The trailer for 1975’s Street Girls is a classic exploitation bait and switch. Rather than sassy Sapphic sex workers holding their own amongst pimps and pushers, we get an odd duck melodrama about a whitebread Midwestern dad named Sven (Art Burke) searching for his missing daughter, Angel (Christine Souder).
Of course, Angel is not living up to her bone crushingly literal name. She’s dropped out of college and is working at a strip club that is little more than a front for prostitution. Angel also recently dumped her caring girlfriend, Sally (Carol Case), for a violent suitcase pimp of a boyfriend whose principle personality traits are some unfortunate chest hair and the gleeful facilitation of a heroin habit.
While there is abundant (if indifferently framed and shot) nudity and the played for titillation lesbian angle, Street Girls’ main wheelhouse is more akin to juvenile delinquency films and white slavery scare epics than any straight up softcore sleaze. While it does try to add some dimension to its cast of characters, the more serious implications of its plot points are negated by tonally discordant swerves into goofy trashiness that keep either aspect from really packing a punch.
Sven’s homophobia being a possible cause for Angel’s escape or Sally’s survival sex work being a means of supporting her gender non conforming brother are brushed over, but never really explored. Instead there’s a few hamfisted attempts at shock and grit. The most notable of which is Angel having a nightmare trick with a jingle singing auto mechanic that is very deeply into the specs of protective goggles…..and golden showers.
While unquestionably a bargain bin mess of an effort, there is a certain scruffy charm in the sweeping blasts of pop music that are clearly meant to delineate a SERIOUS DRAMATIC MOMENT, followed by all relevant lines being delivered in the most sonambulant manner possible. This is also the most guileless group of miscreants imaginable, as pimps, pushers and prostitutes gleefully exposition dump the details of their work, suppliers and sex lives at the slightest bit of pleading from the haplessly suburban Sven.
Jazz organist Jimmy Smith has a small part as the club’s resident bartender, the only character who has the good sense to keep his mouth shut. He’s also the only actor who seems to be aware of how ridiculous this all is. His arch line delivery seems imported from a better class of exploitation film, and he lands the film’s insanely silly final (non voiceover) line with the heaping eyeroll it deserves.
Aside from director and co writer Michael Miller (Silent Rage, Jackson County Jail), most of the cast never made another film. Yet in the parade of feature film one and dones, there is an interesting historical footnote. The other co writer on Street Girls was none other than a very young Barry Levinson, who has quietly pretended this movie never happened in the 45 years since its unceremonious release.
While 1979’s Hardcore handles the same base plot with infinitely more skill and 1986’s Hollywood Vice Squad does the same in regard to captivating trashiness, Street Girls is a notable wildcard for one very specific reason.
In this rare as a lottery win instance, Levinson’s career led him not only out of no budget exploitation, but to the upper echelons of “respectable” mainstream cinema. Levinson has had multiple Oscar nominations in major categories, winning Best Director for 1988’s Rain Man.
While other successful film makers showed sparks of promise even in their earliest low budget genre efforts, you wouldn’t necessarily peg the guy who wrote an entire monolog about “turning that holy hole into a money hole” to end up with the coveted gold statuette 13 years down the line. Never give up on your dreams, kids.
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.
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.
In an era littered with unscrupulous producers and distributors who hijacked both finished products and profits from filmmakers, Ganja & Hess is the rare inverse case. Director Bill Gunn received financing to make a budget conscious cash in on the success of Blacula. Instead, Gunn used the funds to turn out a film that has more in common with the “New Hollywood” arthouse inflected movement than Blaxploitation tropes.
Wealthy anthropologist Hess Green (Duane Jones) is attacked by his suicidal research assistant, George Meda (director Bill Gunn) with an ancient African ceremonial dagger. The dagger carries a disease that gives the infected near eternal life, and an unceasing thirst for human blood. When George’s wife Ganja (Marlene Clark), comes to the estate looking for her deceased husband, she instead joins Hess in both marriage and his cursed state (though not his personal ideologies).
