Tag Archives: 1970

CAPSULE: GAS-S-S-S (1970)

AKA Gas! -Or- It Became Necessary to Destroy the World in Order to Save It

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Bob Corff, Elaine Giftos, , Cindy Williams, , (as Tally Coppola)

PLOT: After an experimental gas kills everyone over the age of twenty five, young lovers make their way across the desert looking for a hippie Shangri-La in New Mexico.

Still from Gas-s-s-s (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: More zany than strange, Gas-s-s-s lacks bite as satire and doesn’t go far enough with its crazy to earn a place among the weirdest movies of all time.

COMMENTS: Unlike monster movies, which could be churned out according to a reliable formula, comedy was always an iffy proposition for Roger Corman. When he had a dark, focused script like Little Shop of Horrors, he could produce a classic; but when the screenplay indulged in budget wackiness, as with Creature from the Haunted Sea, the results ranged from tedious to tolerable. Gas-s-s-s falls into the latter category; it’s not actually very funny, but it moves so fast and ranges so wide that it keeps your attention despite the fact that none of the individual gags land.

An appealing young cast (without the usual Corman regulars) helps. It’s not a star-making turn for either, but Bob Corff and Elaine Giftos do well enough as the central couple, he a puckish hippie and she the liberated love child. In his first major speaking role, Ben Vereen is a lot of fun as an ex-Black Panther, and future “Shirley” Cindy Williams (also in her first big part) wrings most of the film’s legitimate giggles from her character, a perpetually pregnant ingenue obsessed with 1960s rock and roll. Working with the legendary Corman, even in a bad picture, was a feather in any young actor’s cap, and Gas-s-s-s is cool credit for Talia Shire and future cult icon Bud Cort, even though both of their characters are underdeveloped and generic. Together, this sextet makes its way across a post-adult landscape where the marauders are organized as football teams (complete with rape-and-pillage pep rallies) and the Hell’s Angels have civilized themselves and taken over an abandoned country club. also rides around on a motorcycle dispensing advice and commentary. The jokes—stuff like calling out the names of cowboy actors instead of firing bullets during a shootout— are too goofy to be called absurdist; the film is almost childlike, as if the survivors are just kids pretending that the world has ended one afternoon. The result is like what might have happened if Mel Brooks had taken the script for The Bed Sitting Room, removed the dark nuclear gags, and filmed the results cheaply and quickly on an off day. I’ll resist the temptation to say Gas-s-s-s stinks; it’s a breezy wisp of a satire.

Gas-s-s-s was the last film in Roger Corman’s groovy “psychedelic” period, which began with Wild Angels and peaked with The Trip. It was also Corman’s final picture for American International Studios; he didn’t have final cut and was upset at the way the picture was edited, including the decision to cut certain scenes involving his God, who spoke with a stereotypical Jewish accent. Corman formed New World Pictures soon after and rarely directed again, serving almost exclusively as producer. Gas-s-s-s was paired on DVD in separate double feature sets with either Corman’s The Trip or the thematically similar Wild in the Streets. In October 2016 Olive released it as a standalone Blu-ray with no special features.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“It’s not a good pic by any means (in fact it’s a terrible plotless ramble of an idiotic film), but it’s probably worth a look for certain curious viewers because it’s so raw, audacious, bizarre and diverting.”–Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews (DVD)

READER RECOMMENDATION: CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (1970)

Reader review by Rafael Moreira

DIRECTED BY:

CAST: Ronald Mlodzik, Jon Lidolt, Tania Zolty

PLOT: Adrian Tripod, director of a dermatological clinic called House of Skin, wanders in search of his mentor, Antoine Rouge, who has mysteriously disappeared after a catastrophic plague related to cosmetic products kills the entire population of sexually mature women.

Still from Crimes of the Future (1970)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Crimes of the Future is chock full of Cronenberg’s characteristic, and characteristically weird, themes of the relationship between the mind and body and their fragilities and possible degradations. What makes it different from his future efforts is that the film’s null budget renders it underproduced, alienated and experimental in ways that both augment its weirdness and undermines its cinematicness. The fact that it is shot silent with a commentary added later only feeds the dreamy, disassociated atmosphere.

COMMENTS: Crimes of the Future was the venerated and singular ‘s second film, made, like his first (Stereo), with minimal resources. Despite being his most inaccessible works, the main surprise is how these early films reflect Cronenberg’s unique, consistent persona and the preoccupations on which he has meditated in his whole oeuvre.

