With the impending release of the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double bill retro-fest Grindhouse, numerous publications have been proffering their lists of the quintessential genre classics. Rodriguez and Tarantino have also been on tap to give their most inspirational choices. There have been a lot of repeat mentions, such as Escape from New York, Vanishing Point and Lucio Fulci's Zombie, and while I agree with and love all of the films discussed, I figured I'd throw down some alternative titles absent from most polls. I also tried to keep the list limited to releases from the 70s, the heart of the Grindhouse era (before home video shattered its throne in the early 80s). I also tried not to go too obscure, but if you dig deeper on that there internet you'll find a ton of cool stuff that hasn't even hit DVD yet. So here are my ten picks, in no particular order:



Shock Waves – 1977 / Starring John Carradine, Peter Cushing and Brooke Adams / Directed by Ken Wiederhorn (Return of the Living Dead Part II)

Even when you watch this on home video on state of the art equipment, you feel like you're sitting on a damaged chair in a sleazy, run-down, bowels-of-the-city fourth-run movie theater. As an alternative to the more popular and well-known zombie movies (Fulci's Zombie has been getting a ton of attention lately), this one offers a little extra – Nazis!

Peter Cushing plays a Mengele-like mad doctor who has created a superhuman team of undead, underwater, ubermensch warriors. It's got it all – grainy film stock, island locales, naked people, and did I mention Nazi Zombies? When they first emerge from the water wearing their shock troop uniforms and creepy goggles, you know you're watching cinema greatness!



Assault on Precinct 13 – 1976 / Starring Austin Stoker and Darwin Joston / Written and Directed by John Carpenter

Most of these lists have been dropping Escape from New York as a prime Grindhouse goodie (mainly because Kurt Russell stars in Tarantino's effort – Death Proof), but as much as I love me some Escape, it still seems a bit too close to the mainstream to qualify as a Grindhouse picture. Watch Assault on Precinct 13, however, and you're in for some real awesome exploitation!

An urbanized retelling of Howard Hawk's Rio Bravo, it sees a lone cop (guarding a soon-to-be-derelict police station) forced to team up with a prisoner once the local gangs come out of the mist for some deadly retribution. It also has the notorious ‘Ice Cream Truck Scene', which made my jaw hit the floor when I saw it for the first time. If you want to be cooler than cool, put some soda stains on your TV screen and give this one a spin!



Werewolves on Wheels – 1971 / Starring Stephen Oliver, Barry McGuire, Duece Berry/ Directed by Michael Levesque

This just may be the single coolest film on this list, and I have to thank an old friend and coworker for dumping his collection of old VHS tapes onto me, or I may never have encountered its greatness. I was tearing through tons of 70s and 80s trash movies, and while the title of this one was catchy, I wasn't expecting absolute greatness. What I got was a bizarre concoction of Easy Rider (W.O.W. was produced by Rider producer Paul Lewis) and a Ken Russell film. It's really well shot and has remarkably natural sounding dialogue from a bunch of relative nobody actors. Plus there's the incredibly cool subversive rock music by Don Gere.

It takes a bunch of lame, wannabe badass bikers (The Devil's Advocates) and introduces them to a sect of bona fide Satanists who dwell in the California hills. From there things get weird, and although there's really only one werewolf on wheels (and he doesn't start riding until the last ten minutes of the film), there's so much ancillary oddness on display that it hardly matters. It eventually becomes a commentary on the evil within oneself, but if you want to skip that and focus on the boobs and hogs go for it.

I can't believe this film made it onto DVD, and even more insane is that there's a great commentary track on it from the director and his co-writer David F. Kaufman. If owning Assault on Precinct 13 makes you cooler than cool, than having this is like showering in liquid nitrogen, baby!



Gone in 60 Seconds – 1974 / Starring H.B. ‘Toby' Halicki and ‘Eleanor' the Mustang / Directed, Produced, Written and Everythinged by H.B. Halicki

While Vanishing Point is pretty much the best car chase film of all time, I also have fondness for this one, which is famous for its forty minute chase scene involving a 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1. This thing feels cheap, down to the fact that the bulk of the dialogue seems to have been recorded after the fact, and no effort was made to sync it up later. Most of the time, the talking is layered over secondary imagery in a pseudo-narrative style. It almost works, but not quite.

But once that Mustang gets roaring, who cares? An extra element of this film's appeal is the questionable legality of it all. Halicki and his team were skirting on the fringes of danger, and any one setup could have ended in disaster, death or both. It's all about tearing it up and getting away with being as irresponsible as you like. What's not to love?



Suspiria – 1977 / Starring Jessica Harper, Stefania Cassini, Joan Bennett and Udo Kier / Directed by Dario Argento

Argento, who joins Lucio Fulci and the Bavas as a master of Italian horror, finds his way onto many lists through his early giallo (or thriller) The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. This was the first Argento film I saw, and nothing can really prepare you for that first delve into his whirling, Hitchcockian realm of madness and insanely vivid colors. Like most of his peers, mood and dream logic rules the day. So if you can't make heads or tales of the plot, relax – and then freak out when you have to crawl through razor wire and maggots!

