to unleash Deadly Zeta mind control, and the film has another pile of narrative elements to add to the Jenga stack. The Nazi doctor finally makes an appearance, there’s an entire witchdoctor sub plot, an Alabama doppelganger that is either a robot or a “twin Frankenstein”, and an actual live elephant. The animal is credited by name in the print I watched (Neena), and is as adorable as a creature that large can be. She does not, in fact, disappear.

This sounds like there’s a ton going on, but Alabama’s Ghost is oddly static, with a lot of idly talky sequences and boatloads of music based padding. Fredric Hobbs also wrote the screenplay, and just keeps tossing story elements at the wall in the hopes something sticks, and each new wrinkle is given a ton of exposition that is descriptive, but not in the least bit informative. The story grinds to a halt for every little thing, without ever really painting a clear picture of how any of this mystical flippity flopping actually works.

There is an epic final free for all of magic wand pew pew lasers, greasepaint vampires on motorbikes, and one very bored looking elephant, but the rest of the film takes its sweet ass time to get there. It’s all too silly to be scary, but the scarce bits that are actually funny get buried in the constant barrage of story devices. I genuinely giggled at Alabama ignoring Carter’s dire warnings, not because he’s skeptical of ghosts, but because Carter is a racist ghost who is jealous at a Black man taking over as the world’s greatest magician, so fuck him and his salt fueled warnings. Alabama even advises other characters to ignore the ghost for this reason. There’s also a silly little visual joke of the Nazi vampires making a hippie victim assembly line for more efficient feeding of their gaggle of bloodsuckers.

The few modern outlets that have covered this film at all tend to characterize this as some surrealist Blaxploitation flick, but that’s more reflective of the marketing than the actual film. Christopher Brooks’ Alabama is a jazzy stoner sort, rather than any of that subgenre’s hard edged archetypes. His dialog is written in a dated hep cat affect that makes me wonder if this film sat on a shelf for a year or two, or if Fredric Hobbs just had a tin ear for the slang that was actually hip at the time. At the very least, Brooks puts a lot of energy into his performance, trying to put this jumbled slice of psychedelica over the hump.

Alabama’s Ghost is a unique viewing experience, and cinema rarely gets more textbook definition psychotronic than this. That said, this lacks the aesthetic consistency or daffy energy to really be as much of a bizarre boffo good time as it sounds like on paper. Alabama’s Ghost is certainly a trip, but even the film itself isn’t too sure where in the hell it was supposed to be going.

Bite Size: All The Sins Of Sodom (1968)

Joe Sarno was a pioneer of sexploitation cinema, and his best works are engaging tightrope acts between the arthouse and the grindhouse, combining the forbidden content the sticky seat masses desired with a distinct minimalist aesthetic that those supposedly too highbrow for such lurid fare could use as the tailor made excuse to buy themselves a ticket.

After shooting proto softcore hit Inga in Sweden, Sarno returned to his native New York to lens his next few films. All The Sins Of Sodom was shot back to back with Vibrations, with both movies released in 1968. While the US was in the midst of the roughie boomlet, All The Sins Of Sodom‘s influences lean more toward European cinema of the same approximate period, with a protagonist and setting reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up, and a bit of Ingmar Bergman’s (of whom Sarno was an admitted admirer) constant questioning of the complex mechanics of identity and desire. Livening up the cross continental reference mix is some biting dialog and a pulpy fixation on the creative professions as only a half step from vice dens, full of damaged, wanton seekers.

Henning (credited by IMDB as Dan Machuen, but uncredited on the print I saw, so proceed with caution) is a relatively successful (enough to go by surname only) photographer of cheesecake prints and art nudes, happy to live in his studio and draw from his models as single serving bed partners when the mood strikes. A fantastic session (in both senses) with the charmingly gamine Leslie (Maria Lease, see above) breaks the usual pattern, and the two begin what might be an actual love affair. However, his new muse is slowing his pace on paid assignments, and Leslie can’t quite emote what’s needed for Henning’s next project.

Protecting her 10%, Henning’s agent (Peggy Steffans, who was married to Sarno at the time, and fills in several roles behind the scenes) sends him a sultry brunette waif named Joyce (Marianne Provost, supposedly) who might better suit the brief. Henning is a preacher’s son, and full of the standard issue Madonna/whore complexes and sexual repression such an upbringing usually implies. He wants a model who can be the ultimate temptress, a Jezebel in high heels who embodies lust in its darkest forms. Joyce, with her jaded affect and free wheeling ways, has a dark carnality that Leslie lacks, and soon she’s making her home in Henning’s spare storage room and acting as his personal muse.

Deep in the throes of artistic obsession, Henning is the only one who doesn’t notice that Joyce’s libido fueled cunning goes farther than the photo series she’s posing for. Soon she’s woven herself into his personal life, driving a wedge between Henning and Leslie in the guise of assisting him in capturing his vision. Not content with her machinations, she also carries on a clandestine affair with one of Henning’s best models, a closeted (and obviously conflicted) lesbian.

