Bite Size: Hollywood Horror House/Savage Intruder (1970)

Hollywood Horror House doesn’t bother to conceal its overt emulation of hagsploitation progenitor Sunset Boulevard. There’s an opening montage of the glamorous life of a 1930’s movie queen, Katherine Packard (actual 1930s Oscar nominee Miriam Hopkins) This is immediately followed by a cut to the age damage and disrepair of the famous “Hollywood” sign, the wind whistling through the hills.

Having established imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, the film makes a quick pit stop into horror territory by panning down to a dismembered body rotting in the sun, and an expository news broadcast warning of a hand chopping serial killer targeting older women in Hollywood. Having already told the audience what to expect, we watch a dirty longhair in a wide brimmed hat follow a middle aged woman home from a bar and quickly dispatching her with a heavy pipe and an electric carving knife.

Meanwhile, present day Katherine Packard is no longer a vivacious screen star, but a hard boozing recluse who daydreams of who she used to be. Industrious maid Mildred (1930s comedian and early television regular Florence Lake) and personal secretary Leslie(1940s character actress and “Red Scare” blacklist victim Gale Sondergaard), do their best to keep an eye on Ms. Packard, but she gets into a bottle and takes a tumble down her own grand staircase.

As the elevator is broken, the pair will need a nurse to attend to the wheelchair bound Katherine. It just so happens a familiar looking scruffy hippie type named Vic (David Garfield, son of Golden Age superstar John) hops off of a Hollywood homes tour bus and cons the women into giving him a job, despite introducing himself with the egregiously fake name of “Laurel N. Hardy”.

At the very least, the movie is self aware enough to know it is working off a familiar template, and the inevitable insinuation of a handsome hustler into a lonely old woman’s life is zipped through via lots of montages. With the resulting time savings, it makes a towering trifle of exploitation trends of the period.

Given the small cast, it’s obvious Vic is the stalk and slasher, with a hell of a heroin habit and a tendency toward penny ante psychedelic visions of his unhappy childhood. In the grand tradition of mommy issues misogyny, his mother was a drunken hooker who sent him to foster care, and now all women of a certain age must pay for her sins.

While Leslie and Mildred both distrust Vic almost immediately, Katherine is basking in the glow of a younger man’s attention. While the audience waits for the protagonist to catch up to the forgone conclusions of the plot, there’s time for hippie parties full of camp loving gays who are delighted to see the former diva, versus bitchily arch young women who seem annoyed at her hold on Vic’s attention. Most delightful of all is Katherine’s breezy decline of the wares of a drug pushing little person, noting “the only trips I take are to Europe”.

Hollywood Horror House was the brainchild of Donald Wolfe, primarily known as a film editor, but credited as writer/director/producer on this project, alternately titled as Savage Intruder and The Comeback. Reports vary on how long it took for Wolfe to secure the financing to finish the film (anywhere from 1969-1972), but it was clearly constructed piecemeal, with John Garfield’s Vic having a roster of out of continuity changes in hairstyle. The film’s distribution history seems to be just as checkered, and the earliest listed theatrical bookings I could locate date to December of 1974.

Hollywood Horror House definitely bears the overly indulgent hallmarks of a troubled self-financed production, wildly careening between subgenres and plagued by the wobbly pacing of a script that is unsure of which of its many ideas will serve as the final narrative destination. Rather than commit to any particular conceptual throughline, the film just keeps tossing various tropes at the wall to see what sticks.

The most unnecessary example is likely the casually racist affair subplot between Vic and pretty young cook Greta (longtime character actress Virginia Wing). Considering that the audience has already seen Vic commit murder before he even enters the Packard house, the melodrama of having him impregnate (and subsequently kill) a naive young woman on the staff is pretty superfluous.

The movie becomes an increasingly frustrating watch as it progresses, burying its strongest cards in a cinematic game of 52 Pickup. Vic’s various hallucinations have a gloriously garish, Satan’s special episode of Laugh-In aesthetic, and the use of silent star Norma Talmadge’s former estate provides the all of the glamour gone to seed that an off brand Sunset Boulevard could ever need. The film certainly isn’t all bad, but where the writer/director chooses to place his priorities is deeply misguided.

Luckily, there’s a consummate professional on hand. The annals of hagsploitation are full of deeply engaged performances, but Miriam Hopkins’ Katherine Packard is one of the trend’s most gleeful. It’s a gutsy turn, and she commits to the bit at all times, be it drunken sing alongs or a brief topless scene. She’s clearly having a wonderful time on a camping trip for the ages, and her big brassy energy lifts up all of the performers around her. Considering that David Garfield’s Vic is often a bit too convincingly sleepy and stoned, it’s to her credit that their verbal sparring is remotely credible.

She’s never less than fun to watch, but Hopkins shines brightest when delivering bitchy one liners that could only come from a woman used to getting whatever it is she might deign to want. Katherine Packard is a drunken, delusional wreck. However, it’s hard not to like a brassy broad with the gumption to answer an otherwise innocuous question regarding her favorite flavor of ice cream with a derisive snort and a decisive “Vodka”.

Hollywood Horror House is too silly and scattershot as an overall film to really rank in the upper echelons of the Grand Dame Grand Guignol canon, but specifically as a showcase for its star, it works. All of the attention grabbing groovy visuals, goopy gore and group sex related PTSD don’t hold a candle to even the most minor scenes where the character of Katherine Packard is on screen. Miriam Hopkins was 67 when she made this film, and died before it received any real distribution. Most of the people who saw Savage Intruder at all did so under the title of Hollywood Horror House on VHS, long after Hopkins’ 1972 death. This barely seen, odd duck genre film was her cinematic swan song.

