TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TRUCK TURNER (1974)

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TRUCK TURNER (1974)

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1974 blaxploitation flick has soul music legend Isaac Hayes playing ex-football player turned bounty hunter, Mack “Truck” Turner. Mack and his partner Jerry (Alan Weeks) are hired to track down a vicious pimp named Gator (Paul Harris) who has skipped bail. Turner is forced to kill Gator in a gunfight and now must face his vengeful girlfriend/madame Dorinda (Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols) and her new associate Blue (Yaphet Kotto). With hired killers on his tail and a target on his back, Truck Turner is taking the fight to them to protect the ones he loves!

Aside from watching the future Duke Of New York in action and getting to see Star Trek’s Uhura as a foul mouthed madame, there isn’t too much to recommend about Truck Turner other than the obvious nostalgia. The film is sloppily directed by Jonathan Kaplan from a script that took three writers to concoct it’s simple story and hilariously vulgar dialog. The action scenes are badly choreographed and shot and the film feels like it was edited with a chainsaw. Not to say there isn’t some fun to be had from it’s epic badness or the brazen machismo in which Hayes seems to be impervious to gunfire, yet hits his target almost every time. The dialog is filled with profanity and racial slurs, which can be amusing…and quite shocking for those not used to an era long before politically correctness set in. It has something to offend everyone in today’s age of oversensitivity and if the racial slurs and portrayal of women as whores doesn’t accomplish it, a certain scene with Truck’s cat will. The thing is, the movie isn’t trying to offend, it was made at a time where exploitation films ‘went there’ and where proud of it. Still, despite it’s bravado, it seems to be just a little too badly made to really be enjoyable as camp. It is a very amateurish flick, but it did make money back in the day and does have a cult classic reputation, so who am I to argue. The legendary Hayes did the soundtrack himself, so at least there is that.

The cast play things surprisingly serious and that helps. Hayes is as cool as they come and gives his bounty hunter a confident swagger and yet there is a heart under all that testosterone. Nichelle Nichols is delightfully over-the-top and vulgar and really cranks out the trashy sex appeal as vicious madame Dorinda. Actually shows she is a versatile actress when allowed to play something other than Lt. Uhura. Yaphet Kotto gives threat and menace to his pimp Blue and Weeks is a solid enough sidekick for the macho Truck. It’s in the supporting cast that we start to run into trouble and performances range from adequate to awful with the various pimps, prostitutes and hit men. Also features small roles with Dick Miller and frequent John Carpenter guy Charles Cyphers.

Not sure why I didn’t enjoy this one. Normally I love this kind of stuff and maybe just went in with the wrong expectations. I was expecting something more on a Shaft level and maybe wasn’t ready for something that was a blatant exploitation flick that took itself far less seriously and was far less well-made. Perhaps then I will revisit Truck Turner once day and be ready this time for it’s badness, crudeness and rudeness. For now, I see it as a bad flick that was a little too bad for it’s own good at times.

-MonsterZero NJ

A generous…it is Isaac Hayes after all…2 and 1/2 bullets.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But, a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary Of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but, Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But, the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliott) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.

Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller. But, aside from it’s dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliott and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiancé and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.

MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.

3 and 1/2 bullets!

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