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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Zombie Nightmares

Of all the genres in horror, the one that consistently offers the most rollickingly bad movies has got to be zombie cinema. Why is that, do you suppose? Well, they're usually made on extremely low budgets; the performers in the zombie makeups could hardly be called "actors"; and they're often Italian films hilariously dubbed into English stateside. But there are other countries to whom the bony finger can be extended as well. Let's take a look at some of them...

1. City of the Walking Dead (1980). Neopolitan director Umberto Lenzi, who cut his teeth (ha!) with the notorious Eaten Alive and Cannibal Ferox, worked with the real living dead in this goofy flick. The plot: an unmarked aircraft roars unannounced into an airport, and security officers surround it.

Unfortunately, all the passengers have been poisoned by the trademark mysterious movie radiation and have been transformed into crazed, flesh-consuming killers. They spill out onto the tarmac, attacking and killing the cops. This film should really be called City of the Running Dead, because it was made 20 years before Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and its sprinting killers.

But "walking dead" is a misnomer, too, because these folks are still alive, just irradiated and hungry for human flesh. And something about the radiation process has caused them to go to health spas for mud packs. Or maybe they put the mud on themselves to soothe their scorching skin?

At any rate, this goofy movie is about a reporter trying to save himself and his wife as the creatures run from location to location, slaughtering all the way. And American actor Mel Ferrer (looking for a paycheck) pops up as an army general who wants to keep the apocalypse under wraps to prevent the populace from panicking. Now, how can you cover it up when the killers...er, zombies...er, whatever they are...keep racing from place to place and killing people?

As you can tell by this bare-bones plot, it really is a bare-bones film. It tries to get serious by touching on such deep subjects as governmental cover-ups and the rape of the environment, but it's just too damn goofy to make a serious statement about either.

My favorite scene involves the creatures invading a television studio where girls are inexplicably dancing in spandex outfits, only to slab, slice and otherwise mow them down. Whoo-hoo! Down with Disco! And Lenzi doesn't even know how to end the film—the reporter wakes up in bed with his wife safely beside him and realizes he's dreamt everything. He heads off to the airport to get the scoop on the unmarked plane. The plane's doors open, the creeps rush out, and hey! We've started over again!

Too light and disappointing on its own, I recommend that City of the Walking Dead be viewed with another goofy zombie movie for a full evening of quality trash entertainment.

2. Porno Holocaust (1981). Another prolific Italian director, Joe D'Amato (aka Aristide Massacessi) worked in both the horror and hardcore porn genres. He must've thought, "What two great tastes would taste great together?" and launched—yes—the zombie porn genre.

One of his most hilariously titled messes has got to be Porno Holocaust (1981). Just like the above-described film, the plot is super-simple: A group of scientists travel to a mysterious island where they discover a zombie king with a gigantic penis. This well-hung zombie kills all the men and rapes all of the females (also murdering them with his enormous phallus). The female lead is kidnapped by the monster, but is rescued by the last surviving male. And that's it.

I really don't understand what kind of audience D'Amato was hoping to attract by combining these two genres. I'm sure there are kinksters out there who get excited about the idea of zombie sex, but certainly not that many (I hope). Thanks to Google, I just watched a couple of sample sex scenes from the film featuring coupling on the beach, and they're about as exciting as open-heart surgery. The soundtrack is a combination of cheesy sci-fi music and jungle sounds, and the actors go about their business like they're riding the subway to work on Monday. The picture is also rather racist, since the scientists are all white and the "primitive people" they're studying—and the zombie king himself—are darker.

Another zombie-porn combo film has an even more hilarious title—Erotic Orgasm. Not only does it not even mention zombies, it suggests something that I'd assume is a given. I mean—are there also not particularly thrilling orgasms? Maybe there are.

3. Dr. Butcher, M.D. (Medical Deviant). Originally titled Zombie Holocaust, this is the opportunistic U.S. title of another Italian mishmash of genres. Released a scant year after Fulci's bizarrely wonderful Zombie, Dr. Butcher also stars Zombie's leading man, Ian McCullough. The hitch is that there are both zombies and cannibals in this schizophrenic film.

McCullough plays a New York doctor who is investigating the mysterious disappearance of limbs from corpses in the city's morgues. His investigation leads him to an Indonesian island inhabited by a cannibal tribe. See? The plot sounded exactly like Zombie until we got to the cannibals, didn't it? There's also a seemingly kindly doctor (like Zombie) on the island who is actually performing sinister experiments on the natives.

