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: Violated (1953)

While the title and promo materials suggest an early roughie, 1953’s Violated is a bit of an exquisite corpse, making gestures toward both the arthouse and the grindhouse in its barely feature length run time.

Jan C. Verbig (William Holland, also the film’s producer) is a seemingly mild mannered glamour photographer. With a vague accent and name like a bad Scrabble hand, his courtly manner and sharp eye make him a fairly popular promo shot producer for the local actresses, models and dancers. Yet, when night falls, he finds himself stalking those same beauties.

Verbig’s particular brand of the death of 1000 (off screen) cuts involves not just slashing the women’s faces, but fetishistically shearing off the hair of his victims. Rejected by mercenary burlesque star Lili Demar (real life burlesque queen Lili Dawn), his urges to kill become even more difficult to control. As the cops close in on cracking the case, he sets his obsessive sights on Susan Grant (Vicki Howard), an innocent young ingenue, as his next target.

The Greenwich Village of the early 50s was both beatnik and beat down, simultaneously trendily transgressive and seedy enough for artistic types to still be able to afford the rent. The location certainly helps make a virtue out of Violated‘s various visual concessions to budgetary necessity. The best big bankroll studio pros couldn’t have classed up any of the joints used as filming locations, so the odd jerky editing and the run down quality of the sets aren’t nearly as jarring as they might otherwise be. A sordid little story like this feels like it belongs in a visual world full of threadbare couches and cracked pipes.

The film’s best moments are when it fully leans into the gutter noir beats of its plot, with a suggestive, somewhat sexually charged edge. The first victim discovers she’s doomed when her manicured nails play sensually over the fabric of a sport coat, only to discover a sharp pair of scissors in the pocket that will seal her fate. There are some character filled close ups of the exhausted, deeply lined faces of the cops and the bored usual suspects they round up. As Tony Mottola’s minimalist jazzy score drifts over the soundtrack, Verbig wanders the New York night, and Violated almost hits on the particular brand of loneliness you can only feel when in the middle of a crowd.

These quieter moments don’t last, and mixed into the proceedings are the sort of classical exploitation tropes that are as loud as a carny lemonade barker on a particularly hot day in July. There’s an expositional psychologist that does little more than provide the usual veneer of educational respectability for taboo discussion of mental illness and sexual perversion. The burlesque subplot allows for both some scandalous (for the era) flashes of skin and a random catfight backstage. Lili Dawn delivers her lines like a cut rate Diamond Lil. By the time sodium pentothal gets involved, the slight promise of the film’s first third is wasted, and not even a comparatively well done ambiguous ending can quite put all of the tonal shifts back together again.

For the majority of both cast and crew, Violated was both the first and the last film they ever worked on. Thankfully, writer/producer William Mishkin realized that the film’s utter flop at the box office was a strong indicator that cinematic nuance was not his particular strong suit.

Leaning into the lurid, Mishkin became a producer and distributor of both sexploitation and horror fare over the next two decades. In addition to successful recuts/retitles of European sex films, he produced the Lee Frost exploitation oddity The Man With Two Heads, and the best known work of misanthropic microbudget madman Andy Milligan.









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: She Demons (1958)

Irish McCalla was a popular pin up model whose brief acting career is probably best remembered for her titular turn on mid 50s television series Sheena: Queen Of The Jungle, a role for which she was cast when Anita Ekberg turned it down. While far from a dynamic actress, her statuesque 5’10” frame and nominal ability to deliver her lines gave her a modest edge over some of her fellow beauties looking to jump from the pages of men’s magazines to the silver screen.

1958’s She Demons is the only film appearance in her slim filmography where Irish was given top billing. Given the time frame and the jungle island setting, this was likely a bit of a calculated career move for all parties concerned. She wanted out of television, the film’s producers wanted a still somewhat recognizable name on which to hinge an otherwise unremarkable bit of budget genre fare.

Spoiled socialite Jerrie Turner (Irish McCalla) is sent off on a vacation cruise so her father can get his bratty daughter out of his hair (and his checkbook) for a bit. Unfortunately, the ship gets caught up in a hurricane, and crash lands on an uncharted island. Thankfully, square jawed tour guide Fred (Tod Griffin), sassy sidekick Sammy (Victor Sen Yung, whose list of credits is historical proof of just what kind of roles non Caucasian actors were unfortunately limited to in this era), and ship’s captain Kris (Charles Opunui, ditto) have all survived the wreck along with her.

Typical of someone used to hired help, Jerrie is less concerned with her crew or essential items like food or a radio than she is with the location of her powder blue cashmere shortie or a particular pair of toreador pants. The group’s troubles quickly move out of Gilligan’s Island territory, and into something more pressing. The seemingly empty island is actually filled with, you guessed it, “she-demons”. The creatures look like scantily clad human women from the neck down, but have horribly mutated faces, sharp fangs and a tendency towards random violence. To make matters worse, the one partial radio broadcast the group is able to receive indicates the US military is scheduled to use the island as a bomb testing site in less than 48 hours.

This sort of schlock was an even bigger barnacle than juvenile delinquency melodramas for hanging onto the bottom of a double bill for ungodly amounts of time. What distinguishes She Demons is just how many tropes it manages to pack into 76 minutes.

Baseline plot stolen from Bela Lugosi’s work in both 30s sci fi serials and 40s horror cinema?

Check to both of those, simultaneously.

Rampant exoticism and ethnic stereotyping used primarily in service of giving some blandly attractive white extras an excuse to shake it in sarongs?

