Beyond the Valley of the Dollsrecommended viewing

This is not an evil review. But evil DID come from it.
★★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1968
Director: 
Russ Meyer
Starring: 
Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, Michael Blodgett, David Gurian
The Setup: 
Innocent all-girl band goes to Hollywood and gets seduced by the world of fame, sex and drugs.
Discussion: 

There are not many movies I am willing to pay full price for on the day of release. The last was the Val Lewton Horror Collection last fall, and then this. At last released on DVD, it also received the deluxe, double-disc version it deserves. Thank you, Jesus!

If you’ve never seen this, I envy your having it ahead of you. This is one of the funniest, freakiest things you will ever see, one that fires on all cylinders from the first frame to the last, making it impossible to pull out one knockout part, piece of dialogue or visual, because literally every second here is brimming with them. I was especially stymied in attempting to narrow this thing down to four or five screenshots to present to you, because everything here is so breathtaking, and so many jaw-droppers go by so fast… I am overcome.

Okay, we start with an opening that recalls the Manson family slaying at whatever Hollywood mansion that was. One victim’s scream blends into our rockin’ first song, “Find it,” as performed by The Kelly Affair. This group is made up of the hideous Kelly, a redhead who certainly has that 60s look of big hair, big eyes. She also wears is idiotic perky smile 90% of the time. Next is the beautiful, long-haired Casey, and the also beautiful, African-American Petronella. They are managed by Kelly’s corn-fed, sad-puppy boyfriend Harris, who looks and pouts like Peter Brady. Anyway, for some reason, they decide to pile into their VW minibus and take off to Los Angeles, singing “Come With the Gentle People,” one of those songs about how anyone who’s not a hippie is “hung-up and afraid,” and needs a hippie to “lead the way.”

Once there Kelly meets her aunt, who immediately offers her 1/3rd of her fortune, a million dollars, over the protests of her lawyer, Dabney Coleman clone Porter Hall, who is sort of like Bill O’Reilly, but sexy [to me, at least]. They are then invited to a party at the home of famed record producer Z-Man Bardell, this androgynous, uh, guy, who almost always speaks in these faux-Shakespearean verses. He immediately takes Kelly under his wing. The others arrive, including poor sick puppy Harris, who just hangs around the sidelines feeling sorry for himself. You will want to kick him. Anyway, this whole party is insanely outrageous, with a large variety of crazy people decked out in the strangest fashions. This scene really sets the tone and gives you a tantalizing sense of what you’re in for. Also, this is where one starts to notice Meyer’s intriguing editing technique, with a number of quick shots, often quite unrelated to what’s going on, just showing goings-on around the party. One also notices the way he cuts immediately from the end of one line to the beginning of another scene. It keeps the movie seeming quick-moving and off-kilter, which gives it more energy than it might otherwise have.

Harris, meanwhile, is spotted by my favorite character, Ashley St. Ives, this famous porn star with a huge mane of brown hair and who is always making leering come-ons and contorting her face into this lusty smile that is indescribably wonderful. She is turned on by Harris’ whole innocent farmboy thing, apparently, and throws herself at him, but he is of course too pure and innocent to do anything—for now.

Anyway, our heroines are brought on stage to sing for the party, after which Z-Man is of course amazed and immediately renames then The Carrie Nations [from The Kelly Affair, which I rather liked]. Of course Harris feels all hurt and ignored and goes off by himself to sulk, pursued by Ashley.

So The Carrie Nations are blowin’ UP, and record an album. This movie avoid the trap of many other record business movies [like Glitter, for instance] where the star seems to become popular without ever recording an album or releasing a single. Here the band records, complete with superimpositions of rivals Harris on one side and Z-Man on the other.

Anyway, so they play dates at L.A.’s cheesiest dives, party at Z-Man’s, and sleep around with various people. Kelly demands half of the million dollars from Susan, and Porter doesn’t like it, etc. Kelly is bonking Lance, this blond actor who secretly has no money, Pet is bonking some guy studying to be a lawyer, and Harris has finally been seduced by Ashley.

SPOILERS > > >
Then it’s time for the ‘ol dark side of fame to kick in. Casey takes to pills and gets pregnant after sleeping with Harris, then has an abortion on the advice of an evilly vampy lesbian. Pet sleeps with this obvious Muhammad Ali-type [although sociopathic], who runs her boyfriend down with his car the next day. And Harris—poor, poor Harris. Upset that Kelly is totally ignoring him, he decides that the best way to get her attention would be to plunge to his death onto the stage while she is performing for television. Kelly of course immediately realizes what’s really important in life, which I guess is Harris, though it seemed to me that the most appropriate reaction would be relief.

Oh, I forgot to tell you one of my favorite little lines: Finally realizing that Harris can’t make love any better than he can, well, do anything, Ashley finally dumps him and tells him he’s gay. He runs to Casey [“Want a downer?”], and tells her Ashley said he was gay. “Oh no,” she consoles him, “you just need some rest.” Maybe that’s what’s wrong with me, too. I’m not gay—I just need a good night’s sleep.

Anyway, so Harris is in this wheelchair, when Lance, Casey and her evil lesbian friend are invited to this private party at Z-Man’s, which comprises the climax of the movie. I would not dare reveal what transpires at this party, for it truly must be experienced as it unfolds, but I will tell you that the line “drink the black sperm of my vengeance” IS uttered.

I will divulge the fate of poor Harris, however. One can only imagine that he had become the target of this filmmaker’s [and mine] sadistic sense of humor as everyone leaves him stuck in the car when they run in to the end of Z-Man’s party, and we watch him crawl out of the station wagon and try to pull out and assemble his wheelchair. One [or maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just really mean] gets a lot of wicked snickers from watching him crawl around on the ground after he had been such a simpering puppy the entire movie, and you think the movie MUST be in on it when everyone comes running out of the house right into him! And what would you know—this CURES him! Then, to extend the poor guy’s agony, Kelly takes him for a walk in the park, and makes the poor guy walk across a tiny beam across a creek—on crutches! Come now, that has to be on purpose. But that’s Harris—you just want to bludgeon him.
< < < SPOILERS END

After the climax there is a wise narrator [who comes out of NOWHERE] to start telling us all the lessons we learned. One is about the bond between the lesbians: “Theirs was not an evil relationship. But evil DID come from it.” Of course, I guess almost all of us could say the same about our relationships.

This movie demands to be seen. If you’ve never seen it, there’s really nothing I can say that could prepare you. I have been reading all the laudatory reviews since the movie came out, but I want to tell you that it IS possible not to like this movie. I planned a special viewing to show my boyfriend, who had never seen it, and who is usually game for anything. About 30 minutes in he turned to me and said: “This is really awful.” To which I could only reply, “WHAT do you MEAN?” It’s hard to know. Because of course, in one way, it’s really awful. But it’s SO over the top and so unlike anything else—and so hilariously funny and strange—I think it has to be witnessed. I simply advise you that not everyone feels this way.

One other thing: I went to see this movie at the Chelsea Thursday night movie series, in which they show older movies of gay interest, and was surprised to see the actress who played the beautiful Petronella had come to the theater, and greeted everyone and shook their hand as they left the theater. And of course after that you leave the theater and say: “Thank God I live in New York.”

Should you watch it: 

You definitely should. Gather the corps.