Tomcats (1977)

Welcome back to B-Movie Enema.

I suppose I should give a little bit of a content warning to this review as our feature, Tomcats, is one of those 70s exploitation flicks that deals with some pretty gross stuff. You’ve got a situation where a group of ne’er-do-wells, okay, I guess I can call them “thugs”… Anyway, you’ve got this group of nogoodniks who gang-rape and kill young ladies. They get off on a technicality so it leads to one of the victims’ brothers deciding to go on a good old fashioned revenge tear to get the justice he was robbed.

So, yeah, content warning on this episode. These are unsavory situations to be sure. I do want to say that this does feel a little like a mix of movies we’ve seen before like Steel and Lace and the all-time classic revenge film I Spit on Your Grave. If I’m being fair, I’ve long wanted to do I Spit on Your Grave, but considering how dark that second act gets, I’ve yet to really go for it. So, instead, we’re giving Tomcats a try.

This movie comes to us from director Harry E. Kerwin. Kerwin actually directed a handful of things starting back in the mid 50s. He worked on some TV, but most of his credits seem to be from the late 60s on. Probably Kerwin’s best known movie was also his last film – 1978’s Jaws rip-off Barracuda. Kerwin died just two weeks before his 49th birthday in June 1979.

However, for his final four films, 1975’s God’s Bloody Acre, 1977’s Tomcats and Cheering Section, and 1978’s Barracuda, he was partnered up with Wayne Crawford. Crawford co-wrote Tomcats as well as appeared in the film as one of our thugs, M.J. Now, Crawford’s done a lot of stuff. He wrote some, directed a few, produced a bit, and acted in films. He would be a producer on 1983’s Valley Girl and 1984’s Night of the Comet. He also co-wrote the former as well. When it came to his on-screen appearances, the same year in which he appeared in Tomcats and Cheering Section, Crawford showed up as Big Daddy in the hilariously bad The Guy from Harlem. I’m not sure if that tidbit should excite me or worry me about the upcoming movie we’re about to watch. Check back with me in about 90 minutes I suppose.

Our hero in Tomcats is played by Chris Mulkey. Mulkey’s still working to this day and recently appeared as Clay in five episodes of 2019’s Castle Rock. It’s actually relatively shocking how busy Mulkey has been since his first role in 1975’s Loose Ends. He appeared as Daniels in Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swawnn, as well as other bigger flicks in the 80s and 90s like First Blood, Runaway, 48 Hours, and Broken Arrow. He seems to really excel at getting character actor work on a lot of popular shows on TV and in film. He also appeared in 13 episodes of the original run of Twin Peaks as Hank Jennings. I’m guessing Tomcats didn’t make him a star, but I gotta give it to him for remaining busy for nearly 50 years now.

Okay, so, real quick. I wanna talk about this before we start up this movie. Look at this poster. Just… sigh… Look at it.

Does this look like a gross rape revenge movie to you? Sleazy? Yes. That girl is is 1) drawn like an R. Crumb girl, and 2) bent over to show us her ass crack through a thin, and very short, dress. She’s got a look on her face that makes us think she’s the one up to no good. Not the hillbillies over there with the van. Remove the tagline of “They’re free, white and twenty-one, and don’t give a damn about anyone!” and you might think this is a boner comedy. Oh, and by the way, I HATE that tagline. In 1977, okay, maybe I guess it’s fine. In 2023, in these United States we’re living in with all the turds that are out there unwiped and just spreading their filth all over the place? Not cool. Still… This looks like we’re about to see a romp with some girls on the prowl taking advantage of some yokels in vans. But, no… That’s not this movie. It’s something of a Malibu High situation here. We have a boner comedy style poster and the movie itself is dealing with some pretty rough stuff.

But I digress…

There are a couple interesting elements to these opening credits. First, the copy I have has one of the alternative titles this movie has – Getting Even. Heh… That title makes me want to do the Shimmy Slide and watch Geteven. There are a few other titles this movie goes by. Not unusual in these parts. One thing that is particularly strange is that the first credit is “A Film By Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane.” Those are the writers of this movie. The movie is crediting the writers with the “A Film By” credit instead of a producer or the director. That’s kind of wild. Also, Wayne Crawford has a lot of skin in this movie. He wrote it and appeared in it, so, I guess have at it with having the first credit of the movie!