It takes a special kind of performer to have the same enthusiasm for the top of the Hollywood heap and a fly by night regional filmmaker who never directed again. For that reason alone, Hollywood Horror House is worth a spin, preferably with a glass of vodka in hand. A toast is in order for Ms. Hopkins —as it is the last few hours of the shitty sequel that is 2021 as I type this— and for the hope of happier and healthier new year for us all.

Bite Size: The Love Statue: LSD Experience (1965)

Tyler (Peter Ratray) is just another starving artist in Greenwich Village. His paintings don’t pay the rent, so he must turn to other tools—like keeping financially solvent cabaret dancer Lisa (Broadway dancer Beti Seay) satisfied during their on demand sex sessions. Ty chafes at the sugar baby lifestyle, particularly when constantly reminded of his failings by his acid tongued lover. It’s a constant cycle of break ups to make ups, broken bottles, and Ty tossing Lisa’s latest donation of ready cash off the roof of the building. All of the fireworks are followed by a rush to apologize when the bills come due.

Before the day is out he has sculptor Stan (Harvey J. Goldenberg) squatting in his studio, and Ty is getting miserably sauced at the—slightly disreputable, but still a destination—Bitter End. His attempts to take revenge by humiliating Lisa during her performance fall flat, as she big boots him off the stage and steps on his fallen body as she makes her exit.

His equally underemployed friends Nick (Coleman Younger) and Josh try to offer Ty an ear, but he just keeps on drinking himself insensate. The pair, sensing the need for something stronger, introduce him to Japanese chanteuse Mashiko (Hisako Tsukuba, The Golden Bat). She’s a dealer in the “instant psychotherapy” of L.S.D., “the latest in dreams”. Initially resistant, he decides to join her friends for a little trip. Rather than just a few hours, Ty ends up vanishing for almost three days.

Post trip, he’s feeling confident and clear headed. Finally, he finds the words to break up with Lisa for good. He has a lovely celebratory day running some errands and feeding ducks in the park. Too bad that Ty’s happiness is very short lived. He returns home to find his paintings destroyed, Stan missing, and Lisa’s lifeless body on the floor. Given his adventures in hallucinogenics, he has to try to piece together where he’s been, and if he could’ve been the one to kill her.

This early effort by writer/director David Durston (Stigma) definitely seems like his attempt to add some arty Michelangelo Antonioni style flare to his visuals and some Joe Sarno style psychosexual conflict to his plots. To that point, the opening credits sequence is actually rather effective, with a woman dancing in silhouette behind a screen as a melancholy sounding Japanese language ballad plays. There’s plenty of intercuts of classical statues, art, and candles used as punctuation to events on screen, and a moody black and white cinematography that seems carefully calibrated by comparison to his later work.

Despite the marketing push and the title, The Love Statue has much more in common with something like 1953’s Violated — another poverty stricken Greenwich Village set film that mixes atmospheric arty ambitions with exploitation practicality— than the full on hippie hangover of Durston’s own I Drink Your Blood. The thrust of the narrative lies in the interpersonal conflicts and their implications in the central murder mystery.

As for L.S.D. references, there’s a quick acid fueled party scene, but nothing of note happens. Ty’s own trip is a 5 minute digression into shaky cameras, kaleidoscope style swirling visuals, and a brief cameo from New York sexploitation starlet Gigi Darlene (Bad Girls Go To Hell) as the titular statue. The drug then basically vanishes from the film, only mentioned in a last minute bit of throwaway dialog meant to tie up loose ends.

There’s a certain quaint charm in all of this down at heel hep cat Bohemia, but the snappy, slangy dialog amongst Ty’s group of friends doesn’t really lead to any deeper characterization. Beti Seay’s Lisa is a snarling humiliatrix imported from a roughie, but everyone else (including Peter Ratray’s pushover Ty) is just a “big, beautiful bowl of mush”, acting as convenient devices to move the plot along. Not that it would’ve mattered much, as the very limited cast list makes sussing out the killer a simple operation.

In 1965, Beatniks and noir trappings were both a bit dated, but the garish explosion of flower power had not yet taken over. This left youth culture trendsetters and filmmakers looking for exploitable content a bit betwixt and between. Perhaps this is why The Love Statue never really gels into a cohesive whole. The film is too chaste to really work as sexploitation, too thin to work as a crime thriller and too serious and square to operate as a substance fueled youth scare sleaze fest. There are glimmers of good ideas scattered throughout, all of which were better handled somewhere in Durston’s later filmography .

This leaves The Love Statue as more of a historical curio—it is early example of L.S.D. being painted as a potential boogeyman— than an essential. The movie is certainly of minor interest to exploitation history nerds, fans of the all too brief career of Gigi Darlene, and David Durston completetionists. For everyone else, finding the original source of this popular GIF is likely the best thing gleaned from viewing it.

Bite Size: Lady Cocoa (1975)

By the mid 70s, Lola Falana was at the height of her fame in the United States, having already established herself as a star abroad. She was a Tony nominated stage actress, the ground breaking face of Faberge’s Tigress perfume, had cut multiple successful singles, and was one of the biggest draws in Las Vegas.

While she was a regular guest star on television, film stardom was the one realm she hadn’t conquered. She received some respectful notices appearing alongside mentor/former lover Sammy Davis Jr. in 1966’s A Man Called Adam and appeared in a few minor Italian films—including receiving top billing on spaghetti western Lola Colt. Her home country’s film industry was a tougher nut to crack. Black actresses, even talented multi-hyphenates, struggled to gain respect and more substantiative mainstream roles, and Ms. Falana found herself working in supporting parts in B grade potboilers (The Liberation of L.B. Jones, The Klansman).

