Vanity Fear

A Pretentious A**hole's Guide to B-Movie Bullsh*t

Filtering by Category: Revenge Movies

B-Movie Bullsh*t - Part Twenty "The Anatomy of an Action Star"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part 20

In the Blood



Ava and Derek are both recovering drug addicts, but their future seems bright now that they have found each other. While he comes from wealth and privilege, she was raised by a psychotic outlaw who taught her how to defend herself and survive at all costs. At their wedding, his father tries to convince him to make her sign a prenuptial agreement, but Derek refuses--saying he'd sooner be disowned first.

At first their honeymoon seems idyllic, but things turn dark at a nightclub when a local pimp takes a liking to Ava and starts a flight where she quickly proves how dangerous she can be when she and someone she loves are threatened.

The next day, the two of them go out zip-lining. Ava hates it and begs off from going any further after her first attempt. Derek continues, only to have his harness break before he makes it all the way across. Ava finds him still alive in the forest and an ambulance is called, but when she tries to get in it, she is told she cannot ride inside for "insurance reasons" and is given the card of the hospital he is being taken to.

Ava gets to the hospital only to find out that a Derek Grant hasn't been admitted to it or any other local hospital. The local police not only seem reluctant to help, but think that she likely killed him for his money. Desperate to find him and to learn the truth, Ava takes the violent skills she learned from her father and proceeds to beat a bloody path of rescue and revenge.

Of all the kinds of movie stars there are in the world, the action hero is the most inherently cinematic. Comedians can be funny onstage or on records; sex symbols can radiate their sensuality in photos; serious actors can seriously emote in plays or anywhere where the ability to recite dialogue and prose is an asset--but an action star truly depends on all that cinema has to offer to become the superhero the genre demands.

They rely on the skills of their directors, cinematographers. editors and--especially--stunt people to achieve their iconography, but that doesn't mean they are merely puppets--just the opposite. You can't MAKE someone a great action star. It's in their bones. You can see it in them. You can always tell when an imposter is thrust upon you.

It has nothing to do with acting. Very few of the truly great action stars have ever been adept at dialogue and those who are usually stumbled into the role, like Bruce Willis or Liam Neeson. In some cases it's purely a matter of physique--Arnold and Sly being the best examples of this--but more often than not the quality that separates the wannabes from the greats is this--the greats know what it's like to get punched in the face.

Charles Bronson was only 5'8", but he looked like a man who would keep getting up no matter how many times you tried to knock him down. When he went after punks in the Death Wish series, he was more silent, relentless and frightening than any terminator from the future. He was a man possessed, filled with darkness and ready to embrace the worst aspects of his humanity for the sake of his mission.

Gina Carano is also only 5'8", but she--unlike Charlie--is also a very beautiful woman. In interviews she comes across as shy and normal, but this is at odds with the fact that she first became famous because she is extraordinarily skilled at hurting people.

I've never followed MMA and couldn't tell you the difference between a Strikeforcer or an Ultimate Fighter. This is why Carano's career as a breakout ass-kicker was completely unknown to me the first time I ever saw her--when she was billed as "Crush" in the short-lived network attempt to reboot the syndicated 90s American Gladiator phenomenon. Despite this, I instantly saw her as someone special. Even though she wasn't much bigger than the contestants she was pitted against, she stood out as someone unique and exceptional. She had a physical credibility that was louder than anything she could say.

And clearly I wasn't the only person who noticed this. Steven Soderbergh saw it too. He had the screenplay for Haywire written specifically for her after seeing her interviewed on television--in much the same way he made The Girlfriend Experience after becoming intrigued by a young porn star named Sasha Grey.

Despite being heavily influenced by the action films of the 80s, Soderbergh's instincts are far too tasteful and cool to ever resort to out and out pastiche. This explains why Haywire ending up being more a mediation on the nature of such films--one that tailored itself to stand apart as singular even while it attempted to tell a story we'd seen hundreds of times before.


And though its pretensions left some genre fans frustrated, there was no denying how well the film showcased the attributes that brought Carano to Soderbergh's attention. But it did beg the question of how she would fare once she started working with other filmmakers who lacked his skill, taste and attention. People noted the lengths he went to put her in the best possible light--limiting her dialogue, keeping her character stoic and (most significantly) digitally lowering her natural speaking voice in the sound mix.

The general assumption was that she would be set adrift into the same world of dreary low-budget DTV/Netflix films where so many of her male action predecessors now dwell. And--on the surface--it would appear that her second starring feature, In the Blood, is exactly that--except that beneath that surface there's something far more interesting than its current 44% score on RottenTomatoes would suggest.

Directed by former My Science Project star John Stockwell, In the Blood features several of the tropes found in his previous work--the exotic tropical locations of Blue Crush, Dark Tide and Into the Blue, as well as the xenophobic western-distrust of brown foreign people depicted in Turistas.

In terms of plot, the film most immediately conjures up recollections of the Taken franchise (with additional shades of Breakdown and Roman Polanski's Frantic), but switches tradition by placing a male character in the role of the loved one who needs to be saved by the unrelenting, unforgiving badass whose past has made her perfectly suited for this exact situation.

Many might roll their eyes at this gender swap, but I don't consider it insignificant. There is a marked and undeniable difference in how this world regards men who look like Liam Neeson and women who look like Carano, and within the expanse of this disparity there are tensions that make these films as different as they are the same.

I've seen several critics who have been taken aback by the level of Carano's ferocity in the film, arguing that at a certain point her lack of mercy makes her unsympathetic. Many viewers will surely be disturbed by the bloody footprints her sandals leave after she has compelled a crooked cop to cut his own throat with a box cutter rather than have his young sleeping daughter awakened by a gunshot.

Yet her actions don't feel out of place within the context of the plot and--especially--the genre, where mercy is inevitably compromised in the name of the mission. Carano using a shovel to split open another crooked cop's face is no more violent than Ryan Gosling stomping a thug's face to oblivion in Drive, yet it packs a harder, even more visceral punch.

Films haven't regulalrly conditioned us to expect such brutality from a female protagonist and those that have often resort to a degree of visual hyperbole that allows us to dismiss what we're seeing as a fantasy. In Kill Bill, Uma Thurman's Beatrix Kiddo decimates dozens and dozens of sword-wielding gang members in the House of Blue Leaves, but the onslaught of decapitations and arterial sprays is played more for laughs and ultimately feels more akin to Monty Python and the Holy Grail than The Wild Bunch. Compare this to the much briefer bar fight in In the Blood, where Carano throws bottles of beer, smashes a cocktail glass against another woman's face and breaks a man's arm using a fighting hold viewers have actually seen her employ in real life combat. In this case we aren't given the luxury of willful disbelief--instead we get the sense we're viewing something that could actually happen if you pissed Carano off enough.

And I suspect that it's this authenticity that disturbs some viewers. Carano's background makes it harder for us to deny the plausibility of her actions. Unlike Angelina Jolie in Salt or Wanted, Carano's presence has a density that makes us wince every time it's inflicted upon someone--regardless of how much they deserve it or not.


Which is why I feel like the question mark hanging over Carano's acting career can be justifiably erased. While the quality of her films is going to vary, I believe what she brings to the genre is too interesting to be ignored or dismissed. She is literally too powerful a presence to be denied.

And her performance in the film suggests she might end up becoming a much better actor than anyone might expect. Though some of her line readings here are a bit clunkier than one might like, she also excels in quieter moments that require her to show her emotions rather than express them. Her increasing fear and desperation as she travels from hospital to hospital in search of her missing husband is palpable and totally convincing.

More often than not the moments that don't work fail because they've been poorly scripted and staged. An important scene at the restaurant where she and her husband meet the character who will set the entire plot in motion is cringe-worthy in its awkwardness, especially since the film can't disguise the fact that the only reason the character introduces himself to her is because the film can't officially begin until he does. It's so poorly thought out that not even Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis could make it work.

The film is also betrayed by its use of digital video. While many filmmakers working today have managed to do great things with the technology, In the Blood's early scenes look too much like something you would see in a low-budget cable TV drama than a present-day feature. Gradually this inauthentic gloss fades once the film starts using darker and grittier tones, but those first 20 minutes definitely dig a hole the movie has to spend the rest of its running time climbing out of.

But its biggest failure comes in an ending that hinges on what can only accurately be described as "Danny Trejo ex machina". Not only does it come out of nowhere and feels completely unjustified, but--for the sake of a happy ending--robs Carano of her agency and control over the situation. It's the only moment in the film where she is put in the position of having to be saved and it feels like a betrayal to the character and what she has gone through. Given what we've seen her do, it's impossible not to feel cheated when Machete suddenly appears and allows her to escape back to her comfortable life without consequence.

A better film might have still allowed Ava to get away with what she did, but it would also have required at least some degree of personal sacrifice.


As a low-budget B-movie action film, In the Blood is not without its many flaws, but I found it surprisingly compelling once the action began. As ludicrous as it often was, I never doubted its star, which in an effort like this makes it more the exception than the rule.

And while I expect Gina Carano will appear in much worse films as her career goes on (and hopefully many betters ones as well), I look forward to seeing them all because there is no other action movie star like her working today and--with all apologies to you Cynthia Rothrock fans out there--probably never has been.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: Part One "The Squad With the Misleading Name"

Girls just want to have fun, but there are so many psychos out there who refuse to let them. Mark my words, those bastards are gonna pay.With their balls!

Rape Squad



Linda (Jo Anne Harris) is a part-time student and food truck operator whose peace is forever shattered when she’s raped by a maniac in an orange jumpsuit and hockey mask. Based on his nasty quirk of forcing his victims to sing “Jingle Bells” while he attacks them, the police determine she’s his fifth victim, but haven’t figured out a way to identify or stop him. Frustrated by the law’s impotence, Linda convinces her fellow victims to form a “Rape Squad” dedicated to protecting other women and getting revenge on rapists who’ve escaped the law. Their attacker notices their efforts and devises a plan to relive his vile experiences—this time with all five women at once. Only fate will tell if the “Rape Squad” is ready for him.

Pertinent Details

Alternate Title: Probably because Rape Squad sounds more like a movie about a squad dedicated to committing rape, rather than avenging it, the film was also released—and is currently available—under the title of Act of Vengeance.

Use of Sporting Goods: Rape Squad’s villain disguised himself with a hockey mask a full eight years before Jason Voorhies famously adopted the same look in Friday the 13th Part III.

Feminist Fake Out: Though some viewers might be led to believe that the presence of female writer Betty Conklin would result in a more tasteful and less exploitative depiction of its difficult subject matter, the reality is she didn’t exist and is instead the pseudonym of David Kidd, who also co-wrote (with Jack Hill) The Swinging Cheerleaders as Conklin that same year.

Of all the various exploitation genres, rape/revenge films are easily the trickiest and most problematic in today’s cultural landscape, especially those made in the 1970s, when many of them were made to titillate as much as they were to educate. Even those with the noblest of intentions remain controversial and find themselves accused of contributing to the misogyny they would appear to be fighting against.

Rape Squad isn’t one of those noble efforts. As much as it pays lip service to the way the justice system violates women as much as any rapist and allows its characters to confront the asshole dudes clueless enough to mock their violation, the fact is the film remains mostly an excuse to showcase their bodies in various stages of undress. Each of the film’s various rape scenes are clearly more focused on exposing the breasts of each actress rather than the crimes they are supposedly depicting.

It also hurts the film that each member of the “Rape Squad” is so poorly drawn. It wasn’t until the end of the movie that I finally knew all of their names, and—besides Linda—none of them are given a clear personality to separate themselves from one another. They’re all just victims, several of whom only seem mildly interested in the project that unites them.

Still, there are some good moments to be found and nuggets that suggest director Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream) could have made a better movie if he had a less feeble script to work with. The scene where the squad confronts a rapist who was acquitted by a court biased against women is as good as any you’ll find in this kind of film, even if it chickens out in the end. Even better is the scene where the squad take down a pimp trying to force a woman who wants to escape “the life” back out onto the street.

Ultimately, though, Rape Squad is too timid for its own good. The sudden violence at the end feels out of place in a film previously more interested in exposing flesh than depicting vigilante justice. The result is far more Lipstick than Ms. 45.

Cut Their Balls Off Rating: 1 measly testicle out of 5.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Thirteen "Fair Is Fair!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Thirteen

The Legend of Billie Jean



When Hubie, a local asshole, steals and wrecks her brother Binx’s beloved scooter, trailer park beauty Billie Jean Davy goes to his family’s store for the $618.00 required to get it fixed. Pyatt, Hubie’s father, tells her that he’ll give her the money, but only in $50 installments for which he expects “something” in return. She refuses and Pyatt catches Binx with the gun he keeps inside his cash register. Binx accidentally shoots Pyatt, which forces him, Billie Jean and their friends Putter and Ophelia to go on the lam. Billie Jean’s beauty turns the news story into a statewide sensation, causing them to be recognized wherever they go. She tries to turn herself in, in exchange for the money owed to repair the scooter, but Hubie and his friends try and grab her before the cops can. Out of cash, they break into an empty looking house, only to find Lloyd, the lonely teenage son of the district attorney. Inspired by a clip from Otto Preminger’s Joan of Ark, Billie Jean cuts her hair and has Lloyd film a video of her giving her side of the story. After the video hits the news, girls all across Texas cut their hair in solidarity with their new heroine. Lloyd agrees to serve as the group’s pretend hostage, which brings them into the literal crosshairs of local sharpshooters at the request of his powerful father. With the promise of a repaired scooter, the three of them return to the scene of the crime, only to have Binx shot while Billie Jean is disguised in the crowd. As he’s taken to the hospital, she confronts Pyatt in front of his shop, which she sees is now devoted to selling memorabilia depicting her slogans and image. He tells her he wants to end this and gives her a handful of money, but she throws it back at him and knees him in the groin, causing a lamp to ignite. A crowd gathers and watches as his store burns to the ground and—realizing their complicity in the madness—take off their Billie Jean hats and t-shirts and throw them into the fire.

Not too long ago I read Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant’s excellent book, Writing Movies for Fun and Profit, which explains how to really make it as a screenwriter in Hollywood. In it they tell you that you don’t have to bother taking Robert McKee’s famous screenwriting course in order to figure out the perfect way to structure a screenplay. They advise that you instead watch Die Hard and do that—every single time, no matter what genre.

It’s great advice, only I would suggest that another film could easily take Die Hard’s place as the perfect example of narrative structure done right. And, as you have already guessed, that film is the subject of today’s post. Truthfully, I understand objectively that The Legend of Billie Jean is far from being a perfect movie, but subjectively I can think of few films whose journey from beginning to middle to end makes me so goddamn happy.

I say this not because I am blind to the dozen little absurdities that define the film’s best scenes, but because the film so effectively sails past them that I have no choice but to pay them no mind. I know they’re there, but I simply don’t care.

Take for example, the fact that every single thing that happens in this film happens because a kid’s scooter got messed up and requires $618.00 to be repaired. Intellectually I understand that this is laughable, but then again I remember that at least two classic films were entirely based on the theft of bicycles (shame on you if you don’t immediately know what the two of them are), neither of which had motors or looked as cool as Binx’s sweet ride.

Or how about the scene where a group of kids ask the now legendary Billie Jean to come and save their friend Kenny from his abusive father? I know in real life her heroism would end with her dead from a shotgun wound, but fuck you if that scene doesn’t make me tear up every single time—no matter how ridiculous it might be.

Sure, taken part by part the film is almost unimaginably stupid, but as a whole it’s brilliant. And do you know how I know this?

Because I’ve seen Thelma & Louise.

Callie Khouri won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for that film, but everyone who’s seen The Legend of Billie Jean knows it wasn’t as original as it seemed. 

Whether she knew it or not, Khouri was clearly inspired by the earlier work. Both films find their main characters becoming fugitives after they shoot the assholes who try to rape the two hot blondes with terrible southern accents. Both films feature sympathetic male cops who understand that the fugitives aren’t really to blame for what happened. Both films show how the protagonists newfound outlaw status allows them to do things they never would have done before. The main difference is that Thelma & Louise has to be all bleak and depressing to get its point across, while The Legend of Billie Jean just has to be fucking awesome to do the same thing!

