Shout! Factory pulls another four obscurities from the MGM vaults for their CULT MOVIE MARATHON VOLUME ONE two-disc DVD set.
When the body of a John Doe found in a hotel room turns out to be a researcher at the Brandt Institute doing government-sponsored research, state department agent Neil Agar (William Smith, SCORCHY) is sent to the small California town of Peckham (where wife-swapping is just about the only thing to do). Before he even arrives in town, two more local men have been found dead of the same cause: coronary thrombosis from over-exhaustion in circumstances that suggest they were "in the act" (including a twenty-year-old factory worker). As a formality, he looks into the dead scientist's research with the help of his "mousey" assistant Julie (Victoria Vetri, ROSEMARY'S BABY) only to come across another scientist dead in the same manner as the others. Agar teams up with the institute's scientists and the local sheriff (Cliff Osmond, HANGAR 18) to look into what is being theorized as a particularly virulent venereal disease, but locals do not take kindly to the suggestion of a curfew and abstinence by reproductive biology researcher Dr. Murger (Wright King, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE) who is forming an alternate theory about the deaths. Murger also winds up dead, but murdered in a hit-and-run that suggests that the deaths definitely connected to the institute and possibly icy entomologist Dr. Harris' (Anitra Ford, MESSIAH OF EVIL) experiments with bees and genetic mutations.
Scripted by Nicholas Mayer (TIME AFTER TIME) of all people, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS is actually a very well-made film beneath its grindhouse-y bodacious bug-eyed housewives screwing local males to death façade with surprisingly slick photography by Gary Graver (DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN) – assisted by Michael Stringer (DOUBLE EXPOSURE) – and an elegant score by Charles Bernstein (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) that makes the initiation ritual of the bee girls look less cheesy. Smith is an affable lead (at a time where he was usually cast as secondary villains and henchmen) and Ford makes a fetching queen bee; and there's no shortage of nudity by Ford and her bee girls, including BRIDES OF BLOOD's Beverly Powers, softcore/hardcore sexploitation starlets Rene Bond (FRANKIE AND JOHNNIE WERE LOVERS…), Kathy Hilton (POOR CECILY) and Colleen Brennan (SUPERVIXENS). The film would make an interesting double bill with David Durston's STIGMA had its script better developed the hidden social connection that links the victims outside of their occupations, but it's also quite entertaining on its own.
RAT PATROL's Christopher George takes on KISS ME DEADLY's Ralph Meeker with the help of THE DEVIL'S 8. Suave federal agent Faulkner (George) is charged with the mission of exposing government corruption by busting up the operation of influential bootlegger Burl (Meeker) and tying him to his activities so he will be forced to testify. Since previous large raids have found nothing while smaller investigations have resulted in dead or vanished agents, George decides to assemble his own team. Infiltrating a prison work group as a criminal, he recruits six lifers by entrapping them into an escape. The group includes mechanic Billy Joe (Tom Nardini), troublemaker Sam (Joe Turkell, THE SHINING), drunk Sonny (Fabian, THE WILD RACERS), murderer-turned-pacifist Chandler (Larry Bishop, WILD IN THE STREETS), and a black guy to add a racial element Henry (Robert DoQui, NASHVILLE), as well as one of Burl's former whiskey runners Frank (Ross Hagen, THE SIDEHACKER) who is reluctant to take part until Faulkner reveals that Burl set him up and had his younger brother killed when he was going to come forward with evidence to free him. Inexperienced field agent Martin (Ron Rifkin, TV's ALIAS) is the eighth member of the group in place of the demolitions expert Faulkner had requested. After a crash course in offensive driving, shooting, fighting, and explosives, the eight drive into Burl's territory posing as rival bootleggers horning in on his operation by running his cars off the road and stealing his shipments. Inevitably, Burl organizes a negotiation with Faulkner; and his group ingratiates themselves among the locals, searching for Burl's still while forcefully asserting themselves as the team to make the next run. Even before Burl becomes aware of Faulkner's real identity, he has plans to double-cross him, and Frank's reunion with his torch-carrying ex Cissy (Leslie Parrish, SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL) further complicates matters.
