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Turning your real estate into a Grindhouse

I'm sick of rock 'n' roll. This week I'm writing about my first true love: Movies.

In my college days, my friends and I would waste entire nights putting on mini film festivals in our dorms, and later, our crappy little apartments. The movies were always linked by a single theme and the choices were voted on by the group.

It was an interesting way to explore the world of cinema. Some memorable screenings included New West Cowboy Night ("Rhinestone," "Bronco Billy," "Junior Bonner" and "Tender Mercies"); An Evening of Right-Wing Propaganda ("Red Dawn," "Dirty Harry," "Death Wish," "Rambo: First Blood Part 2" and "Commando") and The Films of "Rowdy" Ronny Piper ("They Live," "Hell Comes to Frogtown" and "Immortal Combat").

Spending Monday afternoon sitting through Quentin Tarantino's and Robert Rodriguez's "Grindhouse" brought back memories of the many sleaze-fests we hosted. Those nights were as memorable for the amount of Carlo Rossi burgundy wine we managed to spill on the dorm floor as for films like "Barbarian Queen" and "Cannibal Holocaust," which is, to my mind the most vile, blasphemous vision ever smeared on a theater screen.

So if you're thinking about turning your crappy apartment into a grindhouse theater for a night, here are few lesser-known gems you may want to consider.

Vengeance is Mine (1976)

This pleasant little apology for backwoods vigilantism was put on the alternate list for An Evening of Right-Wing Propaganda.

"Vengeance" tells the story of Adam Smith, Ernest Borgnine in his best role since "The Wild Bunch," a simple farmer whose comes to the realization that "this county's going to damnation" and decides to do something about it.

Damnation, indeed. Soon, three murderous big city bank robbers show up at Smith's farm with some bad intentions toward his hippy granddaughter, Lucy. The resourceful Smith gets the drop on the baddies, blowing away the leader with a shotgun and shackling the other two in his basement.

And here's where "Vengeance" transcends the simple action tale and slides into exploitation. The crooks, one played by the wormy Michael J. Pollard of "Bonnie and Clyde" fame, are tortured and humiliated over a manure pile by Smith. Borgnine's transformation from bitter rural conservative to wide-eyed, sweaty madman belongs in a time capsule.

Lucy, overcome by her grandfather's cruelty and her allegiance to all things hippy, decides to help the scum bags. Of course, they pay her back by trying to rape her, fully justifying Smith's final, bloody judgement. Preach on, brother Smith.

Freeway (1996)

Forget about the smarmy "Walk the Line," this is Reese Witherspoon's hall-of-fame performance.

She plays Vanessa Lutz, doomed to a life of squalor in East Los Angeles. Her mom's a prostitute, her stepfather a crack addict. Her real father is the notorious mass murderer Richard Speck. What's a girl to do?

Run off to her grandmother's house, of course. Little does Vanessa know, she has been targeted by "the I-5 Killer," played wonderfully by Kiefer Sutherland at his most un-Jack Bauer-like.

The film follows the Little Red Riding Hood archetype — Sutherland's character is named Bob Wolverton and Witherspoon wears a red hooded sweatshirt for a time — and ends with a violent showdown at grandma's house.

Along the way, Vanessa spends time in a women's prison, beats up a cop, loses her boyfriend Chopper to a drive-by shooting and ultimately comes out on top through the sheer force of her will.

I will show "Freeway" to my daughters before they begin the fifth grade.

The Woods (2006)

Here is director Lucky McKee's homage to the films of Italy's Gothic alchemist Dario Argento. It also features a subdued Bill Campbell role that reminds us our resident geek icon can actually act.

"The Woods" is set in a girls' boarding school surrounded by a forest that may or may not be home to a malevolent spirit. McKee channels Argento in the many mist-shrouded scenes that leave just enough doubt to keep us guessing whether or not this is a true ghost story or some M. Night Shyamalan con job.

Lucky for us, McKee doesn't rely on clunky last-minute twists. The cast, mostly young women, none of them you know, are far from horror movie cliches. Unlike most horror films, you actually find yourself rooting for them.

The final act is a straight-up Wiccan freak-out that rivals "The Wicker Man." And again, it's Bruce Campbell to the rescue, but not in a way you would expect.

I think those three can get you going on a good grindhouse night. We could usually get about six flicks in before sunrise. It's up to you to find the other three.