Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Protector (1985)

James Glickenhaus was a drive-in/grindhouse moviemaker whose oeuvre found a perfect “home” in the home drive-in of my youth (home video, that is). Movies like The Exterminator (1980) and The Soldier (1982) were among the very first ones that my friends and I rented – and we loved them. We also saw Exterminator 2 (1984), but it wasn’t really the same (and it turns out that Glickenhaus pretty much had nothing to do with it, so no surprise). The next movie to appear on the shelves with his name attached (as director) was The Protector (1985).

Poster for The Exterminator (1980) by James Glickenhaus who later made The Protector (1985).

Poster for The Soldier (1982) by James Glickenhaus who later made The Protector (1985).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Protector stars Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello. I suspect I had seen Aiello in a few things by that point, but I didn’t really know him. Chan I had seen in The Big Brawl (1980), which I wrote about previously, and The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984). In spite of liking him a lot in The Big Brawl, I didn’t quite appreciate who he was either because I hadn’t seen any of his Hong Kong movies. I wouldn’t discover those until the latter half of the 1990s, when I became an instant fan.

Looking at The Big Brawl and The Protector now, is a very different experience than it was in the 1980s. The Big Brawl at least features Jackie’s signature charm and sense of humour. He’s just so darn likeable in it that you can’t help but cheer for him. The Protector, on the other hand, features a very different kind of Jackie Chan; a dark, brooding Jackie Chan; a more serious Jackie Chan. His character is closer to Dirty Harry than The Drunken Master, and you can feel the difference in the first five minutes of the movie.

Jackie was apparently not a fan of the resulting film, although according to director James Glickenhaus, Jackie had a good time making the film and got along well with Glickenhaus during production. Glickenhaus gave his permission to Golden Harvest, his Hong Kong producers, to recut the film for certain Asian markets (making the martial arts scenes longer and including more of Jackie’s signature humour). Glickenhaus was adamant that western audiences would not be interested in that kind of film. He was possibly right at that time, but only ten years later Jackie would finally triumph in North America with movies like Rumble in the Bronx (1995).

According to Glickenhaus, Golden Harvest approached him at the Cannes Film Festival and asked him if he would like to make a Jackie Chan movie. He said yes, but only if he could have complete control. He was not interested in doing a typical Jackie Chan movie (with the comedy, etc.). He wanted to make his kind of movie; something closer to The Soldier, perhaps. Golden Harvest agreed with his vision, and so did Jackie Chan. It’s clear that Golden Harvest (and presumably Jackie Chan as well) was very interested in breaking into the North American market. I wonder why they thought that Glickenhaus was the filmmaker to do it? His brand of gritty drive-in fare was fairly different from Jackie’s signature style. Perhaps Golden Harvest was simply approaching every American filmmaker at Cannes and Glickenhaus was the one who said yes. Or maybe they met Glickenhaus, legitimately liked him as a person, and thought they would like to work with him. Whatever the case, one has to wonder what might have happened if they had found a director with a style that was more in sync with Jackie’s. I suppose we’ll never know.

The Protector is an interesting movie. It’s not quite a James Glickenhaus movie in the way that The Exterminator and The Soldier (1982) were, but it’s not quite a Jackie Chan movie either. It’s a strange hybrid of the the two. It has gritty grindhouse elements, like full frontal nudity and extreme violence, but it also has glimpses of Jackie Chan’s sense of humour and amazing athleticism. For fans of Jackie, it is most interesting because of the differences, but it will never thrill like some of his best movies. For fans of violent, edgy drive-in movies, it will provide some thrills – but not as many as true classics of the genre (like The Exterminator in my opinion). Still, it’s an interesting attempt at bringing Jackie into this world, and it apparently inspired Jackie to make Police Story (1985), which is much more of a fan favourite. 

Back in the ’80s, I probably saw The Protector as a cool movie that fit right in with the other Glickenhaus films (notice they are all called “The ______” – a word that describes their main characters). It didn’t stick with me, like the first two, however. I also didn’t enjoy it as much as The Big Brawl, so perhaps I already preferred the likeable, funny Jackie to the gritty serious one. This is a bit odd, because I loved Dirty Harry and Charles Bronson movies. On the other hand, I also loved Mel Brooks.

Jackie Chan and Danny Aiello have great chemistry in this movie, and in some ways The Protector anticipates the Rush Hour films. Chan and Aiello go to Hong Kong to try and rescue the kidnapped daughter of rich American businessman. It’s almost like a cross between Rush Hour (1998) and Rush Hour 2 (2001) – only made fifteen years earlier. 

The Protector (1985) is not my favourite James Glickenhaus movie, nor is it my favourite Jackie Chan movie. It is, however, a historically significant piece of #NotQuiteClassicCinema from my younger days, which entertained me back then, entertained me last week, and will probably entertain me on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – provided I live long enough to get back to it. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Forbidden World (1982)

Someone once asked me if I had seen a movie called Forbidden World. I said “Yes, of course,” but I was thinking of Forbidden Planet (1956). This is not unlike an incident that was once described to me by a friend. His parents made a plan to meet another couple at a Chinese restaurant called The Good Earth (named after the book and movie, I would presume). Unfortunately, on the same street about a block away from the The Good Earth, there was another Chinese restaurant called The Great World. I don’t recall who went to The Great World, and who went to The Good Earth, but each couple sat in a different restaurant waiting for the other couple and getting angrier and angrier. It’s only lucky that I hadn’t been invited to meet someone at a theatre showing Forbidden World – I might have ended up angrily watching Forbidden Planet by myself. Of course, neither one of these films was playing the theatres by the time that I could have gone…

Oddly enough, Forbidden World (1982) is not a ripoff of Forbidden Planet. It’s actually a ripoff of Alien (1979), and as I talked about it my post about Galaxy of Terror (1981), there were many, many ripoffs of Alien out there. Both Forbidden World and Galaxy of Terror were produced by Roger Corman, and I had heard that Forbidden World was a sequel to Galaxy of Terror. It’s not, at least in any way that I could notice. Perhaps it could more correctly be described as a follow up to the first film. Apparently, in typical Roger Corman style, some of the same sets were used for both films (and they were designed by future filmmaking superstar James Cameron!). The two movies are, however, completely different stories (similarities to Alien aside) with completely different characters. The strangest part might be that Galaxy of Terror is actually more like Forbidden Planet than Forbidden World is – go figure.

