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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bite Size: She Shoulda Said No! (1949)

Lila Leeds wasn’t exactly a star, but she was definitely a starlet. Originally from Kansas, Lila’s mother took her teen daughter on vacation in Los Angeles, and the headstrong young woman decided to stay and take the gamble on a movie career. She parlayed a position as hatcheck girl at legendary nightspot Ciro’s into an MGM contract. Reputedly, the studio was so impressed by her beauty —and likely the idea of having a younger actress on the payroll who superficially resembled Lana Turner— they didn’t even require a screen test.

She appeared in a few small parts (most notably in 1946’s Lady Of The Lake) and had a knack for keeping her name in the gossip columns, albeit primarily for her tumultuous romances. By 1947 she had swapped studios from MGM to Warner Brothers. The newspapers announced the change by duly noting that Lila’s new home lot was ready to give her a proper build up, rather than just the cheesecake and bit parts ingenue treatment. The then 19 year old Lila Leeds looked like she was on her way to becoming something big.

That all ended September 1st, 1948. During a small gathering at her home —Leeds herself, her roommate Vicki Evans, real estate agent Robin Ford and actor Robert Mitchum— the partygoers decided to pass a joint around. Unfortunately for Lila, the cops were watching the house. While everyone involved disagreed on the responsible party, it was clear someone had tipped off the authorities. Lila Leeds and Robert Mitchum were both busted for possession. Originally they were sentenced a year in county jail, later suspended to two years probation and sixty days in jail.

Robert Mitchum was already a star over at RKO, and his sleepy eyed, tough guy appeal wasn’t dependent on being the type you bring home to Mom. His screen image was built on westerns, war films, and noirs. Boy next door just wasn’t his style. The studio’s lawyers also went briskly to work investigating irregularities in the state’s case.

Lila Leeds wasn’t so lucky, even though both she and Mitchum both maintained the sting had been a set up. A blonde starlet was one of Hollywood’s most plentiful commodities, and Lila found herself a pariah after serving her sentence. Her contract was quickly dropped, the newspaper coverage openly cruel. Her boyfriend at the time — restauranteur and ex Mr. Lana Turner Stephen Crane— stopped returning her phone calls and decamped for Europe to avoid being tainted by the scandal. Job offers had completely dried up. At the end of her financial rope, Lila signed on for a cheapie exploitation item initially titled Wild Weed.

Neither the MPAA nor narcotics authorities were thrilled with the idea of a film about drug use where the lead could draw from her own life experiences. The film initially had trouble finding a distributor, until roadshow king Kroger Babb (Mom And Dad) scooped it up for his company Hallmark Productions. Retitled as She Shoulda Said No!, posters posited “How bad can a good girl get?” above a prominent display of Lila’s face and figure. Select engagements even promised a personal appearance from the film’s leading lady, to deliver a brief anti drug speech.

Lila is orphaned beauty Anne Lester, who works as a showgirl in a nightclub. Still sweet despite her spicy occupation, she became a lady of the chorus to pay the college costs of her younger brother, Bob (former child star David Holt).

Meanwhile, Markey (Alan Baxter) is a particularly unscrupulous pusher about town. He has no qualms shaking down high school kids for their allowance money, selling marijuana cigarettes at the malt shop. When the sock hop crowd is short on cash, he sells to the showgirls at the nightclub. Fascinated by Anne’s innocence and obvious beauty he forces the already hooked Rita (Mary Ellen Popel) to arrange a party at Anne’s house, where he could make a proper introduction.

Anne is peer pressured into smoking a few puffs at the party. That’s all it takes to start the oddly timed theremin warbling and soft focus slide into drug addled ruin. Anne barely remembers the “party”, sleeping with Markey, why her house is trashed, or who the random man is that a surprised young Bob finds passed out on her couch.

Before long, she’s too stoned to dance, and gets fired from her showgirl gig. Wanting to stop Bob from quitting school and getting a job to ease their shared financial burden, she takes Markey up on his offer to help him sell weed. Soon she’s hawking marijuana sticks from tomato cans at similar house parties to the one that got her mixed up in this mess.

She Shoulda Said No! hits all of the familiar beats of this subgenre, including the opening square up text crawl of supposed public good, ridiculously rapid escalation of problems that would even put an infomercial to shame, and goofy drug slang it is clear a clueless middle aged man likely made up. It even riffs on a few set pieces from king of all puff puff pass paranoia films, 1936’s Reefer Madness.

