Bite Size: Hollywood Horror House/Savage Intruder (1970)

Hollywood Horror House doesn’t bother to conceal its overt emulation of hagsploitation progenitor Sunset Boulevard. There’s an opening montage of the glamorous life of a 1930’s movie queen, Katherine Packard (actual 1930s Oscar nominee Miriam Hopkins) This is immediately followed by a cut to the age damage and disrepair of the famous “Hollywood” sign, the wind whistling through the hills.

Having established imitation as the sincerest form of flattery, the film makes a quick pit stop into horror territory by panning down to a dismembered body rotting in the sun, and an expository news broadcast warning of a hand chopping serial killer targeting older women in Hollywood. Having already told the audience what to expect, we watch a dirty longhair in a wide brimmed hat follow a middle aged woman home from a bar and quickly dispatching her with a heavy pipe and an electric carving knife.

Meanwhile, present day Katherine Packard is no longer a vivacious screen star, but a hard boozing recluse who daydreams of who she used to be. Industrious maid Mildred (1930s comedian and early television regular Florence Lake) and personal secretary Leslie(1940s character actress and “Red Scare” blacklist victim Gale Sondergaard), do their best to keep an eye on Ms. Packard, but she gets into a bottle and takes a tumble down her own grand staircase.

As the elevator is broken, the pair will need a nurse to attend to the wheelchair bound Katherine. It just so happens a familiar looking scruffy hippie type named Vic (David Garfield, son of Golden Age superstar John) hops off of a Hollywood homes tour bus and cons the women into giving him a job, despite introducing himself with the egregiously fake name of “Laurel N. Hardy”.

At the very least, the movie is self aware enough to know it is working off a familiar template, and the inevitable insinuation of a handsome hustler into a lonely old woman’s life is zipped through via lots of montages. With the resulting time savings, it makes a towering trifle of exploitation trends of the period.

Given the small cast, it’s obvious Vic is the stalk and slasher, with a hell of a heroin habit and a tendency toward penny ante psychedelic visions of his unhappy childhood. In the grand tradition of mommy issues misogyny, his mother was a drunken hooker who sent him to foster care, and now all women of a certain age must pay for her sins.

While Leslie and Mildred both distrust Vic almost immediately, Katherine is basking in the glow of a younger man’s attention. While the audience waits for the protagonist to catch up to the forgone conclusions of the plot, there’s time for hippie parties full of camp loving gays who are delighted to see the former diva, versus bitchily arch young women who seem annoyed at her hold on Vic’s attention. Most delightful of all is Katherine’s breezy decline of the wares of a drug pushing little person, noting “the only trips I take are to Europe”.

Hollywood Horror House was the brainchild of Donald Wolfe, primarily known as a film editor, but credited as writer/director/producer on this project, alternately titled as Savage Intruder and The Comeback. Reports vary on how long it took for Wolfe to secure the financing to finish the film (anywhere from 1969-1972), but it was clearly constructed piecemeal, with John Garfield’s Vic having a roster of out of continuity changes in hairstyle. The film’s distribution history seems to be just as checkered, and the earliest listed theatrical bookings I could locate date to December of 1974.

Hollywood Horror House definitely bears the overly indulgent hallmarks of a troubled self-financed production, wildly careening between subgenres and plagued by the wobbly pacing of a script that is unsure of which of its many ideas will serve as the final narrative destination. Rather than commit to any particular conceptual throughline, the film just keeps tossing various tropes at the wall to see what sticks.

The most unnecessary example is likely the casually racist affair subplot between Vic and pretty young cook Greta (longtime character actress Virginia Wing). Considering that the audience has already seen Vic commit murder before he even enters the Packard house, the melodrama of having him impregnate (and subsequently kill) a naive young woman on the staff is pretty superfluous.

The movie becomes an increasingly frustrating watch as it progresses, burying its strongest cards in a cinematic game of 52 Pickup. Vic’s various hallucinations have a gloriously garish, Satan’s special episode of Laugh-In aesthetic, and the use of silent star Norma Talmadge’s former estate provides the all of the glamour gone to seed that an off brand Sunset Boulevard could ever need. The film certainly isn’t all bad, but where the writer/director chooses to place his priorities is deeply misguided.

Luckily, there’s a consummate professional on hand. The annals of hagsploitation are full of deeply engaged performances, but Miriam Hopkins’ Katherine Packard is one of the trend’s most gleeful. It’s a gutsy turn, and she commits to the bit at all times, be it drunken sing alongs or a brief topless scene. She’s clearly having a wonderful time on a camping trip for the ages, and her big brassy energy lifts up all of the performers around her. Considering that David Garfield’s Vic is often a bit too convincingly sleepy and stoned, it’s to her credit that their verbal sparring is remotely credible.

She’s never less than fun to watch, but Hopkins shines brightest when delivering bitchy one liners that could only come from a woman used to getting whatever it is she might deign to want. Katherine Packard is a drunken, delusional wreck. However, it’s hard not to like a brassy broad with the gumption to answer an otherwise innocuous question regarding her favorite flavor of ice cream with a derisive snort and a decisive “Vodka”.

