Making a sequel to Big Bad Mama wouldn’t have been an enviable task for anyone. For one thing, the original is revered as one of the all-time Corman classics and a peak-form example of the drive-in movie. It also didn’t help that said sequel was made 13 years after the fact, in an era when b-movies were being squeezed out of the theaters and it was harder than ever to compete with the pricey production values of Hollywood fare. To make matters worse, the end of Big Bad Mama was not exactly what you’d call a launching pad for a sequel.
That said, Big Bad Mama had was as much of a favorite on video as it was at the drive-ins and Corman was never one to leave a valuable asset unexploited so the task fell to Jim Wynorski. The end result doesn’t better the original but it’s an amiable piece of work that can be fun if the viewer can remove it from the context of being a sequel.
Big Bad Mama II dodges the problem of sequelizing the original by simply giving Wilma McClatchie (Dickenson) a new origin. This time, she’s a rural housewife who is vows revenge on greedy banker Morgan Crawford (Bruce Glover) after he steals away her home and has her husband shot dead by the law. With the help of her daughters, hothead Billie Jean (Danielle Brisebois) and naive Polly (Julie McCullough), Wilma decides to take revenge on Crawford. He’s running for elected office so she sets out to ruin his reputation and rob him blind.
Wilma makes a splash by robbing one of Crawford’s banks and then crashing a fundraiser. While there, she hits on the idea of kidnapping Crawford’s son, Jordan (Jeff Yagher), and turning him into a member of her criminal gang so his father will be embarrassed in the press. Thus, a battle of wills ensues between Wilma and Crawford as the crimes continue and he marshals his forces to stop her. Additional complications are provided by a budding romance between Polly and Jordan, discord between Wilma and Billie Jean and the presence of determined reporter Daryl Pearson (Robert Culp), who is determined to make a folk hero out of Wilma.
The finished product hits all the right beats but lightning does not strike twice. The problem with Big Bad Mama II is that it’s a little too aware of the big shoes it is trying to fill. Co-writers Wynorski and R.J. Robertson plot out a decent storyline that mirrors the original but that unfortunately forces direct comparisons between the two – and the story’s just not as exciting. Also, the dialogue strains for humor in a way that the original did not. Wynorski’s got a solid knack for pacing and makes the most of a surprising amount of production value but he doesn’t have the attention to detail a film like this needs: the southern accents of the younger cast waver all over the map, the distinctly 1980’s hairstyles work against the otherwise decent period detail and the action scenes are a bit ragged.
Still, Big Bad Mama II has its charms. Dickenson remains as sexy and likeable as ever and she has nice chemistry with Culp, who handles the reporter role with his usual wry humor. Glover is also worthy of note as the villain, delivering a committed and intense turn that periodically perks the film up. The younger cast members don’t fare as well – Yagher tends toward the wooden and Brisebois’s southern accent is pretty awful – but McCullough is appealing. Most importantly, Wynorski keeps the pace crackling and the tone light. He also delivers an unexpectedly strong dramatic moment near the end between Wilma and Billie Jean.
Ultimately, Big Bad Mama II is more of a diversion than a classic but it’s fun enough to rate as a decent time-killer for the veteran exploitation crowd. At the very least, it offers Corman scholars an interesting way to size up two different eras of Corman’s career by how each handles the same basic material.