A early set of disposable teenagers gets into a weed fueled deadly car crash, too busy necking and nattering about purple hair to watch the road. Everyone who smokes weed becomes mysteriously delusional, manic, or both. There’s a brief striptease, jittery dancing, hyena cackling, and a concerto hallucination that allows a full 3 minutes of cost saving superimposed stock footage. Windows are broken, dignity is left to burn along with the roaches in the ashtrays, and most inexplicably….. no one gets hungry or tired from all of this smoking.

When Bob discovers the true nature of Anne’s new job, he promptly commits suicide by hanging himself in her garage, which has to be a high water mark in angsty cinematic overreaction. Anne gets careless in her grief, and is arrested. Narcotics agent Captain Hayes (1930s contract player Lyle Talbot) gives the usual scared straight tour of zonked out young women in holding, the track marks of the heroin addict she’s likely to become, and a mental ward. Wracked with guilt over Bob’s suicide, she is tormented by her self imposed status as a “baby killer”.

The back half of the film liberally borrows from bargain bin noir and police procedurals, as the cops close in and Anne plays the part of hard bitten babe with her own (ultimately virtuous) agenda. It’s a pleasant deviation from a formula that had grown rather long in the tooth, and allows for some starkly shadowy lighting that elevates Sam Newfield’s otherwise workmanlike direction.

While Lila was last gasp attempting to image rehab by touring with with the heavy anti drug message of She Shoulda Said No!, Robert Mitchum suffered no such indignities. He made a very minimal circuit of attrition to the press that only cemented his contrarian, counter culture cache. There was no public backlash, and the first Mitchum feature released after his conviction — the Loretta Young fronted Western Rachel And The Stranger— did boffo box office. In early 1951, authorities quietly overturned Mitchum’s conviction, a tacit admission of there being truth to the allegations of a frame up. Mitchum enjoyed lasting stardom, with one hundred plus credits spanning a 50 year career.

She Shoulda Said No! didn’t do anything to revitalize Lila Leeds’ career, only reminding the public of an incident that she (and her career prospects) would have been better off to forget. Lila only had one other on screen appearance, an uncredited bit in 1949’s The House Across the Street . Two weeks after her release from jail she was involved in a questionable auto accident, where she was lucky to avoid a charge of driving while intoxicated. Not that it mattered much, as she was arrested for a separate drunk driving incident roughly 6 weeks later.

Both incidents were in violation of her probation, and the modern concept of rehabilitation programs for addiction hadn’t yet taken root as a medical or cultural norm. In 1949, a Los Angeles circuit court judge banned Lila Leeds from entering the state of California for 5 years.

She attempted to reinvent herself as a nightclub singer, but her increasing reliance on a heroin habit she had picked up while incarcerated made that career path ultimately unsustainable. In 1953 she was arrested on drug charges, and in 1956 was busted for solicitation. Each step of the downward spiral was covered extensively in the scandal sheets, her personal and legal troubles having long eclipsed her career as an actress or her brief association with Robert Mitchum.

She Shoulda Said No! wasn’t initially a hit, but floated around the bottom of exploitation bills for an incredibly long time. Reissued as The Story of Lila Leeds, it was still playing scattered theatrical dates as late as 1961, as well as the occasional spot on late night television. The 1970s revival of the midnight movie circuit gave it yet another half life.

By then, Lila Leeds had found religion and her way back to Los Angeles, doing outreach for addicts and raising money for the Shriners. It is impossible not to wonder how she might have felt seeing herself once again blonde and beautiful, on the precipice of stardom that would never come. Maybe she wouldn’t have been the next Lana Turner, but she has an undeniable charisma, a natural knack for the hard case blonde that would have been an easy fit for midcentury B cinema.

Instead, there’s only a record of down times and double standards, another life reduced to a line item in a tabloid rag and a celluloid curiosity. She died in 1999, without any of the major papers even giving her the grace of a small obituary. She really should’ve said no, but so should we, to the endless cycle of feminine desirability and disposability that has existed as long as Hollywood itself. More so than titillation and questionable taste, splatter and sleaze, and all of the other varietals of forbidden fruit. More than just a movie, to ruin someone’s real life for a marijuana cigarette and a self righteous moral panic……that’s exploitation.

