Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Kidnapped Coed a quirky, interesting grindhouse film from 1970s


Review by Steve D. Stones

Severin Films has released an excellent double feature Blu-ray of director Fredrick R. Friedel's two only known features – Axe (1975) and Kidnapped Coed (1976). Both films star Jack Canon, an underrated actor who should have gone on to make a bigger name for himself and to star in bigger-budget films. Canon is excellent in both films and steals every scene he is in. Kidnapped Coed was also known as Date With A Kidnapper and The Kidnap Lover. Here is the trailer under the title Kidnap Lover. 

In Kidnapped Coed, Canon plays a down-on-his-luck gangster named Eddie Mattlock, who kidnaps a young red-haired beauty named Sandra Morely (Leslie Ann Rivers). Sandra leaves her boarding house one morning and is held up at gunpoint in the back of her car by Eddie. He threatens to kill Sandra if she makes any attempt to escape. Eddie calls Sandra's father and demands ransom money for the safe return of his daughter. Although some reviews of this film suggest that Eddie is indebted to the mob as his motivation for kidnapping Sandra, the film never really makes this clear as his motivation.

Eddie takes Sandra to a sleazy, run-down hotel. The hotel clerk, played by Larry Lambeth, appears to be a questionable character who does not take his job very seriously as he lounges behind the counter all day drinking vodka and smoking as he tells his guests that today is his last day on the job. The camera pans to a closet behind the clerk's desk with a body laying next to cases of bottled soda. The viewer immediately suspects that there is something very wrong going on in the hotel and the clerk has something to do with it.

After entering their hotel room, Sandra locks herself in the bathroom and pretends to be taking a shower. She writes a desperate message in lipstick on a roll of toilet paper and throws it out the window. The hotel room is up three stories high, so she cannot jump out of the window. A young boy in the street down below kicks the toilet paper roll into the gutter.

While brushing her hair on the hotel room bed, a knock is heard at the door. Sandra opens the door to see the hotel clerk and another man pointing a gun at her and Eddie. She thinks the two men are detectives who have come to rescue her. The clerk and the other man tie up Eddie to a chair as the clerk rapes Sandra on the bed in one of the most brutal sequences of the film. Director Friedel builds great tension in this scene by showing close ups of Eddie's frustrated and bloody face as he watches the rape take place on the bed. The sex act is never shown on screen, yet the viewer fills in the blanks by imagining this sadistic act as Eddie's face helps to reveal the uneasiness of it.

Eddie is able to untie himself from the chair and shoot both men in the genitals with a gun. The couple flee the room and drive to an abandoned farm shack. Here Eddie paces back and forth in the shack, smoking a cigarette, as he decides what his next move is. The two flee the shack when they hear a car approaching. They encounter a group of women bird watchers. One of the bird watchers is the store clerk in Axe, who has a bottle of ketchup shot above her head.

Director Friedel throws in little bits of weirdness in the film that give it some strange yet surreal characteristics. A close up of an old man rocking in a chair with a cane out in the street after Eddie shoots the clerk and his sidekick in the genitals is one example. A strange red-colored telephone booth not connected to any wiring appears out in the middle of barren fields in a number of scenes where Eddie goes to make a phone call.  He uses the telephone booth to call his mother, who hangs up on him. A child sitting on a curb flips Eddie the middle finger as he drives by shortly after kidnapping Sandra.

Perhaps the most effective aspect of both Axe and Kidnapped Coed is that both films have very sparse use of dialogue. Both films rely more on visual aspects to tell a story and to keep the narrative moving forward. The viewer is not always given any explanation for why many of the characters behave the way that they do, or why they are in the situation that they are in. This ambiguity keeps the viewer wondering and questioning the motivations of many of the characters in both films.

