Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Category: Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

The Soul of the 70s: Part Three "Make It Right"

When it comes to 70s exploitation, always bet on black!

Willie Dynamite



Willie Dynamite (Roscoe Orman) is one of New York’s top pimps with a multiracial stable of 7 beautiful women working one of the top hotels in the city. But the law is squeezing in on his trade and his fellow top hustlers want to form a co-operative to make it through this tough time. Willie ain’t a team player, though, so he refuses. His life is further complicated by a former hooker turned activist named Cora (Diana Sands), who has dedicated herself to saving his girl Pashen from the life and finding her respectable work as a model. Thanks to Cora, her district attorney boyfriend (Thalmus Rasulala), and the two cops (George Murdock & Albert Hall) dedicated to bringing him down, Willie’s empire begins to crumble and he’s forced to ask himself if being the flashiest playa in town is worth all of the pain, misery and death it brings.

Pertinent Details

Big Hollywood Producers: While many Blaxploitation movies were made by low budget producers on the fringes of Hollywood culture, Willie Dynamite was actually the second effort by Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown (I wrote about their first film, Sssssss, here) who had previously ran 20th Century Fox together before moving on to work as independent producers at Universal. Their biggest hit together would come a year later, when they made a film about a killer shark named Jaws and played a major role in revitalizing what was then a dying industry.

An Attempt at Authenticity: Because of Zanuck and Brown’s influence, they were able to make sure that their film about a black pimp actually had a black director calling the shots. Willie Dynamite would end up being the first of Gilbert Moses two feature films, the other being the 1979 Julius Irving basketball oddity, The Fish Who Saved Pittsburgh.

Posthumously Released: Though the film is called Willie Dynamite, the film’s most compelling character (and true protagonist) is Cora, who was played by Diana Sands, an actress who would be much better known today were it not for her death from cancer in 1973, four months before the film was released in January of 1974. She was only 39 years old.

Willie Dynamite is an example of a Blaxploitation film that plays with our expectations of the genre, providing us with all of the gaudy glamour and attitude we would expect from a film that features a male main character who walks around in fur coats and drives a purple Cadillac (I’m guessing—I know less than nothing about cars), while also attempting to be a serious examination of a criminal’s fall from grace and possible redemption. It’s a film that both wants you to laugh at it and take it seriously at the same time and the remarkable thing is that it very nearly gets away with it.

The biggest shock for most viewers is seeing Roscoe Orman in the title role—his movie debut. Though you may not recognize his name, if you grew up enjoying the urban adventures in a special place called Sesame Street, then you know his face, since he played the part of Gordon for 35 years. Thanks to his beard and flashy wardrobe he’s almost unrecognizable, but during those brief moments when his future self does show through, the effect can be chilling.

It’s a strong, if occasionally overwrought performance, affected as much by some over dramatic scripting and bad direction as anything else. The best thing about it is Orman’s refusal to seek out our sympathy. Willie is not a likeable guy and many, if not most, of his actions throughout the movie are deplorable, yet somehow, when he denies ownership of the purple car being towed away from his old apartment, it’s impossible not to feel some hope that this symbolic gesture is an actual sign of his choosing a new path and becoming a new man.

It’s a feeling of hope that wouldn’t be possible were it not for the performance of Diana Sands. Her Cora is the film’s true hero and easily the most sympathetic character. When her goal is to take Willie down and rescue Pashen, we remain entirely on her side, completely unconflicted as she breaks the law to do what she feels is right. Yet we also understand her ambivalence when she succeeds and Willie’s life stands in ruins. She doesn’t feel any joy or sense of victory. She’s sad for him and invites him into her house for coffee in the film’s most powerful scene:


But lest you think this all too melodramatic, Willie Dynamite never forgets how absurd and gloriously tacky so many of its characters really are. Because the genre demanded it, Willie gets his own catchy theme song, which we hear twice in the movie and is so awesome I would have bought it from iTunes immediately after I heard it if it were available:


This is a movie where we actually see a brotherhood of pimps discussing their business a la Black Dynamite (whose name suggest this effort served as a major inspiration). Their leader, Bell, is played so over the top by Roger Robinson, he actually could have been lifted whole and placed in that satire without changing a single vocal inflection. He’s a parody of a parody, but his presence doesn’t take the whole thing down. Instead he’s an amusing note in an often-serious film that takes pains to show that there are actual consequences for the women ruled over by these men.

