For local film nerds, Exhumed Films’ annual eX-Fest is an unmissable treat. Twelve hours of exploitation cinema, complete with trailers and shorts, all on honest-to-goodness 35mm film as projected by a living, breathing projectionist. The films are never announced beforehand, with only loose descriptions of each posted on the venue wall. One can usually expect to see a Kung Fu flick, a western, and a blaxploitation film, and one can always expect to be surprised. And if you stick around for the late-night programming, one can expect to be downright shocked. The 2018 lineup, as usual, was stellar, touting a handful of films that are currently unavailable on home media. What I’m saying is that if you missed this weekends’ festivities, you may never see these films again... and if you do, it certainly won’t be on celluloid. No matter, this is why I’m here. To fill you in on all of the wonderful oddities that were on display, and to make you so jealous of the experience that you buy a ticket for next year’s event.
Here is this year’s lineup, complete with the posted festival descriptor.
Apologies for the somewhat low quality poster photos. It just goes to show you how truly rare these films are — even their posters are hard to find!
1. Bizarre, brutal French crime/revenge film starring a Hollywood icon - Dog Day aka Canicule (1984 - dir. Yves Boisset)
Lee Marvin, just three years prior to his death, sleeps his way through this strange, uh, thriller, in which he plays a bank robber on the run after a botched heist. He finds himself holed up in a filthy farm in the middle of the countryside. As he tries to remain hidden from the police, who frequently visit in helicopters (obviously the production got their hands on a few choppers and wanted to capitalize on their investment), he must also carefully traverse the tensions amongst the farm’s denizens. There’s a handful of rapey men, a insatiable nymphomaniac, and a little boy desperate to embark on the life on an outlaw. Gorgeous photography keeps the film’s blander moments alive, while a general feeling of “what the hell were they thinking?” carries the rest.
Biggest highlight: A little boy enjoying himself at a whorehouse. He jams some cash between the breasts of a woman, citing that this is where money belongs. A close second comes in the characterization of Doudou, the Cadillac-driving African farmhand. His race is not handled with any sort of tact.
2. Little-seen sexploitation gem from the makers of Cut Throats Nine, Horror Express and A Bell From Hell - The Girl From the Red Cabaret (1973 - dir. Eugenio Martin)
There’s always one movie at eX-Fest that transcends novelty and ends up being legitimately good. The Girl From the Red Cabaret is this year’s most defensible entry. The singularly named Marisol plays Maria Marcos, a cabaret performer who is drawn into an elaborate revenge plot by a rich man who looks and acts exactly like a puppet from Team America: World Police. Maria is willing to use her feminine wiles to get the job done, but much to the dismay of her superiors at both her cabaret job and her spy job, is unwilling to go all the way. Until, of course, she falls for her target. The set design is matched only by the wonderful cabaret performances, and while it’s limited what I can deduce thematically from a single viewing, I suspect that there’s something smart going on here (which is often the case when it comes to a lot of sexploitation fare, believe it or not).
Biggest highlight: The interior of a wealthy magnate’s plane is so ornate and gaudy (and awesome) that it got a huge laugh from the crowd when said magnate referred to the setting as “just a plane” (or something to that effect).
3. Fun, multicultural Kung-fu flick - Soul Brothers of Kung Fu (1977 - dir. I Hung Hwa)
This is what is commonly referred to as a “Brucesploitation” film. After the untimely death of Bruce Lee, filmmakers thought they could cash in on his image by hiring lookalikes to anchor similarly styled martial arts pictures. Most notable of these lookalikes was Bruce Li. He’s sort of the Asylum Films version of Bruce Lee, to use a contemporary example. Meaning that filmmakers banked on the casual moviegoing crowd to not really know the difference between a legitimate Bruce Lee flick and what they were watching. But unlike Transmorphers, which was only successful in fooling Nana during Christmas shopping time, most Brucesploitation films were, at the very least, made with care... even if they depended on casual racism to thrive. This one even makes an attempt to cash in on the success of blaxploitation cinema with both its title and with the casting of Carl Scott, a black martial artist. Did they succeed at doing anything beyond create a token? Lol no.
Biggest highlight: Our hero develops a training system in an effort to defeat the seemingly indestructible enemies. It involves an electronic doll that highlights weak points in their physique, complete with light-up testicles. Spoiler alert: Our heroes smash a lot of testicles to get the job done.
4. Sordid, forgotten action drama - Trackdown (1976 - dir. Richard T. Heffron)
When I typically think of exploitation cinema, I a think of films like Trackdown. Tasteless, extreme, and with an comically outdated moral compass, this is the kind of stuff that simply can’t be recreated in the modern age. Trackdown combines a fish out of water tale with a standard “white guy cleans up the hood with violence” story, resulting in perhaps the biggest overall crowd pleaser of this year’s festival.
Jim Calhoun is a Montana cattle rancher whose sister Betsy has run away from home. She is robbed (by Erik Estrada), drugged, raped, and sold into a life of sex work almost immediately after arriving in Hollywood, and Jim is just a few steps behind her. We follow as he enacts vengeance upon the seedy world of crime while also pursuing a romance with a local halfway house operator. Simultaneously we follow Betsy’s path as she attempts to reclaim her agency with the help of a veteran sex worker (played by Anne Archer, aka Dennis and Dee’s mom on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia!!).
Biggest highlight: A trio of transvestite prostitutes offer to help Jim on his quest, and for a second it looks like the moral compass of the film is about to turn. Is Jim going to learn not to judge those living on society’s fringe? NOPE! The trio immediately attempts to rob him, and he responds with violence, the ultimate catalyst for cleaning up the streets. I should mention that one of the prostitutes is played by none other than Tony Burton, who found fame as Duke in the Rocky franchise.