It’s clear Joyce’s end goal is eventually to seduce Henning himself, and the closing in of a doomed love triangle is reflected in the sparse, claustrophobic nature of the production. There’s just a hint of ambient noise from the street below, the only music cue a rattling, rising heart of a drumbeat when things get steamy. Henning’s single mindedness in regards to his art, is capably echoed by set dressing that shows a living space that would better suit a monk than a swinging photographer.

Nearly the entire film takes placed in the cramped environs of Henning’s apartment/studio. Yet the tiny spaces feel distinct, with the studio lit hot and bright white, an empty canvas for Henning to fill with the models who act out the tableaux he conjures up. The photo shoots are expertly framed, and its one of the few instances in cinema (exploitation or mainstream) where you can see how the session as depicted would produce beautiful stills.

Meanwhile, Joyce’s storage room domain is an inky black underworld, like some shadow dwelling succubus for whom dragging someone into bed is only the first step in dragging them down, period. While there is a slight tentativeness in the sex scenes, it’s likely no coincidence that the stark lighting is focused on the faces, contorted in ecstasy that could also be agony, the literal translation of le petit mort made visual reality.

Despite the title, this isn’t as sinful or as overtly sexual as one might expect, with the sex scenes well integrated into the larger plot. There’s plenty of time to let each character expose their traumas and insecurities before all of these hurt people, hurt people. Sex is just another tool in the arsenal. While the ending of the film is predictable, the journey to that forgone conclusion is consistently engaging.

While there are definite moments of overacting from the less than experienced cast, all of them are far more capable than expected with oft barbed dialog. It’s Maria Lease’s Leslie who steals the show, full of spry sunshine followed by lovelorn fragility as she loses hold on Henning. In the film’s strongest scene, Henning directs Joyce to sexually stimulate Leslie as they shoot, and Leslie’s combination of arousal at the physical touch at odds with her revulsion for the conniving interloper is about as strong a performance as you are ever likely to see in this era of sexploitation film.

All The Sins Of Sodom, while not one of Sarno’s best known features, is probably one of the best arguments for his work being placed alongside with Radley Metzger’s in terms of erotica with ambition and style to spare, overdue for more mainstream reassessment and acclaim. Beautifully photographed in black and white, its a meditation on shades of gray, between love and hate, dedication and obsession, pleasure and pain. One definition of erotic is “to arouse desire”, and All The Sins Of Sodom is a tense, effective character study of the frustration it is to be driven by unquenchable need, sexual or otherwise.

Bite Size: Legacy Of Satan (1974)

It’s possible that every porno director has some frustrated ambition towards the cinematic mainstream. It’s also possible that producer Louis Peraino (a scion of the Mafia’s Colombo crime family) needed to launder some mob money with a movie production, and a porn director was standing in the right place at the time. In any case, Legacy Of Satan was infamous porn director Gerard Damiano’s only attempt at a more conventional film.

While shot in 1972, the movie didn’t see release until 1974, a clear attempt to capitalize on the massive success of Damiano’s seminal hardcore hits Deep Throat and The Devil In Miss Jones. Briefly playing double bills with both The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Andy Milligan’s Blood (the latter the much more logical pairing), the film quickly vanished into obscurity. Multiple online outlets report that the picture was originally conceived as a porno, and the choppy editing is the excision scars from the removed sex scenes. However, there is no definitive/firsthand source I can find that confirms this, and if a hardcore version ever existed, it’s long lost.

The plot is certainly as thin as most narrative hardcore features. Mysterious astrological phenomena have finally aligned correctly for Dr. Muldavo (John Francis) and his cult of demon worshippers to anoint a new queen, an event that only happens every 1000 years. Arthur (James Procter) is a set adrift former architect who found his way to the cult in his spiritual wanderings. Wanting to impress Muldavo, he suggests the lovely Maya (Lisa Christian). Shy, sweet and sexually frustrated, she is the perfect choice. The only complication is that Maya is already married, to Arthur’s best friend George (Paul Barry). She’s also not a Satanist, but the cult seems unconcerned with the conversion, happy to have found a woman who suits their bizarre prophecy.

This sort of fare litters the 70s like trash on a movie theater floor, and Legacy Of Satan certainly doesn’t break much new ground, aside from the entity the cult worships being inexplicably named Rakeesh. Black masses abound, petty jealousies flare amongst the cultists, and occult sexual satisfaction is the key to luring Lisa into Muldavo’s dark clutches.

The film barely merits its listed R rating, and both the blood letting and the skin shown are both pretty minimal, grading on the curve of its similar subject matter contemporaries. Line readings are across the board flat, and the editing is indeed choppier than a stormy sea. There’s too little plot for even a 68 minute runtime, and none of these actors are the sorts you want delivering a ton of expository dialog. Most of them never made another film, but Last House On The Left’s Sandra Peabody and doomed television ingenue Christa Helm have small parts as cuties in thrall to the cult’s dark magic.