(Of course, not everyone feels the same way. I’ve long praised Pat Benatar’s theme song as one of the main reason for the film's awesomeness, but apparently she’s not what you would call a fan of the production. Apparently in concert she introduces the song as being from the worst movie of all time, and it was apparently her refusal to sign off the DVD rights to the song that kept it off store shelves all this time. My guess is that her distaste probably has more to do with the producers of the film, Jon Peters and Peter Gruber, who were kinda like Simpson and Bruckheimer but without the scruples, taste or talent. Chances are they found a way to piss her off so severely she found it impossible to say a kind word about the film and felt justified in keeping it hidden away from the world. Either that or she was just being a major cunt. In the end, it doesn’t matter. She’s Pat Benatar and she’s allowed to do whatever the fuck she pleases.)

Obviously the majority of the film’s enormous appeal comes from its leading lady, who had just finished playing Supergirl when cast in the role. As Billie Jean, Helen Slater looks amazing. Sure she occasionally sounds really dumb and not every line is delivered as successfully as one might hope, but I guarantee that every time one of the characters calls her “a pretty girl” (and they do it a lot) you’ll find yourself nodding your head vigourously in agreement.

The film also features endearing performances by 20 year-old Yeardley Smith as the 13 year-old Putter, and future Mother Night director Keith Gordon as Lloyd, as well as a great turn by Peter Coyote as the film’s sympathetic lawman. Unfortunately, it also features Christian Slater as Binx, who begins and ends the film as an utter douche.

If it doesn’t seem as though I’m getting in as deep as I usually do in these entries, it's probably because I love the film too much to perform the evisceration necessary for a proper autopsy. It’s one of the projects that simply is what it is and what that is is perfect.

You just have to have faith.

Rejected By Rod(?): Part Four - Ruby

Not everything I've written for FLICK ATTACK has made it to the show. Mr. Lott insists that these rapidly aging reviews will be posted eventually, but until then I'm just going to assume that they have been:

Rejected By Rod(?)



According to my trusty Leonard Maltin iPhone app director Curtis Harrington was so disappointed with one version of his 1977 film, Ruby, he insisted on it being given the infamous Alan Smithee credit once used by filmmakers who felt their artistic vision had been so catastrophically usurped they could not allow to have their name attached to a project, lest it negatively affect their career and reputation.

But having just sat through the unmolested director’s cut for which he took full credit, I’m having difficulty imagining how much worse that other version could have been for Harrington to not want to be associated with it. I say this because the film I watched is so relentlessly mediocre, it’s hard to figure out how it could ever be edited into an outright Smithee-worthy disaster.  As is, Ruby simply doesn’t take enough risks to ever be that bad.           

Pointlessly set in 1951 (a fact easily forgotten given how little effort is made to convincingly convey the period), Ruby is a supernatural gangster revenge thriller with a mute teenage girl thrown into the mix just so the producers could throw Exorcist and Omen references into the trailer. A post-Carrie Piper Laurie looks fabulous as the title character—a washed up singer/moll who runs a drive-in 16 years after the father of her daughter was gunned down by the other members of his gang—but overplays the part to the precipice of campy embarrassment.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough of Laurie’s performance to turn the film into a so-bad-it’s-good classic a la Mommie Dearest. Instead, Ruby is the least satisfying kind of bad film there is—a dull, unimaginative one.

Which is something even Alan Smithee would be ashamed of.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Eleven "Snap! Crackle! Flop!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Eleven




American karate champ/instructor Susanne Carter has come to the Philippines to find her missing sister, Bonnie. Her investigation leads her to a drug ring run by Erik, who also holds secret martial art matches where local fighters battle to the death. His champion and lackey is a blond American named Chuck. Chuck’s immediately intrigued by the other hot blond in his midst, and learns she has the black belt goods. Erik tries to convince Susanne to take part in his deadly fights, but she tells him she doesn’t think she could kill a man. Bonnie’s body is dragged from a local river, and a distraught Susanne runs straight to Chuck’s penis. Their romance proves short-lived, though, when an undercover detective tells Susanne that Chuck was the one who killed her sister. Susanne finds Bonnie’s bracelet in Chuck’s apartment and knows what she has to do. She calls Erik and tells him she’s ready to fight in his ring, so long as she can do so under her terms. He agrees, not realizing that her terms mean she will only fight her sister’s murderer. Chuck is shocked to learn that his new fuck-buddy is determined to fight him to the death. In the ring he deliberately goes easy on her and at one-point stops short when he has the chance to kill her. Susanne is not so merciful; when her chance arises, she drives two sticks into her former lover’s eyes, avenging Bonnie’s death.

If you haven’t gotten around to seeing the wonderful new documentary Machete Maidens, I will forgive you if you stop reading this and do so immediately. From the same filmmakers who gave us the equally awesome Not Quite Hollywood (about Australia’s 70s/80s exploitation film boom), Maidens is devoted to the low budget exploitation films made in the Philippines during that same period. Watching it will delight anyone who cares even a little about low budget genre filmmaking, although I would advise that you avoid my mistake of doing so in an airport while waiting for a flight, since virtually every film clip shown in the film seems to have at least one naked woman in it.

Among these many, many naked women was an attractive blond lass named Jillian Kesner, whose appearance was justified thanks to her starring role in a Roger Corman production directed by Filipino filmmaking legend, Cirio H. Santiago. In the clip that appeared in the film, Jillian was shown exercising her karate skills while clad in only a pair of white panties. Needless to say, this made me want to see Firecracker very much. Fortunately for me, the good folks at Shout Company (whose recent spate of Corman releases represent the best thing happening in home video at the moment) allowed the film to make its DVD debut this month in a set that also included the butt-kicking babe flicks T.N.T. Jackson and Too Hot To Handle.

And having just watched the film, I can happily report that it didn’t let me down. But then, that’s because I wasn’t expecting anything close to resembling a good film. That’s because Santiago is much like a Filipino Jesus Franco—his legend has everything to do with his productivity and ubiquity and nothing to do with the actual quality of his films. Even at their best, his films kinda suck. At their worst, even Roger Corman worried they might be unreleasable—although that didn’t seem to stop him.

(According to the commentary on Maidens, Joe Dante--the director of Gremlins--insisted that Santiago’s Cover Girl Models was the worst film he saw during his tenure as Corman’s trailer editor.)

The best that can be said for Firecracker is that it’s pretty coherent and always in-focus (claims that can’t be made for every Santiago effort). In fact, there are actually three very entertaining scenes in the film. The problem is that two of those scenes actually fuck up what negligible plot the film manages to have.

I’ve already mentioned the scene where Susanne kicks ass without the benefit of clothing. It comes just after the scene where Eric the drug dealer invites Susanne to fight in one of his secret matches. She tells him she doesn’t think she can, and then the movie cuts to her getting out of a cab—apparently on her way home.

As she walks down the street, she catches the attention of two street thugs, who decide to get their rape-on. Instead of kicking their butts, as you would expect a black belt karate expert who’s just been offered a chance to engage in deadly combat for cash, she instead runs like a pretty blond girl in a completely different movie. As she runs, her skirt becomes snared on a fence, forcing her to abandon it. Thus unclad, she makes it into a factory where she begs a security guard to help her. He does his best, but is soon killed by the thugs. They chase her around the building, where a similar wardrobe snare-up causes her to abandon her top. She manages to fatally dispatch one of her wannabe rapists with a circular saw, while his buddy slices the front half of her bra in two. Now topless, she finally starts to fight the guy the way we kinda expected her to in the very beginning, and eventually takes him down.

All in all, it’s a pretty great exploitation movie moment. The problem is that it was clearly added to the film after the movie had already been shot. The evidence is pretty insurmountable, starting with the fact that it’s the only scene devoid of a single Filipino actor (including the cab driver, who's very clearly a white dude), which suggests to me that it was shot in the States. That and the fact that it seems a bit too competently done for Santiago to have been responsible for it.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the scene didn’t feature Susanne acting completely out of character. Before this we’ve already seen her take on dangerous dudes without breaking a sweat (including one scene where she grabs a deadly snake and flings it at Vic Diaz, the guy who played the gay prison guard in The Big Bird Cage), so it’s impossible to dramatically justify her decision to flee in this instance. That said, it does make sense from a production standpoint, since the only major drawback of filming Kesner without her clothes on is that it becomes impossible for the dude in a blond wig who’s been doubling all of her previous fight scenes to do so here. For that reason her fight choreography had to be kept to a minimum since she had to do all of it herself.

Even worse, though, is how the scene totally screws up the little bit of a character arc Santiago and co-screenwriter Ken Metcalfe (who also plays Eric) managed to come up for her. In the scene just before this one, we see Susanne tell Eric she doesn’t think she can kill someone, a declaration I suspect was supposed to pay off in the final fight with Chuck, where she dramatically proves she can and without remorse.

Unfortunately the added(?) topless fight scene ruins this by showing us Susanne killing someone immediately after she said she couldn’t. Because of this her killing Chuck (played by Malibu Express's Darby Hinton in a very fun and moustachy performance) at the end of the movie doesn’t feel as significant as it should and robs the moment of much of its potential impact.

(Speaking of the scene where Susanne kills Chuck, it does seem weird that Santiago and Metcalfe chose to make him so reluctant to fight her. Based on what we’ve seen of him, his genuine affection for her seems out of character and—oddly—makes him seem more sympathetic in a scene where we should just want to see him straight up murdered. Ignoring his attempts at mercy does make Susanne more of a badass, but it also makes her seem like a dick. It’s definitely a problem we’d never see in a Chuck Norris movie.)

The other questionable scene might have been part of the original production, but that still doesn’t justify it. In it Susanne has just identified her sister’s body at the morgue and runs to Chuck to take comfort in his arms (and cock). What follows is an extremely long and bizarre sex scene where four minutes (in a 77 minute movie) is spent showing the two of them cutting off each other’s clothes in real-time detail.

Truthfully, it’s a fun scene, but it comes far too late in the film. By this point the only possible reason Susanne hasn’t made the connection between her sister’s death and Chuck’s drug dealing shenanigans is because she’s a complete idiot. Had the same scene appeared earlier in the film, this wouldn’t have been an issue, but at that moment in the picture it’s utterly ridiculous.

But as troubling as these scenes are, I know exactly why they’ve been included. It’s because without them, the film would come in at less than 70 minutes long and—much more importantly—would be robbed of all of its nudity.

The result, then, is an already questionable film undone by two of the three scenes that marginally justify its existence. Leaving only one utterly unspoiled moment of perfection. "And what," you ask, "would that be?"


B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Ten "An Allegory With Tits and Explosions"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Ten

Massacre at Central High



New kid David learns a lot during his first day at Central High. It turns out the small school is run with an iron first by a quartet of rich male students, including his old friend Mark, who just happens to be dating Teresa, the very pretty girl David immediately takes a liking to. Mark tries to get David into the exclusive clique, but David refuses to associate himself with such overt bullies. His impatience reaches its boiling point when he catches them (without Mark) trying to rape two female students. He beats the snot out of them, and—in retaliation—they drop a car on his leg. Once a dedicated runner, David is now left with a permanent limp. He gets his revenge by arranging fatal accidents for his three assailants. At first, the students at Central High enjoy their newfound freedom from the clique’s tyranny, but as that freedom turns to chaos, the various factions try to convince David to help them takeover the school and run it in their image. Realizing he’s merely created more bullies, David begins to systematically murder the new crop of wannabe rulers. With no other way to end this eternal cycle, he decides to blow up the school during the annual Alumni Dance, but when Teresa arrives at the gymnasium and tells him she’s not going to leave, even if it means dying with everyone else, he grabs the bomb and runs outside. It detonates while in his hands, ending the violence once and for all.


Massacre at Central High is a fascinating film. Viewed from every possible angle, it’s an exploitation movie down to its very core. It’s a revenge thriller with creatively planned murders; it has a mega-buttload of impressive explosions; and it features more than its share of gratuitous nudity. Even its title was chosen specifically to capitalize on the popularity of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yet for all of its exploitative elements, there’s no getting around the fact that writer/director Renee Daalder (Dutch and male) was trying to do something more ambitious than create another drive-in movie.

One of the reasons I prefer writing about low budget genre film is because I take a lot of pleasure out of mining gold out of areas where others insist it cannot exist. To look beyond the surface and imagine what the filmmakers might have been thinking when they agreed to work on another cheap blood and tits movie. I am not so delusional to not accept that most did so only with “Hey! Great! A paycheck!” in their minds, but—based on my own personal experience as a writer—I also know how hard it is to completely bury one’s own personal pretensions in even the most cynical of creative enterprises. I love the “Bullsh*t” artists come up with to justify their artistic degradation, and I considered it my duty to support their delusions with the kind of self-indulgent analysis typically only reserved for more respected, mainstream material.

In the case of Massacre at Central High, though, I don’t have to expend any effort at all to figure out what Daalder was trying to say in his blood and tits drive-in movie. In fact, it would take far more effort to deny the film's pretensions and dismiss it as just another horror movie. In the case of this film, the question isn’t whether or not subtext exists, but whether or not that subtext allows the film to transcend what might otherwise be some pretty fatal flaws.

Based on plot description alone, the film is a revenge thriller with horror movie elements, but when you actually see it, it becomes clear that its genre elements only exist to appease the producers who financed it. In actual fact, Massacre at Central High is an allegorical film—with blood, explosions, and plenty of tits and ass. Made by a filmmaker who grew up in post-war Europe, it’s a film about fascism whose theme is so explicit the characters actually comment on it (but not in an overt, self-referential post-modern way).

And the thing about allegories is that, as an audience, we allow them more creative leeway than we do more traditional stories. Once we realize that the message of the film is its defining purpose, we become less pre-deposed to judge it as a whole work of art and instead focus on how well it communicates its point.

Because of this, Massacre at Central High gets away with the implausible in ways other less-ambitious genre films couldn’t. We not only accept the tiny student population, the complete absence of adults (until the very last dance sequence), and the unlikely murder scenarios, but actually understand how they work to strengthen the film’s message. What would otherwise be considered budget-related flaws, now seem like deliberate choices made for intelligent reasons.

When I wrote the above synopsis of the film, I actually made several attempts to not give away what it was really about, but—as an allegory—its theme is so directly interwoven into its plot that I couldn’t untangle it. David’s motivation for killing the other students once he’s killed the three who originally hurt him only makes sense in an allegorical context. When Mark confronts him late in the picture, he describes himself as a “psycho madman”, but the film doesn’t abandon him as its protagonist and makes no attempt to condemn him for his actions as he commits them. After he kills himself in order to spare the life of the girl he loves, the film ends with her telling her boyfriend that they’re both going to say he died getting rid of a bomb other (now dead) students hid in the school—making it clear that even in the world of the film only two people will ever know he wasn’t a hero.

So, then, if the film is an allegory, is it a good one? Does it get its point across? Is it intelligently argued? Or is it overtaken by the cheesy self-importance that often dooms such projects?

For the first three points, my personal feelings range from “I dunno,” to, “Probably not.” For an allegory about fascism, I’m not sure what ultimate point I’m supposed to take away from it. It’s clearly bad, but am I also supposed to conclude that it’s impossible to avoid? Each of the different student factions are obviously drawn to represent parts of modern society, including the wealthy, poor, educated, liberal, and middle-classes. All of them are deemed capable of creating their own forms of tyranny, suggesting that true freedom is impossible, which would mean more if the film didn’t also suggest that true freedom leads to anarchy without someone in charge. Thus David’s decision to blow up the whole school represents a clearly nihilistic worldview in which the only solution is the final solution. Of course, he fails to do this for the most romantic of reasons, but the hopelessness of his decision remains. Are we to then read the film as a treatise against armed revolution? If so, does that mean the film thinks David should have given in like everyone else and let the bullies rule Central High? That doesn’t seem likely, which explains my confusion. The point of an allegory is to have a point, which Massacre at Central High may have, but which is the only aspect of its production left at all ambiguous.

