Thursday, May 27, 2010


Director: Various
Cast: John Ashley, Andrew Prine, Arch Hall, Jnr., Johnny Carrol
Studio: Umbrella Entertainment
Aspect Ratio: 2:3 Widescreen and 2:3 Full Frame
Region: NTSC All
Running Time: 514 Mins
No. Discs: 4


The latest in Umbrella’s line of ‘Grindhouse’ releases (following on from their Ted V Mikels and Retro Sexploitation sets) is comprised of releases put out by cult film critic/musician/writer/wrestler Johnny Legend on his own Legend House label in the US, and focuses primarily on vintage juvenile delinquency (or JD) cinema from the 1950s and early-60s, with a few oddities thrown in for good measure.

Directed by J. G. Tiger

A grimy obscurity filmed in Dallas, Rock Baby, Rock It tells the predictable tale of a teen dance club being shut down and taken over by rock & roll hating gangsters. Filled with clichéd jive dialogue (“Play it cool, Kitten”) and featuring mostly local actors with some very un-Hollywood like faces, this film does have its own strange, low-rent charm, and is filled with some great little-known rock & roll and rockabilly gems from the likes of Johnny Carroll (who also stars), Don Coats & the Bon-Aires, Preacher Smith & the Deacons and The Cell Block Seven.

TEEN MANIA (2007/Colour/B&W)

Compiled by Legend, this 66 minute party tape dishes out some choice clips from such 1950s & 60s teensploitation gems such as Rockabilly Baby, Untamed Youth (with platinum blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren), I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, Beach Ball, Hot Rods to Hell, Riot on Sunset Strip, The Love-Ins and more.

Directed by O’Dale Ireland

Minor teen idol John Ashley stars as a rich, spoiled bully who rigs the election to become school president and proceeds to intimidate the students and bleed them dry, all the while keeping a dopey accountant and team of leather-jacketed hoods forming a shield around him at all times. It all leads to the usual tragic consequences and eventual comeuppance. A moderately entertaining but fairly staid and unexciting late-period JD film, highlighted by a rollicking theme song belted out by Reggie Perkins (“He’s the gangster in our school…He’s cool, he’s like a freezer…That’s why we call him, High School Caesar”). Ashley went on to appear in beach party movies in the 1960s, then reached an exploitation career high by producing and starring in a string of sleazy Filipino horror films directed by Eddie Romero (including the classic Mad Doctor of Blood Island).

Directed by John Bushelman

A group of overaged delinquents break out of a detention farm and get hooked up with drug smugglers operating out of Mexico (who hide their heroin inside piñatas). Another seedy, low-rent JD wonder from Johnny Legend’s seemingly bottomless vault of cinematic scuzz.

Directed by Albert J. Cohen

Having nothing to do with rock & roll, this early sexploitation pot-boiler has curvaceous, primitive jungle women driving their menfolk crazy with their frenzied dancing and evil temptations. Told mainly via narration, it’s like an old episode of Wild Kingdom, with big bosoms and long legs. Stars Laurette Luez as the glamazonian Tigri, queen of the prehistoric women.

SPIES A GO GO (aka NASTY RABBIT, 1964/Colour)
Directed by Nicholas Merriwether

A pretty silly rock & roll/spy farce, inspired by the Cold War and the emerging James Bond craze, about a Russian plot to infect America with a deadly bacteria smuggled into the country inside a rabbit. A spy who doubles as a rock & roll singer foils the plot. Worth watching for star Arch Hall Jnr. (who is much better in Wild Guitar and The Sadist), the cool guitar-twanging, and the cinematography by future Hollywood heavyweights Vilmos Zsigmond and Lazlo Kovaks.

Directed by Gerald Cormier

The real odd one out in this set, Barn of the Naked Dead wallows in an atmosphere of grimy backwoods sleaze, as three aspiring, Vegas-bound showgirls are kidnapped by a tight-jeaned young maniac (a creepy and effective Andrew Prine) and held captive (along with other women) in his barn, where they are whipped and forced to perform circus tricks (!). Those who don’t comply get doused in blood and chased down by the madman’s hungry cougar. A ludicrous subplot has the psycho’s radiation-scarred father wandering the desert killing people. Although not reliant on nudity or overt lesbianism, Barn of the Naked Dead is nonetheless an interesting and unique riff on the WIP (Women In Prison) films which enjoyed a brief run of popularity in the early 1970s. The creepy electronic score (by Tommy Vig) is offset by the inclusion of a cheesy lounge-like pop vocal (Evil Eyes performed by Pamela Miller).

Extras included on this set include a number of Johnny Legend ‘surprises’ (clips/trailers/anecdotes, etc), an interview with Andrew Prine and an edition of Legend’s video show Gore Beat, co-hosted by John Landis and covering the films of Fred Olen Ray, Brian Yunza and the late, great Ray Dennis Steckler.

Review Copyright John Harrison 2010