Crimes‘s practically nonexistent budget both limits and enhances its weirdness. On one hand, Cronenberg’s signature ideas are denied full realization, but his way of working around the lack of resources lends the film an utterly abstract presentation. One could describe the movie as a seemingly disconnected succession of scenes of people interacting and behaving strangely in clinical spaces and shadowy corridors, only made meaningful by the somnambulant commentary of Ronald Mlodzik. Another key agent of weirdness is the truly bizarre soundscape that Cronenberg crafted, which, when not silent, consists mostly of indistinct atmospheric sounds and white noise. There are very few moments where the music seems to be in tune with what’s happening on screen, rather than serving as an obscure, sometimes disturbing background ambiance.

The film’s glacial tone and sense of detachment is reminiscent of THX 1138 at times. The audience’s reliance on the commentary by protagonist Adrian Tripod to make sense of the movie’s distant, cryptic images further increases its dreamlike quality. Sometimes, the narration is itself bizarre, as it has to communicate the insular world where Crimes takes places—a world that, while visually familiar, is otherworldly in its character’s strange behaviors, its enigmatic corporations and, of course, the central premise of its sudden defeminization.

The most curious aspect of the experience of watching Crimes is noting how, even under the restrictive budget and obscuring experimental approach, Cronenberg’s defining obsessions of the flesh, body, sexuality, disease, and mutation are all present in full force. If one can get past the film’s impenetrable nature, Tripod’s regular voice-over actually reveals a typically surreal, purely Cronenbergian narrative rich in visceral details. As he journeys through a succession of organizations, the odd individuals he meets all present a form of derangement or peculiarity reflective of Cronenberg’s themes, as each of them adapts to the great change in their own way. For instance, a former colleague of Tripod from the “Institute of Neo-Venereal Disease” has contracted a “creative cancer” from one of his patients, causing his body to continually form a series of organs that are removed in what many have interpreted as a parody of childbirth, while a concierge believes he is developing a root-like antenna from his nostrils as an evolutionary step.

Crimes feels like a sketch of the director’s imagination, fully revealing the sensibility behind his more mellow and professional works, but shadowed by its foggy experimentality and lack of resources. If patient weirdophiles can go with Cronenberg’s pretense of crafting more of a film experiment than a film, they will find it an undeniably interesting, if hard to watch, experience.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… where Stereo was both creepy and austere, Crimes of the Future gives its remarkable characters more room to breathe and, in their own weird way, to play, picking their way around a modernist compound and narrated retroactively by the main character. It is fascinating viewing, and it’s always interesting to note what an acclaimed, spiky filmmaker was doing in his early career.”–Juliette Jones, PopOptiq (DVD)

[Crimes of the Future is included, along with Stereo, as bonus features on Blue Underground’s release of Cronenberg’s Fast Company–ed.]

CAPSULE: GURU THE MAD MONK (1970)

DIRECTED BY: Andy Milligan

FEATURING: Neil Flanagan, Paul Lieber, Judith Israel, Jaqueline Webb

PLOT: A prison colony priest abuses his power and threatens the love of a young couple.

Still from Guru the Mad Monk (1970)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: No comprehensive survey of weird movies would be complete without a passing mention of Andy Milligan, but no such list would be credible if they honored Andy with more than a footnote.

COMMENTS: Michael J. Weldon once said, “If you’re an Andy Milligan fan, there’s no help for you.” I’m not sure Andy Milligan movies have fans, any more than car crashes do. There are only helpless, stunned onlookers.

That said, Guru the Mad Monk is considered one of the trash auteur’s best efforts. It’s helped along by a brisk run time (under an hour, with no fluff) and a berserk plot that incorporates grave robbing, blackmail, torture, a schizophrenic priest with a bowl haircut, a hunchback, and a vampire. At the same time, it has legitimate ambitions towards being a historical Gothic horror indicting hypocrisy in the clergy—although the presence of a vampire kind of undercuts that serious intent. Neil Flanagan, as the corrupt Guru (Guru??), is about as fine an actor as you’ll find in a Milligan movie. He’s got crazy eyes and Shakespearean diction: he slaps his lackey for saying he doesn’t believe in God, tenderly insults his own hunchback, and argues with the demonic spirit possessing him while looking into a mirror and clutching a bouquet of posies. He is one of those competent actors you are sometimes lucky to find reciting ridiculous dialogue while drawing a paycheck in crappy films. (Flanagan later landed guest spots on “The Bob Newhart Show” and “The Jeffersons”). It’s no master class in acting, but with a less confidently hammy villain, this cheapie would be absolute torture.

