Saturday, June 11, 2016


The BLACK GESTAPO (1975) is one of the many lowly Blaxploitation flicks that emerged out of the ’70s, but despite the rather pitiful budget, exploitation auteur Lee Frost nonetheless fashioned one of the more outrageous efforts of the time, and thanks to the fine efforts of Code Red, this exploitation staple is finally made available on Blu-ray in a real eye-popping transfer that puts all of the previous PD bootlegs to shame.

General Ahmed (Rod Perry) is the leader of the People’s Army, an activist group – although they sure do look like a militant bunch! – that is trying to clean up the L.A. ghettos with the help of a government grant (“Blacks helping blacks with white money.”) by setting up food banks and even a ‘detoxification unit’ run by Marsha (Angela Brent), Ahmed’s girlfriend.  However, they are constantly at odds with the local mob headed by Vincent (director Frost himself), a Brooklyn mobster now running his operation out of L.A who (quote) “…coulda had Harlem, but I wanted sunshine and swimming pools.”  When a couple of Vincent’s goons, Ernest (producer Wes Bishop) and Vito (Phil Hoover) rape Marsha, Ahmed’s second-in-command, Kojah (Charles T. Robinson), vows revenge, much to the chagrin of Ahmed (“You can’t take the law into your own hands!”), who eventually allows him to have a ‘security force’ of six men, who are (quote) “only to protect.”  Of course, Kojah is soon embroiled in an all-out war as he and HIS men first eliminate most of Vincent’s syndicate and then begin to assume control of the drugs, prostitution and shakedown rackets.

Far from “good”, this is Frost’s only Blaxploitation effort, whose title group was clearly modelled after the black nationalist group The Black Panthers (1966-1982) and their increasing popularity – and notoriety – in the early ’70s.  Even though this is set among the confines of a down’n’dirty exploitation film, and despite the film’s almost farcical depictions of both the mob and The People’s Army, it’s still hard to ignore some of the societal issues The BLACK GESTAPO does, almost inadvertently, bring to the fore, including poverty, racism and segregation, which sadly, still seem to be major issues in most U.S. cities.  Of course, director Frost probably had no intention of presenting any underlying message with a silly film such as this, but the angst of the era is ever-present nonetheless.

It was written by Ronald K. Goldman (1943-2013 [Code Red’s Blu-ray is dedicated to him]), who also explored similar ground in Bill Berry’s rather incendiary cheapie The BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH (1976), which had a group of Vietnam vets go against the Ku Klux Klan, The BLACK GESTAPO pushes the envelope even further, and it even has the audacity to begin with old newsreel footage of Hitler watching his troops goosestep through a square as Allan Alper’s funky music blares forth on the soundtrack; it’s certainly one of the more surreal openings of any trash flick out there!  Further scenes of Kojah (later called Kinghazi) and his army, dressed in full Nazi regalia, no less, training and chanting “Vengeance!” at their new, somewhat palatial estate (Frost’s real-life home) really accentuates the fearless and rather unconventional nature of the entire production.  Along with Goldman, both Frost and Bishop also contributed to the script, and along with some of their earlier films like The DEFILERS (1965), LOVE CAMP 7 (1968) or even POLICEWOMEN (1974), The BLACK GESTAPO also incorporates much of the duo’s distinctive moments of brutality and sex; Vito is viciously castrated by Kojah and his men, Marsha is raped in the backseat of a car, and poor Dona Desmond – referred to in the credits as simply the “White Whore” – is either beaten or degraded during the few scenes in which she appears.

Released through their Big Cartel site and the fine folks at DiabolikDVD, Code Red’s Blu-ray is a real beauty.  Taken from the original camera negatives, their transfer is properly framed at 1.78:1, and it is absolutely immaculate.  Sweetening the deal is an audio commentary with stars Perry and Robinson, moderated by Code Red’s Bill Olsen, wherein they discuss all sorts of great stuff, like all the “beautiful girls” on set, the “.42 cent” budget and their “shock” that this actually made it into theatres.  On top of all this, the disc also includes on-camera interviews with Robinson and Perry, which cover some of the same ground, but are very welcome just the same.  In addition, the disc includes an on-camera interview with actor Charles Howerton (seen as one of the mobsters in the film), who was cast mainly because he was Bishop’s real estate salesman, but in another interesting bit of trivia, we learn that Howerton did some voice-dubbing on films in Italy, and he also discusses some of his other work, such as Charles B. Griffith’s shot-in-the-Philippines JAWS wannabe UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979).  A trailer for the present film under its alternate less-contentious GHETTO WARRIORS title is also included.

Sleazy, nasty and downright ridiculous at times, The BLACK GESTAPO is yet another gem from Lee Frost’s long and varied filmography, so don’t hesitate for a second and grab Code Red’s impressive Blu-ray before it disappears.  For those lucky enough to reside in the U.S., this disc can be obtained from Code Red’s Big Cartel Store, while all others should continue to check DiabolikDVD for any updates regarding their Code Red stock. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016


By 1978, Italocrime films definitely began to wane in popularity at the Italian boxoffice and, in many cases, so did the quality of the productions themselves.  This minor effort from director Mario Bianchi, who toiled deep down in the bottommost ranks of the Italian film industry, is a prime example of the lows to which the Italocrime genre sometimes descended.  Apparently, PROVINCIA VIOLENTA received only a very scant theatrical release in Italy, and judging by the overall lack of enthusiasm both in front of and behind the camera, it’s easy to why.

