Another week, another roundup of my genre related writing from around the web. True crime, bathhouse bawdiness and all of the terror trash my editors saw fit to print. As always, come chat with me in the comments or on Twitter.
After his wildly successful adventures in gore horror with Herschell Gordon Lewis, producer David F. Friedman saw the writing was also on the wall for the relatively innocent days of the nudie cutie. Sexploitation fans were also ready for something more shocking, box office receipts declining by the minute for playful peeping and nudist frolics.
A very young Lee Frost (still credited under his “respectable” documentarian guise of R.L. Frost) signed on as director. The production’s budget was a minuscule $11,000. Friedman wrote the script himself, and The Defilers was cranked out in just 5 days.
The film starts out pretty firmly in juvenile delinquent territory, with the affluent Carl (Byron Mabe, director of She Freak) picking up his best friend Jameison (Jerome Eden) and a bevy of beauties for a day at the beach. Carl is quickly bored with bikini babes and booze, and soon he’s pontificating in the way only the entitled idle rich can. The only thing that matters in this “crummy, square infested life” is kicks, and he’s not getting any out of this incredibly long game of beach blanket bingo.
Turns out the real hep cats get their kicks out of taking their girlfriends to daddy’s empty warehouses that double as secret sex dungeons, peeping on their best friend’s sexual conquests, or idly burning their beach companions with cigarettes just to watch them flinch. Every woman in the film points out that Carl is a maximum overdrive creeper, but Jameison staunchly defends his best buddy in a way that is either sheer stupidity or a borderline homoerotic infatuation.
Picking up some weed from blowsy madam imported from a different movie connect Mrs. Olson (Mimi Marlowe), they meet her new tenant, the fresh off the farm Jane Collins (Mai Jansson). Trying to cover her drug dealing tracks, Mrs. Olson pretends it’s a social call and volunteers the boys to give Jane a ride out to the valley for her acting lessons. Like every other busty blonde in Hollywood, she left her family and friends back home in Minnesota to try to break down the pearly gates of the movie studios.
Stoned out of his mind and pissed he had to waste gas he probably didn’t even pay for, Carl cooks up a plot to kidnap Jane, and keep her in his dirty mattress rape den as a personal sex slave. Jameison resists for all of 5 minutes, but the risk of being caught and the sheer vileness of the plan are nothing in the face of being called a chicken by Carl. The pair lure poor Jane into their lair with the promise of a party, and a film that had already rounded the corner into bleakness goes pitch black.
While a lot of the New York City shot films of the period are so inept they almost become comical, The Defilers is shot in an effective bargain basement noir style, with a slick jazz soundtrack and some decently accurate hipster slang. Byron Mabe and Jerome Eden are fairly credible in their sociopathy and spinelessness, respectively.
It’s just professional enough to hold your attention as a narrative film, but just grungy enough that you have reason to be suspicious of the fact that the majority of the female cast never made another movie. When a single tear rolls down Jane’s face in close up as she is being assaulted, its disquietingly real looking.
Both David Friedman (Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS) and Lee Frost (A Climax of Blue Power) moved on to make much bigger, more explicit cinematic provocations. With its depressingly matter of fact treatment of male entitlement and the violence as money shot roughie template it helped originate, The Defilers has a uniquely grimy power entirely its own. There are plenty of films more explicitly violent or sexual, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything much sleazier. The Defilers is just as dark and nasty as the sticky seat adult theaters it played in.
They are many reasons why an actor who has had a degree of mainstream success would find themselves working in low budget cinema. Perhaps their career prospects have cooled as they aged (Anita Ekberg , Mercedes McCambridge). Maybe their career is just starting, and they take the lead in a B feature to attempt to prove they can carry more than secondary roles (Phillip Michael Thomas).
Lyle Waggoner falls somewhere in between. He had had success as both a model and in television during the 60s. By 1972 he was a beloved long running member of the ensemble cast of The Carol Burnett Show, a certified heart throb with a touch for light comedy. Each week, his smiling face was beamed into living rooms all over America on one of the most popular shows of the era.
Unfortunately, movie roles had always basically eluded him. Lyle made a few stabs in the late 60s, but the likes of Catalina Caper and Swamp Country were centered more on his youthful, square jawed good looks than any display of acting talent. Waggoner was still handsome, but was approaching middle age, and perhaps was feeling the pressure to pivot to theatrical leading man status before his days as every housewife’s favorite dream boat were completely over.
