They are many reasons why an actor who has had a degree of mainstream success would find themselves working in low budget cinema. Perhaps their career prospects have cooled as they aged (Anita Ekberg , Mercedes McCambridge). Maybe their career is just starting, and they take the lead in a B feature to attempt to prove they can carry more than secondary roles (Phillip Michael Thomas).
Lyle Waggoner falls somewhere in between. He had had success as both a model and in television during the 60s. By 1972 he was a beloved long running member of the ensemble cast of The Carol Burnett Show, a certified heart throb with a touch for light comedy. Each week, his smiling face was beamed into living rooms all over America on one of the most popular shows of the era.
Unfortunately, movie roles had always basically eluded him. Lyle made a few stabs in the late 60s, but the likes of Catalina Caper and Swamp Country were centered more on his youthful, square jawed good looks than any display of acting talent. Waggoner was still handsome, but was approaching middle age, and perhaps was feeling the pressure to pivot to theatrical leading man status before his days as every housewife’s favorite dream boat were completely over.
It wouldn’t be the first time a regional exploitation film maker showed a bigger star only the parts of the script that applied to them, then shot the more scandalous parts later. It also wouldn’t be the first time a bigger star used that as an excuse to provide plausible deniability for a film that flushed their matinee movie idol dreams down the toilet.
However it happened, this week’s film is one of the premier slices of psychosexual 70s weirdness there is, directed by a one and done high school theater teacher named Jacques Lacerte. From fall of 1972, the “my heart belongs to Daddy” epic Love Me Deadly:
The film opens on a funeral, with beautiful blonde Lindsay Finch (Mary Charlotte Wilcox) sitting in the back row. Waiting until all of the other mourners have left, she tentatively walks up the aisle to the casket, delicately raising the veil on her stylish oversized hat. Furtively glancing around, she leans in and plants a passionate kiss on the deceased.
Despite having wasted no time (3:10 to be precise) jumping into the necrophiliac waters of taboo, the credits roll over sepia images of a blonde moppet and her father playing happily, obligatory AM radio title theme song playing on the soundtrack.
Cut to a swinging party at Lindsey’s rather lavish house, full of food, friends, fun……and a variety pack of greasy and overly grabby future date rapists of America who are very into her. They are also very bad at taking no for an answer.
Should you question my characterization, the next scene is the blonde Ken doll up there (given the properly vintage villainous name of Wade) following Lindsay as she heads to her bedroom to freshen up, and attempting to force himself on her. She nearly scratches his eyes out, and he finally takes the damn hint to leave. Being a complete waste of even 50 plus year old cinematic oxygen, he calls Lindsey a bitch on the way out.
Understandably shaken, she clutches a stuffed teddy for comfort, and we get another sepia montage of when her beloved father gifted her the toy.
While Lindsey settles her nerves hunting through the funeral notices for any young handsome men being laid to rest, we are suddenly dropped into what may as well be different movie. In a sense it is, as this is one of the inserts shot after the fact. Producers insisted the film play less like a soapy melodrama, and more like a traditional horror film.
A street hustler is plying his trade outside an adult theater (I. William Quinn who also appeared in brutal roughie A Climax Of Blue Power). Up rolls Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott), the creepy funeral home director from the first scene, presumably looking for a good time.
All things considered, I doubt any sex worker would get into a car with the world’s most unctuous undertaker for the promise of only $15, but this guy does. Slow night, I guess. He does up it to $25 when McSweeney insists on taking him to the funeral parlor for the trick.
We drop back in to the main plot for a moment. Lindsay is doing her usual hot lips for cold stiffs routine, when she gets startled by the arrival of the deceased’s hunky brother, Alex (Lyle Waggoner). Disturbed by both nearly getting caught, and Alex’s resemblance to her dearly departed dad, Lindsay bolts.
Meanwhile back at the funeral parlor, McSweeney proves he’s the serial killer the dead eyes and greasy hair told us he was, embalming his “date” alive. It’s the only scene in the movie that is genuinely harrowing, and considering the main subject matter here, that’s saying something.
We get a montage to upbeat, kicky sitcom music of Lindsay being a stylish little stalker. Spying on Alex at his brother’s burial, looking him up in the phone book to ferret out his workplace, sitting outside the window of his job and running for dear life when he notices her. The sepia toned flashbacks of daddy keep on coming.
As Lindsay is a rich and conventionally attractive blonde white lady, not even Alex finds all this as weird as it obviously is.
I do have to give murderous Fred McSweeney half credit, as he’s the only person in the whole film who notices that something is very wrong with Lindsay. Seeing her skulking about yet another funeral, he corners her in her car. On the ride to the cemetery, he handily defines “necrophilia” and that lovers are of the dead “are quite ordinary people, just the needs and desires are different”.
I don’t know how much life advice I would take from a man for whom cold blooded murder is a sex toy. In any case, he mentions he has a conveniently located necrophile cult right in his funeral home, and will be happy to provide her educational literature if she happens to be interested. Usually this level of hard sell is reserved for Amway, but I suppose a Satanic necrophile cult needs to modernize like any other highly suspicious bit of industry.
Lindsay speeds off in anger, and Fred sails off into the night for another sex worker.
True to his word, McSweeney snail mails Lindsay the details on the next cult meeting, in a discreet unmarked envelope. Desperate to avoid doing the two backed dance of the dead, she calls up date rape Wade.
Halfway through the evening, she realizes the outing was a waste of a fabulous fur coat, and that she’s probably safer and happier with the devil worshippers. Considering what we’ve seen of Wade, she isn’t wrong.
