Saturday, June 26, 2010

Adrenaline Shot: BARE KNUCKLES (1977)

Writer-producer-director-actor Don Edmonds had quite a career before passing away in May 2009. He started off acting as a child on stage and parlayed that into film and television work in the 1950s and 60s. Exploitation fans, however, know him best for his efforts behind the camera beginning in the early 70s. Edmonds got off the ground running with T&A efforts like WILD HONEY (1972) featuring VJ fave Uschi Digard and the nurse-ploitation entry TENDER LOVING CARE (1973). Lightning struck with his next film where Edmonds was wise enough to slip the bountiful bust of Dyanne Thorne in a tight Nazi uniform for ILSA: SHE WOLF OF THE SS (1975), still one of the most well known Naziploitation titles. A true iconoclast, Edmonds followed ILSA with the G-rated SOUTHERN DOUBLE CROSS (1976) and ILSA, HAREM KEEPER OF THE OIL SHIEKS (1976) before delivering my favorite film of his, BARE KNUCKLES (1977).

The film focuses on Zachary Kane (Robert Viharo), a bounty hunter who is tracking down a serial killer running around L.A. in a leather bondage mask and hissing like a cat. The murderer recently struck in front of a dozen witnesses who refused to call the police (shades of the real-life Kitty Genovese murder) and Kane is on the case for the big reward. For some reason Kane is the luckiest investigator ever because he happens to be walking in the very apartment building where cops are interviewing the roommate of witness Barbara Darrow (Gloria Hendry). He hires old friend Black (John Daniels) to help track her down. Meanwhile, it is quickly revealed (so much for suspense) that the killer is karate-obsessed spoiled momma's boy Richard Devlin (Michael Heit). In another fit of luck, it appears Kane's latest squeeze Jennifer Randall (Sherry Jackson) - who Kane picked up outside a Pizza Hut - has an in with the rich Devlin family and can get them into a cocktail party. Of course, it all goes wrong as Devlin becomes fixated and is soon stalking her.

BARE KNUCKLES seems to have come from a mind hell bent on exploiting every available genre. But I’m not talking about the cold, calculating focus groups of Hollywood today. I’m talking about Edmonds probably looking at a box office chart and going, “Horror sells. Kung fu sells. Vigilante films sell. Car chases are big. Blaxploitation is hot. I’m going to make a movie with all of those elements!” BARE KNUCKLES throws everything into this flick and, naturally, you get one wild cinematic ride. Hell, you even get a visit to a gay bar that makes the scene in BUSTING (1974) look positively subtle by comparison. Naturally, the scene devolves into a brawl.

And, in that regard, the film definitely lives up to its title. There are some freakin’ brutal, almost sadistic fights on display. For example, Kane and Black (isn’t that a drink?) locate Barbara hiding out in a rundown tenement building where she is shacking up with some Black Panthers types. After they torture Kane for a bit, they decide to kill him but Black comes to the rescue and heads get thumped. Obviously the real locations and authentic looking actors help out a lot here. Of course, not everything is hard ass, even if it tries to be. For example, the bits of Devlin performing karate are a sight to behold. He throws down moves that would make Chris Mitchum shake his head and say, "This guy is a total amateur." And the comedy value is doubled by the screeching and hocking he does. Don’t believe me? Check it out:


Regardless of the momentary bits of unintentional comedy, it still works because of the violence and, hell, it is the 1970s. The last 15 minutes also has a really well done car and motorcycle chase all over L.A. that ends in the L.A. river basin. This was back in the day when a car chase meant you got real guys screeching real tires in real car all over the asphalt for real. None of this green screen work or, even worse, computer generated cars you see today! Even better is the fact that director of photography extraordinaire Dean Cundy knew exactly where to place the camera for the greatest impact. 

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