However it happened, this week’s film is one of the premier slices of psychosexual 70s weirdness there is, directed by a one and done high school theater teacher named Jacques Lacerte. From fall of 1972, the “my heart belongs to Daddy” epic Love Me Deadly:
The film opens on a funeral, with beautiful blonde Lindsay Finch (Mary Charlotte Wilcox) sitting in the back row. Waiting until all of the other mourners have left, she tentatively walks up the aisle to the casket, delicately raising the veil on her stylish oversized hat. Furtively glancing around, she leans in and plants a passionate kiss on the deceased.
Despite having wasted no time (3:10 to be precise) jumping into the necrophiliac waters of taboo, the credits roll over sepia images of a blonde moppet and her father playing happily, obligatory AM radio title theme song playing on the soundtrack.
Cut to a swinging party at Lindsey’s rather lavish house, full of food, friends, fun……and a variety pack of greasy and overly grabby future date rapists of America who are very into her. They are also very bad at taking no for an answer.
Should you question my characterization, the next scene is the blonde Ken doll up there (given the properly vintage villainous name of Wade) following Lindsay as she heads to her bedroom to freshen up, and attempting to force himself on her. She nearly scratches his eyes out, and he finally takes the damn hint to leave. Being a complete waste of even 50 plus year old cinematic oxygen, he calls Lindsey a bitch on the way out.
Understandably shaken, she clutches a stuffed teddy for comfort, and we get another sepia montage of when her beloved father gifted her the toy.
While Lindsey settles her nerves hunting through the funeral notices for any young handsome men being laid to rest, we are suddenly dropped into what may as well be different movie. In a sense it is, as this is one of the inserts shot after the fact. Producers insisted the film play less like a soapy melodrama, and more like a traditional horror film.
A street hustler is plying his trade outside an adult theater (I. William Quinn who also appeared in brutal roughie A Climax Of Blue Power). Up rolls Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott), the creepy funeral home director from the first scene, presumably looking for a good time.
All things considered, I doubt any sex worker would get into a car with the world’s most unctuous undertaker for the promise of only $15, but this guy does. Slow night, I guess. He does up it to $25 when McSweeney insists on taking him to the funeral parlor for the trick.
We drop back in to the main plot for a moment. Lindsay is doing her usual hot lips for cold stiffs routine, when she gets startled by the arrival of the deceased’s hunky brother, Alex (Lyle Waggoner). Disturbed by both nearly getting caught, and Alex’s resemblance to her dearly departed dad, Lindsay bolts.
Meanwhile back at the funeral parlor, McSweeney proves he’s the serial killer the dead eyes and greasy hair told us he was, embalming his “date” alive. It’s the only scene in the movie that is genuinely harrowing, and considering the main subject matter here, that’s saying something.
We get a montage to upbeat, kicky sitcom music of Lindsay being a stylish little stalker. Spying on Alex at his brother’s burial, looking him up in the phone book to ferret out his workplace, sitting outside the window of his job and running for dear life when he notices her. The sepia toned flashbacks of daddy keep on coming.
As Lindsay is a rich and conventionally attractive blonde white lady, not even Alex finds all this as weird as it obviously is.
I do have to give murderous Fred McSweeney half credit, as he’s the only person in the whole film who notices that something is very wrong with Lindsay. Seeing her skulking about yet another funeral, he corners her in her car. On the ride to the cemetery, he handily defines “necrophilia” and that lovers are of the dead “are quite ordinary people, just the needs and desires are different”.
I don’t know how much life advice I would take from a man for whom cold blooded murder is a sex toy. In any case, he mentions he has a conveniently located necrophile cult right in his funeral home, and will be happy to provide her educational literature if she happens to be interested. Usually this level of hard sell is reserved for Amway, but I suppose a Satanic necrophile cult needs to modernize like any other highly suspicious bit of industry.
Lindsay speeds off in anger, and Fred sails off into the night for another sex worker.
True to his word, McSweeney snail mails Lindsay the details on the next cult meeting, in a discreet unmarked envelope. Desperate to avoid doing the two backed dance of the dead, she calls up date rape Wade.
Halfway through the evening, she realizes the outing was a waste of a fabulous fur coat, and that she’s probably safer and happier with the devil worshippers. Considering what we’ve seen of Wade, she isn’t wrong.
She tells him she has a headache, and burns rubber to the funeral home. However, the sight of their corpse fueled key party is too much for her. Being a one cadaver kind of girl, she runs away in tears. Freaky Fred offers her a more “private viewing” at a later date, as well as an ominous warning to “keep our little secret”.
When she arrives home, things get no better, as Wade is sitting in her house asking questions that are none of his damn business, about where she went so late at night.
Trying to drive away her urges, she lets the butter blonde butthurt boy spend the night. They go on a date the next day, and just happen to stop by Alex’s gallery for an art opening. Once Alex reenters the picture, it’s very clear that the gallery isn’t the only thing that’s open. Bye, Wade.
