Written by: Carroll Jenkins on March 18th, 2009
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1964 (Lorna), USA, 1965 (Mudhoney), USA, 1965 (Motor Psycho), USA, 1965 (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
Director: Russ Meyer
Cast: Lorna Maitland, Mark Bradley, James Rucker, Hal Hopper, Doc Scortt, Althea Currier, F. Rufus Owens, Frank Bolger, Ken Parker, James Griffith (Lorna), Hal Hopper, Antoinette Christiani, John Furlong, Rena Horten, Princess Livingston, Lorna Maitland, Sam Hanna, Stuart Lancaster, Nick Wolcuff, Frank Bolger, Lee Ballard, Michael Finn, F. Rufus Owens (Mudhoney), Arshalouis Aivazian, Richard S. Brummer, Joseph Cellini, George Costello, Coleman Francis, Haji, Sharon Lee, Steve Masters, Russ Meyer, Steve Oliver, F. Rufus Owens, Alex Rocco, Thomas Scott, Holle K. Winters (Mudhoney), Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams, Sue Bernard, Stuart Lancaster, Paul Trinka, Dennis Busch, Ray Barlow, Michael Finn, John Furlong (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
Approximate running times: 78 minutes (Lorna), 92 minutes (Mudhoney), 74 minutes (Motor Psycho), 83 minutes (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
Aspect Ratios: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English
DVD Release: RM Films International
Region Coding: Region 0 NTSC
Retail Price: $39.95 (Each Film)
But for Russ Meyer the auteur as opposed to Russ Meyer the promoter of questionably worthwhile films (and himself), you must start with his noir or ‘gothic’ period. And the first was . . .
Synopsis: The honeymoon is over (one year to the day) and a voluptuous wife is feeling unfulfilled. Her husband endures endless jibes from his coworkers: Luther, a lecherous old coot, and his flunky who mostly acts as a half wit Greek chorus to Luther. When an escaped killer stumbles upon Lorna bathing au natural, he rapes her, which causes her to fall madly in love. So they figure to hole up in her house at least until hubby comes home from work (in the salt mines!).
Lorna unfolds as a sleazy and sordid tobacco road melodrama with extraordinary atmosphere, beautiful stark black and white photography, and a complimentary jazz soundtrack. The plot itself is rather straightforward to the point of simplistic, and the coincidences that further the plot are highly unlikely. Nevertheless, Lorna is a gripping tale that is always interesting to look at and contains genuine emotion, even as the characters and situations may be contrived. Lorna is a gripping display of nudity, sex and violence, leavened with quirky humor. How would you like Spam for breakfast and lunch?
Lorna Maitland is the featured performer, and her nude scenes are quite memorable. Unlike many big bust models, she was rather tall (5’9″) with a 42D inch bust. The nudity is mostly semi-obscured either by shadows, barren foliage, or superimposed images. The weak link in the drama is the husband, who looks like Kookie Bynres, but has a high pitched voice and wimpy mannerism. Hal Hopper, a veteran of TV (including Maverick) plays the perpetually drunk and lecherous Luther with gusto. His role was greatly expanded in the companion piece . . .
Synopsis: The honeymoon is over and a voluptuous wife is married to a real douche bag that spends all his time gettin’ lickered up and carousing at the local cathouse. The madam runs a still and pimps out her daughters, one of whom is deaf and dumb. While the worthless husband waits for Uncle Lute to die so he can sell the farm (and payoff the I.O.U’s to the cathouse), a drifter takes the handyman job.
Hal Hopper is more vile and despicable this time around, and Lorna Maitland is more animated (in a small part as the vocal prostitute). There’s a larger cast, the acting is generally better, there are more babes to flash cleavage and shed their duds, more misogynistic violence, and more sanctimonious hypocrisy. What could be better? Still, the nod has to go to Lorna as the superior feature mainly because it presents more tension and urgency than this more ‘laid back’ effort. There are many interesting segments and the final resolution is quite effective. The backwoods setting changes to the desert, and the babes more modest in . . .
Synopsis: Three teenage hoods molest women for fun. When they stop a couple in the desert, the husband is killed. Once the murders start, what’s left to lose?
Hal Hopper isn’t completely absent from this one because he wrote the story! Lorna and Mudhoney were both based on (paperback?) novels, but this one is custom made for Russ’s unique style. One of the hoods listens to a transistor radio constantly which provides the theoretical source for the great garage / surf soundtrack. Alex Rocco makes his debut as a veterinarian who teams up with Haji to go after the scumbag ‘bikers’ [he would become one himself in The Wild Riders]. A straightforward and serious thriller, it still has it’s Meyer moments, such as when Rocco gets bitten by a snake and keeps telling Haji to “Suck it hard, suck it some more”. This time the misogynistic violence is instigated by a Vietnam veteran, but Haji bounces back with a vengeance in . . .
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Synopsis: Three lesbian (well, two are bisexual) go go dancers race their sports car out in the desert. The cigar smoking leader of the gang takes out a pig headed boy friend (she gives him every chance to cut his loses) and then kidnaps his perky girlfriend (with evil intentions in mind). When they stop to gas up they set their sights on a rich cripple and his dim witted Hercules of a son named Vegetable. After they invade the home, it turns out the owners have some evil intentions as well.
This is a fitting wrap for the gothic cycle, as it combines the best elements from the first three (except nudity). This time the hoodlums are female and led by ultimate bad girl Tura Santana. Her soul mate is the fascinating Haji who suffers pangs of jealousy as her main squeeze rolls in the hay with a man. Third wheel in the gang is Lori Williams, who had to pad her bra to make the grade. And last (and much shortest) is spunky Playboy Playmate-to-be Sue Bernard who jumps around excitedly in a bikini prior to becoming the kidnapped girl friend.
And what drunk lecherous old geezer is around with dastardly plans for Sue? It’s Stuart Lancaster (Uncle Lute in Mudhoney) but the accident that crippled his body twisted his mind as well. Meanwhile there are two sons, one for each of the other girls (Haji only has eyes for Tura). This one is just as violent as the others, but mostly it’s the women kicking butt.
Russ eliminated the nudity with the intention of winning over the H.G. Lewis demographic, the Southern drive-in circuit. Apparently due to the dominant women and probably the lack of color, Pussycat was not a success and the gothic cycle expired.
There are two versions of the DVD’s currently available, the domestic R1 single edition releases from RM video, and the UK double features from Arrow Films, which reportedly suffer from NTSC conversion and other issues. The RM releases feature sharp, full screen (OAR) pictures with minimal damage and sound is clear. Sometimes the soundtrack is louder than the dialog, but the images often blow away the minimal plots as well, so that’s obviously the original intent. Unfortunately, there are no close captions or subtitles. The RM releases were available through retail outlets a few years ago, but are back to the exclusive venue of RM films. Russ is gone but his legacy and his business linger on.
These films are comparable to the B&W B-movie output of Jack Hill (Pit Stop) and even Stanley Kubrick (Killer’s Kiss). All are worthwhile by themselves, but even though they share similar aspects and cast, they are best encountered as a body of work. Russ would no doubt appreciate that turn of phrase.