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Sunday, September 10, 2017


NOTE: This was originally written for my main blog back in 2008, but I have added a few tweaks since then.

Finally available in a legitimate DVD release, 1975’s BOSS NIGGER has (as previously bitched about on this here blog) indeed been retitled as the far more P.C. “BOSS,” but I’m happy to say that title is purely for the purposes of display on store shelves. The film itself has been altered in no way whatsoever, preserving both the title and the infamous theme song — sing along, kiddies: “They call him Boss…Boss Nigger!!!” — but introduced with the following disclaimer by writer/star Fred “The Hammer” Williamson himself:

In 1972 I had just completed “The Legend of Nigger Charley” and “The Soul of Nigger Charley.” I made this sequel that you are about to see. I used the “N” word to create sensationalism at the box office, and all three films were a success.

You have to remember that all who used that word against me in those films regretted it.

Enjoy the movie. I approve the title and the song with the dialogue intact.

Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, 2008 

I’ve previously railed against the perceived need to retitle the film and am glad to see the film itself left as it was originally seen, but in this climate where the word “nigger” is nearly ubiquitous in popular rap music (enjoyed across every ethnic group) and just about any R-rated film featuring black men, I find the need for any kind of disclaimer, even one so obviously well-intentioned, kind of ridiculous. Plus the film went out as BOSS NIGGER thirty-three years ago without apology, but whatever; those were the days when Richard Pryor won a Grammy for an album entitled “That Nigger’s Crazy” and no one batted an eye, so different time, different mindset I suppose.

BOSS NIGGER has been somewhat rightly described as BLAZING SADDLES without the comedy, and that’s true up to a point but not wholly accurate as the film is an uneven (though entertaining) blending of straight Western tropes and a tongue-in-cheek attitude. Bounty hunters Boss (Williamson, whose character’s surname is never revealed, it's a good bet it probably isn’t “Nigger”) and Amos (D’Urville Martin, perhaps best known as villain Willie Green in the first DOLEMITE flick) ride into a remote town and set themselves up as sheriff and deputy — much to the open consternation and disapproval of the townspeople —, knowing that wanted outlaw Jed Clayton (William Smith, also known as Conan the Barbarian’s sword-making dad) and his gang of marauding assholes/rapists/thieves are holed up somewhere nearby. Unbeknownst to the townsfolk, the crooked mayor (R.G. Armstrong) is sort of in cahoots with Clayton (it’s never made clear just what the mayor gets out of this arrangement other than not being rendered suddenly dead), and the entire town are such a bunch of pussies that even though they considerably outnumber the outlaws and apparently possess weapons and ammo they do nothing whatsoever to stand up for themselves, allowing the bad guys to ride into town and rape and pillage like the bandits in SEVEN SAMURAI, so it’s up to Boss and Amos to do it for them.

When not killing, jailing or generally humiliating Clayton’s thugs, Boss and Amos (especially Amos) enthusiastically enforce laws they make up on the spot, ordinances such as use of the “N” word or general rudeness directed at either of them being punishable by a twenty-dollar fine or two days behind bars and other such similar penalties, leading to what amusingly amounts to an endless source of cash for the two bounty hunters. Between clashes with assholish white folks and the stereotypical outlaw contingent, our heroes prove to be champions of the local downtrodden (translation: Mexicans) and find themselves on the receiving end of the attentions of a variety of interested females (Amos is pursued by a horny Mexican washerwoman whom he defended from abuse by rednecks the second he entered town, while Boss is fancied by two lovelies: a cute black chick whom he and Amos rescued from bushwhackers, and the local school marm, a white chick whose bloomers become quite humid at the sight of the stylish and handsome black-clad gunfighter). But all good things must eventually come to an end and the end here comes when Clayton finally gets off his ass and takes the fight to Boss, first by running over with a horse a Mexican child Boss had saved from starvation, then kidnapping (and raping offscreen) the cute black chick, and lastly by ambushing Boss, beating the shit out of him while he’s held in place by some henchmen and tying him to a post in the full-on desert heat. Amos rescues Boss and the cute black chick and takes them back to town for a brief rest before the inevitable showdown with Clayton, and when that final battle arrives the next morning the town becomes a low budget would-be Peckinpah-esque shootout, resulting in heaps of bodies before our heroes take possession of Clayton’s corpse and ride off to turn it in for a hefty bounty.