The cannibals are front and center for the most part, chowing down on the cast, and when the real undead finally do show up, they scare away the cannibals!

Huh? What the... This film is really a throwback to Make Them Die Slowly and Man from Deep River. The zombie scenes seem to have been arbitrarily added to remind viewers of Fulci's more successful film. In fact, I'm sure that's exactly what happened. The producers were almost finished with their ten-day shoot and the moneymen called up and said, "Hey! Fulci's film is a goldmine! Add zombies!" And stir.

The U.S. release, with the Dr. Butcher title, confusingly adds a prologue with a completely mismatched zombie rising from a grave that has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the proceedings.

4. Zombie Nightmare. Let's head over to Canada for a Great White North slice of cheese starring Jon Mikl Thor, the bodybuilder and heavy metal rocker who fronts the imaginatively-titled band Thor and starred as the zombie in this 1986 opus.

Whether the zombie causes nightmares or is having nightmares himself is never explained, but Thor plays a hunky baseball player who is run down by a gang of teenage thugs, only to be resurrected by a handy voodoo priestess. He then lumbers off to wreak revenge on the gang.

Man, is this movie lame. It moves along at a snail's pace, the effects are sub-par, the killings aren't particularly interesting, and the actors are truly obnoxious. "Batman" himself, Adam West, plays a police captain who doesn't really give a shit even as the bodies start turning up, and future director of forgettable films Shawn Levy (The Pink Panther remake, Night at the Museum, Cheaper By the Dozen, all of which I have not seen) plays the douchebag leader of the teenage gang. With his feathered hair and skintight '80s jeans, he's just begging to be punched.

Rightly ripped to shreds by Mystery Science Theater 3000, it's the MST-d version of Zombie Nightmare that I would recommend watching. I can't imagine having to endure this vacuous, unimaginative cheesefest without Mike, the 'Bots and their colorful commentary.

There's a traumatic scene in a gym featuring a pale, skinny guy and his girlfriend. They get into a hot tub, and the guy is wearing tiny, tiny white underwear. When the zombie attacks, he jumps out of the tub and runs toward the camera in his skimpy, white, wet shorts. It still makes me shiver to think of it. And it's one of those movies in which the zombie can catch up to—and overpower —the victims who always seem to be moving much faster than him.

It seems that lovers of '80s metal hold the soundtrack in high regard, but not being one of them, I thought all the songs sounded the same. The following year Thor appeared in Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare, which involves—what else?—heavy metal and demonic possession. The MST3K gang didn't get around to it, but as represented by the still shown here, it looks like that movie was also ripe for the plucking.

5. I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain (1998). Let's wrap this up with an English film that's not a laff riot, but a really intriguing study of a poor student who has to deal with the day-to-day reality of becoming a zombie.

David (Dean Sipling) is a PhD candidate who goes into the woods to collect some samples, and comes upon a nasty-looking woman in pain in a tumbledown house. Hoping to help her, he tries to take her to hospital, but she rips into his throat. He staggers into the woods, gradually losing focus until he doesn't comprehend what's happening to him.

Regaining understanding, David starts to chronicle his journey into zombiehood with written journals and a tape recorder. He'd been living with his fiance, but he suddenly disappears from her life because he doesn't want her to see what he's becoming. As the film's title explicitly describes, it's a day-to-day account of his metamorphosis. And though the budget is minuscule, writer-director Andrew Parkinson did a pretty good job with both the angst and gore effects.

Armed with a bottle of chloroform, David goes out in search of victims, eating their flesh and then disposing of the remains matter-of-factly. After devouring parts of one of them, he lights up a cigarette. Isn't that what some people do after a good meal? And the sequences showing David attempting to rebuild his deteriorating body with screws and pieces of metal—as well as a scene I won't mention here—but will make guys groan in horror, are well-realized.

It's such a melancholy film. Parkinson cross-cuts dream sequences, flashbacks and interview clips with David's fiance (Ellen Softley) and her new boyfriend (Giles Aspin) to give a well-rounded portrait of who he was before he became a monster.

There are also false flashbacks and hallucinations to not only keep us guessing but also to remind us that as his exterior flesh is rotting, surely his internal organs (like his brain) are also deteriorating,

The budget, deliberate pace and (intentional) banality may be off-putting for some viewers, but it's a really interesting approach in the cinema of the undead. And the final sequence, in which the completely rotted David lies weakly in his bed and recalls snapshots from his youth, is incredible.