Speaking of torture, the horrifically poor gore effects are one of the trashy pleasures on display here. As a priest/inquisitor, Guru’s duties include branding reprobates and overseeing the lopping off of hands and the placing nails in eyeballs. If push comes to shove, he’s not above crucifying a henchman. Perhaps sensing this—not to mention the fact that Guru is publicly consorting with a vampire mistress—-the Catholic Church understandably wants to install a less mad monk in the position.  All of this is shot, not on location in the Greek isles, but in a church in Manhattan (traffic noise sometimes intrudes on the scene, and at one point a motorbike is visible in the background). It’s all quite terrible, but rather amazing at the same time. It never lets up long enough to get dull (thus avoiding the beware rating that it might earn if judged solely on its technical merits). In a different time, this thing—essential a home movie with community theater production values—played in actual movie houses!

Guru the Mad Monk is available on DVD by itself, in a triple feature of Milligan movies alongside The Ghastly Ones and The Body Beneath, or as part of the “Pure Terror” 50-film set from Mill creek.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…beneath the tangly plot veneer, this is just a delightfully deranged exploitation movie…  If you’re looking for an entry point into the wild, weird world of Milligan, this is as good as any.”–Brett Gallman, Oh, the Horror! (DVD)

LIST CANDIDATE: BLIND WOMAN’S CURSE (1970)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Teruo Ishii

FEATURING: Meiko Kaji, Hoki Tokuda, Makoto Satô, Tatsumi Hijikata

PLOT: A female yakuza leader blinds an enemy in a sword fight, then years later is hunted by a blind woman seeking revenge.

Still from Blind Woman's Curse (1970)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Blind Woman’s Curse is an odd stir-fry of yakuza, samurai and ghost story genres with psychedelic seasoning. It’s also a good example of how Japanese genre films of the period had every bit of the style and technical prowess of their arthouse competitors like Kurosawa and Ozu, giving it a good outside shot at making the List.

COMMENTS: Teruo Ishii made Blind Woman’s Curse at Nikkatsu Studios only three years after the studio fired for making the “incomprehensible” yakuza pic Branded to Kill. Curse is not quite as bizarre as Suzuki’s notorious film, but it suggests that by this time the studio heads may have lightened up on their aversion to pop-surrealism—as long as the film in question also contained ample bloodshed, tattoo flaying, and a duel between sexy swordswomen. Still, the colorful, hallucinatory carnival sequence in the film’s first act may have raised some suit’s eyebrows: cat women in bikinis crawl on a bamboo roof, an old man fishes doll parts out of a hot wok, and a hunchback hops around while a woman simulates copulation with a dog wrapped in the Japanese flag. Other elements that smear the film with a disreputable weirdness include a blood-licking ghost cat, a thug in a thong, and a topless opium-smoking scene shot from under the floorboards.

But, besides the tangy surrealism, Curse‘s biggest asset is Meiko Kaji (the future Lady Snowblood) in one of her earliest leading lady roles. Kaji only sports one expression in this movie, but it’s a great one: dread wrapped in a mantle of determination. She’s beautiful, graceful, and handles a sword as well as she does a song (she sings the theme song). Kaji has an undeniable presence, and it’s no surprise she went on to cult stardom. She has a male counterpart in Makoto Satô, a wandering mercenary with a taste for justice, but the men are subsidiary here, relegated to subplots or secondary villains. Kaji’s primary antagonist (setting aside the black cat that stalks her) is Hoki Tokuda as the blind swordswoman; her stoic countenance is striking in a very different way from Kaji, making for a mythic contrast in the morally ambiguous final showdown. The incestuous mixing of genres, the arthouse technical skills combined with exploitation sensibilities, and the under-the-radarness make Blind Woman’s Curse a wet dream.

Blind Woman’s Curse was supposedly the third entry in Nikkatsu’s “Rising Dragon” series, although it’s a thematic connection only since the first two entries featured a different actress (Hiroki Ogi) with a different character name. Ishii also directed the first in the series, Rising Dragon’s Iron Flesh (1969).

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Ishii keeps the film straddling the border—quite successfully—between bizarre, surreal horror film and period yakuza tale.”–Chris D., “Gun and Sword: An Encyclopedia of Japanese Gangster Films 1955-1980”

RUSS MEYER’S BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1970)

Purportedly, Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls (1970) was the film felt was his most successful work. It was certainly his most profitable movie, and has the most extensive cult following.

