Another week, another roundup of my genre related writing from around the web. True crime, bathhouse bawdiness and all of the terror trash my editors saw fit to print. As always, come chat with me in the comments or on Twitter.
After his wildly successful adventures in gore horror with Herschell Gordon Lewis, producer David F. Friedman saw the writing was also on the wall for the relatively innocent days of the nudie cutie. Sexploitation fans were also ready for something more shocking, box office receipts declining by the minute for playful peeping and nudist frolics.
A very young Lee Frost (still credited under his “respectable” documentarian guise of R.L. Frost) signed on as director. The production’s budget was a minuscule $11,000. Friedman wrote the script himself, and The Defilers was cranked out in just 5 days.
The film starts out pretty firmly in juvenile delinquent territory, with the affluent Carl (Byron Mabe, director of She Freak) picking up his best friend Jameison (Jerome Eden) and a bevy of beauties for a day at the beach. Carl is quickly bored with bikini babes and booze, and soon he’s pontificating in the way only the entitled idle rich can. The only thing that matters in this “crummy, square infested life” is kicks, and he’s not getting any out of this incredibly long game of beach blanket bingo.
Turns out the real hep cats get their kicks out of taking their girlfriends to daddy’s empty warehouses that double as secret sex dungeons, peeping on their best friend’s sexual conquests, or idly burning their beach companions with cigarettes just to watch them flinch. Every woman in the film points out that Carl is a maximum overdrive creeper, but Jameison staunchly defends his best buddy in a way that is either sheer stupidity or a borderline homoerotic infatuation.
Picking up some weed from blowsy madam imported from a different movie connect Mrs. Olson (Mimi Marlowe), they meet her new tenant, the fresh off the farm Jane Collins (Mai Jansson). Trying to cover her drug dealing tracks, Mrs. Olson pretends it’s a social call and volunteers the boys to give Jane a ride out to the valley for her acting lessons. Like every other busty blonde in Hollywood, she left her family and friends back home in Minnesota to try to break down the pearly gates of the movie studios.
Stoned out of his mind and pissed he had to waste gas he probably didn’t even pay for, Carl cooks up a plot to kidnap Jane, and keep her in his dirty mattress rape den as a personal sex slave. Jameison resists for all of 5 minutes, but the risk of being caught and the sheer vileness of the plan are nothing in the face of being called a chicken by Carl. The pair lure poor Jane into their lair with the promise of a party, and a film that had already rounded the corner into bleakness goes pitch black.
While a lot of the New York City shot films of the period are so inept they almost become comical, The Defilers is shot in an effective bargain basement noir style, with a slick jazz soundtrack and some decently accurate hipster slang. Byron Mabe and Jerome Eden are fairly credible in their sociopathy and spinelessness, respectively.
It’s just professional enough to hold your attention as a narrative film, but just grungy enough that you have reason to be suspicious of the fact that the majority of the female cast never made another movie. When a single tear rolls down Jane’s face in close up as she is being assaulted, its disquietingly real looking.
Both David Friedman (Ilsa: She Wolf Of The SS) and Lee Frost (A Climax of Blue Power) moved on to make much bigger, more explicit cinematic provocations. With its depressingly matter of fact treatment of male entitlement and the violence as money shot roughie template it helped originate, The Defilers has a uniquely grimy power entirely its own. There are plenty of films more explicitly violent or sexual, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything much sleazier. The Defilers is just as dark and nasty as the sticky seat adult theaters it played in.
Jade Cochran (Claire Brennen) is a diner waitress with a terrible Southern accent and an even worse boss. When an advance man for a traveling show stops in for lunch, Jade leaves the greasy spoon behind for an exciting job at the carnival…..as a waitress.
Jade’s wonder at her new home allows director Byron Mabe (The Acid Eaters) PLENTY of time to linger over every detail of the shooting location, and there’s actually a pretty decent industrial/time capsule of carny life in all the meandering. Set up, tear down, hand painted banners, the actual mummified corpse of an Old West outlaw and accurate explanations of the snappy slang of showfolk are all present and accounted for with a 60’s lounge pop soundtrack.
After 20 minutes of grab ass at the greasy spoon, and a solid half hour of Jade’s day at the fair, the film suddenly remembers the framing device at its opening and gets into its actual plot. That plot being a half cooked knock off of Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, Freaks, give or take the actual sideshow performers and a burlesque style stripper.
Jade is our ersatz scheming acrobat, character actor Bill McKinney is the sweet natured sucker, and the firing of a little person ever so cleverly named Shorty (Felix Silla) is the catalyst for the unseen freaks’ revenge. Gorgeously tense avenging angels advancing in the rain, a few extras lit with color gels holding prop knives in their teeth, what’s the difference? You say potato, David Friedman and crew say po-tat-o.
The final transformation of Jade manages to be campy, crepe-y and cleavage-y all at once. Unless you are a sucker for circuses, carnivals and other old fashioned American amusements, its a bit of a slog to get to the reveal the movie sets up for in the opening sequence. If you have particularly fast fingers you can freeze frame the trailer above and catch the monster. Those with poor twitch reflexes can check out the poster art. Either way, you’ll have seen enough of this She Freak to to get your ten cents worth and make haste for the egress.