It’s a slight plot, but the pretext of vampirism allows for a dizzying array of allegory and subtextual commentary on the nature of addiction, Black assimilation in America, and the hypocrisy of Christianity. It’s a shimmering shape shifter of a film to begin with, doubly so for those prone to analysis, and I’ve done a previous deep dive of the movie’s thematic elements right here.
The visuals and sound further the fever dream, with title cards and tilted angles joining lushly shot runs through sun dappled fields, and queasy, almost POV style kills. Sam Waymon’s score burbles both underneath and on top of the dialog, African chants, church hymns and a narrative soul croon given equal weight to the words being spoken by the characters. The cut and paste, collaged aesthetic is both disorienting and deliberate.
The disappointed producers of the film quickly pulled it from distribution for a hatchet job of a recut/retitling(Blood Couple), despite it winning a prestigious prize at that year’s Cannes film festival. Ganja & Hess has very little to do with the easy to sell Blaxploitation conventions that they were hoping for. There are no oversized heroes or easy villains, no action sequences, no clever catchphrases or catchy theme tunes.
Instead, just a slow, purposeful introspection. For all of the larger questions Ganja & Hess raises, there’s no easy catharsis to any of them, no through line of linear narrative, right and wrong. Just two characters, and how they individually navigate their status as othered outsiders, even before you factor in the newly found bloodlust.
*Note from your Midnight Movie Monster: There’s a bit of a break from my usual tone from this post, which marks the end of my break from regular updates(which will continue on their usual schedule from here on out). With the pandemic and the protests against racism and police brutality still ongoing, I took some time off and focused on being useful to the larger issues at hand, rather than cracking wise about B cinema.
Usually, I reserve bite size pieces for films of lesser merits, but this film is actually one of my absolute favorites of the grindhouse golden age, and an excellent piece of arthouse horror. I just wrote it up as a bite size piece being that I had previously covered it for an outside venue.
In 1977, Tom DeSimone’s (Hell Night, The Concrete Jungle) main claim to fame was directing a string of successful gay porn features under the pseudonym Lancer Brooks. This makes AIP’s choice to place him at the helm of a silly softcore sex comedy about a girl with a talking vagina either a complete lapse in any discernible logic or a calculated exercise in economics. Porn directors were highly unlikely to be union talent.
Also, you absolutely read the middle of that paragraph correctly. Hairdresser Penelope (Candice Rialson) discovers her vagina can spout sassy wisecracks when it insults her boyfriend Ted’s (Perry Bullington) sexual performance. Even worse, Penelope’s lady parts also have a propensity for singing showtunes.
Fresh out of a break up, and at her wits end on what to do, she goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Pearl (Larry Gelman). Instead of helping, Dr. Pearl uses an AMA conference to launch Penelope and the newly christened “Virginia The Talking Vagina” into show business. As the pair’s fame grows and people increasingly forget the girl that surrounds the genitals, Penelope needs to learn how to live with her particular brand of female trouble.
All of this stress is because poor Penelope has a chatter….box. Get it? GETIT?Good, because that’s as sophisticated as the humor in this movie gets. At all times, Chatterbox! would like to remind you how WHIMSICAL! and NAUGHTY! it is, when in reality the content and the jokes land somewhere between the fantasies of a 12 year old boy who has no clue how sex works and a nudity dotted episode of The Love Boat.
Comedy castoffs Rip Taylor and Professor Irwin Corey both have bit parts to mug it up in, and there’s plenty of slide whistle music cues to maintain the air of forced cheerfulness. Even at a scant 73 minute runtime, the box puns and double entendres wear awfully thin. By the time Penelope ends up on a fictionalized version of The Dating Game to win a date with Dick, it feels like a step up in terms of one liners. Until the disco production numbers of “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Cock A Doodle Doo” show up. Then we take that half step right back down to a shitty issue of Mad magazine.