Its origin is well known. Upon learning that Meyer’s Vixen (1968) brought in six million dollars on a budget of seventy-five thousand, Fox Studios signed the director to a three-picture deal, with each budgeted at one million. The studio desperately needed a profitable venture, after the expensive flops Doctor Doolittle (1967) and Hello Dolly (1969). Meyer was assigned scriptwriter to make a spoof of the studio’s Valley Of The Dolls (1967). After Mark Robson’s adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s trash novel had proven to be a surprise hit, Fox was taking no chances, counting on the Dolls name to bring in audiences.

 Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls is only loosely related to its original source, and it was hated by both studio and Susann (who unsuccessfully sued to stop its release, fearing it would harm even her reputation). Fox insisted that Meyer insert a disclaimer, informing viewers that BTVOTD was not related to the Susann original. In hindsight, the studio’s misgivings are puzzling, since the movie is exactly what they ordered: a big budget Russ Meyer flick that became an instant cult phenomenon. While best viewed as a time capsule, BTVOTD is better than the pedestrian film it parodies. Valley Of The Dolls was directed on cruise control. Comparatively,  BTVOTD has the vigor of a tawdry cartoon, supplied by its twenty-seven-year-old scriptwriter and a middle-aged perverted artisan.

Still from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Read), Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers), and Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) are “The Kelly Affair,” a trio of buxom rockers who, in their “Josie and the Pussycats” van, travel from sleepy Texas to the wild and wooly Los Angeles in hopes of success.  At a party, thrown by a bell-bottomed Caligula, the hexagon of singing mammary glands are discovered by the androgynous Z -Man (John Lazar, channeling Phil Spector), who redubs them “The Carrie Nations.”  With their rapid success comes drug addiction, avarice, harlotry, lesbianism, abortion, alcoholism, transsexualism, porn stars, and Nazi orgies.

Visually, the film is a 1970 smorgasbord of primary colors, beautifully captured by cinematographer Fred J. Koenekamp. Accompanying the eye-popping visuals is catchy musical kitsch. The editing, like the plot, is episodic. As in the best of Meyer, the appeal of BTVOTD lies not in its narrative, but in its self-conscious camp. Comparisons to Chuck Jones cartoons are apt (as he would do again in 1975’s Supervixens, Meyer throws in Wile E. Coyote sound effects). BTVOTD hurls the viewer into an unexpected psychedelic, psychotic comic strip of a finale, which still divides the film’s fan base. It is unlike everything that precedes it. The ill-fated Sharon Tate was among Valley of the Dolls’ leads, which makes the nihilistic Charles Manson-styled massacre of BTVOTD a shrewdly tasteless finale worthy of John Waters.

BTVOTD is a celebration of counter culture trash. Despite its excesses, garishness, and plethora of broken taboos, its appeal will be dependent on the audience’s receptiveness to drug-induced soap opera pacing. For some, this is the director at his most accessible. Undoubtedly, BTVOTD is an essential entry in the Russ Meyer oeuvre, but it is debatable as a good starting point.

RUSS MEYERS CHERRY, HARRY & RAQUEL! (1970)

s Cherry, Harry, And Raquel (1970) is a film that achieves a sense of hyper-surrealism through kinetic editing alone. Actually, it may be one of the most bizarrely edited films in the whole of cinema. It opens with scrolling text: a strange preamble about the First Amendment and how constipated religious right wackos are a threat to Freedom of Speech, juxtaposed against images of nudie cuties bouncing up and down on a bed. Naturally, the imagery is intentionally provocative, and there is no doubt that some 1970 evangelical heads exploded when this played the drive-in circuit. Of course, it doesn’t take much to bring out the Pat Robertsons or Donald Trumps, be it boobs or red coffee cups, but Meyer was not about to risk being inoffensive. He not only filled the screen with bouncing udders, but also threw in a “pickle shot” courtesy of actor Charles Napier (in his first Meyer film; from here until 1975 the two collaborated in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes, and Supervixens). Although Napier’s full frontal nudity in Cherry, Harry, and Raquel was brief, it was enough to to earn the movie an “X” certification.

