From the Archives: Looking Back at Ex-Fest Part VI

From the Archives: Looking Back at Ex-Fest Part VI

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

Another year, another Ex-Fest! 2016 marks the sixth entry in the beloved series in which Exhumed Films exhibits a 12-hour marathon of the campiest, shlockiest, grimiest, gnarliest lost treasures of cinema on glorious 35mm. The catch: none of the films are announced beforehand, and only a loose description is offered before the opening credits roll. Padded with old trailers and short films, the entertainment only stops for the occasional pee and snack break, making Ex-Fest a must for all local cinephiles. Let’s take a look back at the movies from this year.

Movie #1: Johnny Firecloud (1975 – dir. William A. Castleman)


Ex-Fest Description: Violent, rarely-screened revenge flick.

Plot: When a rich, white rancher uses his power to victimize a formerly prominent American Indian tribe, it’s up to Johnny Firecloud, war hero and proud tribesman, to dish out bloody justice.

My take: This was a strong start to the day. By taking the blaxploitation format and applying it to American Indians (Nativesploitation?), we get a fun subversion of a tried and true crowd-pleasing template. And when it comes to creating a strong impetus for justified revenge, a filmmaker can’t do much better than good old fashioned racism. It’s hard not to cheer when Johnny begins scalping the men who wronged him and his family. Add to the mix a sheriff who is struggling with sexual identity, and you get a schlocky revenge flick that’s wonderfully ahead of its time.

Movie #2: Salt in the Wound (1969 – dir. Teodoro Ricci)


Ex-Fest Description: Impressive Italian WWII action movie.

Plot: Two escaped prisoners and a newbie Lieutenant take on German forces in an Italian town that mistakenly believes they’ve been freed from occupation.

My take: Despite being an interesting film artifact, I found this one to be a bit bland. Regardless, it’s always great to watch the inimitable Klaus Kinski chew apart scenery. It’s a well-constructed movie with a fair amount of humor (both intended and not) given the bleak subject matter. The cultural conversation regarding female characters with agency is a relatively new one, and it’s safe to say that Salt in the Wound existed looooooong before it started. The pacing caused this to be a weaker second entry, but it’s all made worth it in a sublime moment involving a screaming Kinski, a machine gun, and a POV shot from inside a German tank.

Movie #3: Zapped! (1982 – dir. Robert J. Rosenthal)

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Ex-Fest Description: Dumb, beloved (?) 1980s teen sex comedy.

Plot: A science nerd develops telekinetic powers after a laboratory accident involving cannabis extract, mice, and cheese.

My take: This movie is completely bonkers. None of the characters behave in a way that makes any sort of sense whatsoever, yet there is an infectious charm permeating the entire thing. When you think of the “1980s teen sex comedy,” you think of stuff like this. Did I mention that it stars Scott Baio and Willie Aames? Well it does, which means that the power of telekinesis is used predominately to open the shirts and bras of the female characters (and occasionally to embarrass jocks). This is the type of thing that would be correctly labeled “problematic” today, but with the lens of hindsight can be regarded in a “look how far we’ve come in terms of entertainment — OH MY GOD THOSE BULLIES ARE FLYING” kind of way.


Movie #4: Bare Knuckles (1977 – dir. Don Edmonds)

Ex-Fest Description: Entertaining action/Blaxsploitation thriller.

Plot: A bad-ass bounty hunter seeks a masked serial killer who uses kung-fu to terrorize the streets of Los Angeles.

My take: This one is a mixed bag. When it sings, it screams (jeans at the gym!), but the middle act is off-putting in terms of tone. Act one is just a few steamy scenes short of being a Brock Landers flick from Boogie Nights, but act two is a strange mish-mash of darkly lit action sequences in which our “hero” directly causes the death of many more people than the serial killer he’s chasing. It’s impressive how little regard the movie has for human life … which is exactly what’s so fun about it. This all culminates in a stunning car chase/karate fight that reminds us why good stunt work is such a valuable commodity. I’m not quite sure why this was labeled “Blaxsploitation” what with the handful of black characters ending up dead or immediately forgotten, but it certainly fits the tone of the genre to a T. I’m admittedly a sucker for post-Bruce Lee, whiteboy Kung Fu, and Bare Knuckles exceeds the quota on that.