Hollywood Horror House is too silly and scattershot as an overall film to really rank in the upper echelons of the Grand Dame Grand Guignol canon, but specifically as a showcase for its star, it works. All of the attention grabbing groovy visuals, goopy gore and group sex related PTSD don’t hold a candle to even the most minor scenes where the character of Katherine Packard is on screen. Miriam Hopkins was 67 when she made this film, and died before it received any real distribution. Most of the people who saw Savage Intruder at all did so under the title of Hollywood Horror House on VHS, long after Hopkins’ 1972 death. This barely seen, odd duck genre film was her cinematic swan song.

It takes a special kind of performer to have the same enthusiasm for the top of the Hollywood heap and a fly by night regional filmmaker who never directed again. For that reason alone, Hollywood Horror House is worth a spin, preferably with a glass of vodka in hand. A toast is in order for Ms. Hopkins —as it is the last few hours of the shitty sequel that is 2021 as I type this— and for the hope of happier and healthier new year for us all.

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: Shanty Tramp (1967)

Shanty Tramp opens with overexposed black and white photography, the pencil skirted posterior of its protagonist framed squarely across the opening credits. Even without the brass brand bleating “When The Saints Go Marching In” it’s obvious this is somewhere in the American South. Sweat beads on the brows of passerby as the camera pulls out to reveal a toothy brunette doing her best wiggling walk. Dirt floor Marilyn Monroe via a white cocktail dress from the rural route five and dime.

Every night is pretty much the same for Emily Stryker (Eleanor Vaill). The backroads barns or the juke joint, it doesn’t matter. Whereever the men and the money are is good enough for her. On this particular night it’s the revival tent, fire and brimstone Preacher Fallows bellowing at the poverty stricken pious to part with the cold hard cash that the good Lord prefers.

One look at the overflowing collection plate and Emily knows exactly what her offering is going to be. The pair’s innuendo laden exchange is only interrupted by the fact that Preacher Fallows has a midnight tent meeting. He offers her a private “spiritual consultation” afterwards.

She doesn’t even notice the awe struck gaze of Daniel (Lewis Galen), one of the only Black residents of the tiny town. Emily’s gutter glamour is transfixing amongst such a grim backdrop, and he barely hears his mother’s warnings that that “shanty tramp” will be nothing but trouble for him in a town brim full of racists. They’ve already killed Daniel’s father, so she’s keenly aware of what the townsfolk could do to her son.

Emily has time to kill and streets to walk, brushing off her drunken father(Otto Schlessinger) as she struts off into the night. What a night it is, with biker brawls and $5 tricks gone wrong. Violence, murder and chaos trails in Emily’s wake.

Shanty Tramp, when searched on online databases, is shrouded in layers of incorrect information. With a 1967 release date, it’s far from “an early progenitor of exploitation films” —which had arguably existed since the silent era, depending on the definition at hand— nor was it directed by Cuban expat José Prieto (Miss Leslie’s Dolls). George Weiss associate Joseph P. Marwa (the Olga series) directed this and several other films during a stint in Florida, which got credited to Prieto after a conflict with producers.

What separates Shanty Tramp from similar threadbare regional productions is just how many hicksploitation mainstays it manages to pack into a 72 minute run time, with a good ten of that spent on a dance to the (extremely catchy) title tune at a bar. Hypocritical preachers, white trash tramps, racist rednecks, biker bad boys, moonshiners, incest minded drunken patriarchs, the entire catalog of chicken fried exploitable content is here somewhere, with a dash of nudity to garnish the potent trash cinema cocktail.

If anything, the non existent production values and lack of daytime shots help add to the claustrophobic atmosphere of a town where there’s absolutely nowhere to hide, and no one who much gives a damn about anything outside of themselves. Shanty Tramp‘s world is an incredibly bleak one, with pretty much every character in search of sex and/or money by any means necessary. Anyone who believes in even the slightest shred of the less base human emotions finds themselves a rube or a corpse.

Faith in God gets the believers separated from their meager incomes. Daniel attempting to save Emily from both herself and a violent trick is repaid via a false accusation of rape, the murder of his mother, and death. The innocent young man is killed in an automobile explosion when he tries to escape the deadly lynch mob Emily’s lies have brought out.

Shanty Tramp is often a rough watch, but not exactly a roughie. It shares more DNA with the grim Gothic of Common Law Wife than the The Defilers. The film’s violence isn’t a replacement for sex, as carnal desire is omnipresent in Shanty Tramp. There’s not a man in the film who can resist Emily’s pretty poison —including her own father— even though every one of Emily’s toothy smiles is merely a soon to be deadly show of teeth.

In this very specific regard, Eleanor Vaill’s burlesque dancer on Valium disconnected affect becomes an asset. Emily doesn’t know how to be human, so Vaill’s bizarre character choices start making a perverse (and likely unintentional) sort of sense.

It is easy to see how potently scandalous the film would have been at its release, with the death rattle of the Hays code still haunting the cinematic landscape. For decades, the mainstream had dictated that crime and vice must never appear to pay, and Shanty Tramp had the brute force fortitude to wrap up its bitter stew of swamp bred scuzz with a double entendre, a second blast of brass, and a fade to black. Much like Emily’s drunken Pa, Shanty Tramp found itself “a nice warm spot in the gutter” and offered viewers a very dark night without the respite of sleeping it off.