Not a perfect movie, the film still manages to deliver the goods we expect, but in a way that allows us to enjoy the spectacle without feeling like we’re supporting it. Willie is less an anti-hero than an asshole with just enough humanity that after we’ve seen him taken down, we’re ready to see him built back up—hopefully as someone less destructive and with much better taste.

Bad Mother--SHUT YOUR MOUTH! Rating: 7 Fur Hats out of 10

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: Part One "The Squad With the Misleading Name"

Girls just want to have fun, but there are so many psychos out there who refuse to let them. Mark my words, those bastards are gonna pay.With their balls!

Rape Squad



Linda (Jo Anne Harris) is a part-time student and food truck operator whose peace is forever shattered when she’s raped by a maniac in an orange jumpsuit and hockey mask. Based on his nasty quirk of forcing his victims to sing “Jingle Bells” while he attacks them, the police determine she’s his fifth victim, but haven’t figured out a way to identify or stop him. Frustrated by the law’s impotence, Linda convinces her fellow victims to form a “Rape Squad” dedicated to protecting other women and getting revenge on rapists who’ve escaped the law. Their attacker notices their efforts and devises a plan to relive his vile experiences—this time with all five women at once. Only fate will tell if the “Rape Squad” is ready for him.

Pertinent Details

Alternate Title: Probably because Rape Squad sounds more like a movie about a squad dedicated to committing rape, rather than avenging it, the film was also released—and is currently available—under the title of Act of Vengeance.

Use of Sporting Goods: Rape Squad’s villain disguised himself with a hockey mask a full eight years before Jason Voorhies famously adopted the same look in Friday the 13th Part III.

Feminist Fake Out: Though some viewers might be led to believe that the presence of female writer Betty Conklin would result in a more tasteful and less exploitative depiction of its difficult subject matter, the reality is she didn’t exist and is instead the pseudonym of David Kidd, who also co-wrote (with Jack Hill) The Swinging Cheerleaders as Conklin that same year.

Of all the various exploitation genres, rape/revenge films are easily the trickiest and most problematic in today’s cultural landscape, especially those made in the 1970s, when many of them were made to titillate as much as they were to educate. Even those with the noblest of intentions remain controversial and find themselves accused of contributing to the misogyny they would appear to be fighting against.

Rape Squad isn’t one of those noble efforts. As much as it pays lip service to the way the justice system violates women as much as any rapist and allows its characters to confront the asshole dudes clueless enough to mock their violation, the fact is the film remains mostly an excuse to showcase their bodies in various stages of undress. Each of the film’s various rape scenes are clearly more focused on exposing the breasts of each actress rather than the crimes they are supposedly depicting.

It also hurts the film that each member of the “Rape Squad” is so poorly drawn. It wasn’t until the end of the movie that I finally knew all of their names, and—besides Linda—none of them are given a clear personality to separate themselves from one another. They’re all just victims, several of whom only seem mildly interested in the project that unites them.

Still, there are some good moments to be found and nuggets that suggest director Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream) could have made a better movie if he had a less feeble script to work with. The scene where the squad confronts a rapist who was acquitted by a court biased against women is as good as any you’ll find in this kind of film, even if it chickens out in the end. Even better is the scene where the squad take down a pimp trying to force a woman who wants to escape “the life” back out onto the street.

Ultimately, though, Rape Squad is too timid for its own good. The sudden violence at the end feels out of place in a film previously more interested in exposing flesh than depicting vigilante justice. The result is far more Lipstick than Ms. 45.

Cut Their Balls Off Rating: 1 measly testicle out of 5.