On Tuesday, February 25th, our final Grindhouse Tuesday of this month is a particularly fun, unique, and special combo which everyone here at the Bev is excited to offer. It’s not just pairing two raucous, crowd-pleasing, one-of-a-kind stories about meting out justice beyond the normal stretch of the law. Each of these movies also involves colorful producers who cultivated a sort of repertory company of performers for the niche films they were making. And as pointed out on the February edition of the Pure Cinema Podcast, they each feature theme songs that will stay in your head days after you’ve watched them.
The evening starts outright super with Sergio Corbucci’s 1980 comedy Super Fuzz. Genial Miami beat cop Dave Speed (Terence Hill) is gifted with otherworldly powers when inadvertently exposed to plutonium during a secret missile test. His new skills make him a crime fighting success, but they also cause distress to his girlfriend Evelyn (Julie Gordon) and his partner Dunlop (Ernest Borgnine). Speed is put to his biggest test when crime boss Torpedo (Marc Lawrence) and his moll Rosie LaBouche (Joanne Dru) set about spreading counterfeit money through the city, and Dunlop, unaware of her underworld ties, starts getting sweet on Rosie. Can this extraordinary public servant stop the fake green and save his brother in blue before everyone starts seeing red?
Poliziotto Superpiù, aka Supersnooper, was the first film project from El Pico, a company created by Cuban expat Josi W. Konski, which over the ‘80s, made several films in Florida, almost all starring Terence Hill and/or his frequent co-star Bud Spencer, shot in English with mostly Italian talent and crew, and usually directed by either Sergio Corbucci, his brother Bruno, or They Call Me Trinity creator Enzo Barboni. Many of the supporting players would reappear in other El Pico films – classic heavy Marc Lawrence played another crook in Cat and Dog with Bud Spencer, comedian Woody Woodbury, here as a NASA representative, played another bureaucrat in Go For It with Hill & Spencer, and character actor Herb Goldstein, playing informant Silvius, did two more with the duo, Who Finds a Friend Finds Treasure and Miami Supercops. Julie Gordon, playing Speed’s girlfriend, would not do any more El Pico films, but would later appear in John Grissmer’s regional Thanksgiving horror Blood Rage with Louise Lasser.
One primary element that has made Super Fuzz unforgettable for generations is its irresistible bouncy theme song, created by musicians Carmelo and Michelangelo La Bionda, who wrote most of the scores and songs for El Pico’s films. The brothers made several pop and “Italo disco” singles in the ‘70s; their ballad “There for Me,” was later covered by Sarah Brightman & Josh Groban. As producers, they propelled another Italian duo, Righeira, onto pop charts with two singles sung in Spanish, “Vamos a la Playa” and “No Tengo Dinero,” which A&M released in America in 1983. They also composed commercial jingles, including “Heart of Cream” for Edgar Wright’s favorite ice cream brand Cornetto, thus creating a direct connection between Super Fuzz and Hot Fuzz. While credited in the film as La Bionda, the Super Fuzz soundtrack album and singles were credited to “The Oceans,” and in this short performance from the German variety show “WWF Club,” unnamed studio musicians take their place to pantomime the title theme.
While most El Pico productions were relegated to overseas markets, Embassy Pictures, who had previously released the Trinity films in America, picked up the U.S. rights to Supersnooper, and after some editing, released it nationwide as Super Fuzz. Though not a significant box office hit, it became a rewatched favorite on cable and videotape for years after. Among its fans are Jody Hill and Danny McBride, who featured scenes of the movie playing on a babysitter’s TV in the third season opening episode of their HBO series “East Bound and Down.” Film historian (and friend of the New Beverly) Howard S. Berger wrote, “[Sergio Corbucci] was a cartoonist as well [as a filmmaker], and that sensibility is what informs the shape of his films, both visually and structurally – it’s also why he was able to switch from dramatic stories to comedy (sometimes within the same film) so deftly.”
Sunny Miami gives way to dirty grimy New York City as a cabal of scheming landlords resort to all sorts of wicked crimes to drive low-income residents out of properties they want to raze and redevelop – water and heat tampering, rat infestation, and hired gang violence. Former boxer Louis Roman (Bob O’Connell) organizes the tenants and stands up to the industrialists, as his martial artist son Charley (Charles Bonet) gathers his friends to counteract the harassment. But when Louis is murdered, Charley devotes himself to mastering his fighting capabilities, and one by one, he will take down everyone responsible for his father’s killing and the neighborhood’s decline. Because all the money in the world can’t fight off a Death Promise, from 1977.
Producer Serafilm Karalexis had previously acquired and released several overseas-made fight movies in America, including Duel of the Iron Fists, before making his own. Drawing from both local and imported talent, he produced The Black Dragon, The Super Weapon, and The Black Dragon’s Revenge, all starring 10-time New York State Full-Contact Karate Champion Ron van Clief. Charles Bonet, one of the earliest Hispanic martial arts competitors, known as “The Latin Panther,” had previously appeared in the latter two films, actor/choroegrapher Thomspon Kao Kang had worked on The Black Dragon, and writer Norbert Albertson Jr. had written The Black Dragon’s Revenge, when they were all recruited to star in what was then titled The Slum Lords, alongside newcomers Richard Brinsley “Speedy” Leacock, operator of the Black Magic Dojo in New York, and Brooklyn-born founder of Chinese-American Goju Ryu Karate, Bill Louie. Former Bonet student and Death Promise crewmember Steven L. Malanoski shared that the story was partly inspired by Bonet being forced to move his facility out of the Bronx due to a rent dispute; the relocated Ridgefield Self-Defense Academy was used in turn for all the training scenes in the film. In a 1977 interview for Marvel Comics’ Deadly Hands of Kung Fu magazine, Karalexis told writer David Anthony Kraft, “I had to find people who were very flexible in personality, because when you deal with karate persons who are very rigid in their attitudes, you can’t make them act… I selected very good fighters to be in it, and some are fighters as well as actors. On top of that, I engulfed all of them with professional actors to carry the load of the storyline.” In sad circumstance, it was revealed by Malanoski that Bonet passed away in late January of this year.
Death Promise would be the sole directorial feature for Robert Warmflash, founder of the respected post studio Warmflash Productions. Around the same time as Death Promise’s release, Warmflash was enlisted by Karalexis’ releasing partner Howard Mahler Films to make edits to Roger Watkins’ infamous “snuff” horror film Last House on Dead End Street, as well as create an original TV spot using no actual footage from the production. Warmflash has since served as post-production supervisor on dozens of film and television projects, including Like Water for Chocolate, When We Were Kings, Capturing the Friedmans, and Tarnation, along with several trailers.
As with Super Fuzz, fans of Death Promise frequently call attention to the punchy funk score by Mike Felder and William Daniels, credited as Opus for the title theme song. The duo previously wrote music for another release from Howard Mahler Films, Woodie King Jr.’s 1976 drama The Long Night aka Steely Brown, starring Dick Anthony Williams. In 1975, under the name Mike & Bill, they released a single, “Somebody’s Gotta Go (Sho Ain’t Me)” on their own Moving Up label, which was quickly picked up by Arista and released nationwide. While neither it nor its followup, “Things Won’t Be This Bad Always,” became major chart or radio hits, the songs were very popular in NY and UK clubs, and today original 45s command high prices among record collectors.
On this Grindhouse Tuesday, come enjoy these two sensational seventies genre favorites, and witness how both vigilante fists and one kindly peace officer can fly, while funky sounds will take hold of your head for days to come! And that’s a promise. A super super promise!