American top billing finally arrived with Blaxploitation item Lady Cocoa, directed by former Mr. Jayne Mansfield, Matt Cimber. The production had his usual shoestring budget, and was shot on location in North Lake Tahoe, Nevada.

Coco (Lola Falana) has been sitting in prison for a year and a half for her refusal to testify against her boyfriend, smooth talking possible racketeer Eddie (James A. Watson, Jr.). Sick of prison, she cuts a deal with the district attorney’s office. If they want her testimony, she wants 24 hours of freedom in a luxury casino hotel. Over a barrel, the D.A. agrees to her terms. As her security detail, they send grizzled near retiree Ramsey (Alex Dreier), and an uptight young beat cop, Doug (NFL player Gene Washington).

Matt Cimber had apparently not learned too terrible much from 1966’s Single Room Furnished, as a decade later he still shows the same over reliance on static shots and talky exposition. The first hour of the film is spent in and around the hotel room, as the stunningly gorgeous Lola takes advantage of her position to indulge in shopping, shouting, and confusing the room service staff. The hotel itself has a kitschy Medieval theme, but the lack of narrative momentum and the cramped quarters feels airless, the slightly more visually interesting snowy landscapes and casino floor footage feeling imported from a tourism brochure or an industrial film.

There are some minor joys in watching the infinitely spunky Coco hassle the terminally humorless cops, but Mikel Angel’s script confuses a pile of showy idiosyncrasy for characterization. In between diva demands and misquoting books she read in jail, Coco takes constant showers that have little narrative purpose aside from requiring the film’s beautiful leading lady to saunter about in a towel.

This theater influenced, character study structure could have made for effective comedy, but both Drier and Washington turn in flat performances that make what should be verbal ping pong into arthritic shuffleboard. Lola Falana is left to carry the punchlines on the back of her considerable charm and charisma.

While the over the top nature of the Coco character sometimes works— Coco daffily proclaiming strawberries “a steady” but the painting on the wall “a fuck up” as if it were a wine and cheese pairing—the lack of a strong straight man to volley off of leaves her bratty behavior more shrill and unsympathetic than it ought to be. It’s obvious from their opening scene together that Coco and Doug are earmarked for the “enemies to lovers” trope, but what we see doesn’t particularly support that forgone conclusion.

Eddie’s silent hitmen (NFL star “Mean” Joe Greene and a cameo from Cimber himself) lurk about very early on, but they don’t touch the main narrative until almost an hour into the film. Lola’s impulsive acceptance of a dinner invitation from another pair of young marrieds causes her to spot Eddie’s thugs from across the dance floor. Coco doesn’t necessarily know if they’re there to rescue her or rub her out, and it provides some much needed tension that could’ve easily been introduced earlier in Lady Cocoa‘s runtime.

Things do brighten up a bit in the final act, when Cimber abandons all of the airless chatter for some off kilter action setpieces. There’s a bonkers bathroom shootout that ends in a truly nonsensical “twist”, a car chase through the indifferent patrons on the casino floor, and some cat and mouse games on Lake Tahoe Marina (goofily intercut with an oddly timed sex scene). It’s unfortunately far too little and too late to push Lady Cocoa past footnote status in a subgenre that has some of exploitation’s most dynamic female protagonists.

While not quite as much of a flatfooted misstep as 1977’s Chatterbox, Lady Cocoa has a similar missed opportunity feel, with a beautiful and charismatic lead pouring her energy into trying to make a lame duck script tread water. Lola Falana was poorly utilized in most of her film credits, and she reliably revives rather dull affairs (including this one) whenever she’s on screen. What’s really criminal in all of Lady Cocoa‘s legal trouble related hijinks is saddling such a radiant and talented screen presence with spouting silly factoids and belting out infinite variant arrangements of (alternate) title tune, “Pop Goes The Weasel”.

Bite Size: Lurkers (1988)

While likely best remembered for her collaborations with her husband Michael, Roberta Findlay keep on grinding out films long after his 1977 death. After a stint in hardcore, she spent the last phase of her long career turning out New York local horror and exploitation efforts, with Lurkers being one of her final releases before retiring from filmmaking in 1989.

Cathy (Christine Moore) is a deeply unhappy child. Already timid and near constantly afraid because of bloody nightmares and visions of spirits climbing out of the walls of her apartment building, her abusive mother uses the young girl’s worries to exert control. The slightest infraction is grounds for her mother to shriek that she’ll call “them” to take Cathy away. In the thrall of the specters the little girl will be forced to behave.

Despite a near death experience in a childhood game of jump rope and the horror of losing her parents in a murder/suicide, Cathy miraculously manages to be a (mostly) well adjusted adult. She’s grown into a beautiful young woman, with a successful career as a cellist and a fashion photographer fiancee named Bob (Gary Warner). While heading to meet Bob after rehearsals she sees an all too familiar ghostly figure in the crowd, and almost gets hit by a cab trying to catch up to her.

All of Cathy’s childhood nightmares and visions come flooding back, of hands reaching out to grab her in the night, her mother’s bloodied face and a wan little girl. The ghostly woman in oddly old fashioned Gunne Sax dress continues echoing warnings in her ear. Cathy should have more of a support system as an adult, but her estranged brother Phil (Gil Newsom) still blames her for the past. Even Bob doesn’t take any of her distress very seriously— perhaps because he’s too busy making eyes at his business partner and anyone else he can find with a pretty smile and a pulse. Increasingly anxious and unhinged by paranormal history repeating itself, she’s heard but not really believed.