The movie opens at night as we watch a pair of headlights coming down the street. The lights belong to a van pulling up to a diner. Inside you have the cook and the waitress. It’s a slow night, and the waitress, Wendy, tells Harry, the cook, to go ahead and knock off. It’s dead and it’s closing time anyway. He leaves, but Wendy doesn’t bring the keys with her to actually lock the door. She is distracted by a phone call from her dad, so she doesn’t know that someone is walking into the diner behind her. Wendy hangs up and is surprised to see these three dudes behind her.

One look at these guys tells you something isn’t right here. The guy on the right looks straight up like trouble. I’ll give the guy in the middle the compliment that he looks like 1977 Michael Nesmith. But the guy in the striped shirt on the left? Woo boy… He looks like a serious goober. He might be the gooberiest goober I’ve ever seen in all the years and all the movies I’ve done here.

However, there’s a fourth bad guy that Wendy doesn’t even see way off by the register at the front of the diner…

Wendy tells them the diner’s closed. Papa Nez says they’re hungry. The striped goober approaches her and the other bad guy and the goober chase her into the kitchen where they begin raping her. The rapists begin fighting over Wendy. They punch and grab and pull each other off the girl and one guy brandishes a knife. Outside, a bum hears the commotion going on inside. He also witnesses the Nesmith-lookin’ guy, MJ, finish Wendy off after his boys have their way by shooting her with a shotgun. Good news, though, the bum sees the van’s plates.

Bad news, though, the bum is blitzed and couldn’t really tell what the plate said.

We switch to our hero, Cullen getting blown by his girlfriend, Tracy. She gets the newspaper and, on the front page, it tells the story of his sister Wendy’s murder. They are about to leave for college classes when the phone rings. On the other end, a detective, who happens to be Cullen’s uncle, tells him that Wendy’s dead. The uncle, Tom, petitions his captain to get the case to bring down his niece’s murderers.

At the funeral, Cullen tells his father that he will find who did this and make them pay. His father, distraught over such a nice girl being senselessly killed, tells him it won’t bring her back. When Cullen asks Tom for the leads he has, he even suggests he’ll drop out of law school to help with tracking down the guys. His father disapproves of that. Tom agrees. One day Cullen will be a District Attorney and that’s how he will really help his sister’s legacy. That’s actually a really good sentiment and message.

Meanwhile, M.J. and crew are tickled pink over the cops having no clues or leads or witnesses. M.J. is a pretty bad dude. He has this lady named Rhonda whose house he hangs out at. He pours beer in her plants and wants her to blow him in front of everyone. Then, just to play around with her, he throws her back onto the floor and tells her to get lost. His gang are only just as bad as M.J. is because they all act like 11 year-olds.

These guys are textbook, fear-mongering, exploitation movie bad guys. They only sit around and abuse each other and everyone else around them while they watch TV. They don’t seem to do much of anything but take up space and be shitty about it. It’s like they are total waste of skin and bones and blood and guts. They’re worthless. Do people like this exist? Sure they do. Trust me, I can smell my own. The main difference is not all us wastes of space are cruel monsters. These are like the bad guys from another famous sleazefest horror film, The Last House on the Left. These are the people who you’re warned about by your mom or your school or hyped up news reports.

These types of guys are good for two things: being mean and for you to root against them in this movie.

Anyway, the guys are tired of being cooped up at Rhonda’s place. They’ve been there for almost a week. They decide to “go out.” However, to them, “going out” involves beer, a shotgun, and raging hard-ons. The goober who is always wearing a striped shirt tells M.J. they gotta change the license plates on the van. The Colorado plates really stand out. M.J., cavalierly tells him they’ll change ’em tomorrow. So, it’s off to create havoc and do awful things to some poor girl.

Meanwhile, the cops are trying to get info out of the bum who saw Wendy get raped and killed. Originally, the bum did come in with the info that he saw something that night, but wouldn’t tell them until they got him more booze. They cut him loose. Then, Tom told them to bring him back. They dried him out in a cell and try to get the info from him. He tells them what he saw that night. He tells them that the plates he saw were “Chicago” plates. Tom has his partner put out a APB on any vehicle with multiple occupants with plates that start with a C.