Beyond the hyperbole is an authentically eccentric film that moves like quicksilver. Cherry, Harry & Raquel officially opens with an even more bizarre narration, warning about the evils of potheads and marijuana coming up from Mexico (cue shots of the border patrol and of , as the goddess Soul, tanning on a yacht). The buxom blonde prostitute Raquel (Larissa Ely) is in the desert, cavorting with a dark-haired man. In case we don’t get it, there are numerous shots of a phallic shaped rock. As she is atop her lover, he grabs her breasts, which sharply cuts to an extreme close-up of Harry (Napier) shuffling a deck of cards in a poker game. The gamblers are interrupted by a knock coming from the door. The messenger informs Harry that “the old man” wants him. However, old man Franklin (Frank Bolger) is busy being orally serviced by Raquel (a strategically placed chalice blocks the view, inviting us to imagine what she is doing between the geezer’s legs). The intercuts are switchblade-like, potentially inducing viewer whiplash. Franklin fares worse because his orgasm is interrupted by Harry come-a-knockin’.

Promotional material for Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1970)Harry’s ex-biz partner Apache (John Milo) is muscling in on their monopoly drug racket. Franklin gives Harry the order to waste Apache. Harry takes Raquel with him, which of course leads to sex in the desert, and nobody films makin’ whoopee like Meyers: close-ups of white boots tappin’ the pedal to the metal, phallic rocks, naked girls atop a police car, Soul, wearing only an Indian feather bonnet, embracing more phallic rocks, spinning red sirens, and even a sliver of lezbo action. Don’t expect it to make narrative sense. Just kick back and revel as Meyer’s scissors sculpt his softcore ode to Tex Avery. The only thing missing is a lecherous howlin’ wolf (or, perhaps not).

Harry drops off Raquel, picks up deputy Enrique (Bert Santos) and together the two of them head back to the desert after Apache. After a shoot-out, Harry hooks up with buxom nurse babe Cherry (Linda Ashton), has sex with her, drives her out into the desert and transforms her into a sand castle! As Harry digs out Cherry’s vital parts, the two go at it again. Cue quick cuts of Soul: see Soul exercise in the buff. See Soul shower. See Soul run on a train naked. See Soul mate with a rock penis. See Soul eat celery in her birthday suit. See Soul in the desert, sitting naked atop her car as Harry changes her flat tire. See Soul as a nude telephone operator in the middle of nowhere. The desert lovemaking is one of the most authentically strange vignettes this side of or .

Recovering from that montage, the story proceeds to Cherry giving Franklin a sponge bath, but once again the poor old fella just can’t find completion. He calls Harry: “Send Raquel over for a session. Oh, and kill Enrique too. He knows too much.” Meanwhile, Enrique has sex with Raquel and decides to keep the dope for himself. Raquel snuggles up to Franklin, only to find someone has murdered him in his hospital bed.

As luck would have it, Apache is still alive and kills Enrique, saving Harry the effort. Raquel and Cherry finally consummate their affair while Apache and Harry blow each other apart. Boys will be boys. Girls will be girls.

The narrator returns, assuring there is a lesson in all of this and it has something to do with Soul (and the evils of pot). Of course, no one is going to give a damn about the lesson. If ever a movie was tailor made to go with an entire bag of pizza rolls, Cherry, Harry and Raquel would be it.

JOHN WATERS’ MULTIPLE MANIACS (1970)

Multiple Maniacs (1970) was second feature-length movie (his first was 1969’s Mondo Trasho). Shot in grainy black and white, it lives up to its “Cavalcade Of Perversions” tagline. Even for those familiar with Waters’ early work (and everyone should at least sample one of them), Multiple Maniacs may be considered an extreme challenge. Comparatively, Pink Flamingos (1972), Female Trouble (1974), Desperate Living (1977) and especially Polyester (1981) might be seen as -styled celebrations of white trash.

Shot on a two thousand dollar budget (Pink Flamingos came in at $5,000 and Polyester, $200,000), Multiple Maniacs opens with the camera panning down credits typed out on white paper.

, as a carny broker, introduces us to Lady ‘s “Cavalcade Of Perversions.” As the locals ready themselves in a canvas tent, Lochary, in best tent revival tone, assures us: “This is the show you want: the sleaziest show on earth. Not actors, not imposters, but real, actual filth. These assorted sluts, fags, dykes, and pimps know no bounds. They have committed acts against God and nature that would make any decent person recoil in disgust.”

These are not mere words, and before we can scream “,” we are privy to a woman licking a bicycle seat, a hippie eating a bra, two men licking the hairy armpits of a topless girl, a Human Ashtray, and two-cent choreography of a naked human pyramid that makes us thankful Adam invented the fig leaf.