Lurkers takes a while to get where it is going, strolling through the usual signposts of the “beautiful woman who may or may not be having a breakdown” trope. The reoccurring nature of the nightmares allows for some budget friendly recycling of the nice for the price special effects the legendary Ed French (Terminator 2: Judgement Day) created for the opening scenes.

While nothing of too much narrative consequence happens in the first two thirds of the film, at least the meandering pace is garnished with healthy dollops of both sleaze and silliness. There’s a brief bit of softcore sex, goofy photoshoot montages, Bob’s corny pick up lines, and a deliciously stupid bit of gratuitous nudity as two models undress while discussing the finer points of investment strategy.

One doesn’t necessarily dive into a Roberta Findlay film for the performances, but Colleen Moore’s Cathy is neither unduly narcoleptic or excessively hammy, landing firmly in the land of “adequate” at the lovestruck mooning and cowering in fear that are her primary jobs in the film’s first two acts . Gary Warner’s Bob fares slightly better, only because he gets more to do as a two faced scheming slimeball.

A pile of plot contrivances get Cathy back inside of her childhood building for Bob’s studio opening party. Her homecoming is when Lurkers finally abandons the slow burn format for some proper exploitation, “everything but the kitchen sink” style weirdness. A mallet wielding maniac cackles through the streets, a rainbow of color gels and a symphony of synth hits coming out to play. There’s a scuzzy set piece lurking behind every door— from crucified bondage boys to geriatric group sex. The malevolent spirits weren’t all in Cathy’s head, and now they’re reciting poetry in thick Bronx accents.

The reveal of what is actually going on doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but the larger regret is that the bulk of the movie’s runtime could have been just as much shaggy fun had it tossed its remaining restraint aside a bit earlier.

Roberta Findlay may not have been the most technically proficient filmmaker, nor were her choices of scripts always the easiest to parse. What she did have was a sharp eye for sleaze and a hometown gal’s pleasingly unromantic vision of the streets of New York. In the late career world of Roberta Findlay, every overpriced apartment is haunted and brutal disco gangs rampage through the Bronx. Why couldn’t the gateway to an eternity in Satan’s service lie at the end of the West Side Highway? If you can bind souls here, you’ll make it Hell anywhere else you might want to supernaturally go.

Bite Size: Shanty Tramp (1967)

Shanty Tramp opens with overexposed black and white photography, the pencil skirted posterior of its protagonist framed squarely across the opening credits. Even without the brass brand bleating “When The Saints Go Marching In” it’s obvious this is somewhere in the American South. Sweat beads on the brows of passerby as the camera pulls out to reveal a toothy brunette doing her best wiggling walk. Dirt floor Marilyn Monroe via a white cocktail dress from the rural route five and dime.

Every night is pretty much the same for Emily Stryker (Eleanor Vaill). The backroads barns or the juke joint, it doesn’t matter. Whereever the men and the money are is good enough for her. On this particular night it’s the revival tent, fire and brimstone Preacher Fallows bellowing at the poverty stricken pious to part with the cold hard cash that the good Lord prefers.

One look at the overflowing collection plate and Emily knows exactly what her offering is going to be. The pair’s innuendo laden exchange is only interrupted by the fact that Preacher Fallows has a midnight tent meeting. He offers her a private “spiritual consultation” afterwards.

She doesn’t even notice the awe struck gaze of Daniel (Lewis Galen), one of the only Black residents of the tiny town. Emily’s gutter glamour is transfixing amongst such a grim backdrop, and he barely hears his mother’s warnings that that “shanty tramp” will be nothing but trouble for him in a town brim full of racists. They’ve already killed Daniel’s father, so she’s keenly aware of what the townsfolk could do to her son.

Emily has time to kill and streets to walk, brushing off her drunken father(Otto Schlessinger) as she struts off into the night. What a night it is, with biker brawls and $5 tricks gone wrong. Violence, murder and chaos trails in Emily’s wake.

Shanty Tramp, when searched on online databases, is shrouded in layers of incorrect information. With a 1967 release date, it’s far from “an early progenitor of exploitation films” —which had arguably existed since the silent era, depending on the definition at hand— nor was it directed by Cuban expat José Prieto (Miss Leslie’s Dolls). George Weiss associate Joseph P. Marwa (the Olga series) directed this and several other films during a stint in Florida, which got credited to Prieto after a conflict with producers.

What separates Shanty Tramp from similar threadbare regional productions is just how many hicksploitation mainstays it manages to pack into a 72 minute run time, with a good ten of that spent on a dance to the (extremely catchy) title tune at a bar. Hypocritical preachers, white trash tramps, racist rednecks, biker bad boys, moonshiners, incest minded drunken patriarchs, the entire catalog of chicken fried exploitable content is here somewhere, with a dash of nudity to garnish the potent trash cinema cocktail.

If anything, the non existent production values and lack of daytime shots help add to the claustrophobic atmosphere of a town where there’s absolutely nowhere to hide, and no one who much gives a damn about anything outside of themselves. Shanty Tramp‘s world is an incredibly bleak one, with pretty much every character in search of sex and/or money by any means necessary. Anyone who believes in even the slightest shred of the less base human emotions finds themselves a rube or a corpse.

Faith in God gets the believers separated from their meager incomes. Daniel attempting to save Emily from both herself and a violent trick is repaid via a false accusation of rape, the murder of his mother, and death. The innocent young man is killed in an automobile explosion when he tries to escape the deadly lynch mob Emily’s lies have brought out.