(Then again, if you avoid the sexist assumption that the protagonist of the film has to be a male, and view Teresa as its hero--or, at the very least, its moral center--then I suppose there is some hope in the film after all. While never an overt rebel like David, she also isn't afraid to confront abuse of power when she sees it. She's the one who first tries to stop the clique from raping her two friends, and she shows zero interest in the power struggle that follows after they are overthrown. In the end, to stop the madness she proves herself willing to be a martyr, yet understands the importance of David's cause enough to spare him his reputation after his death. I'm still not sure how this works overall, but I find it infinitely more palatable.)

That said, the film still works for me because the very elements that make it an exploitation movie allow it to avoid that trap of cheesy self-importance I mentioned above. The great thing about violence, tits, and explosions is that they go a long way from overcoming self-importance. These necessary elements humble the film, and make it seem much less pretentious than any “art” film about the same subject.

Still, Massacre at Central High is far from perfect. Its biggest flaw is the quality of the actors' performances, which range from passible (at best) to terrible (at worst). The worst offender is Andrew Stevens as Mark, which is ironic considering (apart from Robert Carradine) he would go on to have the most successful career out of anyone associated with the film (albeit mostly as a producer). Its also poorly served by a terrible music score and the strange costume decision to dress Teresa’s Kimberly Beck (who co-starred in Roller Boogie and possessed one of the most amazing bodies of the era) in outfits that look like they were directly stolen from the set of Little House On the Prairie.

Despite this, though, the film works. This was proven to me during the sequence where Teresa tells David she’s going to stay in the gym and die with everyone else. I found her decision genuinely moving and there’s no way that would have happened if I hadn’t invested myself into the story. The same is true of how I felt watching David try to run on his crippled leg in order to get the bomb out of the school on time. I was invested not because I didn't want to see the school blown up, but because I wanted to see him succeed in saving the girl he loves:


And I suppose I could end this here, but there is one great big, giant, white elephant in the room that should be addressed. Namely:


Is Heathers a remake of Massacre at Central High? No, but only because Heathers creators have resolutely avoided giving any credit to the older film. In terms of actual plot, they are definitely close enough to justify a lawsuit. My understanding is that Massacre is something of an orphaned production (which is why it has never gotten the DVD treatment it deserves) lost in legal limbo, which may explain why no such action has been taken. Either that or maybe some money was exchanged, but never acknowledged.

Even so, Heathers is clearly superior in its execution and overall themes. It avoids being an allegory about fascism and instead serves as one of the best satires of high school life (and society in general) ever made.

Still, a little credit given where it was due would have been nice.

Back When B-Movies Were An Option....

On Tuesday I commented via the Twitter that were it 25 years ago, Lindsay Lohan would have already starred in a women-in-prison movie by now. Back then former A-Listers whose careers were clearly set on self-destruct didn’t spend their days being constantly monitored by celebrity websites, they made the transition to B-Movies! And, oh, what a wonderful time it was! 

Thus inspired, I thought it would be fun to look at the kind of films she might have once made, when the option still existed.

Texas Lightning (1981)

It turns out that if you lived in Hollywood and had a decent coke connection, there was a very good chance you could get a BJ from The Brady Bunch’s own “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Suffice it to say, there was a significant time in Maureen McCormick’s life where her career was not her main priority. This explains Texas Lightning, a redneck coming-of-age fiasco written and directed by legendary B-Movie cameraman Gary Graver.


Savage Streets (1984)

Truth is, I could probably just make this a list of Linda Blair movies and save myself the effort. Like Lohan she was a former child star whose career in the majors was stalled by a criminal conviction (specifically, conspiracy to sell drugs, although it seems to have been more a matter of her being in the wrong place at the exact wrong time), and further crippled by her decision to pose nude for Playboy’s less-reputable cousin, Oui. Still a bankable name because of The Exorcist, she went on to become one of the reigning queens of 80s B-Movies. Her defining role from the period was that of Brenda, a tough New York girl who refuses to take the rape of her deaf sister and the murder of her friend lying down. Grabbing a crossbow, she goes after the hoods who hurt those she loved and makes them pay. She makes them pay hard.


Certain Fury (1985)

A truly talented young actress, Tatum O’Neal’s career was derailed by the fact that Ryan O’Neal was her father and it takes a shitload of drugs to get over that kind of crap. No, seriously, if you’ve read even a little bit of inside stuff on the guy it’s pretty hard not to conclude that he’s one major league scumbag. That said, I do love him in Zero Effect. Anyhoo, four years after starring with Richard Burton in one of the creepiest January/December romance pics ever made, she made her B-Movie debut in a film directed by Stephen “Jake and Maggie’s Dad” Gyllenhaal. Co-starring Irene Cara, Certain Fury is essentially The Defiant Ones with chicks in the big bad city, which is admittedly a concept just dying for a remake.


Poison Ivy  (1992)

Am I the only person who remembers how fucked up Drew Barrymore used to be? Christ, she played herself in a TV movie about how messed up her childhood was! Beat that Lindsay! Ironically, her B-Movie debut in this overheated low-rent “erotic” melodrama actually marked the rebirth of her career. Sure there were a few insanely brief marriages and late-show tit flashes to get out of her system, but once they passed she steadfastly crafted one of the more admirable of Hollywood careers, proving that it is possible to hit rock bottom and rise back up to the top.


Embrace of the Vampire (1995)

Alyssa Milano’s B-Movie escapades (which included a spin in the Poison Ivy franchise mentioned above) appeared to be made less out of frantic desperation, as they were the clumsy results of Milano trying to transcend her status as Tony Danza’s TV daughter into becoming Hollywood’s top choice slut. How else do you explain the softcore fangfest Embrace of the Vampire, a film more notorious today as a result of Milano’s litigious attempts to erase all photographic evidence of it from the Internet than anything in it (besides her boobies, natch). She might have made good on this career trajectory, if it were not for Aaron Spelling and a little TV show called Charmed, which ran for so long people forgot about her implants and B-Movie past. Unfortunately for Lindsay, Mr. Spelling is no longer around to once again perform such a miracle.

B-MOVIE BULLSH*T - Part Seven "Rip 'Em!"

B-Movie Bullsh*t

Part Seven

No Holds Barred




Rip (no last name given, no last name NEEDED) is the heavyweight champion of the World Wrestling Federation and a thorn in the side of Brell, the sociopathic network president of WTN. Unable to convince Rip to jump to his channel through bribery or violence, Brell decides to make a star out of Zeus, a demented ex-con behemoth who quickly becomes a national sensation fighting in anything goes “No Holds Barred” matches. Rip succumbs to Zeus’ taunts for a match when he cripples Rip’s beloved younger brother, Randy. The night of the big match, Brell kidnap’s Rip’s girlfriend, Samantha, and orders him to give Zeus a good ten minutes before throwing the match. For a time it seems like Rip won’t have to throw anything, but when he sees that Samantha is safe, he finds the inner-strength he needs to defeat his opponent and ensure that Brell never hurts anyone else ever again.


Like most children of the 80s, I fully embraced the lovably theatrical world of professional wrestling. With their inhuman bodies and high-flying acrobatics, professional wrestlers were the closest we ever got to watching real live superheroes in action. The best matches had a beauty, drama and grace to them that was as compelling as any movie you could name. I can still feel the pure joy I experienced when Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat finally pinned Randy “Macho Man” Savage during Wrestlemania III, after the most tense and excruciating 15-20 minutes of my life. Even though I first saw it on videotape months after it actually happened, I clapped and cheered so loudly I’m sure Steamboat must have heard me wherever he was in the world at the time.

But despite the enjoyment I derived from wrestling, I can honestly say that I never really understood the phenomena of Hulkamania. Even at a very young age I appreciated the fact that the “professional” part of “professional wrestling” was pretty much synonymous with “bullshit” and therefore enjoyed watching the wrestlers who I thought told the best stories in the ring and made it seem almost-kinda legitimate. For all of his enormous popularity, Hulk Hogan was clearly not one of these wrestlers. While many of my peers marveled at the size of his “pythons” I couldn’t help but notice how slow he was, how few moves he seemed to have and how predictably tedious it was whenever he came back from the brink of defeat by feeding on the cheers of the crowd.

It didn’t hurt that as the smallest boy in each and every one of my classes, I was naturally inclined to be suspicious of those whose only claim to fame was that they were bigger and stronger than everyone else was. Hulk Hogan clearly benefited from the phenomenon that causes most young kids to assume a nickel is worth more than a dime, because it seems ridiculous that the smaller coin could ever be the more valuable of the two. I, however, knew bigger did not mean better and therefore had little time for those wrestlers who brought nothing else but bulk to the table (although that didn't stop me from loudly cheering for Andre the Giant that same night I cheered for Ricky Steamboat).

I’d like to say that by 13 I had grown too old for all of this, but that would be a ginormous lie. I was still a faithful fan when the Hulkster’s leading man debut was released to theaters (hell, I even occasionally bought the fucking magazine), but my disdain for him kept me from seeing it. If they had released a movie starring Randy Savage, Jake Roberts or (most especially) Miss Elizabeth, I would have probably been there opening day, but I had no time for No Holds Barred, especially since even at that age I could tell that there was no way it could be anything but awful.

Twenty-two years later and my relationship with pro-wrestling is now exactly like the one I have with hardcore pornography—I find the actual product to be mind-numbingly tedious, but the industry itself endlessly fascinating. I can’t get through more than five minutes of any episode of Raw, Smackdown or Impact, but I still enjoy reading the behind the scenes stories about the men and women who made wrestling famous and those who continue on the tradition today.

For this reason I decided it was time to check out Hogan’s famous folly, a film supposedly so terrible that it somehow tarnishes the filmography of the man who starred in Mr. Nanny, Santa With Muscles and Three Ninjas III. Before I even pressed play on my AppleTV remote, I knew I was in for some serious pain, but I never would have dreamed what I would feel when it was over and the end credits began to roll.


Now before you assume I’m writing this while trying to fatally overdose on crazy pills, please understand that I never for once thought that No Holds Barred was a good movie, but instead that I quickly realized that what I was watching wasn’t terrible as a result of filmmaking incompetence, but instead the result of a phenomena I myself know only too well.

There were two groups of people on the set of this film when it was made. The first group consisted of Hogan, producer Vince McMahon and—I’m guessing—leading lady Joan Severance. They believed they were making a real movie—one that would entertain and excite a large mainstream audience. The second group consisted of everyone else who worked on the picture, including director Thomas J. Wright, (the unfortunately named) screenwriter Dennis Hackin, and—especially—co-star Kurt Fuller, who played the part of Rip’s evil network president antagonist.

The folks in the second group did not share the first group’s delusions of grandeur. They knew full well that they were trapped in the middle of a ridiculous vanity project that had no hope of being anything approaching good, so they all said a collective “Fuck it!” and decided that if it was going to fail, it might as well fail on their own spectacular terms.

I came to this conclusion when I finally realized why the film felt so familiar. There was something about its tone that felt so oddly recognizable. It was only a few minutes after Hogan’s character so completely terrified a potential kidnapper that he literally shit his pants that I realized I was watching the greatest film Lloyd Kaufman never made.

As the co-owner of Troma Studios, Kaufman is responsible for such films as The Toxic Avenger, Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, Tromeo & Juliet, Terror Firmer and Poultrygeist. His films are (in)famous for reveling in bad taste, but in such a way that feels deliberate and—almost—artful. There’s a rebellious quality to his nudity, violence and scatological jokes—each film serving as a cinematic middle finger to what he sees as mainstream Hollywood’s embrace of mediocrity in favor of originality. “You want terrible?” he asks. “I’ll fucking give you terrible.”

As bizarre as it may sound, I finished watching No Holds Barred convinced that it was made with this same attitude in mind. And I completely understood why.

I’ve written before that few, if any, artists, whatever their medium, take on a project expecting it to fail, but it doesn’t take long for the signposts of failure to become impossible to ignore. And once you’ve seen enough of them, you have two choices—succumb or rebel. Succumbing means biting a bullet and creating something that you know is shitty and nothing else; rebelling means becoming subversive and creating something that’s still shitty, but on your own terms and not in the way the people paying your paychecks expected.

Whether it’s an artist who plants a subliminal penis in a Disney movie poster or an author who writes a ghost story called “A Boy and His Instrument” in a book called Haunted Schools that’s all about masturbation if you read it correctly (hey, that was me!), these acts of rebellion often go unnoticed by even the most perceptive of audience members, who simply assume that the artists lacked talent and nothing more. But we brave few who have been in these situations ourselves know deliberate, subversive shittyness when we see it and have no choice but to salute and admire it when we do.

It definitely helps my case that the film bears little relation to those found in Group Two’s various filmographies. Although Wright only got the chance to direct one other feature, he’s still managed to amass an admirable amount of credits directing some of the best (The X-Files, Angel and Firefly) and most popular (C.S.I. and N.C.I.S.) episodic shows found on television. Hackin began his career with the critically acclaimed Clint Eastwood comedy Bronco Billy and Fuller remains one of the funniest character actors working today (his crowning achievement being his role in The Tick, where he played Destroyo, a genocidal supervillain whose hatred for mankind derived from the cruel taunts of “Dance, Fatboy, dance!” he received when he was an overweight ballet prodigy. I still quote the line he delivers to Liz Vassey’s Captain Liberty—“You’re not needy, you’re wanty. There’s a difference!”—whenever I can get away with it).

This is not your standard collection of deluded, untalented assholes. These are skilled professionals who found themselves caught in an absurd situation and decided to not go gently into that good night in order to deal with it.

The question then is how did Group Two manage to make a movie that was deliberately and subversively hilarious without Group One noticing?

To answer this, I’m going to go back to the connection I made between wrestling and hardcore pornography a few paragraphs back by looking at two films that were doomed in their conception due to the inability of their directors to appreciate how much their perspectives had been shifted by their previous work.

Starring Clint Howard as the serial killing title character, 1995s Ice Cream Man sets itself apart by being a violent, r-rated, nudity-filled slasher movie whose reliance on pre-pubescent protagonists makes it feel like the most socially irresponsible kids movie of all time. Too violent and profane for its target audience and too juvenile for adults, it was a film that could have only been made by someone whose sense of what was and was not appropriate had been lost a long time ago.

Norman Apstein was just such a someone. Before making Ice Cream Man, he had—as Paul Norman—directed over 120 hardcore adult movies, including Edward Penishands (in which Tim Burton’s famed romantic hero was reimagined as dude with penises where his hands should be) and Cyrano (in which Edmond Rostand’s famed romantic hero was reimagined as a dude with a penis where his nose should be--sense a theme here?).

Having spent so much of his life focusing his frame on the most intimate of human acts (and putting penises where other body parts should be), Apstein had lost all sense of what did and did not work in the context of a mainstream film.

The same thing happened to Shaun Costello, another hardcore filmmaker, who in 1977 attempted to break into the mainstream big time with Water Power. Intended to be a gritty crime drama, Costello crucially misunderstand the limits of mainstream tolerance by making his villain an obsessed rapist who kidnaps women in order to give them enemas, which Costello showed in close-up pornographic detail. Rather than be hailed as a breakthrough in crime cinema, it was retitled The Enema Bandit and played in exactly the kind of grindhouse porn houses Costello wanted to break away from.

In the case of No Holds Barred, I believe the members of Group One were too immersed in the world of professional wrestling to see how inappropriately it translated into the medium of long-form narrative filmmaking.

Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes watching anything the WWF produced in the 80s, can appreciate how Hogan and McMahon would have developed this blind spot. They worked on a spectacle designed to appeal to the folks in the cheap seats, who did not demand—and thus were not given—anything approaching subtlety. Pro-wrestling during the Reagan era was a time of black & white and good & evil. The babyfaces were brave, virtuous men who said their prayers, ate their vitamins and loved America, while the heels were capricious cowards who lied and cheated and—worst of all—saluted the communist flag.

You can only produce this kind of entertainment for so long before you either a) buy into it wholeheartedly or b) become so innately cynical that you lose all sense of perspective of what is and is not appropriate. I can’t say for sure which applied to Hogan or McMahon, but if I had to guess it was probably a combination of both.