Following a rather energetic opening in the wake of a bank robbery, commissario Franco Sereni (Lino “Calogero” Caruana) is questioned by his superior for his no-holds-barred arrest methods (“With your methods, criminals don’t have a chance to be put on trial!”). Despite the protestations of his superior, whose (quote) “hands are tied”, Sereni is inevitably forced to resign.  Soon after, his friend Nadia (Daniela Codini) reveals a criminal organization run by Augusto (Richard Harrison) and Flavia (Antonella Dogan) at the Hotel Bellavista, which is actually used as a reloading point for heroin, a prostitution ring and, in one of the rooms, a transparent mirror is also used for the purposes of blackmailing wealthy and influential clients via the snapping of compromising photos.  Of course, Nadia is soon found dead, killed by Augusto’s ‘muscle’, Alberto (Al Cliver), and then, further complicating matters, commissario Righi (Spartaco Battisti), who is in cahoots with Augusto, covers up every bit of evidence that Sereni discovers.

In the late-’70s, director Bianchi embarked on a series of Italocrime efforts, many of which were WAY below the standards of the usual genre product coming out at the time, but in 1978, he also directed one of his best efforts, the effective little cheapie, NAPOLI: I 5 DELLA SQUADRA SPECIALE (1978), also starring Harrison, but with PROVINCIA VIOLENTA he dispenses with the usual formula most commonly associated with the genre and instead uses the basic Italocrime template as mere backdrop; upon closer inspection, it’s actually more of a forerunner to Mario Gariazzo’s combo giallo/poliziesco PLAY MOTEL (1979), which also involved compromising photographs, blackmail, murder and LOTS of nudity.  Although not as unrepentantly sleazy as Gariazzo’s film, director Mario Bianchi also has no qualms about inserting plentiful gratuitous nudity into his slow-moving narrative: in one particular scene, Cliver as one of Augusto’s prime hit-men calmly drowns Helen (Simonetta Marini), the hotel’s resident lounge act, in her bathtub (“You’ve got to pay for it!”).  Later, Marta (Alicia Leoni), the wife of a prominent politician, is drugged and then groped by two men as Flavia snaps incriminating photos of the illicit threesome. 

In order to flesh-out the slender narrative even further, Bianchi also pads the film with some duplicitous wheeling/dealings involving the hotel’s owner Vinci (Saverio Mosca)—a subplot which rapidly goes nowhere—and, in one of the film’s more painfully awkward scenes, Helen sings a horribly lip-synced tune (“Ti amo, ti amo…”) in the hotel’s seedy bar.  For one of film’s more hilarious scenes, Sereni interrupts Alberto’s day of fishing with a lakeside brawl, which looks like it was both conceived and executed on that very same day and, to further accentuate the cheapness of the entire production, all of its background music was “recycled” from Stelvio Cipriani’s scores for both Stefano Vanzina’s FROM THE POLICE…WITH THANKS (1972, a.k.a. The EXECUTION SQUAD) and Mario Bava’s then-unreleased, RABID DOGS (1974).

Like most of Bianchi’s films of the time, the token American ‘star’, Richard Harrison, barely figures in the film at all, and he only has a few scenes alongside Antonella Dogan, who, like Al Cliver, also seems to relish her sleazy role as the duplicitous Madam; she also appeared in Bianchi’s equally cut-rate LA BANDA VALLANZASCA (1977) a year earlier.  In spite of Lino Caruana’s obscurity, he actually does a decent enough job as the determined commissario while weaving his way through this sordid little mess.  Keen-eyed viewers should also look out for both director Bianchi as one of Righi’s detectives and future Italian porn starlet Guia Lauri-Filzi as Flavia’s friend.

Super-obscure, it’s quite a miracle this rarity has actually been released TWICE on foreign DVDs.  The first DVD edition came out of Italy in 2006 courtesy of Surf Video – as part of the label’s “Serie Z” – in a very handsome 16x9 transfer, which retained the film’s 1.85:1 framing.  Of course, the only available audio option was Italian mono, and the only extra was the film’s Italian trailer.  Then, sometime in 2015, Germany’s X-Rated Kult released this decidedly minor effort with a choice of four (!) different hardbox covers as either PROVINZ OHNE GEHETZ or KOMMANDO SIKU (the film’s original German videotape titles from circa the ’80s), but the print itself still retains the PROVINCIA VIOLENTA title, which looks like an exact port of the Italian release, but despite the lack of any listing on the packaging, this German DVD does contain bonus English subtitles, which is quite the plus.  As per the norm for a German DVD, the disc contains both German and Italian audio options, but rather unbelievably, a full-length audio commentary – in German only, unfortunately – from film historian Marcus Stiglegger is also included.  The film’s Italian trailer and a trailer from Ferruccio Casapinta’s LA BAMBOLA DI SATANA (1969) finish off the extras.

For those wishing to see every Italocrime effort, the German disc is still available here, but again, don’t expect too much and you may be mildly – well, very mildly – entertained.