Bite Size: Test Tube Babies (1948)

This roadshow ultra cheapie was brought to audiences by producer George Weiss (Glen Or Glenda, the Olga series) and directed by classical exploitation knockabout W. Merle Connell (The Flesh Merchant), in a blatant attempt to make the headlines around otherwise staid medical breakthroughs into a tantalizingly racy ticket.

George (William Thomason) and Cathy (Dorothy Duke) are a blandly blissful married couple, so much so that the film zooms through their engagement, honeymoon and purchase of a suburban home in a quick windshield wiper montage. Yet trouble is brewing on the morning of their first anniversary, despite Cathy doing housewifery impeccable coiffed and in a rather fetching shortie pajama set.

George’s job as an architect has him working long hours, and the booze soaked parties of their assorted friends just aren’t measuring up. In fact, George’s friend Frank (John Michael) is a bit too forward with Cathy, and he’s none too pleased about it. Not enough for him to actually come home at a decent hour or stop Frank from ogling Cathy when he arrives to drive George to work, but incensed none the less. Cathy offers the baby shower of a mutual friend as an alternative activity, her husband misses the obvious hint there too.

In a frustrating display of obliviousness, George has Frank take Cathy to a dance, because he’s pathologically allergic to fun. Shocking no one, Frank tries to put the moves on Cathy assuming a bored housewife would be an easy target. She refuses him, and instead puts on a sheer bed jacket to seduce her husband when he finally gets home. Rather than different friends, a better work/life balance or a hobby, the pair decide that a baby will be the solution to all of their problems, and they promptly head to the bedroom to attempt making one.

Their contentment doesn’t last long, and lacking anything else to do, Cathy tosses one of the parties that George hates so much. He, as usual, mopes off to work when she refuses to cancel it and sit at home in lingerie waiting for him to deign to come home. Not wanting to cancel at the last second, she hosts the party on her own.

Hilariously, all of the guests present behave just as badly as the wayward teens in youth scare films. Everyone’s sauced, everyone (except Cathy) married is openly cheating, and Frank brings a very confused actress to the party only to drop her for someone else’s wife midway through. For a moment, it is almost understandable why George hates these damn things so much. These people need a copy of The Ethical Slut and perhaps a stint in rehab, post haste.

Despite the standard text crawl about medical “miracles” that can “change the course of nature” and the co-sign from an official sounding but likely faked “fertility foundation”, Test Tube Babies seems a bit bored by its white coater premise and delays the titular medical concerns as long as it possibly can.

Dorothy Duke’s Cathy is in bathing suits, lingerie and other revealing clothing as often as possible, and the film never misses a chance for a scandelous hint of nipple or flash of leg from any female character that appears on screen. The party devolves into a duo burlesque routine, infidelity, and a partially topless hair pulling catfight remarkably quickly.

Only when George arrives home to two women he doesn’t know trying to kill each other on his living room carpet does the film begin its faux educational journey toward the titular baby, albeit not via any means that remotely involves a test tube. Wanting to prevent Cathy from any further bouts of independent thought, the couple head to a doctor to see what defect could possibly be stopping her from getting pregnant. Cathy can’t even pronounce gynecologist— which has some rather depressing implications of the state of reproductive healthcare in the 1940s— but off they head to see Dr. Wright (exploitation regular Timothy Farrell, minus his trademark mustache) anyway.

In a rarity for early exploitation films of this ilk……the central narrative conflict isn’t the woman’s fault. George is sterile, while Cathy is in perfect health. It is rather fun to watch Dr. Wright tell him so in the most indelicate and indifferent manner possible, and its the only time in the film where George manages not to sound like a selfish, ineffectual mope. Neither is too fond of the idea of adoption, but Dr. Wright breaks out the visual aids and extolls the benefits of artificial insemination.

Test Tube Babies
isn’t great, even by the relatively low standard of W. Merle Connell directed features or other entries in the hygiene subgenre. It looks cheap and sounds worse, every actor delivering their lines as if they’re reading a cue card they’re squinting to see from several rooms away. Two kids in five years—with another on the way— is painted as a happy ending, despite the couple having addressed none of their actual emotional or communication issues.

Where Test Tube Babies does excel is as an excellent object lesson in the sheer pervasiveness of the steel trap strength of rigid gender norms and expectations of heterosexual domesticity in American culture of the era. Men were expected to provide, women were expected to serve, and it wasn’t seen as catastrophically bad decision making to use another living creature as a Band Aid on an unrelatedly bad marriage.

Despite men having all of the cultural and economic power, conventional masculinity was still so fragile that even a bargain basement roadshow film had to carefully reassure dudes that they weren’t being cuckolded by a medical fertility procedure. When spending an hour and ten minutes amongst the social norms of the day feel this utterly suffocating, the increasingly chaotic rebellion of the 50s and 60s youthquake makes all the more contextual sense.

Bite Size: Teenage Seductress (1975)

Preston King (Chris Warfield himself, pulling triple duty as writer/director and co-star) is a famous writer. His novels have sold well enough to garner him a sizable spread and the ability to hire household staff, but he otherwise can live a pretty ordinary existence in Taos, New Mexico. He’s just well known enough to live comfortably, but not so well known that he is beset by crazed fans or autograph seekers when taking a drive or having a picnic in the country. At least, that was the case before Terry (Sondra Currie, sister of musician Cherie) shows up.

