RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985)

RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985)

Directed By Andrei Konchalovsky

Starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca De Mornay

Streamed this on Prime

Transfer is legit good!

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This is a straight up underrated ripping classic.  If you haven’t seen it, well than you need to watch it tonight! One of my favorite films of all time, I’ve probably seen it almost ten times in my life. It’s the best Cannon Group Film in my opinion. There really is nothing like it for that time period. I found myself having to re-watch it again today because I was talking to Devon, and Matt about it, and Matt has never seen it (or even heard of it for that matter). Don’t worry, we’re  trying to change that.  Jon Voight is terrific in this, every single line that comes out of his mouth is as hard and cold as steel. He’s very believable playing a career criminal who is also a hero to all of the other inmates in the prison that he escapes from.  This is Voight’s role of a lifetime here, he has nailed it completely.  You really don’t like his character as a person, but you find yourself routing for him all through out the movie. A very young Eric Robert also stars in this, and plays Voight’s annoying sidekick.  If you love movies like I do then you probably look at Roberts as a annoying D grade hack actor. Well, for this film he is amazing in it, and they definitely could NOT have chosen a better partner to play the part of Buck.  

The story is awesome, with some violence and brutality that is cringe worthy when you watch it happen. This film is based on a screen play written by Akira Kurosawa.

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The only negative thing I can say about this film is the music straight up sucks. At times it sounds like Seinfield meets Knightrider, but even that can’t destroy the movie. I think it holds up just as good now as it did when I saw it for the first time on VHS in around 1986.  I recall renting it with my buddy/bandmate Kenny Donovan. We were hooked and rented it a few other times before I moved back East.  

Do NOT sleep on this, you’ll be shocked at how fun this film is.  I’d rate This as an 8.  (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

 

THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

The Ninth Configuration

1980, USA

Starring: Stacy Keach (Col. Vincent Kane), Scott Wilson (Capt. Billy Cutshaw), Jason Miller (Lt. Frankie Reno), Neville Brand (Maj. Marvin Groper), Moses Gunn (Maj. Nammack), Joe Spinell (Lt. Spinell)

Director: William Peter Blatty

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Excellent

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This is one of the strangest and most unsettling films I’ve seen in a long time, and it totally caught me off guard…I mean with Keach in the lead I was hardly expecting anything cerebral, and the awesome poster art suggested some kind of sci-fi, action/adventure, horror crossover. It wasn’t until the opening credits were rolling that I realized this was written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist. Quick pause and a Google search later and I understood that Blatty imagined the novel this was based off of, Twinkle, Twinkle, Killer Kane, to be the sequel to The Exorcist.

Admittedly, l spent the first 10 minutes of this with mallet in hand just waiting to ring the gong and be done with it, but The Ninth Configuration really grew on me, proving itself to be extremely interesting and unpredictable. In many ways the movie reminded me of other deep and quirky self-aware black comedies…like Catch 22 or Dr. Strangelove.

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The film opens with Col. Vincent Kane (Stacy Keach), a military psychiatrist, arriving at an army mental facility located in an old castle in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the inmates seem to be there for legitimate reasons, but it’s hinted at that some might just be taking the piss out of the establishment to get a pass on service. Kane is there to sort this all out, however, we soon learn that his method to remedy their ills is to indulge the inmates’ every whim.

As Kane interacts with the patients, he gravitates toward troubled astronaut Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson). Though not explicitly mentioned in the film, it turns out that Cutshaw is the connection to The Exorcist, as it was his brief encounter with Regan McNeil (Linda Blair) in full possession mode that drove him to the existential meltdown that caused him to abort his space mission and landed him in the castle of chaos. Through the interplay of Kane’s cool and certain insistence on a higher power and Cutshaw’s utter nihilism, the film becomes a thought experiment testing the limitations of each notion.

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I was quite blown away by all of the performances in the film, with the standouts being the duo of Jason Miller (The Exorcist) as Lt. Frankie Reno and his sidekick Lt. Spinell (of course, played by Joe Spinell of Godfather and Maniac fame) who spend the film working on a production of Hamlet for dogs. Apparently Spinell hounded (no pun intended) Blatty so much that he created a character for him in the screenplay that didn’t exist in the original novel. But it’s Keach who gives the performance of a lifetime here, sometimes seeming to channel HAL 9000 in his calm unwavering reactions to the exploits of the inmates, but harnessing a palpable and jarring rage in the bar fight scene.

