Bite Size: Blue Sunshine (1977)

Jeff Lieberman is another of the New York City native eccentrics of genre cinema, with the same flair for the defiantly oddball as fellow hometown boys Larry Cohen and Frank Henenlotter. In his short but varied filmography Lieberman has tackled everything from nature run amok (Squirm), to downmarket Deliverance riffs ( Just Before Dawn), to atomic age alien abductions updated for the VHS era (Remote Control).

1977’s Blue Sunshine was his second feature film, and trades in Squirm‘s down in the dirt small town setting for the sunny streets of Los Angeles. A few old friends are having a party to catch up, but the evening goes off the rails when a guest playfully tugs at the hair of Frannie (Richard Crystal) as he begins to croon some Sinatra. Frannie is apparently bald beneath the hair piece, and runs off into the night in a fit of irrational rage. While the rest of the guests are searching for him, Frannie returns and violently tosses two female guests into the fireplace, burning them to death. Jerry (Zalman King) attempts to subdue the suddenly homicidal Frannie, but their altercation takes them out onto the highway, where Frannie is hit by a passing truck.

Jerry now finds himself on the run, suspected in the 3 deaths at the party. Similar bizarre attacks of hair loss, headaches and homicide are happening all over the city. Desperate to clear his own name, he enlists his girlfriend Alicia (Deborah Winters), and college friend Dr. David Blume (Robert Walden) to help clear his name. Could the truth lie in a bad batch of LSD that the killers took a decade before? And what does soon to be Congressman Ed Flemming (Mark Goddard) have to do with it?

Blue Sunshine is definitely the most conceptually ambitious of the early 70s spate of hippie hangover films, turning a cool, clinical eye toward the anti drug hysteria of classical exploitation and playing it dead straight, complete with a text card square up as the credits roll. Blue Sunshine doesn’t so much contradict the screeching authority figures of the likes of Reefer Madness, or the concern trolling tone that drops an LSD lecture into the middle of drive in classic I Drink Your Blood. The drugs will make you crazy, it just takes a decade of life as a ticking time bomb before your bad choices catch up with you.

By drolly dropping into the cinematic conversation only to facetiously correct the timeline, the film becomes an interesting bit of malicious compliance satire. Its perspective clearly mocks all of the moral panic that spawned those sorts of warnings in the first place, while still drawing horror from it for viewers who miss the archness of that reading.

The initial promise of the premise sags as the layers of the plot add elements of a conspiracy thriller, mainly because Zalman King can’t quite modulate his performance as Jerry. He’s either mumbling blandly or in the midst of bug eyed hysterics, and there’s little nuance or sympathy to be had for him as he fumbles through his investigation. Regardless of where the truth of the crimes lies, it is unsurprising that the film’s other characters don’t respond terribly well to Jerry’s brute force interrogations or dismiss his rants as the ravings of an unstable kook.

What the central performance lacks in style and finesse, Blue Sunshine makes up in spades with stylish set pieces, a cool toned color palette befitting the title, and some confident, steady camera work. There’s a sleek quirkiness to the music and visuals that makes it hard to forget. A blue moon hangs in an inky sky over the opening credits, interspersed with introductions to the major characters. The title is introduced by the almost human croak of the words “Blue Sunshine” by a pet parrot. Those once upon a time hippie longhairs lose theirs along with their sanity, with pathetic scraggly tufts crowning their chalky pallor and bulging eyes as they turn violent. By the time we get to inset shots of a celebrity impersonator puppet show serving as entertainment at a political rally or a climatic fight in the flashing cornucopia of lights at a mall disco, it all makes for a cohesive aesthetic sense that few films of this ilk display.

While flawed in its plotting and performances, the unique blend of familiar mainstream elements, exploitation style exercises, and higher than average production values makes Blue Sunshine an excellent entry point into the more psychotronic side of retro cinema. Plus, sharp eyed viewers will note that in the final department store scene, the sales floor is decorated for Christmas, adding Blue Sunshine to the list of unexpected holiday horrors.