Allan Holzman was already an accomplished film editor when he was given the chance to direct Forbidden World. He went on to direct a few other feature films including Grunt! The Wrestling Movie (1985), which was done in mockumentary style, perhaps predicting Holzman’s future career as a documentary filmmaker.

Apparently, Roger Corman was unsatisfied with Holzman’s original cut of the movie, so he trimmed five minutes out of it. The director’s cut has been made available, for the first time, as an extra on the Shout Factory Blu-ray.

A friend of mine has referred to Forbidden World as one of the best Alien clones, and it’s hard to argue with that. It certainly delivers the goods in a way that many such films don’t (violence, gore, nudity, etc.). And at 77 minutes (82 for the director’s cut) it’s a tight, fast paced package of fun. 

Jesse Vint, perhaps most famous for Macon County Line (1974), stars as Mike Colby, “the best troubleshooter in the Galaxy”. Along with his robot sidekick, Colby is brought to planet Xarbia to investigate a hostile synthetic life form, which was created by an elite group of scientists. Among the researchers is lab assistant Tracey Baxter, played by Dawn Dunlap, who only appeared in a handful of movies during her brief career. She got her start playing the title character in Laura, les ombres de l’été (1979) at the age of 15. June Chadwickwho many of us remember from This Is Spinal Tap (1984) – in which she played Jeanine Pettibone, long time girlfriend of David St. Hubbins – plays Dr. Barbara Glaser in Forbidden World. And if anyone has ever lain awake late at night wondering what she might look like sharing a futuristic shower/steam room with another woman (Dunlap), Forbidden World provides a very clear answer…

Forbidden World star Dawn Dunlap got her start in Laura, les ombres de l'été (1979).June Chadwick, with Michael McKean, in This Is Spinal Tap (1984). We see a lot more of her in Fobidden World!

It’s fair to say that Forbidden Planet is a better movie than Forbidden World. Forbidden Planet is a is a certified classic, after all. But Forbidden World is as fine an example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema is as I have ever seen. If you enjoy a good ripoff of Alien, or if you like gooey gore and over-the-top exploitation from the early 1980s, you really can’t go too wrong with this sci-fi horror sleaze-fest. I have not yet watched the longer director’s cut, but I am very much looking forward to doing that on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Chained Girls (1965)

Chained Girls is a phrase that has immediate connotations and resonance for me. When I see it on a movie box – or poster – I assume that I am looking at a Women In Prison film (or WIP as some people like to abbreviate it). This is a genre that I have a particular interest in – and connection to – as I once wrote an important essay about it when I was a film student, and subsequently wrote an entire musical play poking fun at it (which was called  Bad Girls Jailhouse and was first produced in 1994). That play started me on a long path of writing, producing and directing crazy musicals, which was my main focus for over ten years – but that’s another story.

Chained Girls (1965) is an old exploitation movie that is NOT about women in prison. It is, as stated in its own publicity materials, “A daring film about lesbianism today!” If that wasn’t shocking enough for audiences in 1965, Chained Girls also claimed to be a documentary. That’s right. A documentary, as opposed to a sleazy sexploitation drama that one might typically have seen at certain drive-ins and grindhouses back in the day. Chained Girls wasn’t a cheap exploitation picture, it was EDUCATIONAL, so… uh… back off censors and other rule mongers. We have to show the public what lesbians do so that honest, morally upright people can LEARN something. This movie is good for them, like eating granola. It can help prevent tragedies and poor life choices by showing what happens to people who who’ve made those poor choices.

Poster for Mom and Dad (1945), perhaps an influence on Chained GirlsI suppose this suggests that Chained Girls is part of that unique exploitation genre, most popular in the 1930s and 40s, which includes infamous movies like Mom and Dad (1945), Marihuana (1936), Child Bride (1943) and She Shoulda Said No! (1949). On the other hand, it was probably influenced by the emergence of mondo movies, like Mondo Cane (1962), Mondo Cane 2 (1963) and La donna nel mondo aka Women of the World (1963). These movies were pseudo documentaries that purported to show shocking but true (and often sleazy) stuff from around the world. Many of them contained footage that was “fake”, or at least explained as being something other than what it was. For example, a film could show footage of a bunch of Poster for Women of the World (1963), perhaps an influence on Chained Girlsmen standing around in a foreign country while the narrator says “These men are here to buy female slaves…”. I suppose it could be true, but there is no actual evidence of slave-buying visible in the footage.

Chained Girls uses this technique often throughout its scant 65 minute running time. One of my Twitter friends (hello Peter) pointed out this questionable gem uttered by the film’s narrator: “Most teenage lesbians are prostitutes or drug addicts.” As I recall, we are simply looking at shots of young women interacting when the narrator says this. I could be wrong, as this movie (despite its claims of being a documentary) is a full production featuring actors who appeared in other exploitation pictures. I don’t think that it contains any Poster for Joseph P. Mawra's Olga's House of Shame (1964), which shares stylistic similarities with Chained Girlsactual “documentary” footage of people living their own lives. Having said that, there might be stolen shots of real people on the streets of the city. But the “scenes” that we witness throughout the film are all staged.

The movie was directed by Joseph P. Mawra, who is best known for his Olga films, such as Olga’s House of Shame (1964), Olga’s Girls (1964), and White Slaves of Chinatown (1964). 1964 was a very busy year for Mawra. As I recall, all of these movies use the same stylistic approach (silent footage of women doing stuff while a narrator says lurid things – and the narrator is often the same guy, Joel Holt, who also acted in and directed a few films as well). Both Mawra and Holt seem to have played out their entire filmmaking careers in the 1960s. Perhaps the arrival of hardcore sex films in the 1970s put them out of business. Who knows?

Chained Girls (1965) is not for everyone, but for those with a taste for its unique brand of antique sleaze, it’s pretty darn entertaining. For those with a sensitivity to out of date, inappropriate and offensive material, it would likely be much less fun. On the one hand, it’s a “documentary” with a lot of misinformation & stereotyping in it. But on the other hand, I kind of believe them when they say they got their facts from recent (in 1965) research. Probably some biased, 2nd rate studies by would-be Masters & Johnson types. This makes it a fascinating window into the crazy beliefs of the time. And it’s the over-the-top inappropriateness of what the narrator is saying that makes the movie a jaw dropping good time (for those who can stand it). John Waters is apparently a fan of this film, and I can see why. In some ways, it’s kind of a distant relative (and perhaps an influence on) Waters’ A Dirty Shame (2004). it’s been a while since I saw that movie, but I recall Waters educating the audience about different types of unusual sexual practices (a plate job, for instance). I really need to see that movie again soon…

One reviewer on the IMDb says “For what it is “chained girls” is one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve ever had… Rarely has a movie made me laugh so hard and so deeply… Really this film is a treat if you are in the right frame of mind and/or watching it with someone who truly has a firm grasp of irony.”