I really fucking hope they aren’t in California.

Later, M.J. and crew attack another diner waitress working late. This time, though, they make off with her and the money. Just to kind of twist the dagger here a bit for the audience. Not only are we watching young girls getting attacked and having to deal with these animals, but they are also robbing the diners. When they raped and killed Wendy, they only got $48. This time, with this next girl, they only got a lousy $30. Their only satisfaction in this crime spree IS the rape and murder. It should be stated too that M.J. only shoots the girls. The other three get their rocks off and he finishes them off by killing them.

Here’s a sure sign of not particularly great writing. Cullen’s got this cutie of a girlfriend/fiancée, Tracy, right? As best as I can tell, it’s only been about a week or so since Cullen’s dear sister was killed. Cullen is seething at the gills over his sister’s death and his inability to get any closure over it. He’s studying law to become a prosecutor, great. But he knows that when crimes are committed, the criminals don’t turn themselves in. The laws might be the laws but it’s unlikely to really deter the threat. So, as he sees it, he’s left with only the anger and frustration over what happened. In walks Tracy, bopping up the stairs to the bedroom to tell Cullen she got him some dinner. When he doesn’t immediately respond, she says, “You know food?” as if he’s just having the normal kind of bad day. You know, like he slipped getting out of the shower and busted his ball sack on the tub. His sister just died, Tracy. Smiling and trying to give him a pep talk to basically get over it and help someone else by being the best possible prosecutor he can isn’t gonna cut it.

In writing, this is what you call having a need for the hero to have a sexy, supportive girlfriend, but not really having anything for her to do in this movie. Think about Death Wish. Sure, in a couple of those, Bronson had a wife or a love interest. However, when the kill switch is flipped, Bronson is a killing machine. He’s not seemingly remotely interested in normal life anymore. With that known about Paul Kersey, there’s zero reason for him to have that love interest who will give him the pep talk. If nothing else, they are usually killed to be removed from the movie so he can get down to the business of ending people’s lives. So, Cullen having to have these scenes with Tracy to get her bopping in and smiling and giving him emotional handy j’s isn’t really worth having her as a character other than to have one girl who isn’t going to get raped and killed by M.J. and crew.

At least I hope. God, I really hope not every female cast member in this gets raped.

Alright, so M.J. and his gang start driving around in their car, with multiple occupants, and license plates that start with a C, like morons. They get picked up by a couple of beat cops. Oh, and they are stinking drunk too. Acting stupid, they admit to the cops that they snuffed the two waitresses. One of the cops opens the vehicle and find the shotgun. It is very obviously shot that the cop begins reading the guys their Miranda rights. Cullen is quite excited. These guys are very likely going to go away for a real long time. Tracy is happy too. She shows him her tits and they have a celebratory fuck sesh.

The next day, the trial for these bad guys begins. The prosecution gives their big opening statement about how they are going to have all this evidence and these guys will be found guilty of rape and murder and what have you. The defense attorney has an ace up his sleeve. He calls for a complete dismissal on grounds of a violation of due process. The argument is that their admission of guilt came BEFORE the Miranda rights were read to them. In addition, that drunk who was the star eye witness is called out by the defense as having bartered his statement for a bottle of cheap wine. It turns out that drunk is not enough to make the prosecution’s case. And, so, M.J. and crew go free and, to celebrate, M.J. tells Cullen Wendy wasn’t half bad looking.

It should also be mentioned that Tracy catches the eye of M.J. as well. So… Every girl character in this is gonna be a target of rape and/or murder, huh?

M.J. and his gang sneak up on Cullen when he and Tracy are about to leave and pin him in his car door. They tell him they don’t much like his attitude. They think real bad things can happen to any college boy go goes around harassing innocent folks. So, right away, Cullen starts practicing his shooting skills. He goes to the police station to ask if his uncle’s around. Since he’s out for lunch, Cullen asks to wait in his office and gets information about M.J.