There is a long ass montage of wacky hijinks and sweet young love, straight out of a soap opera or a shampoo commercial. By the time the ominous music cue hits announcing Fred McSweeney’s phone call about that “private viewing”, it’s a welcome return to what is supposed to be a horror film.
Wade happens to see Lindsay’s car driving by while he’s using a payphone. Proving yet again he may very well be the worst person in a movie that involves a serial killer, a necrophiliac, and a Satanic cult, he jumps in his car to follow her.
We all know exactly where Lindsay is headed, but Wade just can’t grasp anything she does being none of his concern. At least his asshole characterization is consistent.
Lindsay’s private dance with the dead gets interrupted by the fracas outside, and Wade’s lifeless corpse becomes part of some sort of dollar store Satanist ritual that even Joe Sarno would have found embarrassingly cheap.
Despite having known him for all of 2 weeks, Lindsay runs away from all this death by marrying Alex. Too bad the wedding ring still didn’t solve the whole issue of her being unable to have sex with anyone who has a pulse.
Lyle offers to sleep in another bedroom until Lindsay decides she wants him. Inexplicably, this is followed by another amber hued, boring as hell happy couple montage. I’m neither straight, nor have I ever married. However, even I know that is definitely NOT how that works.
Alex happens to see Lindsay’s car on his way to work, but she doesn’t respond when he honks and waves, as she is in her mourning garb. Alex manages to follow her, but is utterly confused as to why she would be making mid day visits to a funeral home.
He asks her about it later that evening, but she has an elaborate gift and a fancy dinner ready for their 3 week anniversary (!) in some masterful psyops. Feeling guilty, he lets the matter drop.
Alex comes home early the next day to bring Lindsay a gift, but Lindsey isn’t at home. The housekeeper mentions that what Lindsay does is “unnatural” and that the staff basically raised Lindsey after her father died. The housekeeper was demoted to a two day a week caretaker, because little rich girl Lindsay was pissed that the hired help pointed out the obvious.
When Lyle heads to the cemetery, he finds Lindsay in a child’s pigtails speaking in a baby voice while skipping around the headstone singing “Skinnamarink”. I’m genuinely unsure which is worse….the fact that the song made me remember Barney & Friends ever existed, or Lyle’s attempt to emote after this thunderingly obvious revelation.
Breakfast the next morning is tense, as Lindsay demands the housekeeper be fired, and Alex (correctly) states that their marriage is a sham, “just two kids playing a game”. When Lindsay storms off to sulk, the awkwardness and ski slope of red flags intensify when a registered letter arrives for Lindsay from McSweeney’s funeral home.
Alex is either the kindest man who has ever lived or the ultimate in brainless himbos, as he hands her the letter without asking questions. Apologies are exchanged for the heated argument, and the couple take the afternoon off to picnic in the country.
When Lindsay gets a mysterious headache that doesn’t need a doctor or medicine or anyone to see where she goes after 10pm, Alex FINALLY catches on to how quickly his marriage is going six feet under. Lindsay is in the bathroom as he is preparing to leave for a family party, and he snoops at the letter from Mcsweeney’s detailing another mysterious “meeting”.
I have no idea why a death cult would send a registered letter, or a member of said death cult would leave the opened letter on their bedside table. The image quality isn’t good enough to see if the post code is stamped “plot device”.
Lyle leaves the party early, and follows Lindsay to the funeral home…..
…..only to find his formerly frigid wife enthusiastically mounting the recently deceased…..
…… and to get quickly stabbed to death by Mcsweeney to keep the cult’s secret safe.
Mcsweeney takes Lindsay home and pumps her full of tranquilizers to keep her calm. Turns out she killed her father all those years ago, in an accident with an unattended gun. The trauma made her ideal man have to be identical to Daddy…..including the part about being deceased.
Mcsweeney brought Alex home to “prepare” him for her, embalming him so he could be hers forever. When Lindsay walks into Alex’s room, she sees Mcsweeney about to make an incision on the corpse, but in her drug addled state she doesn’t realize no one can hurt Alex anymore, given he’s already dead.
She bludgeons Mcsweeney to death with a decorative statue, happy her Alex is safe. She climbs into bed with his corpse, and though her face is tear streaked, she nuzzles next to “Daddy” and smiles as she closes her eyes.
Mary Charlotte Wilcox was right to smile. Somehow both leads of this glorified Very Special Episode about the dangers of necrophilia managed to have careers after this, albeit not in feature films. Lyle Waggoner went on to star in the Wonder Woman television series, and had a long career as a working character actor. Mary Charlotte Wilcox went on to write and perform in popular comedy series SCTV.
Like many things that happened during the 70s, both actors quietly resolved to never speak of Love Me Deadly again. All things considered, it obviously worked out better for everyone to let the dead stay buried.
