Quentin Tarantino's short lived foray into the world of DVD releasing may not have lasted too long but while it was still alive, Rolling Thunder Pictures did manage to put out some pretty cool releases. Three of those releases - The Mighty Peking Man, Detroit 9000 and Switchblade Sisters are now collected for reissue on this new single disc release from Lionsgate under the title Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature. Here's what you'll find on this DVD...
The Mighty Peking Man:
This 1977 Shaw Brothers production, also known as Goliathon, introduces us to a young man named Johnny (Danny Lee). When he finds out that his lady friend has been making the rounds with other guys, he decides to accompany an entrepreneurial type named Lu Tiem (Feng Ku) to India. Their plan is to find The Mighty Peking Man, a gigantic monster kind of like King Kong, in hopes of cashing in on what is sure to be massive public demand. On the way to find him, there's an elephant stampede and then later a tiger attack and before you know it, poor Johnny is left all by himself in the middle of the jungle where he learns the hard way that this creature really does exists. The Mighty Peking Man is none too happy with Johnny's unexpected arrival and it looks like his days are numbered until a jungle woman named Samantha (Evelyne Kraft) convinces to set him free. So how did a blonde haired, blue eyed woman come to be the queen of the jungle? Well as a child she and her family were flying from one place to another and the plane crashed. Everyone died except her, and she was raised by The Mighty Peking Man, who we learn is actually named Utam.
Soon enough, all three are the best of friends and Johnny convinces Samantha and Utam to head back to Hong Kong where it would be impossible for anything to go wrong. They agree, and once they've made the trek, things more or less start to go instantly wrong - surprise! Lu Tiem shows up and shackles Utam! Johnny, who had fallen in love with Samantha, rekindles his torrid romance with his ex-girlfriend! Lu Tiem gets fresh with Samantha in front of the overly protective giant ape monster and with that being the straw that broke the camel's back, he breaks free and goes on a rampage. The army moves in and Samantha gives chase, all while Johnny realizes what a jerk he's been and tries to set things right.
The Mighty Peking Man is every bit as ridiculous as it sounds. Lots of great miniature sets are destroyed, plenty of bizarre innuendo occurs between various characters (at one point Samantha is bitten on the leg by a snake, Johnny dives in face first and sucks the poison out), and a giant ape gets to trash stuff and howl a lot. Logic has no place in this universe and so much gets lost in the translation of this odd Chinese take on an American movie that it becomes less like a foreign film and more like something from another planet. Danny Lee, probably best known for his role opposite Chow Yun Fat in John Woo's The Killer, gives his all here. He actually delivers a pretty solid performance, even if it looks like if the wind hit him the wrong way he'd glide off on the lapels of his shirt. Evelyne Kraft is absolutely gorgeous here - obviously why she was cast for the role, because she doesn't really emote very well, while Feng Ku seems to be having fun as the sleazy promoter. The real star of the show, however, is Utam. Played by a guy in a suit whose size seems to change every few minutes (sometimes he's the same size as a tree, other times he's the same size as a skyscraper) he gets up to all sorts of trouble, sometimes with his eyes inexplicably bugging out for good measure. It all amounts to a ridiculously fun movie that has enough of its own ideas in place to stand on its own as more than just a blatant low budget repackaging of King Kong.
The most serious of the three films in this set is Arthur Marks' 1973 crime thriller, Detroit 9000. The movie begins at an event coordinated by a preacher named Reverend Markham (Scatman Crothers) intended to celebrate the heroes of Detroit's black community, one of whom is a politician who uses the event to announce his intentions to run for Governor. Shortly after this announcement is made, a group of masked gunmen come in and rob the patrons of four hundred thousand dollars' worth of cash and jewelry. The media has a field day with this and plays up the rumors circulating in the black community that this was a racially motivated crime perpetrated by white criminals, but the police are keeping all options on the table.
Assigned to the case is a detective named Danny Bassett (Alex Rocco). Danny's got some problems of his own - his wife is locked up in a mental hospital and he's got a thing for prostitutes, but he's a good man, and a rare honest cop. Bassett's commanding officer pairs him up with a flashy former high school sports hero now on the force named Jesse Williams (Hari Rhodes). Bassett is irritated by this at first, wanting to work with someone dedicated and not someone so seemingly image conscious as Williams, but eventually they strike up a pretty solid working relationship. Bassett's ties with the local prostitute community come in handy when he gets a good lead from a 'classy' hooker named Roby Harris (Vonetta McGee). As they get closer to closing the case, tensions mount, as does the pressure from the media and the local community.
Tough and smart, Detroit 9000 is a top notch cops and robbers urban crime thriller dressed up with all of the trappings you'd expect from a seventies Blaxploitation picture. Foxy ladies, smooth dudes in funky clothes, a great guitar heavy score with some crunchy bass lines, flamboyant fashions and some rock solid action all make for a very entertaining picture but underneath all the style, there's actually a good bit of substance. Not content to just titillate the audience with the more exploitative elements inherent in the genre, Marks' film addresses head on the issues of racial tension, marital infidelity, and the difficulties of trying to make ends meet while still playing the part of an honest cop.
