Review: Female Prisoner Scorpion: The Complete Collection !

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FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION
RELEASE DATE: Available Now on DVD
WRITTEN BY: Various
DIRECTED BY: Shunya Ito, Yasuharu Hasebe
STARRING: Meiko Kaji

How many of you out there are familiar with the popular “women’s prison” cycle of exploitation flicks made most famous by B-Movie producer/living legend Roger Corman in the 1970’s? How many of you are proud to admit that fact like your’s cruelly? Well let me tell ya Chuck; if you think you’ve seen it all in that tawdry genre, the FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION series will absolutely melt the eyes right out o’ yer skull – in a fun way, I assure you.

A lil’ history before we begin. Created by Japanese manga artist T’ru Shinohara in 1970; the Sasori (Scorpion) series told the tale of Nami Matsushima, an inmate in a women’s prison that has to endure all manner of abuse from fellow prisoners and sadistic guards alike before beginning a bloody trail of revenge against her tormentors as well as her corrupt police officer boyfriend who did her wrong. Starting in 1972; Toei Company produced a series of four films detailing Matsushima’s outrageous exploits. And that brings us to Arrow Video’s new Blu-ray/DVD combo release; FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION!

Let’s take this baby film by film, shall we?

FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION (1972):

After being framed by her police officer boyfriend Sugimi to gain favor with the Yakuza (who proceed to brutalize her), our heroine Nami Matsushima attempts to stab him to death in revenge. She is then sent to what has to be the worst prison ever (although the near constant brutality that transpires there takes on a decidedly surreal comic book tone – no surprise given the series origins). Slowly Matsushima finds her footing within the system and lashes out against a particularly nasty prison gang before being targeted by death (in a plan hatched by Sugimi and his Yakuza pals). This of course fails, and what follows is a non-stop whirlwind of violence, riots, and really snappy hats.

Comprised of equal parts nastiness, sadistic comedy, and full on art house surrealism; FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION is both a rock solid start to the series, and a truly unique entry in the salacious women in prison genre. Thrown into the heady mix is an element of socio-political commentary dealing with abuse of power and the degrading treatment of women in society that plenty of drive-in fare of the time dealt with. Silent and stoic; Matsushima’s journey from victim to anti-hero is engaging stuff and easily brings to mind the burdened heroes of the Spaghetti Westerns of the time such as Corbucci’s DJANGO (1966).

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41 (1972):

After attempting to murder the prison warden, Matsushima triggers a full on riot; which ultimately fails. Crucified (literally) for her troubles, Matsushima then suffers at the hands of four guards dressed as monks (trust me; it gets weirder). Soon Matsushima along with a handful of fellow convicts are shipped to a hard labor camp, and while returning to the prison they orchestrate an escape. The convicts flee to what appears to be an abandoned village; but appearances can be deceiving as it is revealed that an ancient women lives within a house in the village – and when I say revealed, I mean the whole damn house collapses heralding her arrival on the scene. What follows is a surreal piece that explains the individual crimes of the convicts. The hag soon gives Matsushima a knife before turning to leaves and blowing away; as one does. The journey continues as deviant tourists, bloodthirsty prison guards, and the police all attempt to end our “heroine’s” flight.

Packed with even more off-kilter insanity then the first film; FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41 is an excellent follow up to the first film. The plot is as slim as that of the first; but the absolute “anything goes” mentality of the production makes it inconsequential (as the strength of the Matsushima character did in the first). Speaking of Matsushima; she is utilized differently here. The feelings of the other convicts in the story take center stage; while she is utilized more as silent observer who strikes only when it is deemed absolutely necessary (similar to how the main character of DESPERADO was utilized in ONCE UPON A TIME IN MEXICO). It’s an interesting concept that makes Matsushima seem to transition from anti-hero to legendary figure; and keeps the proceedings fresh.