Death Drug (1978)

This may seem like an odd place to begin even a bad film blog, as the failure and subsequent obscurity of “Death Drug” is very much deserved. B movie lovers are a devout bunch, tolerant of all manner of cheap sets, swiss cheese plotting and infinite variations of baseline technical ineptitude. They lovingly campaign for their personal favorite turds to be polished into updated Blu Ray editions, or limited run returns to the cinema. That is likely never going to happen here. However, I decided to open the blog with “Death Drug” because, to my head, it is a perfect example of 1 of the major classes of cinecrap.

In the age of the internet all media is infinitely more accessible, and all manner of film gets rediscovered. Every day, tons of titles ripple across blogs and forums as a “so bad it’s good” masterpiece, spreading outward until people who may have only seen a small part of the movie (if at all) feel the need to pass the word along. Much like the old children’s game of Telephone , except what gets lost in translation is that to get to the glorious few minutes of horror and hilarity, there will be 60-120 minutes where ABSOLUTELY FUCK ALL NOTHING happens. “Death Drug” only runs about 74 minutes, but without some friends to act as your MST3k crew, 56 of them are badly dressed dead air. That being said, if you too are damned to watch this alone, I’ll be giving you the TL: dr timestamps of the best bits, and that will likely be policy from here on out. Let’s begin, shall we?

Before watching this film
After watching this film

“Death Drug” is a pretty standard cautionary tale, and the entire character/story arc is pretty much summed up in these two photos. It’s the sort of ineffectual scare tactic melodrama US teens are regularly subjected to in health classes. A pre “Miami Vice” Philip Michael Thomas plays Jesse Thomas, a musician moonlighting as a plumber until his big break hits. He has a beautiful wife, a steady job, and has just been accepted into a prestigious music conservatory. However, he won’t even have a chance to pack for music school, before two music producers offer him the record deal of a lifetime. What could POSSIBLY go wrong? His friendly local neighborhood drug dealer even gives him a free party favor to help him celebrate during his victory lap disco celebration with the Gap Band(?!). Just one hit can’t hurt……….until Jesse starts hallucinating, and loses everything he holds dear to the comforting puff of PCP.

I will never fault a young actor for appearing whenever and where ever they can. However, most of them would quietly move on to bigger and better things. What takes “Death Drug” from shrill cheapie to internet pass around is that Phillip Michael Thomas decided to have this 1978 film partially recut with additional footage and rereleased on home video in 1986.

In 1986 Philip Michael Thomas was as big a star as he would ever be, making some $100,000 an episode as Tubbs on “Miami Vice”, and had accumulated some respectable stage and film credits. He was a household name with enviable cheekbones, but much like his “Death Drug” character…..wanted a music career. Rather than do another production of “Hair” or remind folks he was in cult favorite backstage musical “Sparkle”, Philip Michael Thomas had a better idea. He had “Death Drug” recut to be a showcase for his own new music video, and added a rambling intro about his performance as Jesse being a “dug deep from the soul” “dramatization” he hoped we enjoyed.

Ignoring the endless faux newsreel footage, the 4 FULL SONGS of Gap Band noodling, and the fact that this movie goes on for nearly 20 minutes AFTER THE MAIN CHARACTER DIES, let’s see some highlights of this “dramatization”:

Not surprisingly, no one wanted to see PMT do the dad version of a robot dance move, and the music video failed to set MTV on fire, despite all of the blinking lights and superimposed effects $ 1.50 could buy (Timestamp: 26:59 – 30:33)
The Gap Band (of reptilians) is looking at me funny…GAAAAHHHAH (Timestamp: 41:17- 41:55)
There are motherfucking RATS in these MOTHERFUCKING ORANGES! (Timestamp: 52:16-52:53)
This is the face of a man about to play chicken with a truck…..YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME? Really, you should watch from the GIF above (52:16) to Jesse’s death (58:15) There’s MORE continuity addled faux newsreel after that, but it’s just to pad the runtime to feature length.

While Philip Michael Thomas may have thought he was digging deep for this role, he was digging his own career grave. Neither the recut film nor the music video made any impact at all, and by the 90’s the man who coined the term “EGOT” to describe his ambitions in entertainment was shilling for a psychic line. The psychic line was actually quite successful…..once they replaced PMT with everyone’s favorite faux Jamaican, Miss Cleo.