5. Unannounced short film - Hot Dogs for Gauguin (1972 - dir. Martin Brest)
What a delightful surprise! This short film is one frequently shown to NYU film students, and has even played, in truncated form, on an episode of SNL. It features a young Danny DeVito as a photographer who, in a move inspired by the Hindenburg disaster, has decided to blow up the Statue of Liberty so that he can obtain a perfectly timed photo, thereby ensuring fame and fortune. It’s a great vehicle for DeVito’s strange energy, and it doubles as Rhea Perlman’s film debut. The director, Martin Brest went on to make Midnight Run, Scent of a Woman, and Gigli, but we don’t talk about that.
Biggest highlight: Oh, I can’t spoil it. The whole thing is a highlight. This film hinges upon a rock-block of exponentially goofy punchlines, all of which are best discovered in the moment. Good luck finding a copy of this one, but if you do, you’ll be happy you went in blind.
6. Strange, singular science-fiction film directed by a cinematic iconoclast - Idaho Transfer (1973 - dir. Peter Fonda)
A mysterious group of scientists finds a way to transport to the future, where they discover that some sort of event puts an end to humanity as we know it. The plan is to send a group of young adults into the future to repopulate what appears to be a barren wasteland.
I’m a sucker for heady science fiction, even when its aims are heavier than its content. Idaho Transfer is a mix between Primer and Stalker that certainly feels as if Fonda found the script, took the job, and completed the film all while high on mescaline. It’s contemplative without really saying anything deep; trippy without actually showing anything too sensory; deeply thought out in concept, but left to dry in execution. And you know what? I loved it! The same could not be said for much of the audience, if the bathroom chatter afterward is to be believed, but that’s the fun of eX-Fest. Even with a film like Idaho Transfer, where there’s not a lot to grab on to, its a fascinating exhibit of its time nonetheless.
Biggest highlight: Midway through the film, my friend leans over to me and says “They must have a ton of conditioner in their supplies.” He’s right. Everyone in this movie has gorgeous, healthy-looking hair, despite living in tents in a desert.
7. Italian gangster period piece - Pete, Pearl and the Pole (1973 - dir. Vance Lewis)
When this movie first started, the dread creeped up on me pretty quick. Right off the bat this movie seemed stuck somewhere between The Godfather and Johnny Dangerously, which, if you’ve seen either, is not typically a fence on which a movie should attempt to sit. But as the tale unfolded and the limitations of the production grew less gaudy (due to my comfort rather than any softening of the heavily cartoonish imagery), this tonal mish-mash ended up being my personal favorite of the festival. It was certainly my biggest surprise. Boiled down to its basics, Pete, Pearl and the Pole is a violent prank war between two egotistical mobsters. Who wouldn’t want to watch such a thing? And anyone who knows of Tony Anthony knows of his idiosyncratic swagger, which is fully on display here. As much as I liked this movie, I will admit that I am a bit miffed by the exclusion of an Oxford comma in its title. For shame.
Biggest highlight: A sexually charged exchange between Pete Di Benedetto (Tony Anthony) and Pearl (Lucretia Love).
Pearl: Have you ever been in love before?
Pete: I’ve been in love my whole life... WITH SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS!
Definitely the hardest I’ve laughed in probably forever. Oh, marón!
8. Crazed Hong Kong police/martial arts mayhem - Fatal Termination (1990 - dir. Andrew Kam)
The final film of the fest is always something special. It’s usually the least tasteful of the bunch (last year, for example, was Pink Flamingos), and typically the one that invites the audience to crack a beer, turn off their brains, and just go along with whatever madness ensues. This year’s selection did not disappoint.
I couldn’t even give you a full plot breakdown because the already convoluted film is made that much more cryptic by the subtitles, which make no sense at all. It’s as if a group of children played whisper down the lane with each and every line and whatever came out at the end was applied without further vetting. A father refers to his daughter as “the daughter.” His wife constantly refers to him as “Husband.” In one scene of gunfire, a police officer yells for bystanders to “bend down everybody!” In another, a red-shirt is killed and his partner laments “GUY!” At most times the script reminded me of They Came Together, a movie in which tropey characters are broadly describing their function within the confines of the genre as a gag, except in the case of Fatal Termination, it’s actually funny. Yeah, take that, They Came Together! You thought I forgot about you, didn’t ya?
Did I mention that there are Middle Eastern terrorists played by white men in face paint? Because there are. In fact, one cop utters the following in reference to the terrorist leader: “We have a Middle East terrorist and his name is Dan.”
Not only does this film feature a young Robin Shou, who went on to play Lou Kang in the big screen adaptation of Mortal Kombat, but it also features the single most bugfuck insane thing I have ever seen in a movie. If I said that there was a long action sequence in which a very small child was dangled out of a moving vehicle by her hair, and that they created this sequence by actually dangling a real child out the window of an actual moving vehicle, you probably wouldn’t believe me. Well you don’t have to take it on my word. Watch this:
Have you ever seen anything so depraved, cruel, or awesome? I think not. What you don’t see in the above clip is how it all ends. SPOILER WARNING. Immediately after we all breathe a sigh of relief when the little girl is brought to safety, she takes a gunshot to the chest, squib and everything. It’s completely fucked, and it’s why eX-Fest is something I never miss.
Exhumed Films’ next event can’t come soon enough!!!
Here’s a list of all the trailers that played:
The No Mercy Man
Dirty O’Neil: The Love Life of a Cop
When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder?
The Gravy Train
Enter the Panther
The Dragon vs Needles of Death
Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman
Angels of Hell
Emperor of the North
Kill or Be Killed
Sister Street Fighter
Big Bad Mama