Bite Size: Teenage Innocence/Little Miss Innocence (1973)

The raucous, independent environment of exploitation cinema, along with the early 70s rise of so called “New Hollywood” experimentation and porno chic allowed for the boundaries between categories of film to be far more porous. Actors and crew members could shift much more easily between standard issue theatrical features, softcore films and hardcore erotica, free to work in whatever niche was cashing checks in a manner that seems borderline impossible in the present day.

Director Chris Warfield was one of those cases. Having found modest success as a television actor through the 60s, the dawn of the new decade saw Warfield pivot to the other side of the camera. He made several sexploitation pictures under his given name, plus some well regarded early hardcore features (Champagne For Breakfast) under the pseudonym Billy Thornberg.

1973’s Teenage Innocence (US title, with most of the rest of the world preferring the snappier Little Miss Innocence) bears the mark of that wide ranging experience. The screenplay (co-written with E.E. Patchen) straddles the line between straight up sex film and erotic chamber drama. The movie’s three stars are pulled from both the porn trenches and the more lurid side of low budget films.

Wealthy music arranger Rick Engels (John Alderman, The Pink Angels) is cruising through Los Angeles on a sunny afternoon. On a whim, he picks up two pretty young hitchhikers. Brunette Carol (Sandy Dempsey, Swinging Cheerleaders) is brash and a touch brassy, while baby faced blonde Judy (Terri Johnson, The Cocktail Waitresses) is sweetly shy.

Initially demurring on his invitation to come up to his “neato” pad, the girls change their minds after they get bored of idly wandering in Rick’s pretty but far from swinging neighborhood. Before long, the girls are cozily curled up on his couch, and a bit of brandy makes things go way past the initial idle flirtation. After a few delirious days of assorted hedonism, Rick’s unbelievable luck runs out. The pair refuse to leave, their demands becoming much more all consuming and sinister.

The basic plot outline is very similar to Peter Traynor’s comparatively better known 1977 exploitation flick Death Game, but tonally the two films couldn’t be more different. Death Game plays its riffs fast and loud from the start, shooting straight for the lurid with a shriek and a green gel filter.

Teenage Innocence takes its time in its tonal shift, playing almost like an updated nudie cutie for the first half of the film, with unobtrusive cinematography and a much more naturalistic approach to dialog and the volume at which it is delivered. The wild weekend is all fun and games, until it isn’t.

All three leads put in above average performances, which helps push a concept that is pure male gaze wish fulfillment into a much darker realm. In the back half, Teenage Innocence is a low budget riff on the crimes of Leopold and Loeb, with a tiny dash of Le Grande Bouffe‘s criticism of bourgeoise assumed access to excess. Rick gets everything he had wished for in picking the pair up, and the fact that he then has to live with it is a special sort of Hell unto itself.

Teenage Innocence would pair well with Andy Milligan’s Fleshpot On 42nd St. It’s a ready made double feature of downbeat sexploitation that makes abundant displays of skin and sin decidedly unerotic, instead focusing on a weaponized sexuality honed through disappointment and trauma. Teenage Innocence‘s Carol is almost a kid sister to Fleshpot’s Dusty, with both women using the performance of eroticism to hide just how hard they’ve been faking it the entire time.


Bite Size: French Quarter (1978)

Pretty young runaways and sex work are an evergreen in exploitation film, but 1978’s French Quarter certainly deserves notice for the the winding path it takes to connect those familiar dots. Shot on location in New Orleans, the film takes the scenic route through a grab bag of trash cinema tropes to create a singularly strange film that truly couldn’t have been made in any other era. Mainly, because no sober human being in recent memory would ever green light it.

Christine Delaplane (Alisha Fontaine, Teenage Tramp ) is in heavy debt after the death of her father. With no other surviving family and no real options in her tiny Louisiana town, she hitches her way to New Orleans in the hopes of a fresh start. Rejected by every other job she applied for, Christine ends up dancing in a topless bar. The sleazy owner suitcase pimps a bunch of mysterious “expenses” from her pay, and a week’s worth of work only nets her $25. Considering the incredibly awkward striptease we see, its a minor miracle she kept the job that long.

