When it comes to B-movies, sometimes, too much is indeed a bad thing.
Over the past year or so, the crew over at Shout! Factory have been graciously giving the world a cavalcade of B-grade pictures pertaining to the world of Roger Corman, and those films he was either directly behind, or somehow inspired. Take their latest release for example.
This past week, Shout saw the release of their ‘˜Lethal Ladies’ two disc DVD set, and its films Firecracker, TNT Jackson, and Too Hot To Handle. All films focusing on badass women and the badass ways they kick bad ass, they also share various other similarities, be it the tightness of their budget, or the fact that frankly, none are as entertaining as their hilariously great titles happen to be.
First up, we have Too Hot To Handle, which itself is featured as the sole film on the second disc. The film, directed by Don Schain, stars Cheri Caffaro and follows the story of a contract killer who falls for a detective investigating a series of murders of which she is directly related.
As far as a film goes, Too Hot To Handle is arguably this release’s most engaging watch. Featuring a cavalcade of nudity and crummy performances, Too Hot To Handle also features a few really fun set pieces, and a fun score. Performance wise, Caffaro is amazingly wooden here, giving an overly earnest performance, one so cartoonish in its strive for realism, that it is simply too hard to ignore. Schain’s direction is fun and lively, and while the transfer is uncanny in its mediocrity, it’s still an entertaining film to dig through. And honestly, when cracking open one of these releases, fun is all one can truly hope for. Lacking a single intellectual bone in its body, Too Hot To Handle is really this release’s crown jewel, as while the depth may not be there, the drunken chuckles that you and your buddies will have watching this sucker definitely are.
And then you have the first disc. That damned first disc.
First up, there is the much talked about, the much maligned, and the much disgraced, TNT Jackson. Following the story of martial arts expert Diana Jackson, who heads to Hong Kong to hunt her down her missing brother, the film is believed to truly be one of the worst films every put to screen, and honestly, that description isn’t even close to be truthful enough.
With any film of this ilk, the fun the viewer has is almost as important as the narrative, the intellectual depth, or God forbid, emotional wherewithal. And this is ultimately TNT Jackson’s biggest flaw. It’s just awfully stale. Performance wise, each actor gives an overly wooden turn, almost giving stage-type performances, opting for oozing melodrama as opposed to anything remotely resembling a truly cinematic performance. Star Jeanne Bell is the biggest sinner here, giving the definitive performance for those trying to describe what a B-movie turn truly is. Stan Shaw plays an interesting brute here, giving the closest thing to a breath of fresh air to this otherwise stuffy bit of action melodrama, but it’s hardly enough to save this picture.
Directed by Cirio H. Santiago, TNT Jackson’s next biggest sin has to be its lack of intriguing set pieces. Save for a jaw-droppingly comedic topless fight scene (which can also be seen in each of the supporting two films on this release as well, oddly enough), the film’s direction is uninspired, derivative, and hammy. Without anything thematically or intellectually interesting below the surface here, one may resort to focusing on the superficial aspects of the picture, and this is about as visually striking as a pile of cigarette ashes. And that’s doing a disservice to the cancer sticks in question.
And finally, there is Firecracker, which pops as good as a dud. Neither as fun as Too Hot nor as horrific as TNT, the film, helmed by Santiago as well, the film shares many of TNT’s flaws, but also lacks the cartoonish set pieces that make TNT at least somewhat watchable. Despite having a fine cast, led by Jillian Kesner, the acting here is laughably melodramatic without anything resembling an emotional core, and the direction makes many film school documentaries look like Paul Thomas Anderson features. Narratively, the film follows a woman who is on the hunt for her missing sister, and there is absolutely no intrigue and the moments shot to thrill are wholly unengaging.
That all said, if this release had only had something remotely resembling a worthwhile list of supplements, this writer would have no issue recommending it. But instead, we get nothing. Absolutely nothing.
There are trailers on each film, and given that it’s the sole film on its own disc, Too Hot features a fine commentary with star Cheri Caffaro. It’s an interesting and entertaining commentary that isn’t too deep, but also holds its own as a reason to give a rewatch to Too Hot. Technically, these are what one has come to expect from a Shout release. Horrible transfers and even worse audio tracks abound here, with the dual film disc looking almost unwatchable. These films admittedly aren’t the most beloved when it comes to their prints, but one would have to imagine that more love should be given. That said, for the small price for the set, one must also notice that for fans, this is one hell of a deal.
Overall, these releases, as always, should be seen. Something has to be said for this type of film, and Shout has become genius at feeding B-movie hounds and their appetites. None of these pictures hold much weight within the greater scheme of thing cinematically, but they rightfully have a place in the world. And it’s one that is being mined wonderfully by Shout and these releases.