I’m not sure what I was expecting when I finally got around to watching this “must see classic” of trash/psychotronic culture. Obviously, having read about it in a thousand cult movie guides, I was expecting the constant presence of sex and violence that is Tura Satana and the satirical sleaze of Russ Meyer’s oeuvre, of which this film delivers in spades. But I wasn’t prepared for what else was lurking under the tight top of this juggernaut of a cinematic experience.
The bombastic usage of language caught me by surprise, with the opening line of “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence; the word and the act” being urgently and earnestly belted out by John Furlong hidden behind a psychedelic visualisation of the audio output. The 137 words of the speedball overture grabs you by the throat and demands you pay serious attention, crafting a vivid atmosphere that the opening sequences then proved weren’t idle threats. It was part speech, part manifesto, and made it clear thought had been put into what was about to transpire.
The quality of the writing continued throughout, in a manner that carried a level of Shakespearean efficacy. There were intricately woven lines that could be read in any number of manners, not just as unrelenting inuendo (this is, if nothing else, a befittingly thirsty film). There were monologues, building characters, adding depth to the world, and giving the cast a chance to show off their varying levels of acting talents. And there was the unnerving reveal of what can only be described as one of the most intentionally fucked up situations I’ve come across in films of this era, delivered with pathos and a gritty emotional realism.
Probably even more controversially, there was the constant spectre of feminism making its presence felt at all points of the film. Obviously not your regular kind, even “for it’s time”, but certainly something that showed an appreciation for women beyond their ever-present sexual form. The three main characters are villains who are women determined to live independent lives away from the attempts of men to restrain them. The instigating incident involves a woman beating a man through a fair challenge of skills, rather than using feminine wiles to cheat the win. The women actively seek sex as a source of pleasure and enjoyment, whilst maintaining their own agency. And, finally, the central, fucked up, situation is the result of toxic masculinity and patriarchal oppression left unchecked. Even what first appear as an inaccurate depiction of disability is more a comment on the dangers of conditioning, and the means to break from it’s chains.
Heady, intellectual, and emotive stuff. But none of that gets in the way of Tura Satana, Haji and Lori Williams belting around the California desert doing crime whilst being incredibly busty. It also doesn’t get in the way of almost non-stop action, some incredible double-crossing, and Susan Bernard getting her teeth into the role of innocent-to-avenger Linda. Nothing gets in the way of this films determination to be constantly on the go, and always increasing the tensions (both dramatic and sexual). It is mercifully 83 minutes long, as any more would be fatally exhausting for the average viewer.
For those who are worried that this is just fast action and loud noises; please be assured that there is an incredibly well constructed crime story being told here. Admittedly a lot of the individual lines are shouted rather than spoken, but that works its own magic. Tura Satana is especially guilty of this, but it works in her favour as it gives her character a level of immediacy and vitality; and I can’t help but think that if a man were to play it that way they would just be considered bold and energetic. It’s also obviously low-budget, but with the money saved in just the right places and with enough internal consistency to add to the motif rather than drag you from the moment.
As It’s unapologetically loud, brash, and over-excited there is the chance that it just won’t gel with every viewer. You are either going to click with it in the first 5 minutes or find it’s exaggerated overload off-putting. It also makes heavy use of coding from 70 years ago, so those without an insight into the era are likely to get lost on some of the subtext. There is also the simple reservation that you might not enjoy sexploitation and crime, no matter how well done.
For those that dig it, daddy-o, it’s a pure joy with no time to get boring or boorish. It knows, unrepentantly, what it’s out to do and it throws down the gauntlet for you to try and keep up. It is still an absolute Treasure of a film, that many makers of fun-and-sleazy cinema desperately need to take notes from. It gets the tone just right, never overstepping into gratuitous but always teasing with the promise of the forbidden and that little bit more.
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