Yet, for all its flaws, Legacy Of Satan has a fantastic trash visual flair that the French would likely term jolie laide, and that I personally would characterize as “Anton LeVey goes to a key party”. The synth score drones loud enough to drown out the dialog in most scenes, as the characters drift through settings filled with weird metallic wallpaper, sickly decor schemes involving way too much lilac and puce, and all occasion elaborate swirls of eyeliner. Paintings bleed, glowing swords pop up out of nowhere, and even the cultists are all big hair and miles of polyester satin cut into flowing caftans and slinky dresses. It’s all so utterly gauche and grimy that it becomes kind of gorgeous.

Lisa Christian is very lovely, and looks great in a procession of time capsule worthy, eye poppingly 70s fashions. Maya’s gradual possession is quite fun, and the film’s best scene sees her snap from mousy housewife to a witchy, bitchy Domme with a fondness for blood play and cherry pie. The cult rituals are delightfully camp, particularly when they pull out their super secret orgasm magic and cause Maya some very vivid dreams via chants, an orgiastically writhing cultist and a photo set aflame. The combination of drugged wine and a masked ball in a creepy mansion even lends the film a few fine moments of Jess Franco style sexual psychedelica.

Legacy Of Satan parcels out its more psychotronic moments sparingly, and it likely would have benefitted from some hardcore inserts or a more visceral slant to its horror elements to really attract a wider audience. As it stands, your view of this particular cult curio as a freaky fever dream or as a no narrative nightmare will directly depend on your taste for its garish version of grindhouse aesthetics.

Bite Size: Moonshiner’s Woman (1968)


No matter what illicit substance you’re selling, it’s never wise to start tapping into your own supply. Claude (Bill Crisp) drinks as much moonshine as he sells, and only puts the jug down long enough to scream at his pretty girlfriend Loralee (Linda Lee) for daring to disturb his libations by taking a walk.

Claude’s alcoholism and his judgement are both at rock bottom. When his big city business partner Mr. Jarvis (director Donn Davidson) notices that Claude’s been skimming off the top, he’s is quickly disposed of. Claude hasn’t even finished his excuse before he’s lying dead in the mountain dust. Mr. Jarvis considers Loralee partial payment for what he’s owed, and takes her away to the big city.

Exploitation was full of slick talking salesman, and director Donn Davidson was one of the hardest hustling fixtures of the deep south. A former stage magician and Yo Yo champion, he had long perfected his pitch in the carny like atmosphere of roadshows and spookshows. His first brush with film directing was in service of same, when he created a cheap set of creature feature like inserts for an unauthorized print of David Friedman’s She Freak, and took it out on the road as Asylum Of The Insane.

Moonshiner’s Woman was his first swing at a (just barely) full length feature, and is a film that was most certainly created in reverse. What plot there is was clearly bolted together after he had taken inventory of the footage he had the resources to shoot. Only a few scenes even attempt to poorly sync sound, and pretty much all of the narrative is delivered via voiceover. At least one music cue is clearly someone idly tapping their fingers on a table, and a meeting of the gangsters is backgrounded by library music that sounds like it was stolen from a spaghetti commercial. Because they’re Italian.


If you give up on the hopes of something that makes any linear storyline sense, Moonshiner’s Woman manages to hit a some tried and true exploitation beats, in its own meandering way. In addition to having a blast hamming it up as Mr. Jarvis, Donn Davidson provides narration that is full of overheated audience warnings, fatherly asides to his own creations, and clucking chastisements to himself for almost providing spoilers. The overall effect is charmingly odd, like a rambling story from a favorite uncle who may have had a few too many drinks.

As for protagonist Loralee, she seems to take the bizarre series of events that tore her away from her mountain home in surprising stride. Mr. Jarvis is initially quite charming, and his suggestion she try on “showgirl” costumes allows the film to show a touch of skin. Loralee seems to understand Jarvis’ offer of a showbiz job as a front for something far less upright, but she doesn’t refuse his demands. Instead, Loralee is dazzled by the big city ways of cosmopolitan Daytona Beach, with a stolen shot travelogue of the races providing the background for her doomed love affair with Mitch (Roy Huston), one of Jarvis’ lackeys tasked with keeping an eye on her.

Soon, all traces of the mousy country gal are gone. Loralee much prefers pretty dresses and plane flights to burlap sacks and bare feet. With dangling earrings and heavy eyeliner, she’s gleefully smoking weed and dropping LSD, with her drug trip a swirl of the camera across landscapes and a patterned floor that seems ripped right out of the Andy Milligan playbook. Things escalate from a “simple country girl is corrupted by the big city” riff to catfights, death by magician’s cabinet and revenge. As this happens rather late in the film, its easier to be in sync with the movie’s jerky rhythm in regards to story.