Shanty Tramp is often a rough watch, but not exactly a roughie. It shares more DNA with the grim Gothic of Common Law Wife than the The Defilers. The film’s violence isn’t a replacement for sex, as carnal desire is omnipresent in Shanty Tramp. There’s not a man in the film who can resist Emily’s pretty poison —including her own father— even though every one of Emily’s toothy smiles is merely a soon to be deadly show of teeth.

In this very specific regard, Eleanor Vaill’s burlesque dancer on Valium disconnected affect becomes an asset. Emily doesn’t know how to be human, so Vaill’s bizarre character choices start making a perverse (and likely unintentional) sort of sense.

It is easy to see how potently scandalous the film would have been at its release, with the death rattle of the Hays code still haunting the cinematic landscape. For decades, the mainstream had dictated that crime and vice must never appear to pay, and Shanty Tramp had the brute force fortitude to wrap up its bitter stew of swamp bred scuzz with a double entendre, a second blast of brass, and a fade to black. Much like Emily’s drunken Pa, Shanty Tramp found itself “a nice warm spot in the gutter” and offered viewers a very dark night without the respite of sleeping it off.

Bite Size: Stunts (1977)

Add stuntpeople to the list of professions that 70s filmmakers trotted out in search of a viable alternative to fading Western film cowboy archetypes. Unlike some of the other lone wolf friendly, rough and ready occupations that also briefly filled that cinematic space, stunt crews also had the added bonus of an easy segue to mythologizing the process of moviemaking itself along the way. Everyone loves the chance to talk about themselves, and filmmakers are no exception.

A stuntman dies while shooting a helicopter sequence on an action film, despite having personally designed and double checked the gag himself. His brother, Glen (Robert Forster, Jackie Brown) replaces him on the film, with the reasoning that he’s the only one who could replicate the stunt for reshoots. In reality, he wants to investigate the circumstances of his brother’s death.

A beautiful journalist named B.J. (Fiona Lewis, Innerspace) has been assigned to cover the shoot for a magazine, and try to profile what it is that drives stunt performers to risk their lives on a daily basis. Reluctantly, the pair team up in trying to determine what caused the fatal fall.

As befits a Hollywood adjacent whodunit, the lot is filled with potentially suspicious characters. Stunt coordinator Pete (Richard Lynch, The Baron, God Told Me To) has been twitchy and secretive ever since the first accident. Libidinous nepotism fueled starlet Judy (a woefully under utilized Candice Rialson, Chatterbox) likes to cuckold her producer husband with various members of the crew. The film’s director openly ignores the safety concerns of the stuntpeople, and is only concerned with getting the shot, deaths and injuries be damned.

Given that the stunt community is a small one, Mark and his fellow stunt performers feel that it is their duty to seek justice for one of their own. There’s casually homophobic Italian womanizer Paulie (Ray Sharkey, Who’ll Stop The Rain), the steadfast and steely Patti (Joanna Cassidy, Blade Runner), and her affable husband, Chuck (Bruce Glover, Walking Tall). Glen’s suspicions of foul play are confirmed when the crew’s ranks are whittled down by equally questionable on set “accidents”.

Stunts‘ screenplay is more than a touch silly, and doesn’t trouble itself with any unduly sharp edged dialog or creative plot devices. Instead it relies on a solid cast of B film regulars to breathe life into its familiar stock types. Robert Forster carries the film with the necessary unflappable cool and Fiona Lewis’ performance has the right amount of prickly pluck to give a touch of credibility to the standard banter to bedmates subplot.

The perfunctory nature of the central mystery — the order of the murders makes the killer obvious from fairly early on— doesn’t do the cast any favors, but there’s fun to be had when Stunts embraces its exploitation roots and gives the ensemble something histrionic to do. The film livens up considerably when Judy comedically flubs her lines, Patti starts a grief fueled bar fight, and Glen melodramatically takes it upon himself to remove his friend from life support without bothering to discuss it with anyone.

This is an early effort from director Mark. L Lester (Commando, Showdown In Little Tokyo) and while the action and stunt scenes are not as confident as he would later become, they’re reliably competent. There’s a nice variety of old school stunt work, from simple car chases, to an impressive for the price point fire/explosion set piece. The film saves the best for last so audiences go home happy, with a climactic helicopter to moving car final showdown between Glen and the murderer. The rough edges of the film tend to happen in the narrative scenes, with an over reliance on golden hour light and long San Luis Obispo landscape shots that have a distinctly soapy, TV movie visual feel.

Stunts is an enthusiastic but ultimately unremarkable bit of 70s drive in cinema, a tentative training wheels trial run for the more distinct genre fare production company New Line Cinemas would churn out with regularity in the 1980s. While Stunts certainly doesn’t touch the manic smash up carsploitation of H. B. Halicki, fans of the time capsule Madonna Inn (where many of the film’s interiors were shot), Robert Forster, or shutting one’s brain off for 90 unchallenging minutes could do far worse than this particular game of B film stock player Bingo.

Bite Size: Test Tube Babies (1948)

This roadshow ultra cheapie was brought to audiences by producer George Weiss (Glen Or Glenda, the Olga series) and directed by classical exploitation knockabout W. Merle Connell (The Flesh Merchant), in a blatant attempt to make the headlines around otherwise staid medical breakthroughs into a tantalizingly racy ticket.

George (William Thomason) and Cathy (Dorothy Duke) are a blandly blissful married couple, so much so that the film zooms through their engagement, honeymoon and purchase of a suburban home in a quick windshield wiper montage. Yet trouble is brewing on the morning of their first anniversary, despite Cathy doing housewifery impeccable coiffed and in a rather fetching shortie pajama set.