In between, we get a bunch of “wacky” hijinks that feel forced even by the standard of other silly sex comedies of the period. Virginia just can’t keep quiet, and soon Penelope is fending off aggressive lesbian clients at the hair salon, and being nearly cornered to play ball with an entire sports team. The lead actress spends a good portion of the runtime either topless or holding her crotch like a small child who really has to go pee. We get a lot of closeups of Virginia in the production numbers, or at least her bedazzled g-strings.
Candice Rialson was one of the most appealing starlets of the exploitation golden age, and likely could have had a mainstream career had the cards played just a few pair differently. A doe eyed blonde beauty with a light comedic touch and a knack for making the raciest of material look more nudie cutie than sticky floor sleazy, she lit up the screen in any film in which she appeared. It is only because of Candice’s charisma that all of this failed gaiety is even remotely watchable and only occasionally cringe inducing.
All things considered, she certainly deserved better than a movie where the happy ending is a suicide averted by the sudden appearance of a singing schlong. No wonder Candice retired from acting at the beginning of the 1980’s. The challenge of starting a family and raising a child must have seemed like a breeze by comparison to trying to make something entertaining out of material like this.
Shot in roughly 2 weeks in 1974, Death Game’s production was doomed from the start. The original director was fired at the last second, and producer Peter S. Traynor took over. His complete lack of anything resembling a clue caused the entire cast to basically stop speaking to him. Colleen Camp and (post Oscar nomination, pre Clint Eastwood) Sondra Locke only bothered to inform him that they preferred he stay the fuck out of the way of day to day filming. Male lead Seymour Cassel quit the shoot after nearly decking his ersatz “director”. While all of Cassel’s scenes were completed before he left, he refused to come in to rerecord some lines, causing his entire performance to have to be dubbed over in post.
Production was then halted by a federal investigation into Peter Traynor’s financing sources, delaying the release of the film by over two years. When Death Game finally saw the light of day in 1977, it promptly flopped in a six month theatrical run. Retitled as The Seducers, the movie had some modest success on the home video market before becoming a common add on to those $5 50 movie box sets that sit by the checkout line at big box retailers.
In honor of the upcoming Grindhouse Releasing restoration, let’s take a look at what will soon be (incorrectly) hailed as a lost grindhouse classic, and you too can be one of the cool kids who liked this movie better when it sucked:
All you need to know about the credits sequence is that this print was ripped from VHS (hence the title) and that it is a full 4:45 of a woman with a faux fishwife accent singing about “dear old dad” who “taught both table manners and the birds and bees”. I wondered what in the fuck those two things had to do with each other, made a mildly off color eating reference, then began praying for my own death or the end of the song, whichever occurred first.
This porn ‘stache having gent is George, our somewhat hairy hero. The film’s events take place on his birthday, which he spent playing cinema’s first ever game of strip croquet with his wife, before she traveled out of town to get his son some needed surgery. He has a nice chat with his son on the phone, telling him how great he thinks it is that he wants to bring his newly removed appendix to school.
Just as he is about to settle in by the fire with a drink, these two bits of ridden hard and put away wet come knocking, and ask to use his phone. Because he’s the sort of guy who thinks a human organ is great for show and tell, he lets the women in.
The brunette is Donna, and the blonde introduces herself as Jackson. George agrees to let them stay until a friend comes to pick them up, and offers them hot cocoa and fresh towels to dry off, warm up, and allow more subtle peeks of skin for him to low key leer at. While Jackson nips off to use what she inexplicably refers to as the “catbox”, George acts like a first class out of touch doofus around Donna, trying to impress her with some elevator music he claims his kids gave him.