Mere warm-up acts: “See two actual bearded queers French kissing! See a heroin addict in Fruit of the Looms, writhing among the leaves… Now I give you Lady Divine.”

After Divine robs the audience and killing one of its members (with a pop gun), Lochary, , and gang cruise and dance to Elvis (without permission to use the music, which is one of the reasons Multiple Maniacs has never been made available on DVD and only appeared briefly on VHS). All that 1950s devil music inspires even more hedonism, and soon Lochary and Pearce are doing the nasty, despite the fact that David is Divine’s lover. Enter to spill the beans to Divine in a phone call.

Hell hath no fury like an oversized drag queen scorned, but before Divine can get her hands on the cheating beau, she is accosted by rival queens. Fortunately,  she is consoled by her guardian angel, the Infant of Prague, who takes Lady Divine by the hand and gets her to the church on time.

With blasphemy rivaling L’ Age d’ Or or Viridiana, Divine gets a “rosary job” from on the sacred pews of St. Cecilia, as the narrative literally parallels St. Francis’ “Way Of The Cross.” Perhaps even more blasphemous than Stole inserting prayer beads into anal orifices is future egg-lady Massey as the virgin Mary, meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary. Like before him, Waters actually knows the orthodox dogma he satirizes, which makes the film effective guerrilla heterodoxy. Multiple Maniacs is Waters’ weightiest, most literal, penetrating, and spiritual film (yes, I said that). Divine (she is divine for a reason) delivers a voice-over narrative: a conjoined, meditative, idiosyncratic homily between actor and director, advocating for the societal outcast forever opposed by the smug, suburbanite Pharisees.

Made at the height of the Manson murders, Waters catapults Divine and Stole into the mayhem that had paralyzed American culture in a frenzy of fear. Caught in a perverse, religious fervor, our heroines are ordained as Waters’ SS Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs of the Multiple Maniacs.  Unlike his country, Waters was anything but appalled. Rather, his brand of faith remained lucid and unwavering.

Still from Multiple Maniacs (1970)You can rest assure that neither the kitsch martyrdom of Dick Burton or Vic Mature included being raped and stigmatized by a lobster on a passion play couch. Perhaps that is the reason Moses forbade shellfish, which actually makes sense in a Waters’ universe. If only the hopelessly self-righteous Cecil B. would have been demented enough to know, he might have spared us those 1950s Hollywood Bible epic pornos. However, given 20/20 camp-value hindsight, perhaps it is better that constipated hypocrite wasn’t in on a Waters joke. Multiple Maniacs may just be seen as a healthy response to a sanctimonious Ten Commandments (1956).

SOMETHING WEIRD TRAVELING ROADSHOW FILMS II: DAMAGED GOODS (1961)/THE HARD ROAD (1970)

Today we tend to primarily (or solely) think of “Roadshow” films  as “filler” exploitation films for the pre-television era. However, Wikipedia’s entry on “roadshow releases” is a useful in-depth tool on their history, revealing the initial understanding of the term was as a format, rather than genre. Of course, we’re not interested in “classy” roadshow features like Ben Hur or Cleopatra, but in the sexploitation features that took to the road to show audiences glimpses of forbidden fruit—movies that couldn’t be booked in regular suburban theaters because of their salacious content. The first part of this series dealt with the phenomenon in the repressed Forties; for this installment, we move into the swinging Sixties.

Damaged Goods (1961) introduces us to the archetypal early Sixties couple. They are practically the plot of the Everly boys’ hit “Wake Up Little Susie,” except that she didn’t fall asleep and her name is Judy. Judy’s man meat is Jim, an auto mechanic who likes to take of his shirt while elbow deep in grease. Judy gets lectured by her old man for carousing in one of those nefarious “car clubs.” In addition to listening to the geezer drone on and on and on about how these young whippersnappers are all up to no good, she has to stare at bad parental haircuts and Mormon wallpaper. Poor Judy gets grounded. Jim gets distracted by Kathy, the new brunette in town.

Still from Damaged Goods (1961)Kathy shows more cleavage and leg than Judy. Poor Judy has to leave town, which opens the door to a weekend of sin for Jim and Kathy , which includes roller coasters and forbidden kisses.