I first saw Chained Girls with my friend Brian during one of our all day movie marathons. We had no idea what we were getting into, and I think we both spent the entire 65 minutes with our jaws hanging open in disbelief (when we weren’t laughing, of course). Watching it again now only confirmed our original impression of it. I remember turning to Brian halfway through the film and saying “This movie could be turned into a brilliant fringe musical.” As I mentioned earlier, I spent many years working on crazy musicals and I had a pretty good eye for material that was ripe for adaptation. “I don’t think I could do it, however,” I said. “The playwright and/or composer needs to be a woman – and preferably a lesbian.” I made a mental note to mention this idea the next time I ran into the right person, but alas, it never came up. So, if any of my lesbian playwright friends are reading this, here’s an idea for you…

As for the rest of us, we can still enjoy Chained Girls (1965), for what it is, on any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn on which the spirit moves us, grabs us, or otherwise chains us to our seat. It’s the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that must be seen to be believed.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)

When I was a kid, there were a lot of cool looking scary movies in the theatres. I used to scan the listings in our local newspaper, see the ads, and wish that I could go. Unfortunately, I was too young to get in to most of them. I also didn’t have any money, so I had to rely on my parents taking me – and they weren’t generally choosing horror movies. One of the first films I went to see on my own (with friends) was Poltergeist (1982) – but that was years after I’d started reading the listings. VCRs were still just a futuristic dream for me at that point. So what was a horror loving kid to do in the 1970s and early ’80s?

One answer was TV movies. There were also regular movies on TV, of course. That’s how I saw Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), etc. But TV movies were a really big thing in those days. It seemed like whatever types of horror movies were selling tickets at the theatres, there would soon be suspiciously similar looking movies popping up on my TV.

Newspaper ad for The Lynda Carter made for TV movie Hotline (1982) - a different kind of horror than The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)When slasher films were all the rage on the big screen – often two or three opening in the same week – I recall getting to watch made for TV “slasher” movies like Hotline (1982), starring Lynda Carter. It wasn’t exactly a hard core slasher film, but get a load of the description on the IMDb: “A beautiful telephone operator is stalked by a murderous madman.” it says. “Hang Up! Before HE comes to cut you off…DEAD!” Now I really want to see that movie again – but it will have to wait for another Friday night…

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) was made for TV before my time. I did not see it rerun as a late movie. I didn’t even know it existed until sometime last year. Apparently it was the pilot for a proposed TV series called The Haunted, which never got made. The producers added some more footage and released it as a standalone movie.

Martin Landau stars as an architect who moonlights as a paranormal investigator. It’s not clear to me if he was supposed to be a recurring character on The Haunted, but it wouldn’t have been a bad idea for a show.

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre is stunningly shot in black and white, and has loads of creepy atmosphere. The story is also interesting, and perhaps a bit more complicated than the average old fashioned ghost story. It starts with an idea that could have been (and probably was) ripped right from the pages of Edgar Allan Poe. “Terrified of being buried alive by mistake, a woman puts a phone in her crypt to be able to call home if she needs help.” says the IMDb. When I read this description, I couldn’t help but think of Poe’s The Premature Burial. However, this is all back story for The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre. The film actually begins with the dead woman’s son receiving mysterious phone calls that he believes are from her – and our story goes from there (this made me think of Psycho II (1983), but that film didn’t exist yet).

Diane Baker and Martin Landau explore the crypt in The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)

The cast is excellent, and also includes Judith Anderson, who was in such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Agatha Christie’s proto-slasher And Then There Were None (1945), and film noir masterpiece Laura (1944). The film also stars Diane Baker – who was in such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964), and a movie that I first watched and enjoyed a few years ago, Stigma (1972).

When I was young, I thought that made for TV horror was somehow inferior to regular theatrical horror films. I suppose it was because of the limitations of television in those days (no gore, no nudity, little violence, etc.). Now, I have the almost polar opposite opinion. I’ve seen more than my share of mind-numbingly awful recent horror films that contain all the nudity, gore and violence that anyone could hope for, and yet are boring, have no compelling story, or are just plain stupid. Made for TV movies – especially the ones made back in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s – could not rely on things like gore to entertain the audience, so they had no choice but to tell a compelling story. Made for TV horror films like The Night Stalker (1972)Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Salem’s Lot (1978), Trilogy of Terror (1975) and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) are now considered classics of the genre.

My friend Brian and I have an all day horror movie marathon once a year, and recently we’ve taken to watching nothing but old made for TV horror films. Having already seen most of the classic gore and extreme horror films of the past, TV movies were kind of the last frontier of undiscovered material for us – and we have unearthed a few gems in our modest quest so far. Some examples are When Michael Calls (1972), Home For the Holidays (1972), Scream Pretty Peggy (1973), The Victim (1972) and  A Cold Night’s Death (1973). Had we watched The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, it would have been very high up on our list of favourites. 

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema that could have been a bonafide classic if it had ever been given a chance. I had never heard of it, and I have been exploring the fringes of horror and made for TV movies for quite some time. I have often talked about home video (VHS and Beta – rentals in particular) being the equivalent of the “home drive-in” of the 1980s and ’90s. I’ve come to realize that movies shown on late night TV, and made for TV horror films, were the pre-VHS and Beta “home drive-in” for people like me. It’s always a thrill to discover an old made for TV movie that would have thrilled me, or scared the crap out of me, when I was too young to see it in the theatre – and I will undoubtedly be revisiting The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

When I was in school, ninjas were the height of cool. There were always one or two guys in my shops classes that were secretly making ninja weapons when they should have been working on their assignments. I witnessed guys making “numchucks” or nunchaku sticks in wood shop. I saw guys making throwing stars in metal shop – and had to duck a few times when they threw them at me. I even remember some persistent geniuses making weapons out of the raw materials in electronics shop. I don’t recall anyone making weapons in food shop (or cooking class as some people called it), but that didn’t mean food shop wasn’t a dangerous place  – and not just because there were knives and forks around.

