In their ongoing quest to release the best of Roger Corman's catalogue in spiffy editions with great transfer and solid extras the fine people over at Shout! Factory have unleashed upon an unsuspecting public the Lethal Ladies Collection, a triple feature of films shot in the Philippines staring a trio of beauties as tough as they are sexy. Let's take a look!
Directed by Filipino exploitation master Cirio H. Santiago and released in 1974, T.N.T. Jackson (she'll put you in traction!) stars the beautiful Jeannie Bell as Diana 'T.N.T.' Jackson, a foxy lady whose brother was murdered by a gang of nogoodnik drug dealers on the mean streets of Hong Kong. She heads east to find his killers and after taking a cab as far into the bad part of town that the driver will take her, she soon finds herself in the middle of a backstreet brawl. Shortly after, she meets up with a Chinese native named Joe (played by the mysterious Chiquito!) who happens to own a nightclub that some of the men she's after hang out at.
Joe and T.N.T. hit it off, and before you know it he's helping her track down the bad guys - while T.N.T. falls for Charlie (Stan Shaw), a black guy who works for a gangster, Sid (Ken Metcalfe), who wants to know just what it is this lady is after and why she's moseying around on his turf. As Sid tries to up the ante with his drug business, he figures T.N.T. must have something to do with it and so he decides it's time to take her out - but Charlie thinks otherwise. Meanwhile, TNT comes ever closer to figuring out who killed her brother and getting her revenge - but don't forget about Sid's pesky lady friend, Elaine (Pat Anderson) who will prove to be a serious thorn in T.N.T.'s side!
Highlighted by a fantastic scene in which a wonderfully topless Ms. Bell takes out a bunch of bad guys in a naked kung fu sequence for the ages, T.N.T. Jackson is a blast from start to finish. Plenty of wonky fuzzed out seventies music compliments the big hair and bad fashions just perfectly while Santiago keeps the movie zipping by at a remarkably quick pace. At this point in the game the director had enough movies under his belt that he knew what he was doing and it shows, his knack for fun, fast paced trash movies really shines through here.
There's not much to the story here and what plot there is really just seems there in order to move the film from one badly choreographed martial arts scene to the other but that just adds to the zaniness of the whole thing. Throw in a ridiculous amount of gratuitous movie, some awesome tough talking dialogue from our uber-sexy soul sister leading lady and some recycled music and you've got yourself a hell of a good time at the movies.
Cirio H. Santiago directed this second feature as well, a few years later in 1981. This time around, the movie stars pretty blonde Jillian Kesner as Susanne Carter as a martial arts instructor who heads from the United States to the Philippines to find her missing sister. She wastes no time upon her arrival heading straight into the worst part of Manila where she knows her sister was last scene, and soon winds up uncovering an underground fight club type deal where rich people bet on matches that always lead... to DEATH!
In the middle of this highly illegal trade is Chuck (Darby Hinton), the second in command of the gang running the show who just so happens to be a deadly killing machine himself. He's tasked with investigating Susanne's investigation, see, his boss wants to know what she's doing moseying around on his turf. Starting to sound familiar? This is basically a remake of T.N.T. Jackson set to the Shogun Assassin soundtrack and featuring more awesome naked kung fu. At any rate, not so surprisingly Chuck starts to fall head over heels in love with Susanne, something that obviously causes a conflict of interest in his mission to take her out of the picture - but Susanne is Hell-bent on finding her sister and won't let anyone stand in her way.
More recycled music, naked brawls and gratuitous nudity make this one a lot of fun as well and if it's not quite as delirious as the first movie, it's pretty damn close. Jillian Kesner has a solid screen presence and is fun to look at, likely why she's frequently naked, naturally, and the movie features a notably ridiculous love scene and some kill scenes that definitely win some points for originality. Throw in a few recognizable Filipino cult film regulars (fans of midget spy films will be pleased with some of the supporting players who show up in this one!) and some great local flavor in terms of the locations used throughout the film and you've got yourself another hell of a good time at the movies.
