Saturday, June 11, 2016

THE BLACK GESTAPO - BLU-RAY REVIEW

The BLACK GESTAPO (1975) is one of the many lowly Blaxploitation flicks that emerged out of the ’70s, but despite the rather pitiful budget, exploitation auteur Lee Frost nonetheless fashioned one of the more outrageous efforts of the time, and thanks to the fine efforts of Code Red, this exploitation staple is finally made available on Blu-ray in a real eye-popping transfer that puts all of the previous PD bootlegs to shame.

General Ahmed (Rod Perry) is the leader of the People’s Army, an activist group – although they sure do look like a militant bunch! – that is trying to clean up the L.A. ghettos with the help of a government grant (“Blacks helping blacks with white money.”) by setting up food banks and even a ‘detoxification unit’ run by Marsha (Angela Brent), Ahmed’s girlfriend.  However, they are constantly at odds with the local mob headed by Vincent (director Frost himself), a Brooklyn mobster now running his operation out of L.A who (quote) “…coulda had Harlem, but I wanted sunshine and swimming pools.”  When a couple of Vincent’s goons, Ernest (producer Wes Bishop) and Vito (Phil Hoover) rape Marsha, Ahmed’s second-in-command, Kojah (Charles T. Robinson), vows revenge, much to the chagrin of Ahmed (“You can’t take the law into your own hands!”), who eventually allows him to have a ‘security force’ of six men, who are (quote) “only to protect.”  Of course, Kojah is soon embroiled in an all-out war as he and HIS men first eliminate most of Vincent’s syndicate and then begin to assume control of the drugs, prostitution and shakedown rackets.

Far from “good”, this is Frost’s only Blaxploitation effort, whose title group was clearly modelled after the black nationalist group The Black Panthers (1966-1982) and their increasing popularity – and notoriety – in the early ’70s.  Even though this is set among the confines of a down’n’dirty exploitation film, and despite the film’s almost farcical depictions of both the mob and The People’s Army, it’s still hard to ignore some of the societal issues The BLACK GESTAPO does, almost inadvertently, bring to the fore, including poverty, racism and segregation, which sadly, still seem to be major issues in most U.S. cities.  Of course, director Frost probably had no intention of presenting any underlying message with a silly film such as this, but the angst of the era is ever-present nonetheless.

It was written by Ronald K. Goldman (1943-2013 [Code Red’s Blu-ray is dedicated to him]), who also explored similar ground in Bill Berry’s rather incendiary cheapie The BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH (1976), which had a group of Vietnam vets go against the Ku Klux Klan, The BLACK GESTAPO pushes the envelope even further, and it even has the audacity to begin with old newsreel footage of Hitler watching his troops goosestep through a square as Allan Alper’s funky music blares forth on the soundtrack; it’s certainly one of the more surreal openings of any trash flick out there!  Further scenes of Kojah (later called Kinghazi) and his army, dressed in full Nazi regalia, no less, training and chanting “Vengeance!” at their new, somewhat palatial estate (Frost’s real-life home) really accentuates the fearless and rather unconventional nature of the entire production.  Along with Goldman, both Frost and Bishop also contributed to the script, and along with some of their earlier films like The DEFILERS (1965), LOVE CAMP 7 (1968) or even POLICEWOMEN (1974), The BLACK GESTAPO also incorporates much of the duo’s distinctive moments of brutality and sex; Vito is viciously castrated by Kojah and his men, Marsha is raped in the backseat of a car, and poor Dona Desmond – referred to in the credits as simply the “White Whore” – is either beaten or degraded during the few scenes in which she appears.

Released through their Big Cartel site and the fine folks at DiabolikDVD, Code Red’s Blu-ray is a real beauty.  Taken from the original camera negatives, their transfer is properly framed at 1.78:1, and it is absolutely immaculate.  Sweetening the deal is an audio commentary with stars Perry and Robinson, moderated by Code Red’s Bill Olsen, wherein they discuss all sorts of great stuff, like all the “beautiful girls” on set, the “.42 cent” budget and their “shock” that this actually made it into theatres.  On top of all this, the disc also includes on-camera interviews with Robinson and Perry, which cover some of the same ground, but are very welcome just the same.  In addition, the disc includes an on-camera interview with actor Charles Howerton (seen as one of the mobsters in the film), who was cast mainly because he was Bishop’s real estate salesman, but in another interesting bit of trivia, we learn that Howerton did some voice-dubbing on films in Italy, and he also discusses some of his other work, such as Charles B. Griffith’s shot-in-the-Philippines JAWS wannabe UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979).  A trailer for the present film under its alternate less-contentious GHETTO WARRIORS title is also included.


Sleazy, nasty and downright ridiculous at times, The BLACK GESTAPO is yet another gem from Lee Frost’s long and varied filmography, so don’t hesitate for a second and grab Code Red’s impressive Blu-ray before it disappears.  For those lucky enough to reside in the U.S., this disc can be obtained from Code Red’s Big Cartel Store, while all others should continue to check DiabolikDVD for any updates regarding their Code Red stock. 

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