November 27, 2012

Death Rattle Double Feature: Post-Grindhouse

Next to zombie movies, my least favorite trend of genre films is the post-GRINDHOUSE neo-Exploitation movement. And by GRINDHOUSE I mean the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double feature that came out years ago, not the old movie theaters that used to play exploitation movies. One of the reasons I dislike this trend is because, quite simply, the films associated with this movement are pretty obnoxious and just aren't very good. Plus, they're easy to make, which means any jackass with a camera and some money can bang one out, and, thanks to the success of movies like DEATH PROOF, PLANET TERROR, and MACHETE, people will eat them up. But, to be fair, I'm not a filmmaker, so what do I know? On the other hand, I also admire these movies for not aspiring to be anything else than what they are. No pretentiousness; what you see is what you get. Nude nuns, hobos with shotguns, rape, and motorcycles. God bless the USA.

BITCH SLAP is basically a celebration of badass women in cinema, and it's not so much a visual homage to exploitation movies as it is a film that tries to carry on the spirit of Roger Corman, Russ Meyer, etc. The montage during the opening credits features iconic women of exploitation cinema like Tura Satana and Christina Lindberg to name a few, and it tells you all you need to know about what's in store. BITCH SLAP takes place mostly out in the middle of the Mojave desert and is centered around three women who are trying to find some buried loot that belongs to an enigmatic underground crime lord named Pinky, who's basically the Keyser Söze of this movie. As for the ladies, we have a temperamental and trigger-happy ex-con named Camero (America Olivo), a down-on-her-luck stripper named Trixie (Julia Voth), and a sexpot money broker named Hel (Erin Cummings). As they attempt to find the loot, a number of unexpected visitors show up and potentially pose a problem for the girls. Their biggest obstacle, however, is themselves; it's revealed that at least one of them has ulterior motives, which means it's a given that there will be a doublecross at some point.

BITCH SLAP uses editing to jump around in time and turn a film with a simple narrative into one that keeps you interested with its gradual reveals. For example, the film opens with the aftermath of what's about to go down as Trixie is shown bloodied and surrounded by flames and wreckage. As the main part of the storyline unfolds (the girls out in the desert), a series of flashbacks develop the characters and explain why these chicks who don't know each other became involved in a plot to steal from a dangerous crimelord. In the meantime, we get tons of scenes of the girls working shovels in slow motion and engaging in impromptu water fights to keep cool. The director of this movie shoe-horned in as many slow motions shots of the girls stripping or bending over as possible, and it's my duty as a man to applaud him for this. Despite all of that, though, there's zero nudity in the film aside from some random stripper in one of the flashbacks, but we do get Hel and Trixie taking a break from the heat to dry-hump in a nearby trailer.

I first saw BITCH SLAP a few years ago and I hated it at the time. One of the main problems I had with it back then was the excessive amount of green screen, and it's still a problem that I - and I'm sure many other people who've seen it - have with the film. It seems like they just shot for a week out in the desert and put the cast members in front of green screens for the rest of the movie. Even a simple shot like someone out on the street is done on a set and with a fake bakground. It's disappointing, but at the same time you can't really fault the filmmaker for going this route if he was trying to make it quickly and for as little money as possible. Also, the aesthetic and mood is comparable to something that McG would direct rather than a true exploitation movie. Lots of split screens, tons of slow motion shots, and a soundtrack comprised of generic Hard Rock and Metal tunes. In spirit and theme, BITCH SLAP is basically FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! meets THE USUAL SUSPECTS, but visually it's more CHARLIE'S ANGELS: FULL THROTTLE than anything else.

At the end of the day, though, it's hard to be too critical on a movie like this. As I said earlier, it knows what it is and doesn't set out to be anything more than that, as opposed to a film that sets its goals high and fails miserably. BITCH SLAP is a movie that caters to the male demographic while still paying tribute to the tough female characters in exploitation and genre cinema. I'm sure Russ Meyer would approve, and that's all that matters. On a positive note, the fight choreography is pretty good, which doesn't come as too much of a surprise since Zoe Bell was involved in that aspect of production. The cat fight towards the end of the film in particular is a highlight and one of my favorite girl-on-girl fight scenes of all time; it's dirty and the manner in which it's dragged out would make Roddy Piper and Keith David from THEY LIVE take off their sunglasses and do a double take. I'm also a big fan of America Olivo as Camero, for the simple fact that she "gets it" and she appropriately chews the scenery like the life of her unborn child depends on it. We also get a few cameos, including Lucy Lawless and Renée O'Connor as nuns. I'll never call BITCH SLAP a "good movie", but it's entertaining and I admire it for its lack of pretentiousness and what it tries to do.