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My only real critique of the film is that it should have been about 30 seconds shorter. For me, the trite reveal in the final scene sacrificed all of the heavy lifting that Blatty did throughout this pretty masterfully directed debut for the simplicity of a Hallmark card ending.

I’ll try to forget that last few seconds ever happened.

(DC)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

BRUTE CORPS (1971)

BRUTE CORPS (1971)

Director: Jerry Jameson

Starring: Alex Rocco, Jennifer Billingsley, Joseph Kaufman, Paul Carr

Viewed: Blue-Ray

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The first time I watched Brute Corps was on a DVDr that was burned from a low grade VHS of dubious origin. The print was horrendous. It looked like it was copied from a copy of another copy of another copy and on and on until what was left was barely viewable. Faces were blobs with two black dots for eyes. Voices tended to be the consistent guide, separating one character from the other. Even the nude scene between Kevin and Terry when they’re in the creek was pretty blown out. The only way you knew they were completely nude was because there were no blobs of color on their bodies. The print was so terrible that you could even see cracks in the film negative as the tape via the DVDr rolled on. But I kept with this movie because it is actually pretty good for what it is and an obscurity that should be better known with genre fans. The main characters are fleshed out enough to keep you interested and, at some point, feel sympathy towards.

Fortunately, Code Red released this on Blue Ray, and it looks great. It’s like seeing it for the first time in comparison to that grotty VHS dub to DVDr that I mentioned above. Faces are clear, you can see their features, know who’s who, and enjoy the mean and nasty movie that is coming your way.

Brute Corps starts off with a group of men in military fatigues winding through canyon roads in Southern California on their way to some undisclosed country in Central America. There’s a scene where one urinates out of the back of the truck while it’s in motion and the rest look on is not to be missed because it’s one of those “Did I just see what I think I did?” moments. Indeed, you did. We soon learn these men are a group of mercenaries known as Burkhart’s Bastards, led by the ineffective Colonel (Charles Macaulay). They pass a hitchhiking hippy, Kevin (Joseph Kaufman), who later becomes a central figure in the movie. But first, these Bastards tangle with some bikers, and a short while later stop off at a cantina in a dusty desert town to harass the locals, and prove to all in attendance that they are indeed deserving of the Bastards half of their moniker. It’s here that we are introduced to the sleazy and violent Wicks, played by Alex Rocco (The Godfather, The Entity, Three the Hard Way, Detroit 9000, The Friends of Eddie Coyle,Bonnie’s Kids, and numerous TV shows). He harasses a young barmaid while everyone just looks on. She wriggles out of his grasp, but the stage is set, and you know this guy is one nasty scum bag to not take your eyes off of. He has no moral boundaries whatsoever, just get what he wants and let no one get in his way. Rocco plays him perfectly. A villain you easily despise and will relish in seeing him get his much deserved comeuppance.

That hitchhiker, Kevin, that I previously mentioned just so happens to be headed in the same direction. He’s on the run from the military, and he meets up with Terry (Jennifer Billingsley), the free spirit hippy girl who tells him, “I like to ball, it’s the thing I do very best in life. I should have been a hooker.” Of course they hook up and have sex, and start to develop an emotional relationship rather quickly as they make their way into whatever town across the border their looking to disappear into.

Eventually Terry and Kevin cross paths with Wicks, and go back to the camp with the promise of free food. From here Wicks begins to manipulate the couple for his ends, which is to get Terry. Kevin gets hip to what Wicks is doing but is too high to effectively fight back, and knows he’s outmatched and outnumbered to save Terry from the hell that is coming her way.

Terry’s arrival in the camp exacerbates the division and dysfunction among Burkhart’s Bastards. The distrust among each of them makes you wonder how they made it this far this long. They all want Terry and they will gladly hurt one another for to get her. The ineffective Colonel Burkhart suggests they compete for who gets her, as to them she’s nothing more than a piece of meat. The competitions are pretty goofy for the most part, mostly hand to hand combat, and pad out the running time of the film. One member, Ross (Paul Carr), is sort of the conscious of the group, but for the most part a coward in that he doesn’t act sooner.

Once Wicks gets his hooks into Terry this movie gets nasty and grim. There’s enough tension to keep you engaged, and the performances from Rocco and whoever played Terry are pretty good. Rocco is so vile and sleazy you can’t look away. Terry elicits sympathy as the broken girl. You do wonder how she will go on with life after all the humiliation Wicks put her through.