She gets into an argument with the club’s owner over the obvious grift, and finds herself homeless and out of a job on a Saturday afternoon, unable to even cash her check for bus fare back home. Kindly house mom/club bartender Ida (1940s Hollywood star Virginia Mayo) takes pity on poor country Christine, and sends her to the apothecary owned by a local voodoo practitioner. The woman owes Ida a favor and can cash Christine’s check. Instead of helping out, Florinda Beaudine (Anna Filameno) drugs our naive heroine and makes arrangements to sell her into a white slavery ring.

Christine comes to, but she’s no longer Christine. She wakes up in 19th century New Orleans, as indicated by a costume change and an annoying soft focus effect. Apparently, in those early days of cinema, there was a mandate the camera lens be coated in Vaseline.

Instead, she’s Miss Trudy Dix, the crown jewel of the brothel of Countess Willie Piazza (Virginia Mayo, again). Trudy has been ill with fever, but now that she is well again, her virginity will be auctioned off to the highest bidder to bring even greater prestige and profit to the luxury whore house. Without much questioning of what the hell just happened, Christine/Trudy begins to fall in love with a fresh off the bus piano player, Kid Ross (Bruce Davidson). This angers a local crime boss and his voodoo queen mistress, Madame Papaloos (Anna Filameno, also once more with feeling). They want to profit off of Christine/Trudy themselves, and too heavy a love affair will destroy her principle market value.

Nearly every actor in the film has a dual role, appearing in both the 19th and 20th century timeline. As the bulk of the film’s runtime is spent in the past, the trickiest bit is figuring out where the blink and you’ll miss it cameos are in the modern beginnings of the movie.

The wide scope, double timeline structure is pretty ambitious for the drive in, and French Quarter isn’t content to just fix itself on Christine/Trudy. The sub two hour runtime includes subplots for each of Trudy’s fellow hookers, riffs on several historical figures, voodoo rituals, and the unlikely friendship between the literal new Kid on the block and jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton (Vernel Bagneris) amongst the racial politics of 1910 New Orleans. The setting of a brothel also leaves ample room for all sorts of the incidental salaciousness one would expect, from idle nudity to vintage style stripteases, and an all too brief lesbian affair.

Alisha Fontaine had a pretty short film career, and perhaps isn’t the most dynamic lead for all of this swooning melodrama. That said, everyone else seems to be having a blast raiding the wardrobe closet and playing period piece dress up. What Fontaine lacks in personality is easily smoothed over by the rest of the ensemble being rather unafraid of turning up the camp. Virginia Mayo is well cast as the classic kindly madam, and looks fantastic for a woman pushing 60 at the time of filming. Ann Michelle (Virgin Witch, The Death Wheelers) goes for broke with bug eyed abandon as the aptly named “Coke-Eyed Laura”, a fellow hooker with a habit that could easily launch poppies into extinction. Lindsay Bloom (H.O.T.S.) also adds some wisecracking comic relief as “Big Butt Annie”, who has the expected penchant for Greek delicacies and entry via the back door of the mansion the girls call home.

The movie does go several turns too far in regard to the tower of subplots, and has bitten off a bit more than this price point could ever hope to chew. The shoehorned in white voodoo queen angle, Christine/Trudy’s courtship with Kid, and a random confrontation with a gangster at a juke joint should have probably been trimmed for length and pacing’s sake. French Quarter hits its stride in the slice of life scenes inside the brothel, with a tone that reminds me of 1985’s Angel. While not quite as charming as that particular movie, both films utilize colorful supporting characters and their above average roster of on camera talent to make a lighter, sweeter confection than you would otherwise expect from such a sleaze filled premise.

For those with a bit of patience, French Quarter is as frothy and fun as exploitation films get without crossing over into the well trod territory of goofy sex comedy. Besides, how many other movies can you name that include both survival sex work and white slavery hysteria as major plot points that somehow manage to twist themselves into a happy ending?

Bite Size: Drive-In Massacre (1976)

Drive-In Massacre is one of those regional obscurities that boutique Blu Ray labels occasionally dredge up with mild fanfare as a lost bit of classic sleaze. Drive-In Massacre also happens to be one of those times when whoever is tasked with writing the promotional copy for the release is unabashedly full of shit.

