a Primal Root written review
One of the things I admire most about the low budget exploitation cinema of the 60’s and 70’s is that, over time, they emerge as time capsules. Better still, is these films catalog every strange trend, no matter how small a flash in the pan, or culturally insignificant. Dirt bikes, side hacking, break dancing, disco roller boogies, did these trends really last long enough to warrant a whole film based around them? Well, back in the day, if it was happening at all, it was good enough for Corman and crew to swoop down and transform it into Trash Cinema Gold.
Enter, Unholy Rollers, a film that seems to have been a cash-in on not only the recent roller derby explosion across our great land, but a cash in on the far more expensive Raquel Welch vehicle, Kansas City Bombers (1972). Unholy Rollers stars the gorgeous and feisty Playmate of the Year 1970, Ms. Claudia Jennings (Fast Company, Gator Bait) as Karen Walker, a young woman who is sick to death of having her tits squeezed by her boss at the cat food processing plant. After one titty twister too many, Karen sabotages the assembly line, smears cat foot in her bosses face, barges in on her roommates while they’re fucking and declares she’s going into professional roller derby to earn the big bucks!
Karen shows up at an open audition to join The L.A. Avengers and turns out to be one Hell of a skater, not only that, but team owner Mr. Stern observes early on that this chick knows a lot about showmanship. But Derby is a team sport, and Karen sure as shit is no team player. She’s spontaneous, refuses to play by the rules and manages to not only piss off the rival teams, but her fellow teammates. From the get-go, Karen and The Avengers star skater Mickey Martinez (Betty Anne Rees, from Deathmaster) butt heads. Mickey’s a fiery red headed lesbian, and when Karen rebukes Mickey’s advances, Karen ends up paying for it…with her outfit. Yeah, one night during a victory gathering at a local watering hole, Mickey and a few other Avengers end up throwing Karen onto a pool table and stripping her totally nekkid sans a pair of tiny panties. I mean, it’s about a half an hour into a movie featuring Playboy Playmate of the Year and we haven’t seen her nekkid yet, so this was fated. But this does not shake Karen, she flaunts her goods in front of the onlookers and delivers one of my favorite speeches of the movie…
“I’ve heard of ugly dykes in my life, but I never figured one would be so ugly she’d have to go through all this trouble just to get a chick to strip for her. How about you, bitch? You ever been this close to a decent looking body before? Take a good look, all of you! Because that’s ALL YOU’RE GOING TO GET IS A LOOK! But I will remember this, lover. And whenever I want a pair of big, strong arms around me…I’LL GO FIND ME A MAN!”
In a perfect world, this would be have been Claudia Jenning’s Oscar clip. Naked, unashamed, vulgar, and brutal as Hell. Karen, we quickly come to realize, is not a very likable human being. She’s reckless and wild, which is appealing enough, but there are moments when what she’s doing isn;t exactly intelligent and are risking the lives of those around her. Like when she rides on the back of a man she’s fixing to bone’s motorcycle. She finds a revolver and begins firing indiscriminately into the busy streets of Los Angeles. Even putting the barrel of the gun to the temple of her fuck buddy. They end up at the roller rink where she ends up elbowing the man repeatedly, shoving her pointy knee into his tender testicular region and generally laying waste to the goofball all over the inclined roller derby track. I know it’s meant for laughs, but it’s like the SAW film of bad first dates. Yeah, is a slice of that pie worth all this shit? Well, it is Claudia Jennings, so probably.
Yes, the poor guy does end up tapping it and yes they do keep their skates on.
The action on the track is as staged and scripted as any pro wrestling match, but Karen doesn’t give a shit. She’s playing it hard and impromptu and the audience fucking eats it up and falls in love with Karen’s violent form of derby. During one match Mickey and Karen end up beating the shit out of one another. It’s the old star of the show versus the up and comer, and man is it a show. Mickey Martinez, however, has underestimated her opponent nd when fists, blood and teeth stop flying it’s Karen who is now Queen of the L.A. Avengers.
Before long Karen is the star of The Avengers and is the highest paid player. It;s the good life for Karen as she stars in TV commercials, eats organic burgers, and plays putt putt golf. She even gets a tattoo of The Avengers logo above her elbow, the winged roller skate. But, as we all know, with power comes corruption. And with absolute power comes absolute corruption. Karen’s bad attitude grows along with her fame. Soon her bad temper swells to the verge of megalomania, and in the process her life begins falling apart slowly. Her long time roommates and best friends Donna and Greg end up moving out to move to the Pacific North West to pursue their dream of opening a joint venture motorcycle mechanic shop and strip club. But Karens knows as well as the audience that Donna and Greg are leaving because Karen is no longer a part of their lives. She’s become another entity all together as she’s risen to stardom and both Donna and Greg feel as if they no longer know Karen. Now only this, but The Avengers resent Karen for bashing Mickey up so bad she’s know laid up at the hospital. The team voices their rage by jumping Karen in the parking lot and smashing the shit out of Karen’s beautifully customized Dodge Charger. Even Mr. Stern has had enough of Karen and hires an up and coming young black derby superstar by the name of Beverly Brayton (Charlene Jones from Avenging Angel) to strike fear into Karen the way Karen once did to Mickey. Karen realizes her own unbridled lust for fame and power have lead her down this road of self destruction. But there’s enough of Karen;s old rebellious spirit left for her to reach deep down with a final righteous FUCK YOU to not just The L.A. Avengers and roller derby, but to the entire world. Karen goes out in a Hellish blaze of glory destined to become the stuff of roller derby legend.
I can’t properly put into words just how much down and dirty fun Unholy Rollers is. It holds nothing back, has a goofy sense of humor, a taste for unbridled mayhem on a massive scale, and luxuriates in it’s own bumbling execution. It’s just as genuinely funny as it is unintentionally so, which makes it a riot to check out. Leave it to Corman and the team at American International Pictures to push all the right buttons in this low rent, low brow, beautiful piece of cinematic trash. It plays like Showgirls on an inclined roller skating rink. Unholy Rollers is the real deal and a whole lot more.
Here’s to you, Claudia Jennings. You are missed. Thank you for always keeping it Trashy.
FOUR out of FIVE Dumpster Nuggets