The reason why people my age loved the WWF in the 80s was because it was squarely aimed at 10 year-old audiences at the exact moment when we were 10 years old. This was a departure from previous decades, where wrestling was considered a largely adult entertainment—boxing with a bit more flair and drama. Yet this change in direction did not drive adults away. If anything wrestling reached its highest peak of mass popularity during this period (Hogan forever supplanting Gorgeous George in the public’s consciousness).

You could be generous and say that the WWF’s 80s product reflected the innocence and simplicity of the era, or you could say that it was adored by morons who wouldn’t know quality entertainment if it set its testicles directly upon their faces (Tea Party reference totally intended). To be fair the exact same thing could be said about the majority of low-budget action movies produced during that time (see, for example, Invasion U.S.A.). I think in order to successfully produce this kind of product you really have to believe in it and disdain it at the same time.

While it is popular for artists to suggest that they are no different than the audiences they work so hard to entertain, I think most know in their hearts that this is bullshit. The difference between creating and consuming product is that the creator has no choice but to be aware of everything that goes into the process required to make the art happen. At the time No Holds Barred was produced the wrestling industry still practiced the tradition of kayfabe—keeping up the pretense of wrestling’s reality into everyday life so as not to betray its essential artifice. That’s why the industry’s slang word for fans was the exact same one con men use for their victims—mark, a term synonymous with “sucker”.

(Kayfabe, more than anything else, is the most fascinating part of wrestling’s history. Imagine if Laurence Olivier had to pretend he was a Danish prince every time he went to a town and played Hamlet. Or if Joan Collins and Linda Evans had to catfight in a water fountain whenever they were spotted somewhere off the set of Dynasty. The only real Hollywood equivalent would be all of the gay and lesbian performers who have pretended to be happily married heterosexuals over the years.)

McMahon and Hogan clearly made a film they thought the “marks” would love, demanding that it be filled with the same black and white moral dramatics that made them so rich to begin with. Hogan’s “Rip” character had to be virtuous to the point of audacity—proclaiming that he was far more interested in charity than self-promotion, gentlemanly setting up a privacy curtain when circumstances force him to share a one-bedroom hotel room with one of the most gorgeous women in the universe, and heroically spending all of his time rehabilitating his injured brother instead of training for the most dangerous match of his life.

At the same time his opponents are as venal and mindlessly evil as any ever seen onscreen. Made just a year after Ted Turner bought Atlanta’s NWA promotion with the intention of turning it into the nationally televised WCW (and thus become the first non-regional competition that the WWF faced in years), it doesn’t seem like an accident that the main villain is a network president with the moral compass of a dung beetle. That said, Brell bears no signs of Turner’s distinctive manner or personality. I’d say this was to avoid a potential libel suit, but I remember a few years after No Holds Barred was released McMahon aired a series of skits featuring a Turner clone behaving like a redneck buffoon, so it’s not like he wasn’t afraid to go there.

Even more hilarious is Zeus, who plays the same role Clubber Lang and Ivan Drago did in Rocky III & IV, but without any of their depth, subtlety or nuance. Tommy (“Tiny” to his friends) Lister’s performance is so perversely over the top that it takes on a kind of absurdist genius. With his crossed eyes, tatooed head, and penchant for uncomfortable metallic clothing, he actually seems too over the top even for wrestling, which turned out to be true when the character was unsuccessfully transplanted into the real WWF to promote the movie (it didn’t help that Lister had no professional wrestling experience and managed to be even clumsier in the ring than Hogan). Amazingly, out of all the performers in the film, he’s probably had the most consistently successful career, having not only worked non-stop since his appearance in No Holds Barred, but also making his mark in high-profile productions like The Fifth Element, Jackie Brown and The Dark Knight.

That said, the bad guys are at least given the chance to develop actual onscreen presences, which cannot also be said for Rip’s friends. The brother who inspires him to win all of his matches is just a handsome blond guy with a goofy 80s haircut (who would, funnily enough, go on to become Jacob, Lost’s mysterious protector of the golden spring). His trainer is just an old black dude and at least two of the other people who hang with him are never even introduced onscreen.

The film’s only other character with a personality is Sam (short for Samantha, which just boggles Rip’s mind), Rip’s new business manager who has to work harder at her job than a man would because she looks just like Joan Severance and everyone within a hundred mile radius wants to have crazy-hot-monkey-sex with her. There’s no doubt that Severance is astonishingly attractive, but in such a way that detracts rather than adds to her credibility. She’s one of those actresses who is simply too good-looking, since it becomes impossible to imagine her in any other role than that of model or actress. It doesn’t help that she’s precisely the kind of limited performer required to make sure that Hogan doesn’t get wiped off the screen.

As I’ve already said, there are two films at play here, although sometimes the lines do seem to cross. The film’s bizarre penchant for scatological or inappropriately sexual jokes(turns out the bed’s noisily jiggling is the result of Rip exercising, not furiously masturbating) has a direct connection to similar material that has shown up on McMahon’s wrestling shows over the years, but at the same time they are taken to such perversely extreme levels that they extend beyond the realms of mere bad taste to that of deliberate transgression.

This is most evident in the moments Hogan and McMahon obviously did not intend to be funny. I’ve complained in the past of films that were so badly made that they transformed into inadvertent self-parody, but in the case of No Holds Barred I am certain this is only half the case. Hogan and Severance are clearly sincere, but everyone else around them is just as clearly cognizant of how ridiculous the whole enterprise is and they show it.

For someone like me the result is fascinating, but for the average wrestling fan for which it was intended it was clearly bewildering. For most people deliberately shitty is still just shitty and a waste of time and money, which explains why the filmmakers’ efforts here went almost completely unnoticed.

I say “almost”, because I know the film has at least one acolyte out there. Back when I was 19, I was in my second year of university (the last that would actually count, as my third and final year was pretty much a write off) and taking a film studies course that examined the auteur theory by looking at the films of Dreyer, Bresson, Fuller and Kurosawa (among others I may have forgotten). Among the students was another young man, whose name has been lost to time. He suffered from Down syndrome and was there as part of a program that allowed those with special disabilities to enjoy the university experience. It was a noble idea to be sure, but in practice it meant we all had to listen to his loud snoring after one of the boring foreign films or lectures inevitably put him to sleep.

Near the end of the year, he finally lost his patience during a lecture and threw up his hand. Professor Beard (who would go on to write The Artist as Monster, an excellent analysis of the films of David Cronenberg) asked him what his question was and it became clear that he had spent all of this time in class waiting for the subject of his favourite film to finally be discussed and he could no longer wait for this to happen organically.

With the floor now his he proceeded to describe in detail the climatic match between Rip and Zeus. Everyone listened patiently and it was only when it became painfully clear that he wasn’t about to stop that Professor Beard interrupted him and explained that he couldn’t answer the “question” because he hadn’t seen the film.

In retrospect, I wish he had. I would have vastly preferred to debate the symbolism of Rip’s “Rip ‘Em” T-Shirt than hear another word about Diary of a Country Priest ever again.

Of course, the greatest irony of the film is that five years after the failure of No Holds Barred, Hogan did what Rip would not and jumped over to Turner's WCW following the promise of a bigger paycheck. As the innocence of the 80s turned into the cynicism of the 90s, Hogan eventually abandoned his babyface image and became Hollywood Hogan, the leader of the renegade N.W.O. He would eventually return to McMahon's company, but by that point he was purely a nostalgia act. Though he would gain fame as a reality tv star, his film debut clearly represented his jump the shark moment. No Holds Barred was supposed to be proof that he was more than a mountain of muscle, but it ended up being proof that he was little else. The lesson being that it's better to be the biggest of all fish in a disrespected pond than the asshole who's crying while everyone else is trying not to laugh out loud.

The Wynorski Project Part Eight & Nine "Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die"

The Wynorski Project

Part Eight & Nine

Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die


Sorority House Massacre II Synopsis

Five voluptuous members of a local sorority find themselves tasked with the clean up and renovation of their new chapter house. Before they begin working they’re visited by their weird neighbor, Orville Ketchum, who tells them the story of how the house’s previous resident, a maniac named Hokstader, went nuts and murdered most of his family before finally being killed himself. After a hard night of work, the girls decide to hold a lingerie Ouija board séance and unwittingly unleash the spirit of the murderer back into their midst. By possessing the bodies of the girls he begins his killing spree anew. Blood is shed, (many) breasts are bared, nothing explodes and Orville’s the only one who doesn’t die.


Hard To Die Synopsis

Five voluptuous temp and fulltime employees of a local lingerie company find themselves tasked with performing the annual inventory. Before they begin working they’re visited by the building’s weird janitor, Orville Ketchum, who tells them about his experience with a maniac named Hokstader, who went nuts and murdered five girls before finally being killed himself. Going through the boxes they have to inventory they inadvertently open a Chinese spirit box that contains the spirit of the murderer. By possessing the body of one of the girls he begins his killing spree anew. Blood is shed, (not quite as many) breasts are bared, nothing explodes and Orville finds true love at last.


Somewhere around October of last year, I sat down and watched Sorority House Massacre II and it kind of blew my mind. Not because I thought it was an amazing piece of cinema—it’s really pretty fucking terrible—but because it played so fast and loose with the idea of what qualifies as a horror movie sequel, going so far as to not only completely ignore the first Sorority House Massacre, but to actually employ flashback footage from a completely different series that had—by that time—already been sequelized twice.

The chutzpah of this is one thing, but when you go on to consider that while making SHM II Wynorski decided to reshoot the same script with only a handful of minor character and location adjustments and release it as an “original” movie called Hard To Die (which despite it’s title and advertising bares no resemblance to Die Hard) and you quickly come to appreciate that the famously bearded director has what must be the biggest pair of balls in the known universe. Or—at the very least—a pathological inability to experience shame.


If The Return of Swamp Thing represents the closest approximation of what Wynorski could have accomplished if he were a more ambitious, less cynical filmmaker, than the one-two punch of SHM II and Hard To Die serve as the harbingers of the jaded, dispassionate hackmeister he would eventually become.

Despite featuring all of the hallmarks of his established oeuvre, the two films mark the first time where his poking fun at the conventions of genre filmmaking no longer seems affectionate, but instead actively derisive. Whereas once his in-jokes seemed to be made in collaboration with his audience, now they seem to come at the expense of them. If before the subtext of his humour was “Hey, isn’t this stuff cool?” here it turns into a much darker and less entertaining, “So, this is the shit you assholes want, huh? Here it is.”

That this anger comes through despite the abundant spectacle of T&A he uses to disguise it, explains why I found the experience of watching SHM II so fascinating. How could something be so simultaneously craven and transgressive? And at what point does a filmmaker abandoning all personal dignity to give his audience exactly what he thinks they want, actually become a form of hostile artistic expression—the cinematic equivalent of the infamous Baltimore stripper described by John Waters, who used to shout “What the fuck are you looking at?” to the men watching her take off her clothes.

Without a commentary to explain the decisions that went into the making of the two films I am forced to guess at the reasons behind them, which is always a dangerous thing to do, but also a large part of what I find so intellectually intriguing about such stubbornly anti-intellectual films.

It doesn’t help that the credits only add to the confusion. SHM II is credited (on the actual print, not via the IMDb) to Bob Sheridan and James B. Rogers (a protégé of the Farraly Brothers who would eventually direct American Pie II), while Hard To Die is credited to Rogers and Mark McGee despite the fact the rewrite required to differentiate the two films couldn’t have taken more than a single day to complete. Wynorski takes full directing credit on SHM II, but credits the job on Hard To Die to Arch Stanton, a pseudonym I’m assuming is a reference to the name on the grave where the gold is buried in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

What I am 100% certain about is that in 1986 Roger Corman produced a movie called Sorority House Massacre. It’s an exceptionally unexceptional slasher effort; made memorable only by how ardently it rips off the plot beats of John Carpenter’s Halloween. And it would have been very easy to use footage from the film as flashback fodder for the sequel, but that isn’t what happened. Instead, at some point the decision was made to use footage from the original Slumber Party Massacre in its place.

And it would seem that this was a decision made while the script was being written, since the backstory Orville Ketchum tells the girls in both SHM II and Hard To Die bears no relation to the story of Sorority House Massacre. It also bears no relation to the story of Slumber Party Massacre either, but that’s easily solved via editing and Ketchem’s narration. Interestingly the story he tells changes in the two movies, despite the fact that the exact same footage is shown in both films.

The biggest question this begs is, simply, why? It would seem to me that the minimal time and effort expended to incorporate the footage from SPM into SHM II could have just as easily been used to change the script enough to justify SHM II’s sequel status, rather than confuse things with scenes from another franchise. Was it a matter of authentic confusion (it’s not hard to mix up the titles of the films), outright indifference, some random legal impediment (such as one of the actors in the original film refusing to have their likeness appear in the sequel) or just a deliberate “Fuck you!” to anyone devoted enough to the genre to notice?

Whatever the reason, the end result is a film that almost becomes its own meta-commentary on the strange relationship genre fans have with horror movie franchises that often seem to exist for no other reason than to anger and disappoint them.

While the motive behind turning a project into a franchise is the same regardless of genre—capitalizing on previous success—the nature of the horror genre dramatically lowers the standard by which that previous success is judged. During the 80s and 90s, the decision to make a horror movie sequel wasn’t based on how many people it was believed actually wanted to see it, but rather by how many video cassette units it was believed the sequel could sell. Video store operators were just as guilty as audiences of preferring the recognizable to the new and were much more likely to order the latest Leprechaun sequel than something original, despite the fact that no one you ever met ever actually claimed any desire to see Leprechaun 4: In Space.

For that reason, there were many franchise films that bore absolutely no relation to each other, often because they were retitled by their distributors simply to capitalize on a marketable name. SHM II would seem to be one of those films, but it takes the added step of implying it’s actually a sequel to a completely different franchise, one that by 1990 was already three films strong. The implication being that when it came to these kinds of films, the title was meaningless, so long as it sold a videotape, which made the actual content itself only an afterthought.

The cynicism of this appears to have inspired Wynorski to make two films that would seem to exist on no other than the most base exploitation movie level—80 minutes of non-stop tits, ass and blood—but he does so in such an extreme fashion that they transcend their LCD ambitions and force the viewer to reconsider what they are watching and why they are watching it. His apparent antipathy infecting the material in such a way that it actually achieves a strange measure of relevance.

Things get even more bizarre when you realize that two years later, Wynorski’s friend and sometime-collaborator would essentially remake both SHM II and Hard To Die as Evil Toons.

But, unfortunately, it’s getting late and I have to wrap this up so I can get it formatted and posted before the day ends. Next week I shall actually discuss the content of the films, such as they are.


 Sorority House Massacre II & Hard To Die



The Wynorski Project - Part Three "Big Bad Mama II"

The Wynorski Project

Part Three

Big Bad Mama II


In last week’s review I described the strange disappointment I felt when I discovered I actually enjoyed the experience of watching Jim Wynorski’s first two films, since the whole purpose of this project is to eventually justify my ultimately negative views of his work. Watching Big Bad Mama II, it became clear that this happy-goodtime-peace train was about to be derailed, but having spent a couple of hours thinking about the film, I have to admit that as flawed as it is—and it’s flawed to the point of being terrible—its failure is ultimately not Wynorski’s fault.

The truth is that even a much more innately talented and gifted filmmaker than he would likely not have been able to overcome the simple truth that this is a film that has no good reason to exist.

Though I was only 12 when this sequel was made, I can state with some certainty that there wasn’t a clamoring cry for the story of Big Bad Mama’s Wilma McClatchie to continue on in further adventures. In fact, if anyone discussed that film at all, it was only to reference Angie Dickinson’s full frontal nude scene, which everyone seemed to agree was the only reason the movie had been successful when it first came out in 1974.

This was significant because in the intervening 13 years, Dickinson had done what every other person who was 43 in 1974 did: She turned 56. While still attractive enough to be one of your parents’ hotter friends, her naked years had passed her by, robbing the sequel of the original’s only true raison d’etre.