While the title and the bang for the buck opening kills would suggest at least a bit of bloody proto slasher fun, the 76 minute runtime feels painfully overlong. Drive-In Massacre parcels out a bunch of potentially delightful trashy elements, only to end up petering out into an unsatisfying attempt at an old bit of William Castle gimmickry.

There’s the standard issue police procedural folderal in between the sparse spate of sword slashings. Our red herrings take the form of an angry theater manager whose volume setting is just as loud as his assortment of eyestrain inducing sport coats, a peeping trucker, and a carny sword swallower turned custodian a few sharps short of a knife block.

Given that we never actually see the film that’s onscreen, and our police officers’ best investigative tool is a brief foray into drag, the rest of the film is just people sitting around. The cops bicker in their cramped offices, the soon to be victims perennially parked in the dusty drive-in lot.

The vague implication of a Western is dropped into the sound mix at complete odds with the score of atonal pencil can shaking and baby’s first Casio keysmash electro warbles. Considering that pretty much every plot element introduced is a non sequitur, the burial of the actual dialogue in the sound mix doesn’t make much difference.

There is something seedily refreshing in seeing a cinematic representation of a drive in so utterly devoid of charm or romanticism. As far as this movie is concerned, it’s basically just a backdrop for the same semi anonymous hormonal rummaging that characterized your standard sticky seat indoor theater. Given the utter botch of just about everything else you can think of, that slight historical angle is not nearly a good enough reason to actually sit through this movie.

For those looking for a technically inept, yet scuzzily accurate, time capsule that is actually fun, I’d recommend 1973’s Massage Parlor Murders! (which I’ve previously written about for the fabulous Drive-In Asylum) as a much better investment of the hour or so of your lifetime.

Bite Size: Ginger (1971)

Unexplained disappearances and kidnappings are on the rise in an upscale community on the New Jersey shore. Private detective Jason Varone (William Grannel) has been retained by some of the residents to crack the case. Unfortunately, his last two operatives have died trying. With the disaffected air of someone who has nothing of importance to lose, he hires a society girl named Ginger (Cheri Caffaro) to attempt to infiltrate the gang from the outside.

Despite the fact that she has zero relevant experience other than being just as idly wealthy, overly tan and casually racist as her targets, Ginger is provided a suitcase of spy tools, and official secret operative status. Armed with a kit that came straight out of the back of a midcentury comic book, she’s quickly dispatched to break up the gang’s business in both drug smuggling and prostitution, before she can change her mind.

This softcore sexploitation romp was the brainchild of a New Jersey theater chain owner, Don Schain. Having taken on writing and directing duties himself, he kept the casting close to home and put his (then) wife in the starring role. Cheri Caffaro had primarily worked as a model up to that point, other than a bit part in 1971 comedy Up Your Alley.

Don Schain had a keen eye what would get asses in the seats, and Ginger is structured to have some trailer ready moments for just about every flavor of sexploitation sleaze. In the course of busting boss Rex Halsey (a neckerchief wearing Duane Tucker) and his gang of assorted racist stereotypes, dumb pretty boys and prostitutes, Ginger’s investigative techniques seem to come straight out of an adolescent fantasy round of Truth Or Dare.

She earns her way into the gang’s inner circle by giving a member named Rodney (gay porn star Casey Donovan) a pole dance at a bar. A conflict with the gang’s angry girlfriends becomes a beach bikini catfight where the loser is stripped naked and bound with her own bikini. Her attempt to convince one of the prostitutes to go states’ evidence leads to a brief lesbian affair.

Of course honey trap isn’t always going to be the best tact to take when dealing with hardened criminals who have already committed multiple homicides, so Ginger spends a good portion of the runtime in bondage or handcuffs as she plots her escapes, culminating in a wince inducing assault straight out of the 60s roughie playbook.

Despite the copious amounts of nudity (including a relatively rare male full frontal in addition to the female), the softcore scenes are lifeless. It’s mostly just poorly lit people lying on top of one another. The actual plot doesn’t fare much better. Ginger’s action scenes and nominal fight choreography are unconvincing, and the movie’s biggest bit of violent vengeance (a piano wire castration) happens off screen.