In my first year of junior high school, students were forced to try ALL of the shops classes – regardless of which ones might have interested them. I guess it was almost like a sampler year; we spent a few weeks in each shop to give us an idea of what it would be like to take any one of those classes for a full year (or half year as the case might have been). This meant that my friends and I were forced to take sewing and cooking, alongside more traditionally “male” activities such as sawing wood and building speakers for telephones (it should be noted that not too many years before that, guys weren’t even ALLOWED to take those shops – and vice-versa for girls). As it turned out, many of us guys decided that food shop was actually the best place to be. Not only was it fun to learn how to bake a cake or make Jamaican Patties, but it meant that we got to eat a free meal at the end of each class. What could be better than that?

Another positive side effect of being in food shop all afternoon was that there were very few psychopaths trying to make weapons and hurl them at us. I won’t go so far as to say that there were none, because two of the most annoying troublemakers in the school decided that they liked to bake their cakes and eat them too. The class was divided into several kitchens, each one with two to four people in it. My kitchen included a good friend of mine, Kevin, and a couple of other decent guys. The kitchen next to us featured the two troublemakers. One of the troublemakers was physically smaller than Kevin and me, but he was always getting in our faces – perhaps because he felt he had to prove himself. He walked into our kitchen on the first day and put Kevin into a headlock while we were seated at our table. I got up and told him to get out. He said something unfriendly, but I grabbed his arm and carefully led him out of our kitchen. I say carefully, because I was trying to diffuse a potentially bad situation. I was studying Tae Kwon Do at the time, and probably could have wiped the floor with this guy, but he had a lot of friends – many of whom were much bigger and more dangerous than him.

After he was gone, Kevin got up from the table and said “That guy smelled like dried piss.”

We both laughed, and from that day forward we always referred to that guy as Dried Piss.

“If he smelled so bad, ” I asked, “then why did you just keep sitting there? Why didn’t you do something?”

“I considered calling him an asshole,” Kevin said.

I laughed and said ” Next time help me kick him out.”

The other troublemaker, and kitchen-mate of Dried Piss, was the de-facto leader of all the troublemakers at our school. He was larger than Dried Piss – and larger than us, too. He wore a stupid looking bandana around his head, and liked to cause trouble for me in particular. He was clearly more dangerous than Dried Piss, but I was fairly confident that my martial arts training would serve me well in a fight against him. My bigger concern was the gang of goons that he would send after me in retaliation. Part of me wanted to fight him anyway – and for a while I was convinced that a showdown between us was inevitable – but that’s part of a much larger story that did not ultimately play out in food shop.

Stupid Bandana would periodically invade our kitchen, and I would carefully shove him back out. Over time I got less careful, and I’m still not sure how the situation never escalated further than smirking and insulting words aimed at Kevin and me. Perhaps on some level Stupid Bandana knew that it would be a bad risk to fight a trained martial artist. He was one the people who made ninja weapons in wood and metal shop, but he was certainly no ninja and I think he knew that. Perhaps he was afraid that my non-weapon-building friends and I might be – if not actual ninjas – whatever the Tae Kwon Do equivalent might have been. We weren’t, of course, but we enjoyed watching ninja movies. Enter the Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and Ninja III: The Domination (1984) were the holy trinity, of course. We discovered American Ninja (1985) a little bit later, but for some reason I did not watch any of the sequels until very recently

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989) is not the continuing saga of Joe Armstrong, American Ninja, as played by Michael Dudikoff. Apparently Michael Dudikoff was originally supposed to be in this movie, but he was feeling “burned out” on martial arts and didn’t like the fact that the movie was going to be filmed in South Africa while apartheid was still going on. Dudikoff did return to star in American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990).

I knew nothing about American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt prior to last Friday, and I had expected David Bradley to be playing the same character, Joe Armstrong, that Michael Dudikoff had played. Much to my surprise, he plays a different guy named Sean Davidson – who is also referred to as The American Ninja at times. Steve James, who reprises his role as Curtis Jackson, does not know Sean Davidson at the beginning of this movie. At one point he says to him “Are you a ninja?” and Sean answers yes. “That explains a lot…” Curtis says.

So, it’s like Curtis makes an easy transition from best buddy of Joe in the first two movies, to best buddy of Sean in this one. I’m not sure why they didn’t just have David Bradley play Joe Armstrong, the way Roger Moore took over the role of James Bond. But in some ways, it just adds to the inspired lunacy of this movie, so I guess that’s a plus. It also paved the way for American Ninja 4: The Annihilation to feature BOTH David Bradley and Michael Dudikoff playing their respective characters. I haven’t seen that movie yet, but if it isn’t cinematic gold then something is wrong with the universe. 

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt is not as good as the first two movies. David Bradley is a really good martial artist – perhaps better than Michael Dudikoff, but Dudikoff is a better actor than Bradley. The story is relatively ludicrous – which could actually be a good thing – and Steve James doesn’t have enough to do in this movie (although he is great at what he does). In some ways they should have just made a movie about his character. Having said that, American Ninja 3 is still quite entertaining for anyone with a taste for this kind of late ’80s insanity. One of the characters makes use of disguises in ways that are a constant source of delight. And who doesn’t love watching scores of incompetent ninjas getting knocked around the screen?

All in all, American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989) is a very pleasant way to pass a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. While it may not have reached the heights of other third-in-the-series vigilante action films (hello Death Wish 3 (1985)), it continued the flow of quality ninja entertainment from The Cannon Group – a veritable fount of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that has rarely – if ever – been equalled.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Sudden Fury (1975)

Growing up in Canada, there were opportunities to see unusual and obscure Canadian films on TV from time to time. This was due to a little thing called Canadian Content Rules. TV stations were required to fill a certain percentage of their schedules with Canadian programming. TV stations, however, believed that no one wanted to see Canadian TV shows and movies, so they used a lot of tricks to avoid actually showing any. The two exceptions were local news and sporting events, which not only counted as Canadian Content but were actually popular. Aside from that, Canadian TV stations used to air several extremely short form programmes in between and/or during popular American and British shows – almost like commercials. If you grew up in Canada in the ’70s and ’80s, you will undoubtedly remember shows like Hinterland Who’s Who. Each episode lasted barely more than one minute, and provided some brief information about a particular form of wildlife that called Canada home. Here is an example from the National Film Board:

There were other short programmes, such as Body Break which provided health and fitness advice in very brief segments, and Canada Vignettes by the NFB. TV stations would air some of these shorts over and over again, and seeing some of them became almost like hearing a favourite song on the radio. I know I would always get excited whenever I saw certain vignettes, like this one called Faces:

Canadian TV stations did show Canadian movies from time to time, but usually late at night or during the summer – when less people were watching. I, of course, was one of those lesser people – and over the years I saw some really memorable movies, like the craptacular shot on video Niagara Strip (1987). I didn’t know this at the time, but it was one of the now legendary low budget movies made by Emmeritus Productions for a TV station in Hamilton, Ontario. In retrospect, I really admire them for making movies like this to satisfy their Canadian Content requirements. At the time, I just thought it was a horrible movie – but it kind of inspired me. If those guys could make a movie this bad and get it onto TV then why couldn’t I? Unfortunately, I never did.

I also saw good Canadian movies on TV, like The Changeling (1980) and Terror Train (1980), but it’s more interesting to think back on the strange ones that I’d never heard of before (and in some cases, since). I’m not even sure what some of them were. I have vivid memories of scenes, or moments, or images – like a young, hippy-ish biker wearing a leather jacket with a Canadian flag on the back. I have no idea what movie that was from. If anyone can tell me, I’d be very interested.

One movie that I did not see on TV back in the day (and had not even heard of until very recently), is Sudden Fury (1975). Oddly enough, since I tweeted (and posted) about watching it last Friday, a few people have told me that they saw it on TV when they were kids – and that it really disturbed and/or frightened them. How cool is that?

Sudden Fury is a suspense thriller that borders on horror at times. It was directed by Brian Damude, whose only other directing credits are a short film from 1974 and a made for TV feature that was apparently shot in 1986 but never released. It’s hard to believe that Damude didn’t have more of a career as a filmmaker because Sudden Fury is masterfully done. He is a film professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts, so that may explain what he’s been doing with his time since making this movie back in the mid ’70s.

Perhaps Damude’s lack of filmmaking success could partly be blamed on the fact that Sudden Fury was another one of those Tax Shelter films that never got a very wide release. The people that put money into it likely only cared about the tax breaks and didn’t work too hard to ensure that the movie was seen. I knew nothing about it until very recently – and I have a particular interest in Canadian movies from the 1970s so that’s saying something. Still, it’s good to know that some people of my my generation were lucky enough to see in on TV back in the day (before it virtually disappeared). I am so glad that Vinegar Syndrome has now restored and released it on Blu-ray (with the approval and involvement of Damude).

The cast includes Dominic Hogan, a successful theatre actor who spent three years at the Stratford Festival. He has a few TV credits, including the Canadian sci-fi show The Starlost (1973-74) – another weird Canadian production that I remember seeing on TV when I was very young. Hogan apparently died one year after Sudden Fury was made, at age 40. According to a MacLean’s magazine profile of actress Julie Amato, Hogan had been living with Amato for six years when he suddenly died of a heart attack.

Strange Personal Connection: Julie Amato starred in Canadian TV series called House Of Pride (1974-1976), which was partially shot in Winnipeg (my home town). One of Amato’s co-stars was Doreen Brownstone, my friend and favourite (currently) 98 year old actress. I first learned about Amato from Doreen’s stories about working with her on that show. Amato would have been living with Dominic Hogan at the time that Doreen knew her.

Gay Rowan plays Dominic Hogan’s wife in Sudden Fury. She was a regular cast member of The Starlost TV show. I really need to buy the complete series and re-watch it one of these days…

Sudden Fury (1975) is an excellent, gritty, suspenseful 1970s crime thriller. It’s complete lack of commercial success is hard to believe, but it also makes it a #Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic. I will undoubtedly be watching it again (and again) in the future – perhaps on another #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: One-Armed Boxer / The Chinese Professionals (1972)

When I was 13, a friend of mine enrolled in Tae Kwon Do classes, and he immediately began trying to convince the rest of us to join him. At first I was resistant to the idea, which is weird because I enjoyed watching martial arts action movies. I loved Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee and the hugely popular ’80s ninja films. I also liked the idea of knowing how to do those fancy moves, and being able to defend myself. There were a lot of bullies roaming the halls of my junior high school – and they often roamed in packs, which made standing up to them seem like a bad idea for for anyone who didn’t savour the thought of taking on seven or eight guys at once. Chuck and Bruce and Sho Kosugi would do it in the movies, and it seemed kind of magical to me. It was almost like those guys had superpowers.

In light of all this, I’m not sure why I said no when my friend Doug urged me to sign up for Tae Kwon Do classes. Maybe because I knew that guys like Chuck and Bruce spent years studying martial arts, and I didn’t want to do that. So instead I took books out of the public library – books about karate and judo and generic “self defence” – and I hoped to learn some tricks from them. They tended to have comic-book-like panels of photographs showing the reader how to do the various moves. I remember looking at those pictures, but I’m not sure if I ever tried to copy the moves.

My other friend Doug had exactly the same reaction as me (minus the books). We talked about the pros and cons of taking classes with Doug and somehow agreed that we didn’t want to do it. I also talked to my Dad about it. I said really smart things like “Why would I need to take classes when I can simply watch the movies and read the books and learn how to do things that way?” My Dad explained to me in a very polite and reasonable way that I was an idiot. I don’t remember all of then finer points of his argument, but it included things like: “There’s a difference between reading about something and actually doing it.”

After a few weeks of deliberation, my friend Doug and I both decided to join our other friend Doug in studying Tae Kwon Do.

One of the weird side effects of studying a martial art was that it made me see the movies differently. I no longer thought that the spectacular moves of Chuck or Bruce looked magical. I started to understand and recognize what they were doing. Even though Tae Kwon Do was different than Karate or Kung Fu, I still felt like I was seeing some of the same techniques that I was learning reflected back at me from the TV/VCR and the big movie theatre screen. In some ways it was great. It made learning from the movies actually seem a little more possible. It also made me feel like I knew stuff; like I had inside information, or that I had joined an exclusive club that included people like Chuck and Bruce and Sho –

Okay, Sho was a little different because he was a ninja, and ninjas used all kinds of fancy weapons like throwing stars and nunchaku sticks (more commonly referred to as numchucks or nunchucks by the bullies at my school who would try to make them in shops classes). Weapons were not a part of our Tae Kwon Do training, and our instructor had no use for them whatsoever. When I saw them employed in a movie, they still seemed somewhat otherworldly to me.