Moonshiner’s Woman is certainly a dismal failure as a narrative feature. The highly dramatic voiceover account of the plot is never quite at the same tone or pace as the rather inert visual events on screen. Nor do most of those events connect in any satisfying way. Almost in spite of itself, what Moonshiner’s Woman does have is a leisurely, folksy charm. Donn Davidson is clearly aware of how little he’s working with, but everyone involved seems to be having a lot of fun. There’s something to be said for his earnestness in attempting to put on the best show he can with the minimal resources available, a refreshingly less cynical take on the old adage about sizzles and steak.

Bite Size: Mad Youth (1939)

By 1939, the Hays Code had cracked down on Hollywood. High profile scandals had been making front page news since the 20s (from the death of Virgina Rappe to the murder of director William Desmond Taylor) , and the dawning of a new decade did little to diminish the moviegoing public’s appetites for racy material, from Mae West’s bawdy wisecracks to overheated Cecil DeMille historical epics full of some rather scantily clad starlets. When religious groups and the moral majority grew increasingly loud regarding the perceived “immorality” of mainstream films, Hollywood instituted a campaign of self censoring production guidelines that would hold for the next three decades.

As always, this left exploitation cinema to pick up the slack in the celluloid sins department. 1939’s Mad Youth is chock full of the snappy innuendo, daring peeks of skin and (comparative) sexual frankness of its bigger budget pre Code cousins, with just enough of a “moral” for plausible deniability of prurient interests. Like many other exploitation films before and since, it was cut to suit local markets by both state censor boards and local projectionists more familiar with the amount of scandal their localities could bear.

Lucy Morgan (Oscar nominated silent/early sound star Betty Compson) is a high living divorcee who spends more time with her social calendar than she does with her daughter, Marian (Mary Ainslee). Mrs. Morgan hires handsome young escorts from a local agency to accompany her to this parade of bridge games and club nights. To add brass to bad parenting, she even asks her daughter to loan her the cash to pay for her companions once her alimony check is all spent.

Marian, being a clever girl, uses the loan as a bargaining chip for permission to throw parties while her mother is otherwise engaged. While Mrs. Morgan is playing bridge and negotiating the price of “necking” with the handsome “Count” DeHoven (Willy Castello, a mainstay in many similar vice pictures), Miriam is tossing a rager full of booze, some pretty impressive jitterbugging, majorette routines(!?) and strip poker.

When Mrs. Morgan attempts to bargain for a freebie by inviting the Count to the house for a nightcap, he meets the lovely Marian, pretending to have fallen asleep waiting up for her mother. Their introductions are quite adversarial, given DeHoven realizes Miriam is just covering up her partying, and Miriam knows that he’s just another paid staffer for Mrs. Morgan. Despite the sparring, and Miriam’s idle dismissal of the gigolo, the chemistry between the two is obvious. Before long, DeHoven is secretly calling on Miriam free of charge, and avoiding Mrs. Morgan’s requests for paid assignments.

It’s almost comical how obsessed with sex nearly every character in Mad Youth is, apart from from the gigolo angle. It’s all very coded, but its a code you could crack with a ring from a cereal box. When Marian’s friends are parked down the block awaiting her to signal the start of the party, two are making out in the back seat. A cop comes to roust them out from making “googly eyes” ……only because it disturbs HIS necking with a young woman on a nearby park bench. This odd plot swerve is explained only with the following, retroactively hilarious, line:

“When a man wants to goo, he wants to goo, and I don’t want any lovebirds perched that close when I’m goo-ing!”

Cutting to Mrs. Morgan’s bridge game/bargaining session, even the gossip around the table is who’s zooming who, and exactly what sort of rides you might receive on a date with a car salesman. Mad Youth‘s adults are just as perpetually sexually frustrated as the teens. The principle difference is that the teens’ drinking, panty flashing dance routines and naked card games seem way more fun than bridge. As does the cafe where DeHoven joins Marian for an actual date, where the runtime padding includes more dancing and an ersatz bullfight.

This being 1939, all of this free floating horniness can’t possibly end well. Mrs. Morgan snoops through Marian’s diary, and discovers where the Count’s actual affections lie. This leads to a rather well acted standoff between the two women. Mrs. Morgan is both the worst kind of parent and the worst kind of trick. She truly believed Count DeHoven was going to marry her if she paid for enough of his time.

Mrs. Morgan then admits that she openly resents Marian, and never wanted her, blaming her daughter for her own lost youth and loveless former marriage. Marian, correctly pegging her mother as delusional, opts to move out. Rather than surprise her father and his new wife, she heads to Pittsburgh to join her best friend Helen.

Helen had written Marian about her unexpected wedding, to an unseen dreamboat from a correspondence club. However, when Marian arrives at the provided address, its a white slavery ring/brothel. The madam now has two beautiful young girls in her slimy clutches, and an unnecessarily racist caricature to help her keep them there.