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: BEAST STABLE (1973)

The third film in the Scorpion series begins with Matsushima already on the run. Before long she falls in with a troubled prostitute, who has become pregnant as the result of an ultra-wrong relationship (this is a family site so I’m not going to go into it here; but trust me when you see what I’m talking about there will be a SILKWOOD style shower in your future). Of course multiple parties (including the police and an ex-prison mate of Matsushima) all converge to give our heroine a ton of static.

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: BEAST STABLE is divergent from the previous entries in that almost none of the film’s runtime takes place in a prison (the previous film was like that as well; but there were the elements of the convicts banded together and the work camp that gave it much more of a typical women in prison vibe). Matsushima lives a mundane existence for a portion of the story; she gets a job, makes friends – she’s still a living statue, but she at least has the basics of a normal existence.

Also missing for the most part are the over-the-top surrealist sequences (which works in creating a more sedate vibe – but nonetheless they were greatly missed, though there is a great sequence that takes place in a white room with gallons of the ol’ gore splashed about). The one thing that does remain in place is the shocking violence; with a sequence involving a severed arm being a real devious delight.

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: GRUDGE SONG (1973)

In the final installment; Matsushima is once again roaming around outside of prison walls. This time she is hiding out in a wedding chapel when police sniff her out. She of course escapes and falls in with a worker in a sex club (he does the lights in case you were wondering) named Kudo. As fate would have it; ol’ Kudo is a radical with a long history of being on the receiving end of some serious police brutality. Before long it is brought to the fuzz’s attention that Kudo is harboring everyone’s fav fugitive so they beat the ever lovin’ tar out of him then tail him to Matsushima’s hiding place. Matsushima is then incarcerated and sentenced to death by hanging – we all know how well that goes.

With a change of director (Yasuharu Hasebe steps in for the previous film’s Shunya Ito) comes a change in tone. Gone entirely (save for the final set-piece) are the hyper-stylized near theatrical set pieces of the previous films. This film also seems a bit plodding where the previous entries never did.
To rate the series as to my level of enjoyment from the best to the worst (though even at its lowest ebb, this series still manages to entertain in the way that only true cult cinema can) my ranking would go as follows:

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: JAILHOUSE 41

FEMALE PRISONER #701: SCORPION

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: BEAST STABLE

FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION: GRUDGE SONG

The films contained in this release are reason enough to make this a worthy addition to any collection of off-beat exploitation cinema, but there are a few extra features that serve to round out the package including “appreciations” of the series from journalists and film makers, trailers, archival interviews with the creators behind the series, and an informative video essay.

In conclusion I would highly recommend this release to anyone that loves either the “women in prison” genre, solid revenge cinema, or those that are looking for a wholly unique exploitation cinema viewing experience!

You can pick up your own copy of FEMALE PRISONER SCORPION: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION right here!

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review: THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN and LADY COCOA!

Those awesomely awesome folks over at Vinegar Syndrome are at it again; this time bringing us an outrageously entertaining double release featuring THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN and LADY COCOA!

THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN

WRITTEN BY: Mikel Angel
DIRECTED BY: Matt Cimber
STARRING: John Daniels, Eli Haines, Tom Hankason

THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN concerns the adventures of The Baron; a laid-back pimp with a cool @$$ ride. As the flick begins we see two racist cops trying to trap The Baron with an undercover officer dressed as a woman that is about as convincing as Uncle Milty in drag. Much wah-wah sax ensues.

After that non-sequitur we see The Baron rescue on of his “girls” from an abusive relationship before meeting up with the ultimate pimp caricature named Dusty Compton. The two then engage in a rousing game of billiards for ownership of a new working girl – yeah; it was a different time folks; a cartoony, over-the-top, awesome as all get-out time. Dusty of course loses and blames the white cue ball. I love this film.

Well ol’ Dusty doesn’t take losing lightly and uses his mob connections to try and take out The Baron – who of course escapes by blasting his way to freedom courtesy of the machine guns hidden in the headlights of his tricked out Rolls Royce. He then hands the woman he won a sack of cash and sends her on her way. I really love this film.