That and there was the somewhat inescapable fact that at the end of the first movie, Wilma was pretty clearly dead.

But, despite these two very good reasons not to make BBMII, Roger Corman had what he thought was an equally good reason to get the sucker on film as soon as he could:

In the same way he would later capitalize on the public’s desire for dinosaur-amok movies by getting Carnosaur into video stores while Jurassic Park was still in theaters, Corman clearly hoped that he could ride a possible wave of depression era gangster pictures by quickly making a sequel to one of his genre-appropriate older hits. It would simply be up to whomever he assigned to make the picture to deal with the two major handicaps described above.

Obviously, our man Wynorski got the gig and he solved the no-naked-Dickinson problem by casting two really hot blondes as her daughters and removing their clothes instead. The dead protagonist problem, though, was a harder nut to crack, so he chose a far less elegant solution to get past it—he ignored the ending of the first movie and didn’t even attempt to explain what had happened or how the now living Wilma had managed to age more than a decade in just the two years that separated the plots of the two movies.

One solution Wynorski might have explored would have been to simply remake the original and pass it off as a sequel, but the film he ended up making has much more in common with another Corman Mama picture, Crazy Mama, than anything else. In this 1975 Jonathan Demme movie (which I reviewed here for Flick Attack), the child who would grow up to become Cloris Leachman watches as her father is brutally gunned down by corrupt sheriffs sent to evict her family from their land at the behest of a greedy banker who enjoys the mayhem from the comfort of his expensive car.

BBMII begins with Dickinson’s very much alive Wilma witnessing the murder of her husband at the hands of corrupt sheriffs sent to evict her family from their land at the behest of a greedy banker who enjoys the mayhem while standing in front of his expensive car. 

From there the similarities between the two films are more coincidental than explicit, but the opening scenes are so similar it’s hard to assume the second wasn’t directly inspired by the first.

After the death of her husband (who managed to completely avoid being in the first movie) Wilma enlists her two buxom blond daughters in a life of crime, robbing banks with the ultimate goal of destroying the banker-cum-governor-wannabe responsible for making her a widow. Along the way she meets up with an ambitious reporter (Robert Culp) who hopes to turn her into a national sensation, and kidnaps the handsome son of her nemesis, who promptly falls in love with her youngest daughter. Blood is shed, breasts are bared, stuff explodes and there are happy endings for everyone who deserves one.

Made for $1.2 million, BBMII had a generous budget for an 80s Corman movie, but it wasn’t anywhere near enough to properly mount a period gangster movie. Yet, despite this, the film’s most glaring anachronism isn’t anything we see onscreen, but the entire film itself. While depression era gangster pictures were a mainstay of 70s drive-in exploitation cinema, fueled by the popular and critical success of the previous decade’s Bonnie and Clyde, by 1987 they were no longer relevant in an age of slasher movies, sword and sorcery adventures, erotic thrillers and sci-fi Alien and Road Warrior rip-offs.

This is further acerbated by the film’s cinematography, which lacks the grainy quality that made the 70s depression films seem so authentic despite their budgetary constraints. Given all of this, BBMII might have actually benefited from Wynorski’s traditional irreverence, but with the exception of a few lines of dialogue here and there, he plays the film uncharacteristically straight.

In past reviews I’ve suggested that one sign of a filmmaker’s indifference towards their script can be seen in their strange refusal to deviate from it even when doing so causes more problems than it fixes. In BBMII we see an example of this in the form of the love scene between Dickinson and Culp’s characters. It’s a scene that not only serves no important narrative purpose (save Corman’s formula mandated bare skin quota), but also completely derails the movie by forcing us to accept that the 56 year-old actress and 57 year-old actor somehow magically look like pornstars when shot from the neck down. It’s the kind of avoidable mistake that can only be made out of apathy rather than by accident.

That said, the film isn’t a complete disaster. While Dickinson is ultimately too mannered to deliver a satisfying performance, Culp is great and makes you wish the film had been about him instead. Bruce (Father of Crispin) Glover also proves to be a compelling villain, bringing a certain oily charisma to his sociopathic banker character. Best of all, though, are the two performances by Danielle Brisebois and Julie McCullough as Wilma’s voluptuous young daughters (“They haven’t grown up,” she complains at one point in the film, “they’ve grown out.”).

While neither is terribly convincing in their roles (they’re both far too healthy looking to properly sell “child of the depression”), together they manage to fill the film with what little joy it possesses. McCullough, who is best-remembered today for being fired from her recurring role on the family sitcom Growing Pains when her conservative born-again Christian co-star/love interest, Kirk Cameron, found out about her Playboy past and accused the show’s producers of being pornographers for casting her, has an undeniably appealing presence that has far more to do with her natural sunny-ness than her performing abilities. Brisebois, a former child actress from Archie Bunker’s Place, on the other hand is a little more grounded and earthy as the older sister, but she also brings far more heart to the role than the script deserves.

Still, they alone cannot rescue BBMII from the cold hard truth that it was a sequel no one asked for in an exploitation genre that was no longer relevant made by a director who clearly wasn’t invested in its potential success. Those are nearly impossible hurdles to overcome and the film doesn’t even come close to trying.

Best remembered as a strange footnote for all involved, Big Bad Mama II marks the first failure documented by The Wynorski Project. I suspect there will be many more to come.


Deathstalker II

Repost - The Big Hurt

Once upon a time a person could reasonably expect that whenever they went to see a movie one of the last things they would ever have to watch was the sight of a man’s penis being forcibly removed from his body.

Those times are over.
In the past few years a handful of filmmakers have taken it upon themselves to break what could be consider one of the last remaining cinematic taboos and deliver unto their audiences startlingly graphic depictions of castration.  Now that’s not to say they were the first to do this, as the history of exploitation cinema is peppered with titles that were willing to take aim straight at the area responsible for their male audiences’ most common and immediate fears.

For example, there’s the famous scene in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.S., in which the title character (memorably played by the unforgettable Dyanne Thorne) informs her now-former lover that it is her habit to neuter a man once he is no longer able to satisfy her insatiable sexual demands and then goes on to prove it with a very sharp surgical implement (an act that allows for the irony of her eventually being undone by his replacement, a Polish soldier whose priapism leads to her finally meeting her match).  Although the scene is nowhere near as graphic as the ones about to be discussed, it is interesting insofar as it’s the one significant act of violence against a male character in a film whose central theme is literally built upon the presentation of violence against women (Ilsa’s pet theory being that women are naturally capable of absorbing more pain than men, which she attempts to prove by inflicting a series of graphic tortures against every busty soft-core actress who was working in 1975).  One gets the sense that by presenting us with what most would consider the ultimate form of brutality that can be committed against a man, the filmmakers were hoping to offset the blatant misogyny of the rest of the film. 
It doesn’t, but at least they made the effort.
A much, much, much more extreme historic example of cinematic castration came courtesy of Doris Wishman, the infamous Floridian filmmaker whose oeuvre of soft-core sex flicks rank among the most ostentatiously repellent films ever made.  For her 1978 “documentary” (note: the term documentary generally implies a level of professionalism Wishman was never capable of at any time during her career, thus the use of quotation marks in this instance) Let Me Die A Woman, Wishman went so far as to film an actual sexual reassignment surgery, thus giving the world the most graphic depiction of male genital mutilation ever shown in an actual movie theater.  One can only assume that there was a dramatic drop in popcorn sales wherever the movie was shown.  Suffice it to say, I myself know this film only by its reputation and will happily spend the rest of my life never having seen it.  And lest you think me a lightweight for this admission, I have sat through her 1974 “classic” Double Agent 73--in which the supremely unattractive Chesty Morgan plays a spy with a special camera surgically implanted in one of her enormously floppy breasts--and in so doing suffered more than many of you can possibly imagine.

And, of course, there’s the scene I discussed in Day of the Woman where Camille Keaton gets revenge for her vicious, extended gang-rape by cutting off the junk of the guy who made it happen, as well as several more examples I’m too lazy to mention because if I did I’d have to link to their IMDb pages and that takes more time and effort than you’d ever think it would.  So, yes, there is a precedent of cinematic castration throughout the history of the art, but it’s only in the past few years that filmmakers have been so increasingly happy to take it to the furthest possible cringe-inducing level.
The most successful of these new castration films, both financially and critically, has to be Robert Rodriguez’s highly stylized adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic noir comic book, Sin City.  In that film, Bruce Willis, playing Hartigan—a cop who has spent years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit—finally gets his revenge against the deformed pedophilic senator’s son whose depraved acts sent him there.  After rescuing the young stripper whose jailhouse letters kept him alive, Hartigan vents his rage against that yellow bastard by grabbing his yellow cock and pulling it right off of his yellow body.  It’s a startling scene, especially since it features such an iconic performer in Willis doing the deed (and, yes, we have reached an age where Willis can justifiably be considered iconic), but this is the only time I’m going to mention it in this post because it doesn’t fit in with the previously unmentioned sub-theme I want to discuss, insofar that it involves a dude ripping off another dude’s dick, while all of the others involve much less craggy and more attractive usurpers of male penile domination.

The reality is that my interest in this recent phenomenon has less to do with any natural fascination with castration (I am, after all, a man and I happen to revere my phallus as much as any other Tom, Dick or Harry), but rather with the characters shown to be doing the castrating.  One is a wealthy young woman who is driven to commit her violent act as a desperate means of survival.  Another is a girl whose motives and identity are so clouded in mystery it’s possible to assume she’s not even human, but instead a divine angel of vengeance sent forth to avenge a terrible crime.  And the last is a true innocent whose strange “adaptation” turns her into the living embodiment of one of the world’s oldest and most universal of myths.  All three of them begin their stories as victims, but end them stronger than they were before—proving that the most extreme feminists were right, female empowerment really is just a matter of slicing off some dick's dick.

When I say that I am stunned and perplexed by the reaction Eli Roth’s Hostel: Part II received when it was released, I am speaking just as much as the serious cineste who can spend hours talking about the films of the usual gang of European arthouse auteurs as I am the genre enthusiast who’s devoted hours of his life deconstructing the thematic intricacies of Slumber Party Massacre II.  While my low-opinion of mainstream critics allowed me to expect that they would lack the insight to look beyond its premise and controversially graphic torture set pieces, I was shocked when many genre fans equally failed to grasp how successfully it worked as a sophisticated piece of Swiftian style satire.  Rather than acknowledge the interesting themes Roth chose to explore in this second film, both groups focused solely on its scenes of violence and dubbed the film a mere gender-reversed replica of the original.
But I would argue that by simply reversing the genders of his protagonists, Roth created what was both an inherently more interesting and thematically insightful film.  Whereas the first film focused on the irony of foreign tourists who use their wealth to exploit people in other countries, only to themselves become much more heinously exploited by far wealthier tourists with much more depraved tastes, the second takes a broader look at the global society in which such an underground industry could actively flourish.  In Hostel it is easy to imagine that had he not been lured into the enterprise as a victim, Jay Hernandez’s character, Paxton, would eventually grow up to become one of its customers, if only because of his stereotypical alpha-male tendencies and willingness to use the misfortune of others as a means to satisfy his own carnal pleasures.  The same cannot be said for Beth (Laura Germain) the second film’s protagonist, who—largely by virtue of her femininity—is infinitely more sympathetic and vulnerable than her predecessor, which makes her final transformation that much more dramatic and interesting.

For those of you who have yet to see either film, both are about a small town in Slovakia whose local economy revolves around luring young tourists into their quaint hostel, where they are subsequently kidnapped and sent to an abandoned Soviet-era concrete monstrosity.  There they are sold to wealthy businessmen who travel from across the world for the opportunity to enjoy the experience of torturing and killing another person without consequence.  While for most viewers the horror in both films lies in their graphic depictions of torture, I personally feel this is strongly superseded by the both the existence of the enterprise that allows this torture to happen and its apparent popularity.  As far as I’m concerned the most chilling sequence of the two films occurs in Part II, just after Beth and her two friends, Lorna and Whitney, have arrived at the titular hostel and—without their knowing it—have become the objects of desire in an international bidding war over the right to maim and kill them.

Just as Jonathan Swift satirized the heartless apathy of the ruling class by soberly suggesting that the solution to ending poverty was to eat the children of the poor, so too does Roth take aim at a culture of wealth that has become so bored with its own idle banality that the only way its members can feel something is by killing another human being.  In the second film he pursues this theme far further than in the original by including a B-plot involving the two men who have won the right to kill Beth and Whitney (Lorna having been sold to a Bathory-esque older woman who enjoys bathing in the blood of virgins).  Through them we are given a glimpse into the inner-workings of the business and the rules by which it is operated.

Watching the two friends interact it’s hard not to think of the two similar characters in Neil LaBute’s directorial debut In the Company of Men who decide to avenge their frustrations towards women by deliberately humiliating the most innocent woman they can find.  Todd (Richard Burgi) is the ringleader and alpha-male, while Stuart (Roger Bart) is the follower, who reluctantly goes along on the trip despite his grave moral concerns about what they are doing.  In that way they also resemble the two main protagonists from the first film, Paxton and Josh (Derek Richardson).  The clear subtext in the first Hostel was that Josh allowed himself to be ordered around by his more dominant friend because their manly adventures allowed him to avoid confronting his own closeted homosexuality, while in Part II Stuart follows Todd because their adventures together (all of which the far-wealthier Todd pays for) represent the only times in his life where he is able to escape the stifling bonds of his career and familial obligations.

But as their stories continue and the two friends at last find themselves in their leather butcher aprons and alone with the women they are now contractually obligated to murder (the organization’s secrecy is maintained by a kind of mutually assured destruction in which everyone who takes part is as guilty as everyone else) the true nature of their personalities come out.  Todd, the pure hedonist, who has dressed Whitney in the costume of a low-rent prostitute, at first seems to enjoy the experience, teasing his victim with a circular saw.  But when he slips and the weapon connects with her face and does actual damage, the seriousness and horror of the situation finally dawns on him.  Suddenly aware that this is not a game and that he is in a room with a real human being who screams and bleeds when she is injured, he panics and runs out of the room.  Informed that he must finish her off in order to meet his obligation, he refuses and is then mauled to death by a group of dogs kept around for just such occasions.

Stuart’s first instincts, on the other hand, are to attempt to rescue Beth—who he has dressed in the casual business attire worn by the women in his day-to-day life—but as the reality of the situation becomes more apparent to him he realizes he really does want to kill her.  Finally given a true outlet for all of the frustrations and humiliations he has swallowed down over the years, he realizes he actually relishes the chance to take it.  Given the opportunity to finish off Whitney for a reasonable discount, he happily decapitates her with a machete before returning to Beth, who has come to represent in his mind all of the women who have embarrassed and "castrated" him throughout his life.

But Beth is a very resourceful young woman.

