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Retro Review: NAKED VENGEANCE (1985) and VENDETTA (1986)


(US/Philippines - 1985)

Directed by Cirio H. Santiago. Written by Reilly Askew. Cast: Deborah Tranelli, Kaz Garas, Bill McLaughlin, Ed Crick, Terence O'Hara, Carmen Argenziano, Steve Roderick, David Light, Don Gordon Bell, Nick Nicholson, Phil Morrell, Joseph Zucchero, Helen McNeely, Doc McCoy, Henry Strzalkowski, Bill Kipp. (Unrated, 97 mins)

Filipino exploitation auteur Cirio H. Santiago took a break the '80s cycle of Namsploitation and post-nuke ripoffs to helm 1985's NAKED VENGEANCE, an I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE-inspired contribution to the rape/revenge subgenre. An early release of Roger Corman's Concorde Pictures, NAKED VENGEANCE's Lightning Video VHS was in every video store in America back in the '80s, but it was available in two vastly different editions: a 77-minute R-rated version, and a 97-minute (!) unrated version, the latter represented on Scream Factory's new Blu-ray double feature set with the women-in-prison thriller VENDETTA, because physical media is dead. Much of those 20 additional minutes are related to character development, but in its uncut form, NAKED VENGEANCE is maybe the most ridiculously violent movie Santiago ever made. Flash-in-the-pan actress and SoCal trophy wife Carla Harris (Deborah Tranelli, then in the middle of a decade-long run as Phyllis Wapner, Bobby Ewing's secretary, on DALLAS) finds her world shattered when her husband Mark (Terence O'Hara) is shot and killed while heroically intervening in a sexual assault in the parking lot of a swanky restaurant where they were celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary. When the detective (Carmen Argenziano, whose two brief appearances are likely Hollywood-shot inserts by someone at Corman's lumberyard headquarters) tells her there's no leads and the rape victim isn't cooperating, Carla decides to get away and visit her parents in her childhood town of Silver Lake. Once there, she's ogled, leered at, harassed, and hit on by every guy in town, some of whom knew her in high school and resent that she ran off to Hollywood. When she resists the forceful advances of seemingly affable supermarket--or the closest approximation of a California supermarket that Santiago can throw together in a what looks like a vacant Manila gas station--butcher Fletch (Kaz Garas), tensions explode and when Carla's parents take an overnight trip to visit relatives, Fletch and his sub-literate buddies barge into the house and gang-rape Carla. Of course, her parents decide to return early, and they're shotgunned to death as Fletch also kills Timmy (Steve Roderick), the town's "slow" kid who tagged along, framing him for the massacre.

A catatonic Carla is hospitalized, but escapes nightly to exact revenge on the men in a variety of horrific ways, from setting one ablaze to crushing another under a car to the old rape/revenge standby of castration. As the body count rises, useless sheriff (Bill McLaughlin)--who shruggingly told Carla to "just keep your curtains closed" and "relax a little" when she reported Timmy peeping through her window--takes an inordinate amount of time to realize that all of the victims are Fletch's asshole bros, and he has to keep Fletch from forming a posse to go after Carla. Similar to what he'd do with FUTURE HUNTERS, Santiago rips off multiple films over the course of NAKED VENGEANCE: it goes from I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE to a DEATH WISH-style vigilante thriller, then it turns into FIRST BLOOD when they pursue Carla through town and into the surrounding woods, and finally STRAW DOGS when she barricades herself in her parents' house as Fletch and what's left of his crew lay siege. As evidenced by the grocery store and an equally unconvincing gym, NAKED VENGEANCE is laughably cheap. Even the sheriff's office has a laminated "Sheriff's Office" sign taped to a door in what's obviously not a police station.

While a few early scenes were actually shot in California, the bulk of the film has Manila passing itself off as suburban L.A. with occasional bits that almost look convincing (there's also the presence of Santiago's usual Philippines-based stock company members like Nick Nicholson, Henry Strzalkowski, and Ed Crick). An epilogue with Carla back in L.A. cluelessly makes use of stock footage of NYC before Tranelli is back in L.A., made apparent by a cameo appearance from Walter Hill's favorite bar, Torchy's. Tranelli isn't a great actress, and her TV career went nowhere after DALLAS (she left the business after a 1995 guest spot on LAW & ORDER). While she's good enough for NAKED VENGEANCE, it says a lot about the opportunities she was getting outside of DALLAS that she'd resort to something this grimy and nasty to land a lead role in a feature film (she's also a singer, and Santiago letting her belt out the overplayed but undeniably catchy Laura Branigan-esque power ballad theme song "Still Got a Love" might've sweetened the deal). It's repugnant and graphically violent, but make no mistake: for those genre fans so inclined, the absolutely insane NAKED VENGEANCE is a buried treasure of VHS glory days trashsploitation just waiting to be rediscovered.