Also of interest are the many extras contained on the Severin Blu-ray. One of the extras interviews the cast, crew and director Friedel. In one interview, Friedel expresses his frustrations with producer/distributor Harry Novak, who completely took over the rights and distribution of both films, leaving Friedel with practically nothing in return. Friedel spent time at Novak's run-down office, combing through piles of old dusty boxes to look for the negative of Axe and Kidnapped Coed. He was able to locate both films for this official Severin release. The extras are every bit as interesting and exciting as watching both films. Happy viewing.

(Kidnapped Coed was defintely marketed as grindhouse/drive-in fare. Here are a few more newspaper ads. We'd like to thank David Grudt, of Long Beach, Calif., for his help in locating some of these vintage ads.)

Sunday, September 18, 2022

TCM features its must-see Underground cult films in new book


Review by Doug Gibson

Roughly 40 years ago film critic Danny Peary began his Cult Films trilogy book series. It was groundbreaking for its detailed analysis of films that capture our imagination far beyond the first time we viewed them. We have to see them multiple times. Whether arguable great works of cinema, such as "Night of the Hunter," or a malformed puppy, like "Blood Feast," they were so damn unique. Derivative was not in their vocabulary. You could not replicate a film such as "Plan 9 From Outer Space," or "Pink Flamingos." It was the work of inspired minds, even if a bit, or a lot, unhinged.

I read Peary's three books to tatters, of course. I still have copies. But the books began to fade in impact, something that was written a long while ago. And, then in 2006, TCM started its TCM Underground series and suddenly these fantastic cult films that Peary had written about, and many more, began airing in "the wee small hours of the morning." Directors such as Russ Meyer, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Ed Wood, Ray Dennis Steckler, William Beaudine (post 1960), Timothy Carey, William Castle, Jamaa Fanaka, Penelope Spheeris, Paul Bartel, and others joined the list of respectables that dot TCM's schedule.

It's been 17 years of TCM Underground and I never miss it. If for some reason I cannot be up at those hours, I DVR. And yes, I watch re-runs; after all, they're cult films. Without TCM Underground, I don't think I'd have ever discovered diamonds like "Hausa," or "Emma Mae." For a list of all films aired, including shorts, go here

So, when I learned of the October release of "TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films From the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema" (Running Press/Turner Classic Movies Philadelphia, 2022), I had to get it. I was hoping for a contemporary update of cult cinema; one that complements Peary's earlier work. 

Readers will not be disappointed. "... 50 Must-See Films" is a gem. The reviews are expertly recapped and analyzed by writers Millie De Chirico (TCM Underground's chief programmer) and critic Quatoyiah Murry. I will briefly recap three reviews. The strength of the analysis includes the authors noting where these cult gems challenged conventional mores of their era, and take positions and assumptions that are accepted more today. Cult films, crudely made or not, can do this. As author/comedian Patton Oswalt says in the book's Foreward: "Moment and feeling always conquer plot and logic, especially out beyond the edge."

The authors have placed the films in various genre categories. Dig just a few of the titles: "I Saw What You Did," "The Honeymoon Killers," "Shack Out on 101." Or "Polyester," "Sometimes Aunt Martha Does Dreadful Things," "Fleshpot on 42nd Street." How about "Blacula," "Haxan" (this film is a big personal favorite), or "Lets Scare Jessica to Death."  And there's "Little Darlings" (I'd forgotten about this film), "Two Lane Blacktop," and the aforementioned "Emma Mae." And besides "Hausa," there is "Belladona of Sadness," "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls," "Mac and Me," and "Funeral Parade of Roses" (which will blow your mind away). 

One thing I like about "... 50 Must-See Films ..." is its daring. It's willing to include films that were almost universally derided. The author's sense films that are just starting to develop a cult. Peary, for example, foresaw that the box office flop "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" would gain a big following. De Chirico and Murry are putting out the word that '80s box-office failures "Mac and Me," and "The Garbage Pails Kids Movie," have grabbed cults and are worthy of note and further interest.

