My Russ Meyer viewing having consisted only of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls so far, I decided that this, his other most notable film, must be seen, and soon. This became my video pick for when the weather is terrible and you’re tired and need something you know is going to deliver.
We open with a narration welcoming us “to violence,” and soon informs us that “violence’s favorite disguise is sex.” Okay, this is positively Freudian so far. The narration then talks about a new type of woman who runs around rampaging with violence, and says she “could be anyone” while we see a bunch of strippers and witness some of the crazy editing Meyer is known for.
Then we find three of the strippers out in the desert, racing their hot rods. The leader is Varla, dressed in a skin-tight black number that threatens to spill her prodigious bosom. With her, in their own cars, are the blonde Billie, and dark, exotic Rosie of the vertical slit eyes. Billie is feeling so free and joyous that she just has to take a dip in a nearby lake, which pisses Varla off, and they have a wet-woman brawl in the sand. Varla is kind of a hoot the way she—throughout—shouts her lines as though she’s trying to imitate a roughneck oil worker or something. By now we’ve noticed that the black and white has a rich yellow tint, and that several of the shots have striking, iconic images.
SPOILERS > > >
So while they’re hangin’ in the desert some other guy comes by in his own hot rod, and they want to time his speed. This is a wholesome fella and his mousy girlfriend, who approach our three protagonists in the spirit of friendship and mutual admiration. Well, Varla ain’t having none of that. The women make menacing talk to the girlfriend while her beau is racing, making her clean forget to time his speed. Then Varla threatens to beat up the guy, and when he quails, challenges him to a car race. He’s doing okay until she runs him off course, then pulls him out of the car and beats him, finally snapping his spine and killing him. This leaves the girlfriend in the hands of the three women, which she is a little nervous about.
They end up at a gas station, where we have some “comedy” with a bumbling gas station attendant, while noodley Chaplin-type music plays. Varla spots this strapping fella loading an old man into a pickup, and the gas station guy, somewhat comically, begins spouting exposition. It seems that the old man has a great deal of money in his little shack in the middle of nowhere, and has no friends but his goon son, the one with the muscles, who is referred to, even by his father, as “the vegetable.” So soon Varla has a plot.
They go visit the old guy, where the girlfriend from before seeks protection. But this old guy may be worse than Varla, as he seemingly hates women and uses his goon son to hurt them during the act of… well, you know. Isn’t this perverted? Eventually the girl escapes and runs into the desert.
Here comes my favorite part. She’s running aimlessly into the desert, when she sees a pickup and flags it down. The girl is completely hysterical, and begs the guy to get her out there, NOW. But the guy is a mild-mannered little friendly citizen, and he says he can’t see anyone coming, so she should just calm down. She keeps saying “Let’s go! Get me away from here!” And he’s all like, “Wait a minute, how did they kill your friend?” and keeps asking pointless questions until you want her to just hit him and steal the truck herself. I mean really, couldn’t they talk on the way? She finally gets him to get in and drive, at which point he takes her straight back to the old man! And of course he won’t listen when she protests. This is The Vegetable’s brother, whose name I didn’t catch, but is very much the Luke Wilson type, if even more mild-mannered. We’ll call him Luke.
So the old man has invited the three bad ladies of the road to lunch, and of course, they can’t leave before eating. They eat chicken and sling more dialogue that would be shocking and dizzyingly delightful if you were new to the films of Russ Meyer, but was just sort of par for the course for me. In here we find out that The Vegetable’s mother died while giving birth to him, and that’s why the old man hates women, and later we find out that the old man wrecked his spine in trying to help a young girl catch a train—and that the young girl caught the next train with a very meager how do you do. So it a double dose of woman-hating with him, a perfect storm—if you WILL—of misogyny.
< < < SPOILERS END
I’m going to leave the shocking conclusion that will sear your very eyeballs for you to discover, but trust me that it doesn’t let up until the credits roll. It’s clear from this film that Meyer has quite an eye for composition, that the photography is amazingly crisp and gorgeous, and the editing is done in such a smart, unusual way to make the violence and sex much more vivid than the content of the actual images. I also think this movie is genuinely shocking, even now but especially for 1965, with the implications of its sexual content.
All that said, if you’re familiar with Meyer, not much new. If you want to see a classic exploitation movie, like the kind that have given Tarantino such inspiration over the years, this should really be your first stop, as this is pretty much where it’s at. If you have an idea what you’re in for, this will definitely fill in your knowledge and earn your admiration, but will probably not be the searing shocker it once was.
If you’ve never seen it, yeah, you pretty much NEED to see it. More so if you’re into Tarantino but never seen some of the trash he’s drawing on so hard.