THE DEVIL'S 8 has some impressive pedigree behind the camera as well as in front, boasting a screenplay by Willard Huyck (AMERICAN GRAFFITI), John Milius (CONAN THE BARBARIAN), and James Gordon White (presumably further augmented by him since he collaborated on a number of AIP projects during this period) from a story by TV writer Larry Gordon (BURKE'S LAW). George and Meeker are excellent, but the usually fun Hagen is better center-stage in cracked exploitation films (like the immensely enjoyable WONDER WOMEN and SUPER COCK) than as a brooding romantic lead. What grittiness the film might has possessed – although cameraman Richard Glouner (THE DUNWICH HORROR) treats the predominately male cast to close-ups as photogenic as he affords to Parrish and Lynda Day George in a brief, uncredited early bit as tuxedoed, clean-shaven Faulkner's date early on – is hampered by terrible back projection – courtesy of Bill Hansard (THE FURY) – during the driving sequences that isn't so much cheap as it is downright slapdash (and must have provoked laughter even to audiences back then). The scoring by Mike Curb (THE WILD ANGELS) and Michael Lloyd (THE POM POM GIRLS) treats shootouts and the injuries/deaths of its principals as jauntily as it does the raucous training scenes and the comical barroom brawl sequence (then again, the film would have us believe that Fabian is a hardened criminal and slovenly alcoholic), and the theme song over the end titles must be heard to be believed. INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS' Cliff Osmond turns up here as Burl's bodyguard Bubba.
Originally released theatrically by Centaur - and then reissued in the 1980s by Motion Picture Marketing as one of a few films retitled GRAVEYARD TRAMPS - INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS first made the digital rounds on PD labels like Brentwood, Mill Creek, and Catcom in a worn fullscreen PAL-sourced transfer. When MGM released it on disc in 2004 – in a double feature with INVASION OF THE STAR CREATURES – it was in an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that was still a little worn but overall better looking; however, the source lost a few bits presumably to print damage, but it was also inexplicably missing a large chunk of Beverly Powers' striptease seduction of her husband. Shout!'s interlaced transfer appears to be the same one, but the missing striptease footage has indeed been restored (the MGM DVD ran 84:45 while the Shout! runs 86:09). Some other brief bits still seem to be missing due to print damage or possibly an attempt to improve the pace (at the end, a lingering shot of the sheriff is trimmed as is the first line of dialogue in the next scene). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack is impressive for the film's budget, with Bernstein's score coming across beautifully throughout. A trailer (2:26) for the film is the set's only extra. THE DEVIL'S 8 is also an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) interlaced transfer and looks great throughout with a good Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track.
Disc two opens with UNHOLY ROLLERS, in which harassed Karen Walker (Claudia Jennings, 'GATOR BAIT) quits her dead-end cannery job and has to find a more lucrative and satisfying way to pay the rent since her go-go dancer roommate Donna (Candice Roman, THE BIG BIRD CAGE) and her car parts thief boyfriend Greg (Alan Vint, BADLANDS) are saving up their meager funds for their business venture: a topless auto shop. Karen decides to try out for the local roller derby whose rival teams The Avengers and The Demons are both owned by arena owner Stern (Louis Quinn, SUPERCHICK). Her figure more so than her skating is what wins her one of three new spots on the team, but her innate aggression and unfriendliness quickly alienate her teammates even as she is set to replace "butch" head jammer Mickey (Betty Anne Rees, SUGAR HILL). Resentful of Karen's popularity with the sponsors – including a number of lucrative commercial endorsements – Mickey attacks her on the track and is thrown off the team (literally with a concussion). As Karen becomes a celebrity on the circuit, she not only has to worry about the return of Mickey on the rival team and the hatred of her own teammates, but also Stern's plans to replace her with less difficult newbie Beverly Brayton (Charlene Jones, THE CURIOUS FEMALE).
The feature debut of Vernon Zimmerman (FADE TO BLACK) as well as the first of Howard R. Cohen's (SATURDAY THE 14TH) collaborations with producer Roger Corman, UNHOLY ROLLERS presumably follow up on the heels of the 1971 documentary DERBY and foregrounded a hot-headed, frequently nude female protagonist in the form of exploitation favorite Jennings (as well as CAGED HEAT's Roberta Collins for little else than to great but have little to actually do in the story). While the film is a memorable slice of 1970s exploitation thanks to the subject matter and title, it's actually not that good. Part of the reason is that it's hard to make roller derby exciting with limited technical innovation and people trying their best not to get injured while faking unnecessary roughness (it helps early on that the film plays up the showboating and emphasis on "what the public wants" but it doesn't end up looking any more brutal when Karen lashes out throughout or when all hell breaks loose during the climax). The "price of fame" aspect also isn't particularly compelling since it's hard to actually like Karen (or any of her rivals for that matter) since she just seems rebellious and generally disagreeable rather than hardened by experience (she deserves to discover that love interest Nick [Jay Varela, KID BLUE] is married after sleeping with him as much as she deserves the contempt of her teammates and Stern). The only remotely sympathetic characters in the film are Stern's son-in-law (Joe E. Tata, Jennings' SISTERS OF DEATH co-star) – who asks questions to elucidate Stern's business ethics to the audience – and Donna who decides it's time for her and Greg to strike out on their own as Karen's fame goes to her head. HALLOWEEN II's Hunter van Leer makes a brief appearance as Greg's partner in stealing auto parts, and sitcom/episodic TV regular Kathleen Freeman is on hand as Karen's mother.