White slavery panic was one of the most common scare tactics in early exploitation, but Mad Youth deserves credit for using some some fresh calculations to get to very common final answer. It also makes a sex worker the late in the game moral center of the film, and lets him be the hero of the day as he saves the girls. Sure, Count DeHoven renounces his former occupation, but just when you think the moralists have won the day, Mad Youth pulls one last cheeky reversal of the “immorality must be punished” ethos right as the credits fade.

While both statically shot and heavily padded as was typical of its budget and era, Mad Youth brings some fresh twists to a pile of early exploitation tropes, complete with a late career grand dame to class up the proceedings. For those unfamiliar with pre 1960/”classical” exploitation, this film would be a solid place to start. Director Melville Shyer was a veteran of the very early days of Hollywood (eventually helping found the Screen Directors’ Guild), and worked alongside some very established names. Accordingly, Mad Youth is livelier than many of its contemporaries, with a nice mix of mainstream style melodrama and exploitation’s censor evading obsession with sleaze smuggled into scare tactics.

Bite Size: The Baron (1977)

All Jason (Calvin Lockhart, Cotton Comes To Harlem) wants to do is make a movie. In a lifetime of bullshit artistry and constant hustle, he’s finally hit on something that works. Everyone who has seen the completed portion of his film very much enjoys it, a family friendly adventure about a well to do race car driver named Baron Wolfgang Von Tripps. Unfortunately, he is running out of money to finish the film.

Desperate to see his creation on screen, he borrows a large sum from a local drug dealer known only as The Cokeman (Charles McGregor). What Jason doesn’t realize is that The Cokeman borrowed that money from the mob. Heading to the coast to negotiate for a negative pick up deal, Jason finds out backers are only interested in the film if he replaces himself and his all Black cast and crew with white actors. Heading back to New York defeated, Jason is left with an unfinished film and one very pissed off mobster (Richard Lynch, God Told Me To) looking to recoup his $300,000 by any means necessary.

The Baron was written and directed by Phillip Fenty (writer of 1972 smash hit Superfly), and was released toward the end of the Blaxploitation boom, with a leading man easily recognizable to fans of the genre. Yet for all of its crime procedural elements, moviegoers looking for a high stakes actioner full of gun fights, karate chops and dramatic comeuppance were likely to be sorely disappointed. The Baron plays the bulk of its runtime in more drama fueled territory, with an interesting meta element regarding the perils of making an indie film likely drawn from the director’s own experience.

For all of the shaggy, scattershot plot beats and distinctly flat visuals, The Baron is never less than watchable, due to a herd of better than average performances, and a mellow score by jazz/spoken word legend Gil Scott-Heron. Calvin Lockheart’s Jason is by alternating turns a believable charming trickster and tunnel visioned dreamer. Even when the silliness of the plot demands he do something incredibly selfish, incredibly stupid or both, he never manages to become entirely unsympathetic. Here is a man so incredibly desperate to succeed at something, he’ll do just about anything to be a hero, even if it is only on celluloid.

Jason doesn’t have the constitution for violent robbery or dealing drugs, even when The Cokeman strongly suggests he do so by virtue of some well trained attack dogs. Instead, Jason leaves his loving wife Caroline (Marlene Clark, Night Of The Cobra Woman, as usual turning in some fine moments in an underwritten role), and becomes a gigolo for the wealthy white jet set who are ever so eager to exoticize him. With his breezy charm and elegant lines in a sharp cut suit, he’s soon being kept by the very old and very rich Mama Lou (1930s Hollywood queen Joan Blondell, doing a rather fun oversexed dowager). She may refer to him as her “hot dog”, but she also pays all of the bills.

However, The Cokeman is dead, and it isn’t long before Richard Lynch’s Joey shows up at her mansion to collect from Jason instead. Richard Lynch was always excellent at playing human excrement, and his sleaze coated homophobic and racist hit man steals every scene in which he appears without getting a single spot on his immaculate white suits.

Unfortunately, the movie fails to utilize some of its strongest themes or performances as effectively as they could have been, particularly the systemic racism of Hollywood and the upper class environs Jason inhabits in his brief stint as a gigolo. Some of the film’s best bits are when Jason is subtly sticking it to the upper class snobs in posh clubs and department stores, using his hustler skills and some well placed malicious compliance to make their prejudices pay out in cold hard cash.

The ending is also more than a touch rushed, and lands with a bit of a whimper. Given the obvious lack of resources and a coherent central focus, the fact that the ending feels unsatisfying is a testament to the quiet appeal and good will the performances managed to generate in the first place. While The Baron never quite reaches top speed, there’s a certain charming pluck in the fact that it ever managed to get onto the track.

Bite Size: Night Train Murders (1975)

Night Train Murders, on its surface, is easy to dismiss as another of the revenge fueled Last House On The Left imitators that flooded the market in the mid 70s. Originally titled Last Stop On The Night Train, its entire US release history was littered with retitlings that further emphasized that idea. New House on the Left, Second House on the Left, and other confusingly similar variants that likely insured at least a few unlucky moviegoers accidentally paid to see the same film twice.