When the girls become transfixed by such amazing amenities as running water, they decide to have a skinny dip in the hot tub. When George discovers them cavorting about, he puts up some token resistance before joining them for a threesome. I’m sure his strip croquet partner will be less than thrilled with George’s sudden fondness for water polo. In the meantime, we get a 5 minute montage of head, shoulders, knees, and man ass. The music is so utterly redolent of 70’s porn, I had my speakers tested for syphilis. We also get a lot of weird B roll landscape and sunrise shots mixed in, for those cheap weed and consciousness raising vibes.
Morning comes, and so does the regret, but the girls are all smiles and offers of breakfast. They refuse to leave and are clearly both less cute and more crazy by daylight. However, it is their messy eating habits rather than the several obvious screws loose that causes George to scream at Donna and Jackson to get dressed and GTFO. The chords of the “Dear Old Dad” theme start up again. I wear a matching hangdog expression to the still above. Instead of anything relevant to the plot, we get a 30 second close up of ketchup slowly dribbling from the bottle, while discordant noise stacks up on the soundtrack. I am not kidding about this.
In a rare moment of clarity, someone in the editing bay realized that was ungodly boring, and we get this instead:
Disco strings swell in the background as Jackson deep throats a banana. Donna smashes out random notes on the piano, and the pair inform George they won’t be leaving, after all. Jackson claims to be 17, and Donna only 15. They have no qualms at all letting George be shuttled off as a sex offender if he tries to make them go.
Sondra Locke was 30 years old, and Colleen Camp was 21 years old in 1974. It’s obvious to anyone who isn’t an idiot that both of these ladies are clearly of legal age. However, George has proven to be exactly that, and panics at the threat. His response is to offer them a ride anywhere they want, and soon we are on another boring b roll filled field trip. The threat of another refrain of “Dear Old Dad” is cueing up on the soundtrack.
Thinking he’s left his bad life decisions behind in San Francisco, George has another cozy telephone chat with his wife, which is of no consequence other than the fact that his family is coming home the next afternoon.
Back at home after a long day of lowering the bar, George gets knocked out and bound to his own bed by Jackson and Donna, who while rather poor at basic life skills like bathing and using forks, can at least plan a successful fake out. Now that they’ve got him where they want him, the girls….jump on the bed. They put on make up, and play dress up in George’s wife’s clothing, showing some likely to be distributor mandated nudity. They cackle. A lot. “Dear Old Dad” plays yet AGAIN on the soundtrack.
They beat George up a bit for not looking particularly terrified, and Donna makes a sad speech about being molested, and that George is her new daddy now because he was so nice to her. We are now halfway through the movie and it’s the first legitimately disturbing thing either of the pair have managed.
Because all less stupid things must come to an end, the girls drag George down the hall and coat him with all of the food in the house. They cackle. Boy do they ever cackle. They cackle so much I feel like I’m back in primary school conjugating verbs. I cackle. She cackles. They cackle. We cackle. I will cackle. She will cackle. We will cackle. They will cackle. Assume cackling happens anytime the female leads are on screen for more than 3 seconds.
Realizing they have no more stolen food to actually eat, Donna orders groceries, and George makes his first non moronic decision of the film. The second the delivery man rings the doorbell, he starts screaming for help.
To keep him from snitching, Jackson and Donna drown the poor delivery guy in the oversized fishtank. We are now over an hour into a movie originally titled Death Game, and the first (and thus far only) death is barely visible behind a green gel filter. This game sucks.
There’s a long, sleep inducing sequence of a mock “trial” the girls subject George to. All it really is the same threats of rape allegations, breaking stuff and cackling as the previous hour of the movie, but with a green gel filter to make the lighting spooky this time. For real(ly dumb), I’m serious(ly amazed this movie is still going).
The “verdict” is guilty. Shocking, really. Sentence is death at dawn. George tries to escape a second time, and gets another blow to the head for his trouble. Whimsical music plays as the girls booze and eat, making weird pseudo sex faces at each other while they munch on apples and bagels.
