SCHLOCK VALUE by Joe Baltake


Philadelphia Daily News (PA) - April 21, 1983
Author: JOE BALTAKE, Daily News Movie Reviewer

The revolving doors of our area movie theaters have been spinning furiously lately, with films coming and going with a vengeance. No fewer than eight new movies opened this past weekend, and I was handed my lunchpail and told to hit the road in search of cinematic genius.

I was determined to do it, too. So, with my car's gas tank completely filled, a Texaco road map by my side, my pail full of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches and, just in case, an ice pack and a thermometer, I headed for the hinterlands of New Jersey and breezed away last Sunday afternoon with four schlock movies.

It all started at 12:55 p.m. and, several days later, my head is still going flamboyantly crackers. The fare ranged from passable ("Lone Wolf McQuade") to so-so ("Curtains") to just plain awful ("Vigilante" and ''The Treasure of the Four Crowns"). Here's how I remember it all:

1 P.M. "Vigilante." An action drama starring Robert Forster and Fred Williamson. Directed by William Lustig from an original script by Robert Vetere. Photographed by James Lemmo. Edited by Lorenzo Marinelli. Music by Jay Chattaway. Rated R. Running Time: 90 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Eric Westmont, New Jersey.)

This latest clone of "Death Wish" is likely to make you shiver and squirm - with irritation and revulsion. Just when it seems as if the vigilante genre had hit rock bottom, along comes this nasty, dimly-executed exploitation movie to lower it another thousand feet.

Directed by William Lustig, who helmed porno movies before expanding his filmic interests with the contemptible "Maniac," this movie chronicles the auspicious meeting of a fanatic vigilante (Fred Williamson) and a victim of urban violence (Robert Forster), whose family has been terrorized. An attack on his home has left his wife emotionally traumatized and his son dead.

The case is brought before an inept judge who is lenient with the chief culprit, and who tosses Forster in the slammer for illustrating his rage before the court. What with prison and everything, he's left with a taste for blood, and Williamson is there to help him draw some.

Lustig's aptitude for the horror of unleashed street crime is virtually nil. His style here is incongruously placid and placidly ugly.

To his credit, however, Lustig has loaded his background with ominous tom- tom music that let's us know when something awful is about to happen. Whenever you hear these sounds, you'd do well to make a beeline for the concession stand.

3:45 P.M. "Curtains." A thriller starring John Vernon and Samantha
Eggar. Directed by Jonathan Stryker from an original script by Robert Guza Jr. Photograhed by Robert Paynter and Fred Guthe. Edited by Michael Maclaverty. Music by Paul Zaza. Rated R. Running Time: 90 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Echelon Cinema, New Jersey.)

This mystery film from Canada is less a comment on the state of the art than on the state of unemployment among movie performers. Poor Samantha Eggar! She's saddled here with a character that looks like a practical joke by her agent.

Like the other women in "Curtains," Eggar automatically has several strikes against her. She's a woman, for one. Which means that she and her cronies are doomed to be slashed. And she's playing an actress willing to do anything for a role in a new movie. (Or is it a play? It's never made clear.) Anyway, she and the others are willing to "audition" for the part for sadistic director "Jonathan Stryker" (played by John Vernon and also the name of this film's director).

Vernon, who makes the women participate in lesbian activities as part of the tryout, projects a genuine aura of menace as the psychopathic director.

The movie itself is never a mystery, never frightening, but is, instead, unrelievedly solemn, given to long, mournful pauses.

5:50 P.M. "The Treasure of the Four Crowns." An adventury fantasy starring Tony Anthony. Directed by Ferdinando Baldi from a script by Lloyd Battista, Jim Bryce and Jerry Lazarus (adapted from a story by Tony Petito). Photographed in 3-D by Marcello Mascicchi. Edited by Franco Fraticelli. Music by Ennio Morricone. Rated PG. Running Time: 99 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Budco Westmont, New Jersey.)

This one has been done something in the manner of an old-time movie serial, although its Italian filmmakers have mistaken mangled, jerky plotting for serial-type cliffhangers. It is hardly as good as either "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or its Stephen Collins/Bruce Boxlietner TV-series imitation.

Shot in 3-D by the same team that made "Comin' at Ya!" a few years ago, ''The Treasure of the Four Crowns" uses up every visual gimmick within its first 10 minutes: For reasons that aren't immediately clear - but nothing in the movie is either clear or logical - star Tony Anthony dodges his way through a jungle as beasties jump out at him and us.

Since the plot is hopelessly mangled, it's also hopelessly incomprehensible. It seems to have become unhinged by the 3-D process. From what I can make out (remember, by this point, I was dazed from moviegoing in general and this film's eye-assaulting tricks in particular), the soldier-of- fortune plot is about Anthony's attempts to retrieve certain antique crowns that will assure the world's safety.

The effects are often dopey and largely vicious, the most imaginative one being when a character's face turns into mud.

7:45 P.M. "Lone Wolf McQuade." An action drama starring Chuck Norris, David Carradine and Barbara Carrera. Directed by Steve Carver from a script by B.J. Nelson (adapted from a story by H. Kaye Dyal). Photographed by Roger Shearman. Edited by Anthony Redman. Music by Francesco De Masi. Rated R. Running Time: 107 minutes. In area theaters. (Screened at the Ellisburg Cinema, New Jersey.)

Until recently, Chuck Norris has specialized in police/adventure dramas with karate kicks in lieu of plot twists. His movies have been likably sincere - and forgettable.

With "Lone Wolf McQuade," he's extended his limited range, giving a fairly good Steve McQueen impersonation in a plot that's purely bargain- basement Sam Peckinpah.

He's a ranger here - Jim McQuade - tough with men (especially bad men) and tender with women (especially beautiful women). His McQuade is recruited by the FBI to track down the person who is feeding arms to Mexican terrorists. Since the baddie is played by David Carradine, of TV's "Kung Fu" fame, the film naturally ends with a martial-arts match.

Norris does little more than posture. His idea of McQueen-style quiet strength is to stop in his tracks and stare into the camera. Even his action scenes seem frozen, devoid of gore, rancor and even energy.

David Carradine turns in a snarlingly detached and amateurish performance, and Barbara Carrera, in the Katy Jurado role, struggles valiantly with the film's worst lines.

"I'm glad you are alive," she tells Norris after he's been beaten to a pulp.

She could have said the same to me.


Hi, I'm William Lustig!"

(Lustig Image pilfered from Creation Entertainment)

No comments: