poster for ‘tonite… i love you’ starring liz renay
Recently watched: The Female Bunch (1969). Tagline: “They dare to do what other women only dream about!” I’m using this period of enforced social isolation to explore the weirder corners of YouTube for long forgotten and obscure movies. (My boyfriend is accompanying me only semi-willingly).
Naïve young Las Vegas cocktail waitress Sandy (Nesa Renet) is fed up with men and through with hurting. In fact, Sandy is so distraught after the failure of her romance with a lounge singer that she overdoses on pills. Luckily, she’s rescued by her glamorous blonde go-go dancer friend Libby (Regina Carroll). And Libby knows the solution to Sandy’s problems. Blindfolding her first, Libby drives Sandy to a secret, isolated Californian ranch, the premises of a cult-like all-female community of hardened man-hating feminists. “We are completely independent of men!” thunders Grace (Jennifer Bishop), the sadistic and alienated leader of these female supremacists. This being a late sixties sexploitation film, this pack of misandrists still resemble off-duty strippers or glamour models, complete with heavy dark eye make-up, ratted-up bouffant wiglets and cleavage-flaunting wardrobes straight out of a Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue. Once Sandy passes the terrifying initiation ritual (she’s buried alive in a coffin), she’s a fully paid-up member of “the sisterhood.” Before long, though, the in-over-her-head Sandy learns of the women’s criminal activity (they’re smuggling heroin over the Mexican border) and penchant for psychotic violence. Can she escape from their clutches in one piece?
As this synopsis suggests, exploitation Western The Female Bunch shares DNA with Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) in which a trio of vicious go-go dancers embark on a homicidal crime spree in the desert. A z-grade grindhouse hack, director Al Adamson is no Meyer: his film-making is functional rather than dementedly inspired, but he does sustain an atmosphere of cruelty and sweaty urgency. Don’t expect much character development or motivation. For example, once the ultra-militant feminist amazons cross the Mexican border and start downing tequila in a taverna, within no time they are literally rolling around naked on the sawdust floor underneath male admirers in an orgiastic bacchanal. So hetero-normative! So much for “man-hating!” Valerie Solanas would be vomiting with rage! (To be fair, only one of the gang members is overtly delineated as lesbian).
In truth, the real-life behind-the-scenes stories surrounding The Female Bunch are considerably more interesting than anything that unfolds onscreen. The cast includes two genuine down-on-their-luck Hollywood stars presumably hungry for work (Lon Chaney Jr and Russ Tamblyn). Notoriously, The Female Bunch was filmed on location at the Spahn Ranch in the summer of 1969 - when it was inhabited by The Manson Family! Perhaps the most striking member of the female gang is statuesque redhead Sadie, played by Aleshia Brevard (billed here as A’lesha Lee). Brevard enjoyed a lengthy career on the margins of show business as a film, stage and TV actress, Playboy playmate, model and nightclub entertainer – and was a transgender pioneer. She kept her gender reassignment surgery a secret until 2001 when she released her autobiography The Woman I Was Not Born to Be. (She died in 2017 aged 79). And finally, director Adamson was gruesomely murdered aged 66 in 1995 (his live-in handyman killed him after a dispute and “entombed” the corpse under cement where the jacuzzi used to be. The LA Times headline screamed: “Horror Film Director Found Slain, Buried Under Floor”).
The Female Bunch is FREE to view on Amazon Prime
The Doll Squad!
oh you hot-blooded, aggressive broads
Recently watched: Fleshpot on 42nd Street (1973). Tagline: “Wilder than you can imagine! Explicit beyond belief! Meet them all! Hustlers and pimps! Pushers and S&M freaks! Straight guys and girls looking for thrills and one-night stands!” Sample dialogue: “It’s getting so you can’t give a blowjob on Times Square without some cop looking over your shoulder!”
It’s fun to imagine the dirty mac brigade settling into their seats at some fleapit grindhouse cinema in the early seventies to watch some raunchy triple-X titillation – and instead being confronted by this grimly downbeat, profoundly unerotic character study about survival prostitution by maverick outsider gutter auteur Andy Milligan (1929 - 1991). There’s even mournful flute music on the soundtrack for maximum erection repellent. You could call Fleshpot a “gritty” genital warts-and-all slice of life – but “grubby” might be more accurate.
Pretty brunette Dusty Cole is a street-smart and calculating sex worker barely eking out a hardscrabble existence in New York’s Times Square. Her hard-bitten demeanor begins to melt after a fluke encounter with handsome, sensitive and earnest young Wall Street banker Bob Walters. Can Dusty embrace the straight life and find true love and happiness in Staten Island with Bob? Spoiler alert: anyone familiar with Miligan’s pessimistic oeuvre will already know the answer is a resounding NO!
Like Andy Warhol, John Waters and R W Fassbinder, Milligan populates his movies with his own repertory troupe of freaks and misfits – in his case, mostly drawn from the realms of underground off-Broadway theatre and pornography. The acting here is genuinely potent (some of the verbose monologues demanded of the actors are worthy of Tennessee Williams). Porn actress Laura Cannon imbues surprising delicacy, complexity and intelligence as constantly hustling, amoral anti-heroine Dusty. We glimpse the emotional toll of constantly living by her wits and the seemingly endless procession of encounters with creepy, unappealing men, and that everything Dusty does is tinged with desperation. (I love how Cannon tangibly goes into weary dead-eyed autopilot every time she begins disrobing). Always the most chivalrous and affable of seventies porn studs, young Harry Reems of Deep Throat notoriety (sans his trademark mustache) is painfully adorable as the idealistic Bob. And as Cherry Lane, Dusty’s sassy aging drag queen roommate and fellow working girl, Neil Flanagan – and his matted bouffant wig - steals every scene.
Thematically and stylistically, Fleshpot is analogous to Flesh (1968), Trash (1970) and Heat (1972), the trilogy of Warhol-produced underground films directed by Paul Morrissey, and the early works of John Waters. What separates Milligan from Morrissey and Waters is the ferocity of his misanthropy and nihilism. He takes a decidedly jaundiced perspective on concepts like “free love” and sexual liberation. Apart from Bob, none of the characters could be described as “sympathetic.” The film offers a vividly grungy cinema verité document of decrepit pre-gentrification seventies New York. Every character in Fleshpot lives in squalor and escapes to drown their sorrows at depressing dimly lit dive bars. Milligan was gay and the sexuality on display here is refreshingly polymorphous: the ostensibly hetero male tricks take a surprisingly pragmatic open mind when it comes to the gender of their sex workers (Dusty and Cherry share clients). The world Milligan evokes packs an undeniable lowlife allure, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Warning: the ugly racial epithets casually thrown around by Cherry are authentic to the period and character but wildly offensive to modern ears (prepare to flinch!). There are two versions of Fleshpot in circulation: grainy and softcore (on Amazon Prime) and digitally remastered and hardcore (via Vinegar Syndrome’s website).
Helmut Berger & Teresa Ann Savoy in Salon Kitty (1976)
Russ Meyer’s Lorna (1964) versus the U.S. obscenity laws
L.A. Plays Itself (1972) is maybe the creepiest vision of Hollywood ever set on film. Grimy and grim, it profiled street hustlers along Hollywood Boulevard while some super eerie and primitive electronic music played in the background.
Born on this day: happy 83rd birthday to beloved sexploitation icon, the mega-buxom Chesty Morgan (née Liliana Wilczkowska, born 15 October 1937). Morgan’s cult infamy is assured from her starring roles in two Doris Wishman b-movies that capitalized on her legendary 73-inch bust: Deadly Weapons (1974) and Double Agent 73 (1974). (She was to have featured in Federico Fellini’s Casanova (1976) – but her scenes got deleted! Pray that footage still exists in a vault and is eventually restored in a director’s cut DVD!).