If Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s grindhouse valentine whets your appetite for the genuine article, you’re in luck. Through May 1, Tarantino has commandeered the programming at L.A.’s last remaining old-fashioned repertory movie house — the New Beverly Cinema — replacing the usual mix of classic Hollywood and art-house fare with nightly grindhouse double features. Each 35 mm print hails from the director’s personal collection, as do the posters decorating the theater lobby and the vintage trailers that precede each screening. The New Beverly, meanwhile, which once operated as a porn cinema, supplies the suitably grungy surroundings and an oh-so-good $7 admission price ($6 for students and all of $4.50 for those enterprising enough to buy the theater’s eight-admission discount card). Herewith, my own guide to the best of the rest of the grindhouse fest:
The Muthers (1976). A Tarantino favorite (see “Grindhouse Gang” discussion), Filipino filmmaker Cirio Santiago wrote and directed this hybrid blaxploitation/women-in-prison movie in which the leader (TNT Jackson star Jeannie Bell) of a band of modern-day female pirates sets out to rescue her sister (Trina Parks) from the jungle stronghold of a homosexual coffee baron/slave trader. A muther lode of bodily torture and all-girl shower scenes follows, along with a priceless moment when Parks, having been bitten on her (ample) bosom by a poisonous reptile, exclaims, “Just like every other snake I ever met — can’t leave my tits alone!” If forced to choose, I’d take these seafaring plunderers over Jerry Bruckheimer’s any day. Sun., April 15, 3:50 & 7:30 p.m.; Mon.-Tues., April 16-17, 7:30 p.m.
The Swinging Cheerleaders (1974). The tag line — “They gave their all for the team” — doesn’t quite tell all in this subversive student-cheerleader comedy courtesy of director Jack Hill, who had just made a superstar out of Pam Grier with the one-two punch of Coffy and Foxy Brown. Set at Colorado’s Mesa State University, the film follows a comely, self-righteous reporter (the excellent Jo Johnston) for a campus radical newspaper as she infiltrates the football cheerleading squad with the intention of writing an exposé about female exploitation. But to her surprise, she discovers that pompom girls — and their jock boyfriends — are people too, and that there are far more sinister matters (including a point-shaving scam amusingly referred to as the “Mesa State Watergate”) deserving of her investigative prowess. Though there’s still plenty of scoring here both on and off the field, the movie’s tone is more playful than prurient, up to and including its gleefully Chaplinesque warehouse finale. Largely forgotten until the Tarantino-spearheaded reissue of his Switchblade Sisters, Hill retired from filmmaking in the early 1980s to pursue meditation and novel writing. The Swinging Cheerleaders is a reminder that he left us much too soon. Fri., April 20, 10:45 p.m.; Sat., April 21, 5:50 & 10:45 p.m.
Grave of the Vampire (1974). A pre-Sopranos David Chase wrote the script (based on his own novel, no less) for this 1974 bloodsucking epic; perhaps not surprisingly, it too concerns the tensions between parents and children in a patriarchal family business. After an ancient vampire rises from a long slumber and rapes a nubile coed, she decides to keep the resulting child, who, upon reaching adulthood, makes it his mission in life to destroy his undead father. Directed by John Hayes, a one-time Oscar nominee whose Jailbait Babysitter screens on the bottom half of this bill, Grave of the Vampire sports production values so cheap that to call them shoestring would be an insult to the footwear industry, but it is rich in its ideas and its novel approach to a cobwebbed genre. And make no mistake: You’ll never be able to think of breastfeeding in quite the same way again. Sun., April 22, 4 & 7:30 p.m.; Mon.-Tues., April 23-24, 7:30 p.m.
Death Rage (1976). One of the best of the Death Wish knockoffs, this grindhouse masterpiece by the Italian director Antonio Margheriti (Cannibal Apocalypse) stars Yul Brynner as an American Mafia hit man who travels to Naples to avenge his brother’s death, whereupon he becomes entangled with a self-interested police chief (Martin Balsam), a seductive nightclub dancer (the radiant Barbara Bouchet) and a baby-faced young bookie (Italian pop star Massimo Ranieri) eager to learn the tricks of the trade. The plot is strictly by the numbers, but the actors — especially Brynner, projecting a gruff, weary grandeur in one of his final film roles — give it their all. So does Margheriti, who organizes a couple of very clever set pieces (including one in a crowded bakery) and stages his shootouts with unexpectedly balletic grace. Bouchet, who also appears in Cry of the Prostitute (screening on the same bill), is scheduled to wing in from Italy for the screenings. Fri., April 27, 7:30 p.m.; Sat., April 28, 3:55 & 7:30 p.m.
Lee Lives Within. No grindhouse retrospective would be complete without a little chop-socky action, particularly when the movie in question is one of the umpteen that attempted to cash in on the premature death of the great Bruce Lee by incorporating his name (or some variation of it) into their titles. I’m most grateful to Tarantino for having prescreened for me this phantom gem, which is so obscure that no record of it or its supposed director, Tam Kai, exists in the ordinarily redoubtable Internet Movie Database. No matter: This exuberantly silly movie, which winds up the New Beverly festival, offers wall-to-wall kung fu set pieces stitched together by the barest thread of a plot about an undercover detective trying to bust up a powerful gangland syndicate by posing as a waiter in a Chinese restaurant. A goofy romance with the boss’s daughter and the most hilariously poor English dubbing this side of Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? only add to the merriment. Sun., April 29, 5:45 & 9:20 p.m.; Mon.-Tues., April 30-May 1, 9:20 p.m.
QUENTIN TARANTINO PRESENTS THE LOS ANGELES GRINDHOUSE FESTIVAL | New Beverly Cinema | www.newbevcinema.comClick here to read Grindhouse Gang: Quentin Tarantino summons the masters to historic summit