When the gang decide to go out on the town, a car begins to follow their van. One of the guys goes into a bus station restroom to take a leak. Cullen follows, uses the urinal right next to him, and pisses on his leg and gives him a swirly and a warning… He needs to remember this. He’s going to come and kill every one of them. They will always need to look over their shoulders every night. He tells M.J. after Cullen leave and M.J. has a plan… They’ll just go get Tracy.

Cullen gets back home late and picks up a few things – a shotgun, a revolver, some twine, a role of electrical tape, and a knife. That doesn’t seem out of the ordinary at all. He tells Tracy the shotgun is broken and he’s going to take it to get fixed. She asks him who will fix it at midnight. He says the same guy who will fix it at 9am. I mean… He’s got a point there, I guess. She tells him that if he loved her he wouldn’t go. He says that’s why he has to go. Anyway, I can’t help but notice that he’s taking away all of Tracy’s potential protection for the inevitable moment when M.J. shows up at his place to take her.

Anyway, he calls Johnny, the guy who was holding the shotgun and preventing Wendy from getting out of there in the first scene. Johnny’s trying to fuck his old lady in the ass (no shit, there are a lot of lines about how he didn’t use Vaseline to get up in there). Cullen tells Johnny he’s first to get that sweet, sweet revenge. Johnny calls M.J. who doesn’t think Cullen’s got the balls to do it. He asks M.J. to come protect him. M.J. won’t go over there because he’s playing cards with the other goons. Johnny says he’ll go over there but M.J. says he shouldn’t do that. M.J. thinks it’s just best for Johnny to simply stay where he’s at despite the credible and imminent threat of Cullen coming to kill him for revenge. I love how utterly stupid these bad guys are.

So anyway, Cullen kills Johnny. I do like how he does it. He calls Johnny to tell him he’s first. Then he calls him back and tells him he has five minutes to live. Johnny tries to use his old lady as a decoy, but Cullen’s no fool. He’s actually hiding in Johnny’s car, so when he tries to get in his car and get away, he gets blown away by that supposed broken rifle.

How are Johnny’s friends and partners in crime taking his death?

That’s a stupid question. They don’t really care. They go out and play pool. There, M.J. reminds Billy, our goober from earlier, that he lives alone now. So, that probably makes him next on Cullen’s hitlist. Billy looks like he’s about to shit his pants. M.J. tells Billy that he and Curly (the fourth guy who just always looks like he’s up to no good) will go get their guns and come to his place and they’ll all wait for Cullen together. Billy says they better be there for him. M.J.’s like, “Heeeeyyyy… Trust me!”

I would not trust him.

Billy goes home and locks the door. He arms himself with a pocketknife. He hears a noise in his room and he sees the window open and the lamp knocked over. He does find someone in his room – Johnny’s girlfriend’s dad who Billy scares off. He goes into the bathroom to shake off his nerves and finds Cullen waiting for him in the shower. Billy lies through his teeth saying he never touched Wendy, but has no answer for when Cullen asks if he did anything to help her.

Cullen decides to play with his prey this time. He wants the kid to hurt. He was going to stab him, but he decides to go slower and grind his hand up in the garbage disposal. Just then, M.J. and Curly show up. Cullen escapes, but when M.J. tries shooting him, he accidentally hits Billy. Billy asks for help, but M.J. just leaves him to die.

Tom finds out about Billy’s death and tries to call Cullen. Tracy answers and tells him that Cullen’s not been home for two days. She begs him to not kill him because Cullen’s not like the others. He tells her to come over to his place and they’ll find Cullen.

And it’s been bugging me this whole movie… I thought ol’ Uncle Tom looked familiar. He fuckin’ looks like Mike fucking Lindell. I finally saw it when he’s disheveled and groggy because, well… You know.

Sorry, William Kerwin, brother of director Harry Kerwin, you look like Mike Pillow.

Tracy tells Tom she’ll be over there as soon as she gets dressed. Meanwhile, Tom and Ben, Cullen’s dad, go over to the house to look in on that dead Billy on the floor. Ben looks around and discovers Cullen’s knife on the couch. Ben collects Tom and hurriedly tries to get him out of there and back home. Ben shows Tom the knife and they need to try to figure what the hell they’re going to do about this. Ben says they need to find Cullen first and then they need to do something they can live with.