Another week, another roundup of my genre related writing from around the web. From bloody B-movie valentines to Blaxploitation vampires, its all of the terror thoughts my fine editors saw fit to print. As always, come chat with me in the comments or on Twitter.
How Killer Klowns From Outer Space Became the Last Great Creature Feature– Before the snarky self awareness of meta horror became the dominant mode, there was this delightful bit of big top horror from effects wizards the Chiodo brothers. A throwback to atomic age monster kid culture and vintage rubber suit romps, and likely the last great entry in that subgenre.
Jade Cochran (Claire Brennen) is a diner waitress with a terrible Southern accent and an even worse boss. When an advance man for a traveling show stops in for lunch, Jade leaves the greasy spoon behind for an exciting job at the carnival…..as a waitress.
Jade’s wonder at her new home allows director Byron Mabe (The Acid Eaters) PLENTY of time to linger over every detail of the shooting location, and there’s actually a pretty decent industrial/time capsule of carny life in all the meandering. Set up, tear down, hand painted banners, the actual mummified corpse of an Old West outlaw and accurate explanations of the snappy slang of showfolk are all present and accounted for with a 60’s lounge pop soundtrack.
After 20 minutes of grab ass at the greasy spoon, and a solid half hour of Jade’s day at the fair, the film suddenly remembers the framing device at its opening and gets into its actual plot. That plot being a half cooked knock off of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, Freaks, give or take the actual sideshow performers and a burlesque style stripper.
Jade is our ersatz scheming acrobat, character actor Bill McKinney is the sweet natured sucker, and the firing of a little person ever so cleverly named Shorty (Felix Silla) is the catalyst for the unseen freaks’ revenge. Gorgeously tense avenging angels advancing in the rain, a few extras lit with color gels holding prop knives in their teeth, what’s the difference? You say potato, David Friedman and crew say po-tat-o.
The final transformation of Jade manages to be campy, crepe-y and cleavage-y all at once. Unless you are a sucker for circuses, carnivals and other old fashioned American amusements, its a bit of a slog to get to the reveal the movie sets up for in the opening sequence. If you have particularly fast fingers you can freeze frame the trailer above and catch the monster. Those with poor twitch reflexes can check out the poster art. Either way, you’ll have seen enough of this She Freak to to get your ten cents worth and make haste for the egress.
The juvenile delinquency subgenre was one of the evergreens of exploitation cinema. Every generation thinks the kids coming up behind them are just the wildest, most wanton monsters that ever existed, and the subject makes for an easy mix of sensationalism and mildly taboo titillations. In a cinematic realm known to be boldly transgressive of social norms and mores, it is unfailingly amusing that the rather conservative “Get off my lawn!” was one of exploitation’s loudest and longest lasting rallying cries.
From 1935 to roughly 1965, a host of B movie producers kept cranking out films that were as identical as McDonalds hamburgers. The flavors of moral panic and the fashions would change (jazz and liquor giving way to hot rods and tight sweaters) but the films would always work on the same basic engine.
Teens (read: not a day below 25) would be tempted by some combination of forbidden things that dared look like they might actually be fun. Sex, drugs, queerness, multiculturalism, or music with a beat you can actually dance to were all on the permanent naughty list.
At least one character (usually the designated hero, but not always) abstains from the debauchery, but is such a sanctimonious prat it is impossible to root for them, even on the rare occasions they are right. The wayward and their exploits provide the more salacious content that actually got asses in the seats.
That brings us to today’s film. A tale of two sisters, one as pure as the driven snow, the other headed toward the slush of late nights and stiff drinks. Let’s get into Elmer Clifton’s 1944 melodrama, Youth Aflame:
This particular print is billed under the alternate title of HoodlumGirls. The film was shot in 1942, released in 1944. Amazingly, prints were still kicking around the bottom of double features 15 years later, as the copyright date for the retitling is 1959. Youth Aflame/Hoodlum Girls outlived its own director, as Elmer Clifton died of a brain hemorrhage in 1949.
Meet Katy White (Joy Reese). She has been lying in state at the Receiving Hospital of the Police Department (as per the prominently placed signage). In the innocent days of 1944, I suppose people believed the police would have actual reason to want to help someone heal.
In any case, she briefly comes to from her coma/shock at the wartime ban on nylons/whatever. She shrieks about someone having a gun. Katy then notices her sister Laura (Kay Morley) at her bedside,and mumblingly chastises her about being too pretty to do the things she did, whatever those were. Framing device established, Katy daintily passes back out to cut to our first flashback.