And, indeed, when you look at the ultra-slick, somehow derivative high-production quality animation and fantasy today, you appreciate the uniqueness of the outcasts of the "... Garbage Pail Kids ...," sent to the State Home for the Ugly, or the awkward, crass, in-your-face commercialism of "Mac and Me." It's endearing to see another one-time failure, "Xanadu," bloom today from new viewers who simple marvel at its ability to capture a dozen artistic genres in one feature.

Here are recaps of three films in the book that represent cult genres that -- to my observations -- were not noted as cult material 40 years ago, during the era of Peary. 

The first is "Emma Mae" (1976). Lumped incorrectly as "blacksploitation," (it was given a cheesy other title, "Black Sister's Revenge," in hopes of boosting sales) the film details a young, naive southern girl/woman (Jerri Hayes) moving to live with relatives in Compton. It's a whole new life and culture. She's awkward, not conventionally pretty, and sometimes mocked by family and others. But Emma Mae has a mixture of sweetness and ferocity that slowly earns her respect and friendship. Naively, she falls in love with a man who disrespects her badly, even after she's risked her life and freedom for him. The authors correctly note that this is a hybrid film. "It's part fish-out-of-water story, part coming of age, part family drama, and part revolutionary tale of Black female empowerment."

Another film is the Andy Milligan-directed "Fleshpot on 42nd Street." I was very pleased that TCM Underground finally recognized Milligan's work. His films, ranging in budgets of $10,000 to $40,000, often were "horror" flicks. But Milligan's real skill was digging deep into the domestic lives of his characters, and creating dysfunctions that often led to violence and death. "Fleshpot" is not a horror film. It captures the grimy, dangerous lives of sex workers around 42nd Street in New York City in the 1970s. The main character is Dusty (Laura Cannon) a semi-grifter who steals and leaves her current boyfriend, grifts a horny antique dealer, and moves in with transgender sex worker friend Cherry Lane (Neil Flanagan). (Flanagan, by the way, would note an Oscar nomination if conventional Hollywood cared a whit about grindhouse cinema.)

A small time is spent with these characters, who are survivors enduring life, and we are voyeurs, witnessing their world in grubby sex settings, the streets of 42nd Street, and a lower-tier bar with an eclectic mass of characters, including two sisters who need to be seen to be appreciated. Things might began to look up for Dusty. She meets an interesting man. But you get the feeling there are far more lows than highs in this world. Even Dusty and Cherry -- who need each other -- began to quarrel. 

This is a powerful film. The authors note: "Viewing this edgy classic will likely be a jarring experience for most filmgoers today, even the staunchest cult movie fan. This film was made for a particular and very small subsection of the public, not the masses. This is its charm and its strength. Its an examination of a concealed world operating in the fringes outside mainstream society, and from the artistic bird's-eye view alone, it's a captivating watch."

Many of Milligan's films are lost. Thank heavens "Fleshpot" is one that survived.

The authors also include "Wild Seed," 1965, a film about a teenager 17, Daffy, who runs away from home. After being sexually attacked, she runs into a protector named Fargo, a somewhat harsh 20-something man who is a migrant worker and drifter. He takes her on a nomadic train-hopping cross-country journey to Los Angeles, with all the dangers this type of life offers.

Daffy (Celia Milius) wants to confront her father. She begins to have feelings for Fargo, but he's been battered by life into a type of protective cynicism. But through conflict, they yearn for each other. The authors write: "Wild Seed" is a sensitive, thoughtful film, big on mood and atmosphere and with tons of talent behind it .... (Daphne's) foray into the train-jumping life feels like a glimpse into a secret society ..."

Fans of diverse genres of film will love this book. Readers will make it a constant occasional read, skipping through and back to pages to different films they enjoy at that particular time, and wish to revisit. I hope that, given the amount of films already shown on TCM Underground, there will be several further editions of "50 Must-See Films." 

