Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Jason experiences the madness of William Lustig with a 2-day, 6 movie marathon

This weekend deserves a better write-up than I can give it, but I'm still crawling back to only being a month behind on my blog. 2 days, 6 crazy fucking movies, and Mr. Lustig himself to talk about all of them (even the one he hates!) So let's jump right in.

MANIAC: Joe Spinell (who also wrote) stars as the titular maniac. And it's an ultra-low-budget, ultra sleazy story of a crazy man who both misses and despises his whore (literally, she was an abusive prostitute) mother who died in a car crash. So he kills beautiful young women, scalps them, and makes wigs for his mannequins. It's a pretty fucked-up premise, with grisly execution (pun intended) including an infamous Tom Savini exploding head scene (which caused Gene Siskel to walk out of the movie and declare it "unredeemable.") Low budget exploitation Grand Guignol guerrilla film-making at its best/worst. Also, apparently the actual original inspiration behind the song "Maniac" from FLASHDANCE.

VIGILANTE: A classic "take back the streets" story of a vigilante group led by Nick (Fred Williamson) who is ridding their town of pimps, gangs, and drug dealers.) His co-worker Eddie (Robert Forster) is sympathetic but doesn't want any part of it. Even when his wife and kid are murdered by a gang, he prefers to let the justice system do its work...but it doesn't. The gang leader is let off lightly by a corrupt cop, and Eddie snaps, leading to jail time for himself. And when he gets out, Eddie is the vigilantiest vigilante ever, killing everyone in the entire fucking gang. Robert Forster does an excellent descent-into-hell slow burn, and his revenge is as satisfying as it is gruesome.

HIT LIST: Rip Torn as a mob boss, Lance Henriksen as a deadly hit man, and Jan-Michael Vincent as...well, to hear Lustig tell it, as a drunk who could barely stand up straight. Seriously, when you watch it notice how many times Vincent is leaning on something. Anyway, Rip Torn's character is being brought up on charges, so he has Lance Henriksen kill all the witnesses the feds have lined up. Except on the last one, he gets the wrong house and kills Jan-Michael Vincent's wife and kidnaps his kid instead. The cops actually think this is good--Luca doesn't know he has the wrong kid--which is kind of fucked up because they're sacrificing an innocent kid to put this mobster away. But JMV escapes custody and goes after the bad guys on his own. Unfortunately, the film ran long so I had to run off and catch the last BART out of the city before it ended, so I missed the last 10 minutes or so of the ending. But it was getting pretty damn exciting before then (and Lance Henriksen appears to be unkillable.)

Then the next day was the world premiere of the MANIAC COP trilogy back-to-back-to-back.

MANIAC COP: Shot between VIGILANTE and HIT LIST, a story of a muscular giant in a police uniform who is killing random people in New York. Bruce Campbell stars as a young officer who is having an affair, and in true film noir style his dalliance gets him into untold trouble when he is framed as the Maniac Cop. But eventually the truth comes out and he has to find and defeat the real killer--an ex-cop, a legend on the force who was disgraced by charges of abuse and allegedly killed in prison by all the criminals he put away. Turns out he's alive...and badly brain damaged.

MANIAC COP 2: William Lustig claims this is his favorite film of his. The Maniac Cop is back from the grave and deadlier than ever. This time he's supernatural, not just brain-damaged. He's also far deadlier, and the stunts are bigger and badder than before. And you have to remember this is 1990, back when people did actual stunts, it wasn't all CGI. If there's one thing you should take away from this trilogy, it's the amazing work of stunt coordinator Spiro Razatos (who has had quite a career, which is still going strong.) Everything about this film is bigger, better, and more awesome than the original (even if Bruce Campbell dies early on...oops, spoiler!)

MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE: And this final film of the trilogy (although there's allegedly a prequel in the works) is one that William Lustig hates. And having heard about that--how the entire story had to be badly re-written to get funding from Japanese investors who didn't like the original racial-tinged voodoo story, how he was disgusted with the romantic subplot, etc...I can understand his point of view. What intrigued me the most was how it completely changed the Maniac Cop's backstory--instead of a "supercop" who actually was too abusive, now evidence emerges that he was actually framed for the abuses and was a good guy all along (at least until the maniac-creating brain damage.) That...changes everything in the previous movies. It's no longer about criminally abusive police behavior (by coincidence, I saw this trilogy right when Ferguson, MO was blowing up over the Michael Brown shooting) but about good cops being accused of brutality and railroaded by a corrupt system. And that is...unsettling. Or maybe I'm thinking too much. The stunts are still fantastic. Allegedly Lustig turned the entire last reel over to Spiro Razatos to direct, and he once again takes it even further over-the-top. That, at least, is awesome, even if Lustig himself hates this film.

Total Running Time: 524 minutes
My Total Minutes: 369,648

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