She’s oddly intense from the outset, blowing into town demanding Preston’s address from confused shopkeepers and openly irate librarians. When her requests for a stranger’s personal info are quite rightfully turned down, she stomps off in a snit that seems more akin to a preschool aged child than an (despite the title) obviously twenty-something young woman.

When she returns to her hotel room after a long day of rejections, Terry places Preston’s novel on her bed, caressing the author photo as she undresses. To add trauma to obsession, she strips down for a shower and has visions of her unhappy childhood, her mother’s bitterness over her father leaving echoing from the snarling visage of her mother superimposed on the showerhead.

Mom clearly had some deep rooted issues, and has indoctrinated Terry since primary school that all men are as toxic as her father, who abandoned them because men only ever want one thing. It is up to Terry to make them pay, and not repeat Mother’s mistakes.

Clearly, what she has learned from all of this emotional abuse is to weaponize her sexuality, flirting with art gallery owner Reggie (John Trujillo) to finally get a hold of Preston’s address. She invents a story about being a journalism student to gain entry to his home, and slowly insinuate her way into his life. Before long, Preston is entirely dependent on his pretty redheaded secretary, alienated from everyone else in his social sphere. Despite warnings from both his long term housekeeper and his infinitely more age appropriate girlfriend Victoria (Elizabeth Saxon)—who has already gotten a glimpse of Terry’s crazy due to her job at the library- that the young woman has a dangerous crush and clear ill intentions.

Teenage Seductress initially seems like a riff on similar themes to Chris Warfield’s own vastly superior Little Miss Innocence. Here we have another middle aged man who lets his money, penis, and ego overrule his better sense regarding a situation far too good to be true. Very early on in the film, the root cause of Terry’s manias is made explicit. Preston King is the father who abandoned her, and just in case that wasn’t obvious enough, she announces “I’m going to fuck you, Father….the way you fucked me.”

Considering the bizarre motel scene and the fact that she jumped into his bed to attempt a seduction no more than five minutes after being invited into his house, it’s abundantly clear that Terry is referring to both the literal and the metaphorical implications of a certain four letter word. Yet rather than commit to the sheer raunch of that premise, Seductress‘ middle section devolves into talky melodrama where both Reggie and Preston are so utterly entranced by Terry’s habit of staring vacantly into space and having unexplained rages that they continue to aid her with whatever she asks for.

By positioning Terry as so obviously unhinged that even basic daily tasks are beyond her, there’s no tension in any of her machinations, only discomfort regarding what the audience will likely subjected to watching when she inevitably triumphs over this sea of hormonal morons. It doesn’t help that while Sondra Currie looks the part of the seemingly sweet sugar baby from Hell, her performance is far too blank and lacking in nuance to really read as cunning, damaged, or desperate enough to give her horrid plan the distasteful weight it needs, no matter how much fugue state hopscotch she plays.

It is Elizabeth Saxon’s Victoria that becomes the sympathetic character, as she is roundly ignored for pointing out the obvious, only to be forced to leave Preston to the inevitable disaster he’s setting himself up for. Her performance is full of the energy that Currie’s lacks. Even her body language in otherwise minimal dialog scenes makes clear she has Terry’s nasty little number. In spite of the insecurities the sudden appearance of the younger woman obviously kicks up, Victoria’s not going down without a fight.

The forgone conclusion nature of the proceedings makes the middle section a snail’s pace slog of arguments over bowls of party size salad and the occasional hippie dippie art party. The third act offers none of the promised twisted vengeance or life crushing destruction, only a whimper of soft jazz and awkward angle sex scenes it is best not to contemplate at length.

What begins as daddy issues in the desert deviance ends with a final scene inexplicably played for cuddly catharsis. The lack of any narrative resolution to any of the first act’s stated dangers makes Teenage Seductress feel more like a The Babysitter style self insert of no consequence male fantasy. Considering that incest is a major and purposeful plot point, that might be the most legitimately discomfiting thing in this otherwise listless film.

Bite Size: Evil Come, Evil Go (1972)

The transitional period between softcore and hardcore was a fertile breeding ground for offbeat and idiosyncratic sex film efforts, even if it occasionally makes for tricky tracking of who is responsible for which pieces of weirdness in a sea of uncredited prints and pseudonyms. One such shape shifter was director/performer Walt Davis, who turned in a small but memorable slate of genre hopping, gleefully tasteless entries throughout the 70s, on both sides of the simulated versus unsimulated divide.

Evil Come, Evil Go‘s “Hymn-humming hell cat” is Sister Sarah Jane Butler (Cleo O’Hara), a fire and brimstone sort who has been criss crossing the country street preaching her special form of gospel, believing she has a direct mission from God. Namely, to eliminate pleasurable sex and the men whose “horny, sweet words” and “horny cheating ways” facilitate it.

She cruises bars for lonely men, and when they take her up on her industrial strength come ons, she stabs them to death with her trusty switchblade—Walt Davis himself makes a quick cameo as her first victim, in a truly atrocious pair of patterned overalls. With a scribble of lipstick to pronounce “God is LOVE-not sex” and a washing up, she’s off to the next town to spread the good word.