Laura sneaks through the girls’ shared bedroom window after a late night of dancing and drinks with Mr. Al Simpson. Katy promptly lectures her about staying out late, having a drink and accepting the gifts of liquor and the rather fetching slip Laura is currently wearing.
Laura wants to drop out of school and marry Al. Katy, greatly overestimating the job market for women once the war ended, thinks Laura needs a diploma so she can afford to buy her own things
Not only is she a scold, but Katy had it backwards. Laura could ONLY do what she’s doing because she’s so pretty. A full night of dinner, drinks and dancing, new lingerie AND home in time to not wake dear old Daddy? Well played.
After a few more of Katy’s parent defending bedside confessions of a terminal kiss ass, we cut to our next flashback. Katy and Laura are being raised by their bank guarding single dad. He has no issue brandishing one of his work guns at the table, but scolds Katy for picking it up because “guns aren’t for girls”.
Half the neighborhood shows up to interrupt the family’s breakfast, including Mr. Al Simpson (who is just as much of a sleazy lech as you’d expect), some random guy who likes to spout factoids, the student body president from school, and a policewoman following up on Laura’s report of a skirt being stolen from her locker. Mr. White is nonplussed by all of this, until the female police officer shows up, because “police work is a man’s job”.
When Mr. White wanders back off to the living room to make an itemized list of all the other things puny ladybrains can’t do, Mr. Simpson takes the opportunity to suck face with Laura, and inform her that if she REALLY loves him, she’ll steal one of Daddy’s guns for his unspecified “business”.
Katy and the wholesome jars of mayo she calls friends help Madame Policewoman set up a milk bar called the JIVE club to keep the local teens out of trouble and on their way to the appropriate calcium intake. Because B pictures always need some insulation to hit minimum feature runtime, we watch along with the squares as some dork in a car salesman sport coat drums tunelessly for 5 minutes out of a 57 minute film.
Laura steps in for all of us when she sneaks off to a real bar (smart), to pass on the gun to Al Simpson while trying to convince him to marry her (not so much). At least the filler entertainment at the real bar is three pretty ladies who do some legitimately impressive acrobatics in heels.
While Katy and her squad of suck ups butter up Ms. Policewoman with tales of how she saved them at a critical time in their lives, where their nerdier friends “could have gone either way”, the intrepid investigator notices Laura is not amongst her fawning fans.
Katy briefly redeems herself when she goes to the real club to warn her sister that the fuzz are on their way. She then ruins it immediately by switching back to her usual nagging. Now that Laura has committed to her plan of getting Mr. Simpson to marry her, Katy gives her a lecture that you “shouldn’t want marriage to get AWAY from home, but to build one”
In any case, Al Simpson is sick of Katy’s meddling, and he needs the gun still sitting in Laura’s purse. He spikes the punch at the JIVE ass club. Drunken fun ensues, and the squares even manage a jitterbug. Of course, the sound of joy means the cops come to shut it down.
Some more filler as we watch Laura and Al listen to a crooner that would embarrass Michigan J Frog. Meanwhile, one of Al’s cronies lures Katy into Al’s empty house, telling her that Laura is waiting for her there. Unsurprisingly, Al’s BFF is also what the parlance of the time would call a “masher”, and that I would call “deserving of a solid kick in the balls”.
Square jaw class president comes to save the day with some shadowboxing, followed by a perturbed Al and Laura. The exertion disrupts his Brylcreemed coif, but he manages to get both sisters out of the apartment.
Mr. White finally noticed his girls were missing, and Katy’s insurance salesman of a boyfriend gets a dressing down for the lateness of the hour and the proof of the booze.
The girls go to bed, and their usual bickering devolves into a catfight. In full coverage, borderline union suit style pajamas. This somewhat defeats the purpose of including a catfight that isn’t remotely necessary to the plot.
We’re coming in hot on the last of the runtime, and it won’t take much to resolve the main plot. Here comes the filler, where a girl we’ve seen for maybe 30 seconds in the whole film, gets a feature turn as a teen that attempts to attempt suicide for the guilt of imbibing. Dame Policewoman saves her with a lecture, and wore her best tissue ruffle tear absorbent blouse.
She then has a roundtable discussion with all of the “good kids” about how its their civic duty to snitch on the person who had the shitty taste to bother making White Russians out of all possible cocktails. The JIVE club must reopen to provide “congenial social gathering places” for the youth to learn to eventually become good providers and happy housewives.
Girls like Laura who like glamour, excitement or the remotest possibility of sexual agency? If all girls were like them, “there wouldn’t be any homes!”.
Speaking of, Laura has dressed up in her best imitation of a frontier madam to run away from home for good, another one of Daddy’s bank guarding guns in her bag. If this caper doesn’t make that Al Simpson marry her, NOTHING will!