This movie could be easily written off as a low budget trashy action flick, and it is, but the writers Michael Kars and Abe Polsky (who wrote the must see The Baby (1973)) and director Jerry Jameson (The Bat People, The Six Million Dollar Man, etc.) did pretty well with their resources and delivered much more than anyone could have expected. (MA)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

CONTAMINATION (1980)

CONTAMINATION (1980)

Directed By: Luigi Cozzi

Starring: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé 

Streamed On Prime

Transfer-Sorta Bad, Not great

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With all that is going on in the world today with Covid 19 I thought that I would give this Italian film a try while I was practicing social distancing this week. Well guess what?  Contamination was seriously boring as fuck.  

The story was totally unbelievably lame, and the acting was just super piss poor.  Really the only decent things  about this “classic” are the special effects and the music.  With the music it’s really only because its Goblin doing the entire sound track (so really how can you go wrong).  The special effects are done by Giovanni Corridori who did three of Clint Eastwood’s classic Spaghetti Westerns.  He also did the SE’s for Zombie, Keoma, Duck You Sucka, Escape From The Bronx, A Blade In The Dark, and many many other films.  Like I mentioned before, other than the special effects and the music I personally think this film is a disaster.  It’s only an hour and thirty five minutes but it feels like double that.  The special effects really are awesome though, and I’m glad I watched it just to see those.  Check it out if you like you some good bloody gore.  (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

STREETWALKIN’ (1985)

Streetwalkin’

1985, USA

Starring: Melissa Leo (Cookie), Dale Midkiff (Duke), Leon (Jason), Antonio Fargas (Finesse), Julie Newmar (Queen Bee), Annie Golden (Phoebe), Greg Germann (Creepy)

Director: Joan Freeman

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Decent

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The n’ at the end the title here had me half expecting a comic romp with plenty of wacky pimps, hookers, and tricks, but this turned out to be a pretty grim street subculture exploitation movie with some heavy vengeance thrown in for good measure. It’s both superficial and super-grim, which makes it super-fun to watch.

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Streetwalkin’ is really a hidden gem with surprisingly well-acted, albeit cartoonish, caricatures of stereotypical street hustlers, johns, and cops and a good balance of violence, nudity, action, and implicit moralizing to keep you interested for 84 minutes. It’s also a very well-made film, so I was a little surprised to see that its director, Joan Freeman, only directed one other film, Satisfaction (1988), with Justine Bateman (that I kinda wanna check out now) and wrote the script for Uncaged (1991), which seems to be a remake of Streetwalkin’. I’m guessing the subject matter is what keeps this from getting regular runs on Sunday afternoons on cable, because this is a movie I would put in the same high re-watchability category as, say, The Substitute (1996) or New Jack City (1991).

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Without giving too much of the story away, the set up and plot are pretty run of the mill: kids run away from a troubled home life to the big city and find themselves lured into the world of sex work as a means to get by a sweet-talking pimp who takes them in then reveals himself as a mind-fucker and abuser (and later a psychopath). However, a power struggle between him and his rival pimps results in every man and woman for themselves free-for-all in the second half of the movie that really sets this film apart. I was also surprised by the level of nuance portrayed in the friendships among the prostitutes. On the surface, they’re all best friends who’ve always got each other’s backs, but only to the point that it doesn’t impact their livelihood or their status with their respective pimps. It’s actually a little jarring to see the seemingly close friends quickly turn on each other as the shit hits the fan at different moments in the movie when pimps are jockeying for their power positions.

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Aside from all that, it was fun spotting the many familiar faces and stars of past and future, including Annie Golden (The Shirts, Orange is the New Black) as the stoned out Phoebe, Antonio Fargas (Foxy Brown, Starsky and Hutch) as the pimp Finesse, and Leon (Colors, Above the Rim) as the pimp Jason. The standout performances, however, come from pop culture legend Julie Newmar (Batman, a million other things) as the street strutting mother figure, Queen Bea, and future Academy Award winner, Melissa Leo (The Fighter, a million other things), in her film debut as the film’s protagonist, Cookie.

Highly recommended!

(DC)

Spoiler Alert! —

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THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)

The Happytime Murders

2018, US 

Director: Brian Henson

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Bill Barretta, Maya Rudolph

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Lame

You’d think that an R-rated, foul-mouthed, raunchy Jim Henson Muppet movie would be a side splitting, tear inducing, pants-wetting laugh riot, but somehow they failed utterly.

