These days, the kind of movies that once were made quickly and cheaply for the drive-in circuit are given big budgets and A-list stars. It no longer seems strange that an actor of Liam Neeson's stature is turning up in something like Taken 2, a formulaic action-revenge movie. But back in the heyday of drive-in exploitation, these movies were populated by people like Fred Williamson, Joe Don Baker and Tamara Dobson, and as often as not they were shot in the American South or the Philippines.
In a new double-feature disk from Inception Media Group, we get two disposable movies from the mid-'70s starring Robert Conrad, best known for his TV work on such series as The Wild Wild West (1965-69) and Baa Baa Black Sheep (1976-78). He made few features, but here – paired with the hulking Don Stroud, who makes Conrad look pretty small on screen – he turns in efficient generic performances which hold the movies together without ever raising them above their exploitation roots.
First up is Sudden Death (1977), directed in the Philippines by Eddie Romero, best known in the West for the Blood Island series of horror films he made with producer-star John Ashley (who co-produced here and turns up in a supporting role), although just a couple of years after this potboiler he went on to write and direct the great Filipino national epic Aguila (1980). The script was often of secondary importance in this genre and Sudden Death is no exception. Things like character motivation and story logic take a back seat to the exotic locale and a series of violent encounters and occasional bits of nudity.
The movie opens with the kind of shocking scene Hollywood tends to shy away from, with a group of masked armed men gunning down an American family, including two young children, in their sunny backyard. The father, Ed Neilson, is the manager of a sugar company run by a multi-national board which includes an ex-Nazi, an Arab sheik, and various other stereotypes. It quickly turns out that the board is behind the hit because they don't like the way Neilson favours the rights of local labour over their own profits.