Kathy has a penchant for shoplifting, cigarettes, and ménages à trois. Judy likes to iron. Who is Jim going to pick? Choices, choices! A trip to Tantalizing Bubbles, the local strip joint, should take Jim’s mind off things. Well, that didn’t work well, because it takes Jim straight to weenie roasts and beer with Kathy. Lions, tigers, and bears! Oh my! Judy’s out, and Jim’s breaking Biblical taboos with Kathy.

Jim’s got the clap now, and has to endure a Mormon-styled sex education film. He and Judy survive it. We don’t.

The Hard Road (1970) opens with a dizzy migraine of an edit, honing in on newspaper headlines about sex, hair spray, sex, LSD, sex, tripling illegitimate birth rates, sex, deformed babies, sex, heroin, sex, gun-wielding glue sniffers, sex, pot, VD, sex, the drug called speed, sex, Frisco juveniles, and more sex. That all adds up to a hard road. You know things are going to get bad when we become privy to roadshow mise-en-scène via delinquents with Beatles posters in their rooms.

Seventeen-year-old Pam got knocked up, and has to give the bastard Continue reading SOMETHING WEIRD TRAVELING ROADSHOW FILMS II: DAMAGED GOODS (1961)/THE HARD ROAD (1970)

188. EDEN AND AFTER (1970)

L’éden et après

“The curtain falls and the audience applauds a bit, a smattering of polite applause. Then the host of the festival appears, the curtain opens, and he introduces Catherine Jourdan. Thundering applause! I think, ‘Good. It’s going well.’ I walk onstage all dressed up in my tux… Howls of disapproval! I wait for them to quiet down and say, ‘Please note, I’m the director of this film. This young woman has been in many films, but you never noticed her before. If you liked her in this film, perhaps I had something to do with that.'”–Alain Robbe-Grillet, recalling the debut of Eden and After at the Berlin Film Festival

Weirdest!

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Catherine Jourdan, Pierre Zimmer

PLOT: A group of college students take drugs and play games of chance (like Russian roulette) at a cafe called “Eden.” One day, a stranger appears and offers the students a taste of his “fear powder,” which Violette accepts. The man winds up dead, and a valuable cubist painting is missing from Violette’s room; the convoluted trail leads to Tunisia, and to sexual slavery.

Still from Eden and After (1970)
BACKGROUND:

  • This was Alain Robbe-Grillet’s first color film. In an interview he explains that he was offered the opportunity to do 1968’s The Man Who Lies in color but turned it down, partially because it was set in a forest and he did not believe Eastman Color film stock conveyed the color green very well. When he visited Tunisia and found locations with almost no green anywhere in the landscape, he decided that this would be where he would shoot his first color film.
  • Catherine Jourdan was a last minute replacement for another actress who had to drop out when her hair fell out after a botched dye job.
  • In making Eden and After Robbe-Grillet was inspired by the twelve-tone serial music of his friend Pierre Boulez. Instead of a regular plot, he listed twelve recurring “themes” for the movie, which would play off each other in a non-linear way: the story would be “a-narrative” or “a-diagetic” in the same way serial music was “a-tonal.”
  • Robbe-Grillet recut Eden and After, shuffling scenes in a different order, incorporating some unused footage, and adding new narration to make an entirely different (though equally surreal) movie titled N. Took the Dice (N. a pris les dés…—an anagram of L’éden et après). Dice was based on principles of aleatory (randomized) music, and was only shown on French television.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Originally a novelist by trade, Robbe-Grillet was known more for narrative playfulness than for visual imagination. Eden and After‘s sensual beauty and sadomasochistic tableaux marked his progression as a visual artist. This is arguably the director’s most sensuous film, filled with startling images. Nude, leggy French actresses, often victimized, constitute one of the film’s key recurring motifs. The picture of mini-skirted Violette, fetishistically shod in black leather boots, encountering her double in the blank Tunisian desert is a titillating but printable candidate. Perhaps the most unforgettable composition, however, is a shocking view of three dead, bound women posed against Inquisition-style torture equipment, one impaled on a bed of spikes, with blood spattering the white walls. That bloody fantasy is indelible, but perhaps a bit too strong, so officially, we will pick the similar but  tamer scene that Redemption Video selected for its Blu-ray cover (with the nudity cropped out). Three women lie in cages in a white void. Two wear white nightgowns, one is nude; two cages sit on the ground and one is suspended in the air; two wear blindfolds, one covers her eyes with her arm. A lamp, two halves of a wrought iron gate, and a white patio chair furnish the scene. What it signifies is anyone’s guess.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Fairly summarized as “Alice in Wonderland” meets “Justine” meets The Trip, Eden and After is what happens when a dyed-in-the-wool Surrealist (and unrepentant bondage fetishist) makes an acid movie for the collegiate set, composing the experimental script on principles analogous to the serial music of Pierre Boulez. Weird? A tad.