The movie takes place in an alternate reality where “Puppets” are marginalized citizens…unlike the real world where Muppets live along side us in harmony. A former LA cop turned hard-boiled puppet P.I. by the unamusing name of Phil Phillips bops around the city trying to figure out who is behind a string of hits being carried out on Puppet celebrities. Along the way, he enlists the help of his former partner, played by Melissa McCarthy. Of course, they both already have a major grudge against each other because that’s how the laws of nature work in the derivative buddy-cop universe.

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Like a lot of people, I had high hopes for this. When the trailer came out and that hilarious silly-string ejaculation scene, which was played in its entirety in an inept marketing misfire, was about as funny as it gets. However, the trailer went viral and everyone interested in the movie saw it a nine million times months before it was even released. In the end, they literally blew their load by previewing the funniest parts.

The rest of the movie suffers from a lack of comedic timing. The pace is sluggish and somehow jokes just come out lifeless, awkward, and forced; as if they were over-confident that the premise could carry the laughs alone. Brian Henson doesn’t seem to put a lot of passion into the film. Even the “Puppets” aren’t up to the usual Henson quality. They seemed like knock-offs, which might have been the point, but they seem too clunky. I mean, let’s face it, aside from the elaborate Dark Crystal characters, the average Muppet must cost the Henson’s maybe $3.00 to build. He could have tried a little higher to respect his dad’s legacy.

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Melissa McCarthy is savagely annoying and obnoxious, but I’m not going to go that much further into it. The old Muppet films were funnier and edgier without any obscenity. This is a bad movie that had the opportunity and resources to be good. Consider how the Henson’s knocked The Dark Crystal out of the park on Netflix. This, however, is a case of a pitch that looked good on paper but was then followed up with lackluster execution.

I don’t usually post bad reviews, but I wanted to make sure no one sees this by accident.

(AD)

DERANGED – Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)

DERANGED: Confessions of a Necrophile (1974)

Directed By: Jeff Gillen, Alan Ormsby

Starring: Roberts Blossom, Cosette Lee, Leslie Carlson

Viewed on Prime-Great transfer!

Deranged

Wow… I had never checked this one out but found that it was pretty damn entertaining to watch. This film is based loosely on the serial killer Ed Gein (though they’ve changed his name to Ezra Cobb for the film).

What we have here is the story of a simple farmer whose domineering mother dies and he just can’t recover from the hold she had on him even after her death. The lunatic’s loneliness and pain slowly turn him into a murder junkie. Ezra brings his rotting mother home after robbing her from her grave. He learns taxidermy and some embalming to try and restore his mom while having conversations with her about killing “sluts” that he can’t trust. He preserves the corpses of many other dead girls and has them all set up at the dining room table.

This is a pretty low budget movie, but the acting is good and the dark black humor kept me giggling to myself throughout its entirety. If you are looking for a lot of gore and violence you won’t find a ton of it here. It’s more deranged and creepy more than anything else (though it does have things in it that will scare you, and gross you out).  Parts of this movie have that Motel Hell, or Texas Chainsaw vibe to it (just not quite as gnarly)

For me the only real bummer about this obscure classic is the TV reporter narration that they throw in from time to time to explain how things that might have gotten lost in the story make sense. It’s a cheat that really doesn’t work very well for this film. I think if the writer put more thought into the script he’d have figured out a way around needing the narration from the reporter. (NW)

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Nate Wilson: NW  Devon Cahill: DC  Matt Average: MA

HOTEL ARTEMIS (2018)

HOTEL ARTEMIS

2018, US

Director: Drew Pearce

Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Goldblum

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Not bad

In the near future, city-wide riots erupt in Los Angeles over the privatization of water and the streets are literally ablaze. Amid this disturbingly plausible scenario, a rogues gallery of casualties from LA’s criminal underworld admit themselves into a high-tech, underground clinic for villains called the Hotel Artemis where the drama plays out.

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After re-watching Blade Runner (for the millionth time) I had a hankering for similar futuristic neo-noir and this fit the bill. It’s a flawed film, but it does try. It’s more of a character and dialogue driven stage production than an action film and it succeeds on that level. The performances and characterization are all pretty solid and these are the film’s strengths amid a muddled plot.

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Jodie Foster is great as the clinic’s tormented nurse. Sterling K. Brown is excellent as always as a wounded, noble bank robber. Charlie Day is obnoxiously sleazy as a creepy arms dealer. Jeff Goldblum makes a walk-on performance as a powerful Malibu mob lord with Zachary Quinto, in an uncharacteristically aggressive role, as his ruthless son. And for a little bit of badass, hand to hand combat action we get Dave Bautista as a monster orderly and Sophia Boutella as an ass-kicking acrobatic assassin.