The juvenile delinquency subgenre was one of the evergreens of exploitation cinema. Every generation thinks the kids coming up behind them are just the wildest, most wanton monsters that ever existed, and the subject makes for an easy mix of sensationalism and mildly taboo titillations. In a cinematic realm known to be boldly transgressive of social norms and mores, it is unfailingly amusing that the rather conservative “Get off my lawn!” was one of exploitation’s loudest and longest lasting rallying cries.
From 1935 to roughly 1965, a host of B movie producers kept cranking out films that were as identical as McDonalds hamburgers. The flavors of moral panic and the fashions would change (jazz and liquor giving way to hot rods and tight sweaters) but the films would always work on the same basic engine.
Teens (read: not a day below 25) would be tempted by some combination of forbidden things that dared look like they might actually be fun. Sex, drugs, queerness, multiculturalism, or music with a beat you can actually dance to were all on the permanent naughty list.
At least one character (usually the designated hero, but not always) abstains from the debauchery, but is such a sanctimonious prat it is impossible to root for them, even on the rare occasions they are right. The wayward and their exploits provide the more salacious content that actually got asses in the seats.
That brings us to today’s film. A tale of two sisters, one as pure as the driven snow, the other headed toward the slush of late nights and stiff drinks. Let’s get into Elmer Clifton’s 1944 melodrama, Youth Aflame:
This particular print is billed under the alternate title of HoodlumGirls. The film was shot in 1942, released in 1944. Amazingly, prints were still kicking around the bottom of double features 15 years later, as the copyright date for the retitling is 1959. Youth Aflame/Hoodlum Girls outlived its own director, as Elmer Clifton died of a brain hemorrhage in 1949.
Meet Katy White (Joy Reese). She has been lying in state at the Receiving Hospital of the Police Department (as per the prominently placed signage). In the innocent days of 1944, I suppose people believed the police would have actual reason to want to help someone heal.
In any case, she briefly comes to from her coma/shock at the wartime ban on nylons/whatever. She shrieks about someone having a gun. Katy then notices her sister Laura (Kay Morley) at her bedside,and mumblingly chastises her about being too pretty to do the things she did, whatever those were. Framing device established, Katy daintily passes back out to cut to our first flashback.
Laura sneaks through the girls’ shared bedroom window after a late night of dancing and drinks with Mr. Al Simpson. Katy promptly lectures her about staying out late, having a drink and accepting the gifts of liquor and the rather fetching slip Laura is currently wearing.
Laura wants to drop out of school and marry Al. Katy, greatly overestimating the job market for women once the war ended, thinks Laura needs a diploma so she can afford to buy her own things
Not only is she a scold, but Katy had it backwards. Laura could ONLY do what she’s doing because she’s so pretty. A full night of dinner, drinks and dancing, new lingerie AND home in time to not wake dear old Daddy? Well played.
After a few more of Katy’s parent defending bedside confessions of a terminal kiss ass, we cut to our next flashback. Katy and Laura are being raised by their bank guarding single dad. He has no issue brandishing one of his work guns at the table, but scolds Katy for picking it up because “guns aren’t for girls”.
Half the neighborhood shows up to interrupt the family’s breakfast, including Mr. Al Simpson (who is just as much of a sleazy lech as you’d expect), some random guy who likes to spout factoids, the student body president from school, and a policewoman following up on Laura’s report of a skirt being stolen from her locker. Mr. White is nonplussed by all of this, until the female police officer shows up, because “police work is a man’s job”.
When Mr. White wanders back off to the living room to make an itemized list of all the other things puny ladybrains can’t do, Mr. Simpson takes the opportunity to suck face with Laura, and inform her that if she REALLY loves him, she’ll steal one of Daddy’s guns for his unspecified “business”.
Katy and the wholesome jars of mayo she calls friends help Madame Policewoman set up a milk bar called the JIVE club to keep the local teens out of trouble and on their way to the appropriate calcium intake. Because B pictures always need some insulation to hit minimum feature runtime, we watch along with the squares as some dork in a car salesman sport coat drums tunelessly for 5 minutes out of a 57 minute film.
Laura steps in for all of us when she sneaks off to a real bar (smart), to pass on the gun to Al Simpson while trying to convince him to marry her (not so much). At least the filler entertainment at the real bar is three pretty ladies who do some legitimately impressive acrobatics in heels.
While Katy and her squad of suck ups butter up Ms. Policewoman with tales of how she saved them at a critical time in their lives, where their nerdier friends “could have gone either way”, the intrepid investigator notices Laura is not amongst her fawning fans.
Katy briefly redeems herself when she goes to the real club to warn her sister that the fuzz are on their way. She then ruins it immediately by switching back to her usual nagging. Now that Laura has committed to her plan of getting Mr. Simpson to marry her, Katy gives her a lecture that you “shouldn’t want marriage to get AWAY from home, but to build one”
In any case, Al Simpson is sick of Katy’s meddling, and he needs the gun still sitting in Laura’s purse. He spikes the punch at the JIVE ass club. Drunken fun ensues, and the squares even manage a jitterbug. Of course, the sound of joy means the cops come to shut it down.
Some more filler as we watch Laura and Al listen to a crooner that would embarrass Michigan J Frog. Meanwhile, one of Al’s cronies lures Katy into Al’s empty house, telling her that Laura is waiting for her there. Unsurprisingly, Al’s BFF is also what the parlance of the time would call a “masher”, and that I would call “deserving of a solid kick in the balls”.
Square jaw class president comes to save the day with some shadowboxing, followed by a perturbed Al and Laura. The exertion disrupts his Brylcreemed coif, but he manages to get both sisters out of the apartment.
Mr. White finally noticed his girls were missing, and Katy’s insurance salesman of a boyfriend gets a dressing down for the lateness of the hour and the proof of the booze.
The girls go to bed, and their usual bickering devolves into a catfight. In full coverage, borderline union suit style pajamas. This somewhat defeats the purpose of including a catfight that isn’t remotely necessary to the plot.
We’re coming in hot on the last of the runtime, and it won’t take much to resolve the main plot. Here comes the filler, where a girl we’ve seen for maybe 30 seconds in the whole film, gets a feature turn as a teen that attempts to attempt suicide for the guilt of imbibing. Dame Policewoman saves her with a lecture, and wore her best tissue ruffle tear absorbent blouse.
She then has a roundtable discussion with all of the “good kids” about how its their civic duty to snitch on the person who had the shitty taste to bother making White Russians out of all possible cocktails. The JIVE club must reopen to provide “congenial social gathering places” for the youth to learn to eventually become good providers and happy housewives.
Girls like Laura who like glamour, excitement or the remotest possibility of sexual agency? If all girls were like them, “there wouldn’t be any homes!”.
Speaking of, Laura has dressed up in her best imitation of a frontier madam to run away from home for good, another one of Daddy’s bank guarding guns in her bag. If this caper doesn’t make that Al Simpson marry her, NOTHING will!
No one notices for quite a while, as the earth shattering revelation that it was likely SOMEONE OLD ENOUGH TO BUY LIQUOR that spiked the punch is reverberating in the goody two shoes and useless authority figure community.
As for Daddy? He’s too busy ripping Katy’s Milquetoast McHearthrob a new one, again. In a brilliant(-ly stupid) countermove, Potato Salad With Raisins asks for Katy’s hand in marriage.
Then and only then do they notice Laura’s hastily scrawled note on a paper grocery bag. Mr. White, being consistently characterized, complains immediately at the waste of time and money it was trying to educate her feeble femmechild mind, and he once again harrumphs off to the living room to contemplate female uselessness and smoke cigars.
Surprising no one…..Al reveals he had no intention of marrying Laura…….
…..but Laura finally lives up to that ridiculous hat and pulls the gun on Simpson to make it clear, wedding bells or ambulance sirens…….
……luckily Katy and Mr. Suave Sweatervest arrive in the nick of time…….
….only to find Katy passed out on the floor from the shock of none of this having sweet fuck all to do with her……
…..which explains all of her melodramatic swooning in the opener.
Once Mrs. Policewoman hands Laura, Al, and his flunky over to the jail wardens, she delivers quite the dressing down to Mr. White. Is it because of his blatant neglect of his own kids? The fact that not 1 but 2 unsecured guns got stolen out of his household? That he is clearly the worst security guard on the planet? His unbridled disdain for women?
Nope. She lectures him on his lack of understanding of modern youth, who need good clean social entertainments in addition to home life, in order for delinquency tragedies like this not to happen. What qualifies as a good, clean social entertainment? You guessed it. Her god damned milk bar.
Cut to credits on a cautionary tale that may as well have been brought to you by the Dairy Farmers of America and the local 4H. Milk, milk, lemonade….on Poverty Row the fudge is made.
Bruno Mattei was the Xerox of exploitation cinema. Whatever style of movie was popular at the time, he could direct a facsimile faster, more cheaply, and usually in worse taste. Women in prison flicks, Nazisploitation, Nunsploitation, nothing was too sacred to shamelessly rip off in his nearly 40 year career. If it was making bank, he was making a copy as close as budget and copyright law allowed.
While the trailer above plays as if Rats: Night Of Terror is a tension fueled creature feature, the actual movie “borrows” more from Mad Max and Escape From New York than it does post atomic age giant animal romps like The Food Of The Gods.
As a cost effective text crawl tells us, 225 years post nuclear apocalypse, the affluent live in comfortable underground cities, and leave the fallout filled surface to ragtag groups of neo primitives. The protagonists roll up on their motorcycles, and all 11 of them appear to be dressed for a different movie.
The leader favors a kicky little red scarf, but anything goes, as the others are dressed in everything from camo to leather vests. Inexplicably, one of the women is apparently riding out the post apocalypse in a Frederick’s Of Hollywood teddy and a costume shop vampire cape.
We don’t learn most of their names until MUCH later in the film, but it sounds like they were all chosen in an odd game of “I, Spy”, with grown adults walking around calling each other things like Video, Chocolate, Lucifer, Deus, Lillith and……Myrna. Between the muddy audio, and the group’s tendency to squabble, the clothes are the easier method to tell everyone apart anyway.
Our gang of ragtag ramblers stumbles upon a building that has an incredibly well stocked bunker underneath it, with a hydroponic garden, plentiful food supplies and a water purifier. Unfortunately, it also contains some corpses so fresh they are still decomposing and an epic rat infestation.
Despite mounting evidence that something is very wrong, the gang is far too preoccupied doing things that are offensive, stupid, or so stupid that they become offensive. From getting stuck during sleeping bag sex and a host of highly questionable jokes to gleefully barricading themselves into a room without water, food or medical supplies, it’s a minor miracle this group managed to survive a street crossing. Never mind the apocalypse.
Literal buckets of rats are tossed on the actors from just outside of the frame, but this doesn’t ever translate to much suspense or gore. Even the rats spend the majority of their screen time indifferently scurrying off into a corner to attempt to clean their fur from whatever gunk production tossed on them for greasy effect. That said, being that we spend 90 minutes watching the humans cry, flail and fail spectacularly, it doesn’t seem that implausible that a bunch of bored mutant rats could successfully pick them off one by one.
By the time the film takes a turn for The Crazies, in a swirl of fumigator fog and ooky spooky organ music straight out a carnival dark ride, the characters (and most viewers) are at their wits’ end with a film that has clearly overstayed its grimy welcome. Hang in for the last 5 minutes, as the final twist is so gleefully nonsensical, it almost makes the hour and a half slog to get there worth it.
Herschell Gordon Lewis (and to a lesser degree, his production partner David Friedman) was perhaps exploitation’s greatest slinger of bullshit and ballyhoo. While he had some moderate success with teen trouble tales and nudie cuties, he knew he would need something else to stand out in a crowded field of shot on the fly films competing for attention at grindhouses and drive ins. With the free vomit bags and faux moral outrage marketing campaign of 1963’s Blood Feast, Herschell Gordon Lewis had found his offal covered calling card.
What he did not have the skill or inclination to offer in terms of technical acumen or production values could be covered over by layers of tinted gelatin grue in vivid color. Lewis had invented the modern splatter film and a cash cow that managed to make over 100 times its modest production budget. He spent roughly the next decade trying to top himself in the new niche he had created, with varying degrees of success.
By 1972, Herschell Gordon Lewis had seen a host of other film makers run right through the doors he had opened for blood and brutality at the cinema. While his films’ shoestring budgets had always kept them quite profitable, they were no longer shocking. The Gore Gore Girls had the unfortunate luck of being released a few weeks after Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left, and the film was made passé almost overnight. Seeing the writing on the wall, Lewis took a 30 year hiatus from film making, focusing on his (unsurprisingly) successful career in marketing, where he was considered one of the godfathers of the direct advertising field. Without further preamble, 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls:
The pre credits are pretty brief. We get a few shots of a woman fixing her hair, then a gloved hand reaches out and repeatedly smashes the unnamed victim’s head into the mirror.
In addition to the groovy color scheme of the credits and title card, we also get an expositional newspaper page that reveals the deceased was an exotic dancer who used the stage name Suzie Creampuff, but her REAL name was Ethel Creampuff. Not exactly a master of disguise, that one. The fact that the faux paper’s headline ISN’T some variant of Headless Girl In Topless Bar also seems a missed opportunity.
Cut to the paper label maker marked office of Abraham Gentry (one film wonder Frank Kress) , private detective, who locks his cat in the cabinet(?) as he finally deigns to answer the knocking.
The fetching redhead behind the door is reporter Nancy Weston (Amy Farrell). Inexplicably, her employers at the Globe newspaper are willing to pay $25,000 to Abe if he helps crack the case of the murdered stripper before the police, and hands Nancy a juicy scoop.
Even more inexplicably, Nancy finds Abe to be just as juicy, and flirts shamelessly with him, despite the fact that he looks like the human embodiment of spilling an overflowing ashtray onto a shag carpet.
This sets us up for the structure of pretty much the rest of the movie. Strippers strip, Abe is obnoxious by virtue of existing, and lacking goodwill, his main investigative skill comes into play. He pays cash for the answers to his questions.
It’s actually good that the plot beats are somewhat repetitive, because the lighting never much improves.
Speaking with Suzie’s coworker, Abe buys his first obvious red herring lead, a customer who had a bit of a white knight complex.
Too bad it just leads to another outlay of cash and the body of another victim. This one had her face sliced off with a cleaver, but you’d be hard pressed to tell what the hell is going on given that second still. It’s dark, butcher scraps were involved, don’t quote me on what the hell body part the pile of dim grue is supposed to be.
Abe and the responding police officer have a solid good old boy yuk yuk over how petty and ineffectual they are in refusing to coordinate investigations. Odd tinny stock music funeral marches, a rejected ode for Sousa’s band, some pseudo surf rock and some Folger’s Crystals commercial jazz (a well known sound to those familiar with Doris Wishman) drift in and out of the scenes on the screen at random.
A new stripper strips, we get a goofy speeded up sequence of the staff making some 4 tequila shot abomination for an unsuspecting Nancy, and the bartender gets paid to answer some questions about a guy who is literally sitting right behind him.
At least Abe had the sense to shout nudity in a crowded strip club, clearing the way for some bribery. The latest stale herring is a bouncer named Grout who likes to draw faces on fruits, then smash them with his bare hands. For hours. In a crowded strip club. Because that is a thing that happens at your place of employment.
We are now a full third of the way through this movie, and nothing has changed aside from Nancy’s sobriety level, and the fact that Abe has taken to breaking the fourth wall and addressing “witty” little asides straight at the camera.
The break of the fourth wall was a tilt into the sort of black comedy you sometimes see pop up in prolific horror directors’ later career. After years of battling decency leagues, censors and lots of questions about the level of latent misogyny in gore films, the director in question attempts to go all the way over the top on satirical dark comedy. You want bad taste? They’ll show you bad taste all right.
While the deaths get more daffily bizarre and Abe’s mansplaining about town gets more face punch inducing, making anti porn feminists another potential red herring is the only parody barb that kind of hits its intended target.
Yet another stripper is about to peel her business casual gear, but gets interrupted by a large group of first wave anti porn feminists holding placards demanding everyone “Quit With Tit” because “Lewd Is Crude”.
A brawl ensues between the pro sex work dancers/patrons and the “liberated” protestors, and I’m grateful for the interruption in routine.
Abe pours drunk Nancy into a cab, and questions the sensible sportswear stripper at her apartment. Shortly after he leaves, she gets her throat slit while suggestively holding a cucumber, then the killer finishes the job with a meat tenderizing mallet and a liberal sprinkle of salt and pepper. That’s not a typo, nor a metaphor, actual table spices are used.
Gentry sends the cops on a wide goose chase with a story regarding the killer’s made up religious motive. He bribes someone else to do some lab work, and we just wasted 15 minutes on an overelaborate circle back to the previous scene. Those damn meddling women’s libbers are next on the suspect list.
Meanwhile, the killer has a few more dancers to bump off in over the top nonsensical ways that aren’t even anatomically possible. Throats are slit, faces are ironed, removal of nipples makes a fountain of both regular and chocolate milk (ALSO NOT A TYPO). A roommate comes home and meets her demise in a pan of hot french fry grease.
So many cheap rubber casts and wax melts. Told you H.G. Lewis would end up swinging for the lunatic fences.
The cops continue to bumble, the film is now 60 minutes in, and we still don’t know much more than we did when we started.
Marz doesn’t have much wisdom to impart in regards to the murders, but tells Abe he’s having an amateur night strip contest, with a $1000 prize to attempt to restaff/revitalize the clubs. His staff is getting bumped off faster than he can hire them.
There’s some minor plot dithering as Abe pays a dialog free visit to his friend the lady wrestler, and Nancy goes undercover with the women’s liberation group. At last, it’s the night of the big strip contest, where a suspicious number of “amateurs” seem to have bedazzled g strings beneath their day dresses.
Marlene the waitress still loathes Abe, who is busily getting Nancy hammered again, so she’ll enter the contest.
Full of tequila and jealousy over Abe admiring another girl, Nancy does enter and win, but we see little more than her hair and her knees as the crowd hoots and hollers their approval of her striptease.
Throughly wasted, Abe takes Nancy back to her apartment, where she falls asleep on the couch almost immediately. Soon a familiar shadow looms over her……revealing the killer to be…….
……Marlene, who supposedly is severely burn scarred. She killed because she was jealous of the dancers’ beauty and place in Marz’s affections. In reality, its clear it’s nothing more than a wonky bald cap, and her hair is CLEARLY visible in back. Abe runs Marlene off………
…..where she promptly gets hit by a car and ground into another pile of unrecognizable butcher scraps. While Abe does provide an explanation of how he knew who the killer was, most of the events happened off screen, and I’m certainly not sure what “a gesture only a lady wrestler would use” would be even if I DID see it.
Despite Abe trying to alcohol poison her on multiple occasions and nearly getting her murdered, Nancy STILL wants to sleep with him. Abe breaks the fourth wall one last time, admonishes us that we have “seen enough” and physically pulls down the “curtains” on both the film, and Herschell Gordon Lewis’ golden age as a filmmaker.
In 1977, Tom DeSimone’s (Hell Night, The Concrete Jungle) main claim to fame was directing a string of successful gay porn features under the pseudonym Lancer Brooks. This makes AIP’s choice to place him at the helm of a silly softcore sex comedy about a girl with a talking vagina either a complete lapse in any discernible logic or a calculated exercise in economics. Porn directors were highly unlikely to be union talent.
Also, you absolutely read the middle of that paragraph correctly. Hairdresser Penelope (Candice Rialson) discovers her vagina can spout sassy wisecracks when it insults her boyfriend Ted’s (Perry Bullington) sexual performance. Even worse, Penelope’s lady parts also have a propensity for singing showtunes.
Fresh out of a break up, and at her wits end on what to do, she goes to see a psychiatrist, Dr. Pearl (Larry Gelman). Instead of helping, Dr. Pearl uses an AMA conference to launch Penelope and the newly christened “Virginia The Talking Vagina” into show business. As the pair’s fame grows and people increasingly forget the girl that surrounds the genitals, Penelope needs to learn how to live with her particular brand of female trouble.
All of this stress is because poor Penelope has a chatter….box. Get it? GETIT?Good, because that’s as sophisticated as the humor in this movie gets. At all times, Chatterbox! would like to remind you how WHIMSICAL! and NAUGHTY! it is, when in reality the content and the jokes land somewhere between the fantasies of a 12 year old boy who has no clue how sex works and a nudity dotted episode of The Love Boat.
Comedy castoffs Rip Taylor and Professor Irwin Corey both have bit parts to mug it up in, and there’s plenty of slide whistle music cues to maintain the air of forced cheerfulness. Even at a scant 73 minute runtime, the box puns and double entendres wear awfully thin. By the time Penelope ends up on a fictionalized version of The Dating Game to win a date with Dick, it feels like a step up in terms of one liners. Until the disco production numbers of “Wang Dang Doodle” and “Cock A Doodle Doo” show up. Then we take that half step right back down to a shitty issue of Mad magazine.
In between, we get a bunch of “wacky” hijinks that feel forced even by the standard of other silly sex comedies of the period. Virginia just can’t keep quiet, and soon Penelope is fending off aggressive lesbian clients at the hair salon, and being nearly cornered to play ball with an entire sports team. The lead actress spends a good portion of the runtime either topless or holding her crotch like a small child who really has to go pee. We get a lot of closeups of Virginia in the production numbers, or at least her bedazzled g-strings.
Candice Rialson was one of the most appealing starlets of the exploitation golden age, and likely could have had a mainstream career had the cards played just a few pair differently. A doe eyed blonde beauty with a light comedic touch and a knack for making the raciest of material look more nudie cutie than sticky floor sleazy, she lit up the screen in any film in which she appeared. It is only because of Candice’s charisma that all of this failed gaiety is even remotely watchable and only occasionally cringe inducing.
All things considered, she certainly deserved better than a movie where the happy ending is a suicide averted by the sudden appearance of a singing schlong. No wonder Candice retired from acting at the beginning of the 1980’s. The challenge of starting a family and raising a child must have seemed like a breeze by comparison to trying to make something entertaining out of material like this.
Shot in roughly 2 weeks in 1974, Death Game’s production was doomed from the start. The original director was fired at the last second, and producer Peter S. Traynor took over. His complete lack of anything resembling a clue caused the entire cast to basically stop speaking to him. Colleen Camp and (post Oscar nomination, pre Clint Eastwood) Sondra Locke only bothered to inform him that they preferred he stay the fuck out of the way of day to day filming. Male lead Seymour Cassel quit the shoot after nearly decking his ersatz “director”. While all of Cassel’s scenes were completed before he left, he refused to come in to rerecord some lines, causing his entire performance to have to be dubbed over in post.
Production was then halted by a federal investigation into Peter Traynor’s financing sources, delaying the release of the film by over two years. When Death Game finally saw the light of day in 1977, it promptly flopped in a six month theatrical run. Retitled as The Seducers, the movie had some modest success on the home video market before becoming a common add on to those $5 50 movie box sets that sit by the checkout line at big box retailers.
In honor of the upcoming Grindhouse Releasing restoration, let’s take a look at what will soon be (incorrectly) hailed as a lost grindhouse classic, and you too can be one of the cool kids who liked this movie better when it sucked:
All you need to know about the credits sequence is that this print was ripped from VHS (hence the title) and that it is a full 4:45 of a woman with a faux fishwife accent singing about “dear old dad” who “taught both table manners and the birds and bees”. I wondered what in the fuck those two things had to do with each other, made a mildly off color eating reference, then began praying for my own death or the end of the song, whichever occurred first.
This porn ‘stache having gent is George, our somewhat hairy hero. The film’s events take place on his birthday, which he spent playing cinema’s first ever game of strip croquet with his wife, before she traveled out of town to get his son some needed surgery. He has a nice chat with his son on the phone, telling him how great he thinks it is that he wants to bring his newly removed appendix to school.
Just as he is about to settle in by the fire with a drink, these two bits of ridden hard and put away wet come knocking, and ask to use his phone. Because he’s the sort of guy who thinks a human organ is great for show and tell, he lets the women in.
The brunette is Donna, and the blonde introduces herself as Jackson. George agrees to let them stay until a friend comes to pick them up, and offers them hot cocoa and fresh towels to dry off, warm up, and allow more subtle peeks of skin for him to low key leer at. While Jackson nips off to use what she inexplicably refers to as the “catbox”, George acts like a first class out of touch doofus around Donna, trying to impress her with some elevator music he claims his kids gave him.
When the girls become transfixed by such amazing amenities as running water, they decide to have a skinny dip in the hot tub. When George discovers them cavorting about, he puts up some token resistance before joining them for a threesome. I’m sure his strip croquet partner will be less than thrilled with George’s sudden fondness for water polo. In the meantime, we get a 5 minute montage of head, shoulders, knees, and man ass. The music is so utterly redolent of 70’s porn, I had my speakers tested for syphilis. We also get a lot of weird B roll landscape and sunrise shots mixed in, for those cheap weed and consciousness raising vibes.
Morning comes, and so does the regret, but the girls are all smiles and offers of breakfast. They refuse to leave and are clearly both less cute and more crazy by daylight. However, it is their messy eating habits rather than the several obvious screws loose that causes George to scream at Donna and Jackson to get dressed and GTFO. The chords of the “Dear Old Dad” theme start up again. I wear a matching hangdog expression to the still above. Instead of anything relevant to the plot, we get a 30 second close up of ketchup slowly dribbling from the bottle, while discordant noise stacks up on the soundtrack. I am not kidding about this.
In a rare moment of clarity, someone in the editing bay realized that was ungodly boring, and we get this instead:
Disco strings swell in the background as Jackson deep throats a banana. Donna smashes out random notes on the piano, and the pair inform George they won’t be leaving, after all. Jackson claims to be 17, and Donna only 15. They have no qualms at all letting George be shuttled off as a sex offender if he tries to make them go.
Sondra Locke was 30 years old, and Colleen Camp was 21 years old in 1974. It’s obvious to anyone who isn’t an idiot that both of these ladies are clearly of legal age. However, George has proven to be exactly that, and panics at the threat. His response is to offer them a ride anywhere they want, and soon we are on another boring b roll filled field trip. The threat of another refrain of “Dear Old Dad” is cueing up on the soundtrack.
Thinking he’s left his bad life decisions behind in San Francisco, George has another cozy telephone chat with his wife, which is of no consequence other than the fact that his family is coming home the next afternoon.
Back at home after a long day of lowering the bar, George gets knocked out and bound to his own bed by Jackson and Donna, who while rather poor at basic life skills like bathing and using forks, can at least plan a successful fake out. Now that they’ve got him where they want him, the girls….jump on the bed. They put on make up, and play dress up in George’s wife’s clothing, showing some likely to be distributor mandated nudity. They cackle. A lot. “Dear Old Dad” plays yet AGAIN on the soundtrack.