While panhandling and proselytizing on Hollywood Boulevard, Sarah Jane meets Penny (Sandra Henderson). Lost, lonely, and looking for somewhere to belong after her rich parents sent her away to the coast for being a lesbian, she’s an easy target. Penny soon swears her allegiance to Sarah Jane’s “Sacred Order Of The Sisters Of Complete Subjugation”, and her vows are sealed with some S&M bondage games and a spot of knife play.

It’s not often a sex film opens with a Bible quote, but Cleo O’Hara’s performance as Sarah Jane is in a universe all its own, like a spirited side character from a hicksploitation film dropped into a Los Angeles skin flick. She’s a slick talking, secretly foul mouthed, Bible thumping charlatan who slices the scenery to ribbons. Cleo O’Hara might not be a great actress but she is committed to the bit, regardless if that’s trying to con a vendor out of a hot dog by calling it a “charitable donation” or sentencing hapless men to death for preferring an orgasm rather than listening to her sing hymns in the nude.

Speaking of the sex scenes, they’re an astoundingly indifferent pile of softcore that aren’t the slightest bit concerned with the illusion of the performers’ arousal. The lot is often punctuated with odd camera swirls, and in one memorable instance, accompanied by a sweeping score of 70s game show music. Evil Come, Evil Go is a sex film that isn’t remotely concerned with being sexy. The ugly banality of the skin scenes is punctuated with exaggeratedly sleazy pillow talk and puerile visual puns—a cat wanders into the frame during the lesbian sex scenes— that seem like a career pornographer having a sardonic poke at the hypocrisy of anti-sex moral outrage.

The combination of scuzzy smut and dime store gore —provided by porn legend John Holmes, who also has a credit as an assistant director in addition to make up duty— will likely be an acquired taste for most viewers, particularly in combination with the religious themes. However, Sarah Jane is just as insane as the folk pop theme tune promises, and then some. For fans of exploitation who think they’ve seen every possible permutation of singular strangeness, Evil Come, Evil Go‘s black comedy camp concoction of cultish religious fervor is not to be missed.

Bite Size: Cover Girl Killer (1959)

A great title can be as much of a curse as it is a blessing when watching films from the more forgotten corners of cinema history. It might be a massive spoiler (Three On A Meathook), an alluring misdirection (The Night God Screamed) or a purely aesthetic choice for maximum promo potential ( I Drink Your Blood).

1959’s Cover Girl Killer mostly belongs in the second category. There is indeed a killer stalking magazine glamour girls, but the film isn’t anywhere near as lurid as the name or the setting would imply. If you can’t be sleazy, you may as well be smart, and Cover Girl Killer is a surprisingly satisfying exercise in British made bottom of a double bill shenanigans.

Wow! is a cheesecake enterprise, a magazine that’s “not for people who can read”. It’s a favorite of Pop (Dermot Kelly), the wizened manager at the Soho strip club that serves as a recruiting tool for many of the periodical’s centerfolds.

On this particular night, Pop’s having a chat with a literal stage door Johnny (Spencer Teakle). The nervous and nerdy journalist is writing a “A Day In The Life Of A Showgirl” piece for Wow!. Well he was, until his subject, savvy showgirl June (Felicity Young), brushes him off. Once she catches on that an unpaid writer couldn’t possibly afford the swank places he’s been taking her, she assumes he’s a lying lech and shows him the door.

Gloria (Bernadette Milnes), the headliner of the show, isn’t quite as street smart. When a slick talking, rainslicker and toupee wearing “producer” fills her head with dreams of her own television show, she gleefully agrees to shoot public park pin up photos in the middle of the night for the man with the made up sounding name of Mr. Spendoza (Harry H. Corbett, Steptoe And Son).

She does timidly complain that all of these bizarre call times are messing with her beauty rest, and with a 10am appointment the following morning, she’ll “be dead”. Little does the poor woman know that it won’t even take that long, as the next shot we see is of her bikini clad corpse.

The Cover Girl Killer then follows a pretty standard police procedural formula, as Scotland Yard discovers that Gloria isn’t the only centerfold who has died mysteriously, and rushes to find the killer before he kills again… least until Wow! runs out of prospects for pin ups, and more sophisticated tactics are needed to draw the murderer out.

While it isn’t quite fair to call the Cover Girl Killer original or directional in any way, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the moments that it does subvert trope, with some above par drily droll dialog to boot. Johnny doesn’t draw a salary because he owns the magazine, which he inherited from his grandfather. He isn’t so self important to think he should be able to draw from the company coffers with his rookie journalism because he owns the place, nor is he invested in looking down upon his models for their occupations.

As for the lawmen, they aren’t nearly as dumb as is typical for this style of film, and when Johnny rushes to the station with his equally rudimentary detective work, Scotland Yard has already sussed out the killer’s M.O. They might be a touch too chatty for runtime padding purposes, but they aren’t complete morons.

While it is obvious from the first frame that the bespectacled, toupee wearing oddball is our killer, the fact that this isn’t his real identity is a clever footnote. What better way to disappear in a vice district than to play dress up as a bog standard raincoater?

