Tag Archives: Paul Bartel

CAPSULE: LUST IN THE DUST (1985)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , Lainie Kazan, Geoffrey Lewis,

PLOT: Gunfighters and dancehall girls converge on the dusty town of Chili Verde in search of buried treasure.

Still from Lust in the Dust (1985)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s not really weird; it’s only the presence of cult icon Divine, matched up with eccentric director Bartel, that makes the movie a curiosity.

COMMENTS: There are a lot of people who love Lust in the Dust, and a lot of people who hate it, and frankly, I can’t completely understand either camp. This light Western spoof looks good considering its low budget, features decent performances by an oddball cast, and breezes by at a brisk 84 minutes. The comedy is often labored, but everyone seems to be working hard to entertain you: the flick earns the same sort of goodwill you’d give a guy at a party who delivers an involved joke that he’s obviously worked hard at memorizing, even though the punchline isn’t that funny. It is easier to understand the position of those who hate it than those who champion it: their reaction probably comes more from disappointment than anything. The idea of Paul Bartel, fresh off the “bad taste” cult hit Eating Raoul, directing Divine in a Western with Lust in the title suggests a raunchy and outrageous movie that never materializes. This movie never rises above the level of “naughty,” and its comic sensibilities are more silly than transgressive. On the other hand, it does have a combination of quirk and competence that keeps it watchable, and one scene that’s nearly a knockout—when Lainie Kazan sings “Let Me Take You South of My Border” using a fresh corpse as a choreography aid. Kazan, as a conniving madame with a bustline and a sneer that both look made for Russ Meyer movies, steals the camp spotlight away from Divine, who is too tame in her role as a wandering lady with a penchant for accidentally crushing men with her thighs. Tab Hunter’s steely-eyed Man With No Name clone (the studly “Abel Wood”—groan) is forgettable, though not as forgettable as Cesar Romero’s kindly Mexican friar. Geoffrey Lewis, on the other hand (he’s one of those “I’m sure I know him—but from where?” actors) impresses as a ruthless but well-educated scripture quoting bandit leading a ridiculously multi-ethnic gang of desperadoes. All in all, Lust is OK, a predictable spoof with some chuckles—a résumé which makes it hard to understand why some people adore it. I suppose the Lust-lovers must all be Divine fans, although this performance (which would have been forgotten if a woman had been cast) is almost conventional by the outré crossdresser’s standards. You do get to see Divine’s rump, however, which I hope was not a clinching factor for anyone.

The title “Lust in the Dust” comes from an unflattering nickname given to David O. Selznick’s steamy 1946 oater Duel in the Sun, which this movie partly parodies.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“[Bartel] seems convinced that simply combining Divine, Kazan and Hunter in the same room will create a fissionable comic mass. Before he shut the door, he should have also thrown in a screenplay.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Keith Stone. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

LIST CANDIDATE: PRIVATE PARTS (1972)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Ayn Ruymen, Lucille Benson, John Ventantonio

PLOT: A sexually curious teenage runaway negotiates the deviant scumbags in her crazy aunt’s creaky boarding house.

Still from Private Parts (1972)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST:  It might make the List thanks to the atmosphere of sleazy psychosexual depravity that’s slathered on thicker than the blue eye shadow teenage Cheryl cakes on to try to make herself look like a woman.

COMMENTS: Private Parts is a haunted  house movie, except that the ghosts bedeviling the heroine are the bizarre, boozy boarders at her aunt’s decrepit hotel, and she’s not nearly as wary of them as she needs to be. This is a movie full of creaking floorboards, turning doorknobs, and unseen men peeping through knotholes in a dusty old hotel. Adding to the atmosphere is a wonderfully overwrought Bernard Hermann-inspired soundtrack that’s with us so constantly that it actually creates tension when it disappears for a moment to allow the characters to speak. Not that what this collection of skid-row oddballs has to say would be particularly reassuring. We have the Reverend, who at one point suggests he should slip out of his clerical vestments into something more comfortable; the spooky old hag who calls young Cheryl “Alice” after a resident who disappeared a long time ago under suspicious circumstances; and there’s the hotelier herself, Aunt Martha, who loves funerals, hates painted women and believes “the body is a prison.” There’s also George, the silent young photographer with the darkroom in the basement and the creepy stare that focuses on pubescent Cheryl whenever she’s in the room. Each of these weirdos has deeper secrets in their closets, which Cheryl will uncover when she starts snooping around their rooms against her Aunt’s orders (hint to future runaways: you should never trust a guy who owns a customized carrying case for his personal syringe). Obviously, this is no place for a naïf like Cheryl, but she’s not oblivious to the degeneracy—she’s actively drawn to it. Curious about sex but totally inexperienced, she enjoys the feel of a grown man’s eyes on her developing body, without understanding the difference between healthy lust and sick perversion. All she knows is, after receiving presents of erotica and spiderweb lingerie from a secret admirer, boys her own age suddenly seem boring. Although the movie sports a body count, the tension comes from hoping Cheryl will somehow escape what seems to be her inevitable seduction and corruption. If IMDB is to be believed, Ayn Ruymen was 25 years old when she played the part, but you may have a hard time believing the actress is a day over 16. Not only does she have an adolescent build, she plays the part with a wonderful mix of innocent naughtiness; she mischievously snoops and pranks the boarders, but still sleeps with a teddy bear and isn’t half as sophisticated as she thinks.  The bits with a bizarre, customizable “blow up” doll are unforgettably creepy. After playing as straight psychohorror through most of the running time, Private Parts takes a strange detour into black comedy territory for the conclusion with the arrival of a couple of ludicrously blasé cops, and throws out a couple of scarcely believable twists at the very end as the weird capper. All told, Private Parts a deliciously depraved debut from oddball Paul Bartel.

