Last year’s eX-fest was one of the best movie-going experiences of my life, giving this year’s fest a high standard to live up to. Although it didn’t equal the awesomeness of last year, the fine folks at Exhumed Films still put on quite an enjoyable show. Vengeance seemed to be a core theme in almost every film in this year’s lineup, with the second half featuring a much darker selection of films than were shown last year.
Starting the day off was The No Mercy Man, an us vs. them type of film that mixed in elements of blacksploitation, whitesploitation (my term) and a dash of disturbed Vietnam vetsploitation. A group of carnies and a returning Vietnam hero with his buddies in tow butt heads in a dust ball of an Arizona town. This film has all the elements to be skewered by MTS3K: lousy acting, bad transitions and a plot that seems as though it was developed without a script. Tensions between the carnies and the Hand family (our heroes?) reach a boiling point as our Vietnam vet’s friends assist the town in defending itself from a raid by a bike gang, led by Sid Haig, of course, meant as a diversion to rob a bank. They all end up back at our hero’s ranch and much violence ensues. The end.
Next up was Fear is the Key, a revenge flick starring Barry Newman of Vanishing Point. This movie starts out strong, with some of the best 70’s car stunts I’ve seen in a while. Afterward, it sort of hits the pause button, lets you know everything you saw was a massive set-up to get some bad guy, and never gets going again. It ends with some of the worst fake suffocation you’ll ever see. On the plus side, a young Ben Kingsley gets to play a heavy, which did amuse me.
The Man from Hong Kong came next and totally kicked ass. A Yu Wang/Brian Trenchard-Smith film, TMFHK takes a martial arts master cop and finds an excuse to get him to Australia so he can kick the entire country’s ass. Well-choreographed fight scenes populate almost the entire film and Yu Wang pulls off “bad-ass super cop” with ease. Highlights include climbing 10 stories up a drain pipe (looked like a real stunt), a wonderful curvy road, high speed car chase, and a rope line descent from a skyscraper whilst the top floor explodes. One of the two best films of the night and a must-see for martial arts fans.
Death Weekend, AKA The House by the Lake, provides the audience with a combo rape/revenge and siege thriller produced by Ivan Reitman of all people. The set up is simple: a jackass rich dentist brings a model to his lake house in order to sleep with her. On the drive up, they encounter a group of ruffians on the road, get in a car chase and successfully run them off the road. The ruffians are, of course, all kinds of angry and track the couple down. They invade the house, destroy everything (showing that the guy cares more about his stuff than even his life), rape/attempt to rape our heroine and, of course, wind up dead. Supposedly based on real events from Canada, Death Weekend never lets you care about the characters, so the viewer isn’t invested when the payoff finally comes. There is a decent throat slashing and Don Stroud does a good job as the head thug, but ultimately, I felt this was the weakest film of the day.
The Italian crime gem Il Boss played next, although the print we saw was titled Wipeout. Italian crime pics happen to be a favorite of mine and last year’s choice, No Way Out, was my favorite of the fest. Il Boss didn’t disappoint. Starring Henry Silva and Richard Conte, Fernando Di Leo’s film opens with a bang, literally. Silva’s character conducts a grenade gun attack at a private screening attended by prominent members of a rival family. From there on out, the film follows the machinations of the mafia as it attempts to calm the violence and avoid public attention while arriving at a desirable conclusion. Conte is strong as the Don with the most to lose and Silva provides us with one of the toughest amoral gangsters known to cinema. The film is wonderfully dark, portraying a world where self-interest is the only true rule. Probably the most well-made film of this year’s program, Il Boss easily sits beside The Man from Hong Kong as my personal highlights of eX-fest II.
Vice Squad continued the trend of ever darker films, giving the audience an intimate look at one night on the seedy LA streets. Wings Hauser delivers a great performance as sadistic pimp “Ram Rod” and Season Hubley gives a good-enough-to-care performance as Princess, the prostitute who centers the film. Princess is arrested and forced to participate in a set up to get Ram Rod, eventually becoming the target of his wrath after his escape. Essentially one long chase/hunt scene, Vice Squad hooks you quickly by investing the audience in the life of its main protagonist, Princess. Unlike with Death Weekend, I found myself hoping for the happy ending, which guaranteed my attention to the end credits. The addition of 80’s exploitation was a welcome one, as all 7 films from last year and the first 5 this year came from the 60’s or 70’s.
To round things out this year, the fine folks at Exhumed Films brought out a print of Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of sexploitation films, but the reputation of Ilsa was enough to make this film geek stay for a while, anyway. Ilsa, of course, is the notorious Nazi torture/sexploitation classic many claim to be the most debased movie ever made. It follows many standards of the prison genre film: sex/torture obsessed warden, evil motives for the prison/camp, mandatory nudity of the female inmates, and forced sexual acts/torture by the guards. Although the print we saw was both a bad cut (multiple scenes where you see a face, then the wall and then the scene is over) and poor in quality, I feel as though my curiosity was satisfied.
All told, this year’s fest provided more films with a darker outlook on life and society, a staple of many exploitation films. This contributed to the feeling of an overall theme, whereas last year’s films didn’t feel connected in any way. Last year’s fest was more fun and had a better run of films, but this year’s felt more purposeful. Going forward, I’d like to see Exhumed add to the genres they’ve shown so far, as we have yet to see a post-apocalyptic, gang or survivalist film. These are minor complaints in the grand scheme, as Exhumed Films continues to introduce me to films and talent I otherwise may never have known about, which will only help guide me as I continue to explore the vastness of cinema.