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The Lady in Red  
USA | 1979
Directed by: Lewis Teague
Written by: John Sayles
Starring: Pamela Sue Martin, Robert Conrad, Louise Fletcher, Christopher Lloyd
| 94 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Polly Franklin is a demure farm girl that after witnessing and involuntarily being involved in a bank robbery decides she wants more for her mundane life. Following stints in a sweatshop and a dime-a-dance hall, she ends up in jail only to be released when she strikes up a deal with a corrupt guard to go work in a brothel. Life is good for a while, the house of prostitution protected via gangsters and cops that are customers and willing to let things slide, but when one of the working girls is savagely killed, the police can no longer cover for the joint and proprietor Anne Sage is forced to close up shop and open up a diner, bringing Polly along for the ride. It’s here she meets a man named Jimmy, who works his charms and ends up getting Polly to catch a film with him. After a few more dates, Polly begins entertaining ideas of family life with the man, but little does she know she’s actually in a relationship with one of America’s most wanted: John Dillinger.

The Lady in Red (loosley based on the downfall of Dillinger, although Anne Sage was the real "lady in red") is easily among the most serious films to come out of Corman’s studio not just in the 70s but of all time. Sure, there’s a heavy dose of skin involved as we’re dealing with whore houses filled to the brim with scantily clad ladies of the night, and the women-in-prison scenes are certainly included to give the film an exploitation edge, but everything else is so well-written, well-acted, and genuinely sincere that there’s nary any room for cheese or unintentional laughs. It’s pretty coincidental that director Lewis Teague went on to work with Samuel Fuller as an assistant director on The Big Red One following this; actually, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he was already collaborating with Fuller on the film while he made this, because it definitely has a Fuller vibe about it, something that is inherently low-budget and has all the earmarks of turning out to be trashy and hokey, yet somehow it completely dodges all of these obstacles.

While the direction and script (courtesy of John Sayles, scribe of Piranha and The Howling) make up a large chunk of what makes the film work so well, being quite unique in focusing on a gangster's woman rather than the gangster himself, it wouldn’t be nearly as good if not for the excellent cast. You have everyone from TV heavyweights such as Robert Conrad (The Wild Wild West) and Pamela Sue Martin (Dynasty), Corman regular Dick Miller, two fantastic character actors in Christopher Lloyd and Robert Forster, and even an Oscar award winner, everyone’s favorite evil nurse, Louise Fletcher. Everyone is top-notch, and they’re definitely just one more reason why the film entirely breaks free of the drive-in trash chains that are wrapped around it due to carrying Corman’s name. There’s obviously nothing wrong with that sort of fare, but it’s an acquired taste, and The Lady in Red doesn’t need to come with an “if you like…” disclaimer; it’s just a straight-up solid film. Paired together with the vastly inferior Crazy Mama (one of the oddest Corman double features so far), Shout! Factory’s release of The Lady in Red presents the film in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, utilizing a decent print and a very good transfer. I honestly don’t need to go into specifics; this is basically on par visually with all of their other Corman double feature releases. The Dolby Digital mono track is in fantastic shape, without any damage to speak of, and you’ll never miss a second of dialogue. Extras include two commentary tracks, one with director Teague and actor Forster, and the other with writer Sayles and producer Julie Corman. Some decent information can be found in both, the most interesting being Teague talking about how he was paid $11,000 to make the film, but since at the time Corman was on the Director’s Guild of America’s strike list and no one under the DGA was supposed to work for him, he was ultimately fined double what he made. Ah well, at least your time was spent making a really good film. Rounding out the extras are a couple theatrical trailers and the option to watch this and Crazy Mama back-to-back as a double feature, complete with trailers before each film.