Directed by Jack Arnold — who, believe it or not, also helmed IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, RETURN OF THE CREATURE, TARANTULA, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, MONSTER ON CAMPUS and HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, just to name a few —, BOSS NIGGER is a decent enough Western that greatly benefits from Fred Williamson’s trademark cooler-than-polar-bear-shit personality coupled with a wry sense of humor and genuine acting chops, aspects that endeared him to genre fans from the second he hit the movie screen and set him apart from many of the leading men who were his contemporaries; Richard Roundtree, Ron O’Neal and Jim Kelly were all fun presences, but there was only one Fred Williamson and those of us who appreciated his work knew we were on to something unique and consequently his legend endures with a tenacity that few, if any, can match. In BOSS NIGGER he offers a reality-based analog to Cleavon Little’s fully-humorous Sheriff Bart in Mel Brooks’s BLAZING SADDLES and he’s a pleasure to watch as he outmaneuvers his adversaries and takes no shit from anybody, ably assisted by the late D’Urville Martin who takes what could have been a huge zero of a sidekick role and milks it for all it’s worth, playing ex-slave Amos as both capable and dependable while displaying undisguised glee at flagrantly fucking with obnoxious white people. (NOTE: there are some nice white people in the town and they do not get the treatment from Boss and Amos.)

Other than the occasional lapse into pacing more suited for a B-grade TV show (which is unsurprising as Arnold did a lot of TV work), the only thing that annoyed me about BOSS NIGGER was its soundtrack, a wildly inappropriate and strictly by the numbers generic blaxploitation score heavy with “wakka jawakka” electric guitar, and its lazily-written themesong that comes off more as a list of the hero’s attributes than an actual song, and the sumbitch doesn’t even have the decency to rhyme. But if that’s the only gripe that I can voice about this blaxploitation Western — other than it being PG-rated and not the R that would have allowed it to go totally apeshit with graphic violence, sex, cussing and the general sleazy offensiveness that made blaxploitation flicks so much fun in the first place —, it’s a small quibble indeed, so TRUST YER BUNCHE and give the long-unseen BOSS NIGGER (or BOSS, if you insist) a shot.

ADDENDUM: In 2010, I attended the Chiller Theatre convention in New Jersey and got to meet several of my heroes from the blaxploitation boom, including the one and only Fred Williamson, so I made sure to bring a photo from this movie for him to sign, which he gladly did. He was still the coolest of dudes and I wish him nothing but the best.

With the Boss himself.

The uninspired and rather chickenshit packaging for the DVD release.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

All-Time Favorite Movies: A PATCH OF BLUE (1965)

 Home is where the heart is...NOT.

In an effort to take my mind off of my current medical woes, I'm going to start posting capsule looks at my favorite movies of all time, in no particular order. Hopefully, you will find some items that interest you enough to check them out. 

Today we start with A PATCH OF BLUE (1965), a sweet but jarring and tragic tale of the friendship between Sidney Poitier, in yet another of his "perfect negro" roles, and Elizabeth Hartman as the blind, isolated, and abused daughter of aging whore Shelley Winters. (Winters won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this performance and deserved every ounce of it.) It's Hartman's journey from an abused adolescent to blossoming womanhood as her friend (Poitier) teaches her how to become self-sufficient in the sighted world during daily visits to the local park, a world her horrible mother has intentionally kept her unprepared for. As the pair become close, the young woman develops deep romantic feelings for her friend and intends to act on them, but he kindly keeps her at bay due to her age and innocence. 

Life lessons in the park.

