Monday, March 29, 2010

Savage Sisters (1974)

Directed by Eddie Romero
Starring Cheri Caffaro, Gloria Hendry, John Ashley, Sid Haig
Rated R

"No comment, porkchop."

Still-kicking Fillipino B-movie auteur Eddie Romero cut his teeth by writing, producing, and/or directing dozens of home-grown productions in the 40's and 50's before branching off into the lucrative world of cheapo exploitation in the mid 1960's. His most enduring foray into exploitation is his "Blood" trilogy: Mad Doctor of Blood Island (1968), Brides of Blood (1968), and Beast of Blood (1971), but, aside from some berserk trailers narrated by Brother Theodore, his monsters-in-the-jungle flicks are virtually interchangeable with his women-in-prison flicks (Big Doll House, 1971; Black Mama, White Mama (1973) or his war flicks (The Ravagers, 1965) or, indeed, Savage Sisters, which is all of that mashed together, pretty much.

The war, in this case, is of the guerilla variety. A charismatic (but strangely absent) rebel leader has recruited his beautiful American girlfriend Jo (Professional sourpuss Cheri Caffaro) into his gang of bridge-blowing insurrectionists. Jo and native girl Mai Ling (Rosanna Ortiz) have assembled a crack gang of panicky teenage girls to help them explode the bridge that divides....actually, that part is never really explained. At any rate, they get nabbed by the local policia and tossed in the clink, where they are interrogated by hard-assed secret operative Lynn (blaxploitation vet Gloria Hendry). Eventually, the three "Savage Sisters" band together to kill...well, somebody.

Meanwhile, Romero's go-to leading man John Ashley (RIP) saunters around the island, making dirty deals with whoever's willing, including a full-tilt gonzo Sid Haig, who gulps down huge chunks of scenery as crazed Mexican (!) bandit Malevael, who has his squinty eyes on a missing suitcase stuffed with one million US dollars. Where'd the money come from? Hard to say, but everybody, including the crooked cops, the savage sisters, smooth-talking huckster WP Billingsly (Ashley), a drunken airplane pilot, a wheelchair bound skipper named Peg Leg, and Haig and his not-so-merry men (including Fillipino b-flick vet Victor Diaz, in an eyepatch and too-small pants) are out to get it.

Confusing - but always entertaining - mayhem ensues.

OK, so Savage Sisters makes no sense. But the actual story is incidental to the film's wild, raw energy. In many ways, Savage Sisters is like a two-dollar Filipino Apocalypse Now, or at least Hearts of Darkness, Apoc's blood n' guts making-of documentary. That same anything-goes vibe is present in both films. You get the feeling that all this craziness would probably be happening anyway. It just so happens they had cameras around to film it. Surely, if there really was a million dollars in a suitcase somewhere on the island, and Sid Haig was tanked to the tits on Tequila and weed (which seems quite likely, given his eyeball-bulging performance here) and dressed up in that Sombrero and poncho outfit, he'd recruit a bunch of machete-wielding locals and hack his way through the competition to get it. This, I am sure of. Every one in the film looks, and acts, half-mad, as if they are loaded on painkillers, high on hallucinogenic jungle roots, suffering from mild Malaria, and pondering their miserable fates as garbage-movie makers while baking under a merciless summer sun. On the surface, it's typical mid 70's bottom-of-the-bill drive-in junk. Simmering underneath, though? Bug-fuck madness. It's awe-inspiring stuff.

Cheri Cafarro, who was still riding high as a trash-film cult queen at the time, took three years before making another movie - 1977's Hot to Handle, an unofficial semi-sequel to her Ginger superspy thrillogy. And that was it for her. Exploitation fans the world over still wait patiently for her eventual comeback. As far everyone else, Savage Sisters was merely a lost weekend among many. Sadly, it remains one of Eddie Romero's most obscure films. There was a spotty VHS release in the 80's - the source for the few prints still floating around - and it's never received a DVD release. That's a shame because, while it never achieves - or even grasps for - greatness, Savage Sisters' cult-baiting cast and its loony-tunes verve would surely please hardcore sleaze beasts. They most definitely don't make them like this anymore. There's laws in place now.

- Ken McIntyre

PS: You can watch the whole film on large-screen Youtube HERE!

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