We then learn The Baron is only in the pimpin’ game part time; the rest of the day he’s a married family man (they think he’s a traveling insurance salesman ‘natch) in the suburbs living a Norman Rockwell style existence.

Before long The Baron is up to his rakish fedora in violence as he takes on the mob, the cops, and even the owner of the massage parlor he runs his business out of (although that inexplicably turns into a slapstick comedy).

I can’t sing the praises of THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN enough. If you love the outrageous, comic book antics of DOLEMITE over the more sedate action of SHAFT then this is the film for you; it’s colorful, absurd, and completely of its time – in other words; it’s Grade-A, rad-@$$ awesomeness of the highest caliber!

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While THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN makes this 110% worth owning, you do get a second feature in this release (also by director Cimber); namely:

LADY COCOA

WRITTEN BY: Mikel Angel
DIRECTED BY: Matt Cimber
STARRING: Lola Falana, Gene Washington, Alex Dreier

In snowy Nevada, Lady Cocoa finds herself holed up in a luxury hotel/casino; a virtual prisoner (as opposed to the actual one she is as the film opens) of an aging Police Lieutenant and a beat cop charged with keeping her alive long enough to testify against her racketeering criminal boyfriend.

After much whining from L.C.; she is allowed to gamble, shop, and have dinner with a couple of groovy newlyweds. Seems prosaic enough right? Well wouldn’t you know it, Cocoa’s boyfriend is none too pleased with the thought of her spilling the beans so he sends out a couple of hitmen (one of them a silent Mean Joe Greene) to make sure her tongue stops wagging permanently.

Less over-the-top than THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN; LADY COCOA is nevertheless immensely entertaining as well. The emphasis here is more on character interaction and dynamics rather than near cartoon-like characters and violence; but there are outrageous elements at play as well such as a car chase featuring said vehicle driving through the casino and into a pool and a bathroom shootout. A few other items make this a stand-out in the Blaxploitation genre as well; namely the location and the score.

Utilizing the snowy locales of Lake Tahoe; LADY COCOA has a visual sense unlike any other film in the genre (whose locales were more often than not large urban areas). It gives to proceedings an odd; almost surreal quality.

As for the score; it boasts a rousing re-working of Pop Goes the Weasel (the film??s original title) performed by Falana herself; but the soundtrack contains an instrumental version of the song that plays a few times too many.

Unlike THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN (whose sole extra in an introduction by Director Cimber); LADY COCOA features a full commentary track by the same. Informative, lively, and packed with anecdotes; this track was one of the more enjoyable I have ever heard (and the conversation turns to include discussion of THE CANDY TANGERINE MAN as well.

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If you dig on flicks like DOLEMITE or SUPERFLY, or are curious as to just why the drive-ins of the 1970’s were so damn cool, then this is the release for you (you can grab a copy right here!); colorful characters, outrageous situations and preposterous fashion choices make for a great night’s viewing indeed!

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review: THE HUMAN TORNADO!

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THE HUMAN TORNADO

RELEASE DATE: Available Now on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack
WRITTEN BY: Jerry Jones, Rudy Ray Moore, Jimmy Lynch
DIRECTED BY: Cliff Roquemore
STARRING: Rudy Ray Moore, Lady Reed, Jimmy Lynch

Dolemite is back; and he makes his grand re-appearance in the only way possible; by descending a small hill while wearing a cape emblazoned with his own name. A fashion show/kata demonstration then takes place followed by a comedy routine. This is all in the first 7 minutes of THE HUMAN TORNADO and all of it has nothing to do with establishing any semblance of a plot. Such is the way of the Dolemite films and the free-wheelin’ insanity they deliver.

When the flick finally does get around to the plot it goes a lil’ somethin’ like this; after an outrageously cartoony racist sheriff (who looks like a shaggy Kenny Rogers) catches Dolemite getting it on with his wife; Dolemite high tails it out of town (after shooting one of the sheriff’s men and leaping down a large embankment all while completely naked) to sunny California.

