Petey Wheatstraw:
The Devil's Son-in-Law
U.S.A. / 1977
Directed by Cliff Roquemore
Rudy Ray Moore
Jimmy Lynch
G. Tito Shaw
Color / 93 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
Xenon Pictures
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    6   10 = Highest Rating  
By any conventional measurement this is an absolutely terrible movie. As such it's on a par with Rudy Ray Moore's previous excursions in thrift shop ghetto cinema, Dolemite (1975) and its sequel, The Human Tornado (1976). All of these films are incredibly cheap, horribly acted if one can even dignify such performances with the term "acting" and incompetently helmed. (At least the director manages to keep boom mikes out of the shots this time.) The stories and dialog are crass and vulgar, reveling in the scatological and (by today's standards) super-politically incorrect. Anyone easily offended should avoid these films like the plague. If you're a bit more hip to Rudy Ray's particular vibe, however, then Petey Wheatstraw should have you laughing lustily in between moments of slack-jawed astonishment.
Opening with a bit of his characteristic spoken word poetry rap, Rudy sets the stage for his (Petey's) birth in Miami. In the midst of a powerful hurricane, a doctor (the same irritating jerk who played Sheriff Bently in Human Tornado) is summoned to the bedside of his mother, who's suffering from a most unusual pregnancy
her belly is swollen to gargantuan size. The doc is shocked when the first thing to emerge from her womb is a watermelon. (At least he doesn't stop to thump it.) Then Petey himself is born... only instead of an infant he's the size of an 8-year old, already wearing a diaper, and able to talk! "I'll call you Petey Wheatstraw," Mom declares, as if this is supposed to have some significance. We then segue into the opening credits, which detail young Petey's instruction in the martial arts by a strange Kwai Chang Cain-like figure named Bantu. When Bantu tells Petey he's learned all there is to teach including how to dice a watermelon with a samurai sword the boy declares that what he really wants to be is a comedian.
    By the time he's an adult Petey has conquered the world of standup comedy with equal aplomb. He's so successful in fact that rival comedians Leroy and Skillet (the stage name of comedy duo Leroy Daniels and Ernest Mayhand) totally panic when his engagement at another club threatens to undercut their business. They're heavily in debt to Mafia boss Mr. White (who is, of course, Caucasian) and can't let Petey threaten the success of their new musical-comedy review. Petey tersely tells 'em to stick it when asked to postpone his show. Leroy and Skillet order their henchmen to apply pressure by roughing up one of Petey's entourage. Instead a young boy, the cousin of Petey's friend, is unintentionally killed. (Providing a wildly out of place moment of supposedly "serious" drama.) Realizing that Petey won't back down, Leroy and Skillet's men show up at the boy's funeral armed with machine guns and massacre everyone attending the service including Petey himself! Yes, Petey Wheatstraw is dead. But a nattily dressed man (G. Tito Shaw) appears from nowhere to stand by his corpse. When the mysterious figure calls him by name, Petey opens his eyes. It is Lucifer himself, come to offer Petey a deal he can't refuse. Ol' Scratch will restore him to life if Petey will agree to marry the Devil's daughter. Shown a picture of his prospective bride, Petey doesn't think too highly of the proposal. She is the Bride from Hell literally. "Oh hell no, man," he says. "No, no, no. I won't marry her, deal or no deal. Kill me, man!" To butter him up, the Devil offers Petey the use of a magic cane with which he can exact revenge on Leroy and Skillet. Petey a brother with supreme confidence in his own abilities reasons he can take the deal and then figure a way to get out of it. But for all his bravado, can this jive talkin' kung fu warrior/comedian really beat the Devil at his own game?
    This movie is quite simply insane. It dips even further into surrealist territory than Human Tornado did, particularly during scenes in which Petey uses the enchanted cane to wreak havoc at his rivals' club or to do good works around the 'hood, such as turning a fat woman skinny and replacing a ghetto family's broken down junker of a car with a shiny new sedan. (Thus earning Lucifer's wrath.) The Devil also throws Petey one hell of a bachelor party. As with the two Dolemite films there's plenty of kneeslapping action courtesy of the ludicrous kung fu fights; one has Moore (or rather his obvious stunt double) taking out a gang of thugs while clad in his BVDs. The final battles, setting Petey and friends against a horde of demons summoned from the Infernal Pit guys with burned faces wearing K-Mart Halloween costumes and plastic horns glued to their foreheads had me convulsing in hysterics. I simply could not believe what I was seeing! Petey Wheatstraw is trash, all right... pure, unadulterated crap. (For an example of how much care went into making it, consider this: In the end credits, stunt men are listed as "marshall arts fighters".) It's also a primo "guilty pleasure", the kind of movie you can enjoy but probably won't want to let most people know that you do. Copping a stout buzz of either the liquid or herbal kind is highly recommended before viewing.

Previously released on DVD, Petey Wheatstraw was reissued in March 2002 along with six other Rudy Ray Moore discs as part of the company's bargain-priced Dolemite Collection boxed set. (The DVDs are also available individually.) Don't expect a pristine transfer. The film is presented fullframe with a perfectly serviceable mono audio track. The reissued disc's extras include animated menu screens, a series of "urban" radio spots for Rudy Ray movies, the theatrical trailers for Human Tornado, Dolemite and Disco Godfather, a rather lame (text only) trivia "game", and a brief location tour guided by Moore himself. (Shot on a home camcorder, the sound quality of this "tour" footage is quite poor.) 7/15/02