The basic plot structure is undeniably similar. Margaret (Irene Miracle) and Lisa (Laura D’Angelo) are high school best friends, traveling from Germany to Italy to spent the Christmas break with Lisa’s parents.

The train is packed, and amongst the crowds the girls have an awkward run in with two ticketless young punks, Blackie (Flavio Bucci) and Curly (Gianfranco De Grassi). It quickly becomes apparent that something is very off about these two young men, who seem overly solicitous in an aggressive manner. It’s predatory disguised as playful, immediately recognizable to any woman who has traveled alone.

A bomb threat forces the girls to change their itinerary just as night falls, to a much more sparsely populated train. Initially glad they have a compartment to themselves, the girls’ joy at the additional room is short lived. The same two thugs have also switched trains, and now have a mysterious woman in tow (Macha Méril). The trio invades Margaret and Lisa’s cramped quarters.

While the unnamed woman is outwardly rather elegant and civil, her icy upper class hauteur is just a facade. She becomes the ringleader for an ever escalating series of humiliations and sadistic tortures towards the two young women. Rather than act as a buffer to insure the girls’ safety, the woman directs her thuggish companions to do her dirty work. The trip becomes a twisted game of torture, sexual assault, and eventual murder.

There is, of course, the required highly unlikely coincidence in the third act, that leads to the bloody parental vengeance you would expect. Where Night Train Murders distinguishes itself is in style, tone, and an important late in the game deviation from the established format.

Director Aldo Lado had already made several highly stylized gialli, and throughout his long career often brought a refreshing degree of technical skill to even pedestrian productions. His camera makes excellent use of the beautiful settings rolling outside the windows, before swinging in to catch the details of the passengers, the seemingly unrelated strangers that are fated to cross paths. Once the night falls and the girls are unknowingly on their doomed last ride, he soars overhead and around tight corners, emphasizing the claustrophobia of the increasingly tense situation.

Gábor Pogány’s cinematography bathes the tiny compartment in sickly yellows and dark as night indigo blue, the ugliness laid bare in its contrast to how elegantly it has been shot. A haunting Ennio Morricone music cue slinks across the soundscape, the endless rumble of the train threatening to drown out the girls frantic begging for something resembling mercy.


That was never something Macha Méril’s unnamed lady was ever willing to give. For such a morally repugnant character, its a measured, subtle performance. With a careful tilt of an eyebrow, or a casual lilt in intonation, its abundantly clear the sexual, visceral thrill she gets from both the torture of the two innocent women, and the ease of manipulating the two men. By turning Blackie’s attempted rape into a seduction, and encouraging Curly to indulge his habit, she easily turns two petty criminals into the enforcers of her sadistic fantasies. In encouraging the men to indulge in their basest impulses, she also cleverly adds another layer of plausible deniability to her own.

Last House traded in a more graphic depiction of violence, and a gritty, almost documentary style to make a seething statement on the breakdown caused by the failure of 60s idealism. Night Train Murders is more slow burning and suggestive, the concept of the events so inhuman that the brief bits of explicit detail we do see carry a heavy impact. Night Train Murders also swings broader in its choice of ideological targets with a uniquely Italian brand of dryly abrasive cynicism.

Early in the film, Blackie takes a walk through the various compartments of the crowded train, and every passenger is just as morally bankrupt as he is. From a (heavily implied) sexually abusive Catholic priest, a group of proud fascists singing Nazi marching songs, or the mysterious lady leading a philosophical discussion to further curate her refined persona, the film clearly finds very few innocents in its universe. Even Margaret and Lisa are worldlier than advertised, sharing cigarettes and tales of sexual misadventures as soon as they are safely out of authority’s earshot.

Lisa’s parents do get their vengeance, but only two out of the three torturers meet their bloody end. By denying both the characters and the audience the cheap catharsis of fully realized revenge, Night Train Murders underlines its grim ideological perspective. The film clearly takes Gualtiero Jacopetti’s and Franco Prosperi’s view of humanity being inherently a rotten lot, and combines it with Pasolini‘s utter loathing of bourgeoise hypocrisy and the authority figures who give their perverse abuses the veneer of mainstream respectability.

While the Christmas setting is more incidental than not, Night Train Murders is an incredibly downbeat entry to even skirt holiday horror. Intense joy or intense suffering, the train just keeps indifferently rolling, as the world values the performance of morality with equal faculty to the genuine article.

Bite Size: The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968)

Maury Dexter was a reliable low budget journeyman, churning out cheap B features throughout the 60s, ranging from westerns(The Purple Hills) to sci fi (The Day Mars Invaded Earth) to anti drug cautionary tales (Maryjane). 1968’s The Mini-Skirt Mob was the first of his two attempts to cash in on the biker film trend cycle.

