Tag Archives: Tom Laughlin

RIP Tom Laughlin

billy jack born losers

Tom Laughlin is not as well known as Peter O’Toole, certainly, but Laughlin made his own mark on the movie business. He died today at 82.

Laughlin was probably best known for creating the character of Billy Jack, a pacifist who unleashed his deadly martial arts moves when he was pushed … too … far.

Laughlin played Billy Jack in four movies: “The Born Losers” in 1967, “Billy Jack” in 1971, “The Trial of Billy Jack” in 1974 and “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” in 1977. He was ultra-recognizable with his close-cropped hair and blue jean jacket. He was also the guy usually laying waste to a bunch of heavies.

Although the movies were pretty straightforward vigilante fantasies, Laughlin, who also directed, was credited with pioneering modern-day marketing techniques and releasing some of his films himself when big studios spurned them.

Laughlin ran for president – yes, president – in 1992, 2004 and 2008.

Last year I wrote about going to see “The Born Losers” at the drive-in. Here’s that entry.


‘Shocking’ drive-in movie ads!

There’s something about this weather that reminds me of going to drive-in movies.

Around here, we had two — the Muncie Drive-In and the Ski-Hi Drive-In — in or near the city and another — the Blackford County Drive-In — just to the north. The latter wasn’t the type of drive-in your parents took you to, however. The Blackford showed “adult” movies — porn, in other words.

As for the Muncie and the Ski-Hi, I spent many, many hours there as a kid and young adult.

One of my earliest drive-in moviegoing memories was of seeing the 1967 flick “Born Losers” at one of Muncie’s two drive-ins. “Born Losers” was a low-budget action movie that introduced the cult character of Billy Jack (played by Tom Laughlin), a returning Vietnam vet who takes on a motorcycle gang. The movie actually inspired sequels.

I remember seeing it with my parents and paternal grandmother. Why my parents decided to take me or my grandmother to a (in my memory) sleazy, bloody action movie I can’t imagine.

I just remember my grandmother nearly fainting into her concession-stand pizza after the bad guys push a young man’s face into the windshield of a car, resulting in a bloody, slobbery mess. Onscreen, I mean.

From time to time in this spot I’ll share some memories and some great old drive-in movie ads.

How about this one for a re-release of “The Mask” Not the Jim Carrey comedy but a bizarre 1961 horror movie about an ancient mask that has the power to drive people crazy. Some remember “The Mask” from the early 1980s, when it was re-released at the height of the 3-D revival.

This “midnight shock-a-thon” ad features not only “The Mask” but “The Bat,” probably a 1959 Vincent Price thriller and “Town Without Pity,” a 1961 Kirk Douglas movie that is sold, as you can tell from the ad, in the sleaziest way possible:

“The story of what four men did to a girl .. and what the town did to them!”

This ad has some exploitation/drive-in advertising gems, including “A free comb to all after your hair-raising experience!” I can hear it now: “Mom, Dad, can we go to the drive-in tonight? They’re giving away free combs!”

Lastly, how about the exploitation double-feature classic “I Drink Your Blood” and “I Eat Your Skin.” The former is a 1970 movie about Satanists terrorizing a town. The latter originally came out in 1964 and was about zombies. The combination of titles was drive-in movie gold.

The canny drive-in operator offered a free buffet of “skin chips and dip” and “flesh fries” and provided free Tums.

Who wouldn’t turn out for this drive-in combo?