Re-Viewdy Ray Moore Project #3 The Human Tornado (1976)
Back when I worked at a Blockbuster on the north side of Chicago back in the 1990s each store had the expected Comedy, Drama, Thriller and Action sections along with the all-important New Release wall but some stores had sections unique to them.
The Blockbuster where I worked, for example, had the usual sections devoted to Action and Adventure but also for Super Action and Wild Action. Wild Action combined the b-movie perennials of sex and violence in lurid carnival barker fashion, with covers that promised impossibly vast levels of sex, sleaze and the ultra-violence they had no intention of ever delivering on.
That was true of pretty much every tantalizingly sleazy selection in the Wild and Super Action sections with the very notable exception of the motion pictures made by Rudy Ray Moore. The Carter-era vehicles of the beloved blaxploitation icon whose life and films inspired Netflix’s new biopic My Name is Dolemite were unique in not only delivering on the prurient promise of the prohibitively vulgar tableaus of their posters but in over-delivering on craziness and sordid pulp appeal.
At the risk of hyperbole, Dolemite was, arguably, the craziest fucking movie ever made at the time of its release. Its follow-up, 1976’s The Human Tornado, is maybe ten times crazier.
It is, after all, a movie that contains a sequence that begins with Dolemite, in-demand male prostitute, pimp, karate master, defender of his community and his stable of karate-chopping call girls, nightclub entertainer, insult comedian, pioneering proto-rapper and all-around good guy and total badass gets a tip that the bad guy’s wife is sexually insatiable, a true nymphomaniac, and consequently even more suggestible to his overpowering sexual powers than another, less voracious woman might be.
So he dresses up like a nerdy door-to-door seller of black velvet erotic paintings of an inter-racial nature and show up at the woman’s front door, cognizant that when she takes even a single glance at this campy representation of eros at its most indiscreet she will have no choice but to paw at herself relentlessly in a bleary, overwhelming sexual haze of total, soul-consuming lust and jump the bones of the lusty salesman who introduced her to this masterpiece of the black velvet form.
That would be enough for even the most out-there exploitation movies. It’d be more than enough. It’d be infinitely too preposterous and ridiculous to even contemplate. With The Human Tornado, however, this isn’t the end; it’s only the beginning. It’s a baseline of craziness, not some wild apogee of b-movie nuttiness.
Then things really get wild. Dolemite is fucking this fortunate, overwhelmed woman so good that it seems to break her psychologically. She loses her grasp on reality completely and has a sexual fantasy where she is not having sex with a single chubby 48 year old man repeatedly shouting at her “Where is Cavaletti hiding my girls?”, something all women long to have screamed at them accusingly and angrily during the act of love making, but rather a series of dazed, zombie-like black hunks who emerge one after another from an outsized “Toy Box” like a sexual version of a crazy clown car.
Dolemite fucks this woman so good that not only does she reveal where Cavaletti is hiding his girls, but the sheer force of his powerful thrusts and raw sensual power causes the house they’re in to fall apart as if the victim of a powerful freak earthquake or some manner of Human Tornado.
That’s right: Dolemite fucks so good he literally brings down the house. No wonder women are willing to pay, and pay handsomely, for the opportunity to have Dolemite take them to new heights of sensual ecstasy.
That’s what gets Dolemite into trouble in the first place. He’s reluctantly having sex with the racist white sheriff’s sexually insatiable white wife in exchange for a fistful of cash when her old man bursts in, guns blazing. He is NOT happy to see his wife in bed with an African American gentleman so in a desperate, doomed attempt to hold onto her life she insists that Dolemite forced himself on her.
Aghast, Dolemite responds with an indignant, “Bi-otch!!!!! Are you for re-al?” Watching the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-Ray of The Human Tornado I was instantly and enjoyably thrust back into the distant past, when I was a video store clerk so obsessed with Moore’s oddball oeuvre that for a solid year my Blockbuster name tag unhelpfully read “Human Tornado.”
In a possibly related development, I would not lose my virginity until my very late teens. I vividly remember the joy I felt experiencing Moore’s most iconic moments for the first time. In a pre-internet age Moore was the king of the freeze-frame and the rewind button, an icon whose movies are full of moments you don’t just want to experience again, immediately, if not sooner, but that you want to quote extensively and introduce to friends and have tattooed on your body and emblazoned on your gravestone.
It’s not just what’s being said, necessarily. It’s also how it’s being said, the weird, unique, staccato rhythms, the odd emphases, the salty aggression. Decades before the internet was a thing, Moore was uniquely adept at creating gif-worthy moments, tiny little slices of z-movie bliss.
