16*. BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965)

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gigi Darlene

PLOT: Meg awakens beside her young husband, who leaves her alone in their apartment to go to a business meeting. Stepping outside her door to empty the trash, she is assaulted by the building’s janitor, and kills him while he’s trying to rape her. Fearing that no one will believe her story of self-defense, Meg gets on a bus to New York City, where she shacks up with a series of roommates.

Still from Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)

BACKGROUND:

  • Background information about Doris Wishman can be found in the Indecent Desires Canonical entry.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: It’s either the snarling face of a rapist or a woman in her underwear. (Or, I suppose, I random shot of a shoe.) We selected the moment when Gigi Darlene demonstrates her junior-high tumbling skills for her drooling lesbian roommate by crab walking across the apartment floor (in her underwear, of course).

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Drunken belt-whipping; random plants, ashtrays, and feet

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Bad Girls Go to Hell has the visual sensibilities of a drunk and apathetic , the narrative talents of an Ed Wood, and the moral sensibilities of a 42nd Street raincoater; yet, somehow it creates a sense of alienation and dislocation reminiscent of Carnival of Souls .


Original trailer for Bad Girls Go to Hell (mildly NSWF)

COMMENTS: It’s amazing how barren a movie that clocks in at just over an hour, and which features multiple sexual assaults flanking a lesbian sex scene, can feel. One of the things that makes Bad Girls Go to Hell so singular is it’s sense of emptiness. Wishman’s camera finds objects as thrilling as people. The movie is filled with shots of alarm clocks, tree tops, handrails, pigeons, traffic circles, photographs of gorillas pinned to bulletin boards —often during dialogue scenes. At other times, the performers’ heads will be out of frame—also during conversations—and numerous shots focus on feet. (Although Wishman was probably not a foot fetishist—she focuses on feet because the dialogue will be dubbed in later—this imagery nevertheless adds a fetishitsic layer to the film, another onion-skin of weirdness.)

The sparseness of Wishman’s style creates a universe of mundanity, an endless expanse of gray apartments and city streets with the blandness broken only by the erotic—and the sadistic. This world is inhabited largely by rapists, women in lacy underthings, and the feet of the anonymous pedestrians who throng the city. By the title’s logic, our protagonist, Meg, must be a bad girl, because she certainly finds herself in Wishman hell. Like a de Sade heroine, she finds herself betrayed and abused by almost everyone, especially those who initially appear kind. But how is she a “bad girl”? The only sins the movie hints at are that she likes sex, favors sexy underwear, and is stacked. (Sure, she kills a man, but accidentally, in self-defense, and only after her hellish torments have already begun). The movie posits that all desirable, sexual women are “bad,” by nature, a view Meg’s New England Puritan forefathers would endorse. Meg never engages in any nasty or mean-spirited behavior; perhaps her only real sin is that she is a little bit air-headed. Her decisions—to hide her rape, to voluntarily return to her rapist for a second round, to flee Boston for New York City—defy rational logic. But they are perfectly in keeping with the dream logic of Wishman’s Calvinistic scenario of inherent feminine guilt and punishment. Hell is reserved for women—specifically, beautiful, sexually available women.

This worldview invites an ironic reading. One of the strangest parts of the Doris Wishman story is her late discovery by intellectuals and broad-minded cinephiles. Cult movie fans had kept a torch burning for Wishman through the 1980s, and eventually her unique position as a female filmmaker working in the field of sexploitation movies became too inviting for some academics to resist plowing through her works in search of feminist subtexts. It’s probably disingenuous, if not dishonest, to suggest that Wishman consciously addressed any sociological or psychological concerns in her films. Her goal was unambiguously to make a quick buck by playing to male fantasies while risking the minimum amount of capital. Nevertheless, Wishman inevitably directs from a female perspective, empathizing with her heroine, and generating tension from the film’s constant awareness of the danger that a world ruled by men holds for lone females. Although the voyeuristic “male gaze” dominates scenes of languid actresses (more models, really) who spend their afternoons lounging in lacy black body stockings and stripping for an unseen audience, Bad Girls‘ rape scenes always include shots from Meg’s perspective—unflattering portraits of middle aged men, their faces contorted by lust. They appear like mirrors turned on the spectator. Any feminist impulses in the film arise unconsciously, which makes them all the more powerful. Wishman subverts pornography, while staying true to the necessary tropes; a happy accident that, along with the dreamlike presentation, gives product like Bad Girls Go to Hell more depth and texture than is typical for the genre.

