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  Crack House Known As Big Jim For Obvious Reasons
Year: 1989
Director: Michael Fischa
Stars: Jim Brown, Anthony Geary, Richard Roundtree, Cher Butler, Angel Tompkins, Clyde Jones, Albert Michel Jr, Heidi Thomas, Kenny Edwards, Joey Green, Jon Greene, T. Rodgers, Louis Rivera, Willie Hernandez, Gregg Thomsen, Jacob Vargas, F. Gary Gray
Genre: Drama, Thriller, TrashBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Rick Morales (Gregg Thomsen) is in High School and hoping to graduate then move on to the Air Force for a career, but there is often trouble in that establishment of learning related to gangs and drugs, something he wants no part of. His girlfriend is Melissa (Cher Butler) who is studying design, and in spite of the misgivings of her mother (Angel Tompkins) they plan to settle down together once they leave school – but their best laid plans may hit a major snag. The first thing to indicate all will not be plain sailing is when Rick manages to be in the wrong place, the restroom, at the wrong time, when a fight breaks out and he is cut on the arm; he’s not going to snitch, but the criminal element is moving in…

If thrillers from the United States of the nineteen-eighties told us anything, it was “Don’t do drugs”, as the filmmakers took Nancy Reagan’s Just Say No campaign to heart, no matter that many were not practicing what they preached and the movie industry of Hollywood during this decade was notorious for how many cocaine casualties it spawned. Crack cocaine was the demon drug in this film’s case, a work that seemed to be pleading for its audience not to get involved with such things while at the same time wallowing, nay, revelling in the down and dirty horror stories that falling prey to addiction would bring. But was it sincere in its message making, or was it a pure opportunist taking advantage of the authorities’ own messages?

One look at the logo at the beginning would make up your mind about that one: we were dealing with the soon to be defunct Cannon here, and if any studio knew about excesses it was this one, though the notorious cousins who had been running it were in the process of being jettisoned from the business they made their names with internationally, and what was left was trying to salvage the operation with increasingly paltry budgets to work with as film after film flopped at the box office. The good news for them was that Crack House, blatantly cashing in on Colors, was one of cult director Quentin Tarantino’s favourite Cannon flicks, the bad news was that his taste wouldn’t become significant until it was too late to make much difference to keeping the studio the Go-Go Boys built afloat, and they were only distributors here anyway.

Still, Mr Tarantino’s recommendations do prompt his fans to check out what he liked, and this was no exception, leaving it with a small cult following mostly resting on how ridiculous they found the experience of watching it. If you were anticipating a gritty thriller, well, you kind of got that, but in the main Crack House was more keen on the anti-drugs drama as it demonstrated how two nice kids in Los Angeles wound up victim to some very nasty people and some very nasty addictions. It was former Playboy Centerfold Cher Butler (here calling herself Cheryl Kay for her sole film part) who bore the brunt of the latter, stuck with the louche B.T. (Clyde Jones), not her friend but all she has when Rick is put in prison for an attack the audience is meant to regard as justified. Melissa is soon hooked.

It is at this stage you wonder why fairly big names in exploitation like Jim Brown and Richard Roundtree are top billed when they’re hardly in it, and where was Jim Brown anyway? Patience, for he showed up at the last half hour, not as a crusading hero against the narcotics explosion, but cast against type as an out and out baddie. You had to admire him here, because while we knew he could play the badass, he presented a genuinely threatening air to his scenes, as if he had been bullying the cast and crew when the cameras weren’t rolling and they were all terrified of him: that was the atmosphere. He keeps Melissa and another young woman, Annie (Heidi Thomas), in the titular house, subjecting them to beatings and rapes in return for speedballs in a way that really wasn’t all that amusing, certainly not for a movie with a so bad it’s good reputation like this, but that was the best example of the troubling yet at times ludicrous, and therefore laughter-inducing tone of Crack House, another being the unseemly enthusiasm the film presented its African-American and Latino characters as absolutely irredeemable. Music by Mike Piccirillo, along with a bunch of tinny rap.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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