Jessica Harper is an American ballerina studying at a German dance academy that just may have ties to witchcraft. The mix of English and Italian speaking actors makes for an interesting end result, since it appears each actor was allowed to speak their lines in their native tongue. In the final print some people are dubbed, yet others are not. It kind of adds to the madness. If the first ten minutes don't have you hooked, then you're already dead! Also keep an eye out for the deliriously artsy pseudo-sequel Inferno.




Black Belt Jones – 1974 / Starring Jim Kelly and Gloria Hendry / Directed by Robert Clouse

Sure, it's considered one of the worst films ever made, but when Bruce Lee had the nerve to go and die, Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse had to do something with his time! Dragon co-star Jim Kelly steps into the titular role as a no-nonsense blaxploitation kung-fu master who fights off the mob (who use heavies named Big Tuna and Jelly) when they try to destroy Scatman Crothers' beloved martial arts dojo. You heard me – Hong Kong Phooey has his own school! Extra points to the production for using Gloria Hendry and Earl Jolly Brown, both of Live and Let Die fame.

The fighting is cool, but the over the stratosphere mega-cheese dialogue is what makes it! Instead of just bedding a lady, Mr. Jones lets her know that he's gonna fight her first to “make her sweat one way… and then the other!” Awwww, yeah! (cue Sexual Healing)



Message From Space – 1978 / Starring Sonny Chiba and Vic Morrow / Directed by Kinji Fukasaku

Long before he was corrupting Columbine-minded youths with the uber-violent kids-versus-kids film Battle Royale , director Kinji Fukasaku was corrupting cinema screens with this trashy Star Wars rip-off. As a young sci-fi geek, I unfortunately dragged my parents off to see every single sub-Lucas space adventure. I was a little too young to realize that films like this and Roger Corman's Battle Beyond the Stars kinda sucked.

It also pulls a Godzilla move by tempering Sonny Chiba's outrageous Asian-ness with the presence of studly American Vic Morrow. According to the IMDb it was a television pilot for a short-lived series, but I can't imagine why audiences wouldn't want to watch more adventures about magical, glowing testes. (You have to see it, honest.) My mother still to this day will not forgive me for making her watch this movie. Freedom to planet Jillucia!



Beach of the War Gods – 1973 / Starring Jimmy Wang Yu and Fei Lung / Directed by Yu Wang

Most of the time people recommend Master of the Flying Guillotine or One Armed Swordsman as the Jimmy Wang Yu flick of choice, but I've got a soft spot for this little Rice Western that is basically a Hong Kong take on Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, set in the Ming Dynasty. Jimmy's Hsiao Feng strolls into a coastal town that's being pestered by Japanese pirates. After killing some of them (with chopsticks!!!), he gathers a group of warriors (including a knife aficionado who reminds me of Danny Trejo's character in Desperado ) to ward off the eventual wave of Japanese invaders.

And by ‘ward off' I mean kick their asses back to Edo Castle! Everything builds up to the enormous beach battle, which doesn't let up once it gets going. Not only do you get some awesome man-to-man combat, but the villagers have also rigged the sands with numerous booby traps as well. Then there's the ultimate fuzzy distortion guitar soundtrack, which is three or four notches above pure awesomeness! Try to hunt down a non-dubbed version if you can and hold on to your socks!



Raw Meat – 1972 / Starring Donald Pleasance, David Ladd, Sharon Gurney / Directed by Gary Sherman

Here's a twisted little piece of British nastiness, which probably influenced the equally icky Clive Barker story The Midnight Meat Train. Ladd and Gurney star as two nice young kids who discover that people tend to go missing from a certain stop on the tube line. Apparently there was an accident when the rail-lines were being built, and a number of workers were buried alive. But did they die, or just mutate and procreate? And if they are still around, I'd bet a few pence that they'd be mighty hungry for tasty human flesh!

Donald Pleasance adds life to the film as a freakazoid police officer. Imagine his character from Halloween juiced on speed, and that's kind of what you have here. I don't know what's scarier – him or the cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. The film also earns extra points for one of the coolest titles around. Go buy this and take a taxi home. It's safer.




Over the Edge – 1979 / Starring Matt Dillon, Michael Eric Kramer and Pamela Ludwig / Directed by Jonathan Kaplan

I'm kind of cheating here, since this film was considered too shocking to release in theaters, and wound up on HBO a few years later. But it should've been in the grindhouse, damn it! Michael Eric Kramer plays the new kid, who lives in one of those sprawling suburban nightmares that Geddy Lee sings about. Matt Dillon shows him the ropes, and the hemp, and the hash, and… just about every drug you can think of. These kids like screwin' and partyin', but school… not so much.

Eventually the kids get so out of control on reefer and Cheap Trick songs that they take over the world by locking all the ‘grups' inside the high school during a community conference. (My favorite character is the mute kid who always rides around on his skateboard.) It may be a little too real for true grindhouse status (see Switchblade Sisters for some sillier ‘youth gone wild' antics.), but damned if it didn't capture the seedier elements of the seventies. This movie may actually make you want to live in a van down by the river!