More than anything it is her journey that I feel elevates Hostel: Part II to a far greater level than its detractors allow.  A very wealthy young woman following the death of her father, Beth has not only the will but also the resources required to be a kind and generous person.  Far more sensible than her party-girl friend Whitney, but also more cautious than the naïve Lorna, Beth is the most grounded and centered character in the film (her one quirk being her very strong and visceral reaction to anyone who calls her the dreaded c-word).  For this reason she is able to keep her head and figure out a way out of the torture chamber fate has thrown her into.  When Stuart returns to kill her, she is able to reverse their situations and attempts to bargain her way out with the man in charge.  The fate of his manhood (and life) literally in her hands, Stuart is unable to contain his rage and says the one thing guaranteed to ensure his emasculation.
Beth's transformation from pure victim to tattooed member of the exclusive Hostel club suggests that the truly unequal dynamic in Western culture isn't Male/Female, but instead Rich/Poor.  Paxton's luck and resourcefulness allowed him a small modicum of revenge against his tormentors, but ultimately his relative poverty doomed him to an inevitably violent death (the second film begins with his being decapitated in the one place where he feels safe and, later on in the film, his severed head is shown as the centerpiece in the Chairman's grotesque trophy room), whereas Beth is able to ensure her continued survival thanks to her inherited wealth.  For this reason there is a tremendous amount of sadness in her victory.  Despite her tremendous courage and intelligence, she escapes only because Stuart lacks the financial resources of his dead friend.  In the twisted logic of the world in which they live, she emasculates Stuart before she cuts off his dick simply by having a larger net worth than he does.
It is, in fact, this feeling of being less than--which he blames on his wife--that causes Stuart to forget his heroic instincts and embrace the worst impulses of his wounded masculinity.  Thus fate ensures that his symbolic castration becomes a literal one at the hands of a woman who he has subconsciously dressed in the attire of his metaphorical emasculater.
If one truly wanted to criticize Roth's film, you could argue that it lacks subtlety and his conclusions are fairly obvious.  I would disagree insofar as I believe that subtle satire is an oxymoron and that those filmmakers who attempt it inevitably create trite works of little to no impact.  And being obvious is usually only considered a fault by those viewers whose own detachment leads them to believe that "truth" is a  fantasy of the bourgeoisie (ie. most professional critics).  The problem is that either through deliberate obtuseness or inadvertent obliviousness many commentators, both mainstream and genre, refuse to acknowledge that the Hostel films exist on any other level than the showcasing of graphic violence--neglecting to criticize their themes not because they disagree with them but because they cannot bring themselves to admit that they exist.  However, even as shallow a deconstruction as the one provided above proves this to be demonstrably not the case.  As far as I'm concerned it's perfectly acceptable to dismiss Roth's work because you find his conclusions shallow or abhorrent, but it's an act of pure intellectual laziness to blithely ignore those conclusions and glibly negate the films by classifying them as "Torture Porn" or "Gorno".  And by "pure intellectual laziness" I, of course, mean utter stupidity.
Compared to the Hostel films, Hard Candy fared a lot better with critics, but not quite as well with several men I happen to know personally—some of who saw the film purely based on my recommendation of it.  Considering how much it affected me, I found their reticence towards it somewhat surprising.  Whenever I probed them to find out what it was they didn’t like about the film I found they were reluctant to say anything specific, but in each case it eventually became clear that their major problem was with the film’s young, female protagonist.

A two-handed character piece, the film is a psychological thriller about the dangers of online sexual predation, but not quite in the way most people would expect.  While Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson) completely matches the profile of one of those idiots regularly caught on camera on Dateline NBC’s now infamous “To Catch a Predator” segments (if only a bit smoother, stylish and less obviously creepy) his young prey, Hayley Stark (Ellen Page), is not what you would call a typical 14 year old girl.  Not only is she the one who suggests that they meet together after flirting online, but it also soon becomes clear that she is nowhere near as innocent or defenseless as Jeff (and us viewers) assume.

It turns out that Hayley believes Jeff is guilty of a terrible crime and is willing to take dramatic action to ensure he is punished and doesn’t do it again.

Though they were loath to admit it, the reason my male friends refused to praise the film was because it forced them to make a choice they did not want to make—to either sympathize with a man who at best was a sleazy pedophile and at worst a rapist/murderer or the possibly delusional young woman who wanted to cut his balls off.  As loathsome as they found Jeff to be, they still could not bring themselves to endorse Hayley’s mission, because—as much as they didn’t want to—they identified with his plight and imagined themselves in his situation. 

The more I thought about it, the more it became clear to me that the castration sequence in Hard Candy is the male equivalent of Camille Keaton’s extended rape in Day of the Woman (aka I Spit On Your Grave), not only in terms of length (Jeff spends 34 of the film’s 100 minutes strapped to the table where the “operation” is performed) but also in its ability to shock and divide its audience.  As I noted in my way-too-long discussion of Meir Zarchi’s classic, film critic Roger Ebert denounced Day of the Woman as the worst film ever made because of his belief that the filmmaker had intended the audience to cheer on the brutal rape of its female protagonist, while it is my belief that Zarchi clearly wanted the audience to be disgusted by what they saw.  In much the same way, a person’s appreciation of Hard Candy depends on whether or not they believe that Hayley is acting rationally and that her actions are just.

There is much evidence to suggest that Jeff is guilty of the crime he is accused of, but it is all circumstantial at best.  It also doesn’t help Hayley’s cause that she cruelly toys with him as she makes her surgical preparations.  Justice should not be a game and sometimes it seems as though she is having too much fun playing vigilante.

Interestingly, though, one way this sequence differs from Day of the Woman’s rape sequence is that Meir Zarchi leaves nothing to the imagination, while Hard Candy’s David Slade is very careful to obscure what is going on.  Of course it later turns out that this is as much for narrative reasons as anything else, but his reticence does little to dull the impact of the sequence, which is the very definition of cringe inducing.  Due largely to its length and distressing ambivalence (Slade never allows us to assume that he sympathizes with either character) it is easily the hardest of the sequences discussed in this post for a person to sit through.
That said, I can admit now that unlike my peers who found themselves so troubled by Hayley’s actions they could not enjoy the film, I found myself unwaveringly with her 100% of the time.  Part of this is due to the strength of Ellen Page’s performance, which elevated her in my personal pantheon long before everyone caught up with Juno and part of it is due to my natural instinct to side with fictional female vigilantes, even when they do things I would never advocate a real person (female or otherwise) doing.

Some people find it impossible to separate their personal politics from their enjoyment of a film.  For the most part, these are people I try hard to avoid.  For me part of the fun of a film like this is that it allows me to embrace a dark side of my own personality I prefer to sublimate in my actual life.  Whereas in the world actual I believe there is no room for revenge in the pursuit of justice and therefore abhor capital or physical punishment of any kind (believing that the ultimate form of hypocrisy is for a government to claim that the only way the worst possible crime can be punished is by committing that crime itself), in the cinematic world I am allowed the freedom to embrace my inner redneck and cheer on Hayley as she cuts that pervert’s nuts off.

For this reason I found watching this sequence filled me with both revulsion and exhilaration—I squirmed in sympathy with Jeff, while cheering on Hayley’s act of so-called “preventative maintenance.”  As a result for me the truest moment of ambivalence came at the end of the sequence when Jeff, finally left alone, escapes from his bonds and discovers that Hayley has been fucking with him (and, in turn, Slade and screenwriter Brian Nelson, have been fucking with us).
Thus one of the most anxiety provoking castration sequences
in cinematic history is one in which no actual castration occurs at all.
In the final moments of the film, Hayley is able to get Jeff to finally confess his involvement in the crime she has accused him of.  He insists that all he did was watch and tells her the name of the real murderer, a man named Aaron.  Hayley tells him she's already visited Aaron and that he said the same thing about Jeff.  Confronted by his monstrosity and Hayley's (false) assurances that she will keep the one woman he's always loved from discovering his secret, Jeff commits suicide by hanging himself from his roof--a fate that seems almost anti-climatic following his pseudo-castration.
At the end of his extremely well-written and perceptive review of the film, online genre critic El Santo, points out that another reason--beyond her mere actions--that some people are put off by Hayley's character is her unnatural precocity and near-superhuman abilities, but the reason I didn't find this troubling was because I believed Slade and Nelson inserted subtle clues into the film that suggested that Hayley is not what she appears but rather something supernatural or possibly divine. 
When it comes to "accepting" a film, viewers have two options.  They can either compare it to the everyday reality they themselves know or they can judge what they see based on the world presented in the film.  You can either dismiss Hard Candy out of hand for never explaining how an 80 lb girl can so easily manhandle a man literally twice her size or you can use your imagination and come to your own conclusions on how she is able to do everything she does.
I made my decision in the film's final shot.  Though the red hood she wears is an obviously iconic reference to Little Red Riding Hood and her encounter with the Big Bad Wolf (an encounter whose final conclusion differs from telling to telling), I focused more on the look on her face.  She had done this before and would do this again, her focus and determination so ineffable that I couldn't help but assume that she was on a mission directly given to her by a vengeful and angry god.  It definitely helped when I heard the first word of the song that plays as the screen fades to black and goes to the final credits.
When I say that the last film in this post’s trilogy of modern castration classics surprised me, that is something of an understatement.  Not so much for its content—I knew going in what to expect on that end—but by rather how much I enjoyed it.  With all apologies to Christopher Nolan, Teeth remains my pick for best movie I’ve seen this year, although it does seem strange to compare this low-budget combination of horror and comedy to a project as monolithic as The Dark Knight.  

The film’s most immediate cinematic peer is the justly heralded cult classic Ginger Snaps, which remains one of my favourite films from this decade.  Both are horror tales about young female outcasts whose ascent into womanhood turns deadly due to forces within their own bodies they cannot control.  In Ginger Snaps, that force is the lycanthropy that causes young Ginger to embrace her carnal side as she descends into a state of permanent beastliness, while in Teeth it is the virginal Dawn’s discovery that she is the flesh and blood incarnation of one of the Earth’s oldest and most widespread myths.

One of the things I loved most about Mitchell Lichtenstein’s script is the risk he takes in making his protagonist a character most horror movies fans by nature would abhor—an abstinence-preaching goodie-goodie who wears her virginity on her sleeve and hangs out with friends so pious they refuse to see an R-rated movie.  In less deft hands Dawn (Jess Wexler) could have turned out to be as obnoxious a character as Mandy Moore’s in the supremely tiresome A Walk to Remember (not to be confused with her deliberately obnoxious character in the brilliant Saved!), but in one short sequence he gains her our sympathy by showing us that she is just as much an outcast as any black-shirted malcontent.

As audacious as Lichtenstein’s choice is, it does make perfect narrative sense, insofar as Dawn’s veneration of her own virtue explains away the story's potential biggest plot hole.  By making her essentially afraid of her own sexuality (as exemplified by her horrified reactions to her intensely erotic dreams) it becomes possible to appreciate how she has been able to avoid any potential physical examination that would expose her strange mutation.

Though the cause of this mutation is most likely linked to the presence of the enormous nuclear cooling tower visible just a few miles from her house (as is the cancer slowing killing her mother) Lichtenstein’s script also suggests that it is a natural evolutionary step—one that is necessary if women are ever to wrest themselves from the physical dominance of brutal, sex-obsessed males.

If ever there was a subject begging to be exploited in a horror movie setting, Vagina dentata has to take first prize.  While it has been used as a subtext (both consciously and accidentally) in many films, Teeth is one of the first to chuck metaphor out the window in favour of a direct representation of man’s biggest unspoken fear.  It’s genius, though, comes in the way it allows us to subvert that fear and compels us to cheer on the young woman who is the unwitting symbol of primal emasculation.  Rather than terrify us with a horrific descent into Dawn’s monstrosity, Lichtenstein chooses to create a story of empowerment in which Dawn’s mutation makes the slow transformation from inexplicable curse to exploitable gift.


Like Roth, Lichtenstein’s intentions are clearly satirical, which means its characters have been drawn to serve his thematic purposes rather than serve as three-dimensional representations of people found in our own non-cinematic reality.  That said it does seem only fair that in a film where its female protagonist is partially defined by the devastating power of her vagina, all of the male characters are shown to be incapable of making any decision not immediately linked to the desires of their penises.  In the world of Teeth, every male is a potential sexual predator, especially the nice ones who say all the right things.

This is a completely accurate depiction of the world as it really is.

I don’t mean to propagate the hoary old feminist cliché that every man is a wannabe rapist, but rather that the biological impulse to procreate remains strong enough that few men possess the inner-strength to ever completely disregard it.  In Teeth this is best represented by the character Tobey (Hale Appleman), a fellow “abstainer” whose chaste flirtations with Dawn quickly escalates into violence as a result of his own pent-up sexual frustration (“I haven’t even jerked off since Easter,” he shouts at her in an attempted mitigation of his assault).  During this, her first experience with intercourse, Dawn and Tobey both discover her hidden secret and following his entirely unexpected castration, he falls into the water they had been swimming in and does not come back up to the surface.

With this Dawn is not only forced to contemplate her mutation, but also her own sexuality for the first time in her life.  This leads to her first ever visit to a gynecologist in a scene that best exemplifies the film’s darkly humourous  tone.  Perhaps it says something about my own twisted sense of humour, but I laughed longer and harder the first time I watched this moment than during any other scene I’ve seen this year.

With this second incident a clear pattern begins to emerge.  Sensing Dawn’s unusual innocence, the men around her seek to exploit her sexual naiveté only to find out too late that they do so at their peril.  Though she lacks the experience to immediately recognize the inappropriateness of the doctor’s actions (his gloveless probing clearly treading past the line from routine examination into outright molestation), subconsciously she identifies the violation for what it is and her body takes action against it.  As will become clear with her next sexual experience, her strange “adaptation” does not act in opposition to her impulses, but directly with them.  Though she does not know it yet, she is in complete control of her sexuality—it is merely a matter of accepting and embracing it.

Overcome by her role in Tobey’s death, the doctor’s mutilation and her mother’s collapse and subsequent hospitalization, Dawn finds herself drawn to Ryan (Ashley Springer), a boy from school whose crush on her has always been flagrantly apparent.  He does his best to comfort her anxiety (including giving her some pills purloined from his mother), while also exploiting her duress for his benefit.  He decorates his room with candles and gives her wine, having correctly identified the romantic tropes she associates with the abdication of her virginity.  Touched by his gentleness and attention, Dawn engages with him in her first act of consensual intercourse and is shocked to find that when it ends he is none the worse for it.  Afterwards she examines her topless body in the mirror and already a new self-confidence is apparent in her bearing and demeanor.  In that moment she makes the visible transition from being a girl to becoming a woman, which makes what happens next all the more powerful.

About to leave, she is drawn back to Ryan’s bed for one more round of coitus, only to find out—via a phone call from his friend—that he has just successfully won a bet in which he would be the first to claim the pretty virgin’s maidenhood.  In that moment the last vestige of her innocence is extinguished for good and Ryan promptly meets the same painful fate of Tobey and the bad doctor.  Her reaction here is telling.  No longer terrified of what she can do, all she can muster in way of a response is a comic “Oh shit,” as she dismounts Ryan and leaves him screaming in his bed.  “Some hero,” she mutters to herself, having learned the truth behind her girlish romantic fantasies.


It’s interesting to note the degree to which the film allows its male "victims" to suffer.  As a full-on rapist, Tobey’s punishment is death.  The doctor, whose assault—while creepy—was not as violent or as obvious as Tobey’s is shown having his fingers reattached, but is also dramatically traumatized by the incident (“Vagina dentata,” he keeps repeating, “it’s real….”).  Ryan’s initial tenderness is “rewarded” in that he survives the encounter and is—like the doctor—shown having his severed organ reattached to his body, although he too will doubtlessly be traumatized for life.  Of them all it is her final “victim”—her stepbrother, Brad—who is punished with the worst of all the possible fates (at least from a decidedly male viewpoint).  

Dawn’s opposite in every way, Brad’s callousness is the direct result of his resentment over the marriage of his father to Dawn’s mother.  Not because of any lingering devotion to his own mother, but rather because of his feelings for Dawn.  By making her his sister, the marriage prevented him from ever being able to act upon his sexual desire for her in a socially acceptable manner.  For this reason when he hears his cancer-ridden stepmother collapse in the hallway, he ignores her cries and leaves her to be found by Dawn, who goes on to blame him for her subsequent death.

With this Dawn comes to realize that her “adaptation” is not a deformity, but rather an aspect of herself with which she can extract karmic justice.  She goes on to visit Brad in his room, dressed for seduction (albeit in a manner that reflects her goodie-goodie instincts) and proceeds to deliberately do to him what she unintentionally did to the others.  His suffering continues when Dawn defiantly drops his severed member onto his floor, only to watch as his pit bull escapes from its cage and proceeds to eat it in a couple of quick bites.  Unlike Tobey, who didn’t live long enough to appreciate what had happened to him, or Ryan, whose mutilation was only temporary, Brad is shown being completely robbed of his manhood without any chance for recovery.

The film then ends with Dawn leaving her small town by hitchhiking out on the highway,  And as much as I enjoyed everything that came before it, it is the film’s last scene that truly won me over.  Trapped in the car with an obnoxious old pervert, Dawn is first annoyed by the situation, but that annoyance visibly dissipates when she realizes that she, not he, is the one who is truly in control of what is going on.  Her smile at this awareness made me doing something I never do when I watch a movie—applaud.  It was the only response I could think of to justify how good it made me feel.

Of all the films, Teeth is the most graphic in its depiction of its castrations.  Though, unlike Hostel: Part II, we never actually see Dawn sever the penises from her “victims” bodies, we are exposed to much longer takes of the various aftermaths.  Yet it remains the least discomfiting of the three films, largely because rather than acts of overt hostility, its castrations are presented either as an unconscious reaction to an assault or emotional betrayal or—in the last case—a just act of revenge committed against an utter douchebag.  This is interesting in that it suggests that the power of onscreen violence has little to do with what we are actually shown onscreen but instead by how what we are being shown makes us feel.  Though some would suggest this serves as a good argument in defense of restraint, one could easily argue with just as much validity that the degree to which graphic violence is acceptable depends on how the filmmaker intends their audience to react when they see it.  In other words, it is foolish to suggest that one approach is better than the other when it all depends on the context in which they are used.

And that folks is my way-too-long look at a recent cinematic phenomenon only a freak like me would ever think to document.  It only took me two months to throw it all together and I'm already fairly certain it wasn't worth the wait....

Day of the Woman


Of all the films I have elected to discuss here at The House of Glib, today’s is BY FAR the most controversial.  Few films in the brief history of the art form have managed the nearly impossible trick of being praised by some as a low-budget masterpiece of feminist cinema, while also being denounced by others as the worst example of misogynistic exploitation trash ever to be devised by a truly sick and twisted mind.  While serving as a perfect case of how much a film’s title and marketing can influence an audience’s reaction, today’s film is important for also forcing the viewer to ask themselves how far is too far when it comes to getting a desired point across.  At what point does a filmmaker cross the line from exposing society’s evils to exploiting them?  And should they be blamed if certain segments of the audience respond to the material in the exact opposite way that they intended?

For those reasons today’s subject is the rare example of a film whose content makes it almost impossible to recommend to others, while also being one that no serious student of the filmmaking arts can justifiably avoid—it’s a film that should be shown in every introductory film class, but never will be because of the protests its inclusion would inevitably engender.

I am, of course, talking about:

Originally released as Day of the Women in 1978, Polish sound editor Meir Zarchi’s directorial debut was inspired by a real life incident in which he and a friend discovered a badly beaten and nude woman who had been raped in a park near his home.  Not only had he been horrified by the barbarity of the woman’s attackers (they had broken her jaw and only allowed her to live after she insisted that there was no way she could identify them since they had smashed her glasses and she could not see their faces), but also by the terrible bureaucratic indifference of the police officer who took her report and seemed far more concerned with getting it finished than calling the ambulance she so obviously needed.  To Zarchi’s eyes the casual cruelty of the apathetic officer was little different than the animal savagery of the rapists and in the years that followed the incident he began to imagine a film in which a woman survives a terrible rape, but instead of going to the police for justice, decides to take the matter into her own hands and forces her attackers to understand how terrifying it is to be a victim of another person’s remorseless brutality.  He wrote the screenplay during the 40-minute subway commutes to and from his New York office and was able to raise enough money (and defer enough payments) to make the film with a cast of unknowns and a crew largely composed of enthusiastic amateurs.

The film begins in New York, but only stays there for the briefest of scenes.  Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton), a successful young short story writer has decided to leave her apartment in the city in order to enjoy the peace and tranquility of a lake house located in rural Connecticut, where she plans to write her first novel.  On her way there she stops for gas at the town’s antiquated station, where the attendant, Johnny (Eron Tabor) takes notice of her sophisticated beauty, while his two dimwitted friends, Andy (Gunter Kleeman) and Stanley (Anthony Nichols) play a game that involves throwing a switchblade into the grass at their feet.

Upon reaching the lake house, Jennifer is so excited by the quiet, natural beauty of her surroundings that she runs towards the water and takes off her dress and enjoys a naked swim in the water—visibly thrilled to have escaped the noise and squalor of the city.  

We next see her as she unpacks her clothes and discovers a gun left behind by a former tenant in one of the drawers, but before she can do anything more than look at it, she is interrupted by the sound of someone knocking on her door.  It turns out to be Matthew (Richard Pace), the Lenny-esque manchild who works as the delivery boy for the local grocery store.  When he learns that she’s from New York City, he tells her that she “…comes from an evil place!”  She humours his small-town innocence by giving him “…a tip from an evil New Yorker,” which he excitedly tells her is the largest he’s ever received (a whole dollar).   He’s also becomes excited when he learns she’s a real writer and is famous (even though he’s never actually heard of her) and—as he chomps on an apple she gives him—he asks her if she has a boyfriend. 
“I have many boyfriends,” she tells him. 
“Could I be your friend?” he asks her sweetly. 
“Sure,” she smiles at him.  

Thrilled by his encounter with the glamorous woman from the big city, Matthew leaves and finds his friends—the same three men Jennifer encountered at the gas station.  Trying to impress them he tells them that he “…saw her tits!” (referring to the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra underneath her shirt).  It’s obvious that they aren’t a good influence on him, but they’re also the only people around who treat him like an equal—largely because they’re not that much smarter than he is.  Having exhausted all of the other diversionary activities their small town offers, the four of them decide to go fishing.  There they discuss whether or not beautiful women have to defecate (they decide that they do, since all woman “…are full of shit”) and how they have to get Matthew “…a broad…” to rid him of his virginity.  Stanley takes a shot at Matthew’s sexuality by claiming that, “…broads don’t turn him on!” to which Matthew responds by insisting, “Yes they do, but not all broads, only the special ones.”  Johnny humours him by asking, “What’s a special broad, Matthew?”

“Miss Hill,” answers Matthew.  “Miss Hill is special.”

Unaware of the impact she is having amongst the locals, Jennifer continues to commune with nature by going on canoe rides and sitting outside as she writes out chapters of her novel in long hand on a yellow legal pad.  Her peace does not last, however, when Andy and Stanley drive by on their motorboat.  Intent on getting her attention, they obnoxiously loop around the water until finally she has no choice but to go inside in order to escape them.

Later that night, while she is alone in bed, she is disturbed by the sound of clearly manmade animal noises coming from outside the house.  She goes outside to see where they are coming from, but sees only the darkness of the night and decides to go back inside, where she reassures herself with the knowledge that she has the gun she found in the drawer, if she needs it.  It turns out that she soon will, but at a time and place where no one would think to bring it.

During the middle of a hot summer day, Jennifer basks in the rays of the sun as she lies out in her canoe as it floats across the water.  Her calm does not last long, though, as Stanley and Andy return in their motorboat.  This time, however, they intend on doing more than simply show off.  They begin by driving around her canoe, causing it to shake in the waves, and then they grab its rope and begin pulling it behind them.  They take it to the shore, where Jennifer tries to fight them off with her paddle, but they quickly get it away from her and begin chasing her through the woods.

Jennifer soon discovers that this attack was planned when she reaches a clearing and is knocked down by Johnny, who has been waiting for his two friends to deliver her to him.  With Andy and Stanley’s help he tears off her bikini, holds her down and urges Matthew to come out from his hiding spot and take what they had gotten for him.  Matthew, torn between his loyalty to his friends and his affection for Miss Hill, refuses to rape her, but agrees to hold one of her legs as Johnny decides to do what he won’t.  Johnny strips out of his clothes and roughly penetrates Jennifer.

When he finishes, his three friends let her go and they all watch as she crawls away into the woods.  Johnny sends Matthew out to get her back, but he just helps her up and watches as she limps away.  The others taunt him for not taking advantage of the situation, with Johnny telling him, “…You’re gonna die a virgin.”

Naked and barefoot, Jennifer is forced to walk through not only the forest, but also small streams and swamp water in order to get back home.  Sadly, though, her attackers know the area far better than she does and are able to find her again.  This time Stanley rapes her—sodomizing her as Andy and Matthew hold her down on a large rock.  He climaxes as quickly as Johnny did and the four of them leave her stretched out on the rock and return to their boat.  Making their escape they abandon her canoe in the middle of the lake and Johnny throws her bikini into the water.  

Bruised, bloodied and covered in mud, a nearly catatonic Jennifer is finally able to get back to the lake house.  Upon reaching it, she collapses and has to crawl in order to get to a shirt to cover her naked body and to then get to the phone to call the police.  

But her attackers are not done with her.  Just as she finishes dialing, the phone is kicked away from her and Johnny appears at the top of her stairway.  As the others cheer him on, a now-drunk Matthew overcomes his shyness and strips naked and jumps on top of their victim, but isn’t able to finish like the others.  As he dejectedly puts his clothes back on, Andy finds some pages from Jennifer’s unfinished novel and reads them aloud for everyone’s amusement before he tears them up and throws the ripped up pieces on top of her.  

The other three having had their turns, Stanley is the last of the four to take advantage of their captive.  Jennifer—knowing that she can’t stop him and has been badly hurt by the other’s rough penetrations—begs him to allow her to fellate him instead.  “Total submission, that’s what I like in a woman,” he sneers just before he sadistically shoves a bottle into her vagina and orders her to perform oral sex with the command “Suck it, bitch!”  Unhappy with her lack of effort, he gets up and starts kicking her, which—despite their previous barbarity—is too much for even his friends to take.  They pull him outside and start to leave, but then Johnny decides that they can’t leave her alive after what they did to her.  He hands Matthew a switchblade and tells him to go back inside and kill her.  Matthew naturally refuses at first, but Johnny is finally able to convince him to do it.  With the knife in his hand he returns inside the house, where Jennifer is laying unconscious on the floor.  He puts the blade to her chest, but he can’t go through with it, so he instead wipes it across her cheek, covering it in blood, which he shows to his friends in order to prove that he did it.  Assuming that they now have nothing to worry about, the four of them escape away from the house down the water in their motorboat.

Knowing that there is nothing the law can do to get her the justice she deserves for what the four men have done to her, Jennifer does not call the police.  Instead she slowly nurses herself back to health and picks up the pieces of her now-shattered life.  One day she spots her canoe floating in the water outside of her house and is able to retrieve it.  The next she spends patiently taping up the pages from her novel that Stanley tore up in front of her and soon she starts writing new pages to go along with them.  The days pass by and her visible wounds fade, leaving only the ones left on the inside—the ones she’ll have to eventually leave the lake house to cure.

As their victim convalesces, the four rapists grow concerned that she might still be alive since they had not heard any news about her body being discovered by the police.  Johnny attempts to convince Matthew to go to the house to check, but he refuses and it’s left up to Andy and Stanley to find out for sure.  They drive past the house on their motorboat and see their victim sitting at a tree reading a book.  Knowing now that Matthew lied to them, the three others beat him up and make it clear that their friendship is over.  

As the quartet self-destructs, Jennifer is finally ready to open the drawer that holds the gun she found her first day there.  Dressed in black, she drives to the local church and asks God to forgive her for what she is about to do.  She then drives to the gas station where Johnny works, but stops herself from carrying out her plan when she sees him with his wife and children.  She then spots Matthew as he rides past her on his bicycle and decides to begin with him.

She returns home and places an order to the grocery store where he works.  Upon being told of the address of his next delivery, Matthew gets scared and steals a knife from the meat counter to protect himself.  When he arrives at the lake house, he finds Jennifer waiting for him outside, dressed in a white robe that makes her look like an angel.  He follows her into the woods, holding up the knife he brought with him—ready to use it if he has to.  

With the knife in his hand, he finds her standing beside a tree next to the water.  

“I hate you!  I hate you!” he cries at her angrily.  

“What have I done to you Matthew?” she asks with an eerie calmness that almost borders on kindness.  

“I have no friends now because of you!” he tells her.  

“Why, Matthew?” she asks as she begins to untie her robe.  “Why because of me?”

“Because I was chosen to kill you and I didn’t!”

“You will this time Matthew,” she says encouragingly.  “You will.  Just relax.”

“I’m sorry I have to do this,” he apologizes.  “I’m also sorry for what I did to you with them.  It wasn’t my idea.  I have no friends in town.”

“I thought we were friends.  Remember?  You asked me.”

“You’re only here for the summer!  What am I to do the rest of the year?”

“I could have given you a summer to remember—for the rest of your life,” she tells him as she pulls apart the robe and exposes one of her breasts.  

With the knife still raised above his head, she shows him the rest of her naked body and pulls him in for a kiss.  She then kneels down and takes off his pants and pulls him on top of her.  As he has sex with her (doing now what he earlier could not), she reaches behind to a noose hidden in the leaves of the tree and slips it around his neck.  She then starts pulling on the rope the noose is attached to and lifts Matthew up into the air, his body jerking spastically as he slowly suffocates.  She waits until she is sure that he is dead before dumping his body and bicycle into the river.  She then returns to the house and calls the grocery store to inform them that her delivery never arrived.

Having taken care of Matthew, she decides it’s time to return to Johnny.  She finds him by himself at the gas station and is able to wordlessly convince him to get into her car—using nothing more a flirtatious look and a nod of her head.  She drives him to a clearing, where she pulls out her gun on him and orders him to strip.  Johnny does as he’s told, but rather than beg for his life he explains how what happened was really all her fault—insisting that she provoked them with her sexy clothes.  Jennifer allows him to believe that she is swayed by his reasoning and hands her gun over to him and invites him back to her house.  He agrees—not realizing that she is only doing so in order to make him suffer much, much more than he would have if she had just shot him.

Back at her house, she joins Johnny in her bathtub for a bubble bath as he complains about his wife and friends.  He tells her that Matthew is missing, but that he’ll probably turn up sooner or later.  

“He’ll never come back,” Jennifer tells him as she massages and caresses his chest.  

“Why, do you think he committed suicide or something?” asks Johnny.  

“No,” she answers matter-of-factly.  “I killed him.”

Despite her protestations to the contrary, Johnny refuses to accept that she isn’t joking and doesn’t see it coming when Jennifer reaches for a knife she has hidden underneath a towel and uses it to castrate him.  Her rapist is so relaxed in the water he doesn’t even realize it has happened until he sees the water turn red.  Jennifer calmly gets out of the tub, puts on her robe and locks Johnny inside the bathroom as his cursing turns to begging for help and mercy.  She drowns out his cries by playing an aria from Puccini's Manon Lescaut.

This just leaves Andy and Stanley, who—knowing that both Matthew and Johnny are missing—suspect that their own lives are in danger.  Stanley approaches the house on his boat, while Andy comes by land—armed with an ax.  Jennifer, swinging in her hammock in a green bikini, hears Stanley coming and surprises him by swimming to his boat and climbing in.

“Where’s your friend?” she asks him.

“He stayed back in town,” he lies to her.

“I’m glad,” she lies right back to him.  “It’s you I wanted.”

As clueless as Matthew and Johnny, Stanley leans in for the implied kiss, which gives Jennifer the opportunity she needs to push him out of the boat.  As he splashes in the water, she starts the motor and starts terrorizing him with the boat just like he and Andy did to her before.  Andy reveals himself from where he was hiding on the shore and screams at her to leave his friend alone as he climbs into the water.  Using the boat, she manages to steal away his ax and watches as Andy swims towards Stanley in a foolish attempt to rescue him.  The two of them attempt to make it to shore, but Jennifer is able to split them up and kills Andy with his own ax.  

She then stops the boat just a few feet away from Stanley, who swims to her and attempts to lift himself out of the water via the motor.  He begs her not to kill him, insisting that he’s sorry and that it was never his idea in the first place.  Jennifer answers his pleas by repeating his own words back to him—“Suck it, bitch,” she says just before she turns the motor back on and tears him apart with its underwater propeller.

As his body begins to sink into the water, Jennifer drives away.  For the briefest of possible seconds a smile begins to appear on her face, but she does not allow it to grow and replaces it with a cold, blank stare.
The credits begin to roll.


I’m sure it’s pretty obvious by now where I stand in the whole misunderstood masterpiece/worst movie ever debate that has helped keep Day of the Woman relevant to this very day, but I should admit right now that I have a more personal reason to side with its creator than natural contrariness.  Like Meir Zachri, I know what it’s like to make a sincere effort to create a work that both honors the strength and fortitude of women and criticizes the clueless brutality of men, only to be accused of misogyny for having created it.  It actually happened to me twice, both cases involving poems I had written for two creative writing classes I had taken during my brief tenure at the University of Alberta.

The first time involved a poem I had written from the point of view of a rapist who rants at his victim for not giving him the experienced he wanted.  Clearly a weak and pathetic figure who committed his crime in a sick attempt to control someone else, his effort fails when his victim refuses to break down into tears and simply stares back at him with hateful contempt.  Despite having been written with the rapist’s voice, it was obvious whose side I was on and that I had intended for the creep to damn himself with his words, rather than present them as an actual defense of what he did.

It proved to be the most controversial poem the class discussed that year (literally, as nearly a 1/4 of that week’s 3 hour class ended up being devoted to it) and it was simultaneously praised by some as my best work to date and trashed by others as a work of terrible misogyny that illustrated a viewpoint that had no right to exist in the printed word.  And lest you think that I’m being a bit overdramatic describing the sentiments of my detractors, I will never forget that at the end of the debate the poem inspired, our professor summed up his feelings by saying “I think this proves that some point of views should not be expressed.”  

To this day it saddens and shocks me that someone who had devoted their entire life to being a writer and a poet would actually say those words out loud.

The most vocal of my detractors was the class’ most fiercely dogmatic feminist, who ignored the poem’s obvious theme of how even when victimized, women are inevitably stronger than men, and instead insisted that by giving a voice to a rapist, I became one.  Never mind that the poem was a work of fiction and no crime actually occurred, as far as she was concerned my having written about a rape from the male perspective made me a (literary) rapist.

You would think that after being accused of such an offense, I would cease from that point on to write about the subject and protect myself from being labeled a disgusting misogynist for the rest of my academic life, but I was just 19 and not ready to be so easily cowed into dogmatic submission.

The next year nearly all of the same students were enrolled in the higher-level class with a different professor and—without even thinking about what had happened the year before—the first poem I submitted was a long and angry screed that took issue with the way woman had been treated by religion (in this case Christianity) over the years.  It told the tale of Christ returning just before The Rapture specifically to rape an underage stripper on Christmas Eve (not a subtle concept to be sure, but I was only 19 when I wrote it).  My professor, when he introduced it, described it as, “The most explicitly feminist poem I’ve ever read,” which—considering the kind of work he must have been exposed to over the years—struck me as a being a very bold statement, but the same woman who had accused me of being a symbolic rapist a year earlier strongly disagreed.  

In this case her outrage came from the fact that I had depicted the rape in the body of the poem and—even though my narrator this time was unambiguously sympathetic to the victim and hostile to her attacker—this again was an act of misogyny on my part.  As she argued her case it become quite obvious that—as far as she was concerned—rape, as a subject, was entirely off limits to any writer with a penis.  The violation of undesired penetration being a subject she believed male writers could never appreciate or even remotely understand.  Naturally this argument can be undone with a single viewing of any one episode of Oz or Deliverance, but I have discovered throughout the years that pointing this out seldom, if ever, inspires those who make it to reconsider their position.

In defense of my accuser, she did eventually praise me for a later poem I wrote about women who are afraid to express themselves out loud that was inspired by our talented, but very shy fellow classmate, whom every male in the class had a serious crush on, which she included in a ‘zine she put together with her roommate.  

And while this explains my natural impulse to defend Zarchi’s film against accusations of the big, nasty m-word, I would gladly stifle it if I for one second believed that he actually hated women and had created the film to titillate his fellow misogynists, but having repeatedly watched the film and listened to his thoughts on the DVD commentary track I can say with 100% certainty that his intentions were pure—unfortunately the marketing plan of the film’s distributor was not.

In 1978 Zarchi had successfully sold Day of the Woman across the world, but had been unable to find a distributor willing to take on the film in North America.  After a very brief and unsuccessful attempt to distribute it himself, it appeared as though his film was destined to be lost to obscurity, until two years later when exploitation film distributor Jerry Gross (Blood Beach, Miss Nude America and The Boogeyman among others) agreed to release it.  Against Zarchi’s wishes Gross changed the title to I Spit On Your Grave and marketed the film with a lurid poster featuring a bruised and bloodied woman’s shapely backside and the (admittedly wonderful) tagline:
This woman has just cut, chopped, broken and burned five men beyond recognition...
But no jury in America would ever convict her!

Despite the tagline’s three major inaccuracies (Jennifer only kills four men, doesn’t burn any of them and would most likely still get convicted in Texas), it did the trick and got the film in theaters around the country, including—most significantly—Chicago where a single review branded the film with its infamous reputation and sparked the debate that surrounds it to this day.

Since he saw it in 1980, Roger Ebert has never hesitated in naming I Spit On Your Grave as the worst film he has ever reviewed.  Such was his antipathy for the film, he actually appointed himself the role of public censor and urged people to boycott and protest the theaters that were showing it and on several occasions stood outside those theaters with his fellow famous TV reviewing partner Gene Siskel in order to try and convince people not to see it.  For the moment, he proved successful, as the film quickly disappeared out of theaters, but in the long run his efforts were undone when—thanks largely to its now-infamous reputation—the film became a huge hit following its release into the then-nascent home video market.

The irony being one that every potential crusader should note—in all likelihood your protests will give the subject of your ire more attention than it ever would have received if you had simply allowed it to come and go without comment.

And while Ebert certainly was well within his rights to loathe the film and do everything he could to spare others what he believed was the most horrible of cinematic experiences, his reaction to the film was troubling for several reasons, the first of which was utter hypocrisy.
In the decade preceding his review of I Spit on Your Grave, Ebert had occasionally moonlighted as a screenwriter for the infamously breast-obsessed director Russ Meyer (both pictured) and collaborated on the scripts that would eventually become Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.  And while the three films vary greatly in quality (Beyond is brilliant, Up! is extremely uneven but has its moments and Beneath is a self-indulgent mess) each of them contains moments as discomfiting as any found in Zarchi’s film.  In particular, the deaths of Casey and Roxanne in Beyond (who essentially die for no other reason than their lesbian relationship), the extended and brutal rape of Margo in Up! and the numerous sexual assaults played for laughs in Beneath, all call into question the validity of Ebert’s moral crusade against the film.

Equally distressing is the fact that eight years earlier Ebert (to his credit) had been one of the few critics to defend Wes Craven’s disturbing breakout film, The Last House on the Left--a film one could easily argue is as “…sick, reprehensible and contemptible…” as I Spit on Your Grave, if not more so.  But it is clear when you read his review of I Spit on Your Grave, what has offended him is not so much the film’s content, but rather how the audience he watched it with reacted to it.

Reading his description of the vocal reactions of his fellow audience members cheering on the rapists as they assaulted their victim, it is easy to understand why he left the screening feeling so disturbed, but it is much harder to sympathize with his conclusion that this was the precisely the reaction the filmmakers had intended.  

I remember when Schindler’s List came out there were reports of laughter from callous teenagers on school field trips, who reacted to the senseless deaths of Jewish holocaust victims the exact same way they would later react to the senseless deaths of the underworld characters in Pulp Fiction.  Had Ebert seen Spielberg’s movie in a theater filled with these idiots, would he have concluded that the director was an amoral anti-semite playing the Shoah for laughs?  Of course not, but Spielberg’s film had the benefit of being marketed as the serious work that it was—while Zarchi’s film had had its title changed and was now being sold as a pure exploitation picture.  The question then is if Ebert’s review would have stayed the same if he had seen Day of the Woman instead of I Spit on Your Grave.  My guess is that under its original title, the film wouldn’t have attracted the rough, unenlightened crowd that responded so enthusiastically to the ads for I Spit on Your Grave and Ebert would have simply dismissed the film rather than be inspired to declare the jihad that helped make it so famous.

In retrospect the most troubling part of Ebert’s review is his insistence that, “This is a film without a shred of artistic distinction. It lacks even simple craftsmanship,” since watching the film today clearly proves this not to be the case, but in the critic’s defense it is certainly likely that the film he saw and heard at a local theater in 1980 bears little resemblance to the film now available on DVD in 2007.  In the past few years we have seen a rise in once-dismissed or even actively abhorred films receive the benefit of a critical re-evaluation thanks largely to remastered DVD releases that present them in a new and entirely different light.  It is entirely possible that the film Ebert saw appeared to be poorly made, but the film available right now proves that initial appearances can be deceiving.

There is a reason I took the time and effort to format this post so that its screencaps could be enlarged with a mouse click and that is because many of them possess a deceptively simple beauty that I felt was ill served by presenting them at only 350x190 resolution.  The film possesses a unique look that at once seems dreamlike and verite-esque (is so a word)—as if Zarchi has made a fly-on-the-wall 70s documentary of a horrible nightmare.  Zarchi and his cinematographer Yuri Haviv (who also shot the genuinely artless Doris Wishman curiosity Double Agent 73) take full advantage of the natural settings of Kent, Connecticut, to create an arresting juxtaposition of savage inhumanity and lush green floral beauty.

But even if this were not the case, I believe Ebert is completely mistaken when he argues that, “Because [the film] is made artlessly, it flaunts its motives: There is no reason to see this movie except to be entertained by the sight of sadism and suffering.”  In fact, I would argue that the exact opposite is true—it is the perceived lack of artistry that actually proves that Zarchi’s motives were to invoke horror and empathy for his victim and not to titillate the sadists whose laughter and jokes caused Ebert to so passionately lash out.

The attack on Jennifer (starting from Andy and Stanley abducting her canoe and ending with the four rapists escaping from the lake house via their motor boat) lasts just a bit over 32 minutes, which is almost less than half as long as the “…hour of rape scenes…” Ebert describes, but still long enough to make it one of the most significantly extended rape sequences in film history.  For many it is this extended length that the film’s detractors point to as the clearest sign of Day of the Woman’s perceived misogyny—arguing that the film could have simply suggested the attack if it intentions were to enlighten rather than to arouse—but in reality the opposite is once again true.
Strangely, those offended by the sequence’s “artlessness” and extended length complain that it is ugly, unbearably sadistic and nearly impossible for a decent person to sit through, which is an extremely odd criticism when you consider that they are talking about—and please forgive me as I use a profanity to express myself—A FUCKING RAPE SCENE!  By its very definition rape is an ugly, sadistic crime that no decent person would be comfortably able to watch happen in front of them.  The rape scenes in Day of the Woman are disgusting because they were meant to be disgusting.  Zarchi’s intentions are clear, he wants you to feel sick as you watch what happens to Jennifer and if you don’t than that is a damning failure of your own soul, not his as a filmmaker.

Beyond its length, there are several other factors that make the sequence unique amongst its ilk.  The first is the unusual use of male nudity.  In most films involving rape, it is almost always only the victim who is seen naked, but in Day of the Woman, all but one of Jennifer’s four attackers strip down to nothing but their socks.  There is a reason male nudity is still extremely rare in movies, especially when compared to its female counterpart, and that’s because many people—both male and female—are repulsed by it.  In the majority of cinematic rape scenes, the filmmakers only show us genitalia we are hardwired to find arousing, thus making their sequences more potentially titillating than they would want to admit.  Zarchi avoids this trap by showing just as much of Johnny, Andy and Matthew’s bodies as he does as Jennifer’s.  This contributes significantly to the sense of disgust decent audiences feel when they watch the film.

But the aspect of the sequence that most significantly makes it stand out is its use of music—there is none.  With the exception of the scene where Jennifer puts on an opera record to drown out Johnny’s cries for help, there is no music in Day of the Woman.  More than anything else, this lack of a traditional score contributes to the film’s documentary-like feel—the absence of the expected emotional cues tricks us into thinking that what we are seeing is really happening and not a work of imagination.  This more than anything else is why I believe Ebert became convinced that Zarchi’s film was an “…expression of the most diseased and perverted darker human natures.”  Without a musical score to tell him what Zarchi wanted him to feel at that moment, it was easy for him to conclude that the filmmaker was in league with the sick fucks he was unfortunate enough to be sitting with in the theater.

To my eyes, Zarchi did everything he could to make the sequence as hard to watch as possible, with the sole exception of casting an unattractive woman as the victim (but even his decision to cast the beautiful Keaton--pictured here from a horror convention appearance she made at the age of 55--in the role is one that makes sense on both a thematic and narrative level).  And while I believe he did this out of a genuine desire to document the true horrors of sexual assault, the sequence’s brutality also serves the vital purpose of justifying Jennifer’s own remorseless brutality in the last half of the film.

In her brilliant defense of the film in her landmark book Men, Women and Chainsaws (perhaps the most often cited text in the history of this blog), Carol J. Clover points out that Roger Ebert never mentions how the twisted souls who laughed at Jennifer’s suffering reacted when she turned against her attackers in the most violent ways possible.  Did they laugh when she cut off Johnny’s penis or hung the pathetic Matthew?  They might have, but my guess is that they didn’t.

More than anything else, the reason my gut reaction to Day of the Woman is to call it a work of overt feminist propaganda is the fact that the only sequences where I feel Zarchi does take some sadistic delight are the ones where Jennifer kills hers attackers.  Unlike the rape sequence, which he made as ugly as possible, the three sequences where she gets her revenge are far more aesthetically pleasing and—at times—oddly and disturbingly beautiful.

The major criticism of these sequences has always been that Jennifer uses her sexuality in order to commit her murders, suggesting that as a woman she has no other weapons in her arsenal.  My argument against this is that Jennifer is presented as being a smart, worldly young woman and she is canny enough to realize that seducing her victims before killing them allows her to get closer to them and make them suffer that much more than if she merely attacked them from a distance.   And in the case of Matthew, her seduction not only allows her to disarm him and put him in a position where she can slip her waiting noose around his neck, but also justify her unwillingness to spare him despite his unfortunate condition and personal predicament.  By allowing him to do to her what he originally couldn’t, she turns him into a man, which makes him no longer an object of pity, but rather one of deserved scorn. 
In other words, she has to fuck him so she can kill him.

In the sequence with Johnny, Jennifer proves her status as the most powerful of the two by first wordlessly convincing him to get into her car and then pretending to be swayed by his ridiculously chauvinistic defense of his crime against her, so she can put him in position to be robbed of the one thing he cares about most.  Without even really trying she is able to expertly exploit his delusional narcissism and get him into that bathtub where a very sharp knife is waiting for her beneath a nearby towel.

Interestingly, in these two sequences Zarchi uses female nudity in the exact opposite way he did male nudity during the rape sequence.  Unlike the scenes featuring her assault, Zarchi wants us to enjoy watching Matthew and Johnny suffer, so he uses Camille Keaton’s body to provide the titillation he previously worked so hard to avoid.  Her beauty distracts us from the ugliness of her actions, which might otherwise cause us to cease to empathize with her.  Thus his apparent exploitation actually serves as an example of his feminist intent.  By emphasizing her beauty in these moments he proves his allegiance to her and makes it obvious that he considers her actions just.

At this point I still have a lot more I could say about Day of the Woman (I haven’t even touched on the secondary theme of the conflict between urban and rural culture or the strange fact that in criticizing the film some feminist academic reviewers express sentiments nearly identical to that of the uber-chauvinist, Johnny) but this entry is now awfully close to being 7000 words long and I think it’s time for me to stop and get this sucker posted.  That I, or anyone else for that matter, could be inspired to write at such length about this film goes a long way to negating the sentiments of those who would dismiss it as just another example of low-budget exploitation filmmaking that happened to become infamous because of one vitriolic review from a nationally-recognized film critic.  In my introduction I suggested that Day of the Woman/I Spit on Your Grave was a film that is impossible to recommend, but having reached the end of this post, I feel duty bound to contradict myself—see this movie.  The most-recent DVD release of the film, which not only contains the best visual and audible example of the film to date, also contains two extremely interesting audio commentary tracks by Meir Zarchi (who gave no interviews about the film for over 20 years following its release) and by genre critic and historian John Bloom (aka Joe Bob Briggs) and is one of those rare special editions that is truly special and is a must have in the collection of any serious cineaste—genre or otherwise.