Check, and it’s a fully choreographed number set to Les Baxter’s “Calypso”.

Mad scientist in attendance?

Absolutely, check. The villain isn’t just a mad scientist, he’s a Nazi mad scientist, Karl “The Butcher” Ostler (Rudolph Anders). He’s been holed up on the island with his foot soldiers since before the war ended, using the suspiciously pale “natives” as guinea pigs in a crazy scheme to restore the beauty to his burn scarred wife’s face. There’s also a henchman named Igor (Gene Roth) who pops up to add some early Nazisploitation style sadism to this whole affair, whipping an escapee and tossing the girls into bamboo cages when its not their turn on the operating table.

Had writer/director Richard E. Cunha managed to shoehorn in some half baked voodoo angle, this film could have filled the Bingo card. That said, the final act is a nice surprise as it’s Jerrie, not unseasoned potato salad Fred, who saves the day. She manages to grow both a spine and a sense of resourceful priority quickly enough to save herself and her staff before the stock footage of US Air Force bombers is scheduled to show up.

This being the 50s, Jerrie ends up doing so in an evening gown, and Fred still gets the romantic hero treatment in the last 5 minutes despite being basically useless. It’s still a notably refreshing change for a film of this ilk to give its leading lady a bit of character arc. Even if that character arc is “self involved spoiled brat” to “self involved spoiled brat that manages to appropriately wield a champagne bottle and a set of keys to spring the men….. because there is absolutely no way in hell she’s voluntarily paddling 300 miles to the mainland in a rowboat”.







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: Chained For Life (1952)

Daisy and Violet Hilton were a set of English born conjoined twins, with a life story that is arguably stranger and decidedly more exploitative than any of the fictions created during their long career as entertainers. Born in 1911, their poverty stricken mother sold them outright, and they began touring with the sideshow as toddlers.

Daisy and Violet were trained as singers, dancers and musicians (Daisy played violin, while Violet preferred a saxophone). The combination of skills allowed the girls to become a sensation outside of the sideshow, and they played to capacity crowds in the comparatively more respectable burlesque and vaudeville houses.


After years of abuse and wage theft, the Hiltons successfully sued their guardian and her husband for emancipation and financial damages in 1931. Finally free to enjoy the fruits of their labor, they continued to tour as the Hilton Sisters Revue, took a well deserved vacation cruise, and made an appearance in Tod Browning’s Freaks.

While the 1932 film is now regarded as a classic of early cinematic horror, there was a massive backlash at the time regarding the perceived obscenity of such a sympathetic and overt portrayal of “oddities”. With their very existence deemed indecent for polite society and a sea change in popular music and entertainment on the horizon, the Hiltons’ drawing power and fortune quickly dwindled into a quagmire of financial problems and doomed publicity stunt marriages.

By 1952, the sisters were dead broke. With a over a decade of misfortunes behind them and an ever narrowing field of prospects, they signed on to make a film for exploitation producer George Moskov. Chained For Life lets schlock imitate life, incorporating some of the pair’s actual troubles into the potboiler plot.

Opening in an suspiciously jury-less courtroom mid murder trial, the film’s narrative unfolds in a series of flashbacks as each of the principles takes the stand. Dorothy and Vivian Hamilton (Daisy and Violet Hilton) are the headliners of a vaudeville act. With box office receipts slipping, their sleazy manager (Allen Jenkins) comes up with a can’t miss publicity stunt. The theater will hold a mock wedding for one of the siblings. After Vivian declines, he arranges the faux marriage for Dot. Andre (Mario Laval) is a sharpshooter in the show, and for his role as bridegroom is paid by the week.

Andre is what the parlance of the time would have called a “cad”, and is soon unsatisfied with both his salary and the fact that he can no longer shag his assistant with impunity. Slowly he puts his oily charm to work on Dot, convincing her to marry him for real. After grifting large chunks of her money, he jilts her via newspaper article after just a single day. Violet, never having approved of the scheme in the first place, avenges her sister’s broken heart by shooting Andre from the wings with one of his own pistols.

There was potential here for a campy sort of grimy noir, but it fizzles rather quickly given the sisters’ flat delivery. They look uncomfortable at having to emote, and one or the other shoots a nervous look straight into the camera at multiple points in the film. Their real life marriages ended in an incompatibility of sexual orientations, not murder, but the meta echoes of bigamy accusations, golddigging con artists and earnest pleas for acceptance as separate individuals with basic human needs lends a distinctly uncomfortable air to the proceedings. Life had been far less than kind to the Hiltons, and here they are reenacting lurid recreations of some of their worst traumas just to keep a roof over their heads.

Perhaps in a concession to the limitations of the film’s stars, the love triangle plot is treated almost as an afterthought, while an above average slate of vaudeville acts pad the runtime to feature length. It’s an interesting time capsule of a vanished form of popular entertainment, and one of the better extant examples of the sisters’ singing, which they are far more adept at than dramatic acting.

None of it is quite enough to wash away the oily, seeping stain of obvious underhanded profiteering. The non ending of the film makes it worse. Having facilitated the desired sideshow, the film makers opted to hurry up and cut to credits with a cop out that will hark back to the frustration of anyone who had the unfortunate luck of having Frank R. Stockton’s The Lady, Or The Tiger? assigned to them as required reading in primary school.

Unsurprisingly, the Hilton Sisters never made another film. They made personal appearances at drive ins showing their modest filmography as a double feature. When even that small bit of reflected lemonlight tapered off, they worked as checkout clerks in a grocery store until their death in 1961.





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.