Movie #5: Wonder Women (1973 – dir. Robert O’Neil)

Ex-Fest Description: Female-centric/spy/sci-fi insanity.

Plot: Dr. Tsu is a sexy surgeon with a team of female assassins/doctors who kidnap athletes and sell their healthy body parts to aging rich folk. Mike Harder is an insurance adjuster who gets unwittingly involved in their enterprise.

My take: I cracked my bottle of scotch during this one, which proved to be essential as this movie is completely nonsensical, beginning to end. This particular print had Spanish subtitles which added to the kitschy fun. Previous Ex-Fests featured “women in prison” movies, which are usually so similar to one another that it’s hard to individually recognize any single film, so this was a nice tweak on that trope. It even has a young Sid Haig, who looks as if he’s a Sacha Baron Cohen character, and acts as if he’s in a much higher quality movie. Midway through the movie, the protagonist (or is he? It’s hard to tell who the heroes and villains are) gets in a post-coital fist fight with one of the sexy assassins, which begins in a hotel room and leads to a 15 minute auto-rickshaw chase, complete with a 5 second score on loop. It’s maddeningly bizarre, made more insane by the fact that the machine guns are clearly caulk dispensers which have been painted black.


Movie #6: Inside Amy (1974 – dir. Ronald V. Garcia)

Ex-Fest Description: Sleazy Softcore Film/horror film/cautionary tale.


Plot: Charlie and Amy are a married couple seeking excitement. Despite Amy’s objections, Charlie convinces her to join him at a swingers party. Unfortunately for Charlie, he is unable to perform … while the reluctant Amy takes to the new lifestyle with aplomb. Charlie, jealous and sexually frustrated, decides to start murdering the other swingers.

My take: This film, despite its softcore pedigree, is legitimately good. There’s a breezy realness that separates it from all of the other films of the evening that persists to, and through, the sleazy violence of the final act. There’s an interesting gender politic to be explored here that feels pretty progressive, but I am unable to comment upon having only seen it one time (and having reached peak inebriation somewhere in the middle). Exploitation films typically attempt to balance shock and titillation, and a lot of the fun is watching the narrative clumsily tiptoe the lines of taste, yet somehow Inside Amyseems to really nail it. This is most definitely meant to sexually excite the viewer, but it doesn’t do so at the expense of any of the characters’ agency, regardless of gender. It’s also meant to be a lesson in ownership of one’s decisions, and the destructive power of jealousy and mistrust in a relationship. A less ‘genre’ title for the film could have been Sorry, Charlie!

Movie #7: Fight for Your Life (1977 – dir. Robert A. Endelson)

Ex-Fest Description: Infamous, offensive, and brutal rape/torture/revenge shocker — not for the feint of heart! You have been warned!

Plot: A trio of escaped convicts hole up in the house of a black minister and his family. While waiting for nightfall, they pass the time with cruel, racially motivated physical and psychological torture.

My take: This movie was nowhere near as shocking, upsetting, or violent as the warning would have you think. It’s a solid exploitation shocker, once again using disgusting racism to justify vengeance, but it’s not really different from most other films of its type/era. As a capper to this year’s festival, it’s a strong choice. The audience groaned and cheered appropriately during scenes of violence and comeuppance. While the film may not have lived up to the warning, it left all of the brave souls who stayed into the wee hours of the morning with a strong cinematic buzz. Another successful Ex-Fest ended with a bang!


In summation: We take the era of digital filmmaking for granted sometimes, and it’s an important exercise to look back at the 35mm artifacts of yesteryear to remind ourselves that so much of today’s cinematic language was borne of the limitations that the filmmakers of previous eras faced. The creative decisions that brought us films like those mentioned above were often made of necessity – budget, time, putting butts into seats even at the expense of good taste – resulting not just in a dense catalog of genre work, but in an indelible cultural fingerprint placed upon all of cinema. Like it or not, exploitation cinema is art and can be elevated to high art with proper exhibition and a great crowd. This is why Ex-Fest is a required event for those who love film, warts and all.

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