In VICIOUS LIPS, imperious Radioactive Dreams club owner Maxine (Mary-Anne Graves) has a hole to fill in her performance block and offers the opportunity for galactic stardom to the band "Vicious Lips" which has just lost their lead singer Ape Lucas (first to a rival band, and then to a freak accident). Manager Matty Asher (the thoroughly annoying Tony Kenietz) rushes to replace her, and discovers Judy Jetson (Dru-Anne Perry, DANGEROUSLY CLOSE) at a high school talent show. At a local bar performance, Judy impresses the customers but not her new bandmates – punk Mandoa (Shayne Farris, DOWN TWISTED), burned out junkie Wynzi (Linda Kerridge, FADE TO BLACK), and practical Bree (Gina Calabrese, RAGEWAR) – who are still mourning Ape and resentful of a new star being inserted in her place (and being rechristened with her name by Matty). "Radioactive Dreams" is on the other side of the galaxy, so Matty decides to steal a space ship. Unbeknownst to him and the girls, the particular ship they take is being used to transport a Venusian serial killer Milo (Christian Andrews, ALIEN FROM L.A.). When Matty crashes the ship on Pleasure Planet, he and the girls are prey not only to the now freed killer but also to the cannibalistic denizens lurking in the desert wasteland.
Empire Pictures' VICIOUS LIPS – director Albert Pyun's companion-piece to his post-apocalyptic film RADIOACTIVE DREAMS (1985) – sports some great photography by Tim Surhstedt (HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW), music (Perry's vocal performances were voiced by Sue Saad, perhaps better known to genre fans for her title song for Michael Crichton's LOOKER), and creature effects by Greg Cannom (BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA) and the ubiquitous John Carl Buechler and his Mechanical and Make-up Imageries (DOLLS); but it's otherwise as aggravating a mess as one would expect from an Albert Pyun film. While eighties filmmaking was heavily-influenced by MTV music videos, VICIOUS LIPS seems to want to be a feature-length music video at the expense of not only plot but also common sense. The editing cuts to different angles or intercuts parallel scenes to the music with no regard as to progress of the narrative (this is aggravating during the set-up but less so once the film becomes a series of chase scenes) in favor of "nightmare logic". If not for the music, then this would be a total write-off since there are plenty of less painful and fleshier examples of would-be-surreal sci-fi comedies (even in the filmographies of Pyun and Empire Pictures).
When Orion acquired the AIP library in the 1980s via Filmways, they neglected to secure the music rights to several of AIP's pickups. When those titles were released on home video – by companies like Vestron, HBO, Thorn-EMI, and Lightning Video – a handful of them (including some foreign acquisitions that had not been rescored by Les Baxter) had to have songs and sometimes the entire score replaced. When MGM acquired bankrupt Orion's library, they cleared up the rights issues on most of the titles (well, of the ones we know were rescored for video), but apparently not UNHOLY ROLLERS. Despite Shout!'s cover saying that UNHOLY ROLLERS is full-frame, it is not simply a digitization of the old tape master. Shout!'s transfer is a more recent anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer - albeit given an interlaced encoding here and sporting some occasional distortion in fine patterns (like Vint's striped shirt during the double date scene) - which looks colorful and sharp enough to reveal some derby track shots that were optically zoomed-in to vary the coverage. That said, the Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track does not feature the film's original score; it is indeed the reworked soundtrack and the rescoring clashes with the original portions of the soundtrack, sounding cheaper but also more "modern" than the vintage mono track should even at its cleanest. VICIOUS LIPS is an unproblematic (although interlaced), colorful anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer with a buoyant Dolby Digital 2.0 rendering of the film's Ultra Stereo soundtrack. There are no extras on disc two. (Eric Cotenas)
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