And still he's not dead. The nightmare will never end.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Remembering Dave Friedman

Hot on the heels of the death of Tura Satana came the sad news that we'd lost another important cult figure—exploitation film producer/distributor David F. Friedman, one of the last links to this distinctly American motion picture genre. Part filmmaker, part carnival barker, he specialized in selling "the sizzle, not the steak," and his enthusiasm for showmanship and seeing what he could get away with colored his entire career.

When he was a child, he and his father, a reporter for The Birmingham News and a circus expert, visited the small traveling carnivals of Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama, igniting his passion. As a result, he was "with the show" from an early age.

While he was serving in the army, he met Kroger Babb, a pioneer in the exploitation field, whose most famous film is the 1945 Mom and Dad, a low-budget opus about the travails of an unwed mother. Strictly in Reefer Madness territory, Babb spiced the movie up with separate screenings for men and women, an in-person "sex hygiene expert," Elliott Forbes hawking hygiene pamphlets (an excuse to sell nude photos to aroused audiences) and actual baby birthing footage. He successfully toured the film around the country for decades.

After the war, Friedman worked briefly for Paramount Pictures as a local marketing representative and one of his major projects, ironically, was the promotion of Cecil B. DeMille's Greatest Show on Earth (1952). However, the sawdust and greasepaint beckoned, and he soon found himself back on Babb's doorstep, helping him to sell Mom and Dad, along with other exploitation titles, for the next few years.

In those much-more-innocent days, Babb was one of a group of exploitation distributors who practiced "four-walling," a technique that eliminated the need for a seal of approval from the MPAA. They'd go into a small town, rent a theater for a week (or a night!) and promise the local populace sights of nudity, sleaze and debauchery that their films seldom—if ever—delivered. After the show, they were often to be found racing for the state line in the middle of the night with their ill-gotten cash, leaving behind angry audiences and even angrier authorities who realized they'd been "had."

Friedman loved the idea of the game, but unlike the other exploitationeers (who he dubbed "the forty thieves"), he stayed on the right side of the law, correctly figuring that if he burned customers with garbage films and empty promises, he'd soon run out of towns to exhibit in. Friedman himself said that when audiences weren't satisfied by the skin on display in the main feature, the projectionist would quickly thread up a "square-up" reel, giving them the "pickle and beaver" shots they'd come to see. These were silent, 20-minute reels with grainy scenes culled from ancient porno films, but they usually did the trick.

Friedman also led the way for the foreign film boom of the 1950s, which saw audiences flocking to subtitled movies in search of more "adult" entertainment. Babb and Friedman decided that rural America would enjoy the brief glimpses of nudity and sexual implications in Ingmar Bergman's 1953 Monika, so they picked it up for domestic distribution. Cutting out all the Swedish dreariness but preserving all the hot stuff, they subtitled it "The Story of a Bad Girl," and it was a smash.

Friedman met Herschell Gordon Lewis in 1959 while he was selling his first film, The Prime Time (with Karen Black!). They formed a partnership and started making "nudie cuties" like Boi-i-ing! and The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. Nudie cuties were an outgrowth of the nudist camp films that the Supreme Court had recently ruled legal for exhibition. No physical interaction or lower body frontal nudity was permitted, however, so they were really the cinematic equivalent of "Playboy" centerfolds at the time.

The genre became repetitive and tiresome, though, and their next step was to virtually invent the splatter genre with Blood Feast in 1963. It was a huge hit, especially in the South, where it played drive-ins for years. After a couple more gore films, Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red, they parted company, and Friedman began to make films in the "roughie" genre, including The Defilers and A Smell of Honey, A Swallow of Brine. Roughies combined nudity with violence, bringing the exploitation genre one step closer to softcore...and eventually full-on hardcore sex.

Friedman made She Freak in 1967, which was both a remake of Tod Browning's 1932 Freaks and a loving behind-the-scenes glimpse of the traveling carnivals he loved. The sexploitation genre kicked into high gear in the late 1960s, though, and that's when he made some of his most playful—and playfully monikered—films. Space Thing, Starlet! and Trader Hornee are the most memorable titles. In keeping with Friedman's carny background, their trailers are full of hilarious hyperbolic narration (written by the man himself) and are far more entertaining to watch than the films themselves:


Trader Hornee

Friedman often appeared in these films in playful cameos. He definitely stayed behind the scenes, however, when he produced the notorious Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S., filmed on the sets of the "Hogan's Heroes" television show! This near-porn torture-fest was the sleaziest project he'd been involved in up to that time, which is probably why he chose to hide behind a pseudonym.