M.J. and Curly decide to go hang out with a couple broads that they sometimes crash with. Cullen follows them to this apartment. Unfortunately, while going to the ice machine, M.J. sees Cullen watching him. He goes back inside and tells Curly that there are a few kids messing around with their ride. So he sends him out there and locks him out. M.J. then sneaks out the window. After Cullen kills Curly, M.J. tries shooting him in the back but misses. Cullen chases M.J. out onto the beach. They keep shooting back and forth at each other.

Ben and Tracy arrive and plan to head the action off at the pass. They spot him and Tracy gets out of the car and runs to Cullen to try to get him to stop. M.J. gets an idea… Shoot Tracy. He tries to, but Cullen is able to shoot M.J. and wounds him. It turns out that M.J. missed Tracy. But there’s a big ol’ mess. What might just be a saving grace for Cullen is that the people at this apartment building don’t have consistent eyewitness reports. Some say it’s the two women that Curly and M.J. were going to see. Some say it was an argument over the shuffleboard.

Meanwhile, at the beach, Tom and Ben cover for Cullen. Cullen, who is well-prepared to go to jail for what he did, is shocked to find out they are going to cover. Really, dude? You sure about that? If there’s one thing cops are good at, it’s covering for their own. But, in actuality, Ben does tell him to do the right thing. He tells Cullen to go now and turn himself in before someone catches him. They’ll stand behind him, but he needs to not be caught by cops who are hot to catch a killer. So Ben and Tracy go off to the station to make things right.

It’s a good thing that Cullen is white, educated, and related to cops or he’d be gunned down in cold blood by the police the moment he showed up to say he did anything remotely bad in the eyes of the law.

You know what this movie didn’t have? Cats. It’s called Tomcats. There was a Tom in it. Where the cats at? I guess some people got pussy, but no straggly cats with big balls anywhere in this flick.

Of course I’m kidding, but if I’m being honest, this wasn’t that bad of a movie. Sure, it’s hampered by not much of a budget. It’s not got anyone really worthwhile in any of the acting roles. The lady who played Tracy, Polly King, never appeared in another movie again. She bared her breasts A LOT in this for being the good girl, and she didn’t roll that into any other movies. It’s probably safe to say this was something of a regional film which were still likely common in the mid 70s. With that, naturally, comes a lot of hindrance. However, I will say that our primary stars of some worth, William Kerwin (Tom), Chris Mulkey (Cullen), and Wayne Crawford (M.J.) really showed talent and were compelling to watch.

Is the movie sleazy? Yeah. It is. As I mentioned earlier, there are bad guys that are grossly over the top for being complete piles of garbage who have no loyalty to each other and will, at any point on any day, go out and rape and murder a lady. That’s sleazy on its own. There are boobs-a-plenty, but it’s clear these girls were paid like fifty bucks to take off their top, say a few lines and get lost. Polly King being the exception, but, again, she went nowhere after this movie. I will say this movie isn’t as sleazy as it could have been. I point to Wes Craven doing Last House on the Left and thinking about how he had to put those goofy cop scenes in to break up the really bad shit in that. Or, as I compared this movie often with, I Spit on Your Grave where Meir Zarchi almost teases us with Camille Keaton’s looks and sexiness for the first act and last act all in service of a brutal second act and her righteous revenge in the third act. That’s sleazy. That movie is notoriously so. Granted, it came after Tomcats, but when I was reading the back of the box or the synopsis for Tomcats, I was getting a picture in my head that this was going to be much much worse than it was. It’s bad enough that every female character is there to be violence’d at, but they kept the raping to something of a minimum – and that might be for the best.

I do have split feelings over the fact that all these threats from M.J. to just go after Tracy ultimately lead nowhere.

Alright, let’s put this to bed, shall we? Next week, we go from sleazy rape revenge flick to sleazy women in prison flick. That’s right, I’m ticking off all the classic boxes for this site in one month! We’re going back to the pokey so we can Escape from Women’s Prison! This is a movie that, yes, is Italian, but also has a great tagline (“They’re Bustin’ Out!”) and comes from producer Dick Randall who we have dealt with a lot over the years. So, be back here in seven days and together we’ll unpack the sleazefest classic from Giovanni Brusadori!

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