Like many comedic actors cast against type, Harry H. Corbett is clearly enjoying the chance at a spot of villainy, and when the killer opts to taunt the police by offering a tip to their investigation in his “respectable” guise, he actually does turn in a fine little performance, with his subtle reactions to the police’s unflattering description of the culprit.

Like so much exploitation of the pre 1960 variety, the film (and its killer’s primary motivation) is the lurid outgrowth of cultural norms that required moralist hand-wringing at perceived immorality, while reveling in depictions of same for some flimsy veneer of public good and ethical purity. It isn’t sleaze for sleaze’s sake, it’s shedding light on what lurks in the shadows of society, and who could blame anyone for taking a long hard look at whatever the spotlight might reveal?

At just over an hour long, Cover Girl Killer is solidly competent, occasionally clever and never overstays its bargain bin welcome. If anything, its commitment to being utterly scandalized by a relatively tame pin up magazine seems delightfully quaint, a finger wag rather than the unfiltered Madonna/whore mean spiritedness of 1978’s The Playbirds, which has a very similar plot. Cover Girl Killer never quite delivers what it teases, but the bait and switch is a pretty pleasant one, all things considered.

Bite Size: Horror Safari (1982)

Horror Safari, AKA Invaders Of The Lost Gold AKA Greed is one of those low budget productions that makes up for a lack of resources by luring an international cast of familiar faces with the promise of a beautiful shooting location/free vacation. Directed by bottom rung knock about Alan Birkinshaw (Killer’s Moon), and produced by the much more successful Dick Randall (Pieces, Don’t Open Till Christmas), the production was troubled by the loss of an early financier. With the post Apocalypse Now boom in Filipino film production, Safari was clearly looking to cut costs via ripe for exploitation unregulated local talent and a built in exotic setting.

The film opens in 1945, during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. A small platoon of Japanese soldiers to transporting crates of gold bullion, but soon finds themselves ambushed and outnumbered by a local tribe. Not wanting to lose all of the gold, the platoon’s three commanding officers stash the loot in a remote cave, vowing to come back and retrieve it together.

Several decades later, writer Rex Larson (British stage actor and Hollywood almost was Edmund Purdom) tracks down each of the officers, seeking the map to the missing gold. The first man refuses to divulge the location, and is shot by Larson for his secrecy. The second ex-officer commits ritual suicide rather than breaking his sworn vow. Larson finally gets his wish in Sergeant turned martial arts instructor Tobachi (Harold Sakata, Goldfinger), who offers to share the map in exchange for a twenty-five percent stake in the final haul.

This leads to the assemblage of your standard line up of ragtag adventurers, all with their own personal motivations and percentage to look after. There’s financier Jefferson (David De Martyn), who uses his control of the purse strings to justify bringing both his pretty blonde daughter (Glynis Barber) and his personal bodyguard, Cal (Woody Strode, Once Upon a Time in the West).

The expedition’s jungle guide is Mark Forrest (Oscar nominee Stuart Whitman), a down on his luck soldier of fortune who has both a past and an axe to grind with Mr. Rex Larson. Given the deeply held distrust between himself and Larson, Forrest brings his own scout, Fernando (Junix Inocian). Fernando just happens to be married to Mark’s ex lover Maria (Laura Gemser, Women’s Prison Massacre), who tags along in the hopes of rekindling an old flame.

Despite the briskly paced opening flashback and a constellation of B cinema stars, Horror Safari takes a very leisurely stroll toward anything that its myriad titles promise. Aside from a delightful scene where Mark and Cal beatdown some racist sailors in a strip club, the first half of the film is primarily different combinations of badly dubbed characters bickering in rooms over percentages and who gets to join the expedition. The film is half over before a single person heads for the jungle or even steps on a boat.

Some of the narrative is explained in verbose speeches detailing events that are never really sketched out on screen, like a love triangle between both of the beautiful young women in the cast and Stuart Whitman’s gin blossomed Mark Forrest—even his dubbing sounds slurred. The rest of the loosely defined story beats are shown on screen without context or explanation. Tobachi and Cal suddenly come to blows, but both laugh and there’s a quick cut to the next scene. Laura Gemser’s Maria takes a skinny dip at a waterfall and screams in slow motion. In the next shot, her body is floating lifelessly without any visible cause of death.

Horror Safari clearly draws influence from a variety of subgenres, from Italian cannibal flicks and Agatha Christie mysteries to 40s adventure serials. It’s just that the film clearly has a poor handle on what makes any of those things enjoyable. No one watches a cannibal gut muncher to watch characters complain in the jungle, picks up a Christie whodunit for the bouts of casual racism, or watches an adventure story for melodramatic interpersonal sub plots with no actual action to speak of.

It’s only in the final 20 minutes that Horror Safari leans into the And Then There Were None structure it was halfheartedly setting up. It’s obvious who the mastermind behind all the death is, as only one character has a history of violence and of bitterly complaining that there are too many people on the trip. For a movie that spends nearly an hour attempting character development, it still leaves them all as stock caricatures at the end of the day. What a waste to assemble such a stacked cast of genre faces for a film that serves as a scintillating look at the joys of sweating, screaming, and just standing there.