Shot on location in Detroit, the movie takes an interesting twist in that the white cop, the film's central character, is actually the minority here. Rocco, who had starred in The Godfather shortly before this film was made, plays his part well. He wrestles with his loyalty to the law, knowing full well that if he were to 'do a few favors' he could get the money he needs to get his wife proper treatment. Instead, he remains honest and finds comfort with prostitutes. His trepidation in regards to his new partner is understandable at first, he doesn't need any more distractions, but he misjudges Williams and soon sees the error of his ways. Rhodes is also good here, he does bring some flashiness to the part as required but we know he means business when the time comes for it. The two make for an interesting pair, opposites in some ways, similar in many others. At the same time the movie also delivers some decent twists, the kind of intrigue you want out of a good cop film. We also get some decent action scenes and some amazingly gritty location photography, all topped off with a killer soundtrack by Luchi De Jesus.
Last but not least we have director Jack Hill's 1975 ode to bad girls, Switchblade Sisters. The film follows the exploits of Maggie (Joanna Nail), the quiet kind who more or less keeps to herself. Her life takes an interesting turn when she's hanging out at a hamburger stand one night and an all-girl gang called 'The Dagger Debs,' shows up. They try get everyone to leave, but Maggie stands her ground which leads to a fight with their tough talking leader, Lace (Robbie Lee). This little scrap lands all the ladies in a detention center where, in order to get back at the lesbian warden, Lace and Maggie put aside their differences. When they make it out of the big house, Maggie joins the gang at Lace's request.
Lace is involved with a guy named Dom (Asher Brauner), a tough dude who leads a gang of his own called 'The Silver Daggers.' When Dom starts making eyes at Maggie, you just know there's going to be some serious tension - and Dom doesn't make it any better when he follows Maggie home and rapes her one night. Fellow 'Dagger Deb' Patch (Monica Gayle) learns about this and starts putting ideas in Laces head, ideas that indicate Maggie is actually to blame here. If that weren't bad enough, there's a rival gang called lead by Crabs (Chase Newhart) out to make things difficult for everyone. And then there's Muff (Marlene Clark), she and her crew are militant feminists (and communists!) with a serious axe to grind with any man who gets in their way. When Dom gets shot by Crabs' crew at a roller skating rink, Maggie winds up taking charge of the gang but Lace and Patch? They're not going to take to a change in leadership so easily, nor does anyone intend to let Crabs get away with murder.
As wild and colorful as anything Jack Hill has made before or since, Switchblade Sisters is a ridiculously entertaining picture full of unexpected plot twists, questionable loyalties and more backstabbing and trashtalking then you can shake a pig sticker at. While yes, on the outside this is delirious exploitative insanity at its best, there's enough character development and genuinely well thought out plot devices here that, as trashy as it can get, it's still a legitimately well-made movie. Hill paces the pictures very well, it's never dull, and he keeps the action and violence coming regularly enough that we never seriously question the fact that our teenage characters are played by actors well past their eighteen birthdays. The acting might be subpar by most standards but you've got to admire the conviction shown by the leads, if not the delivery. It's all done with such obvious intent to entertain rather than impress that, warts and all, it's just a really fun way to kill an hour and a half. Throw logic out the window and don't think too hard on this one and just appreciate the fact that it offers up all the sex, violence, colorful characters and instantly quotable dialogue you could want from a seventies drive-in movie about girl gangs. Hill just takes the insanity inherent in the concept and runs with it, and we're all better off for his efforts.
First up - the aspect ratios: The Mighty Peking Man is shown 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen, Detroit 9000 is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and Switchblade Sisters in 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen. Although the films show their age, for the most part the image quality is pretty good here - not mind blowing, and not reference quality, but pretty good. The three films have been crammed onto one DVD-9, so not so surprisingly there are some minor compression artifacts visible in spots but thankfully these don't overpower the image. Color reproduction is decent, which really helps given how colorful each of these three movies is, and the prints used are generally pretty clean and show only minor wear and tear.
All three films are presented in English, so that means that The Mighty Peking Man is dubbed in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono while Detroit 9000 and Switchblade Sisters are presented in their original languages, both in Dolby Digital Mono. As it is with the video, so it is with the audio - the presentation here isn't amazing by any stretch but it's perfectly acceptable. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout the five films, levels are properly balanced and there are only occasional instances of hiss or distortion (at one point in Detroit 9000 you might notice what sounds like scratching in the mix, and then you'll realize it's actually the sound of a female character moving inside a really bizarre dress!). It would have been nice to get the original language option provided for The Mighty Peking Man but there's no denying that the English dub adds to that particular film's peculiar charm.
When the disc loads up, we get a static menu offering you movie selection - and that's it. Though the films are each broken up into chapters, there's no chapter selection option. The individual releases that came out for The Mighty Peking Man and Detroit 9000 only had trailers on them, but Switchblade Sisters had a commentary with director Jack Hill, a bunch of trailers for Hill's films, one of his short films (The Host) and a few other odds and ends. None of this material has been carried over to this reissue from Lionsgate.
Lionsgate's Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures Triple Feature DVD is, to be blunt, an inferior repackaging of materials previously made available in superior standalone versions. None of the extras are carried over and some compression is visible in the transfers. With that said, judged on its own merit, this disc is a lot of fun. Each of the three movies is plenty entertaining and based on the amount of fun you can have with these films, and the fact that the disc is offered at a very reasonable price, it's easy to recommend this in spite of some shortcomings (assuming you don't already have the single disc releases, that is!).
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.