George’s job as an architect has him working long hours, and the booze soaked parties of their assorted friends just aren’t measuring up. In fact, George’s friend Frank (John Michael) is a bit too forward with Cathy, and he’s none too pleased about it. Not enough for him to actually come home at a decent hour or stop Frank from ogling Cathy when he arrives to drive George to work, but incensed none the less. Cathy offers the baby shower of a mutual friend as an alternative activity, her husband misses the obvious hint there too.

In a frustrating display of obliviousness, George has Frank take Cathy to a dance, because he’s pathologically allergic to fun. Shocking no one, Frank tries to put the moves on Cathy assuming a bored housewife would be an easy target. She refuses him, and instead puts on a sheer bed jacket to seduce her husband when he finally gets home. Rather than different friends, a better work/life balance or a hobby, the pair decide that a baby will be the solution to all of their problems, and they promptly head to the bedroom to attempt making one.

Their contentment doesn’t last long, and lacking anything else to do, Cathy tosses one of the parties that George hates so much. He, as usual, mopes off to work when she refuses to cancel it and sit at home in lingerie waiting for him to deign to come home. Not wanting to cancel at the last second, she hosts the party on her own.

Hilariously, all of the guests present behave just as badly as the wayward teens in youth scare films. Everyone’s sauced, everyone (except Cathy) married is openly cheating, and Frank brings a very confused actress to the party only to drop her for someone else’s wife midway through. For a moment, it is almost understandable why George hates these damn things so much. These people need a copy of The Ethical Slut and perhaps a stint in rehab, post haste.

Despite the standard text crawl about medical “miracles” that can “change the course of nature” and the co-sign from an official sounding but likely faked “fertility foundation”, Test Tube Babies seems a bit bored by its white coater premise and delays the titular medical concerns as long as it possibly can.

Dorothy Duke’s Cathy is in bathing suits, lingerie and other revealing clothing as often as possible, and the film never misses a chance for a scandelous hint of nipple or flash of leg from any female character that appears on screen. The party devolves into a duo burlesque routine, infidelity, and a partially topless hair pulling catfight remarkably quickly.

Only when George arrives home to two women he doesn’t know trying to kill each other on his living room carpet does the film begin its faux educational journey toward the titular baby, albeit not via any means that remotely involves a test tube. Wanting to prevent Cathy from any further bouts of independent thought, the couple head to a doctor to see what defect could possibly be stopping her from getting pregnant. Cathy can’t even pronounce gynecologist— which has some rather depressing implications of the state of reproductive healthcare in the 1940s— but off they head to see Dr. Wright (exploitation regular Timothy Farrell, minus his trademark mustache) anyway.

In a rarity for early exploitation films of this ilk……the central narrative conflict isn’t the woman’s fault. George is sterile, while Cathy is in perfect health. It is rather fun to watch Dr. Wright tell him so in the most indelicate and indifferent manner possible, and its the only time in the film where George manages not to sound like a selfish, ineffectual mope. Neither is too fond of the idea of adoption, but Dr. Wright breaks out the visual aids and extolls the benefits of artificial insemination.

Test Tube Babies
isn’t great, even by the relatively low standard of W. Merle Connell directed features or other entries in the hygiene subgenre. It looks cheap and sounds worse, every actor delivering their lines as if they’re reading a cue card they’re squinting to see from several rooms away. Two kids in five years—with another on the way— is painted as a happy ending, despite the couple having addressed none of their actual emotional or communication issues.

Where Test Tube Babies does excel is as an excellent object lesson in the sheer pervasiveness of the steel trap strength of rigid gender norms and expectations of heterosexual domesticity in American culture of the era. Men were expected to provide, women were expected to serve, and it wasn’t seen as catastrophically bad decision making to use another living creature as a Band Aid on an unrelatedly bad marriage.

Despite men having all of the cultural and economic power, conventional masculinity was still so fragile that even a bargain basement roadshow film had to carefully reassure dudes that they weren’t being cuckolded by a medical fertility procedure. When spending an hour and ten minutes amongst the social norms of the day feel this utterly suffocating, the increasingly chaotic rebellion of the 50s and 60s youthquake makes all the more contextual sense.

Bite Size: Teenage Seductress (1975)

Preston King (Chris Warfield himself, pulling triple duty as writer/director and co-star) is a famous writer. His novels have sold well enough to garner him a sizable spread and the ability to hire household staff, but he otherwise can live a pretty ordinary existence in Taos, New Mexico. He’s just well known enough to live comfortably, but not so well known that he is beset by crazed fans or autograph seekers when taking a drive or having a picnic in the country. At least, that was the case before Terry (Sondra Currie, sister of musician Cherie) shows up.

She’s oddly intense from the outset, blowing into town demanding Preston’s address from confused shopkeepers and openly irate librarians. When her requests for a stranger’s personal info are quite rightfully turned down, she stomps off in a snit that seems more akin to a preschool aged child than an (despite the title) obviously twenty-something young woman.

When she returns to her hotel room after a long day of rejections, Terry places Preston’s novel on her bed, caressing the author photo as she undresses. To add trauma to obsession, she strips down for a shower and has visions of her unhappy childhood, her mother’s bitterness over her father leaving echoing from the snarling visage of her mother superimposed on the showerhead.

Mom clearly had some deep rooted issues, and has indoctrinated Terry since primary school that all men are as toxic as her father, who abandoned them because men only ever want one thing. It is up to Terry to make them pay, and not repeat Mother’s mistakes.

