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Lethal Ladies Collection


The misses of martial arts hit hard as a triple feature hits home.

Rod Lott November 10th, 2011

From all the hoopla in 1986 when Sigourney Weaver landed a Best Actress Oscar nomination for “Aliens,” you’d think she was the first woman to kick into action mode on film, but babes were badass long before that.

lethalladiescollection

To prove it, there’s the “Lethal Ladies Collection,” a three-flick maneuver from producer Roger Corman, flush with the exploitative moves of 1981’s “Firecracker,” 1974’s “TNT Jackson” and 1977’s “Too Hot to Handle.”

It’s not too hot to handle. For the girl-loving guy moviegoer, it’s another must-own in Shout! Factory’s long line of Corman product. The thrifty producer’s damsels of damage may not have taken off like his nurse movies, but they pack the same pulchritudinous punch.

Don’t you want to see a lithesome blonde doing karate in lingerie? Of course you do! That’s the sizzle behind “Firecracker,” starring Jillian Kesner (“The Student Body”) as a blonde, black-belted ball of fire who single-handedly — and, this being Corman, double-breastedly — takes on the mafia. The film’s highlight is when the synth soundtrack kicks in and she fights a cobra, and throws it around the Asian a-hole who sprung the deadly reptile on her, and he screams something like, "Domia ah! Domie ayah ayah oh!"

Notes Darby Hinton (“Malibu Express”), her partner on the streets and between the sheets, "I see you have the situation well at hand." Kesner replies, "You might say I had to snake my way through."

I take that back. The highlight is when, with 30 minutes left to go, she's chased by two sleazy dudes and her dress keeps getting snagged and torn before finally being ripped off completely, leaving her to spar in bra and panties. Then she manages to lose the bra. That's what happen when your opponent is wielding a scythe.

Later, Hinton cuts all her clothes off with a knife, instead of just asking politely. Not cool, dude — karate teachers can't afford to keep replacing their wardrobe. Director Cirio H. Santiago, a Corman regular, doesn’t seem to mind.



"TNT Jackson," meanwhile is Corman's down-and-dirty response to the blaxploitation craze, starring Playboy Playmate Jeannie Bell as the only woman of color in Hong Kong, where she heads to avenge her brother's mysterious murder. She ends up toppling a drug ring, even if her attempts at kung fu are quit laughable. In fact, any time the script calls for her to do anything other than wave her arms around, she's obviously doubled by a guy wearing her bell bottoms and an Afro wig.

Bell is largely unappealing as a heroine, and I don't recall her expressing emotion that required anything beyond a frown. The highlight of this one is the scene in which TNT (Ms. Jackson if you're nasty) takes on a room full of guys while topless. The director, Santiago again, even tastefully calls for a slow-motion shot of her jumping. The only person in the movie with hair larger than TNT is her no-good love interest, and that — as well as the flick — comes to a rather abrupt end when she stabs her hand straight through his gut.



Finally, “Ginger” franchise starlet Cheri Caffaro fronts “Too Hot to Handle,” her final film before quitting the biz. Here playing a strong woman by the name of Samantha Fox (such a wild dame), Caffaro attempts to make good on the title’s kinky promise by spending as much time naked as she possibly can. By the second scene, she's already topless and getting medieval on a banking tycoon's ass — quite literally.

The story has Fox under contract to kill three baddies, and she goes undercover to do so, but only once in semi-blackface (!). One of her assignments is a cosmetics magnate / white-slavery giant Madame Ruanda (Corinne Calvet, “The Phantom of Hollywood”), who looks like Arianna Huffington, but is not.

Speaking to Caffaro’s limitations as an actress, Fox speaks in hushed, awkward pauses: "If I am to pluck plums … I cannot also be expected … to grow fruit. … In other words … don't rush me." She also speaks lines of dialogue that would have to give Camille Paglia heart attacks: "As long as you promise if you rape me, you'll work the case."

Sex is Fox’s bread and butter, which director Don Schain (once Caffaro’s hubbie, now a producer for Disney!) loves to show in as much detail as the R rating allows. For example, in one prolonged encounter, the woman gets kneaded so much, I think I missed my calling as a '70s actor for New World Pictures. Even watching a cockfight — the illegal rooster matches, just to be clear — gets her all hot and bothered, as she imagines herself stripping and moaning and groaning, while Schain intercuts such shenanigans with the dueling fowl.

Caffaro, whose voice has gone to pot, shows up on a commentary track that provides the lovely “Lethal Ladies Collection” with its best extra, beyond those killer original trailers. The movies aren’t perfect, of course — they’re cheap and exploitative ... and that’s exactly why we love ’em. —Rod Lott

 
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