Thursday, July 4, 2019

What’s Faster, Pussycat? (An All-American 4th of July Gorefest)

If I hadn’t worked for Roger Corman for so many years, I probably wouldn’t be a fan of Faster, Pussycat1 Kill! Kill! This is a movie that has the great  Corman virtues: it’s fast-paced, it’s concise, and it packs a wallop. To be clear, this is not a Corman film. It was shot in 1965 by exploitation king Russ Meyer, who also concocted the original story, what there is of it. 

In terms of personal style, Russ Meyer can almost be considered the anti-Corman. Roger in his prime projected the aura of an English professor or a hip minister. Meyer, a combat cameraman during World War II, was a self-proclaimed man among men, who was married three times but seemed most at home hanging out with his old military buddies. Clearly turned on by tough, sexy women with oversized breasts, Meyer in film after film indulged his personal obsessions, once saying, “I don't pretend to be some kind of sensitive artist. Give me a movie where a car crashes into a building and the driver gets stabbed by a bosomy blonde, who gets carried away by a dwarf musician.”

Before he passed away in 2004, Meyer directed 29 films, with titles like Mudhoney, Supervixens, and Wild Gals of the Naked West. In 1970, at a time when camp was flourishing, he was actually hired by Twentieth Century Fox to shoot a relatively big-budget film, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, as a follow-up to Fox’s crowd-pleasing Valley of the Dolls. (Roger Ebert, a Russ Meyer devotee, wrote the script.) But Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! remains the closest Meyer has come to making a classic. The story, such as it is, involves three tough, sexy young women (with, natch, oversized breasts) who are out seeking thrills in the California desert. Stumbling upon an innocent young couple, they make short work of the guy and abduct his female companion. Then there’s a crippled old man who has a hidden cache of money as well as a mentally disabled son. What happens thereafter is not pretty, though good triumphs over evil at the very end.

Among the cast, the standout (in more ways than one) is the witchy and bosomy Tura Satana, whose exotic looks and background led her to a career as an exotic dancer (and, it is said, a romance with Elvis Presley). Trained in martial arts, she is frequently given credit for supplying many of the film’s best lines and visuals. Both before and after her death in 2011, Satana inspired homages of many sorts. In the film, her #1 victim, young Linda, is played by the sixteen-year-old Susan Bernard, whose protective mother had the challenge of watching over her on the set. It’s Bernard’s death on June 21 of this year (after a long career in B-movies) that has encouraged me to return to her very lurid debut film.   .
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill, shot in black and white on a $45,000 budget, was not successful when it opened, but it quickly became an exploitation classic. Though initially critics (other than Roger Ebert) were scornful, many have come around.  John Waters, in typically over-the-top fashion, has said the film is “beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.”  There are still frequent references to it within pop culture, . On The Simpsons, for instance, an Itchy & Scratchy cartoon is titled Foster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!  It took a reviewer on IMDB to give it the perfect accolade: “the Citizen Kane of trash cinema.”

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