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Crazy Mama  
USA | 1975
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Written by: Robert Thom & Frances Doel
Starring: Cloris Leachman, Stuart Whitman, Ann Sothern, Linda Purl
| 80 Minutes | Rated PG

- By KamuiX

Opening up with a scene pretty much cannibalized for later use in Big Bad Mama II, a late 80s Corman quickie, Crazy Mama kicks off in the early 30s as The Stokes’ family farm is repossessed and daddy Stokes is shot dead in the process. Now in the late 50s, 3 generations of Stokes women, matron Sheba (Ann Sothern), daughter Melba (Cloris Leachman), and granddaughter Cheryl (Linda Purl) run a beauty parlor in California but have just run into a recurring problem: the landlord wants them out. Feeling that all of their troubles in life began back on the farm in Arkansas, they decide to go back and claim it for their own. Of course they’d need money for that, so they make a pitstop in Vegas (after robbing a few dollars here and there from unwitting gas-station attendants) in hopes of hitting it big. While they don’t do that, they do run into a few people, including 82 year old and quick as a whip Bertha, greaser Snake, and the mayor of Vegas Jim Bob, all of whom are more than willing to join them in their money making schemes. After pulling off a couple more heists for minimal gain, Jim Bob comes up with a plan: since no one knows he’s been running with them, they’ll stage his kidnapping and hold him for ransom.

Another entry into Corman’s loose “Mama” series, Crazy Mama sadly doesn’t hold a candle to the madness of Bloody Mama or the trashy fun of Big Bad Mama. One of the biggest missteps is Cloris Leachman, who doesn’t come close to possessing the screen presence or charisma of Shelley Winters or Angie Dickinson. Likewise, almost none of the characters are remotely interesting or likeable, and you won’t find yourself rooting for this crew to make the big score so they can have a better life, which is the case in many similar films under Corman’s banner. The one cast member that is instantly hilarious and loveable, the potty mouthed Bertha, unfortunately only gets minimal screen time. How anyone involved in this production overlooked her scene-stealing nature and didn’t write more for her is beyond me.

The script is an absolute mess which ultimately doesn’t really have any direction and the editing leaves a lot to be desired. Obviously production niggles are to be expected in Corman produced films, but here there aren’t any brightly shining elements that overshadow the inherent shortcomings. Crazy Mama aims not for exploitation, but more for comedy and sitcom-esque laughs, and even fails in that respect. I do have to give the film some credit for a great soundtrack that completely captures the spirit of the 50s, but one has to wonder if getting these tracks into the film cost money, if that money couldn’t have been spent wiser on more important things; this is a film after all, not a music video. Corman or Demme completists only need apply. Shout! Factory has paired Crazy Mama with the far superior The Lady in Red in a Corman double feature that sees the film getting a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that is far from pristine, with a lot of print damage and a soft look (more likely due to the budget than anything else), but it’s certainly watchable. The Dolby Digital mono track isn’t so hot, sounding very tinny and flat which causes dialogue to become indecipherable at times; English subtitles would have been a welcome addition. Extras include both commentary and a sit-down interview with Corman and Demme, both of which are fun conversations and its clear both of these guys get along great with one another. Also included are the film’s theatrical trailer and a couple of TV spots. As you’ve probably come to expect for Corman double feature releases, you can watch this and The Lady in Red back-to-back “Grindhouse” style, although I think this release should have switched that option to the “Drive-In Experience”, as neither of these films are particularly exploitive.

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Big Bad Mama  
USA | 1974
Directed by: Steve Carver
Written by: Willian Norton & Frances Doel
Starring: Angie Dickinson, Tom Skerritt, William Shatner, Susan Sennett
| 84 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Texan widow Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) wants the best for her two daughters, Billy Jean (Susan Sennett from The Candy Snatchers) and Polly (Robbie Lee from Switchblade Sisters). She refuses to have them married off to poor white trash hillbillies just to ease her financial burden. No, she wants the best. And when the family bootlegging business (the film taking place in the late 30s) falls into her lap, she sees a way to do just that. But running liquor seems to be a bit more trouble than it’s worth, and she finds out ripping off corrupt preachers and small town gamblers is a lot easier and more profitable. Now with the intention of taking her girls to California for a better life, she’s ready to move up the food chain and go for a bigger score: robbing a bank. Her way is to just try to write a bad check, but as fate would have it bank robber Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt) has his eyes on the exact bank, and when their paths cross it’s a match made in heaven. Soon after they run across slick gambler William J. Baxter (William Shatner), and once he’s added to the mix, the quintet is ready to go big time. But their plan for the big pay day may be harder to pull off then any of them realize.

While on the surface Big Bad Mama looks like the usual Corman cash-in, this time on Bonnie and Clyde (and Corman’s own Bloody Mama), that assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. Thanks to a great cast, quick and often hilarious situations and dialogue, and the screen presence of lead Angie Dickinson, Big Bad Mama is a total blast from start to finish. The production doesn’t skimp whatsoever, with director Steve Carver and everyone involved in set design showing a true affection for the time period, and not once will you ever forget you’re watching a film taking place in the late 1930s. Everything comes off incredibly authentic, and shows that when Corman’s crew had a little cash and a ton of passion, the results often times proved to be much more positive than most would have probably expected.

With a stacked cast that includes not only the big three names of Dickinson, Skerritt, and Shatner, as well as recognizable faces such as Corman favorite Dick Miller, it’s a surprise that the real standouts here are the two daughters, played by Sennett and Lee. They both provide pitch-perfect performances as sweet, innocent faced youths that are anything but. Watching them dance innocently or looking like Shirley Temple with a giant lollipop followed quickly with them assisting with a bank holdup or totally nude fighting over a man is some great divergence, and both of them pull it off wonderfully. Featuring numerous riotous moments, fun dirt-road car chase scenes, and enough exploitive elements to please most anyone (Skerritt’s character is the ultimate pimp, pulling two sisters AND their mom!), Big Bad Mama is certainly among the upper echelon of Corman produced films of the 70s. Shout! Factory’s release (paired with the film’s sequel) serves up a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer that’s leaps and bounds better than the previous New Horizons disc, boasting vibrant colors and a nice level of grain and sharpness, with minimal print damage. The Dolby Digital mono track is in great shape, with no problems to speak of. All of the extras from previous releases have been carried over, including a commentary with Corman and Dickinson that sees both of them having a great time reminiscing, a quick interview from Corman conducted by Leonard Maltin, and a 15-minute featurette entitled “Mama Knows Best”, which rounds up Corman, Dickinson, director Carver, and writer Frances Doel. New to this release is a second commentary with Carver and cinematographer Bruce Logan, that’s much more technical and behind-the-scenes oriented than Corman and Dickinson’s offering. Rounding out the extras is the film’s theatrical trailer in addition to a couple of TV spots. As with all of Shout!’s double feature releases, this can be watched “Grindhouse” style with Big Bad Mama II, and you’ll be treated to some other Corman-related trailers.

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Big Bad Mama II  
USA | 1987
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: R.J. Robertson & Jim Wynorski
Starring: Angie Dickinson, Robert Culp, Danielle Brisebois, Julie McCulloch
| 84 Minutes | Rated R

- By KamuiX

Serving as both an “alternate universe” prequel as well as a reimagining of the original, Big Bad Mama II sees the origins of Wilma McClatchie as her happy life with her husband and two daughters is snuffed out when their house is pulled out from under them by a heartless real estate agent. In the process of defending his homestead, Wilma’s husband is shot dead. Now 10 months later and refusing to ever have her family affected by poverty again, Wilma has trained her daughters in the art of bank robbery. Revenge is still on her mind however, and when she finds out the evil land baron Morgan Crawford (played by Bruce Glover, father of everyone’s favorite crazy man Crispin), the same man that put them out on their ass, is out to become governor, she has other ideas. She kidnaps Crawford’s son, but not for ransom money; she wants to tarnish Crawford’s image, and she’s going to turn his son into a criminal and smear his name all over the headlines with the help of a local newsman (played by Robert Culp).

Even with the return of Angie Dickinson as the “Big Bad Mama” herself, Big Bad Mama II fails to capture much of the fun-loving spirit of the original. Chalk it up to less star power, a cheap-sounding soundtrack, less immersive set design most likely due to a much smaller budget, a weaker story, or the pedestrian direction, but the film never pops quite like you’d expect. And it really has nothing to do with it being made 13 years later. Regardless of the fact that Dickinson is now well into her 50’s, she still manages to play the role with a ton of gusto and seems to really relish being a bad girl doing the “right thing” to keep her family’s head above water. Her character is written a bit more reserved this time around, but her dialogue and delivery is still sharp. Her scenes with Robert Culp’s character are by far the highlight of the film (although the obvious body double sex scene is just bizarre), and their interaction with one another is top shelf, with a bathroom scene in particularly hitting all the right charming notes.