The porno chic genre arrived in 1972 with Deep Throat, a film that drew married suburban couples to theaters to get their first glimpse of full-on sex, and sexploitation was dead as a doornail. Friedman reluctantly produced a few hardcore projects, but it just wasn't any fun for him, and he retired in the mid-1980s.

A revival was just around the corner, though—the home video craze of the 80s brought his movies—mostly the Lewis gore collaborations—to a new audience. I remember going into Budget Video on Highland Avenue in Hollywood in 1984 where patrons were watching a laserdisc version of Blood Feast and admiring the deep color and exceptional picture quality. I have to admit it did look great!

Mike Vraney's Something Weird Video began re-releasing a much more complete catalogue of his work in the early 1990s, bringing back the notoriety he loved. With the advent of DVD, he worked on many of the films' commentary tracks. Something Weird offers a special edition of a 1948 VD scare film (and Mom and Dad ripoff), Because of Eve, in which Friedman himself re-enacts the book pitch as "noted hygiene commentator" Alexander Leeds during the intermission. Now that's a must-have!

And in 1998 he published the autobiography I mentioned earlier, "A Youth in Babylon," which tells not only his story but those of the exploitation pioneers he'd had the opportunity to meet over the years. The tales he spins (and embellishes, I'm sure) are just fascinating, and I waited for years for the promised sequel, which sadly never materialized.

Friedman appeared in some documentaries about the exploitation field, two of which, Mau Mau Sex Sex, with fellow huckster Dan Sonney, and Schlock! The Secret History of American Movies, both from 2001, are quite entertaining. He's credited as executive producer for Lewis' Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002), which I have yet to see. According to The New York Times' obituary, he'd been blind and deaf for the ten years leading up to his death. Poor guy.

Interestingly, Friedman was born on Christmas Eve and passed away on Valentine's Day. If he'd known that was going to be his fate, I'm sure he'd have figured out a way to market it:

"Special holiday show! One night only!"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Alien Women

ANNOUNCEMENT: Next post is the big 100. Thanks to all my regular readers!

Since women scare men anyway, it's only natural that there would be a lot of sci-fi movies in which the creature or otherworldly being is a female. Let's take a look at some of the stranger ones.

One of the most intriguing (and most frustrating) films I saw at the drive-in was Curtis Harrington's Queen of Blood (1966), starring John Saxon, Dennis Hopper and the unforgettable Florence Marly.

The distributing company, American International, had picked up an earlier Russian space film with spectacular (for the time) special effects, and Harrington was ordered to incorporate as much footage from it as possible into his movie. As a result, it's a frustratingly heavily-padded movie whose intriguing central story would make a good "Twilight Zone" episode.

After aliens contact Earth to inform the population of an impending visit, their ambassador spaceship crashes on Mars. American astronaut rescuers find only one survivor on board (Marly)—a female with green skin, a Dairy Queen ice cream cone hairdo and a lust for human blood. The male astronauts are intrigued by their green guest, while the lone female astronaut, Laura (Judi Meredith) is suspicious, particularly since the alien woman—who is completely mute–reacts with disgust whenever she's nearby.

Hopper's character in particular is drawn to her, so of course he's the first to go. The surviving astronauts realize they must protect themselves from her while assuring that she's brought to earth safely for experimentation.

She can hypnotize the males, but not Laura. When this All-American woman catches the alien feeding on Brenner (John Saxon), a girlfight ensues, and the green lady is scratched.

Later, Laura and Brenner find her dead in a pool of green blood. They realize that she was a hemophiliac and was not able to clot after the scratch. She gets the last laugh, though—when they get back to earth and technicians start to search the ship, they find that the alien had lain glowing, throbbing red-green eggs all over the place.

Marly's creature is great. Having no dialogue, her facial expressions, and the way her eyes are illuminated when she hypnotizes her victims, are quite memorable. But it really feels like about 30 minutes of the 81-minute film are filler: Rathbone speechifying, clips from the Russian film and long sequences of the astronauts walking around their training grounds and blathering. You can always do what I did—I recorded it from a cable broadcast, digitized it on my computer and made my own cut, which I burned to DVD. I think it runs about 45 minutes.