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Noonan's Sci-Fi Fun Club a great place for cult genre fans; a chat with its founder


Today, Plan9Crunch blogs is thrilled with the opportunity to interview Clark West, who runs the Noonan’s Sci-Fi Club Facebook page. Recently nominated for a Rondo Award, Noonan’s is just a fascinating, cerebral journey into all things fantasy and horror … and more. I’m addicted to it and love to share observations, clips, art, blog posts and more. Ed Wood, vintage horror, grindhouse, TV sci-fi, Godzilla and pals including Hedorah, I’m a frequent poster to Noonan’s. It’s just a great, valuable genre site, and we now talk with its founder, who lives in Osaka, Japan.


Plan9Crunch: Welcome Clark! You have this very interesting Facebook page that tackles some cult genres, and has a steady stream of followers and conversation. Tell us about your past, and how you developed an interest in these genres?

West: I got an early start. Really early! My older sisters and dad were Trekkies, so I cannot even remember the first time I saw STAR TREK, but I am fairly certain my first glimpse of the Gorn required a diaper change. My earliest memory of ANY movie was James Whale’s 1931 FRANKENSTEIN. I learned how to tell time because my sister Joy came home from school one day exclaiming how there was going to be a really awesome movie called KING KONG on at 8pm that night. I sat and watched the clock on the kitchen wall for what seemed hours, and very well could have been, waiting for the fat hand to reach eight and the long hand twelve! Shortly after that, my sister introduced me to Godzilla via the infamous NBC 60 minute broadcast of GODZILLA VS MEGALON, hosted by John Belushi in a Godzilla suit! That hooked me on not just Kaiju but ALL things Japanese. Anime, Kurosawa, Hello Kitty… you name it. Almost a half century later, here I am in Osaka, lamenting that I cannot, for at least now, watch THE TWILIGHT ZONE or DOCTOR WHO, the latter of which I was hooked on since I was a 5 year old, and I’ve been a TZ fanatic since I was seven, so why not devote my spare time to creating a Facebook Group celebrating all this stuff! I was born in Oklahoma but ran away as fast as I could.”

What made you decide to take the social media plunge and create a Facebook page. How did your ideas for it develop?

West: All the peeps I refer to as the “Founding Noonans”, and I, belonged to a really fun Facebook Group more than half a decade ago called “The Science Fiction Multiverse.” (It was) really fun, except for the person who ran the group. One day the group’s “Overlord,” as he liked to call himself, had a meltdown and closed shop on our dear old “SFM.” So a few days later, Noonan’s Sci-Fi Fun Club was born. I didn’t do it all alone though. A super fan named Perry Williams, our senior admin, as it were, was a huge help, even rewriting the Group Intro into something more presentable. And Andrew Gaska, now an award-winning professional writer of roleplay games and various things, talked me out of calling the place “Richard’s Sci-Fi Fun Club”, telling me “You can’t have a more Sci-Fi name than Noonan!” I am forever in their debt! And I owe a debt to my late friend Richard Noonan, in whose memory the page was named.

Plan9Crunch: What drives you to think about new ideas, and how do you keep the enthusiasm to maintain an atmosphere where new ideas can be discussed?

West: Perry Williams clearly states in our Group Intro, “And Everything Else Geeks and Nerds Love.” So I take that as cart-blanche. Just about anything goes! From Silent Movies to Baby Sloths!  I often post about interesting things in Japan, and our Welsh Administrator often shares facts about his country. I really want Noonan’s Sci-Fi Fun Club to appeal to the Renaissance Nerd, the Anorak who is all over the place, the Otaku who does not where to curb their enthusiasm. Basically, people like me!

Plan9Crunch: You place an emphasis on hashtags. I try to make hashtags. I think it's an intriguing idea within the page. How do the hashtags increase the impact of the page?

West: The Hashtag idea was introduced to me by a former admin, David Cho, and I am forever in his debt! I was slow to pick up on the idea myself, but then I realized, it was genius! Especially if you come from a Message Board Background, the hashtags enable you to actually organize your Facebook Group’s content, making it easier to browse, and in my thinking, more conducive to the sort of fan scholarship I try to encourage in the group. The average Facebook Groups I am sad to say are ephemeral wastelands. Hashtags lend your post some immortality. It is a hard sell though. None of the Admins and Mods in Group understand the benefit. Except for our hashtag hero, Alex Pass! A new member Marcie Carpenter has also been a big help of late. I think the hashtags are FINALLY starting to catch on!