Clip from Eden and After

COMMENTS: You could construct a coherent story from Eden and Continue reading 188. EDEN AND AFTER (1970)

CAPSULE: THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970)

Today also begins what we hope will be a long and fruitful partnership with the Movie and Music Network. M&MN will be providing us with a link for 366 readers to view one free movie from their library each month. They have licensing agreements with Something Weird, Cult Epics, Media Blasters, and the Russian Cinema Council, among others, and they focus on a bizarrely non-mainstream mix of 420-friendly original programming, grindhouse movies, and softcore sleaze that Netflix and friends wouldn’t touch.  The Wizard of Gore is first up: you can watch it for free by clicking here. (Due to insane levels of violence, you must be 18 or older to access this movie, sorry). If you decide to sign up, the service is only $5.99/month (at the time of this writing).

Beware

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ray Sager, Judy Cler, Wayne Ratay

PLOT: Montag the Magnificent operates a grand guignol theatrical act where he appears to chop up female volunteers onstage before viewers’ eyes; they return to their seats unharmed, but then die of the same injuries later that night.

the_wizard_of_gore

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It may be the most psychedelic gore movie H.G. Lewis ever made, but despite its pretensions towards making us question the nature of reality, Wizard really only makes us question our decision to watch a crappy H.G. Lewis gorefest.

COMMENTS: “What is a magician?,” grand guignol showman Montag asks his audience (minutes before decapitating himself with a guillotine). “A person who tears asunder your rules of logic and crumbles your world of reality?” Well, no, that wouldn’t be my first stab at a definition of “magician,” but Montag is on a roll. He goes on to ask his audience “how do you know that at this moment you are not asleep in your bed, dreaming you are in this theater?” This got me to thinking: how do I know I’m sitting on my couch watching a ham actor in an off-the-rack tux act like he thinks he’s performing Shakespeare in the Park after partaking of some serious backstage doobage? “All your life—your past, your rules of what can and cannot be—are part of one long dream from which you are about to awaken, and discover the world as it really is!,” warns Montag. Perhaps reality is a bad H.G. Lewis gore movie, and I am merely dreaming that I’m watching a bad movie, when in fact I will soon awake to find I am living in one? Maybe in reality people’s insides look like pig viscera stuffed into a plaster model and smothered in Heinz ketchup. Maybe when a magician—excuse me, one who tears asunder my rules of logic—gleefully roots around inside the torso of a corpse for five minutes, the amount of blood splashed on his shirtsleeves changes from shot to shot. Perhaps reality is full of abrupt edits, and the background music changes drastically with each cut, and maybe in the world as it really is the sound sometimes drops out, and some people’s dialogue is dubbed in in post-production, while others remain eternally mute.

Actually, the incoherent editing and choppy sound mix adds a surreal edge to what otherwise would be a simple bad movie endurance test. Wizard’s plot exists only as an excuse to string together Montag’s dismemberment sequences, which if you’re counting at home involve a chainsaw, spike through head, drill press through torso, and sword swallowing. “Isn’t there one lady among you who is considerate enough to satisfy her fellow human beings’ lust for blood?,” complains Montag.

Besides its visceral concerns, Wizard also has philosophical issues on its mind, although they are admittedly limited to the “dude, what if your whole life up to right now has just been one long dream?” sort of rumination. There’s a ridiculous “twist” ending to prove the movie’s solipsistic point, and Wizard‘s take on metaphysics is every bit as credible as its grasp of anatomy. ”You fool, what makes you think you know what reality is?” Montag proclaims. I admit, I can’t prove I should necessarily trust the evidence of my senses, but I do know this: I’m bored, therefore I am (watching an H.G. Lewis move).

You want to know what’s really terrifying about The Wizard of Gore? It’s not the rivers of gooey red blood; it’s the orange couches and purple sports coats. Sadly, we have become immune to the kind of violent shocks Lewis was trying to create in 1970. The butchery of our fellow humans seems quaint and laughable, while the early 70s fashion sense is what horrifies us.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…a sleazy, surreal treat.”—Bill Gibron, Pop Matters (essay)

Don’t believe The Wizard of Gore is as bad as we say? Decide for yourself by watching it for free.