But as the narrative progresses, he and the audience learn just how unspeakably horrible the young woman's life was until she met him, a tale involving her witnessing her mother's work as a low-rent whore in their apartment, her being blinded by acid thrown at her father during a vicious spat between her parents, and getting raped by one of her mother's customers while her mother had stepped out for some reason, a scene made all the more terrifying because we experience it from the girl's blind and uncomprehending point of view. Seeing her friend as a way out of her hellish life with her mother, she tries to convince him to take her in as his willing lover, which she says is alright because she's "already been done over." She relates all of this in a matter-of-fact way that communicates that she has accepted such violence as just the way life is, so her relationship with her friend/desired lover is something she never considered as possible. (The appalled look on Poitier's face after her recounting of her sexual assault is like being hit in the face with a hammer.) 

The film's sole decent man holds in his horror and disgust as our blinded and abused heroine nonchalantly recounts being sexually assaulted by one of her mother's vile clients.

And things are further complicated when the evil prostitute mother gets wind of her daughter's friendship with a black man who intends to honorably save the girl and enroll her in a school for the blind, but mom thinks his plans are more lecherous, which does not sit well with her nigger-hatin' attitudes. And worst of all, the mother plans to retire from hooking and open her own brothel, pressing her innocent blind daughter into unwilling service as her first deployed whore. It's a gripping study of world-class family dysfunction and a touching tale of a damaged young girl blossoming to womanhood under the most adverse conditions possible. A hardcore tear-jearker if ever there was one, and hands down my favorite drama from the 1960's, HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

 Poster from the original theatrical release.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Time to commit credibility suicide: I have recently come to the horrifying realization that I actually like Joel Schumacher's much-reviled BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997). 

Yes, BATMAN AND ROBIN is bad, even terrible, but my reason for coming to like it following the shock of seeing it in the theater during its initial release has everything to do with the film simply not giving a fuck and operating on five-year-old "kid logic." It's pretty much a Batman movie that I would have made if I were five years old, had a collection of colorful Batman toys, and a camera. The dialogue is ludicrous, the plot equally so, the visuals look like a fever dream as tempered (or not) by heavy doses of illegal Jamaican cough medicine, and the performances are like what you'd likely get if the aforementioned toys came to life and emoted. It's a child's skewed vision of adventures in Gotham city and god damn me if I don't find it as charming as a particularly dumb and lovable puppy.

Perhaps sitting through it a number of times in the hilarious version with the Rifftrax commentary broke me, but maybe not. I've seen all three of the STAR WARS prequels several times with the Rifftrax treatment and I would rather take shotgun blasts to the kneecaps than sit through any of those ever again in their straight versions, but I can sit through BATMAN AND ROBIN and enjoy it as a goofy live-action cartoon. Again, I know with absolute clarity that it's crap, but...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016


ROGUE ONE — sub-headed as "A STAR WARS Story" — is a well-made, visually spectacular, action-packed adventure set in the galaxy far, far away that we all know and love so well. So why didn't I like it? Allow me to explain. 

The first of an announced ongoing series of stand-alone STAR WARS flicks that are not part of the serialized main saga, ROGUE ONE squanders the vast galactic toybox that is the STAR WARS realm by once again relying too much on fannish nostalgia and not moving forward. The basic story has to deal with a group of Rebel heroes stealing the plans for the Death Star, the aftermath of which mission leads immediately into the original STAR WARS (1977, and fuck you if you think I'm going to call it "A New Hope"), so we already go into the film knowing that the heroes succeed in their mission, thus killing what suspense may have been generated. The Death Star is trotted out yet again, thus revealing a certain bankruptcy of ideas, and the heroes who seek to thwart it mostly fail to generate any sort of interest because we're simply thrust into the narrative while getting to know little or nothing about them. 

The protagonist, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), is the daughter of the designer of the Death Star, as seen in the opening segments, and when we meet her again as an adult, she's in prison for reasons that are given only the merest scrap of explanation. She's broken out of jail by Rebel forces who want to use her to connect them with a guerrilla leader (Forest Whitaker) who may be able to help them locate her dad, who years earlier was press-ganged into helping the Empire build its "planet-killer" of a battle station. Other than Jyn's longing to be reunited with her father, we know absolutely nothing about who she is as a person or what motivates her actions, so her coming to care about the Rebel cause comes from out of nowhere and carries zero weight toward the growth of her character.

The rest of the Rebels that we meet are basically ciphers about whom we are told nothing, and they are so unmemorable that their individual names are almost instantly forgotten by the audience. Other than a few familiar faces from the original STAR WARS trilogy that were shoehorned in here to little or no narrative effect, Jyn Erso, Imperial weapons developer Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and reprogrammed Imperial enforcer droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) are the only characters whose names stuck with me once they were verbally identified. And the only standout among the Rebels that I cared about was the blind warrior Chirutt Imwe, played by my man Donnie Yen, whose character believes strongly in the Force but is notably not a Jedi, despite wielding a stick with speed and skill that makes Stormtroopers his bitches.

 My man Donnie Yen, whom the whole movie should have been about.

Cool though he undeniably was, Yen's character is given very little by way of backstory to explain why some random blind dude who is, again, not a Jedi whips ass with his walking stick like a deep-space Zatoichi. That's a damned shame, because he totally ruled during the moments when he's given something to do, including being given the film's funniest line — in a film sorely in need of some levity — but the real point of his inclusion was so that the film would have a star whose drawing power will put asses in seats in the Chinese market.

With no developed characters for us to be invested in, the story trusts in the audience's nostalgia and love for previous STAR WARS movies to do all of the narrative heavy-lifting, which just struck me as lazy. For a film about which much was made of its intent to break new ground and bring audiences a "different" kind of STAR WARS movie, it's basically just more of the same, a soulless piece of corporate product of the type that less-demanding moviegoers will eat up and thus pour billions into the coffers of Das Uber-Disney. I won't presume to speak for most of the audience out there, but I was bored during most of ROGUE ONE and had to resist the urge to check my phone's clock multiple times. It's two hours and fifteen minutes of pretty much watching a filmed version of some kid making up a STAR WARS adventure in his backyard with some action figures and vehicle accessories, and I found its dour, "more realistic" war movie tone to be as dull as dirt. Sure, it looked amazing — the special effects are nothing less than stunning — but where were the characters to engage me? Where was the movie magic that transports the viewer? And, most importantly, where was the fun in all of this? I wish I could tell you, but I got nothin'.

As I left the theater, a family followed close behind me, discussing the movie amongst themselves. The mother was clearly not impressed but tried to put a positive spin on things, while her three kids — apparently ranging in age from seven to twelve — all expressed how boring they found it to be. The one enthusiastic voice was dad, who countered their arguments of being bored with "Well, I wasn't bored, because I recognized a lot of stuff from the other movies!" Like I said previously, the filmmakers relied on the audience's nostalgia to do all the work, and more's the pity. And while a similar argument could be made for last year's THE FORCE AWAKENS, I found that film to be far more engaging, complete with characters I gave a damn about, both old and new, and a sense of plain and simple fun entertainment that I felt ROGUE ONE was largely bereft of. Your mileage may vary, probably depending on just how much of  STAR WARS zombie you are, but ROGUE ONE just didn't do it for me. Sitting through it once was enough for me, and I earnestly pray that the subsequent stand-alone films in the series provide us with something a lot more worthy of our time and money. It was a noble experiment but I call it a dud.

Oh, and while Darth Vader does indeed appear during two sequences — one of which is really cool — his inclusion is both short and virtually meaningless to the film's overall plot. He could have been left out entirely and it would have made not a lick of difference to the story. If you're planning on seeing it in hope of a serious Vader fix, forget it.

Poster from the theatrical release.

Monday, October 31, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-Day 31: MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1967)

The Monster enjoys an electrical pick-me-up.

When Dr. Frankenstein (Boris Karloff) decides to retire and name a successor to his position of the world's monster elite, he announces a gala event on his remote island/laboratory and invites an all-star who's-who of baleful creatures of the night. Along with his infamous Monster and its mate (Phyllis Diller), the Invisible Man, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Hunchback, the Mummy, the Werewolf, and of course Count Dracula all show up, some with their eyes greedily fixed upon the successorship. But Frankenstein throws an unintentional curveball by inviting his nebbishy pharmacist nephew, Felix Flanken, to the proceedings, with the lad firmly in mind as his replacement.