(US - 1986)

Directed by Bruce Logan. Written by L.J. Cavastani, Emil Farkas, Simon Maskell and John Adams. Cast: Karen Chase, Sandy Martin, Kin Shriner, Roberta Collins, Michelle Newkirk, Marshall Teague, Greg Bradford, Mark Von Zech, Hoke Howell, Eugene Robert Glazer, Marta Kober, Lisa Hullana, Durga McBroom, Will Hare, Jack Kosslyn, Bruce Logan. (R, 90 mins)

Paired with NAKED VENGEANCE on the new Scream Factory Blu-ray double feature set is VENDETTA, a Concorde pickup that made the regional rounds in the fall of 1986. Originally titled ANGELS BEHIND BARS, it joined Cannon's THE NAKED CAGE and New World's spoofy REFORM SCHOOL GIRLS as belated stragglers in the '80s women-in-prison revival that was highlighted by the likes of 1982's THE CONCRETE JUNGLE and 1983's CHAINED HEAT. VENDETTA was designed as a starring vehicle for stuntwoman Karen Chase, cast radically against type as Laurie Collins, a tough-as-nails Hollywood stuntwoman whose little sister Bonnie (Michelle Newkirk) is raped and gets tossed in prison on a manslaughter charge after shooting her attacker with his own gun. In the joint, Bonnie runs afoul of bitchy, ruthless cell block queen Kay (Sandy Martin), who has her crew beat the shit out of her, shoot her up with junk, and throw her over a railing in what corrupt prison officials and a shady coroner write off as a suicide. Laurie isn't convinced and devises a plan to get sent to the same prison--by stealing the judge's car and going on a drunken, reckless driving spree, and being sentenced by the same judge, which is in no way a conflict of interest--where she tries to figure out who killed her beloved baby sister.

VENDETTA is moderately entertaining trash that's pretty much par for the course as far as these kinds of movies go, except for a climax involving a Prince impersonator, which is admittedly not something you see every day. Chase's Laurie demonstrates some more fighting skills than the usual naive innocent protagonist you'd normally find, and it's of interest in retrospect to see Martin--later to find notoriety as Grandma in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, as Mac's mom on IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, and as disgraced deputy Sam Rockwell's mom in THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI--letting it all hang out and acting like an unhinged psychopath as Kay. Fans of the post-Roger Waters era of Pink Floyd will be surprised to see the band's soon-to-be fan-favorite backing vocalist Durga McBroom as an ass-kicking inmate named "Willow." There's also '70s drive-in starlet Roberta Collins (DEATH RACE 2000's Matilda the Hun) in her final film appearance as the one sympathetic prison official (she retired from acting and died in 2008); longtime daytime soap vet Kin Shriner, who's spent most of the last 41 years as Scott Baldwin on GENERAL HOSPITAL, as a horndog guard ("C'mon, I've already serviced three girls today and my wife's waitin' for me...it's our anniversary!"); Marshall Teague (best known as ROAD HOUSE dipshit Jimmy Reno) as Laurie's boyfriend; and a brawl outside Pacino's, then a well-known Covina, CA restaurant owned by Sal Pacino, who unsurprisingly couldn't talk his son Al into stopping by to say hello. VENDETTA was the directing debut of Bruce Logan, a cinematographer on '70s Roger Corman productions like BIG BAD MAMA, CRAZY MAMA, and JACKSON COUNTY JAIL who also worked on the special effects crew of STAR WARS, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, and FIREFOX among others. He served as the cinematographer for the groundbreaking TRON before going into the world of music videos, where his biggest credit was producing the Mary Lambert-directed video for Madonna's hit "Borderline," from her self-titled 1983 debut.

VENDETTA opening in Toledo, OH on 12/12/1986 as a
"First Run Exclusive" at a nearly abandoned mall's
second-run two-screen that would be closed seven months later.
Note SONG OF THE SOUTH hitting another second-run
at the end of what would be its final--to date-- theatrical re-release. 

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