Less than 10 titles ever made it to store shelves, but they were manna to many, myself included. They’re tough to find nowadays — some are out-of-print — but Lionsgate comes to the rescue with a three-in-one Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature, perhaps to capitalize on a whole new generation coming to know the cult-and-critic-adored filmmaker via his newly Oscar-minted smash, Django Unchained.
The flicks included are 1973’s Detroit 9000, 1975’s Switchblade Sisters and 1977’s The Mighty Peking Man. If you have the time and butt muscles to sit through the entire trio in a row, do it. Shy of tossing concession remains and bodily fluids on your living room floor, that’s your best bet for replicating the seedy, 42nd Street experience of their original release.
Detroit 9000 is not only the most high-minded of this disc’s contents, but one of the most thoughtful blaxploitation efforts, period. While it opens with a large robbery, Arthur Marks’ film is less interested with having the cops solve the case than it is with said cops. See, one’s black (Hari Rhodes, Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor), one’s white (Alex Rocco, TV’s Magic City), and the Detroit of the time — especially as exaggerated as the movie asks — was a gas-soaked rag hanging next to the roasting chestnuts on an open fire. It hops aboard the blaxploitation bandwagon with the intention of steering it down a smarter route than audiences expected.
By comparison, the DVD’s remaining two-thirds are pure helium. Only one is aware of it.
Like Jack Hill’s Spider Baby, Blood Bath and the women-in-prison flicks he made for Roger Corman, his Switchblade Sisters knows exactly what it is and has fun with what it is. It is a girl-gang picture, and makes no attempt at pretending to be anything else. Hill updates the hoary juvenile-delinquent subgenre of the 1950s only by shooting in color and taking advantage of an R rating; otherwise, the hokey melodramatics remain.
Hong Kong’s The Mighty Peking Man, however, wants to be a serious, box-office epic à la Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong remake of ’76. Wait, I take that back: It thinks it is Dino De Laurentiis’ King Kong remake of ’76. Whereas Dino had $24 million to spend, the merciless Meng Hua Ho looks like he had $24 total. Luckily, its featured attraction is not the guy in the giant ape suit, but the white-as-Wonder-Bread jungle girl (Evelyne Kraft) and her loincloth that forever skirts the movie’s wholesome rating. Peking is the crème de la crap of this DVD; therefore, it’s clearly the most enjoyable.
The good news is that all of this can be yours for less than $15 — maybe even $10. The bad news is that is lacks extras of any and all kinds. Gone are the original editions’ trailers. Gone are bits like Hill’s student film. Most tragic, gone are Tarantino’s passionate introductions found on some of the Rolling Thunder releases. Overall, this Triple Feature represents a good deal, but not if you’re just looking to clear some shelf space. —Rod Lott
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