Felix Flanken and his uncle, Dr. Frankenstein (Boris Karloff).

That does not sit well with the glitterati of monsterdom, especially not with Dracula and the Monster's mate, plus to say nothing of Dr. Frankenstein's impossibly gorgeous redheaded assistant, Francesca. The hapless Felix swiftly and utterly unknowingly finds himself the target of multiple half-assed assassination attempts, but an even greater threat looms in the form of a titanic uninvited guest who seeks to wreak vengeful havoc...

A grand monster rally.

Finding appropriate fare for the wee ones around Halloween can be a bitch, since much of the scary movie material about there would be considered wholly inappropriate by most parents. (But not by uncles of my stripe, let me tell you!) That's where the magic world of Rankin/Bass Productions comes to the rescue. Renowned and beloved for their now-classic annual holiday television specials, such as RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964), SANTA CLAUS IS COMIN' TO TOWN (1970), THE YEAR WITHOUT A SANTA CLAUS (1974, which features the fan-favorite "Heat Miser/Snow Miser" numbers), and the excellent L. Frank Baum adaptation, THE LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF SANTA CLAUS (1985), the company crafted charming and fun stop-motion animated specials and features brought to life by skilled animators in Japan, and this theatrical feature film was always a favorite and must-watch offering whenever it aired on television during the youth of those of us who are now of a certain age. 

The narrative is basically a case of "What if Mad Magazine made HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN?"— an aspect driven home by character designs courtesy of Mad stalwart Jack Davis — with no classic monster trope left untouched and lampooned, with Dracula pretty much stealing film with his snobbish, assholish treachery. He's a riot whenever he's onscreen, and his questionable alliances come back to bite him on his pallid ass.

Dracula and Francesca: Strange bedfellows?

It should also be noted that MAD MONSTER PARTY? features Francesca, the Doctor's buxom redheaded assistant, and if ever there were an animated puppet who gave little boys their first crush, she was it And there's more to her than there seems to be upon first glance...

Little Tibea and the Fibulas performing "It's the Mummy."

The film also features the signature musical scoring of Maury Laws, whose brass-heavy compositions are instantly recognizable to all who grew up on Rankin/Bass' output. MAD MONSTER PARTY? is replete with memorable theme tunes for its characters and a number of great songs, including the quasi-psychedelic "It's the Mummy" (to which the Mummy and the Monster's mate rock out) and the moody, evocative title song by Ethel Ennis. "The Monster Mash" is long overdue for dethroning from its lofty position as the go-to Halloween anthem, and I herewith nominate "Mad Monster Party?" to now bear the crown. Judge for yourself:

In short, the family simply cannot go wrong with MAD MONSTER PARTY? and no childhood of true "monster kids" is complete without it.


Poster from the original theatrical release. Art by the legendary Frank Frazetta.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2016-Day 30: JAWS AT 40

NOTE: This piece originally ran back in June of 2015 but I felt the need to break it out for those who missed it.

There are some movies that are sheer perfection when seen properly projected, and JAWS is one of them. Arguably the first true summer blockbuster, as we have come to understand the form, the film has been re-released for limited screenings during this, its fortieth anniversary, so I hauled myself to the temple of the flickering image to take in an all-too-rare revival of a horror masterpiece.

Seeing it on the big screen (at the Union Square multiplex in Manhattan) for the first time in 40 years transported me right back to being a few days shy of turning 10 and my embracing of it as my favorite movie for a couple of years. In my early years I had my career goal set on being a marine biologist with a concentration on shark studies and I dragged my parents to every shark-related activity that I could gain access to, so seeing JAWS was an inevitability. Though rated PG, the film's poster featured the ominous tacked-on caveat, "MAY BE TOO INTENSE FOR YOUNGER CHILDREN," which only guaranteed the attendance of this budding gorehound, so considering that and the fact that it all boiled down to a story about a huge goddamned shark merrily munching its way through summer season beachgoers (and a hapless dog), you had a recipe for perfect entertainment. (And as long as we're keeping it real, whatever would transpire onscreen couldn't be any more intense or emotionally scarring than the daily witnessing of my parents' marriage rocketing down the bowl.) And when I finally did see JAWS, I fucking loved it. It was a perfect "man versus force of nature" yarn, sort of an ancient seaman's legend writ for the late-20th century, and it's that primal simplicity of the narrative, coupled with some stunning sequences of suspense and stellar characterization, that so resonates. 