The story beats move in a muddied motivation slog, with characters shifting in and out at random to better allow for the next salacious set piece to have its moment in the sun. While the highlight reel approach was enough to make Ginger a hit that spawned two progressively more competent sequels, it doesn’t make for much of a viewing experience over 90 minutes.

Ginger is a historical curiosity of note, in that it marks a notable sea change in the history of exploitation film. The Ginger series was one of the last gasps of the hard R/soft X style of softcore film that the arrival of hardcore essentially obliterated. It is also a transitional point between two distinct grindhouse modes,combining the fetishistic elements of the fading late 60s roughie trend with a more assertive female fronted action and revenge angle that would become more prominent as the 70s progressed.

Yet, for a film so utterly packed with sex, violence and general what the fuckery, Ginger desperately lacks any sense of energy or fun. What slight pleasures the movie has can be attributed to Cheri Caffaro. There’s a certain daffy delight in her obvious confidence that she is the most spectacular creature in the room, even when she delivers her lines like Bridgette Bardot on Quaaludes or is furiously dancing like a slightly misprogrammed sex bot (the clip I included above, as I could not locate a theatrical trailer).

That said, there are better showcases for her wacky camp charm in her filmography (1977’s Too Hot to Handle being my personal favorite), and the few moments of Ginger that manage to transcend their status as a good idea poorly executed are easily found on Youtube without having to subject yourself to the entire thing.

Bite Size: Keep My Grave Open (1977)

S.F. Brownrigg managed a well rounded slate of exploitation offerings in his short film career, using a down home Dreamlanders style cast of stock actors to put out everything from hicksploitation hellfests (1974’s Scum Of The Earth, which has an upcoming restoration from Grindhouse Releasing), to the obligatory 80s teen sex comedy (Thinkin’ Big).

1977’s Keep My Grave Open was the last of his three horror efforts, and the only one not to get slapped with the ever so popular cautionary “Don’t” title. Not that it really helps, since the end result film doesn’t have much to do with graves, open or otherwise. Lesley Fontaine (Camilla Carr) is a well to do young woman who lives on a remote ranch with her reclusive brother, Frank, who never seems to leave his bedroom. At least, she assumes he doesn’t. When a series of murders plagues the property, an increasingly fragile Lesley is left to clean up the mess.

The plot is pretty slight, and the more slasher style elements are rather goofy, given the weapon of choice is the sort of replica sword a neckbeard would buy after a cruise of the local mall’s Spencer Gifts. Keep My Grave Open hits its languid stride as Lesley’s mental state begins to deteriorate. She wanders around her depressingly empty house giving us a variety of impending nervous breakdown tableau, including a bizarre scene that plays out like a distant, downmarket ancestor of that uncanny valley POV virtual reality porn. If Frank even exists at all, their relationship is the stuff of V.C. Andrews novels.

This sort of rural route Polanski psychological weirdness better suits Brownrigg’s microbudget milieu, and Camilla Carr’s surprisingly capable performance keeps this odd little mood piece drifting pleasantly afloat. There’s a few nice stylistic touches here too, from the classic “sliced victim to butcher shop chop” transition shot to some loving close ups of Carr’s face that recall the style of the achingly glamorous promo photos parceled out to 40s starlets.

By the time the pace picks up in the final stretch, the seemingly shy Lesley aggressively propositioning her doctor and the life (and death) of a local prostitute named Twinkle seem a natural part of the film’s disjointed universe. This all culminates in a supposed twist of an ending that launches this isolated and icy little movie into a tiny bit of Messiah Of Evil‘s territory of borderline brilliant incoherence. While not terribly effective as a traditional horror film, fans of idiosyncratic local labors of love will likely dig this one for its ambitious attempt to swing above its DIY in the Texas dust pay grade.





Bite Size: The Honeymoon Killers (1970)

Like most films that bear a “based on a true story” title card, 1970’s The Honeymoon Killers takes a loose approach to the facts of the real life crimes that inspired it, a 1940s multi-state theft and murder spree that earned its culprits the snappy newspaper sobriquet the “Lonely Hearts Killers“.