When I first conceived the idea of this list way back in 2008, Bad Girls Go to Hell was one of a hundred or so titles I was sure would grace the List of the most noteworthy 366 weird movies. It occupies prime real estate in the hinterlands of odd cinema. It’s a testament to how many truly strange films are out there that, by 2017, Bad Girls had still not been promoted onto the List. With spaces starting to run low, at that time I asked our regular contributors for suggestions of final movies that they felt the List would be incomplete without—ten titles that became recognized as s. Unsurprisingly, Doris Wishman was on someone else’s mind—but somewhat surprisingly, Bad Girls was not. Terri McSorley instead suggested 1968’s Indecent Desires, a more obscure Wishman flick with which I was then unfamiliar. I admit that I was a little disappointed, as I have always has a soft spot for Bad Girls and, as much as I treasure Wishman for her skewed sensibilities, I didn’t think there was any way to justify including two entries for her. Looking back now, Terri was correct: Indecent Desires is Wishman’s strangest film, barely squeezing out Bad Girls Go to Hell. It has all the Wishman hallmarks—indifferent framing, guilty eroticism, displaced sound—plus a nerdy garbage-picking antagonist who uses a ring and a doll to perform sex voodoo on the film’s abused heroine.

Thankfully, it’s now possible, and entirely appropriate, to honor Bad Girls Go to Hell with an “Apocryphally Weird” designation. This film is, if not quite her strangest offering, the prototypical Wishman roughie, the quintessential depiction of her grayscale universe of gorgeous lingerie-clad victims and potted plants. Standing out in this crowd—Wsihman’s career that featured entries like Nude on the Moon, The Amazing Transplant (a Hands of Orlac variant about a man who receives an “organ” transplant from a serial rapist), two secret agent features starring stripper/actress (she of the 73-FF bustline), and the early exploitative transsexual documentary Let Me Die a Woman (1978)—is high praise indeed. Even after the exploitation market, and her career, crashed in the early 80s, Wishman made (largely unseen) movies until she died in 2002. She once claimed she’d continue making movies in hell, but as one of the good girls, we doubt she went there. She’s probably looking down at us right now, smiling from Dildo Heaven.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“… the kind of bad movie that would make a surrealist drool… so bizarre as to be compelling, filmed with an ineptitude so consistent as to constitute a distinct antistyle.”–TV Guide

“Wishman’s bizarre film is almost surreal in style, with the requisite circular ending and aimless photography popular in art-house features of the time.”–Robert Firsching, All Movie Guide

IMDB LINK: Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Bad Girls Go to Hell (1956) | MUBI – The Mubi page on the film has a trailer, links to articles, and comments by bemused cinephiles

Frame Analysis: The Title Sequence for Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) – Michael Betancourt preforms a thorough analysis of the title sequence and how it plays into the film’s themes of voyeurism and violence

BAD GIRLS GO TO HELL (1965)‘s original review for this site

HOME VIDEO INFO: Bad Girls Go to Hell has had several distributors through the years, but now rests comfortably (and appropriately) in the catalog of Something Weird. It’s now available on a double-feature DVD alongside Wishman’s less-weird but still excellent Another Day, Another Man (1966) (buy). The disc includes trailers for both features along with four other Wishman movies and drive-in intermission bumpers (for maximum impact, we recommend watching these in an unbroken sequence; it’s as close to recreating a 1965 sleazepit drive-in experience as you’re likely to find). There’s also a gallery of Wishman posters and promotional art to browse.

Wishman’s films have been inconsistently available on video-on-demand. Curiously, in June Bad Girls Go to Hell showed up on the Criterion Channel (where a blurb explains that “[t]he threadbare production values and largely negligible plot are overcome by Wishman’s arrestingly idiosyncratic visual style and singular commitment to an offbeat vision that borders on the surreal”). We have no idea how long it will stay up; it seems unlikely that it presages a future Criterion investment in Wishman’s catalog, although of course that remains an intriguing possibility.

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