Shayne (former Warner Brothers ingenue Diane McBain) is the blonde bouffant sporting queen bee of a biker gang who proudly proclaim themselves “The Mini-Skirts”. Far from an actual mob, the gang is your standard bunch of mildly colorful characters, and their weaker minded hangers on. Shayne’s kid sister Edie (Oscar nominee Patty McCormack, who also sings the film’s theme song) is mostly just along for the thrill of the ride. You could say the same for second banana Lon (Jeremy Slate) and hillbilly caricature Spook (Harry Dean Stanton, in a character role even his considerable talents can’t save). It’s just that in their case, it’s the girls of the group they are hoping to mount.

When champion rodeo rider Jeff Logan (Ross Hagen, The Sidehackers) has the unmitigated gall to marry someone else, Shayne doesn’t take it very well. No man walks out on her, let alone to marry a boring brunette bank teller (Sherry Jackson). She gathers her gang and hatches a plan to terrorize the newlyweds on their honeymoon. If she can’t have Jeff, nobody can.

The premise has promise, and the first 15 minutes or so have a nice diet Russ Meyer vibe, all open air parties, revving engines, catfights and big hair. The score is appropriately groovy, there’s some nice panoramas of the high desert, and the gang’s kicky minis and matching jacket ensembles rival Psychomania for schlock moments of speed demon sartorial acumen. However, the plot pretty quickly swerves into an attempt at grim, and it all fizzles into a talky melodrama that lacks any real stakes.

Who’s afraid of Anne Welles in biker babe drag? Why are both of the supposedly sympathetic characters (Jeff and his new bride Connie) weak, whiny and so easily overpowered? What do two beautiful women see in the rather cowardly lion Jeff that is worth a battle to the death?

It doesn’t help that Diane McBain is decidedly miscast. Her specialty was society girls and spoiled brats, not hard bitten blondes who escalate from nuisance to attempted murder faster than their followers can finish a beer. There’s not enough menace or sensuality to her performance to make us believe this group is so game to go along with her increasingly violent plans, or stay willfully ignorant of her selfish motives. Combined with the hair helmet, her habit of calling everyone “sweets” is less gang girl than mod diner waitress.

Patty McCormack fares a bit better as Edie, though she’s obviously meant to be the conscience of the group, so the first two thirds of the film give her little to do aside from look lovely and meekly nag. When she finally gets to do some shooting and seducing for a good cause in the final act, it genuinely seems the actresses cast in the two main roles ought to have been swapped.

As for the gang’s male hangers on? The less said about any of them, the better. The trio of guys may as well be named plot devices one through three, distinguishable only because one dies, one is a comic book hick, and the third has no other role that to be Shayne’s latest sexually frustrated lackey.

The Mini-Skirt Mob seems like it was trying to hedge its bets. There’s just enough exploitation elements present to boost ticket sales, but it isn’t trying to go too far in bucking mainstream sensibilities. For a film about a hard living, fast riding bike gang, The Mini-Skirt Mob doesn’t ever really put its foot on the gas and shift out of neutral.





Bite Size: Alley Cat (1984)

Alley Cat‘s path to release was just as patched together and scarred as its animal namesake. The production burned through three different directors, and the film’s original producers ran out of money, causing the film to be shelved for several years. Film Ventures International both finished the picture and picked it up for distribution. Alley Cat finally saw theatrical release in 1984, which was handily kneecapped by Film Ventures collapsing in a flurry of lawsuits and embezzlement. After a very truncated run on the big screen, the film was dumped onto home video, where it also failed to make much of an impact.

Billie (Karin Mani) wakes up in the middle of the night to find two thieves trying to steel the wheels off her car. Billie looks like a lost extra from the Charlie’s Angels set, but has a karate black belt along with the jiggle. The thieves rush off into the night with faces as bruised as their egos. The beating of his underlings angers gang leader Phil “Scarface” Krug (Michael Wayne). Scarface retaliates by not only mugging Billie’s beloved grandparents, but stabbing them as well.

Billie’s grandmother eventually succumbs to her injuries, but not before Billie has a meet clumsy with Johnny, a rookie cop (Robert Torti). The two soon begin a romance in spite of their first interaction being an angry Billie smashing him with a door hard enough to break his nose. Johnny also would love to collar the high profile gang to raise his profile in the police force. Billie, after seeing how slowly and rarely the wheels of courtroom justice actually turn, decides to mount some vigilante justice of her own. She takes to the streets to take some bad guys down, in an impressive array of matching tracksuits and some equally amazingly mismatched daywear.

Film Ventures International wasn’t exactly known for the originality of its productions, and Alley Cat is no exception. The base plot is basically a gender swapped Death Wish, mixed with Lady Streetfighter’s insanely low budget charms. What makes Alley Cat more entertaining that such a shoddy production likely should be is that it never tries to rise above its Z grade station. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, there’s a blithe bit of undressing, a brief street fight, an angry gangster flatly delivering the line that gives the film its title, and a bit player gleefully cackling about giving Scarface the clap.