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Overall, the actors and their relationships hold the film together, but unfortunately, the off-kilter story crumbles into an uneven climax with an abrupt open ending. I can’t really imagine a reason for a sequel to this film. I mean it doesn’t have as much edge as, say, John Wick, which seems to be the movie’s main influence. Still, it is watchable and it is set in a cool, dark world.

(AD)

WILLOW CREEK (2013)

WILLOW CREEK

2013, USA

Director: Bobcat Goldthwait

Starring: Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson

Viewed: Streaming

Transfer Quality: Great

You can usually count on a Bigfoot movie to automatically suck. We all believed in him when we were children, but most of us outgrew it. So, once you’re and adult, any film with a Sasquatch in it looks ridiculous by default because it’s nearly impossible to take a monster that looks like Chewbacca or Andre the Giant in a gorilla suit seriously. You could put millions of dollars into making Bigfoot look awesome and the end result will always look stupid.

Still, though, each of us has a primal feeling that there is a large, subhuman thing lurking right behind us when we hike through the woods. And that’s precisely what Bobcat Goldthwait explores in Willow Creek, a heartfelt, genuine and convincing Bigfoot movie that doesn’t suck.

Goldthwait, as you may remember, is best known for his screaming, insane stand-up routine in the 80s and his onscreen roles as Shakes The Clown and Zed in Police Academy. He’s also known to be a Bigfoot believer and part of a community of enthusiasts that’s pretty much dismissed by everyone as group of crackpots, hoaxsters and who Joe Rogan might call “white dudes who can’t get laid.” I’m not sure if Bobcat is a hundred percent believer, but he sure has enough skill as a filmmaker and storyteller to sell it.

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The movie is done in the Blair Witch/ Cloverfield pioneered “found footage” format, that somehow often works and is sometimes more convincing and realistic than actual found footage. The story is simple: a couple from LA ride up into Northern California Sasquatch country just for the hell of it. The girl, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore), is a skeptic along for the ride and her dorky boyfriend Jim (Bryce Johnson) is a casual believer. They view all the touristy sites in the area and go hiking into the forest. Guess what happens? 

The first and second acts are quirky and fun, lightheartedly running through some standard horror film tropes while the couple meets offbeat townsfolk and harbingers warning them of strange and evil happenings in the forest that could either be Sasquatch or feral druggies. The third act awakens in darkness and goes into high tension and anxiety pretty quickly, carried mostly by Gilmore’s performance.

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I remember hearing a Bigfoot story when I was a kid about some lumberjacks in a log cabin that were accosted by creatures in the forest that where making whooping sounds and throwing rocks at the camp. I’m not sure where I heard it, but that story always stuck with me. I’m pretty sure Goldthwait is familiar with it, too.   (AD)

WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971)

Wake In Fright

1971, Australia

Director: Ted Kotcheff

Staring: Donald Pleasence, Gary Bond, Chips Rafferty

Viewed: Streaming on Amazon Prime

Transfer Quality: Good enough

Man this movie is deranged and completely fucked up.  I’d seen this poster around forever, but the trailer and story line just never really grabbed me enough to give it a go.  Well last night I took a chance and gave it a shot based on not being able to find anything else to watch.  I’m glad I finally made the decision to spend the time with this weirdness.

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The story is that of a under paid schoolteacher in Australia who has been working in a remote town for the government.  When the school year ends the teacher goes on holiday trying to visit the city of Sydney to see his girlfriend. His train stops in a small Australian redneck town, and he has one night in Bundanyabba (the Yabba) and ends up getting ridiculously drunk and gambling all of his life savings away (doesn’t seem like much of a savings really).  The teacher has nowhere to stay and no money to catch another train or bus to get out of this drunken violent hell.  He ends up waking up on different people’s floors and beds after many nights of debauchery. The teacher starts hanging out with an alcoholic doctor who doesn’t believe in money (played by the infamous Donald Pleasence of Halloween).  This might be DP’s best role ever as he steals the show in this one.  I actually was wondering if the director got Pleasence completely shitfaced and just let him have at it with the character he was playing.

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The pair goes out drunkenly hunting for kangaroos with some red neck miners driving them around shooting in the bush. They chase and kill many a kangaroo.  They also drunkenly fist fight and wrestle these beautiful beasts.  Some of this film is hard to watch.  As (DC) said to me about this film when I told him I was viewing it… “Donald Pleasence is Satan in that movie”.  When (MA) asked me what film I would have as a double feature with Wake In Fright I immediately said Last House On The Left.

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