From England came Devil Girl from Mars (1954), a really low-budget sci-fier whose main interest (besides the great title) is the fact that it came from the U.K. at a time when its fantastic film industry was focused more on the Hammer remakes of classics horrors like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Patricia Laffan stars as the martian Nyah, a cross between Darth Vadar and a dominatrix, who lands in on earth to round up men to repopulate her planet. Since it's based on a play (yes, really!), there's a who-o-o-le lot of talking and not a lot of action, but if you're fond of home country color with a bit of cheesy sci-fi thrown in, it might be right up your alley.

Some couples are staying at a little inn in the Scottish moors when Nyah struts in and states her purpose. Why such an out-of-the-way place to harvest men, you may ask? Her ship was damaged upon entry into the earth's atmosphere, so she had to redirect from her original destination of the heart of London to the middle of nowhere. And instead of clamoring to get into Nyah's ship, the men resist her plans because they don't like—ahem—powerful women.

What little action the film has is buried by heaps and heaps of dialogue, but its most hilarious aspect is Nyah's robot (pictured here). Intended to induce the same kind of fear Gort generated in the classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), this one is just hilarious.

Also of note are early appearances by genre stars Hazel Court (Masque of the Red Death) and Adrienne Corri (Vampire Circus), but this is another one that needs to be loaded on the computer and edited down into a highlight reel.

Another alien-woman-comes-to-earth film is The Astounding She-Monster (1957). It's super-cheap, restricted to just a few sets, and basically the same action happens several times: alien comes into cabin, earthlings run out and go to the jeep. Alien confronts them on the road, earthlings rush back to the cabin.

There's no synchronized dialogue during the outdoor scenes (they were probably shot MOS), so a loudmouthed narrator keeps advancing the plot along. The She-Monster (Shirley Kilpatrick) isn't terribly astounding—she looks like someone who got a Divine makeover while wearing a body stocking.

It's rumored that Kilpatrick was actually a younger, thinner Shirley Stoler, who attained cult status with films like The Honeymoon Killers, Seven Beauties and Frankenhooker. Frankly, it does kind of look like her!

It is also rumored that Ed Wood had a hand or two in the making of this film, and the dialogue certainly sounds like it could have issued from his Remington typewriter. Monster's director, Ronnie Ashcroft, worked with Wood on Night of the Ghouls. And Kenne Duncan, one of Wood's stock players, has a leading role. Even the trailer makes it look like an Ed Wood film. Hmm...



Finally, let's take a look at a shoulda-coulda-woulda-been. Tobe Hooper, whose career has been revived more frequently than Zsa Zsa Gabor (sorry) got a cash infusion from Cannon Films in 1985 to make three films—Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2—and they all stink!

The plot of Lifeforce sounds great: batlike creatures and three humanoids emerge from the tail of Halley's Comet and transform most of the population of London into zombies. Plus, the lead alien (Mathilda May) who's responsible for the outbreak is frequently naked, for those who are interested. As a matter of fact, most of the positive reviews on IMDB are from fanboys who've become human tripods because of the nudity.

Well, it's not. The movie is a mess. As a matter of fact, it makes no sense at all. I've tried to watch it at least three times and have just been worn out by all the frantic goings-on. It's like Hooper, four years after his estimable triumph with Poltergeist and 12 years after Texas Chainsaw, is trying to prove how relevant he still is. I really, really wanted to enjoy Lifeforce, but there comes a time in every wrongheaded film when the viewer's brain becomes unplugged and enthusiasm deflates. That happens to me every time.

Invaders from Mars, despite the promising casting of Karen Black, who plays a school nurse helping the kid (her real-life son, Hunter Carson) who suspects his parents have "changed." The only memorable scene in this film that I can recall involves Louise Fletcher, as a teacher who's been invaded, gulping a live mouse down her gullet.

So what's my favorite female alien movie? Well, for sheer entertainment value, I'd have to go with Plan 9 from Outer Space. Even though Vampira looks like...well, Vampira...she's supposed to be an alien. And from the cardboard gravestones to the spaceship's shower curtain door, man—it's so funny.

Criswell: "Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future. You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing to you, the full story of what happened on that fateful day. We are bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony, of the miserable souls, who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, the places.

"My friend, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us punish the guilty. Let us reward the innocent. My friend, can your heart stand the shocking facts of grave robbers from outer space?"

Oh, and Hunter Carson was the original Bud Bundy in the unaired pilot for "Married with Children."