It was great to see JAWS again with an audience and when the lights went down, it was like settling in as a skilled elder storyteller wove a yarn to scare and enthrall kids while also instilling in them the strong and basic lesson of taking what lurks in the depths seriously. There were some audience members who were clearly veterans from the first go-round but the majority of attendees were thirty or younger, most of whom had seen the movie numerous times on cable or DVD, and the few who who had never seen it before were easy to spot, thanks to their sudden vocalizations of shock in all the places that scared the motherfucking shit out of us back in the summer of 1975.

The horror from the deep revealed.

For the record, my favorite moment is still the part where Brody chums the water and meets the shark — sea monster, really — face-to-face, after which he backs into the Orca's interior, his face a frozen, stunned mask of horror as he matter-of-factly states, "You're going to need a bigger boat..." Also of note, you could have heard an amoeba fart during Quint's chilling recounting of his experience following the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, so all-consuming was the silence in the auditorium. The moment when Quint describes reaching over to wake up his friend, only to have the man tip over to reveal that he had been devoured from below the waist by one of perhaps a thousand tiger sharks... *SHUDDER*

Quint (Robert Shaw) makes with one of the most riveting and horrifying speeches in the annals of cinema.

Seriously, if it's playing anywhere near you, hie your ass to the theater and pay your respects as a true cinephile by seeing JAWS again as it was intended. I'll never watch it again unless it's projected and you can bet your ass I'll be there for the 50th anniversary.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


In 1954, a dread horror arose from the deep.

Godzilla, king of the monsters. The implacable radioactive leviathan who leaves naught but death and destruction in his wake. That's a description that runs at odds with the goofy/silly image the name conjures up for most casual observers. To most, Godzilla is the epitome of "fakey" special effects and zipper-up-the-back monster suits, and, to be fair, that assessment is not necessarily inaccurate, depending on which of the character's 29 films one sees. Series entries like GODZILLA VS THE SEA MONSTER (1966), GODZILLA'S REVENGE (1969, in which Godzilla does not even attempt revenge),  the infamous GODZILLA VS GIGAN (1972, in which Godzilla and his pal Anguirus talk), and GODZILLA VS MEGALON (1973) largely eclipse the better, more serious-minded and lavish entries in the perception of the general public. But if one goes back to the 1954 GOJIRA, which was later dubbed and released in the U.S. as GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, one encounters a film that could not be further away from its descendants if it tried.

The 1954 GOJIRA, especially in its unaltered Japanese version, is straight-up horror of the first order, a rumination on nuclear warfare crafted by the only people in history to endure such a scorching nightmare firsthand. Shot in moody black & white, the first Godzilla film presents its titular beast as a radiation-scarred behemoth with no rhyme or reason to its attacks. Godzilla simply is, and what it is is death and destruction given flesh as a force of nature. No punches are pulled when depicting the doom and misery that it brings, as cities are leveled and burned and human life is snuffed out as easily as one would step on an ant. We see buildings collapse on innocent families, emergency wards full to capacity with broken and irradiated victims, and the whole endeavor fairly screams of utter hopelessness and despair. The filmmakers at Toho Studios very successfully communicated the terror of the atomic bomb in no uncertain terms, and anyone who comes away from experiencing the first Godzilla film as anything other than a bleak descent into a science and warfare-spawned hell was obviously not paying attention. All of the subsequent Godzilla movies, wildly varying in quality as they do, are fun matinee and weekend afternoon TV fodder, but the original is a textbook example of a horror movie directly expressing the well-founded fears of the society that created it. 

I strongly recommend GOJIRA to those who have not yet seen it, if for no reason other than to experience one of the bleakest films ever made and definitely the darkest effort in the annals of giant monster cinema. A feel-good movie it absolutely ain't.

Poster from the original Japanese theatrical release.