Following a few impossibly 70’s musical numbers and a bit of business involving the Mafia (represented by even more living cartoons) kidnapping some of Dolemite’s gal-pal Queen Bee’s girls, Dolemite reunites with Queenie.

After some sort of naked bed-based exercise regimen which also involves makin’ sweet love, eating a meal, and a bowl of fruit (trust me, even after you see it you won’t believe it); Dolemite begins a whirlwind attack against the mob. Along the way you are also treated to an “erotic” dream sequence brought on by viewing a black velvet painting which dovetails into Dolemite having “relations” with the mob boss’ wife so forcibly that the house they are in literally begins collapsing – you know what, I’m going to stop right there. You already want to see this.

In addition to all of the outrageousness listed above; the fine, sexy devils at Vinegar Syndrome have saw fit to pack this release of THE HUMAN TORNADO with plenty of extras as well. Besides a restored 2K scan of the film from 35MM; you also get; the continuation of the “I Dolemite” featurette from the DOLEMITE Blu, a fun and informative commentary track from co-star Jimmy Lynch (moderated by Rudy Ray Moore biographer Mark Jason Murray), the DER BASTARD cut of the film in German (which is surreal beyond belief), an audio interview with the flick’s director Cliff Roquemore and martial arts champion Howard Johnson (who also cameos in the film), a still gallery, a radio spot, the film’s soundtrack, and trailers for both THE HUMAN TORNADO and DOLEMITE.

As much as I love DOLEMITE, I have to admit that THE HUMAN TORNADO is even better! Stuffed with sped up karate, rats eating “sensitive areas”, ludicrous ADR, surprisingly forward thinking acceptance (Lady Java is man baby!), and Ernie Hudson’s brother utilized as an unconvincing stand-in; THE HUMAN TORNADO is a must-own piece of insane genre sin-ema history; and this release from VinSyn gives it the love and attention it so richly deserves!

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Blu-ray Review: DILLINGER (1973)

Hey, it’s your ol’ pal Daniel XIII, back with another award losing review of a gem of cult cinema, namely John Milius’ 1973 take on the legend of infamous bank robbin’ semi-folk hero John Dillinger titled creatively enough; DILLINGER (comin’ from those lovable rogues at Arrow Video)!

DILLINGER, as I’m sure will come as a shock to you, details the real-life exploits of notorious scoundrel John Dillinger (in case you skipped that lil’ block of text, known in some circles as a “paragraph”, above). After a shoot out results in the death of five FBI agents, Dillinger (Warren Oates) is targeted as a prime suspect. Well in the interim ol’ JD goes on a bank robbin’ kick and becomes a bit of a folk hero (not unlike the status of outlaws Bonnie and Clyde, who’s successful biopic no doubt got this flick green-lit). Before long Dilli-baby gets himself tossed in the slammer, and when he gets out he can’t help but notice his old gang has some new members; namely Pretty Boy Floyd (Steve Kanaly) and Baby Face Nelson (a ludicrously young Richard Dreyfuss). Well with that (In)Justice League of crime formed a never ending spree of breathtaking violence ensues with he G-men in hot pursuit!

Full of rock solid performances, great direction from John Milius (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, RED DAWN…I’m sure you’ve never heard of those obscure lil’ art house flicks), and stunning action, DILLINGER is one class-A great time at the movies (well watching movies anyway, ‘cuz this is a Blu-ray, but you catch my drift).

But while this film is worth the price of admission alone, we live in greedy times, and I know you are like me (and for that I apologize) and demand all sorts of extras on releases such as these. Well, how does a commentary track, a gaggle o’ interviews, those hoary ol’ chestnuts the stills gallery and trailer, as well as a collectible booklet (which I imagine sure is jam-packed with wonderful factoids and colorful anecdotes…and imagine is all I can do, because my screener was liber gratis).

So, far be it from me to tell you what to do; but if you dig on gangster flicks such as the aforementioned BONNIE AND CLYDE or just have to have everything Cloris Leachman is in (and who doesn’t!) then Chuck, this is the flick for you!

And just to make things easy on ya, you can pre-order DILLINGER right here!