George is left to his concussed daydreams of the simpler times of family life and strip croquet. “Dreams” might be a bit strong of a word. It’s basically his wife’s weird sex noises from the beginning of the film on the soundtrack while the camera stays focused on ceiling eaves. Saves the $50 it would cost to bring back the actress.
After even more shriek, smash and cackle (which was totally what was lacking in this film), dawn finally arrives. Jackson picks up a cleaver, but brings it down on the pillow behind George rather than his actual neck.
As a broken George sobs, the girls finally leave, satisfied with the life ruining results of their not quite death game. They skip down the street for yet another full 4:45 minute reprise of “Dear Old Dad”, and I once again start praying for death, before recalling I’m a lifelong atheist.
An “SPCA” truck comes barreling around the corner……
….and kills old Cackle and Squeak so violently, they become photo negatives. Apparently, the Deus ex machina does answer prayers. Roll credits.
While not exactly a trend, the 70’s saw several scattered attempts at an adults only fairy tale musical. If Fairy Tales had been a one off, I could have easily shrugged my shoulders and blamed it on the era’s love of Quaaludes and poor life decisions. However, this movie is the last in a line of filmic lemmings freefalling off the same cliff. The Adult Brothers Grimm hit theaters in 1970, Alice In Wonderland in1976, Cinderella in 1977, and finally Fairy Tales in 1978.
“Softcore musical sex comedy featuring storybook characters” is an oddly specific hill for multiple crews to box office bomb on, so let’s take a bite size look at a once upon a time turkey in a kingdom far, far away from anything that should have ever existed.
What plot there is concerns a Prince who is set to inherit his kingdom on his 21st birthday. The catch is that he must produce an heir by the following Thursday, because even stupid sex spoofs need some kind of stakes. A bouncing blonde birthday present fails to excite him, and he goes on a meandering hero’s journey to find a woman who can solve his fading flagpole issues in a pre Viagra era.
Despite the title, the characters are pretty much a mixed muddle of whatever could be found in a prefab bag at the local costume shop. The Prince is a dork in a bowl cut, last night’s make up and the outfit of a Shakespearean era extra in a middling high school musical.
In his travels, he meets a daffy Little Bo Peep in sheer panties, Mother Hubbard as the blowzy madam of a brothel in a shoe, a belly dancing Scheherazade and a Frog Prince that’s basically a confused dance student in a green velvet drape. While it is a thick drape, it fails to hide the actor’s obvious shame at the booming frog sound effects echoing from his crotch.
In between bumbling rejected Borscht Belt jokes about Venus and Uranus, we get musical numbers from a cast that performs with all of the acumen of a narcoleptic sufferer of St Vitus’ Dance. Snow White gets a pop tune about the joys of all 7 dwarves, 4 random nude women with floggers and gimp masks lip sync an Andrews Sisters style ditty about S&M, and the Prince gets a sad love theme. In all of this, there’s less skin showing than an average nudie cutie movie would have displayed almost 2 decades earlier.
By the time this movie introduces a bizarre subplot about a codpiece wearing Blaxploitation caricature of a pimp, and his love potion making Auntie Leveau, I barely had the energy to wonder how the legendary Motown singer Martha Reeves got mixed up in this mess. I was just thrilled to see a professional performer swing into a spooky fog filled disco number that actually would make a great addition to a Halloween novelty playlist. You can see for yourself in the video above.
Apparently, Martha was never told that the film was an adult movie, as her scene was shot outside of the main plot. Only after Fairy Tales was released, did she learn she was conned into making the only watchable sequence in this utterly juvenile “adult” film.
Despite all of its flaws, Fairy Tales does have a happy ending. Not for any of its characters per se, but for scream queen Linnea Quigley. Featured in a partially nude bit part at the end of the film (as the Princess the Prince has been searching for), she managed to springboard this small early role into starring in the much better movies we know and love her for today.
