Guyana: Crime of the Century (1979)

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Guyana: Crime of the Century for a while and can say that I was not disappointed.  The only reason I dropped the grade from 4 to 3 iron crosses is because maybe there could have been a little bit more editing and the lighting was incredibly dim.  I don’t know if that’s the DVD transfer or  the way it was shot.  If it was the DVD, then I apologize.

Either way, Rene Cardona Jr.’s film received the hilarious “zero stars” from Roger Ebert when he saw the film at the beginning of 1980.  The version he saw was actually called Guyana: Cult of the Damned (not to be confused with the 1969 film Cult of the Damned) and was edited down to 96 minutes from the unneccesarily long 115 minute version I saw and had a voice-over narration.  That might have been a slightly tighter, more compact film.

But why am I arguing technique when the only reason I watched the movie was to see if it is as tasteless, shocking and repulsive as its reputation?  The Jonestown massacre is officially considered the largest loss of American lives at a single time before 9/11 and what makes it even more disturbing is the fact that the Reverand Jim Jones was such a well respected public figure.  Under a socialist guise, he united people of various ethnicities and races and promoted equality.  He was praised by a number of public figures like Walter Mondale and Rosalyn Carter.

So what went wrong?  Of course no questions are answered in Guyana: Crime of the Century.  If you want a real documentary about the topic, check out Jonestone: Life and Death of Peoples Temple.  Cardona’s film is an exploitation film.

There isn’t much plot to the film really.  Rev. James Johnson (Stuart Whitman) does a bunch of over the top, Hitler-like sermons in spite of preaching against Hitler, tyranny, violence and bigotry.  The people believe and follow him from San Francisco to their tiny, self-constructed colony called Johnstontown in the jungles of Guyana.

At first a few people bitch about not getting any better food than rice and bread.  Soon, three children are brutally punished for petty theft.  This is where the dim lighting really annoyed me.  Was the one kid dipped in tar, hot oil or just water?  One kid had electric shockers put on his balls and one was covered in snakes, I guess.  There’s another scene where a man is punished for having sex with his wife by being forced to do the sexual act with a big black guy.  Unfortunately we don’t get to see this part.  There’s also a scene where reporters go into a giant shack to see a bunch of bodies stowed away like in a “slave galley.”

There are a few scenes that follow the real life narrative, particularly when the movie version of Congressman Leo Ryan along with some reporters visits Jonestown in order to bring back some of its prisoners resulting in their being gunned down.  Also Joseph Cotton and Yvonne De Carlo play toss-aside roles as lawyer and press person, etc.

But, as expected, the true impact lies in the gruesome climax.  It starts with the Jim Jones speech as people line up to drink koolaid.  Then we see people forcing others to drink the substance, we see a horrified woman shrieking that she doesn’t want to die, we see a mother feeding the substance to her baby then to herself and then clutching her baby as she crumples to the floor.  But, above all, we see Rev. James Johnson from the perspective of the dying temple members in a psychedelic sepia tone, which, given this stylistic choice, sorta proves Cardona wasn’t going for a truly documentary vibe with this.  At the end, the camera shows us the sign that says, “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  Yep, it’s a message movie.

Tintorera: Killer Shark (1977)

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This is the second night in row that I’ve been mislead by a movie’s title and poster. And, incidentally, in both cases, the alleged blood and gore were replaced by copious amounts of nudity. Strangely, Tintorera: Killer Shark is the first film I’ve seen from Mexican director Rene Cardona Jr., who I otherwise wouldn’t know about except that I’m dying to see Guyana: Crime of the Century (and now Terror Storm and The Bermuda Triangle have piqued my interest as well).

But daaamn… it’s hard to fathom that a b movie about a killer shark could be 2 hours and 6 minutes long except for the fact that Jaws is two hours long and Tintorer: Killer Shark isn’t about a killer shark.

Okay, it sort of is since there is a killer shark in the movie. But most of this ridiculous film’s running time concerns two shark hunters played by Hugo Stiglitz and Andreas Garcia (who resembles Elliot Gould) and their attempt to shack up with as many women as possible.

Holy hell, this movie is so bad and stupid it’s surreal. There’s no beat or structure to it; there’s just scene after pointless scene in which people meet up in a cantina, beach or late night dance, bed together, have romantic montages in various locations – including a particularly pretty one atop some ancient pyramids – before something goes wrong and it starts over again.  Somewhere, in all of this, there is a plot about a killer shark – the kind that attacks you if you provoke it.  How this got marketed as a piggy-back off Jaws, I have no clue.

The shark kills exactly two people in the entire movie.  The first is a woman over whom the two main characters are pining after.  Neither character inquires about her disappearance.  She’s gone and that’s that and let’s move on to other women.  More than halfway through, they start a sex triangle with Susan George who must have been starved for work after her performance in the abominable Mandingo.  And this is where the movie gets a bit more interesting.  All of a sudden, there are copious amounts of homo-erotic insinuations including their “sharing” of George in one sex act – which is unfortunately not shown – to blatant closeups and point of view shots from our two characters which imply they might have a secret attraction to each other.

That’s how damn weird this movie; where is the shark, goddamit?  Eventually we get to a climax where one of the guys hunts the shark down to avenge the other (oh spoiler!) as if the shark killed the guy out of maliciousness because, ya know, sharks think like that.  Then, after that, it flashes back to Susan George and the two guys for some reason, as if to remind the audience of the love they once shared.  Wow.

Oh, and this movie isn’t exactly female friendly either.  All of the women are just sex-crazy and jump into bed the second they are asked.  The most creepy scene is when two thrill seeking women who have nothing to do with the plot get sexually assaulted atop an orange truck but, instead of being repulsed by the two ugly, overweight rapists, they unzip the old jeans and get busy; cuz ya know, being raped can be good time as long as it’s in a foreign country atop an orange truck.

Say!  That’s a unique coincidence, isn’t it?  Susan George has now been in two films where a woman who is being raped begins to enjoy the experience – the other is Straw Dogs where George is the woman in case you’re wondering.

What else is there to say about this film?  Nuttin’, it sucks but it’s weird so I guess watch it but be warned that it’s over two hours long and has almost nothing to do with the shark.

Also, I think the DVD we were watching was defective.  We wanted English dubbing because acting is negligible for this type of movie. So they’re talking in English.  Then they’re talking in Spanish so I thought those are just minor parts that we don’t need to understand.  Then, after they started talking in Spanish for long periods of time, I put on the sub-titles so I’d understand it and turns out they were saying things that were relevant to the plot.  Then they would switch back to English – sometimes in the same conversation – and the subtitles for the English parts would be in Spanish!  If you happen to stumble upon this review and have seen this movie on DVD, can you tell me if you’ve experienced the same thing?