No one notices for quite a while, as the earth shattering revelation that it was likely SOMEONE OLD ENOUGH TO BUY LIQUOR that spiked the punch is reverberating in the goody two shoes and useless authority figure community.
As for Daddy? He’s too busy ripping Katy’s Milquetoast McHearthrob a new one, again. In a brilliant(-ly stupid) countermove, Potato Salad With Raisins asks for Katy’s hand in marriage.
Then and only then do they notice Laura’s hastily scrawled note on a paper grocery bag. Mr. White, being consistently characterized, complains immediately at the waste of time and money it was trying to educate her feeble femmechild mind, and he once again harrumphs off to the living room to contemplate female uselessness and smoke cigars.
Surprising no one…..Al reveals he had no intention of marrying Laura…….
…..but Laura finally lives up to that ridiculous hat and pulls the gun on Simpson to make it clear, wedding bells or ambulance sirens…….
……luckily Katy and Mr. Suave Sweatervest arrive in the nick of time…….
….only to find Katy passed out on the floor from the shock of none of this having sweet fuck all to do with her……
…..which explains all of her melodramatic swooning in the opener.
Once Mrs. Policewoman hands Laura, Al, and his flunky over to the jail wardens, she delivers quite the dressing down to Mr. White. Is it because of his blatant neglect of his own kids? The fact that not 1 but 2 unsecured guns got stolen out of his household? That he is clearly the worst security guard on the planet? His unbridled disdain for women?
Nope. She lectures him on his lack of understanding of modern youth, who need good clean social entertainments in addition to home life, in order for delinquency tragedies like this not to happen. What qualifies as a good, clean social entertainment? You guessed it. Her god damned milk bar.
Cut to credits on a cautionary tale that may as well have been brought to you by the Dairy Farmers of America and the local 4H. Milk, milk, lemonade….on Poverty Row the fudge is made.
This week’s Monster Munch is a special edition round up of my coverage of May’s virtual Chattanooga Film Fest 2020 for the lovelies at Wicked Horror, full of sneak peek reviews of upcoming genre focused titles. As always you can always chat with me in the comments or on Twitter.
Homewrecker– This fast and funny dark comedy stars Precious Chong and Alex Essoe as fast friends who find themselves fighting to the death when one of them spirals into obsessive territory. An updated piece of hagsploitation for the MTV generation, it was my favorite of the festival, and is currently in wide release on VOD.
Jumbo– Portrait Of A Lady On Fire‘s Noémie Merlant stars in this Zoe Wittrock directed arthouse love story. It just happens to be a love story between a young girl and a carnival ride. A visually lush take, loosely based on real life stories of objectum sexuality.
Attack Of The Demons– Director/Animator Eric Power and writer Andreas Petersen deliver a love letter to horror with this gorgeous hand cut animated film. Three friends back in their rural home town for a music festival are suddenly tasked with saving the world when a mysterious cult unleashed demonic forces. If South Park and TheEvil Dead had a love child, it would likely look like this animated horror-comedy
Killer Queen– Ramin Fahrenheit’s shot on Super 8 homage to grindhouse grittiness unfortunately apes a lot of the flaws of the low budget seediness it so lovingly homages. That said, the careful care in the callbacks and an amazing musical score make this flick oddly transfixing for hard genre lovers.
Bruno Mattei was the Xerox of exploitation cinema. Whatever style of movie was popular at the time, he could direct a facsimile faster, more cheaply, and usually in worse taste. Women in prison flicks, Nazisploitation, Nunsploitation, nothing was too sacred to shamelessly rip off in his nearly 40 year career. If it was making bank, he was making a copy as close as budget and copyright law allowed.
While the trailer above plays as if Rats: Night Of Terror is a tension fueled creature feature, the actual movie “borrows” more from Mad Max and Escape From New York than it does post atomic age giant animal romps like The Food Of The Gods.
As a cost effective text crawl tells us, 225 years post nuclear apocalypse, the affluent live in comfortable underground cities, and leave the fallout filled surface to ragtag groups of neo primitives. The protagonists roll up on their motorcycles, and all 11 of them appear to be dressed for a different movie.
The leader favors a kicky little red scarf, but anything goes, as the others are dressed in everything from camo to leather vests. Inexplicably, one of the women is apparently riding out the post apocalypse in a Frederick’s Of Hollywood teddy and a costume shop vampire cape.
We don’t learn most of their names until MUCH later in the film, but it sounds like they were all chosen in an odd game of “I, Spy”, with grown adults walking around calling each other things like Video, Chocolate, Lucifer, Deus, Lillith and……Myrna. Between the muddy audio, and the group’s tendency to squabble, the clothes are the easier method to tell everyone apart anyway.
