Shout Factory has been coming out with a lot of great Roger Corman releases of late, in double or triple features of related styles of films. So for example, women in prison movies, car chase movies, badass chick movies, etc…. This particular Lethal Ladies release, falls into that latter category. It’s a 2-disc set that contains three films with girls who kick ass, and don’t care what your name is. During this era, Roger Corman was producing a large number of films in the Philippines because the production costs were so cheap, he could get several films made way cheaper than he could make just one for in the U.S.. As such, you tend to see quite a few familiar faces as you go from one of these films to another. For example, the guy who played the gay leader of the prison guards in The Bird Cage appears in two of the films in this release. The guy who played the prison warden in that same film also appears briefly as a police chief in Too Hot to Handle. There are even one or two familiar faces from Weng Weng movies in this set of films. If you don’t know who Weng Weng is, do yourself a favor and get all of his films. They absolutely rule! Anyway, here’s what we have in this release…
Firecracker (1981) – Susanne Carter (Jillian Kesner) arrives in the Philippines looking for her sister, who unbeknownst to her, has been killed by a mobster because she was investigating the cage fighting, martial arts death matches he was running. When Susanne shows up at a local restaurant looking for her sister, the mobster has his main fighter, trainer and all around badass, Chuck Connor (Darby Hinton), check her out to see what she wants, why she’s in the Philippines and if she’s going to be any trouble for them. Well the two end up in a relationship, but Susanne has no idea that Chuck is the one who killed her sister, and she kept the fact that she was looking for her sister a secret, so he had no idea who she was. When Susanne discovers the truth, it’s a fight to the death, but will Chuck be able to do what he has to do to survive her wrath, or will his feelings for her get in the way?
If I had to grade the films in this triple feature according to quality and entertainment value, this would be the best film of the three. The performances were better, the fighting was better, the story was the best of the three, and just in general, it was an all around better production. Too Hot to Handle doesn’t have a lot of martial arts fighting, but TNT Jackson does, and compared to this film, the fighting in TNT Jackson looks unbelievably cartoonish. That’s not the say the fighting in this movie is awesome, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the ridiculousness you get in TNT Jackson. The two films do have one thing in common with regard to the story. In both films, the main character is looking for a loved one who was killed by the local mob, and in both cases, there’s some relationship that develops between the main character and the person who did the killing of their loved one. The Susanne character seemed like a nice girl, which makes you pull for her. This is another difference this film had with TNT Jackson, as the main character in that one wasn’t likeable at all. In fact, in that film, the guy who killed her brother was more likeable than she was. To say she was a cold-ass bitch would be an understatement. All in all, it was one of Corman’s better Philippine era movies and was quite enjoyable.
TNT Jackson (1974) – When Stacks Jackson runs afoul of the local mob enforcer, he ends up dead. Soon thereafter, Diana ‘T.N.T.’ Jackson (Jeannie Bell) shows up in the Philippines looking for her brother, only to find out that he’s disappeared, and subsequently, that he’s been murdered. During her investigation to find out what happened to her brother, she ends up getting close with the mob enforcer, who unbeknownst to her was the one who killed her brother, and who inadvertently is responsible for keeping her alive by convincing his boss that she’s no trouble for them. Will T.N.T. find out the truth and get revenge, or will she end up dead like her brother?
From the very first fight scene in this film, I knew it was going to be bad. I don’t know where they found Jeannie Bell, but man, that girl couldn’t fight her way out of a wet paper bag, and yet she’s shown kicking everyone’s ass. Her moves are so slow and choreographed that it really very quickly becomes laughable. What saves this film is the story. The story itself really isn’t that bad, although it does get utterly random at times, leaving you scratching your head at one point in particular, wondering how you just got from point A to point B. In any case, the movie itself is entertaining enough, and the fight scenes, while utterly horrific from a martial arts standpoint, are actually so bad they’re funny. This isn’t a bad film by any means, but Firecracker was better on several levels.
Too Hot to Handle (1977) – Samantha Fox (Cheri Caffaro) is an international hit woman who gets paid by her clients to take out high profile underworld bosses, amongst others. While working on a multiple target job in the Philippines, she meets up with police inspector Domingo De La Torres (Aharon Ipalé) and despite the fact that she’s a suspect after the first killing, and even more of a suspect after the second, the inspector can’t help but fall in love with her, and the feeling is mutual, but the inspector has a job to do, and unfortunately, so does she. Will the two be able to reconcile their personal feelings with their professional responsibilities?
At first thought, one might suspect that the main character’s name is a reference to the famous singer and actress Samantha Fox. This is not the case however, as the now famous Samantha Fox was only ten years old when this film was shot, and eleven when it was released. I guess the character name was supposed to imply that she’s hot (as in a total fox), and even a short review I’m looking at her on IMDB says she’s hot, but I just don’t see it. I personally found her to be rather unattractive and totally not what I would have expected to see in a film of this type. She was actually rather manly looking. The only thing she really had going for her looks-wise was that she was tall. Then they pair her up with police inspector Domingo De La Torres, who has a chest so hairy that it looks like a large animal is sleeping on him when they’re in bed together. I mean seriously, his chest is really something magnificent to behold. They actually make a good pair though oddly enough. in any case, the story in this film is actually the best of the three in some ways, but I really couldn’t get into the main character at all, which is why I would classify Firecracker as being a better film. I will give this one credit though for having a very creative ending, both with the final hit and with the way the relationship ended up between Samantha and Domingo. I won’t spoil it here, but it really was quite well done.
This triple feature Lethal Ladies Roger Corman collection from Shout Factory is another great release in a string of great releases. There are a few companies out there that I can rely on for consistent quality. Shout Factory is high on that list, along with Synapse and a few others. There’s not much in the line of special features in this release other than audio commentary by Cheri Caffaro on Too Hot to Handle and some trailers, but still, the films alone are worth the price of admission, as there’s plenty to have fun with in all three of them.