On the downside, learning a martial art in real life made watching the movies a little less exciting. The magic was gone, and I could only see the science or the art of what the performers were doing. I could still be impressed by the years of training and the amazing skills on display, but it was kind of like I had been allowed to peek behind the curtain and I now knew what was going on back there.

Fortunately, as school started to demand more and more of my time, and I got involved with things like playing in a band, my years of martial arts training came to an end. By the time I was immersed in film and theatre at university, going to those brutal hour long workouts three times a week was a distant memory to me (and unfortunately, it was starting to show in my level of fitness). This meant that the magic of movie martial arts started to slowly creep back into my life. It was probably the North American rise of Jackie Chan in the latter half of the 1990s that finally cinched it. I loved Jackie and I watched every film of his that I could put my hands on. There were others, too, but Jackie was my new hero.

I may have seen Jimmy Wang Yu in a movie at some point, but it was most likely back in the really old days of renting crazy martial arts films on VHS and Beta. He was not someone I really knew much about in my adult years. I had heard of some of his films, but had no memory of ever seeing them. When I stumbled onto a nice set of four Jimmy Wang Yu films somewhere in my movie buying travels, I knew that I had to pick them up.

One-Armed Boxer (1972) is the first movie in the set, and I decided to give it a go last #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. It brought back so many wonderful memories of the old school martial arts films that I used to rent with my friends when we were kids. It begins with a rivalry between two schools of martial artists, one of them honest and good (Jimmy Wang Yu’s) and the other one nasty and criminal at heart. I can’t name all of the other movies that feature this “rival schools” plot device, but I can tell you that my friend Ian and I spent many hours playing a video game called Rival Schools back in the ’90s – but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that this is a fairly compelling storytelling choice, and it works particularly well in One-Armed Boxer.

Also known as The Chinese Professionals, this movie features another wonderful (and somewhat familiar) plot device: the “bad” school, unable to defeat their rivals in an honest manner, bring in martial arts masters from all over the world to help them – each one from a different martial arts tradition. There is a Yoga master from India, two mystic Tibetan lamas, two Thai boxers, Judo and Karate experts from Japan — AND a Tae Kwon Do master! As someone who has a particular interest in Tae Kwon Do, I can tell you that it’s pretty rare to see it depicted in an old school martial film (at least in my experience). I do have one movie in my collection called When Taekwondo Strikes (1973), which I’m pretty pumped about – but that’s another story. 

I can’t really call myself an expert on martial arts movies, or Hong Kong movies – certainly not on Jimmy Wang Yu movies – but for my taste, One-Armed Boxer (1972) is old school martial arts action at it’s finest. The fact that it includes so many different styles of martial arts makes it particularly wonderful to behold. I haven’t even touched on the whole “one armed” aspect of this movie, but suffice it to say that it’s a big part of what makes The Chinese Professionals a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic. If you’ve seen any of the “one armed” movies out there, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen any of them, then this is the perfect place to start. There is a sequel of sorts called Master of the Flying Guillotine (1976) which is considered to be even better, but I would still say start with this one. It will punch up any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, and possibly kick-start a whole new cinematic obsession. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977)

Greydon Clark is a name that I used to see on the backs of movie boxes in the 1980s, and in the credits of movies on late night TV. Unlike other names I recognized, like David Cronenberg or George A. Romero, I didn’t know anything about Greydon Clark – and watching a movie like Angels’ Brigade (1979) on TV certainly didn’t convince me that Clark was a great filmmaker. But somehow, over time, his name became a kind of second-string stamp of approval. It convinced me, on many occasions, that the odd looking film in my hand was worth renting – or buying. 

Greydon Clark made about 20 movies between 1971 and 1998 – and I have several in my collection: Black Shampoo (1976), Hi-Riders (1978), Angels’ BrigadeWithout Warning (1980), Joysticks (1983) and now Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977).

I wasn’t too sure if I had seen Satan’s Cheerleaders before, and watching it last week I’m still not 100% sure. I recognized the opening sequence (perhaps the first ten minutes or so), but the rest of the movie seemed completely new to me. I suspect that I started watching it on TV at some point and, for whatever strange reason, I stopped. I can’t imagine that I would have given up because I didn’t like it. For starters, it’s fairly bad right off the bat – but I mean “bad” in the kind of way that my friends I would seek out; a campy comedy about cheerleaders having fun at the beach – what could be better than that?

Secondly, I’ve always been a stickler for finishing movies. I had a theatre professor at university who advised us that we should never walk out of a play because “you can always learn something from it.” His advice made sense to me, and I realized that I had already been practicing what he was preaching in the way that I watched films. I wouldn’t have articulated it in the same way, but I don’t think I ever stopped watching a movie on purpose. If you had asked me why, I probably would have said “because you never know if it might get better.”

If I had to guess, I would say that I probably saw the beginning of Satan’s Cheerleaders really late at night and I just couldn’t stay up to finish it. Maybe I had a class first thing in the morning. Maybe I didn’t think I could fully appreciate it when I was already dead tired. Maybe I figured I would track it down and watch it properly at some point in the future. Whatever the case, I stopped watching the film and never got back to it.

Satan’s Cheerleaders has one of those titles that you never forget – and it’s certainly been on my must watch list for a long, long time. I think that the main reason I didn’t get to it before now is that I somehow convinced myself that I had already seen it. I may have been mixing it up with memories of Satan’s School for Girls (1973), a pretty entertaining made for TV movie with two of my favourite Charlie’s Angels (Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd) – but that’s another story.

Satan’s Cheerleaders is a weird cross between a cheerleader movie (a kind of sexploitation comedy, I suppose) and a Satanic horror film. It’s a fairly gentle, and almost tasteful (if you can use a word like tasteful to describe a movie about cheerleaders and Satan), example of those genres. It’s sexy in a silly way, and does have a few brief glimpses of nudity, but for the most part it’s about cheerleaders (and their teacher) in bathing suits, underwear, and skimpy outfits. As far as the Satanic “horror” goes, it’s pretty campy and low key. As I said to someone on Twitter: there may have been better cheerleader movies, there may have been better Satanic horror films – but there has rarely been a film that combined BOTH of those things.