Too Hot To Handle:
In our last feature, Cheri Caffaro, the star of the Ginger films and Ebony, Ivory And Jade, plays sexy Samantha Fox (no relation to the XXX star of the same name or the famous British page three girl/pop tart sensation of the late 80s!). While Samantha might look like your average blond hottie, she's secretly a paid assassin and when we meet up with her she's on her way to, you guessed it, the Philippines to take care of a hit. Samantha has got some morals, however, and she won't just kill anyone - she limits her contracts to criminals and n'er-do-wells. For the first half hour or so of the movie, we more or less just watch her at work as she suckers in her prey by posing as a dominatrix.
Samantha's actions aren't going unnoticed, however - top Manila cop Domingo De La Torres (Aharon Ipale) is paying attention to her and he, along with his bed bud and co-worker Sanchez (Vic Diaz... again!) decide to make it their mission to bring it in. Unfortunately, Domingo starts to fall head over heels in, well, love or lust - it's not made entirely clear, with Samantha and as he doesn't have a whole lot of evidence to pin her down with, he starts to turn a blind eye to her actions. Things start to get tough for Domingo when Samantha starts knocking off bad guys left, right and center by posing as Filipino maids (in one of the most amazingly awful 'wow I can't believe they ever thought this was a good idea' disguise scenes you will ever witness) or vamping it up in various sexy gowns. Whether Domingo likes it or not, the higher ups are putting pressure on her to stop this sexy murder machine from karate chopping her way through the Filipino underworld.
This one doesn't differ much from the other two movies in the set in that it's fast paced, cheap and sleazy - good qualities, all, and Caffaro's screen presence really carries the whole thing. Directed by her then husband, the film puts a lot of focus on her nude scenes, and Cheri, not in the least bit concerned with modesty, leaves nothing to the imagination here and has no qualms whatsoever about showing off the whole enchilada. Her martial arts skills fall somewhere in between Jeannie Bell's non-existent fighting skills and Jillian Kesner's fairly decent moves but this one ups the ante with the sex, if not the violence.
Not so surprisingly the ending of the film leaves things open for a sequel. It never happened but there certainly could have been one and you can't help but wonder if the filmmakers weren't setting this up to be a franchise the same way that the three Ginger movies were. Regardless, the same qualities that make the first two movie so much fun apply this time around as well. We get some great Filipino locations, though this time the focus is on the slightly more exotic aspects as demonstrated by scenes involving the coastline and some fancy boats as opposed to the inner city seedy side of things. Great music, some fun tough gal dialogue and a strong performance from Caffaro with the always reliable Vic Diaz keep things fun.
You can't really complain about the transfers that Shout! Factory have whipped up for this release.
Each of the three movies looks quite good here, presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. There are no problems with compression artifacts to not and only very mild print damage, despite a moderate amount of grain here and there. The end result is a pretty nice film like appearance, one that suites the three films rather well. Colors look nice, black levels are strong and generally speaking the transfers are strong, well authored and detailed considering their low budget roots.
Each of the three films in the set is presented in English language Dolby Digital Mono, there are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Overall the mixes here sound fine. They're a little limited in range but that's not only understandable, it's to be expected. Dialogue is clean and well balanced and the scores always sound good. The good definitely outweighs the bad and allows us to overlook the occasional pop or instance of hiss here and there.
The first disc contains only a few trailers as supplements, those same trailers are repeated on the second disc but there's also a commentary there for Too Hot To Handle with star Cheri Caffaro and moderator Elijah Drenner, the man who directed American Grindhouse. This is a pretty solid discussion, with Drenner doing a good job of keeping Cheri talking about everything from working with her husband who directed the film to what it was like working in the Philippines. Cheri also talks about how martial arts were able to empower women in the seventies, what it was like working on some of the other films she is known for (like the Ginger movies), her wardrobe in the movie and what she's been up to since leaving the film industry, mainly her beekeeping activities! There's also a still gallery here for Too Hot To Handle and both discs feature menus and chapter stops for all three of the features.
Shout! Factory hasn't jammed the Lethal Ladies collection with as many extras as some of their previous Roger Corman's Cult Classic releases but don't let that stop you. If you have any interest in seventies drive-in movies at all and appreciate gratuitous nudity and bad kung-fu, consider this one a must own. What these three films lack in polish, good acting and complex plots they more than make up for with action, excitement and enthusiasm. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.