Plan9Crunch: Your Facebook page was nominated for a Rondo. That must have been gratifying. Who do you credit besides yourself for the nomination?

West: Just being nominated for a Rondo, that will always be worn by the group as a badge of honor! David Colton’s Classic Horror Film Board is what I am striving for with Noonan’s Sci-Fi Fun Club! That level of fun, yet serious, scholarly analysis, and discussion of the things we love. Who do I credit for the nomination? All the fantastic members of course! They are the ones who helped us come close to that goal this year!

Plan9Crunch: What new ideas are in the planning stage?

West: My wife is very insistent I make something called “money”, so now that I appear to have a recognizable brand name, even if to a limited crowd … expect Noonan’s Sci-Fi Fun Club, the Pod Cast, to come soon. I have also have been trying off and on to encourage members to create local, physical chapters of the Club. All of that was before Covid-19 hit. As the world recovers, or at least gets used to the new conditions, I plan to continue that push. We have an Osaka Chapter, with a Meet Up page and everything, but with only three members!.

Plan9Crunch: I think it's a great idea to have page followers vote occasionally. Although Noonan's Sci-Fi Fun Club encompasses many genres, what is your favorite cult genre?

West: I try to make everyone feel they have a voice! They too are playing a major part in the Group. So I usually put the bigger decisions up to a poll. I want everyone to feel included! I am not sure I can reveal my favorite cult genre though! Noonan’s Sci-FI Fun Club covers so many things precisely because I love so many things with a deep passion! I love the movies of Studio Ghibli founders Hayao Miyazaki and Issao Takahata. I consider Miyazaki the greatest living director of our times. I also have a huge soft spot for pre-code Hollywood, especially the Horror Movies and Comedies. I deeply love DOCTOR WHO, at least from the Hartnell era up to the end of David Tennant. I can’t wait to see what the returning Russell T Davis has in store for us next year. It really depends on my mood. I deeply love so many different things!

Plan9Crunch: Expound on the reason for the name of the page Noonan's Sci-Fi Fun Club?

West: Richard Noonan was a sweet, elderly man in the previously mentioned Science Fiction Multiverse. He got banned for posting too many “Off Topic” posts, and I led the charge to convince “The Overlord” to re-instate him as a member. He would send me video Christmas Cards of him singing “Amazing Grace” every year. With no near family, he spent his final few days after the heart attack in a hospice. I was text messaging with the kindly lady who sat vigil over him at the moment he died. I want Noonan’s Sci-Fi Fun club to be a tribute to him. (It’s) a place full of compassion, love, and understanding.

Plan9Crunch: It might be interesting to know the advantages and challenges, of following these cult genres living in Japan.

West: Since I am a pre-code Hollywood kind of guy, it hasn’t been too much of a problem. I trust the members to bring me news from the outside world! Here in Japan, we get the Marvel Movies the same date as their American releases, and Netflix and Amazon Prime have me fixed for TREK. I do miss DOCTOR WHO though. The show had a huge following amongst Japanese women for a while, the idea of a handsome foreigner taking you away on a life of travel appeals greatly to them. Sad to say the current Doctor, Jodie Whittaker, destroyed that fantasy. But Japan and the US are the same Blu-Ray region, so I just need to make money and buy American Blu-Rays of DOCTOR WHO and the Classic Horrors and Comedies I miss so! I have many pots on the fire. I’m doing various English lessons, working on starting my own English school, and of course, I want to launch Noonan’s Sci-Fi Fun Club: The Pod Cast! Perhaps then, I can interview you? Thank you so much for this opportunity!

Thank you very much. This was a fascinating interview. You have a unique, creative mind.