Canada's HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN has a direct connection to the Tarantino/Rodriguez double-feature that re-started it all, but I'll spare you the back-story and just get straight to the movie. When I first saw HOBO some time last year, I was really taken aback by how blatantly offensive it was, which actually tainted whatever chances I had of enjoying it at the time. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind offensive movies for the most part, but my issue with HOBO in particular at the time was that I felt it was trying way too hard to be crass and politically incorrect, on top of the fact that it felt like it was trying to be a pre-packaged cult movie. Since then, I've been able to appreciate it for what it is and, quite frankly, I find it to be an amazing little indie film that perfectly blends audio and visuals in a way that very few films these days do.

Genre film legend Rutger Hauer plays a nameless bum who arrives at a crime-ridden town and attempts to set up shop against his better judgment. Either that or he's too senile and tired to give a shit. It's clear right from the start that this town is not a place that anyone in their right mind should be setting foot in. In Hauer's case, he's a bum in a sea of bums and drug addicts, so his chances of collecting any spare change from the local losers is pretty slim. On his first day there, he witnesses a crime boss and glorified bully named "The Drake" (who looks like a cross between a televangelist and a deranged game show host) decapitating his own brother in front of a group of onlookers as his two hyena-like sons spew obscenities from the sidelines.

Long story short, Hauer keeps having run-ins with everyone from convenience store robbers to a second-rate Bum Fights producer to The Drake's obnoxious sons who run rampant all over town and give away cocaine like it's going out of style. After befriending a young prostitute named Abby and being pushed too far by the local thugs, the hobo puts aside his dreams of mowing lawns and uses his savings to buy a shotgun and assume the role of the world's smelliest vigilante anti-hero.

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is basically structured like a Western. Hauer's character is literally "the man with no name", except he has a shopping cart instead of a horse. Plus, prostitution's a thing and you have a feared villain with a stranglehold on everyone. For obvious reasons, there's also a little bit of the DEATH WISH films in there. The most common comparison that HOBO has received, however, is to Troma. People call HOBO a throwback to the Troma films of yesteryear. There's obviously no mutated superhero janitor to be found in this film, but as someone who puts TOXIC AVENGER up there alongside THE GODFATHER PART II as one of my favorite movies of all time, I can vouch that HOBO indeed captures the spirit of classic Troma movies like no other. The mean-spirited characters are straight out of a Lloyd Kaufman movie, and, while HOBO exists in an unspecified period of time, it captures the look and feel of the mid to late 80's with an unbelievable amount of accuracy thanks to the garish neon-colors that illuminate a large percentage of the film and the authentic-sounding synth score that sounds like it was sampled from a John Carpenter movie.

Admittedly, HOBO gets to be a bit much after a while. It feels like director Jason Eisener had a checklist of all the offensive stuff he wanted to cram into the film and wasn't satisfied until he got everything in. This film is relentlessly mean-spirited and offensive, and after a while it gets to a point where it's either not funny anymore or I become numb to it. Regardless, my mind never ceases to be blown by the amazing visuals and atmosphere. In the final act, Eisener pulls one last trick out of his hat in the form of The Plague - a duo of robotic, motorcycle-riding bounty hunters with an unspoken supernatural twist. The Plague are perhaps the coolest things about the film, and they come in at just the right time so that they're not overexposed and there's still a little bit of mystique to them. And of course I'd be remiss if I failed to mention Rutger Hauer, who puts in a great performance and is convincing as a senile vagrant. Molly Dunsworth as Abby (the hooker) is also solid and, in my opinion, the film's dark horse. Overall, HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN is a wet dream for fans of old-school Troma and garish 80's genre films, and a benchmark of the Neo-Exploitation fad.


  1. Great write up, Aaron, and I think you have me convinced to give HOBO a chance. Whether I will like it or not (not likely), you sold me on it with your enthusiasm. I absolutely HATED G****HOUSE and just about all the similar films that followed in its wake, despite being a bigger bomb than anything that came out of the Manhattan Project (well, possibly not that big).

    1. If you hate GRINDHOUSE, you'll most likely hate HOBO. Thanks for checking out my review and I'd be curious to hear what you think of HOBO regardless.

  2. I really tried to like Bitchslap but I just can't take nearly two hours of what I thought was sort of mediocre faux grindhouse stuff. That said, it makes a lot out of a little. It's a really good looking movie that can't have cost very much. Right there with you on Hobo though.

  3. Good call on HOBO as a western. I can't say I agree with your scores (I would go lower on both), but what can you do? I thought HOBO was grating for most of the time, and only got interesting once The Plague showed up (as you pointed out). I think Hauer tries, but it's an uphill struggle on something like this. BITCH SLAP, I thought is what it is, but was dull as shit (even with the women on display). Great review, as always, Aaron.

    1. Well, I wouldn't call Hauer's performance Oscar worthy or anything, but a movie like this doesn't require a performance like that. I thought he was good for the type of role he played. His character is a senile bum, so yeah. Thanks for reading and commenting, Todd!

  4. The fake grindhouse movies are a lot like the wave of recent zombie films. Most of them work better as a trailer than as a full movie.

    HOBO was actually a decent film though, and I mostly enjoyed. The same CAN NOT be said for a lot of these types of films... (Kevin Smith's Red State comes to mind)