Faster, pussycat!

By David Sturm, Copyright © 1996


Trash. Sleaze. Vulgarity. Titillation. Schlock.

All right!

Don't get me wrong. I genuflect to the altar of film art, but there's something robustly American about the exploitation movie. This is film as pure pop commodity, often cashing in on a prurience or paranoia that has long since become quaint. Michael Weldon coined the memorable term "Psychotronic" for this aesthetic.

The first two of our Magnificent Seven of Schlock are the legendary anti-pot features from 1936, "Marihuana" and "Reefer Madness." Nice kids turn into depraved maniacs who dance to jazz, swim naked, and jump out windows after slimy pusher gives them a few puffs off a joint. Laugh if you dare!

"My Son John" (1952) is an authentic artifact of the Cold War and the McCarthy era. Real sweet old couple (Helen Hayes and Dean Jagger) discover their grown son (Robert Walker) is leading a secret life as a Communist. Commies-under-the-bed hysteria is in full toxic bloom here. If you are too young to remember the paranoia, this may be enlightening.

Like a sock puppet or a flea market painting, "Glen or Glenda?" (1953) exemplifies the aesthetic of pathetic art. Ed Wood, now immortalized for his ineptitude, directed and starred in this quickie about a misunderstood transvestite. Add inappropriate stock footage and weird narration by Bela Lugosi and you have delirium.

"High School Confidential!" (1958) comes at ya non-stop from the opening anti-pot rant, which segues somehow into Jerry Lee Lewis pumping out a song from a piano on the back of a passing truck. Russ Tamblyn is an ultra-cool narc infiltrating a high school to find the pushers. The pneumatic Mamie Van Doren is Tamblyn's "aunt." The jivey slang never lets up. Dig it!

Russ Meyer is the acknowledged maestro of this genre and his various nudies, while treasured by some, were mere prelude to his masterworks, "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1965) and "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls'' (1970).

In the former, Tura Satana and two girlfriends with major cleavage tear around the desert in their Porsches, karate chopping men while cheesy jazz blares on the soundtrack. John Waters calls it "a violent gothic melodrama built around three bisexual psychotic go-go girls." 'Nuff said!

In the second, Meyer supervixens Erica Gavin and Edy Williams star in an inside-Hollywood tale of an all-female rock band trying to make it big in a dog-eat-dog world. The costumes, make-up and "surprise" ending have to be seen to be believed. Far out!


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