They beat George up a bit for not looking particularly terrified, and Donna makes a sad speech about being molested, and that George is her new daddy now because he was so nice to her. We are now halfway through the movie and it’s the first legitimately disturbing thing either of the pair have managed.
Because all less stupid things must come to an end, the girls drag George down the hall and coat him with all of the food in the house. They cackle. Boy do they ever cackle. They cackle so much I feel like I’m back in primary school conjugating verbs. I cackle. She cackles. They cackle. We cackle. I will cackle. She will cackle. We will cackle. They will cackle. Assume cackling happens anytime the female leads are on screen for more than 3 seconds.
Realizing they have no more stolen food to actually eat, Donna orders groceries, and George makes his first non moronic decision of the film. The second the delivery man rings the doorbell, he starts screaming for help.
To keep him from snitching, Jackson and Donna drown the poor delivery guy in the oversized fishtank. We are now over an hour into a movie originally titled Death Game, and the first (and thus far only) death is barely visible behind a green gel filter. This game sucks.
There’s a long, sleep inducing sequence of a mock “trial” the girls subject George to. All it really is the same threats of rape allegations, breaking stuff and cackling as the previous hour of the movie, but with a green gel filter to make the lighting spooky this time. For real(ly dumb), I’m serious(ly amazed this movie is still going).
The “verdict” is guilty. Shocking, really. Sentence is death at dawn. George tries to escape a second time, and gets another blow to the head for his trouble. Whimsical music plays as the girls booze and eat, making weird pseudo sex faces at each other while they munch on apples and bagels.
George is left to his concussed daydreams of the simpler times of family life and strip croquet. “Dreams” might be a bit strong of a word. It’s basically his wife’s weird sex noises from the beginning of the film on the soundtrack while the camera stays focused on ceiling eaves. Saves the $50 it would cost to bring back the actress.
After even more shriek, smash and cackle (which was totally what was lacking in this film), dawn finally arrives. Jackson picks up a cleaver, but brings it down on the pillow behind George rather than his actual neck.
As a broken George sobs, the girls finally leave, satisfied with the life ruining results of their not quite death game. They skip down the street for yet another full 4:45 minute reprise of “Dear Old Dad”, and I once again start praying for death, before recalling I’m a lifelong atheist.
An “SPCA” truck comes barreling around the corner……
….and kills old Cackle and Squeak so violently, they become photo negatives. Apparently, the Deus ex machina does answer prayers. Roll credits.
Retro VHS Rewind: The Stuff (1985) Deadly desserts and sharp satire make a surprisingly tasty confection in this Larry Cohen cult classic tale of corporate espionage and murderous marshmallow fluff. Take a retrospective review look with me at one of my favorite films of the video era.
Roberta Findlay was one of the few female creators of the exploitation golden age, and is only rivaled by Doris Wishman in terms of both longevity and prolific output across the sleaze subgenres. In her multi decade career, Roberta wrote, produced, directed, distributed, and occasionally acted in her own work.
Thankfully, Ms. Findlay is a far more competent multi hyphenate than her predecessor. Less thankfully, keep in mind the curve on which we are grading.
Alongside her husband Michael, she created the landmark Flesh trilogy of roughies, which mixed sex and violence into a brand new bag, helping eradicate the tamer trend of the nudie cuties that had dominated the early 60s. Their early 70s failed slasher experiment called Slaughter was later reedited into the notorious Snuff, which set an urban legend into motion that still persists today.
After parting ways with Michael in 1973, Roberta made a successful string of porn features, before controversy came calling again regarding 1985’s Shauna: Every Man’s Fantasy. The movie was a cash in Frankenstein’s monster, made from archive footage after the titular star had committed suicide at 20.
So what happens when an admittedly indifferent schlockmeister mixes rape revenge tropes with a knockoff of Assault On Precinct 13? 1985’s The Tenement, which I watched under its lamer alternate title:
The font and the theme song got lost on their way to Beat Street, full of stutter synth, and a rap lyric that can’t decide if the tenement is a “place of shelter” or “helter skelter”. We get some generic exteriors and cut to a dingy basement, where a gang of weekend Warriors is busy doing drugs, waving dead rats at each other, and…….whatever the fuck this is:
Too bad the party gets broken up pretty quickly by the cops. The dude who called the police is our first introduction to the building residents, and he stops to greasily gloat at the gang members in a Speedy Gonzales accent as they get packed off into a squad car. This way they know exactly which person turned the gang in. How could that possibly go wrong?
The residents throw a party to celebrate the gang being gone. This introduces us to the rest of the ethnic stereotypes tenants, some of which I’m not even sure were given names outside of the credits. Rojas is the drunk tub of greasiness and bluster who called law enforcement. Mr. Washington is a strong silent type doing his best Duane Jones impression. Leona is a sassy single mom. Anita is a sweet pregnant girl. Ruth a tough Jewish grandmother, and Angel a hooker with a heart of gold who turns tricks to support her husband’s habit.
There’s another older couple named Wesley, blind Mr. Gonzalez with a seeing eye dog, some random little kids who belong to someone or another….none of this is going to get developed in any significant fashion, so trust that the accents are horrible and the characterization is worse. This celebratory party scene lasts longer than some of these actors’ careers.
