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 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.

The Gore Gore Girls (1972)

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.

Abe goes to question Marzdone Mobilie, owner of the strip clubs. Marz is played by none other than comedy legend Henny Youngman. Considering how many times I’ve made fun of films for badly aping his quintessential Borscht Belt one liners, the OG himself gets a full on pass to crack vintage wise. The man worked every day for almost 70 years. I hope he spent the $500 he got paid for the cameo on something he enjoyed.

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.