Clearly, what she has learned from all of this emotional abuse is to weaponize her sexuality, flirting with art gallery owner Reggie (John Trujillo) to finally get a hold of Preston’s address. She invents a story about being a journalism student to gain entry to his home, and slowly insinuate her way into his life. Before long, Preston is entirely dependent on his pretty redheaded secretary, alienated from everyone else in his social sphere. Despite warnings from both his long term housekeeper and his infinitely more age appropriate girlfriend Victoria (Elizabeth Saxon)—who has already gotten a glimpse of Terry’s crazy due to her job at the library- that the young woman has a dangerous crush and clear ill intentions.

Teenage Seductress initially seems like a riff on similar themes to Chris Warfield’s own vastly superior Little Miss Innocence. Here we have another middle aged man who lets his money, penis, and ego overrule his better sense regarding a situation far too good to be true. Very early on in the film, the root cause of Terry’s manias is made explicit. Preston King is the father who abandoned her, and just in case that wasn’t obvious enough, she announces “I’m going to fuck you, Father….the way you fucked me.”

Considering the bizarre motel scene and the fact that she jumped into his bed to attempt a seduction no more than five minutes after being invited into his house, it’s abundantly clear that Terry is referring to both the literal and the metaphorical implications of a certain four letter word. Yet rather than commit to the sheer raunch of that premise, Seductress‘ middle section devolves into talky melodrama where both Reggie and Preston are so utterly entranced by Terry’s habit of staring vacantly into space and having unexplained rages that they continue to aid her with whatever she asks for.

By positioning Terry as so obviously unhinged that even basic daily tasks are beyond her, there’s no tension in any of her machinations, only discomfort regarding what the audience will likely subjected to watching when she inevitably triumphs over this sea of hormonal morons. It doesn’t help that while Sondra Currie looks the part of the seemingly sweet sugar baby from Hell, her performance is far too blank and lacking in nuance to really read as cunning, damaged, or desperate enough to give her horrid plan the distasteful weight it needs, no matter how much fugue state hopscotch she plays.

It is Elizabeth Saxon’s Victoria that becomes the sympathetic character, as she is roundly ignored for pointing out the obvious, only to be forced to leave Preston to the inevitable disaster he’s setting himself up for. Her performance is full of the energy that Currie’s lacks. Even her body language in otherwise minimal dialog scenes makes clear she has Terry’s nasty little number. In spite of the insecurities the sudden appearance of the younger woman obviously kicks up, Victoria’s not going down without a fight.

The forgone conclusion nature of the proceedings makes the middle section a snail’s pace slog of arguments over bowls of party size salad and the occasional hippie dippie art party. The third act offers none of the promised twisted vengeance or life crushing destruction, only a whimper of soft jazz and awkward angle sex scenes it is best not to contemplate at length.

What begins as daddy issues in the desert deviance ends with a final scene inexplicably played for cuddly catharsis. The lack of any narrative resolution to any of the first act’s stated dangers makes Teenage Seductress feel more like a The Babysitter style self insert of no consequence male fantasy. Considering that incest is a major and purposeful plot point, that might be the most legitimately discomfiting thing in this otherwise listless film.

Bite Size: Lady, Stay Dead (1981)

Despite writer/director Terry Bourke’s often being credited with the first Australian horror film (1973’s Night Of Fear) and his early adopter status for the government funding that would kickstart the Ozploitation wave, Lady, Stay Dead didn’t have a huge theatrical release at home or abroad. It did have a pair of mid 80s video releases, getting somewhat lost in the shuffle of the slasher boom, but doing respectably enough to stay in circulation.

Gordon Mason (Chard Hayward) is a caretaker and groundskeeper on the Gold Coast. He doesn’t have much of a life, his sparse apartment decorated with posters and clippings of singer and actress Marie (Deborah Coulls). His hobbies basically boil down to a pile of red flags, from dancing around in a Speedo to Marie’s records, to making out with a life size love doll he calls by her name.

This would be enough for a restraining order in and of itself, but he’s Marie’s actual handyman. She lives and works out of a gorgeous seaside villa, and apparently no one bothered to do a background check. He peeps on her nude swims in the pool, and is constantly lurking underfoot regardless if she’s on a date or shooting a commercial on the property. When she decides to do some aerobics on her private beach, Mason masturbates while spying on her, visions of bound and gagged women dancing through his head.

Not that Marie notices. Despite her public image of elegant beauty and romantic love songs, off camera she’s quite the diva. She screams at her agent, barks orders at the staff and refuses to work past noon. This doesn’t line up with Mason’s obsessive image of her as a compliant feminine ideal, and when her ire is directed at him one too many times, the collapse of his fantasy leads to sexual assault and a brutal murder when she doesn’t accept his violent violation as a sign they were fated to be together.

Just to tie up loose ends, he murders her lone neighbor, Mr. Shepard (Les Foxcroft), and poisons his pet dog. What Gordon Mason wasn’t counting on was that Marie’s equally beautiful sister, Jenny (Louise Howitt) was scheduled to house sit while Marie was away on location. The cycle of romantic idealization and violent fantasy begins again, that maybe Jenny will be “different”.

Lady, Stay Dead spends its first third in sleazy slasher territory, aping the misogyny coated mean spiritedness of Don’t Answer The Phone or Maniac, but hemisphere swapping urban streets for sunny seaside isolation. The concept itself is a workable one, but the balance between characters is off.

Gordon is revealed to be unhinged almost immediately, which kneecaps anything resembling narrative tension. Nothing good can possibly come of his proximity to the imperious and bratty Marie, yet the film kills time with scenes meant to be character development that don’t add any real dimension to either character.

