Bad

Save money on contract killers by chucking your own baby
Released:
1977

Director: Jed Johnson

Starring: Carroll Baker, Susan Tyrell, Perry King, Kitty Bruce

The Setup:

Woman runs a contract killing service out of her suburban home.

Discussion:

This is one of those things that was always been on my list to see. So finally I did. Dreams do come true.

We open at this diner where a kid is complaining about having to eat ham, which he hates. "Why's it always have to be ham?" he complains. "Because if you don't finish it, I want to," his mother says. Then this blonde floozy comes in and lingers around until a man leaves, then steps up to the counter and starts finishing his hamburger. She then goes in the bathroom and trashes the place, then returns to the Long Island home of Mrs. Hazel Akin, who hired her to ruin the bathroom.

Hazel, played as a peeved housewife by Carroll Baker, runs a contract killing service out of her living room, where she also performs electrolysis. She usually prefers to work with female assassins, but a new client insists on a man, so we are introduced to Perry King as L.T. [apparently a late replacement for Warhol regular Joe Dallesandro]. He wants to move into Hazel's house until the job comes through, which she does not like one bit, insisting that she's "Got a lot of antiques that I'm really careful about." L.T. then whips out a lot of polaroids of past killings he has carried out. The job, by the way, is to kill an autistic kid his parents are tired of taking care of. By now you are beginning to realize that this movie is pure evil, it's true, but funny on a whole number of different levels.

Also ever-present in Hazel's house, where much of the action takes place, is Mary, the most simpering, greasy, whiny neglected wife you can imagine, saddled with a baby and abandoned by her husband, Hazel's son.

SPOILERS > > >
So a woman calls and hires one of Hazel's killers. The woman's boyfriend lost his arm when pushed onto the subway tracks, and she hires contract killer Peachy to shove the perpetrator onto the tracks and cut off his legs. A low-key source of amusement is that negotiations are all handled by the tough-broad girlfriend on behalf of her amputee boyfriend, who just sits there in frame looking mopey. Peachy instead crushes the guy's legs in a hydraulic car lift, which causes client dissatisfaction as the woman specifically requested he be pushed onto subway tracks. The one-armed boyfriend just sits there as the women fight over whether the bloody mess in the polaroids are really the correct victim or not. When Peachy returns to Hazel's, she pushes the victim's severed finger into the ketchup bottle, then gives Mary "helpful" advice about how she should wear a plastic suit to "lose pounds and keep the stink inside."

Then an older and overweight woman hires two women, Marsha and Glenda, to kill the dog of a man who once called her fat. The woman is a furious ball of rage, and the two killers are both hilariously blase on all topics. There is much incorrect humor as the woman burps repulsively because she's "an air swallower."

Marsha and Glenda take Mary out to the movies, where they talk loudly and don’t react well to being shushed. Then one of them goes upstairs and sets the projection room on fire. They leave, eventually abandoning Mary on the street for being a burden, then decide to steal a car. Glenda starts a fire in the back seat as they’re driving. When Marsha complains, and Glenda is unrepentant, she replies “Shut up, you dummy—now we’ll have to walk home.” No remorse about stealing for these two! The next day they watch the news, laughing as they learn about how the fire at the movie theater killed four people. The newscaster thanks God it was only showing as Hispanic film—if it had been showing a mainstream film more people would have been killed. Then Hazel nudges both women to go out and “get work,” meaning kill someone. I’m going to skip the rest of the movie, except to note that there are several instances of violence against children coming up, including an infamous scene of a mother chucking her baby out a skyscraper window, to spatter on the pavement below. The reason she did it herself was to save money—so she wouldn’t have to pay the killer she hired for it. As the crowd below stares at the dead baby—we do indeed get a shot of it—a mother yells at her son “That’s what I’m going to do to you if you don’t SHUT UP!”
< < < SPOILERS END

So, since I am gay and since I like bad film it is always assumed that I MUST simply adore John Water’s films, but actually they’ve never really done anything for me. They just seem a little self-consciously trashy-tacky for its own sake, and I never found them that funny. This, on the other hand, seems to be truly, viciously satiric, funny on a number of levels, and honestly subversive. The situations here just seem more tied in to real-world people and circumstances so that the situations and jokes have real bite. In one world, Hazel Akin would be an upright part of her community, a chipper go-getter running a business out of her home, but here that business is contract killing [and electrolysis]. Furthermore, all the jokes about the casual selfishness and cruelty around us are very tied to REAL social currents of the day [that have only grown more entrenched over time] so this isn’t just an empty guffaw at easy, harmless targets and how trashy they are, but a commentary on real-world attitudes and events. When the newscaster says thank God the destroyed movie theater was showing a Hispanic film so fewer people died than with a mainstream film, what also comes out is thank God the people who died were Hispanic, not white, as well as a commentary on how the form of newscasting DEMANDS that she make some sort of sum-up statement, idiotic as it may be. When the mother sees the dead baby and tells her son she’s going to do that to him if he doesn’t shut it, we get a quick laugh of the naughtiness of it, but there’s a deep statement here in her callousness toward the dead child, as well as the horror of what she’s saying to her own child, and over something as relatively minor as “be quiet.” This is what I mean about the humor having resonance of many levels.

So there ya go, quite amusing in a John Waters’ vein, but with a little more depth and real-world satiric targets. I still got a tiny bit bored toward the end, as it started to get all a bit the same, we get used to how naughty is and it loses its impact, but this is a relatively minor complaint. If you’re in the mood for a very funny subversive comedy that won’t leave you feeling like you switched your brain off for 90 minutes, this one will do you right.

Sure, this is good for a few good laughs, especially I the company of your subversive, blasé, screw-humanity friends.

Should you watch it?

Sure, this is good for a few good laughs, especially I the company of your subversive, blasé, screw-humanity friends.

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