Honestly, I can’t think of a single other cheerleader exploitation comedy/Satanic horror film. I may be forgetting something, but I’m going to suggest that Satan’s Cheerleaders is a fairly one of a kind film. This doesn’t exactly make it a cinematic triumph, but it certainly makes it interesting.

When I wrote about Greydon Clark’s Angels’ Brigade I noted the fact that he’d assembled a really amazing cast of old TV/film stars. He did the same thing for Satan’s Cheerleaders. John Ireland (Red River (1948)Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957)) plays a small town Sheriff who may be more sympathetic to Satan than cheerleaders in distress. His wife is played by Canadian actress Yvonne De Carlo, who is perhaps best remembered for playing Lily Munster on The Munsters (1964-66). Genre royalty John Carradine plays a bum who tries to warn the cheerleaders. Sydney Chaplin (Charlie’s son) plays a monk (of Satan). And Jack Kruschen, a character actor who I’m sure we’ve all seen appearing on numerous TV shows (some of my favourites include Barney Miller (1973-82), WKRP in Cincinnati (1978-82), The A-Team (1983-87), Remington Steele (1982-87) – the list goes on and on). He was also in movies like The Apartment (1960) and The War of the Worlds (1953). He has a face that is instantly recognizable to anyone who watched TV in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. I could not have told you his name, but I knew him as soon as he appeared onscreen in Satan’s Cheerleaders. – as Billy the school Janitor, who procures victims for the local Satanic cult to sacrifice. My mind was completely blown, however, when I looked him up on the IMDb and discovered that Jack Kruschen was born in Winnipeg, my home town.

Jack Kruschen and his family apparently moved to New York when he was still a young child, and then to Los Angeles where he was discovered performing in an operetta at Hollywood High School.

Canadians are bad at celebrating our own success stories, and Winnipeggers can be even worse. Sure we hear about Monty Hall, Deanna Durbin, and David Steinberg. But over the years, I have learned about many born in Winnipeg people who went on to great success in Hollywood and elsewhere – who never get mentioned as former Winnipeggers. Gisele MacKenzie, Marjorie White, Ted Rusoff, Joanna Gleason… Jack Kruschen is just the latest (and possibly greatest) example, and knowing who he is will forever change the way I react when I watch one of the over 220 TV shows and movies in which he appeared. 

Satan’s Cheerleaders (1977) is classic Greydon Clark – which means it’s 100% Certified #NotQuiteClassicCinema. People with low or no tolerance for “bad” movies will probably want to give it a wide berth. People who are looking for seriously scary Satanic horror will not find what they are looking for here. But those who appreciate the finer things in life, like Ed Wood, Al Adamson, and that low rent sex comedy you saw back in junior high school but can’t remember the name of, will find Satan’s Cheerleaders to be a welcome ray of sunshine on a rainy #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.  

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: 13 Frightened Girls (1963)

William Castle never fails to entertain me. I’ve enjoyed movies like House on Haunted Hill (1959) and The Tingler (1959) for many years. And his legendary gimmicks are always an added plus to the experience (not that I’ve ever actually EXPERIENCED the gimmicks, but reading about them – and imagining what they would have been like -always adds to my enjoyment of his movies).

In the case of 13 Frightened Girls (1963), the gimmick is a little less visceral than, say, a giant skeleton flying over the audience (Emergo from House on Haunted Hill) or electric buzzers wired to theatre seats (Percepto in The Tingler). This time the gimmick was a world wide talent search for teenage girls to play the daughters of diplomats who attend a special school. So, presumably, this would mean that people from 13 different countries could take pride in one of their own being selected to appear in this movie. I’m not sure if this actually increased ticket sales in the winning countries, but I understand the spirit of the idea.

On the downside, this gimmick seems more like a pre-movie publicity stunt than something that would actually enhance the experience of watching the film. Still, it’s a fun idea.

Judging by the title and the poster, a person might be tempted to think that 13 Frightened Girls is a horror film. It clearly seems to have been named after Castle’s successful 13 Ghosts (1960) and, going in, I almost wondered if I was about to see some sort of sequel to that movie… but no.

13 Frightened Girls is unusual and unique – hard to classify or put into a category. As I watched the first few minutes of it I found myself wondering what Castle had thought he was creating. Did he imagine that this was his version of… a James Bond film? It did come out one year after Dr. No (1962) – and there certainly were a lot of James Bond knockoffs in the 1960s (including some spoofy comedies), but it seems unlikely that this one could have been a direct decedent. Let’s face it, a story about teenage schoolgirls doesn’t quite seem like an obvious riff on Bond.

As the movie wore on, I decided that Castle must have been thinking of Alfred Hitchcock when he made this one. Picture it: a suspenseful story about an ordinary person, in this case a teenage schoolgirl, who gets mixed up in a dangerous game of espionage when she accidentally stumbles upon a murder. That could be a Hitchcock plot – and Hitchcock certainly knew how to use humour in his films…

…which brings me to the point that while 13 Frightened Girls is sort of a suspense thriller, it’s also a fairly silly teen comedy. In fact, I’d say it’s more of a comedy than a thriller. It also contains a potentially uncomfortable Lolita-like sub-plot: Candy, our 16-year-old schoolgirl heroine, is in love with 40 year old Wally Sanders, an intelligence agent who works at her father’s embassy. Wally is in love adult woman named Soldier, so it’s not actually a Lolita story. Still, Candy’s feelings for Wally make her decide to “help” him by using her school connections to spy on other counties and pass the information along to Wally. She does this under her nom de plume, Kitten. 

As you can probably imagine, there is much silliness and humour in 13 Frightened Girls. There are also a few suspenseful sequences. It’s by no means William Castle’s best movie, but it’s quite a bit of fun. It’s also a fairly unique movie, as I can’t think of many (or any) others that are exactly like it. Some viewers might take exception to the cultural stereotypes that are on display. As a nearly 60 year old movie that deals with characters from 13 different countries, it’s almost inevitable that much of it would seem outdated now. For maximum enjoyment, it should be viewed as an artifact of it’s time.

Some reviewers have pointed out, quite correctly, that there are in fact 15 girls in this movie – not 13. I’m not sure how to explain that. Perhaps Castle was originally going to call it something else (The Candy Web perhaps), but then decided to cash in on his earlier hit movie, 13 Ghosts. Who knows? I suppose it should also be pointed out that most of the 13 (or 15) girls don’t ever appear to be particularly frightened, either.

