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TCM Underground - November 2018
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TCM Underground in November


For fans of strange, oddball and beloved cult classics--or adventurous viewers looking for something off the beaten path--our TCM Underground programming offers a wealth of nontraditional cinema. Tune in every Saturday at 2 a.m. ET or catch these films on Watch TCM anytime up until a week after they air.

This month's underground films include six TCM premieres that were often underappreciated when they premiered in theaters but gained cult status through video screenings. These premieres are detailed below.

Sister Street Fighter (1974) is a Japanese martial-arts exploitation film directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi. It focuses on a young woman (Etsuko Shihomi) with fierce fighting skills who is hellbent on rescuing her undercover agent brother (Hiroshi Miyauchi) from a drug-smuggling ring. A critic for dvdtalk.com calls the movie "mindless but entertaining, with manga-like villains...and energetic if chaotic action." The film is a spin-off of the movie The Street Fighter (1974) and is part of a trilogy that also includes Sister Street Fighter: Hanging By a Thread (1974) and The Return of Sister Street Fighter (1975). Sister Street Fighter was actually quite successful within its sphere at the time of its original release in the U.S., becoming a favorite at inner-city theaters and one of the most profitable Japanese films of the 1970s.

Lady Street Fighter (1981) is in a similar vein as Sister Street Fighter in that it deals with a young beauty with martial arts expertise (German-born actress Renee Harmon), who is out to avenge a family member (in this case, a twin sister who has been murdered in Los Angeles). But this is an American-made film, directed by James Bryan and featuring Jody McCrea (son of actor and Western star Joel McCrea) as the male lead. A reviewer for broadwayworld.com wrote that, "from the outrageous fight scenes to Harmon's incredible outfits, Lady Street Fighter is a joyous blast of no-holds-barred chaos."

Eyes of a Stranger (1981) is a slasher film, directed by Ken Wiederhorn, that marked the film debut of Jennifer Jason Leigh. Lauren Tewes stars as a Miami reporter who suspects that her neighbor (John DiSanti) is the serial killer/rapist who has been terrorizing the city. Leigh plays the reporter's blind and deaf sister.

The Lawnmower Man (1992) is a sci-fi horror film directed by Brett Leonard and loosely based upon a short story by Stephen King. Pierce Brosnan stars as a scientist who conducts virtual-reality experiments on a simple-minded gardener (Jeff Fahey), only to see them go terribly awry. The film won attention at the time for its then-revolutionary visual effects, and it has since developed a following attracted to a storyline with echoes of Frankenstein.

I Was a Teenage Serial Killer (1993) is a 27-minute, black-and-white short written and directed by Sarah Jacobson, who has been called "The Queen of Underground Film." The story revolves around a 19-year-old girl who murders men she considers sexist. Jacobson's first film, it was described by Village Voice critic Ed Halter as "a key film" in the "angrily subversive underground cinema" of the 1990s.

Mary Jane's Not a Virgin Anymore (1998) is another low-budget film by Jacobson, this one a feature-length study of a teenage girl who works in a movie theater in a Bible Belt town and believes that having sex will make her "cool." Critic Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times that "The fuel that drives [the movie] is the filmmaker's anger at male sexual selfishness, women's ignorance of their own bodies, and a culture that encourages women to lie about their sexual pleasure."

Non-premieres screening in the TCM Underground block this month includes Brian De Palma's Sisters (1972) and Mike Hodges' The Terminal Man (1974).

by Roger Fristoe