Really it’s “Teenage Survival Sex Work, With A Side Of Free Love”, but that just wouldn’t have the same lurid appeal for trailers, posters and lobby cards.
Teen drifter Kim (Alisha Fontaine) has decided to leave her former life pushing drugs for a transient commune. Instead, she hitches for a draft dodging new boyfriend, who is using her to help him get out of the country. The two of them make their way east, in the hopes that Kim’s estranged sister Hilary (Robin Low) will give them cash from Kim’s inheritance.
Too bad her former lover/guru/drug connect Maury and his wayward band of hippies have followed her across the country, and the bad times roll right behind them.
I can’t say there’s anything remarkable in this Z grade romp. Most of the dialog has clearly been dropped in in post, and the only print I can find is scratched like it has eczema. However, it is a grindhouse potboiler that understands that movies have to actually move. The 75 minute runtime breezes by as it hits all of the standard beats of the flotilla of the post Charlie Manson cheapies. Establishment bad. Disenfranchisement worse. Off beat bohemian dancing. You know the routine.
There’s a melodramatic B plot that involves Kim seducing Hilary’s sugar baby younger boyfriend, and Robin Low gives a hammy soap opera performance as the uptight foil to Kim’s freewheeling ways. There’s skinny dipping and man stealing, and a whole lot of Hilary swanning about her fabulous house drunk and tut tutting at Kim.
Then Maury shows up and brings all of the drugs, bongos and bad juju with him, as well as excuses for some more nudity, some violence, and a wild groovy, party, man. Wherever you go, there you are. Heavy.
It’s obvious that this will end poorly, in the classic youth in peril/juvenile delinquent mode, but the sheer budget conscious bungle of exactly how it all falls down was worth a solid giggle.
A slight, but perfect, bottom half of a double bill with a Tiffany Bolling feature presentation. She tended to play the grown up, harder bitten version of this same character in equally regional California productions. Give Kim 5 years to wise up, a tan, and a golden blonde rinse…..you end up with Jesse from The Candy Snatchers.
Welcome to Bite Size! This is a new shorter form feature for movies that deserve notice for their singular strangeness, but lack enough non narcolepsy inducing content to merit even a timestamped long form review. If the highlights of a film can fill a trailer or a Youtube video, but just barely………it will get a Bite Size write up.
The concept of a group of drag queens traveling cross country butched up as a biker gang is a fantastic basic idea, but this 1971 exploitation curio has some serious issues of identity crisis.
The straight grindhouse audience will likely be bored by the light comedy tone with a pronounced lack of the genre staple sex and violence.
Meanwhile, the gay audience will likely be put off by six dinner theater level actors limp wristing their way through various queeny stereotypes. While the T&A is sparse, there are just a smidgen too many leering shots of female walk on characters not to tip the film’s hand. This is clearly a gay themed movie made by people whose closest contact with the queer community or culture was watching Liberace on TV.
To add another layer to this pile of confusion, wrapped in enigma, swaddled in bad ideas, it’s a plotless wonder. This film’s idea of dramatic tension is lots of open air riding shots with the occasion stop for a food fight, a light lunch roadside or some shopping. Inset shots some of self styled Colonial Mustard bear no real connection to anything else. He’s clearly on a different soundstage, and was perhaps shipped in from a different movie as he shouts about dirty longhairs and ogles his secretary.
Perhaps because I watched it in the midst of the world going on lockdown to avoid spreading coronavirus, or perhaps because I have been subjected to a lot of budget mandated claustrophobia in genre fare, I did find some slight joys in this mess of a film. The actors improv gamely through their threadbare scenes, and it was kind of nice to meander away an hour and some change in endless shots of wide open spaces with 6 characters who actually liked each other.
That small pleasure makes the insanity of the nonsensical ending that much worse. Only in the last 5 minutes of the film do the insets and the main plot merge, and it is to provide one of the most out of nowhere downbeat endings I have ever seen. A swerve toward Easy Rider territory, the dumb ugliness of the choice is enough to make you seriously question the intent of everything that proceeded it.
