Exploitation TV: Volume Eleven

EX TV is back, and badder than ever.

For cinephiles, the definition of home video label Vinegar Syndrome’s name is something like a secret handshake. The disease it references consumes celluloid. When film stock starts to degrade, it releases acetic acid, the key ingredient in (you guessed it) vinegar. This phenomenon became a plague during the 80s, chewing up prints of pictures improperly stored in hot, humid conditions. In many cases, where reels of smaller films were scarce due to budgetary restrictions, one bad case of vinegar syndrome could rob the planet of an artist’s work. 

According to a ‘12 study conducted by the Library of Congress, only 14% of nearly 11,000 movies made between 1912 and 1930 exist in their original format. Around 70% were lost completely. Coming in at a close second in terms of casualties is the Exploitation Era. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, as many of the weirder, more obscure movies made during these decades of disrepute are pictures we’ve probably never heard of in the first place. Thankfully, the Bridgeport, Connecticut boys at VS own a private archive, from which they’ve been pulling and scanning prints of overlooked horror, exploitation and smut cinema from all eras. To make it easier on all us degenerates, they’ve even established a streaming service, where you can log in and watch all the back alley oddities they’ve been uncovering and preserving, so that true vinegar syndrome doesn’t rob us of any more great trash art. 

After a brief hiatus (OK, two months - I'm sorry) we return for the eleventh episode of EX TV, tuning in for three dives into totally separate and strange underworlds...

Poor Pretty Eddie (a/k/a Redneck County Rape or Black Vengeance) [1973] (d. Richard Robinson, w. B.W. Sandefur) 

Easily one of the nastiest entries into the Rednecksploitation canon, Poor Pretty Eddie follows a singer (Leslie Uggams), who unfortunately takes a wrong turn and breaks down while headed out for vacation in the country. Coming to her aid are Eddie (Michael Christian) - a homicidal Elvis impersonator, and Bertha (Shelley Winters) a washed up starlet. In their dilapidated abode, Eddie proceeds to torture, rape and generally haunt the poor musician, whose cries for mercy and help fall on deaf ears when she reports his crimes to the good ol' boys (Dub Taylor and Slim Pickens) calling themselves the county law. Instead, she has to contend with vicious dog breeder Keno (Ted Cassidy), as the situation escalates to levels of uncomfortable racial tension and explosive violence (presented to us in slo-mo that would make Peckinpah drool). It's a dizzying, emotionally scarring cinematic experience, nowhere near appropriate for the faint of heart. It might also be a lo-fi, scum coated masterpiece, daring you to look away as your heart bleeds for the jazz woman. 

Poor Pretty Eddie was written by B.W. Sandefur, helmed by Richard Robinson, and produced by Michael Thevis Enterprises - a trio that couldn't be odder if they had their own sitcom. Sandefur was mostly known as a TV writer, having penned scripts for everything from Ironside to Airwolf. On the other hand, Robinson made his name helming soft and hardcore movies, which explains his relationship with Thevis. Throughout the '70s, Thevis operated one of the nation's largest networks of adult book stores, movie theaters, and peep show machines (some of those loops Robinson shot fast and cheap).With smut, Thevis became a very rich man, reportedly earning millions of dollars. Eventually, he was jailed on charges of sending obscene materials through the mail, but in '78 escaped from an Indiana prison and landed on America's Most Wanted List.  By the time the Feds caught him, his laundry list of crimes included extortion, tax evasion, bombing, and the murder of a witness who testified against him in an earlier trial. Thevis is currently serving a life sentence in prison. To wit, Poor Pretty Eddie wasn't the most shocking crime he perpetrated. 

The Candy Tangerine Man [1975] (d. Matt Cimber, w. Mikel Angel) 

Some exploitation pictures earn notorious reputations that, to be honest, aren’t exactly deserved (here’s looking at you, numerous Italian Cannibal entries). The Candy Tangerine Man is not one of those films. A super scuzzy riff on the now tired TV trope “what if the head of a suburban family was also a (meth dealer/terrorist/Soviet spy/TV ad man)”, the super smooth Black Baron (John Daniels) is a ruthless pimp, dealing with all the things ruthless pimps deal with. The Mafia, crooked cops (including a baby-faced “Buck” Flower, here billed as "C.D. La LeFleur"), bank managers secretly into getting pissed on, and backstabbing low-rent women are just a few of the pitfalls the Baron faces, all while sporting a smile for his brood in the ‘burbs.

The tone pinballs between goofball and pitch black (no pun intended), never finding just the right balance to be perfect, but we never really want or need that from grindhouse fare anyway. What sets The Candy Tangerine Man apart from its second-billed brothers is the genuine empathy it shows for its characters - best displayed during a strangely human golden shower sequence. This is top-tier Blaxploitation unpleasantness, never really interested in accessibility like the movies of its ilk that made it big (Shaft ['71], Superfly ['72]). Instead, Matt Cimber’s masterwork is probably a little too mean spirited for its own good, but that’s what renders the final Peckinpah-aping slow motion gun battle (a trend this week!) that much more hard hitting.

Nomad Riders [1982] (d. & w. Frank Roach) 

Now for something a little more light-hearted. Nomad Riders is only one of two pictures writer/director Frank Roach helmed (following the Renee Harmon freak out, Frozen Scream ['75]), and delivers unto us a singular hero in Steve Thrust (Tony Laschi). After his wife and kid are killed by a gang of bikers - who toss them into a tent along with a grenade - while Steve is off joy-riding in a tiny plane, Officer Thrust springs into action, pursuing his prey with deadly efficiency and a New England accent that's inexplicable. But then again, "inexplicable" could also describe the antics of these marauding leather boys, who drive their hogs through an old woman's living room for no reason, and also blow up a porta-potty at one point.

Yes, while the sound may be in sync (unlike Frozen Scream), Nomad Riders is still operating on the same wavelength of pure anti-logic as his Harmon team up. Cops and killers are really no different from one another, and it isn't long before Thrust is living up to his name, forgetting his dead wife and kids and hopping into bed for a smooth jazz love scene. This isn't so much an action movie as it is a gloriously out of tune Bob Seger song, blaring through blown out speakers while you chug down a PBR and scream along with the lyrics you think you remember from that one time you visited a honky-tonk with your stoned uncle. Where the first two movies in this week's installment are wholly unpleasant, this one's an absolute blast of nihlistic joy, ending on the best title card in the history of both movies and title cards. 

Tune in next week for three more picks from your new favorite channel. In the meantime, log in to Vinegar Syndrome’s streaming service to embark upon your own filthy adventures.