I cannot say how often the phrase, “Biotch—are you for re-al?” has run through my mind, always with Moore’s exact pronunciation. Oh sure, I never utter these words out loud but there’s a little Dolemite inside my head at all times and he expresses that sentiment on a pretty regular basis.
I look at Donald Trump and think, Bi-otch, are you for re-al? Sadly, the answer seems to be yes. The Human Tornado is overflowing with these moments. Having made one successful movie, Moore and his collaborators seem to think that they can literally do anything and everything and get away with it. Even more remarkably, they seem to be right.
Human Tornado opens on a wonderfully meta-note, with “Dolemite” doing what sure appears to be Rudy Ray Moore’s stand-up routine at a night club full of patrons as overjoyed to be in Dolemite’s presence as the many sex workers and tricks who have known his amorous charms. Dolemite’s act seems to consist mostly of telling overweight people that their girth will make it hard for them to be intimate with one another but he also tells a simultaneously delighted and insulted audience member that they’re so ugly they stopped the movie they were in.
Later Moore, feeling himself as a filmmaker as well as a leading man the likes of which the world of cinema had never known, freezes a stunt of his character jumping down a hill to avoid getting killed by the jealous sheriff, then brags as the shot is replayed, “So y’all don’t believe I jumped, huh? So watch this good shit!”
In The Human Tornado, Moore and director Cliff Roquemore delight in the artifice of cinema, and by “artifice of cinema” I mean “film’s unique ability to do freaky-ass shit.” What kind of freaky-ass shit?
During an endless action climax The Human Tornado uses sped-up film in the manner of The Benny Hill Show to give Moore’s punches and kicks a fury and a momentum they might lack if displayed at a normal speed. Dolemite is similarly transformed. He becomes a master of martial art poses and martial arts noises, if not quite martial arts. He’s not just as good at fighting as he is at fucking, he’s damn near superhuman, able to leap tall distances and cut down all manner of bad guys with his deadly command of the martial arts.
But before Dolemite can once again become the avenging spirit of his Total Experience nightclub he first needs to get from Alabama, where the jealous sheriff has killed his wife in a violent rage and is attempting to frame Dolemite for the murder, to his home base of Los Angeles.
Dolemite and his conspicuously much-younger crew, which includes a very young Ernie Hudson in a slick pink turtleneck (Hudson would of course go on to fame as Winston Zeddemore, a role intended for My Name is Dolemite star Eddie Murphy) figure that no white person will pick up four black hitchhikers so they rob a screaming caricature of a lisping homosexual of his car at gunpoint and take it Los Angeles with him in it.
Yes, every moment Dolemite is onscreen with the regressive stereotype he looks as if he’s catching a big old whiff of the world’s stinkiest cheese but considering the times, the genre and the broadness of the stereotype things play out in a shockingly non-offensive way.
Dolemite is all about the ladies, as we learn during the many scenes when he brings grateful beautiful women to heights of sensual pleasure they previously never imagined possible, but he doesn’t insult or assault the man whose car he stole for being a screaming queen. On the contrary, he thanks him for use of his vehicle and gives him some money for his trouble. The delighted kidnap “victim”, meanwhile, is just excited that he’s getting to visit California, something he’s always wanted to do.
In Los Angeles, Dolemite learns that Queen Bee (Lady Reed) and her karate-adept woman of ill repute need saving from Joe Cavaletti (Herb Graham), a rival nightclub owner who has kidnapped two of Queen Bee’s top performers, including a real-life trans performer named Sir Lady Java ostensibly playing herself, and is keeping them in a torture sex house overseen by what appears to be an actual witch.
Yes, an actual witch. This is Rudy Ray Moore and Dolemite we’re talking about. Throw your square-ass expectations out the window! Dolemite likes to call his enemies pepper-gut, insecure, no business having motherfuckers but the Sex Witch at the Torture Sex House looks like the kind of gal who would definitely love to curl up with a nice bowl of rat soup. It’s the only thing that can soothe her pepper gut and rampant insecurities.
Dolemite took the delirious, unselfconscious excess and gleeful delirium to wonderfully self-parodic extremes. The Human Tornado takes it even further.
Moore didn’t just make the very best bad movies in the Wild and Super Action sections; he embodied their drive-thru, exploitation, b-movie, grindhouse spirit, their vulgar gutsiness, their irrepressible life force.
Moore was wild. The Human Tornado is super special to folks like me who grew up on Dolemite and are overjoyed to have an excuse to dive deep into his funky new world all over again.
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