The biggest faux-pas on display here is the recasting of the two daughters. Sure, they fill the skin quotient quite well, but neither manages to pull off the dual role of sweet-faced teens with a hard edge very well. Also, neither looks very much like lowly farm girls with little worldly experience; Julie McCulloch, who takes on the role of Polly, looks every bit the Playboy centerfold that she was at the time. If you reign in your expectations here, you may find a bit to like with Dickinson chewing up the scenery once again, but if you choose to watch this back-to-back with the original using the “Grindhouse Experience” option on the Shout! Factory DVD release, its shortcomings will be glaring. The film does look good, presented here in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and using a print that’s pretty much free of any damage with good color reproduction. The Dolby Digital mono track has a bit of background noise present, but it’s hardly anything to complain about. Extras include commentary with director Jim Wynorski, which in many instances explains why the film has a lot of short comings (the time constraints on many of Corman produced 80s films were brutal), another short interview with Corman conducted by Leonard Maltin, and a 9-minute interview with Bruce Glover, who turns out to be just as eccentric as his offspring (and you’re conducting this interview with a giant metal sculpture made out of babies behind you why?) A theatrical trailer rounds out the supplemental material.

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Death of a Snowman  
South Africa | 1978
Directed by: Christopher Rowley
Written by: Bima Stagg
Starring: Nigel Davenport, Ken Gampu, Peter Dyneley, Bima Stagg
| 87 Minutes | Not Rated

- By KamuiX

The carcasses of known drug dealers are starting to pile up around Johannesburg, South Africa. While initially thought to be nothing more than opposing cartels killing one another, news reporter Steve Chaka is sent a letter by those committing the murders: a vigilante group calling itself War on Crime. Lucky for Chaka, his best friend just happens to be Ben Deel, a police lieutenant, and he’s more than happy to work with him to find out who exactly is behind the group; the fact that War on Crime is feeding Chaka bits of information on upcoming drug deals doesn’t hurt matters either. But when the group starts to reel in their information, the police force Deel to stop working with Chaka, wondering if he’s been playing them all along. Now on his own, Chaka is determined to get the whole story…even if it costs him his life.

Death of a Snowman has all the hallmarks of a solid 70’s Blaxploitation flick: a funky, groovy soundtrack, drug runners killing one another, a black man in the crosshairs simply because of his skin color (even in South Africa!), vigilante killing, and more. Yet sadly, all of these tried-and-true elements of the genre don’t come together as swimmingly as one would hope. The film’s biggest issue is its pacing. While absolutely nothing going on in the film says anything other than this being drive-in trash, it really seems as if those involved behind the scenes wanted something else, as for every scene we get of people getting blown away and being tossed from planes, we’re forced to sit through Chaka sitting at his typewriter pecking out stories about the political climate of his country and Lt. Deal parked in his car staking out criminals. It’s all really quite uneven, and it feels as if someone involved didn’t want to completely commit the film to pure exploitation and instead was attempting to elevate it to a conspiracy or even a political thriller.

None of this works though because the film is so terribly put together, making the more sincere dialogue heavy scenes fall flat on their face. But if you wait just long enough, you’ll be treated to one of a number of action sequences that are awesome for all the wrong reasons. They’re totally ridiculous, with nearly every scene featuring some poor sap being shot or pushed through a window, wall or office divider. I’m pretty certain someone had some leftover props to play with and the director was determined to use every last one of them. Most of the characters are pretty forgettable, outside of a white, suave hitman that shows up about midway through the film that serves little purpose to the story other than looking cool as hell; he’s played by Bima Stagg, who also wrote the film, so that may explain something. Toss in some outrageous dubbing (there are multiple occasions where someone is facing the screen yet it sounds as if they’re facing the other way) and the occasional line of hilariously out of place highbrow dialogue, and Death of a Snowman could certainly scratch your next Blaxploitation itch; just make sure you’ve already exhausted all of the better genre films first. Synapse Films’ release presents the film in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen, and does just about the best it can with the rough source material they had to work with. Washed out colors, tons of print damage, and very murky dark scenes all rear their ugly head, but knowing Synapse, this is the very best they could do with what was given to them. The Dolby Digital mono track is about on par with the visuals, rough around the edges but it gets the job done. Audio drops out occasionally, but it’s clear that’s more to do with how cheaply it was recorded in the first place. Subs would have been nice, as a few of the character’s accents are pretty thick. The only extra on board is a theatrical trailer that I wouldn’t advise watching first, because as was par for the course for 70’s grindhouse cinema, it lays the entire film out for you in under four minutes.

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