Since the mid-1980s, New York denizen Keith J. Crocker has expressed his love of exploitation cinema in several different ways - as an editor/writer of The Exploitation Journal, as a lecturer and presenter of film screenings and retrospectives, as a distributor of rare movie titles through his Cinefear Video label, and as a producer, co-writer and director of his own low-budget feature films. While I have read (and admired) Crocker’s writings on the genre for some time, I have never had the chance to watch one of his features, until a couple of them filed through the mail box earlier this week, direct from the man himself in the US. I decided that 2am on a Saturday morning was a suitable time to sit-down and (hopefully) enjoy a double-feature of Crocker craziness. On the bill: The Bloody Ape (1997) and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 (2007).
Crocker’s first feature (after several years of making 16mm and Super 8 shorts), The Bloody Ape was filmed during 1992/93 but not edited and released until four years later, and is a sleazy adaptation of Poe’s Murders in the Rue Morgue, captured in a way which recalls the feel of the old poverty-row horror films produced by companies like Monogram and Republic in the 1940s, but with a more lurid and blatantly titillating edge. In Croker’s film, a carnival barker’s main attraction - a 400 pound male gorilla named Gorto - is set free from his chains to embark on a frenzied killing spree, unleashing his pent-up sexual aggression along the way. It takes a while for the story to really kick-in, but once Gorto claims his first victim (a hippie protestor who has his dick pulled off while taking a pee break) The Bloody Ape becomes an entertaining orgy of gory kills, sexy thrills, stupid cops, and racial stereotypes that might seem offensive to anyone who isn’t in on the whole gag.
As someone who loves both ‘men in gorilla suit’ movies and old carnivals/side-shows, it would be pretty hard for me not to dig The Bloody Ape. Throw in some Herschel Gordon Lewis-like gore, some nude girls and I’m sold. One of the things I like most about the film is the way Crocker captures a genuine early-70s 8mm porn/grindhouse seediness, without relying on the fake scratches and other cheap optical effects which many of the more recent homages to the genre fall back on (although these effect are used in the DVD’s making-of featurette). Crocker’s choice to film on out-of-date Super 8mm film stock, rather than the popular VHS of the day, was a wise one indeed, as the look of The Bloody Ape is one of its primary assets. The scenes filmed at a Nassau (New York) carnival help give the film a bit of scale and atmosphere, while also providing a great filmic record of some of the wonderfully gaudy attractions the carnival offered at the time. They also provide a nice nod to two of my own favourite carnival-set exploitation films: Ray Dennis Steckler’s The Incredibly Strange Craetures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964) and Dave Friedman’s She-Freak (1967).
Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 is a homage to classic prisoner of war camp films like Stalag 17 (1953), as well as yet another much-loved genre of low-budget cinema: the notorious Nazi-ploitation films of the 1970s, characterised by the likes of Lee Frost’s Love Camp 7 (1969), Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS (1975) and Italian productions such as Gestapo’s Last Orgy (1977). Set during the dying days of World War II in Germany, the film tells of a notorious POW camp run by Commandant Helmet Schultz and the twisted experiments he subjected his American, British and Russian prisoners to within its walls, all while the Third Reich crumbles around them.
Shot digitally, the film lacks the great grimy look of The Bloody Ape, and is not as overall enjoyable as that film, but it is certainly more impressively mounted and an ambitious film for Crocker, running at 135 minutes with lots of story and character, and a scope that you don’t always see in films of this budget (helped by the participation of 50 World War II recreationists). Apart from writing, producing and directing, Crocker also takes a role in front of the camera, playing an American POW with a New York attitude and actually doing it quite well. Despite the abundance of dialogue and exposition, there is still plenty of the grimy sort of tasteless torture and gratuitous sex & gore that fans specifically seek out this genre of film for. One of the most important elements of the Nazi-ploitation films was the women, and Croker doesn’t disappoint with his casting here, using some great faces (and bodies), including Natasa Warasch, Gordana Jenell, Tammy Dalton (as a cabaret dancer) and, especially, Tatyana Kott as Natasha, a sexy Russian freedom fighter who spends a lot of time tied-up or naked (often both at once) and at one point delivers a nice little nod to Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave (1977). In fact, Kott reminds me quite a bit of Camille Keaton, the lead actress from Zarchi’s infamous rape-revenge film.
An entertaining double that suitably finished just as the first faint light of dawn started to show through the venetions, when reality seems blurred and you feel like you are one of those ‘twilight people’ that Ed Wood talked about in his screenplay for Orgy of the Dead.
The Bloody Ape and Blitzkrieg: Escape from Stalag 69 are both available on DVD from Wild Eye in the US, with each release carrying a nice range of extras, including commentaries, making-of featurettes, Q&A’s, short films, trailers and more. For more info visit the Cinefear website: