New DVDs, old sleaze

Looking back on the greatest hits of cinematic ultra violence

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You're dead, bro! A scene from 2008 throwback Frat House Massacre.
COURTESY SCREAMKINGS.COM

TRASH When it comes to home viewing, gratuitous violence is always a selling point for genre fans — the censorial gloves that handle most theatrical films are off, "unrated" becomes a plus rather than commercial suicide, "director's cut" usually means more blood and maybe a little flesh previously removed at the MPAA's behest. The flood of obscure old exploitation titles now being released to DVD and Blu-ray are duly advertised as high on mayhem, whether that's actually the case or not. (One mid-70s Swedish sexploitation item just released is billed as a "violent cult classic," though apart from a bit of fetish whipping there's nary a violent moment in it.)

Sometimes one even wonders if the writers of back-cover copy even bothered to watch the film itself, a question that recalls the halcyon days of VHS when box descriptions of cheap back-catalog titles often seemed to be about other, perhaps imaginary films entirely.

Nonetheless, you don't have to look too far to find retro schlock living up to its hype, reminding that in grindhouse days of yore big-screen movies could get away with considerably more crassness than they do now. One such cheerfully nasty oldie is Ruggero Deodato's 1976 Italian Live Like a Cop, Die Like a Man, invitingly labeled as "ULTRA VIOLENCE from the director of Cannibal Holocaust."

That 1980 milestone in the annals of yecch was still years away when Deodato and scenarist cop-flick specialist Fernando Di Leo delivered this crazy exercise in vigilante justice with a badge. Ray Lovelock and Marc Porel do the Starsky and Hutch thing as a Roman "special squad" police duo who always get their man — though to the exasperation of their superiors, said man always meets an bloody "accidental" death in the process of apprehension. In fact it's acknowledged that the pair has criminal instincts. They've only chosen this side of the law to wreak as much violent havoc for kicks as possible and get away with it.

Swiss Porel and Italian Lovelock were two of the most beautiful men — we're talking Alain Delon level here — in movies then. Deodato lets them act not just like a flippant thrill-crazed comedy team nonchalantly distributing harm everywhere they go, but like a couple close-knit in other ways. We see that they share the same bedroom (if not bed); the few times they express sexual interest, it's to "take turns" with a woman in each other's company. Such interludes clearly do no more than kill time for our prankster-hero psychopaths between the greater visceral rewards of reckless motorcycle chases (reportedly shot without permits in the heart of Rome) plus blowing and shooting stuff up. They're adorably lethal.

Speaking of vigilantism, few U.S. films ripped off the Death Wish (1974) formula — aside from Death Wish sequels, of course — with more lurid tactlessness than 1980's The Exterminator, now out in a DVD/Blu-ray pack. Writer-director James Glickenhaus' magnum opus has Robert Ginty as a Vietnam vet whose avenging of a comrade's assault by Class of 1984-style "punks" snowballs into a general NYC cleanup campaign utilizing a flame thrower, machine gun, soldering iron, giant meat grinder, electric carving knife, and jazz great Stan Getz — well, he's featured in a rare non-violent, wholly incongruous scene at a nightclub.

Lest we object to this unlawful justice, the perps pulverized include hoodlums who gut-punch old ladies and pimps who "serve young boys to perverts." Tea Party logic is affirmed in an ending where FBI operatives, having slain our antihero (or so they think) on government orders because successful vigilantism makes public officials look bad at election time, smirk "Washington will be pleased." Yeah, they're all out to fuck ya! NRA 4-ever!

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