Karin Mani isn’t much of a thespian, nor is she terribly physically coordinated (though the movie manages to make the cuts to her stunt double not unduly jarring). However, she is quite attractive, and delivers her lines with the camp glee of an actress that knows this is likely to be the only top billed role she was ever going to get. Robert Torti has had a long career as a character actor, but his main purpose as Johnny is to be the square jawed, six packed voice of reason. All of this vengeance leaves little time for character development, but these two dimensional caricatures’ romance manages to at least look like the drawings belong on the same page.

Alley Cat realizes its limitations, and never goes much more than 5 minutes without giving us something to gawk at, be it nudity, another fight sequence or hilariously misguided dialog from a gang leader that looks more like an annoying Billy Idol fan than any actual menace. It’s all shot pretty listlessly, often far too dark, and scored with a random spin of the library music wheel, but at least the film isn’t too unduly filled with dead air. Something is always afoot, no mater how coincidental or lacking in logic that something might be.

All of Billie’s human punching bags have to come from somewhere, and pretty much every man Billie meets is an aspiring rapist, corrupt, a criminal or some combination of all three. When she is unjustly imprisoned for stopping a rape with her karate kicks and an unlicensed handgun, it even allows for a short tour of women in prison greatest hits like a lesbian encounter, a shower scene and a multi member catfight in the yard.

Alley Cat is clearly the dollar store cola to Savage Streets‘ (which came out later the same year) Coke, but for those who have a taste for this particular flavor of action oriented, female fronted vengeance, even the off brand of cinematic empty calories still tastes pretty good.







Bite Size: The Psychopath/An Eye For An Eye (1973)

Writer/producer/director Larry G. Brown made just 3 films, but with 1973’s An Eye For An Eye aka The Psychopath (which was its listed title in its lone home release, back at the height of the VHS boom), managed to hit a high water mark for grimy low budget strangeness that even some era classics would be hard pressed to top. While cult film fans often lament their favorites being something you could never make in the present day, this is one of the few films of which I actually believe that statement to be true.

Mr. Rabbey (Tom Basham, who also starred in Larry G. Brown’s The Pink Angels ), is the host of a kiddie television show, which seems to consist primarily of puppets threatening to behead each other or odd felt melodramas about locking babies in the basement. Inexplicably, this nightmare fuel is not only a popular television program, but also makes Mr. Rabbey a frequently requested entertainer for the sick kids at the local children’s hospital.

Rabbey is child at heart, but also seems a bit confused about the fact that he’s not an actual child. When not performing for the cameras, he keeps a tattered blankie in his oversized bike basket. He spends his off hours gorging chocolate cake and gleefully playing children’s games at the park. When his “I don’t wanna grow up” routine and tendency to snoop reveals that some of the kids in his audiences are being abused, he takes matters into his own hands.

This is shot with all of the flat colors and abrupt editing of a TV movie, and neither the visuals nor the music give much regard to matching the tone of what is being shown on screen. The discordance is disorienting before we even meet our peculiar protagonist or delve into plot details. Tom Basham is surprisingly effective as Rabbey, all bulging eyeliner smudged eyes and bowl cut, as he sugar sweetly stalks and lurks. His whole affect is so treacly wholesome and golly gosh high pitched, you just know that something deeply unclean is going on. All of the kids are Mr. Rabbey’s special pals, but it reeks of the parasocial pipe dreams of the deeply emotionally disturbed underneath.

Given that this protagonist is not exactly easy to root for, every parent in the film is cartoonishly villainous. Only one family stoops to all out cold blooded filicide, but they are all incredibly toxic, running the gamut of over the top abuse. Meanwhile the police and the hospital staff are beaten down by the difficultly of successfully helping these kids with what is often circumstantial evidence of their trauma.

There is an unexpected flash of realist truth in the frustration of the authority figures, and by the 6th or 7th time you watch some poor kid being shrieked at or slapped, its easy to root for whatever lies beneath Mr. Rabbey’s Peter Pan affect to finally snap to the surface.

An Eye For An Eye goes full tilt in both the psychosexual weirdness of Rabbey’s almost parent/child style relationship with his female TV producer, and the ugliness of his particular methods of vengeance. The film isn’t very gory, but it makes up for that in the sheer lurid viciousness of its kills. The victims are angrily dispatched with whatever Mr. Rabbey can get his hands on, be it a baseball bat, a lawnmower or his beloved blankie.


One of my personal favorite exploitation films, this is the sort of hidden gem of groovy ghastliness and off kilter oddity that grindhouse groupies tend to love, with a grim ending that only adds to the queasy fever dream quality of it all. I’m honestly shocked this hasn’t already been picked up by one of the boutique Blu Ray labels as a long lost trash classic. If you can find it, watch it, and join myself and the legendary Joe Spinell as dedicated members of Mr. Rabbey’s Rangers.