Saturday, December 31, 2011

Rape Squad (1974)

"Sisters stop rape now!"

A share of films have a give and take process where they attempt to blend serious subjects with different modes of entertainment usually so they can keep one's attention span and an ear glued to what they have to say...still with me? This picture takes that sentiment to a whole other level when the subject is about rape. Not to mention a rapist with a distinct m.o.: wants women to fight him, to scream--normal stuff as it's about power and control--but then has an outlandish outfit of a hockey mask and an orange jump suit all before two big slasher pictures would use them. Not only that but he wants them to sing "Jingle Bells" while in the act so he can get off. A thick skin is a must when approaching this over-the-top film where you have to wonder which areas were intentionally amusing or not. I guess that's what you get when you make a film that attempts to mix two polar opposites: seriousness and exploitation with no middle ground to smooth them together.

After a series of women are raped by the same man, the police don't want to go out of their way to stop him, so five fierce females band together to form the "Rape Squad." All men in the film are either insensitive and uncaring: "Stop rape? Why that's my favorite sport," one of them says. Women are championed here to rise above but these aren't feminists, just typical independent '70s women who want their dignity and a sense of control back in their lives. That includes taking karate classes to defend themselves, though not changing a single shred about their attire because they don't feel they asked for it. They get a little taste of vengeance and empowerment with some known perpetrators after putting up fliers for their cause, but then face dangers when the Jingle Bell rapist is still at large and following their every move with self-reflective memoirs to show for it.

To its credit, the women have actions that seem more plausible for their capabilities. They use seduction to trap men who took advantage of other females. Not to mention, they might only do minor property damage, rather than something that's far too elaborate such as with "Thriller: A Cruel Picture" and how she's an unstoppable revenge machine once signing up for some classes and throwing on a trench coat. The tone is all over the place for the duration and the pacing feels a little up and down as they do a few misadventures till the final showdown that makes the women look somewhat inept after their growth and struggle to get there. Yeah, this is no "Charlie's Angels" when it comes to action or "The Last House on the Left" when it comes to brutal revenge. But the film does have its charms and has some replay value due to how outrageous some of its setups are. The movie is so inappropriate that you have to wonder if it was on purpose, such as romantic music during a rape scene where the woman is pleading and the guy is acting disgustingly sleazy. Or be it the sheer timing of an important discussion when all of the women are nude in a hot tub together. I couldn't imagine being the director during that scene with a straight face while giving out character motivations. The movie will try to make you laugh, cheer and feel a round of emotions for them, though the first is usually what this film does best.

The women get their comeback lines in but the strange part is the bad guy is given much more snappy ones to remember. Even then, this has far too much dialogue from the villain to be considered scary or intimidating. He's got a smooth talking southern drawl and enough witty catch phrases to fill a small quote book. "What're you running away for? All we're gonna do is make looove! Now, there's nothin' much wrong with that is there? Matter of fact this is your lucky day, you know why? 'Cause you're with the best lady. You are with the ever lovin' best! Matter of fact I think you should say 'thank you Mr. Rapist for choosing me.' " Or: "Yeah, music is always good with ballin'." Even: "So, who are you?" "Oh, I'm just your friendly neighborhood hockey player."

I'm not sure "Rape Squad" gave any man a run for his money or a woman the true power to take back whatever male dominated society took. It's an offbeat concept gone awry but still watchable for all of its missteps along the way. The movie definitely gets an A for personality and effort, as otherwise it would have been a belly flop with winches all around from the spectators. There was an actual point where the film gave some perspective to walk away with contemplation. In the beginning it shows a colorful version of the act on the main character Linda (Jo Anne Harris) that felt more cinematic than real, but it isn't until it concentrates on the after effects does it get the tumblers rolling. For instance, how the police have limited resources, how they treat you more like a suspect or a file number than a victim with a name, and then how you're examined on a table with more strangers without even getting emotional support or time to heal yet. Other than that the movie plays more so on simple entertainment for lack of anything else to say that hasn't been said better, though it's still a lighter contrast to some of the harder hitting films that dealt with the subject such as "The Virgin Spring" and "Straw Dogs" that are going to demand more emotions and time for reflection.

Rating: 6.5/10

Director: Bob Kelljan (Count Yorga, Vampire, Scream Blacula Scream)
Stars: Jo Ann Harris, Peter Brown
Link: IMDB

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