Friday, August 26, 2016

093. The Black Godfather and 094. Frankenstein '80

Jump to Frankenstein '80 (1972)

093. The Black Godfather (1974)
Director: John Evans
Writer: John Evans
From: Cult Cinema

Black crime boss JJ decides he's going to get heroin off the streets of his city, but that steps on the toes of white crime boss Tony who's not going to surrender his power easily.

JJ and Tommy are two street hustlers trying to rob crime boss Tony Burton's place. When Tommy kicks open the door, though, his gun doesn't work, and both of them get shot. Tommy is fatally wounded and apologizes to JJ, saying it's because he needed a fix that he couldn't do it right. JJ is picked up by Nate Williams, the Numbers King, who decides to bring him into the organization.

A few years later, JJ is running the show and meets up with Diablo, another member of the black criminal underground. JJ says he wants to get Tony Burton's crew out of the neighborhood and scrub the streets clean of smack. He's already recruited the Outlaws, a group of militants to do the killing, and Diablo signs on as well, even though he suspects JJ is just trying to consolidate power for himself.

This sounds like the set-up to an amazing blaxploitation film, but the movie never picks up steam. It has all the tropes that Black Dynamite parodied/paid homage to: crooked cop, getting drugs out of the community, crime boss as Black Power figure, bad kung-fu, but it stays pretty quiet throughout. Most of the movie is different characters having arguments/debates about who's good or not and the relative importance of power. For being called The Black Godfather, the movie's pretty didactic.

Not that there aren't fun parts to the movie. Toward the end, when JJ has destroyed a $3.5 million heroin shipment, he's hiding out in a coffin warehouse. Tony has kidnapped JJ's girl and JJ records the phone call where Tony makes his demands. When JJ plays the tape back, one of his associates lifts the lid of a coffin he's been sleeping in to identify the church bells in the background on the tape. Tonally, it's a very odd moment. There's also a sequence with characters I didn't recognize at all, where one gets killed by a poisoned blow dart.

The movie's not terrible by any means, I just wanted it to be crazier, more bombastic. There are really only two action sequences and most of the conflict between JJ's crew and Tony's crew happens off-screen. For something like this, I wanted more on-screen adrenaline.


094. Frankenstein '80 (1972)
Director: Mario Mancini
Writers: Ferdinando De Leone and Mario Mancini
From: Pure Terror

Dr. Frankenstein has built a man he calls “Mosaic,” but Mosaic's body keeps rejecting the organs he's been given. Mosaic starts murdering people to harvest the organs he needs and Dr. Frankenstein starts using him as a weapon against those who get too close to the truth.

Prof. Schwartz has developed what he, and for some inexplicable reason, everyone else, calls the “Schwartz serum,” a chemical that prevents the rejection of freshly-transplanted organs. Just as he's about to use the Schwartz on a human being for the first time, the only bottle of it is stolen from his lab causing the patient to die. The patient's brother Karl is the lead crime reporter for the local newspaper and weirdly okay with the death of his sister. Also of note, even though his sister is clearly an adult, Karl has to sign the forms giving Schwartz permission to do the experimental surgery, not her.

The serum was stolen by Dr. Frankenstein who has built a monster, Mosaic. Frankenstein has been working as a pathological anatomist after having his career as a surgeon ended after he botched the surgery of a politician's wife. Instead, he's been building a man from the parts of the dead. Only, the body he's built keeps rejecting the organs it's been receiving. While Frankenstein tries to use the serum to save his monster, Mosaic goes out on his own in the hopes of harvesting organs from murder victims.

And that's really it. Karl meets Frankenstein's niece, Sonia, and they fall in love, the police fail to pick up any lead because they're very poorly-judged comic relief, and evil is thwarted more by inevitability than by anyone's specific actions against it.

Something that drains a lot of the fun from the movie is the sexualized violence. Initially, Mosaic is only killing women, which is neither here nor there, but he strips the second woman after killing her and feels up her breasts. Later he hires a sex worker who is horrified when she sees him naked, and he rapes and murders her. Then, when he's on his final rampage, he murders a stripper in her changing room and, again, starts feeling up the corpse. To paraphrase a good point The Flop House had on this sort of stuff: there's no objection to nudity or titillation, I just don't want it placed in the context of violence. I don't want that peanut butter in my chocolate.

Apart from that, it is kind of a fun bad movie. It's not super-campy, and the obvious effort to make the cops comic relief goes over like a lead balloon, but the dubbing is unintentionally funny, it has that great mid-70's lurid aesthetic, and there are lots of opportunities to makes jokes about the movie. I mean, “Schwartz serum?” The ending takes too long—the monster just goes on a rampage against random people so it's impossible to care or feel any suspense—but with some acid-tongued friends, this could be a good time.

This movie had been in the public domain, but got GATT'd and so is no longer available for free use and re-use.

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