Back when I reviewed American Grindhouse, I ruminated on the definition of "grindhouse." It's a specific term, but genre fans tend to use it in a loose, all-encompassing way. Despite the fact that the meaning is somewhat nebulous, there is a smattering of films that can be identified as 100% "grindhouse." Pure exploitation, the kind of cinema that smells of menthol and rat droppings. From now on, when someone asks me to recommend an archetypal "grindhouse" flick, I will point to 1975's Johnny Firecloud. Every fixture of this species of filmmaking (and make no mistake; it's a species) is accounted for. Rape, revenge, racial injustice, a funky score, blunt violence...it's almost as if director William Castleman kept a list of "grindhouse" checkpoints in his pocket.
I'm tired of typing "grindhouse." The plot? Well, a Native American (Mr. Firecloud) returns from overseas to find his homestead rife with bigotry-charged unease. The reservation that he was born and raised on happens to be in the middle of a small town, a small town controlled by white rednecks. The sheriff is powerless. He was blackmailed by a pecunious rancher who threatens to broadcast his scandalous past, which would effectively mar his reputation. What do these self-serving rednecks do for fun? They humiliate minorities, namely Indians. Johnny's grandfather, a proud chief who drowns his sorrows in any liquor that is handed to him, is forced to perform a war dance at the local bar in exchange for booze.
Johnny's friend, a raven-haired schoolteacher played by Sacheen Littlefeather, is literally raped to death. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Normally, I don't linger on a synopsis, but the actions of the intolerant denizens in Johnny Firecloud are important. They shock you into empathizing with the protagonists. Certain scenes are hard to watch, but the raw ugliness of the first two acts makes the third act that much more enjoyable. Johnny becomes a fucking man. "Comeuppance" would be an understatement. You know a film did something right when you're cheering at the appropriate times. In this case, I cheered whenever an empty-headed puritan met a smarting demise. Heh, smarting...that's definitely an understatement.
I'm surprised that Johnny Firecloud isn't more popular. The acting is believable, and Castleman does wonders with a piddling budget. Most of the flaws are inconsequential, although I wasn't fond of the ending. It's too easy. Plus, it leaves one of the baddies above ground. I won't name the culprit, but man, the viewer is screwed out of a major payoff. Still, it would be in your best interest to buy/download Johnny Firecloud. I don't watch this brand of exploitation very often (y'know, the brand that Quentin Tarantino has made a career out of parroting), but I can get behind sleazy tales of revenge when they are executed with poise. Johnny is poised. He's a fucking man!
Posted by Dom Coccaro at 10:35 PM