Aside from Leona, they all prattle on at length about being SO VERY GLAD THE GANG IS GONE. THEY ARE SAFE NOW. FOREVER. WE SURE WON’T SEE THOSE GANGBANGERS AGAIN.
Except for the fact that bail exists, and within a few hours our gang is right back out on the streets, making sure that snitch Rojas gets the mandated stitches. Due to budgetary constraints “stitches” becomes 1 tiny piece of prop glass and a large bandage on the forehead.
The baddies get their own long and equally boring party scene, where they smoke a bunch of angel dust in a parking lot and sing off key songs about “passing that fucker, man”, to the tune of stock music cues that would later pop up in Zombie Nightmare. Then the mighty Chaco, our aviator shade and frontless shirt wearing gang leader gets a listless spin shot and this struggle of a 4 line speech. It absolutely sounds like he learned it phonetically:
Chaco (gazing at nothing): Blood. My head….is full of blood. My dream…. is full of blood. I’m going to take my building BACK!
Typical of most “urban warfare” style films, 20 minutes in and that’s pretty much it for plot. There’s a ton of expository padding, but none of it teaches you anything important about the characters you didn’t learn through the early party scenes. Angel and her husband fight over his drug use. Anita’s mom is not thrilled she’s pregnant. Leona wishes she could move. Mr. Gonzalez is beloved by the children, because cute seeing eye dog. Rojas is drunk and Ruth is reciting a Shabbat blessing. Just in case the caricatures weren’t broad enough the first time around, hit me baby one more time.
We know there’s going to be a bloody conflict. The film just needs to give Crow T Robot his Christmas gift , and decide who lives and who dies. Place your bets or grab your bingo cards, whichever you prefer.
While the post apocalypse aerobics instructor of the group cuts the phone lines, the seeing eye dog ends up as fodder for a banger’s Countess Bathory moment.
By the way, timestamped title cards have been present but irrelevant the entire movie, as its not like PCP fueled murder sprees are on a tight schedule. Feel free to join me in continuing to ignore them.
Leona goes downstairs to check the phone line, and is brutally punished for being right about the gang’s return. This sequence made me glad for how weirdly prim this movie is, despite its X rating for violence. Conceptually horrible things happen, but we don’t explicitly see much of them. In the case of a deceased pup and a Last House On The Left style remix of the uses of household implements, less really is more.
In a thin upside, Leona’s little girl is smart enough to head upstairs to safety with a neighbor, and Leona managed to pull a Fulci on one of her attackers before dying.
Mr. Washington begrudgingly helps herd everyone he can find onto the upper floor landing, because apparently Chaco & friends are a bit confused on how stairs work, and won’t follow them. Bickering amongst the residents ensues, but they do comply. That runtime needs a lot of padding to make a safe landing.
Proving Mr. Washington’s point, Chaco yells some threats from the lobby, but doesn’t move an inch. The rest of the gang rampages through the emptied apartments like unattended Sims. Without someone to tell them what to do, they are stabbing random furniture, tossing food around, and getting bags stuck on their heads.
Variations of these same 3 shots fluff out a lot of the remaining runtime. Assume they happen in between any relevant action, and even some that aren’t. For example, Angel’s futile plea to one of her tricks on the street to go get help rather than come inside, which wastes another few minutes without disturbing the main plot’s vacation.
Angel’s husband dies defending his stash. Angel only makes it to safety because Mr. Washington comes out onto the landing to protect her as she runs upstairs. The fourth floor stairs are still lava.
One of the gang overdoses by virtue of doing the entire stolen pile of drugs at once. Chaco and Olivia Newton Chula mourn by having a bloody trip to second base beside the body of their fallen comrade.
Not to be outdone by gangbangers for moronic and unnecessary deaths, Mrs. Wesley dies searching downstairs for disinfectant. Anita’s mom dies trying to escape from the third story window via a single strand of clothesline. That doesn’t even work in cartoons, for fuck’s sake.
Over an hour into the movie, the baddies finally figure out the whole fourth floor stairs thing, and start tearing apart the makeshift furniture barricade the residents made.
Only by the grace of grandma Ruth and her ancient New York wisdom of nut shots and baseball bats, do the residents escape up to the fifth and final floor.
The good ship plot device comes in, and the gang wastes more time with random vandalism, to give the good guys time to MacGuyver an elaborate defense of an electrified bed frame and wet steps.
Downstairs, Chaco kills one of his own people via genital stab because the film’s runtime is almost out and too many people are still alive.
The residents loot a gun clip off of the crispy fried victim of their death bed, assuming the gang’s gun is no longer a threat without ammo. Our fifth grade teachers taught us what happens when you assume. In this case, it gets Mr. Washington shot as he heads downstairs.
Assumption also gets Rojas killed by Chaco’s handy dog collar. While a brilliant parry of boiling water and a fridge made of foam killed Chaco’s ladyfriend, and mortally wounded another gangster, Chaco himself was unharmed.
By going downstairs to gloat and finish the job with a knife, Rojas proves that only manual strangulation can get him to shut the fuck up.
Ruth stuns Chaco with her trusty bat, but doesn’t kill him. That leaves poor pregnant Anita to battle the big bad on a rainy roof, and finish the job with a TV antenna and a convenient attack of sudden rotoscope lightning. Too bad she locked herself out, as the door slammed shut in the struggle…….
……….or maybe just a less rainy pitch black night. Allegory is hard.