American Arcana: The Bushwhacker/The Ravager [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Mondo Macabro
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (27th May 2022).
The Film

When Mondo Macabro debuted their new "American Arcana" line in conjunction with Something Weird Video with a red case limited edition double feature of The Ravager and The Bushwhacker in 2019, hopes were high for more but those hopes were unfulfilled. Three years later at last with the standard edition – one wonders if we really have not heard the last of the line amidst an ever-increasing and exciting roster of more "macabro" international titles from the label each month.

A bushwhacker is a hermit who has been too long away from other people and gone crazy, and when The Bushwhacker (Space Thing's Ronny Runningboard) needs to get his rocks off, he shoots down a plane which crashes nearby in the desert. The survivors – pilot Dan (Fugitive Girls' Foreman Shane) and a trio of models: blonde Dawn (Erika's Hot Summer's Merci Montello), raven-haired Sherry, and brunette killjoy Maureen (Henry's Night In's Barbara Kline) – decide to camp out while waiting for sign of a rescue plane. During the night, while Dan is distracted from his night watch by horny Dawn, the Bushwhacker cops a feel of Sherry who at first dreams that it is Dan. No one believes Sherry when she tells them about the stranger, but she accepts the close comfort of Maureen while Dawn works up a thirst with Dan. When Sherry vanishes the next morning, the others are torn between looking for civilization or rescuing their friend from a madman.

One of about a dozen sexploitation flicks directed by actor Byron Mabe from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s – of which the most memorable was probably She Freak (an exploitation take on the Tod Browning film Freaks) – The Bushwhacker is as spare in its execution as its plotting from the handwritten poster-board credits to scenes composed primarily of wide and medium shots. Released in 1968, there is full nudity but the sex is restricted to groping and slow motion desert romps – along with a bit of sorrowful necrophilia surprisingly not committed by the Bushwhacker – the violence, however, may shock with the Bushwhacker's slaps and punches to the women culminating in a bit of gore possibly inspired either by Herschell Gordon Lewis or Night of the Living Dead released the same year. The credits are full of made-up names like grip "Don U. Dragett" and gaffer "R.E. Flector."

"You'll be shocked and excited when you see The Ravager doing 'His Thing'," promises the single surviving piece of advertising for the film; his thing, however, is blowing people to bits. No, this is not a war film but an early grindhouse film exploiting Vietnam PTSD as a plot device for a string of lukewarm sex scenes. Separated from his unit, demolitions expert Joe Salkow (Red Heat's Pierre Agostino) suffers a mental breakdown after witnessing to men whipping and raping a Vietnamese girl before blowing her up with a hand grenade. After six months of therapy at a veteran's hospital, Joe is released apparently cured; however we know that he is really "a very sick man with a very sick mind!" Purchasing a case of "60% Dynamite" and detonators (including underwater ones), Joe takes a room in a desert boarding house and stalks the desert in search of couples who have the temerity to make out in public including a parking couple who go beyond necking, a fisherman and his sex-starved wife, and a lesbian couple. The carnage ramps up his libido with a hunger for rape bolstered by the random peeping he does while saving up his dwindling dynamite stock for another exploit. Not even the accidental targeting of a mother and child can quell his raging libido.

Helmed by the enigmatic Belgian émigré Charles Nizet, The Ravager shares with The Bushwhacker with the desert setting and the murderous loner but that is where the resemblance ends. The Mabe film was a nudie flick with a violent kicker. Nizet's film is just insane and seemingly more of a self-exorcism than a vehicle to titillate Pussycat Theater-goers (going by what Robin Bougie was able to dig up on him for the booklet that accompanied the original limited edition release). The opening rape and murder is suitably sadistic to traumatize the protagonist, and Ray Dennis Steckler favorite Agostino spends the rest of the film twitching and bulging-eyed at some rather tame straight and lesbian sex culminating in literally explosive climaxes with real pyrotechnics. The film itself does not so much "climax" as wind down or burn out once Nizet has spent his creative load. The film is so single-minded in its progress that the omnipresent narrator would be unneeded if not for some real howlers like "The scene of the Vietnamese girl and her two captors had triggered something in Joe's mind which could only be satisfied if he could destroy others as he had seen the Vietnamese girl destroyed." Nizet only directed seven films over a twenty-two year period, but not for lack of trying, and his subsequent Help Me… I'm Possessed! suggests that he learned more about producing and publicity than cinematic language in the interim.


The Bushwhacker had previously been released on DVD-R by Something Weird Video and an unauthorized DVD by Substance Entertainment, both of which sported different transfers with the latter including a gore scene not present in the former. Mondo Macabro's 1080p24 MPEG-2 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is derived from a 2K scan of Something Weird's 35mm print that starts off with some scratches which recur intermittently and are most prominent around the reel changes. The image is a tad faded and the desert photography perhaps a little overexposed, but the transfer itself is on par with the best of the worst of Vinegar Syndrome and American Genre Film Archive. To make this a complete presentation, Mondo has had to insert the gore footage from a standard definition source along with some brief snippets that are so momentary they are no more distracting than any of the damage specific to the 35mm print.

The Ravager was previously available on DVD-R from Something Weird Video, and Mondo Macabro's 1080p24 MPEG-2 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen is transferred from the same 35mm print. The title card is missing entirely while Something Weird's DVD-R featured just a split second of the title presumably just before the spot in which the Blu-ray presentation begins. The image sports a lot more damage in the form of vertical scratches, missing frames, and dialogue-dropping splices. It is hard to tell if certain abrupt shot transitions are due to damage, the removal of something possibly salacious by the projectionist for his own spank reel, or perhaps just a lack of sufficient coverage and poor editing.


The LPCM 2.0 mono tracks are as good as can be expected from the elements, with hiss present but reduced without any digital artifacts while the pops of associated with scratches extending to the optical track and missing frames are retained. There are no subtitles or captions.


Video extras are sparse, consisting of an American theatrical trailer (4:37) for The Bushwhacker and a German one for The Ravager (2:03) titled "The Beast of Lust" as well as a Something Weird Trailer Vault of five trailers for Hot Spur, The Pick-Up which looks like a cross between a film noir and a roughie, The Scavengers, Ravaged, and a most amusing one for the Italian Nazi Love Camp 27 which plays up the controversial content, interrupting glimpses of nudity and violence with a black "censored" card.

The limited edition included paper extras including a reversible cover, six double-sided lobby card reproductions with American ones for MThe Bushwhacker on one side and German ones for The Ravager on the reverse, as well as a twelve-page booklet "Help Me… I'm a Filmmaker: The Strange Story of Charles Nizet" by Robin Bougie sadly not included in this standard edition.


Even if American Genre Film Archive has perhaps usurped Mondo Macabro in terms of bring "American Arcana" to Blu-ray, the latter company's sole (thus far) dip into that pool with The Bushwhacker and The Ravager is an odd experience not to be missed by fans of the former company.


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