Indifferently photographed, ploddingly scripted and so sleepy even the luminous beauty of (severely under utilized) Laura Gemser can’t save Horror Safari from itself. The opening 10 minutes are a solid attention grabber, the strip club showdown is a good time, and Ms. Gemser’s skinny dip gives a much needed dash of skin. The rest of the film is eminently skippable. Use the time saved to pour one out for the copy writers who had to tie themselves in knots to try to make this listless misfire sound like a manic energy filled jungle stomping exploitation gem when it was recently released on disc.

Bite Size: She Mob (1968)

She Mob is about as regional a production as one is likely to find. The movie never saw a first run release outside of Texas, the directors uncredited for decades. Single serving performers were culled from the ranks of Jack Ruby‘s various nightclub ventures. The film was assumed to be lost by the few people outside of the Lone Star state that had ever even seen it. Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video rescued a print from obscurity —later fully restored by the American Genre Film Archive— and without the work of those preservationists, it would be excessively unlikely that She Mob would exist to watch today.

Big Shim (Marni Castle) is a butch top for the ages, a leather loving lesbian who doesn’t even take off her fetish gear (including an impressively pointy cone bra) to sleep. She’s broken out an all girl gang of hellcats from the slammer, and they’re holed up in a rural Texas farmhouse while on the lam from the law.

While Big Shim can get her Mistress kicks with beautiful blonde submissive Baby (Eve Laurie), the rest of the gang is feeling the tension of 5 sexless years. They demand a man for their personal pleasure. Big Shim is a benevolent ruler, and calls upon local gigolo Tony (Adam Clyde) to keep the harem happy.

Soon there’s bigger business afoot than banging, as Tony is currently being kept in sports cars and gold cigarette lighters by local business woman Brenda (Marni Castle again, playing up her femme side in a dual role). Big Shim lures Tony to the house with the promise of his pick of the girls, then holds him hostage for a hefty sum of cash from his lonely lady employer. Not wanting to lose her chance to take things lying down, Brenda hires butt crack baring, delightfully mod girl detective Sweety East ( Monique Duval, in an obvious parody of Honey West) to crack the case.

With a fantastic opening credits sequence, crisp black and white photography and a pretty fantastic library cues and trash jazz score, She Mob positions itself in the early running as the chicken fried cousin to Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman’s “bad girl in a worse world” style of sleaze cinema. That impression doesn’t last very long. Like a lot of movies centered around sex made in an era where very little sexual content could actually be shown, things get much less wild, but way more weird.

Marni Castle never had another screen credit, and it’s a shame, as she’s an absolute joy here. Her “I own 51% of this company, and 100% of your dick” energy as Brenda is delightful, but her turn as Big Shim is a sleaze film all timer. She struts and swaggers and sweats, ordering her girls in and out of lingerie and keeping her trusty shotgun at the ready. Her is gang her own personal palace of big breasted blondes and scantily clad ladies in waiting for their next criminal caper. Had She Mob stayed in the territory of queer camp crime romp, it would have been infinitely more fun.

The arrival of Tony into this world of women slows everything down exponentially, swapping heist plots for constant penis chatter and interminably long softcore scenes that are just weird thrashing of feet and bread kneading on people’s buttocks. The film piles on loads more kink imagery, but it replaces babes in stockings, garters, and peek a boo bras for a full slate of male fantasy wish fulfillment. The back half of the film is straight out of adult bookstore fetish slicks and letters to Penthouse.

There’s the eager group all clamoring for a man, with even the seemingly Sapphic Baby wanting a piece of Tony’s action. There’s some light bondage, a deadly escape attempt, black net lingerie, a spot of whipping, and a forced feminization scene. It’s hard to see what even the most sex starved of women would see in Tony, and it’s even more difficult to give a damn about his fate when he has less personality than the average novelty beer mug. What began as a fresh feeling exercise in hyper regional sleaze becomes another sleepy plod through a queer movie clearly written by and for the titillation of straight people.

At least the women torturing Tony to avenge their fallen friend gives Marni Castle a chance to snarl the immortal line “My tits are as hard as my heart!” before stabbing him with her cone bra. Some verve returns to the film when our lamé jumpsuit wearing girl detective locates the gang. There’s a karate chopping, car chasing, guns blazing showdown between the she mob, Sweety and Johnny Law. Then, it’s back to some moderately skin bearing business for the final reel.

She Mob has some delightfully tacky retro aesthetics, and a fine fashion show of vintage lingerie and fetishwear that is sure to please fans of the kinkier side of sexploitation. That said, the sex scenes are forced to into flatness by the restrictions of the era, and there isn’t nearly enough gun toting and desert car chases to make up the difference. Viewers hoping for freakier riff on the female led destruction of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! will most likely be sorely disappointed by She Mob‘s slower pace.

All of that aside, every second Big Shim is on screen is worth watching, a rare moment where a masculine of center woman gets to fully inhabit space and chew scenery right alongside her far more famous femme counterparts in the grindhouse cinema canon. While the movie tries its hardest (all puns intended) to make Tony’s big dicked tub of Brylcreem the hero, you could fast forward through just about all of his scenes and not miss much. She Mob is Big Shim’s bullet bra world, and the rest of us are just lucky to get to live in it for a little while.