Our gang of ragtag ramblers stumbles upon a building that has an incredibly well stocked bunker underneath it, with a hydroponic garden, plentiful food supplies and a water purifier. Unfortunately, it also contains some corpses so fresh they are still decomposing and an epic rat infestation.
Despite mounting evidence that something is very wrong, the gang is far too preoccupied doing things that are offensive, stupid, or so stupid that they become offensive. From getting stuck during sleeping bag sex and a host of highly questionable jokes to gleefully barricading themselves into a room without water, food or medical supplies, it’s a minor miracle this group managed to survive a street crossing. Never mind the apocalypse.
Literal buckets of rats are tossed on the actors from just outside of the frame, but this doesn’t ever translate to much suspense or gore. Even the rats spend the majority of their screen time indifferently scurrying off into a corner to attempt to clean their fur from whatever gunk production tossed on them for greasy effect. That said, being that we spend 90 minutes watching the humans cry, flail and fail spectacularly, it doesn’t seem that implausible that a bunch of bored mutant rats could successfully pick them off one by one.
By the time the film takes a turn for The Crazies, in a swirl of fumigator fog and ooky spooky organ music straight out a carnival dark ride, the characters (and most viewers) are at their wits’ end with a film that has clearly overstayed its grimy welcome. Hang in for the last 5 minutes, as the final twist is so gleefully nonsensical, it almost makes the hour and a half slog to get there worth it.
Herschell Gordon Lewis (and to a lesser degree, his production partner David Friedman) was perhaps exploitation’s greatest slinger of bullshit and ballyhoo. While he had some moderate success with teen trouble tales and nudie cuties, he knew he would need something else to stand out in a crowded field of shot on the fly films competing for attention at grindhouses and drive ins. With the free vomit bags and faux moral outrage marketing campaign of 1963’s Blood Feast, Herschell Gordon Lewis had found his offal covered calling card.
What he did not have the skill or inclination to offer in terms of technical acumen or production values could be covered over by layers of tinted gelatin grue in vivid color. Lewis had invented the modern splatter film and a cash cow that managed to make over 100 times its modest production budget. He spent roughly the next decade trying to top himself in the new niche he had created, with varying degrees of success.
By 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis had seen a host of other film makers run right through the doors he had opened for blood and brutality at the cinema. While his films’ shoestring budgets had always kept them quite profitable, they were no longer shocking. The Gore Gore Girls had the unfortunate luck of being released a few weeks after Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left, and the film was made passé almost overnight. Seeing the writing on the wall, Lewis took a 30 year hiatus from film making, focusing on his (unsurprisingly) successful career in marketing, where he was considered one of the godfathers of the direct advertising field. Without further preamble, 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls:
The pre credits are pretty brief. We get a few shots of a woman fixing her hair, then a gloved hand reaches out and repeatedly smashes the unnamed victim’s head into the mirror.
In addition to the groovy color scheme of the credits and title card, we also get an expositional newspaper page that reveals the deceased was an exotic dancer who used the stage name Suzie Creampuff, but her REAL name was Ethel Creampuff. Not exactly a master of disguise, that one. The fact that the faux paper’s headline ISN’T some variant of Headless Girl In Topless Bar also seems a missed opportunity.
Cut to the paper label maker marked office of Abraham Gentry (one film wonder Frank Kress) , private detective, who locks his cat in the cabinet(?) as he finally deigns to answer the knocking.
The fetching redhead behind the door is reporter Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell). Inexplicably, her employers at the Globe newspaper are willing to pay $25,000 to Abe if he helps crack the case of the murdered stripper before the police, and hands Nancy a juicy scoop.
Even more inexplicably, Nancy finds Abe to be just as juicy, and flirts shamelessly with him, despite the fact that he looks like the human embodiment of spilling an overflowing ashtray onto a shag carpet.
This sets us up for the structure of pretty much the rest of the movie. Strippers strip, Abe is obnoxious by virtue of existing, and lacking goodwill, his main investigative skill comes into play. He pays cash for the answers to his questions.
It’s actually good that the plot beats are somewhat repetitive, because the lighting never much improves.
Speaking with Suzie’s coworker, Abe buys his first obvious red herring lead, a customer who had a bit of a white knight complex.
Too bad it just leads to another outlay of cash and the body of another victim. This one had her face sliced off with a cleaver, but you’d be hard pressed to tell what the hell is going on given that second still. It’s dark, butcher scraps were involved, don’t quote me on what the hell body part the pile of dim grue is supposed to be.
Abe and the responding police officer have a solid good old boy yuk yuk over how petty and ineffectual they are in refusing to coordinate investigations. Odd tinny stock music funeral marches, a rejected ode for Sousa’s band, some pseudo surf rock and some Folger’s Crystals commercial jazz (a well known sound to those familiar with Doris Wishman) drift in and out of the scenes on the screen at random.