Skip the film, but definitely watch the perfectly made trailer above. A long ago film editor basically read my mind across space and time regarding this film’s good points.
Behold the hysterically overblown line readings, bizarre digressions and a pre-Grizzly Adams Dan Haggerty as a member of a straight biker gang chasing after our protagonists. Short, sweet, and without tainting your braincells with a 85 minute slog to a 5 minute insult.
I have some other new things on the way, as well as a full length review of a much better movie. Until then, stay safe kids, and feel free to steal this glorious GIF to spread a little love in unfortunately interesting times:
Exploitation film has always been a trend driven beast, with bizarre boomlets for damn near every common noun you can append -sploitation to.
Nunsploitation shared its 60s and 70s heyday with the women in prison films. Both niches were basically playing the same game, but with different variants of black and white uniforms. Fallen convent angels in habits or proud prison sinners in stripes, both subgenres were chock full of sadistic authority figures, women in isolation, and kinky (often lesbian) sex.
The subject of nuns also added the delightful bonus of jabbing a stick straight into the eye of the church, and a controversy was always good for a few extra asses in the seats. Not surprisingly, many genre standouts were produced by filmmakers in the Catholic strongholds of Spain and Italy.
Today’s film is one of the last gasps of the fading clergy craze, and is unusual for both being set in the (then) present day, and for having made the UK’s infamous “Video Nasties” list. It’s also the only nunsploitation flick starring former mainstream sex goddess Anita Ekberg (though it certainly isn’t the only Hail Mary in her late career filmography).
Originally titled “Suor Omicidi” and also released under the amazing, much snappier alternate title of “Bad Habits” let’s see just how far Ms. Ekberg has fallen from the Trevi Fountain:
Nothing much happens in the credit sequence. Communion wafers are eaten, nuns line up in elaborate configurations, incense and chants are had. An unseen Sister is in confession trying to be absolved of her need for revenge on all men, and up pops the title card. Enter Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg), clapping her hands, chastising two of her male patients for making dirty jokes, and being a absolute ray of sunshine that no rational human being would want to to deal with first thing in the morning.
By comparison to the dour nuns in the opener, Sister Gertrude is absolutely the Mother Superior of the Order of the #305 False Eyelash, making her hospital rounds in full eye make up. Sadly, it isn’t all smiles and frosted eyeshadow.
Sister Gertrude has just recovered from surgery to remove a brain tumor, and she hasn’t been quite herself since. While she used to be the resident doctor’s first choice of assistant, she has been neglecting her duties of late, endangering patients and having wacky music cue filled panic attacks at the sight of blood. A younger nun named Sister Mathieu picks up the slack for Sister Gertrude’s various fuck ups.
Every doctor that has examined her has declared Sister Gertrude healthy. She insists that all of the tests are wrong, and that she would be her usual self again if she could only get some more morphine. Because those cold sweats and fainting spells couldn’t possibly be drug withdrawal rather than an invisible phantom tumor. Nope. No way.
In a landmark case of “that escalated quickly”, Sister Gertrude is reading bloody hagiography of tortured saints to the patients at breakfast, then curbstomps patient Josephine’s dentures to dust for taking them out at the table. Sister Gertrude has gone from Pollyanna levels of sunny to shrieking “DISGUSTING! DISGUSTING! DISGUSTING!” like Joan Crawford when she just saw some wire hangers.
Sister Gertrude’s no good, very bad day just keeps on rolling.
Sister Mathieu insists on a nude fireside chat in their shared bedroom, confessing to both her forbidden love, and destroying Gertrude’s medical records. Without tangible proof, no one can deny Gertrude is sick…..which even the brain tumor survivor realizes is an utterly stupid plan.
Then that damned Josephine has to go and have a heart attack and die from the shock of the false teeth frenzy.