Private Parts is a should-be cult movie that’s still searching for its cult forty years after release. For some reason, MGM picked the movie up for distribution, then apparently balked at the pseudo-pedophiliac subject matter and buried the movie. The flick has been consistently overlooked since; those who caught it in its brief theatrical run or stumbled upon its unheralded VHS or DVD releases remember it, but word of mouth has never made it a hit, despite its midnight movie feel and pleasing perversity. Ironically, director Paul Bartel received more exposure making films like Death Race 2000 for (Roger’s brother Gene was producer on Private Parts) than he with this Hollywood debut.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…for pure excess and surreal humor, it’s something of a minor pop art masterpiece; a careful blending of the eccentric and the sleazy, very much akin to other midnight revival mainstays like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and the ’70s films of John Waters, with a wickedly unique take on repressed desire and secret shame.”–Paul Corupe, DVD Verdict (DVD)

(This movie was nominated for review by “Gerby” who called it “a strange one!” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: DEATH RACE 2000 (1975)

DIRECTED BY: Paul Bartel

FEATURING: , Simone Griffeth, Sylvester Stallone, Mary Woronov

PLOT: In the year 2000, five racers competing in the annual Transcontinental Road Race

Still from Death Race 2000 (1975)

must reckon with terrorists, government cover-ups, and each other in their rush to New Los Angeles.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Although it has some moments of intense weirdness, they’re too few and far between; most of the film is just clever futuristic sci-fi whose bizarreness is restrained by its light sense of humor.

COMMENTS: Although, on the surface, Death Race 2000 may look like another dumb ’70s B-movie, trust me: it’s not.  It is pretty schlocky, and occasionally raunchy, but it’s also imbued with the satirical humor and the eye for low-budget artistry that has been a hallmark of Roger Corman productions since the days of The Little Shop of Horror.  Director Paul Bartel (he of the cult classic Eating Raoul) foregrounds the film’s funny streak, so that it plays more like a series of double entendres and anti-authoritarian jokes set against a futuristic backdrop than any kind of straightforward action movie.

The film’s pleasantly dark sense of humor is clear from its absurd central conflict: a band of anti-Death Race terrorists called the Army of the Resistance is sabotaging the racers, but the propaganda-spewing media-industrial complex blames it on the French.  Amidst coverage of the ongoing race (where hitting pedestrians scores points), the film occasionally cuts to the overzealous newscaster Junior Bruce, who’s basically a mouthpiece for Mr. President’s totalitarian government, and to Grace Pander, a proto-Oprah talk show host who describes every racer as “a dear friend of mine.”  Every twist and turn of the race is mythologized by these TV personalities, especially when it regards the film’s hero, Frankenstein (David Carradine).

In Death Race‘s vision of America, Frankenstein is the object of unending hero worship; he’s literally “bigger than Jesus.”  This is the source of extensive satire, as when Junior Bruce enthuses about Frankenstein’s “half a face and half a chest and all the guts in the world,” but it also leads to a surprisingly poignant scene when a girl named Laurie, a member of the St. Louis Frankenstein fan club, sacrifices her life to give him some extra points.  Tucked inside this cheap little dystopian sci-fi-comedy, we’ve got an eerily dead-on allegory about the nature of fandom and celebrity.  Similar treats await the patient viewer, especially in the film’s ideologically over-the-top finale.

Death Race 2000 is what happens when very smart, talented people set out to make a ridiculous movie.  It’s got a hammy Sylvester Stallone as Frankenstein’s arch-nemesis, Machine Gun Joe, but it also has expansive vistas shot by Badlands cinematographer Tak Fujimoto.  It has plenty of bad puns and topless women, but it also comments on the role of violence American society.  Complete with hand-illustrated backdrops and opening credits, this is 1970s cult cinema at its trashy, funny best.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The action setpieces work well, the blood smears look great in high definition, and most of the jokes land. It’s not like the news suddenly stopped caring about sexy, sexy violence in the 35 years since this first hit theaters. What really makes Race such a classic, though, is that Bartel manages to mix ruthless satire, absurdism, and sincerity without ever softening or compromising any of them.”–Zack Handlen, The A.V. Club

This is a condensed version of a longer review entitled “Satire, Americana and the Death Race.” The complete text can be found at Pussy Goes Grrr.