Nursing supervisor Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler) lives with her aging mother in a modest apartment in Alabama. When her well meaning best friend, Bunny (an early role for TV regular Doris Roberts) signs her up for a correspondence club for singles, she is far from thrilled. However, a letter from the suave, Spanish born Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) soon sees Martha in the throes of a whirlwind romance.

After a visit to his home in New York City, Martha learns what sort of frog lies behind her supposed prince. Ray is a gigolo, using the personals to find older rich women to marry and subsequently rob blind. Rather than run, Martha decides to assist him in his schemes. She travels alongside Ray to meet his procession of “wives”, pretending to be his spinster sister. Soon Ray’s dishonesty and Martha’s furious jealousy escalate what had been simple grift into cold blooded murder.


Despite the primarily handheld, documentary style camerawork, The Honeymoon Killers doesn’t try to hide any of its carefully curated artifice. This isn’t “reality” any more than a carefully staged real estate showing is a “home”. There’s no attempt to disguise the era swap to the then present day, the technical gaffes typical of low budget productions or the film’s replacement of Martha’s real life circumstances to that of a single, childless woman to better suit the narrative.

What lends the film a heft it wouldn’t otherwise have is the fact that it commits to its fictions wholeheartedly in a manner that feels authentic without being bogged down by the need for period perfect details or the minutiae of the protagonists’ real life counterparts. Writer/director Leonard Kastle (who famously subbed in for the quickly fired Martin Scorsese) doesn’t so much truck in realism as he does the utter lack of romanticism.

This was likely quite the shock for audiences at the time of the film’s release. The majority of the vocabulary in cinematic crime films up to that point was dominated by cartoonishly lurid low budget potboilers, noir-ish morality tales and glossy big studio efforts deeply invested in the stylish pathos of tragic outlaws.

Stoler and Lo Bianco both give expertly calibrated performances of the lived in banality that accompanies an uncertain life on the fringes, bickering and boasting in equal turns depending on where their ill gotten fortunes stand on any given day. The film parcels its violence sparingly, and when the constant paranoia and mistrust between the pair brings the couple’s bright burning passion to ash, it happens with a sighing whimper and a telephone call, rather than the fireworks pop of bullets and artfully tousled defiance.

The clinical tone of the film has subsequently been used to great effect in a variety of genre fare (Henry:Portrait Of A Serial Killer), but The Honeymoon Killers retains a subversive, transgressive charge in Shirley Stoler’s snarlingly surly and confidently sexual portrayal of Martha. It’s rare to see a female character allowed to exist this far outside of the notions of conventional desirability and mandatory feminine agreeableness. It’s even rarer to see that character treated seriously as both a love interest and an object of desire.

It would be easy to dismiss the hysterical, mocking focus on Stoler’s physicality as an an unfortunate relic of an earlier era had it been confined to the original promo and press materials. Yet, modern reviews of the film point to Stoler’s passionate affair with a man who makes his living as a lover with the same air of prurient incredulousness rampant in those of 50 years ago, which definitely speaks to how little the baseline of gendered expectations have changed.

Much like Charles Laughton’s Night Of The Hunter or Herk Harvey’s Carnival Of Souls, The Honeymoon Killers is one of genre fare’s finest one off directorial efforts. In a realm that famously sold the sizzle rather than the actual steak, The Honeymoon Killers takes the opposite tact. Sold as a sensationalist bit of ripped from the headlines exploitation, the film refuses to serve the meat of what the promo materials promise. Instead, it dispassionately allows a glimpse into the sort day to day drudgery that the promised butchery entails.






Bite Size: The Daredevil (1972)

On the surface, 1972’s The Daredevil fits in with the glut of high octane car chase films that were pushed out after the success of 1971’s Vanishing Point.

Paul Tunney (George Montgomery) is a hot shot former Daytona 500 winner, forced to move back to his hometown to help with the medical bills for his chronically ill younger sister. On his first race after returning home, he recklessly forces a Black driver, Ray Butler, off of the racetrack mid lap. Butler dies in the resulting crash.