No matter how you look at it, 13 Frightened Girls (1963) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema. I had no idea what to expect from it – and if I had, I might have thought twice about screening it on a  #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. After all, it’s not a horror movie, or a monster movie, or any other kind of typical drive-in movie. It’s certainly not an exploitation film… or is it? Maybe what William Castle was exploiting this time, was the national pride of 13 (or 15) different countries. Maybe he was trying to start a whole new kind of exploitation. Or maybe he was just making a PG schoolgirl comedy. Someone suggested that it might pair well with an old Gidget movie (Gidget (1959) or Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) anyone?). And actually that might not be a bad way of understanding this film. Perhaps 13 Frightened Girls was William Castle’s Hitchcock meets Gidget movie. It may have failed to spark a whole new genre, but it’s a fascinating relic of another time. 

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Sheba, Baby (1975)

In all likelihood, the first place I ever saw Pam Grier was on The Love Boat (1977–1987). I watched that show every Saturday night when I was a kid. I wouldn’t have had any idea who Pam Grier was at that point, but it was probably my first glimpse of her. Flash forward a few years and I rented a movie called Women in Cages (1971). This could have been the first time I saw Pam Grier knowing that she was Pam Grier, but I’m not sure. The movie that I remember specifically renting because Pam Grier was starring in it was Coffy (1973). Coffy was the first of what could be called the Big Four Pam Grier Blacksploitation Pictures: Coffy, Foxy Brown (1974), Friday Foster (1975) and Sheba, Baby (1975). All four of the movies were named after the character that Grier played in the movie, and all four were available to rent in matching VHS boxes. I don’t think I realized that Coffy was the first one in the series. Somehow it just found its way into my hand on that day and I took it home. 

I enjoyed Coffy very much, and I eventually bought a copy on VHS that looked exactly like the one pictured to the left. I rented Foxy Brown and Friday Foster fairly quickly after watching Coffy, but I did not rent Sheba, Baby. This is because I had read reviews that suggested that Sheba, Baby was the weakest of the Big Four Pam Grier movies. In fact, I had read reviews that said Sheba, Baby was downright bad. I guess I didn’t want to tarnish the experience of the other three movies by watching this one. 

Years later, I found a copy of Sheba, Baby for sale in a bargain bin. I had already collected the other three movies, as well as The Big Doll House (1971), Women in CagesThe Big Bird Cage (1972), Scream Blacula Scream (1973) and Bucktown (1975). As a completist, I figured that I had to have Sheba, Baby in my collection as well – even if it was a disappointment – so, I bought it and took it home. 

When I finally watched it, I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe my expectations were so low that I had perfectly prepared myself for this movie. It was the weakest of the Big Four in a lot of ways, but it struck me as a darn entertaining movie. Sure, it was basically a PG film rather than the hard R-rated fare that we had come to expect from Pam Grier. Sure, the violence was majorly toned down. Sure, there was only a brief glimpse of partial nudity instead of the eye-popping exploitation on display in many of the other films. Truth be told, Sheba, Baby was actually pretty tasteful – which is why some appreciators of the other three Big Four movies dismissed it. But I watched it KNOWING all that stuff and I was prepared to hate it… but somehow I just couldn’t.

From the very first frame of the film I knew I was in for a good time. The music, by Monk Higgins & Alex Brown, instantly grabbed my ears and held on tight. By the time we got to the opening titles of the film, and Barbara Mason began to sing, I knew that I had to have this soundtrack in my collection. Since then, I have listened to it countless times as I walk around the city streets wearing my iPod – much the way Pam Grier walks around the streets of Chicago during the opening credits of Sheba, Baby. (minus the iPod, of course). It’s a simple sequence in the movie, but for some reason it really spoke to me. And now I tell anyone who’ll listen that the soundtrack of Sheba, Baby is the perfect walking music. 

I also loved the fact that Pam Grier plays a private detective in this movie. I’ve always been partial to private detective stories; movies like The Maltese Falcon (1941), of course, but also the TV shows of my youth, like Remington Steele (1982–1987). Remington Steele is about a brilliant female private detective who has to create a fake male detective boss in order to get hired. Surprisingly, Sheba Shayne also has a male detective partner/colleague, and he seems to be the less competent member of the team. We don’t learn very much about him, because Sheba almost instantly finds herself travelling to Louisville to help her father, who has run afoul of some nasty gangsters.

Sheba’s father’s business associate is played by Austen Stoker, whom I have liked since first seeing him in Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). And since he is in the opening scene of Sheba, Baby, this might be another reason that I found myself instantly enjoying the movie. We eventually learn that Stoker’s character, Brick Williams, shares a bit of a romantic history with Sheba – and the two of them wind up working together to defeat the bad guys.

There is plenty of action in Sheba, Baby. It’s just not the edgy, extremely violent kind of action that is present in films like Coffy. I suspect that the producers must have been interested in reaching a more general audience with this film. I’m not sure if it worked. Some have suggested that this movie marked the end of Pam Grier’s reign as Queen of Blaxploitation movies – even going so far as to blame this movie for ruining the winning formula (extreme violence and exploitation). I’m not sure that the filmmakers made the right choice in toning things down for Sheba, Baby, but I have found that the movie has grown on me more and more every time I watch it. In fact, I may have watched it more times than any of the other Big Four Pam Grier films. Not because I think it’s the best. Objectively, I know that it’s not the best. But somehow I find it irresistible. 

Sheba, Baby was directed by William Girdler, who is best known for making Grizzly (1976) and The Manitou (1978). He also made another not quite classic Blaxploitation film called Abby (1974) – and probably could have gone on to make many more cinematic delights –  but, sadly, he died two years after completing Sheba, Baby, at age 30. 

D’Urville Martin plays Pilot, one of the main bad guys. He was in many great Blaxploitation films, such as Black Caesar (1973), Five on the Black Hand Side (1973), and the legendary Dolemite (1975). Sadly, he died in 1984 at the age of 45.

Sheba, Baby (1975) is not the greatest Blaxploitation film; it’s not the greatest Pam Grier film. It’s probably not even the greatest William Girdler film. But for some reason, it’s one of my personal favourites. It’s the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I could watch – and enjoy -on any #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.