She tells him she has a headache, and burns rubber to the funeral home. However, the sight of their corpse fueled key party is too much for her.
Being a one cadaver kind of girl, she runs away in tears. Freaky Fred offers her a more “private viewing” at a later date, as well as an ominous warning to “keep our little secret”.
When she arrives home, things get no better, as Wade is sitting in her house asking questions that are none of his damn business, about where she went so late at night.
Trying to drive away her urges, she lets the butter blonde butthurt boy spend the night. They go on a date the next day, and just happen to stop by Alex’s gallery for an art opening. Once Alex reenters the picture, it’s very clear that the gallery isn’t the only thing that’s open. Bye, Wade.
There is a long ass montage of wacky hijinks and sweet young love, straight out of a soap opera or a shampoo commercial. By the time the ominous music cue hits announcing Fred McSweeney’s phone call about that “private viewing”, it’s a welcome return to what is supposed to be a horror film.
Wade happens to see Lindsay’s car driving by while he’s using a payphone. Proving yet again he may very well be the worst person in a movie that involves a serial killer, a necrophiliac, and a Satanic cult, he jumps in his car to follow her.
We all know exactly where Lindsay is headed, but Wade just can’t grasp anything she does being none of his concern. At least his asshole characterization is consistent.
Lindsay’s private dance with the dead gets interrupted by the fracas outside, and Wade’s lifeless corpse becomes part of some sort of dollar store Satanist ritual that even Joe Sarno would have found embarrassingly cheap.
Despite having known him for all of 2 weeks, Lindsay runs away from all this death by marrying Alex. Too bad the wedding ring still didn’t solve the whole issue of her being unable to have sex with anyone who has a pulse.
Lyle offers to sleep in another bedroom until Lindsay decides she wants him. Inexplicably, this is followed by another amber hued, boring as hell happy couple montage. I’m neither straight, nor have I ever married. However, even I know that is definitely NOT how that works.
Alex happens to see Lindsay’s car on his way to work, but she doesn’t respond when he honks and waves, as she is in her mourning garb. Alex manages to follow her, but is utterly confused as to why she would be making mid day visits to a funeral home.
He asks her about it later that evening, but she has an elaborate gift and a fancy dinner ready for their 3 week anniversary (!) in some masterful psyops. Feeling guilty, he lets the matter drop.
Alex comes home early the next day to bring Lindsay a gift, but Lindsey isn’t at home. The housekeeper mentions that what Lindsay does is “unnatural” and that the staff basically raised Lindsey after her father died. The housekeeper was demoted to a two day a week caretaker, because little rich girl Lindsay was pissed that the hired help pointed out the obvious.
When Lyle heads to the cemetery, he finds Lindsay in a child’s pigtails speaking in a baby voice while skipping around the headstone singing “Skinnamarink”. I’m genuinely unsure which is worse….the fact that the song made me remember Barney & Friends ever existed, or Lyle’s attempt to emote after this thunderingly obvious revelation.
Breakfast the next morning is tense, as Lindsay demands the housekeeper be fired, and Alex (correctly) states that their marriage is a sham, “just two kids playing a game”. When Lindsay storms off to sulk, the awkwardness and ski slope of red flags intensify when a registered letter arrives for Lindsay from McSweeney’s funeral home.
Alex is either the kindest man who has ever lived or the ultimate in brainless himbos, as he hands her the letter without asking questions. Apologies are exchanged for the heated argument, and the couple take the afternoon off to picnic in the country.
When Lindsay gets a mysterious headache that doesn’t need a doctor or medicine or anyone to see where she goes after 10pm, Alex FINALLY catches on to how quickly his marriage is going six feet under. Lindsay is in the bathroom as he is preparing to leave for a family party, and he snoops at the letter from Mcsweeney’s detailing another mysterious “meeting”.
I have no idea why a death cult would send a registered letter, or a member of said death cult would leave the opened letter on their bedside table. The image quality isn’t good enough to see if the post code is stamped “plot device”.
Lyle leaves the party early, and follows Lindsay to the funeral home…..
…..only to find his formerly frigid wife enthusiastically mounting the recently deceased…..
…… and to get quickly stabbed to death by Mcsweeney to keep the cult’s secret safe.
Mcsweeney takes Lindsay home and pumps her full of tranquilizers to keep her calm. Turns out she killed her father all those years ago, in an accident with an unattended gun. The trauma made her ideal man have to be identical to Daddy…..including the part about being deceased.
Mcsweeney brought Alex home to “prepare” him for her, embalming him so he could be hers forever. When Lindsay walks into Alex’s room, she sees Mcsweeney about to make an incision on the corpse, but in her drug addled state she doesn’t realize no one can hurt Alex anymore, given he’s already dead.
She bludgeons Mcsweeney to death with a decorative statue, happy her Alex is safe. She climbs into bed with his corpse, and though her face is tear streaked, she nuzzles next to “Daddy” and smiles as she closes her eyes.
Mary Charlotte Wilcox was right to smile. Somehow both leads of this glorified Very Special Episode about the dangers of necrophilia managed to have careers after this, albeit not in feature films. Lyle Waggoner went on to star in the Wonder Woman television series, and had a long career as a working character actor. Mary Charlotte Wilcox went on to write and perform in popular comedy series SCTV.
Like many things that happened during the 70s, both actors quietly resolved to never speak of Love Me Deadly again. All things considered, it obviously worked out better for everyone to let the dead stay buried.