Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cinema As Punishment


     Unavailable on video for a long time, Cornel Wilde's No Blade of Grass finally goes public courtesy of Warner Archives. The film opens with a montage of environmental disasters that, apparently, caused the citizens of the world to riot and abandon civility. Although the logical steps towards such a catastrophe are vague here, you'd better go with it if you expect to survive the rest of the movie. We follow a small group of people who are heading out of strife-torn London to take refuge on a farm in the country. Along the way, some female members of the group get raped, the males shoot at each other, and a gang of outlaw bikers turn up to generate dramatic interest. Oh, yeah, and one bloke gets stuck with a wife who's more passionate about flashing her tits at the other cast members than surviving the disaster.

     I first read about No Blade of Grass in Philip Strick's Science Fiction Movies and remained curious about the often-published image of Viking-helmeted marauders on bikes.

     It took me until recently to conclude that the bikers in this movie are a bunch of idiots, and purely on board to break up the monotony. In the most pointless sequence, the bikers spot a group of armed civilians and decide to ride near them in a threatening manner. In fact, they ride in a circle so the civilians can shoot them off their bikes. Unfortunately, there's quite a bit of genuinely silly behavior on the loose in this odd science fiction mash-up.

     The film has developed a reputation for its explicit violence, a reputation that's undeserved. Yes, lots of people get shot at, and there are a few decent motorcycle stunts, but this '70's effort is neither shocking nor particularly interesting. A terribly unhelpful editing decision here is to include what can only be described as flash-forwards. Now and then, we get tinted frames of red or green prior to more tinted shots of events we haven't seen yet. The colored frames are meant to be some sort of red alert, but they simply serve to undercut any dramatic surprises this film has in store. And it never had many in the first place.

     The film must have cost a pretty penny to make. The cast list is considerable, and there are dozens of remote rural settings in addition to impressive riot sequences in London. Unfortunately, the script is obvious and heavy-handed, with Wilde piling on shots of dead animals and chimneys spewing pollution to make his point a hundred times. Although Nigel Davenport acquits himself well as the group leader, even he is betrayed by dialog lacking subtlety.

    Also lacking subtlety is a 'No Blade of Grass' folk song that is placed over the opening and end titles. Unless you're a musical masochist, you'll give this charmless ditty a wide berth.

     I wouldn't advise against seeing this cinematic relic as it is a curiosity, but I would park your high expectations at the door.

     If you really want to see how the world will end, watch Punishment Park, Peter Watkin's masterpiece now on Blu-Ray.


     Speaking of punishment, this is it!   

     Although I'm no fan of contemporary, so-called "extreme" (read: cheesy) cinema (Machine Girl, etc.), I gave Hard Revenge Milly a look because someone recommended it. I shouldn't have bothered. A girl takes revenge on a bunch of guys and gals who've raped her, killed her husband, and burnt her newborn baby to a crisp. Sounds like exploitation heaven, doesn't it? It's not. The over-the-top acting cremates the drama; the gore, inspired by Ichii the Killer, is silly; and the villains are screaming buffoons. Three minutes in, I already knew this was shit. There is a sequel, but I don't care. Keep it away from me.


  1. That was kind of you to give Hard Revenge Milly a try. I gave up on the ultra OTT gore trend a ways back. Really, I can't think of a recent movie fad that was so disappointing. My biggest gripe, as silly as it sounds, was the amazingly piss poor ratio of blood-to-boobs. Especially considering these films were littered with babes and the sense of manic exploitation. And strangely enough, thinking about Ryan Nicholson and his films, his blood-to-boobs ratio is pretty spot on - yet I still don't enjoy his films.

  2. I concur on not being a fan of contemporary "extreme" Japanese films like Machine Girl. I don't understand this modern obsession with making contrived "cult" films. It's part of this whole geek/nerd/fan cultural upheaval that is depriving film, television, and music of integrity and creativity. I thought the older films were good because they were different for their time. Why not capture that spirit and direct it at making new stories instead cinematic facsimiles?

  3. Diary -- yes, a very piss-poor ratio. Gorgeous ladies and barely a boob in sight. Sickening!

    I've yet to see Nicholson's HANGER, but I did see his bowling alley slasher and thought it was average.


    Jesse W. -- nail hit on head! Making "cult" films is a shabby, vile exercise. No real cult film ever started as a cult film. I agree that making stupid facsimiles is pointless. Do something new that may create its own cult. If a film is a ready-made cult film from the get-go, what is it in ten years? A pile of rubbish. Hate-hate-hate this trend. Don't like the American version of it, either, with all those self-conscious 'Grindhouse' flicks.

  4. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 11, 2012 at 2:05 PM

    You`re right Phantom, as Danny Peary said in "Cult Movies" (originally published 1981), "people dont like to have cult movies ready made for them and imposed onto them (as it were), they instead prefer to seek out their own objects of cinematic desire because then the excite-girl-t is even greater and more genuine, especially when they find out that they are not the only ones to be obsessed with the movie", i`ve always thought that was a great definition of a true "cult-movie". By the way, i love 17 year-old Japanese schoolgirls, those birds drive me absolutely wild with lust and desire.

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterMarch 13, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    Phantom, would you agree that the final freeze frame from "Alice, Sweet Alice" is the stuff of cinematic legend ! ?.

  6. hammy -- indeed I would. I love ALICE SWEET ALICE... and I agree with your 2nd last comment that people prefer to find their own objects of desire rather than have something cynically forced on them.

  7. I'm thoroughly obsessed with the post-apoc cycle so I'll eventually give this a look out of curiosity only. Sounds decidedly heavy-handed. My opinion is if you wanna do exploitation, do it balls-out, if you wanna do some preachy socially conscious thing, do something that hasn't been done to death, and if you wanna combine those two things you best know what the fuck you're getting yourself into.

    I'll piggyback what everyone else has already said--I can't stand having my "cult" stuff spoon-fed to me. That wink and a nod "we're regurgitating this now" attitude while delivering no actual substance or building on what's been done in the past is just plain lame. I got about 3 minutes into Hard Revenge Milly before I gave up, which is typical. Sometimes I don't even get that far before I turn it off in disgust. I liked the first Nicholson movie I saw but since then he's proved himself a one-note wonder, and his flicks are fucking obnoxious to boot--and he's one of the better purveyors of this stuff, imo--a dubious distinction. The extreme horror stuff has been so oversaturated and the quality is negligible. Every tattoed death metal geek with access to a camera is churning out charmless SOV pseudo snuff on a regular basis. It's become real slim pickin's out there.