[17 April 2013]
Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures had a good, if brief, run in the ‘90s, re-releasing a handful of the acclaimed director’s favorite low budget/cult flicks. Three of those titles reemerge on this triple feature DVD. Not only do they introduce many of us to pictures we would have probably missed out on but each—especially Jack Hill’s Switchblade Sisters—appears to have had some significant influence on Tarantino.
The least necessary but perhaps most outright enjoyable of the trio is 1977’s The Mighty Peking Man, which the late Roger Ebert awarded three out of four stars in a review for the Chicago Sun-Times upon its re-release in 1999. He hailed it as a very funny Hong Kong movie, and it’s nothing less than that. The early portion of The Mighty Peking Man concerns itself with an expedition to capture the titular creature and it should be mentioned that the road to find this giant is a treacherous one. There are almost inexplicable and outright hilarious animal attacks plus that most horrific presence of low budget ‘70s films and television shows, quicksand.
It’s during this expedition that Johnny Feng, the heartbroken leader of the whole shebang, encounters the beautiful Samantha. She’s been in the wilderness since childhood, her parents having perished in a plane crash, and she’s befriended all of the wild creatures, including that mighty monster himself. Despite her isolation, Samantha is a quick learner. She’s fast in her grasp of English and she and Johnny are soon deeply in love, enough so that he decides to bring her back to Hong Kong with him when he and other members of the expedition team transport the Mighty Peking Man to the city where he awaits a humiliating future.
The creature is soon separated from Johnny and Samantha and treated like a sideshow attraction. (Because he is.) Before long, Johnny and Samantha’s newfound love is tested and the wild beast is on the rampage. The King Kong connection emerges faster than Samantha learns English and the film races to a satisfying and ultimately welcome conclusion. Lovers of camp will be hard pressed not to love The Mighty Peking Man, as well.
Detroit 9000 (1973)
Detroit 9000 is easily the best of the three films on this single DVD. Released in 1973 during the early days of the blaxploitation flood, the film follows two Motor City cops as they investigate a high-society heist that—according to the DVD jacket—“ignites a powder keg of corruption and violence.” The white cop Danny Bassett (Alex Rocco, The Godfather, Get Shorty) is tough and street-wise; he’s paired with an equally tough but more learned black cop named Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes, who appeared in numerous television programs and films).
The film attempts to examine some of the social issues of its time and does so with varying degrees of success. Often director Arthur Marks takes us just to the brink of a powerful point before plunging us into action sequences that distract from powerful character explorations. (There’s a chase sequence near the end of this film that almost reaches the epic and deeply comic proportions of the fight scene between Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live).
For all of its misses, Detroit 9000 still has many wonderful qualities and its final, resonant moments are worth examining. It might even be worth some young filmmaker’s time to consider remaking this one and maybe smoothing out some of its rougher edges. It’s often a better film than it lets itself be.
Switchblade Sisters (1975)
The final 91 minutes of this collection are dedicated to the 1975 saga Switchblade Sisters, the story of a young woman who transfers to a new school and quickly finds herself in deep with the female gang the Dagger Debs. The plot gets complicated as there are lies, deceit, and plenty of violence involving the Debs and their male counterparts, the Silver Daggers. A conflict with a rival male gang arises, which culminates in disaster at the local roller rink and a shake up in the ranks of the Debs (who quickly become The Jezebels).
A number of weighty issues arise in the film: sexual abuse, abortion, and naturally, juvenile delinquency. As with Detroit 9000 this picture has a riveting story at its core that is occasionally muted by genre conventions. Tarantino fans easily spot the influence this story had on the Kill Bill pictures. Fans of That ‘70s Show will also be pleased to spot a very young Don Stark, a real baddie.
This collection offers no bonus features and in some ways that’s good news as it may very well encourage viewers to use their own creativity in coming to understand the ‘mystique’, if you will, of each of these b-films.