Bite Size: The Night God Screamed (1971)

The Night God Screamed was doomed by circumstances to be underseen, despite being distributed by the mighty Jerry Gross’s Cinemation Industries. Even accounting for its an all timer of a title —occasionally shortened to Scream by controversy shy exhibitors— and a punchy tagline, the film never really garnered much of a foothold with audiences. A PG certification was often a liability for a genre film, particularly one clearly positioned to take advantage of the media frenzy surrounding the Manson Family murders. The release would be further hamstrung by Cinemation’s bankruptcy in 1974. After a comparatively brief theatrical run on the bottom of double and triple features, The Night God Screamed faded from drive in schedules with little fanfare.

The film opens in the woods, a hooded figure lurking at the edges of the frame. Yet, this isn’t a ritual, not quite. A long haired guru named Billy Joe (Michael Sugich) preaches to a central casting group of hippies, beseeching God for help from the cops that don’t see their freewheeling, dope smoking ways to be valid forms of worship. He blames the group’s troubles on a Judas in their midst, a young woman refusing to be baptized into the cult of Billy Joe’s version of Jesus. The robed figure steps forward, referred to only as “the Atoner”. Together the pair force the woman into the lake, her conversion ending in her lifeless body floating up to the surface.

Meanwhile, Fanny Pierce (1940s Hollywood star and Oscar nominee Jeanne Crain) is a woman gradually reaching her limit. For 25 years, she and her husband Willis (Alex Nicol, co-star and director of The Screaming Skull) have been preaching the Gospel and running a soup kitchen for the downtrodden destitute. Yet the neighborhood keeps getting worse, the goal of saving souls more nebulous as their joint finances become depleted by their good works. Fanny is even robbed right outside the church doors.

Willis promises, as he always does, that a revival meeting he’s scheduled in a nicer section of town will fix things, making all of the struggle worth it. As they load up their battered old truck with the giant cross Willis had made for the occasion, Fanny archly notes that saying “God will provide” has not yet become an acceptable currency for a mortgage payment. When the Pierces have a chance meeting with Billy Joe at a rural gas station, it is obvious this will all end poorly. He’s all too willing to hop into the back of the truck and test the if the cross is really life size, asking Willis pointed questions about the financial possibilities of the revival meeting.

Manson tinged hippie horror and a dash of diet Christploitation make a credible cocktail, and it is surprising that there wasn’t more of an overlap between the two subgenres given both reached the crest of their trend cycle status at about the same time. Boiled down to the bones, they even have the same grace notes in regard to the myriad of ways false prophets can lead the weak willed into damnation, religious or secular. To (quite literally) hammer the point home, the chance meeting between the two self styled men of God ends in a crucifixion that is both effective and surprisingly brutal in the context of a PG film.

Billy Joe and friends are quickly rounded up — except for the mysterious “Atoner”, still unnamed and still at large— tried, and sentenced to death. This sequence seemingly only exists for the movie to make its most overt Manson analogs. Courtroom outbursts from Billy Joe and a herd of his followers harassing Mrs. Pierce outside the courtroom are almost directly ripped from real life events.

The loss of Michael Sugich’s LSD sprinkled hammy performance as Billy Joe does make the proceedings a much slower burn, knocking a bit of the weirder winds out of Screamed‘s sails. Abandoning the appealing possibilities of the early going’s genre mash up, the movie takes a mildly contrived, budget friendly turn toward a home invasion thriller.

Mrs. Pierce is hired on by the judge of her case as a housekeeper, and is tasked with watching his brood of teenagers over a long weekend. She’s uncertain about this new task, never having had children of her own and still wracked with guilt over her husband’s death. Only when offered a solid cash bonus does she begrudgingly accept the job. That particular weekend just happens to be the anniversary of the sentencing, and the remainder of Billy Joe’s followers still want vengeance for their leader.

The teens are standard issue, stakes raising insufferable brats. From here on out the film is Crain’s to carry. Even in her heyday, she wasn’t the most vividly charismatic performer. Here, her simultaneously professionally polished but vaguely disassociated affect is perfect for a tormented woman terrified of the inevitable breech of a formerly safe suburban home. The script has some rough edges in regards to pacing, but she’s selling her solo scenes even when they linger several beats too long.

Director Lee Madden uses angles and shadow very effectively to build menace out of almost entirely unseen assailants. Don Vincent’s score straddles the line between the prog adjacent noise that was coming into vogue, and more classical, post Psycho sweeping strings. It helps give more palpable mood to scenes that otherwise would suffer far more from being shot too dark, and dispersed in familiar narrative patterns.

While the two disparate halves of The Night God Screamed don’t ever really gel into a cohesive whole, both sides of the film have their own distinct pleasures. In the early going, there’s a fresh feeling mix of familiar exploitation modes and some inventive violence, conceptually effective without being particularly explicit. The second act swerve has the feel of a groovy riff on an urban legend or a campfire ghost story, the final twist cozily eerie despite its lack of logic.

It is a bit of a stretch to call The Night God Screamed a lost classic, as it doesn’t take either of its central ideas all the way across the finish line. However, it certainly deserves reappraisal in light of the new found appreciation for both bargain bin regional cinema, and the made for television spooky fare it resembles in price point and spirit. If you view the two sections of the film as a self contained double feature of the trials and tribulations of one very unlucky woman, there’s a grab bag of low key genre pleasures to be had.