Then the doctor cuts off Gertrude’s supply of morphine. Cold turkey.
There’s nothing to do but sneak off into the city and pawn a dead woman’s stolen ring for drug money. As one does.
Over alternating dreamy Roman cha cha music and kicky disco kerfluffle, Gertrude does her various dirty deeds and stops into a cafe for a drink, a smoke, and a man. In hilarious voiceover, she growls about liking beards, and disliking a man she deems “too Latin looking”, whatever the fuck that means in terms of a generic looking white guy. Settling on a chain smoking clams adjuster, she practically purrs and pants her way through this breathy and bizarre line reading:
Sister Gertrude (voiceover): Come on……look this way. Sister Gertrude is just DYYYYYIIING to make love to you.
While Anita Ekberg declined to appear nude, they do have weird half clothed simulated sex in a random apartment building hallway. How his gross open mouthed goldfish style make out technique would be a turn on remains a mystery. On the other hand Ms. Ekberg’s Sister Gertrude is still a stone cold fox.
Back at the charity hospital, Sister Gertrude sets a two prong plan in motion. First, get the doctor who dared deny her fired. Second, celebrate by deciding to shoot up over it. It’s a special occasion, after all. Thrashing about on the carpet, we get a surreal little hallucination sequence of sliced brains and the tentative fondling of the deceased. All set to this delightful piece of music in search of a Nancy Sinatra song to belong to.
It’s about here that the movie takes an abrupt leap towards giallo territory, and mostly lands with a thud. A patient tries to help Sister Gertrude through her overdose. No good deed goes unpunished, and he is bludgeoned to death with a lamp, then tossed out of the window to make it look like a suicide.
The ever helpful Sister Mathieu burns a bloody veil of Gertrude’s she finds in the laundry, not that it helps anyone believe the suicide story. By the following afternoon, the remaining patients point blank call Gertrude a killer during the world’s grimmest game of truth or dare.
A patient and a local girl have some noisy sex outside in the pouring rain, and while their choice of venue is questionable, being choked to death with cotton gauze seems excessive.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Factory fleshpot Joe D’Allesandro shows up as the new head doctor at the hospital. He keeps his shirt on and his wonderful, working class New York City accent is dubbed out. That tidily eliminates any conceivable purpose of his being in this film.
In a clear concession to the current non starter status of the plot, Sister Gertrude savagely humiliates a nude Sister Mathieu. Sudden dominatrix mode engaged, Gertrude threatens to beat Mathieu if she does not immediately put on silk stockings, and make good on her previous sexual invitations.
Due to an excess of jumping jacks, the patients have a soup bowl clanking rebellion(none of that is a typo), and are sent to bed early. After leading evening prayers, Sister Gertrude is attacked by a mystery assailant, and the one patient who may know who did it is keeping silent. Not that it matters, as the potential snitch is acupunctured to death the following day, and hung up to bleed out in a laundry chute. Bonus points for easy clean up.
Sister Gertrude flies into hysterics at the sight of another body, and when Dr. Rough Trade gives her a sedative, her drug addiction is obvious. She has more than enough tracks to make a greatest hits album. Sister Mathieu tearfully admits covering for Gertrude’s addiction and the theft of hospital morphine.
Desperate to know what is real and what is her own hallucination, Gertrude drugs and kidnaps a handicapped patient named Peter. Dumping him at the bottom of the boiler room steps, she demands to know who is the source of the rumors blaming her for the murders. When he refuses to tell, Gertrude takes his crutches, trapping him there. She has other business to attend to……..
Which gives Peter plenty of time to drag himself up the stairs inch by inch….
Only to be kicked right back down them again by an unseen nun. Yet another killing gets Sister Gertrude sent away to the Brides Of Christ version of Bellevue……
To give us appropriate time to rush through a sloppy ending that primarily exists in service of getting this highly misleading image onto some video boxcovers.