A new stripper strips, we get a goofy speeded up sequence of the staff making some 4 tequila shot abomination for an unsuspecting Nancy, and the bartender gets paid to answer some questions about a guy who is literally sitting right behind him.
At least Abe had the sense to shout nudity in a crowded strip club, clearing the way for some bribery. The latest stale herring is a bouncer named Grout who likes to draw faces on fruits, then smash them with his bare hands. For hours. In a crowded strip club. Because that is a thing that happens at your place of employment.
We are now a full third of the way through this movie, and nothing has changed aside from Nancy’s sobriety level, and the fact that Abe has taken to breaking the fourth wall and addressing “witty” little asides straight at the camera.
The break of the fourth wall was a tilt into the sort of black comedy you sometimes see pop up in prolific horror directors’ later career. After years of battling decency leagues, censors and lots of questions about the level of latent misogyny in gore films, the director in question attempts to go all the way over the top on satirical dark comedy. You want bad taste? They’ll show you bad taste all right.
While the deaths get more daffily bizarre and Abe’s mansplaining about town gets more face punch inducing, making anti porn feminists another potential red herring is the only parody barb that kind of hits its intended target.
Yet another stripper is about to peel her business casual gear, but gets interrupted by a large group of first wave anti porn feminists holding placards demanding everyone “Quit With Tit” because “Lewd Is Crude”.
A brawl ensues between the pro sex work dancers/patrons and the “liberated” protestors, and I’m grateful for the interruption in routine.
Abe pours drunk Nancy into a cab, and questions the sensible sportswear stripper at her apartment. Shortly after he leaves, she gets her throat slit while suggestively holding a cucumber, then the killer finishes the job with a meat tenderizing mallet and a liberal sprinkle of salt and pepper. That’s not a typo, nor a metaphor, actual table spices are used.
Gentry sends the cops on a wide goose chase with a story regarding the killer’s made up religious motive. He bribes someone else to do some lab work, and we just wasted 15 minutes on an overelaborate circle back to the previous scene. Those damn meddling women’s libbers are next on the suspect list.
Meanwhile, the killer has a few more dancers to bump off in over the top nonsensical ways that aren’t even anatomically possible. Throats are slit, faces are ironed, removal of nipples makes a fountain of both regular and chocolate milk (ALSO NOT A TYPO). A roommate comes home and meets her demise in a pan of hot french fry grease.
So many cheap rubber casts and wax melts. Told you H.G. Lewis would end up swinging for the lunatic fences.
The cops continue to bumble, the film is now 60 minutes in, and we still don’t know much more than we did when we started.
Marz doesn’t have much wisdom to impart in regards to the murders, but tells Abe he’s having an amateur night strip contest, with a $1000 prize to attempt to restaff/revitalize the clubs. His staff is getting bumped off faster than he can hire them.
There’s some minor plot dithering as Abe pays a dialog free visit to his friend the lady wrestler, and Nancy goes undercover with the women’s liberation group. At last, it’s the night of the big strip contest, where a suspicious number of “amateurs” seem to have bedazzled g strings beneath their day dresses.
Marlene the waitress still loathes Abe, who is busily getting Nancy hammered again, so she’ll enter the contest.
Full of tequila and jealousy over Abe admiring another girl, Nancy does enter and win, but we see little more than her hair and her knees as the crowd hoots and hollers their approval of her striptease.
Throughly wasted, Abe takes Nancy back to her apartment, where she falls asleep on the couch almost immediately. Soon a familiar shadow looms over her……revealing the killer to be…….
……Marlene, who supposedly is severely burn scarred. She killed because she was jealous of the dancers’ beauty and place in Marz’s affections. In reality, its clear it’s nothing more than a wonky bald cap, and her hair is CLEARLY visible in back. Abe runs Marlene off………
…..where she promptly gets hit by a car and ground into another pile of unrecognizable butcher scraps. While Abe does provide an explanation of how he knew who the killer was, most of the events happened off screen, and I’m certainly not sure what “a gesture only a lady wrestler would use” would be even if I DID see it.
Despite Abe trying to alcohol poison her on multiple occasions and nearly getting her murdered, Nancy STILL wants to sleep with him. Abe breaks the fourth wall one last time, admonishes us that we have “seen enough” and physically pulls down the “curtains” on both the film, and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ golden age as a filmmaker.
Crunch, crunch, munch, munch…..on all of the tasty bits and pieces of genre film goodness I’ve written for other sites around the web. The request line of recommendations is always open. Cult cinema converts can find me on Twitter or come chat in the comments below!