Monday, February 7, 2011

We've Lost a "Pussycat"

It's my sad duty to report that one of the brightest stars of Weird Movie Village, Tura Satana, has passed on. She was 72 years old, and her manager claims that she died of heart failure. The lady may be gone, but the legend will always live on.

She was born in Japan in 1938, and her background is as colorful as you'd expect. Her father was a silent film star of Japanese and Filipino descent, and her mother was a circus performer with Cheyenne and Scots-Irish blood, which accounts for her wonderfully exotic look.

She was gang-raped at age nine, but the judge was bribed and the assailants were all released. However, she insisted to Psychotronic magazine in 1992 that she got revenge on all of them (shades of I Spit on Your Grave!). By the time she was 13, she was the leader of a girl gang. "We had leather motorcycle jackets, jeans, and we kicked butt," she said.

Her endowments arrived early, so she came to Los Angeles with a fake I.D. in 1951 and posed nude for silent film star Harold Lloyd (he didn't know she was underage), who encouraged her to pursue a career in the movies. Unfortunately, she contracted make-up poisoning and was forced to return to her parents in Chicago, where she started a career as a stripper. Nevertheless, she always credited Lloyd as the person who gave her the confidence to follow her show business dreams and a return to Hollywood was inevitable.

She did bits in lots of television shows, including Hawaiian Eye, Burke's Law, The Greatest Show on Earth and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Although she only made a handful of films, she will always be remembered for the best one—Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Directed by adult film maven Russ Meyer in 1966, it's a smart, sharp, professionally shot and edited "ode to the violence in women."

Tura plays Varla, leader of a gang of tough, wild strippers who race off into the Mojave desert in their Karrman Ghias in search of kicks. They find a young couple and decide to play games with them. Varla challenges the boy to a race. When he loses, she snaps his spine like a twig! They kidnap the girlfriend and continue on their violent way.

Next they encounter a desert-dwelling family consisting of an elderly father and two sons, one of whom is muscle-bound but simple-minded. Billie (Lori Williams), the "femme" of the group, is drawn to the handsome lunk, infuriating her sometime girlfriend Rosie (Haji). Varla has other things in mind, though: she's sure that the old man is loaded and schemes to get her hands on that "long green." Of course, violence and conflict ensue.

John Waters has said that Faster, Pussycat! is his favorite film, and it's easy to see why. The editing is kinetic, the dialogue is like Tennessee Williams on steroids, and Tura is truly a sight to behold in her skin-tight leather outfit and enormous rack. If Divine had been thinner, he certainly could have played the tough-as-nails role of Varla, which would have put an interesting spin on things. And the outrageous dialogue is definitely Waters-style.

I love this movie, too. From the audacious opening in which the narrator leeringly warns us that women are dangerous to the climax in which Varla tries to kill the lunk with her car, it's just celluloid dynamite. Check out the opening. It tells you all you need to know about the next 76 minutes:



The dance sequence with the sleazy, smelly-looking guys yelling, "Go, go! Wail! Harder, faster!" is outrageous. And the Pussycats love it—they're responding in as masculine a manner as their audience is. Made just three years after the publishing of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique," it's truly a film about female empowerment—even though the empowerment relies on treachery and murder.

Tura also did Astro-Zombies (1968) and The Doll Squad (1974) for famed schlockmeister Ted V. Mikels (who deserves a post of his own), but ironically married a retired Los Angeles cop in 1981 and seemed to drop out of sight. According to Psychotronic, she was happily retired, aside from appearing as an interviewee for an episode of Great Britain's Incredibly Strange Film Show about Mikels in 1988.

Tura's husband died in 2000, and I think that's when she did the thing that was most familiar and comfortable to her...hitting the road. I think—and hope— that Tura was pleased and surprised at how well-remembered and idolized she was.

I met Tura and the other Pussycats in 2001 at an autograph show in Los Angeles. See the picture at the top of this page? They were all having a great time, basking in their cult status. Of course, I was floored, seeing all three Pussycats at the same time. Check out Tura's inscription to me. "I don't try anything. I just do it!"

In addition to the photo, I bought a Faster, Pussycat t-shirt from them, which they also offered to sign, but I wanted to wear it, so I declined. Now I'm sorry I did.

The last time I saw Tura, she was posing for photos and signing autographs at Comic-Con 2008. She was still happily exhibiting her rack and having fun. Wish I'd stopped to talk to her.

Have a good trip, Tura. And kick some angel butt while you're up there!

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