Directors: Cesar Gallardo, Richard Kanter
BCI Eclipse

Having acquired the film library of Crown International (sort of a poor man’s American International, a company which continually churned out cheap drive-in fare for decades), BCI has inaugurated part of its “Starlite Drive-In Theater” series with two features that certainly live up to the bill in terms of sensational thrills. This matching of a sexy war movie shot in the Philippines and an ultra nasty biker flick comes complete with vintage concession stand promos, trailers for other Crown titles, and even a cartoon!

HUSTLER SQUAD concerns an unconventional U.S. military man, Major Stony Stonewall (John Ericson), who is given the assignment of coming up with a crafty method to assassinate a group of high-ranking Japanese soldiers. This takes place during WWII, and the Japanese men in question hang out in a Philippines brothel, so Stony comes up with the brilliant idea of hiring pretty female killers to pose as prostitutes and nab these guys while their pants are down. The four women gathered for the mission include a oversexed murderous prisoner (Nory Wright), a call girl (Lynda Sinclaire, aka Crystin Sinclaire from Curtis Harrington’s RUBY and Tobe Hooper’s EATEN ALIVE) on the run from the mob, a terminally ill Scandinavian nurse (Johanna Raunio) and a bitter rape victim (Liza Lorena) whose family was wiped out by Japanese troops. The foursome are brought together in Australia (?), go through vigorous training, talk about being horny and how much they want a man, and eventually are flown to the Philippines to infiltrate a party attended by the men they are to do in.

Shot entirely in the Philippines, HUSTLER SQUAD does contain a good bit of action in its many war scenes and various scuffles, but its low budget will always remind you that this is still the 1970s, despite some Benny Goodman-type “big band” music being played during the ladies’ training session. There’s a decent amount of nudity and violence, as well as some of the swiftest decapitations you’ll almost see. Although TV actor John Ericson and his wife Karen Ericson (formerly Karen Huston, she played Mariette Hartley’s younger sister in THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA) are top billed, they disappear for most of the last third of the film. Ramon Revilla plays the good-guy guerilla who wears a good luck charm (until his luck runs out) and falls for former
Miss Finland Johanna Raunio. With lots of Philippine actors in bad make-up trying to pass themselves off as the Japanese, rotund Vic Diaz (there must have been a clause in the 1970s that stated that Diaz must appear in every piece Philippines cinema) plays a smirking Japanese officer who collects the call girls for his superiors. The legendary Cirio H. Santiago (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE HOT BOX, FLY ME and many, many others) served as one of the producers.

The full frame transfer on HUSTLER SQUAD leaves a lot to be desired. Presented full frame and open matte, it looks like an old VHS transfer, with a print source that’s very marked up and colors look pretty inky. On a whole, the image is passable at best, and the mono audio is also not without its problems (though a lot of this appears to stem from the poor audio of the original production).

On the flip side is THE WILD RIDERS, one of Crown’s contribution to the biker genre which was so popular for a short time during the early 1970s. Pete (Arell Blanton) and his scruffy sidekick Stick (Alex Rocco) crucify Pete’s girl up against a tree for shagging up with a black man, and are then asked to split from their gang for a while. As outlaws wanted for murder, they take off from Florida to California with little bread as they dig food out of garbage pails to get by. Through a telescope, they set their eyes on two beauties sunbathing poolside at a luxurious suburban house. Pete easily charms his way in, making his move on frustrated housewife Rona (Elizabeth Knowles) while her classical musician husband is away, but Stick’s animal-like tendencies cause him to manically attack and rape Rona’s little sister (Sherry Bain, also in AIP's THE HARD RIDE). The unruly duo overstay their welcome as the ladies find themselves robbed, abused, tied up and held prisoner in their own residence.

WILD RIDERS is more a less a shear exploitation piece disguised as a motorcycle picture, as there’s not much biker action to be had but plenty of sleazy exploits. The film is neck-in-neck with SATAN’S SADISTS in terms of trashiness and unrestrained misogyny, but plot-wise it’s closer to SAVAGE ABDUCTION or the sexploitation non-gem THE TAKERS, made the same year. Blanton plays it devilishly cool, and when in full rage is sort of an evil version of Peter Fonda’s “Easy Rider” persona. Rocco (still a year away from his star-making supporting role in THE GODFATHER) is memorable as a mentally unbalanced Neanderthal type, bringing a hobo quality to the character’s ill-seen lighter side (Rocco could be seen in two other Crown schlock fests around this time: BLOOD MANIA and STANLEY). The female leads are fairly convincing, with sultry Bain taking the bunt of the abuse and being tossed around like a beanbag. Steve Vincent, a recognizable staple of Dave Friedman’s late 1960s sexploitation programmers, has a bit part as a neighbor who shows up at the house to party, only to get the crap beat out of him by our biker friends. The cartoonish, yet ultra violent ending is fairly shocking, sort of like STRAW DOGS on acid.

Unlike HUSTLER SQUAD, the transfer for WILD RIDERS is something of a revelation. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement (even though the back cover doesn’t mention it), and is one of the best transfers of a Crown International title to date. The detail is very sharp, and colors are distinct and really stand out. This must have been transferred from the original vault elements, since there are no markings or blemishes whatsoever. The mono audio is also clear and free of any hiss or other defects.

You can play both features with the supplemental drive-in material, which consists of some vintage black and white concession stand films, trailers for other Crown International titles including LITTLE LAURA AND BIG JOHN (starring Karen Black and Fabian Forte), NOON SUNDAY with Mark Lenard and John Russell and LOW BLOW with Leo Fong and Cameron Mitchell, and there’s even a really old color “Mighty Mouse” cartoon. The menu’s graphics, depicting an old-time drive-in movie screen, are very nicely done. (George R. Reis)