Carol Butler (Gay Perkins) wants revenge on Tunney for her baby brother’s untimely death. She just happens to be the mistress of Ray Williams (Cyril Portier), a local crime lord who can help her accomplish exactly that. Spooked by the looming threat of Carol and her associates, Tunney quickly loses his touch on the track, and soon is forced to take a job as a driver for a cabal of drug smugglers.

A lot of these more action oriented drive in offerings are looking to make their protagonists (auto racers, truck drivers, bootleggers) into ruggedly individualistic cinematic replacements for the fading cowboy archetype. Despite the heavy whiff of that suggestion in the trailer and George Montgomery’s former typecasting in Hollywood westerns, The Daredevil doesn’t have much interest in making Tunney a hero. He’s not even an anti hero. In fact, the character of Paul Tunney is written to be about as much of an unlikable prick as you could possibly find.

For a hometown boy made good, no one in the film can stand Tunney, or seems remotely happy to see him. In fact, everyone seems to take as a given he likely ran Butler off the track on purpose. He was merrily cracking racist wise before the start of the doomed race, and had caused non lethal injuries to a local beat cop with a similar vehicular confrontation on the open road some 15 years prior.

Only when Carol has Tunney cornered does he begrudgingly apologize or pay any respects in regard to Ray Butler’s death. Of course, that apology only happens AFTER Carol makes her plans to make sure she gets to watch Paul die abundantly clear. Plus, the lesser Portier brother had already hit Tunney over the head and stuffed him into a coffin at the funeral home that acts as the front for his gang’s various illegal ventures. It takes ominous death threats and a decent amount of bodily harm for Tunney to even see the self preservation value of parroting the mouth sounds of basic human decency. No wonder the whole town thinks he’s a raging asshole.


One armed mechanic Huck Holman (Bill Kelly) is just about the only person who seems genuinely friendly to Paul, more likely out of respect for his driving talent than anything else. Too bad Tunney repays Huck by stealing his girl, Julie (a brief, thankless turn by Oscar winner Terry Moore). Once Tunney’s successfully bedded the woman, he spends the rest of the film being a finely curated fuckboy with a tendency toward making her cry.

While chock full of the stock car, stock footage explosions and speeded up chases one would expect from a regional low budget production of this ilk, The Daredevil marks itself as a slightly interesting curiosity as it moves into its third act. The movie gradually begins tiptoeing into a tonally discordant grab bag that relies more on horror and exploitation leaning elements than any of the tropes of its high horsepower brethren.

The funeral home front is both lit and played for a sort of carnival dark ride spookiness, even though the only really terrifying thing that happens is Cyril Portier’s narcoleptic performance. Tunney is plagued by visions of Carol in all of her mourning garb and false lashes fabulousness, convinced she’s following him where ever he goes. Her dialog about watching Tunney die is constantly echoing in his ears, and ours. There’s even a late in the game burst of some brief gore effects and drug fueled dime store existentialism.

While The Daredevil is by no means a classic, and the plot’s final destination is a predictable one, there is some mild diversion to be had in the odd detours the movie takes along the route.

Bite Size: Street Girls (1975)

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 principal 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.

Love Me Deadly (1972)

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.

It wouldn’t be the first time a regional exploitation film maker showed a bigger star only the parts of the script that applied to them, then shot the more scandalous parts later. It also wouldn’t be the first time a bigger star used that as an excuse to provide plausible deniability for a film that flushed their matinee movie idol dreams down the toilet.

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 may not have had many other reasons to smile, once the credits rolled. IMDB claims she is the same actress from popular series SCTV, but there are no solid primary sources for that claim. Assuming the two similarly named women are separate people, one of them basically buried her show business ambitions right alongside her character’s daddy issues. The real miracle here is that her co star in this glorified Very Special Episode managed to sustain a career, albeit not in feature films. Lyle Waggoner went on to star in the Wonder Woman television series, and had a long run as a working character actor.

Like many things that happened during the 70s, all of the featured actors quietly resolved to never speak of Love Me Deadly again. All things considered, it probably worked out better for everyone to let the dead stay buried.