BIG ZAPPER (1973) – Linda Marlowe stars as Harriet Zapper, a two-fisted private investigator, in this first of two Zapper movies directed by Balladeer’s Blog’s old friend Lindsay Shonteff. If they ever build a Museum of Britsploitation Films, Shonteff will have an entire wing dedicated to him.
In the past I’ve covered Lindsay’s various pale imitations of the James Bond movies – Number One of the Secret Service, The Man From S.E.X., Number One Gun, The 2nd Best Secret Agent in the Whole Wide World and others.
Often forgotten were the man’s pair of films about a virtual “Dirty Harriet” with sexy Linda Marlowe as the lead. I’ve read some reviews that bash Marlowe’s performance as Harriet Zapper but all I can say is those critics must never have seen Lindsay Shonteff’s other film projects. NO actor can come off looking talented under Shonteff’s direction.
Big Zapper finds millionaire Jeremiah Horn (Jack May) hiring Harriet Zapper to find his missing son and daughter. Harriet dives into the investigation and learns that both of the teens were murdered by the criminal organization of a psychotic gangster called Kono (perennial Shonteff villain Gary Hope).
The majority of the screen time is devoted to the magnetic Linda Marlowe as her P.I. character punches, kicks and blows away a long line of Kono’s thuggish underlings. As always with Lindsay Shonteff the tone is all over the place, with violent and effective action scenes mingling with ridiculous action scenes and adult humor, with some of the humor intentional but most of it NOT.
Harriet Zapper’s male sidekick, played by Richard Monette, is named Rock Hard (Hey, if Pussy Galore could be a thing, why not Rock Hard?) and the pair share plenty of kinky sex scenes as the movie rolls along. The forever horny Rock is useless as an investigator but he’s the rare man who can actually satisfy Harriet, so she keeps him on the payroll.
If you know the Lindsay Shonteff formula you won’t be surprised to hear that Big Zapper provides more of the same – we see the villain sending goons to kill the star, then throwing angry fits each time they fail. Over and over. Again and again. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually, through sheer attrition, things get to the point where Kono has so few men left that he has to call upon a trio of Japanese assassins to come to London and deal with the unkillable Harriet Zapper.
Kono even kills off Jeremiah Horn’s third child Randy as the story progresses. Our heroine wipes out all of the gangster’s men in addition to the Japanese killers, at one point even mowing thugs down with a machine gun before dealing with Kono himself.
Linda Marlowe carries the entire movie. In her all-white outfits complete with a stylish 1970s hat, she single-handedly keeps your eyes riveted to the screen. She is so charismatic that she compensates for all of Shonteff’s usual shortcomings. More of his movies could have benefited from the presence of this cult actress.
As usual for Lindsay, it should tell you everything you need to know that any time something idiotic happens in his movies you find yourself having to ponder if it was MEANT to be that stupid as a bit of comedy or if it was just another instance of his ineptitude.
Among other absurdities, Big Zapper features a handgun bringing down a helicopter, Zapper whipping her boy toy, cartoon style holes in walls a few times when Harriet knocks opponents through them and a heavenly glow emanating from Harriet’s pussy, which organ is longed for by every male character.
I can guarantee that this movie will stay with you long after you first watch it.
ZAPPER’S BLADE OF VENGEANCE (1974) – Also released under the bland and misleading title The Swordsman, this further adventure of Harriet Zapper is a textbook example of how studio interference can ruin a director’s vision – even a vision as muddied as Lindsay Shonteff’s.
The only thing more ridiculous than a typical Shonteff movie is a Shonteff movie that’s forced to be grounded and more realistic. Not only did the studio make Lindsay restrain his usually wild imagination on this flick but they double-crossed him by editing out most of what gore and sexuality they let him film.
You have to search hard, but you can find the uncut version of this movie. In addition to the more explicit bloodshed you also get the bizarre scene in which the villain Reynaud Duval (Alan Lake) uses his sword to shave the letter Z into his girlfriend’s thatch of pubic hair.
This lackluster film sat unreleased until 1976, and then it was in the watered-down studio version lacking the usual bad but fun Lindsay Shonteff touches.
In Zapper’s Blade of Vengeance the heroine has a new male sidekick. He’s a young Asian man called Hock (Tony Then from The Rocky Horror Picture Show) and his lame, unfunny attempts at comic relief are limited to trying to be both Humphrey Bogart and Bruce Lee. He even dresses in a Bogart trench coat throughout the film and repeatedly says “Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Harriet and Hock have a strictly employer/ employee relationship in keeping with the neutered air of the entire production. (Remember, the Z scene was cut for release.) Nobody has sex this time around, though there are lots of suggestive scenes with heavy Reynaud Duval and his Girl Friday named Guy.
Alan Lake as Reynaud may have more screen time than Linda Marlowe, sadly enough. He’s effective as the sword-wielding villain who runs a fencing school but c’mon – keeping Harriet Zapper on the sidelines was one of the dumbest decisions the studio made.
Marlowe once again brings to life every scene she’s in, just like in Big Zapper, and still sports her all-white outfits. She has such a distinctive look that Harriet Zapper cosplay is definitely doable. Unfortunately she doesn’t get any over the top action scenes in this flick. I don’t watch a Lindsay Shonteff movie to see down to earth detective work.
I’ve been trying to avoid dealing with the mundane story, but here we go. Harriet is hired by a wealthy adopted teen boy named Karel Duval to find out who his birth father was. This leads to Zapper and Hock unraveling the deception being mounted by the aforementioned Reynaud Duval (Lake), who is the real adopted son looking to cut legitimate heir Karel from the family fortune.
All of the scenes centered around Alan Lake’s character seem like they belong in an episode of the original British tv series The Avengers and are nothing like what Harriet Zapper fans would be looking for. He is an anachronistic sword-wielding villain in the 1970s and not only murdered his and Karel’s nominal father with his rapier but plans to kill Karel, too.
Reynaud hides his villainy by blaming all his violent acts on a non-existent family enemy named Zender Bender, apparently a leftover element from the original script since the name Zender is the excuse for the fictional antagonist to have shaved a Z in the pubic region of Reynaud’s girlfriend Guy.
Guy herself is played by Edina Ronay, before she moved on to a career in the fashion world. Guy wields a crossbow in battle, and a beachfront fight scene between her and Harriet is one of the few scenes from this movie that recapture the high spirits of Big Zapper.
The absolute low point of the film comes when Harriet has to be rescued by Hock from a bunch of muscular thugs sicced on her by Reynaud. NO WAY should this have happened. The Zapper from the first movie took on greater odds than what she faces in this scene and it’s just more evidence of studio tampering.
Very close to the finale, Hock gets killed by Reynaud. This prompts Harriet to grab a pair of swords to fight her way through a gang of the villain’s sword wielding underlings. After dispensing with them, Zapper squares off against Lake’s big baddie.
Needless to say she wins, but you’ll have to find the uncut version to get to see her slice up the sadistic psycho as he gets more and more soaked in blood the more she hacks away at him.
A more “realistic” approach to Zapper’s Blade of Vengeance was the kiss of death for this potential franchise. Not only were no more Harriet Zapper films forthcoming but the character dropped down the memory hole, living on only in the minds of obsessive schlock fans like me. She deserved better.
FOR MY REVIEW OF JAMES BATMAN, AN UNAUTHORIZED BATMAN MOVIE WHICH TEAMS HIM UP WITH JAMES BOND CLICK HERE.
FOR MY LEO FONG MOVIE MARATHON CLICK HERE
FOR MY ROBERT GINTY MOVIE MARATHON CLICK HERE