He stays impossibly crazy, she stays impossibly bitchy and within the first half an hour she meets her doom at the bottom of a fishtank. Mr. Shepard was the only person Marie treated kindly, and the only character painted in a remotely sympathetic light, and yet he too is rapidly dispatched, removing the escalated stakes of a possible savior or a witness to the crime.

The arrival of the unknowing Jenny almost forces the film to start over from scratch, abandoning its slasher guise for a home invasion thriller. Louise Howitt’s Jenny is allowed a warmer demeanor and a bit of final girl ready pluck, but the film’s narrative orbit again seesaws completely out of alignment. The audience knows a lot more than Jenny does, and waiting for her to figure it out feels like Lady, Stay Dead is killing time while deciding what exactly what kind of film it wants to be.

Daytime horror is always a tricky business, and the film’s inconsistent perspective doesn’t help. Bathed in golden light and hampered by repetitive music cues that tell the audience how they should feel without having shown them much to evoke the desired emotions, it all starts to fly a bit too close to the soap opera sun, a tonal mismatch with the vicious opening act.

Only when night falls does the film really gain any momentum, abandoning any real attempt at anything that resembles logical human behavior, but strangely better off for it. Mason brings Jenny flowers and take out, then decides to menace her not via any of the things she now knows he’s done, but by playing around with a lightswitch. Rather than climb through the window he’s smashed, he grabs a chainsaw from the shed and cuts a hole in the wall.

When the police finally arrive, they promptly blame Marie’s death on her nude sunbathing, and casually offer Jenny a cigarette, confident Gordon won’t come into the house despite the giant hole in the wall. There’s molotov cocktails, more resurrections than Jason and a completely unnecessary fire stunt that likely ate a sizable chunk of the film’s budget. A movie has definitely moved into delightfully trashy B film territory when things have gotten so ridiculous that even the frustrated heroine screams “DO something, you fuckwit!”

It’s unfortunate that the final blast of wackiness comes in far too late, the various segments of the film never quite gelling into a satisfying whole. There’s no third act payoff for the film’s early going, making sitting through it feel superfluous. You could easily watch the last 35 minutes of the film without any context whatsoever and still be able to follow events to the minor degree they’re intended to connect. In fact, doing so would probably be a far more satisfying viewing experience.

Bite Size: Evil Come, Evil Go (1972)

The transitional period between softcore and hardcore was a fertile breeding ground for offbeat and idiosyncratic sex film efforts, even if it occasionally makes for tricky tracking of who is responsible for which pieces of weirdness in a sea of uncredited prints and pseudonyms. One such shape shifter was director/performer Walt Davis, who turned in a small but memorable slate of genre hopping, gleefully tasteless entries throughout the 70s, on both sides of the simulated versus unsimulated divide.

Evil Come, Evil Go‘s “Hymn-humming hell cat” is Sister Sarah Jane Butler (Cleo O’Hara), a fire and brimstone sort who has been criss crossing the country street preaching her special form of gospel, believing she has a direct mission from God. Namely, to eliminate pleasurable sex and the men whose “horny, sweet words” and “horny cheating ways” facilitate it.

She cruises bars for lonely men, and when they take her up on her industrial strength come ons, she stabs them to death with her trusty switchblade—Walt Davis himself makes a quick cameo as her first victim, in a truly atrocious pair of patterned overalls. With a scribble of lipstick to pronounce “God is LOVE-not sex” and a washing up, she’s off to the next town to spread the good word.

While panhandling and proselytizing on Hollywood Boulevard, Sarah Jane meets Penny (Sandra Henderson). Lost, lonely, and looking for somewhere to belong after her rich parents sent her away to the coast for being a lesbian, she’s an easy target. Penny soon swears her allegiance to Sarah Jane’s “Sacred Order Of The Sisters Of Complete Subjugation”, and her vows are sealed with some S&M bondage games and a spot of knife play.

It’s not often a sex film opens with a Bible quote, but Cleo O’Hara’s performance as Sarah Jane is in a universe all its own, like a spirited side character from a hicksploitation film dropped into a Los Angeles skin flick. She’s a slick talking, secretly foul mouthed, Bible thumping charlatan who slices the scenery to ribbons. Cleo O’Hara might not be a great actress but she is committed to the bit, regardless if that’s trying to con a vendor out of a hot dog by calling it a “charitable donation” or sentencing hapless men to death for preferring an orgasm rather than listening to her sing hymns in the nude.

Speaking of the sex scenes, they’re an astoundingly indifferent pile of softcore that aren’t the slightest bit concerned with the illusion of the performers’ arousal. The lot is often punctuated with odd camera swirls, and in one memorable instance, accompanied by a sweeping score of 70s game show music. Evil Come, Evil Go is a sex film that isn’t remotely concerned with being sexy. The ugly banality of the skin scenes is punctuated with exaggeratedly sleazy pillow talk and puerile visual puns—a cat wanders into the frame during the lesbian sex scenes— that seem like a career pornographer having a sardonic poke at the hypocrisy of anti-sex moral outrage.

The combination of scuzzy smut and dime store gore —provided by porn legend John Holmes, who also has a credit as an assistant director in addition to make up duty— will likely be an acquired taste for most viewers, particularly in combination with the religious themes. However, Sarah Jane is just as insane as the folk pop theme tune promises, and then some. For fans of exploitation who think they’ve seen every possible permutation of singular strangeness, Evil Come, Evil Go‘s black comedy camp concoction of cultish religious fervor is not to be missed.