Tuesday, December 13, 2022

ONCE YOU KISS A STRANGER (1969) + Selections for Acidemic's Chthonic Lady Series

Hey ho, just a note to let you know I'm still writing, just not posting as much as my brain's too foggy to keep on topic (I keep drifting, like a Tennessee Williams heroine). Still, I may be blocked but I'm writing all sorts of in-progress pieces for next year, even trying to cobble a book together so don't despair (any more than the fate of the earth already demands). 

In the meantime in honor of Kat Ellinger's new chthonic podcast To the Devil a Daughter (on Spotify), the first episode which is about Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat and Vixen. As a committed Paglian, I am a huge fan! Here's a Deadly Women round-up, including a  piece I meant to publish earlier but accidentally deleted. Patiently transcribed from an old preview screenshot, you're welcome! Kat has kind of made me realize my 'amok chthonic' feminism hinges on my finding the badass femme attractive, so apologies if I slant that way. Know too for me it's also largely in the performance. Are they going for broke, pushing the envelope past the point of cutesy or posey? I mean are they possessed of the maenad gnashing frenzy wildness at the core of the fully sexually voracious, Meyeresque, goddess? If so, argh, I be for ye. 

Caroly Lynley as Diana Granger in
(1969) Dir. Robert Spahr

Whether harpooning little girls' beach balls, kissing fat mental patients while grinding her heel into their toes, or seducing and then Strangers on a Train-ing some dissolute golf pro after he loses a match and goes off the drunken midlife crisis deep end, Carol Linley owns every moment she's onscreen in Once You Kiss a Stranger (1969). She even one-ups (if such a thing is possible) Robert Walker's Bruno in Hitchcock's original Strangers on a Train, a film Stranger makes no bones about imitating ( Linley's character is named Diana Granger, last name of the star, Train-stranger Farley, whose memoir Include Me Out saved my life once) by virtue of being one of the homicidal minxes so beloved by this blog. What middle-aged, still-handsome, slightly drunken-relapsed golf pro (regularly kept from the top prize fee by a better/douchier golf pro on the same tour) played by TV mainstay Paul Burke, lonesome, awash in self-pity, and semi-suicidal, could resist?

Sometimes there's a buggy
Bearing all the hallmarks of being not-quite-a-TV-movie nor a big screen feature but something lost between (like, say, Aldrich's Killers remake), Once You Kiss a Stranger doesn't really work as a thriller. The pacing is off and it's way too quick to tip its hand. But boy howdy does Linley have a field day. She doesn't ham it up or overplay, just enjoys her character's toothy malice in a way that's most infectious. She's a lot like Carmen Sternwood in The Big Sleep, whose own father admits she's "still a little girl who likes to pull the wings off flies." If you know that film as well as I do, then you know in the code-enforced ending, Bogies says "we'll have to send Carmen away... from a lot of things. Maybe she can be cured, it's been done before." Dude, that's not what happens in the book! But you can almost look at this movie as The Big Sleep 2: Carmen Returns, if--after she's sent away from those things--she's presumably cured and released and then set up with her own Malibu beachside bungalow by her trust fund. 

And if she's still expected to report in to her shrink every week to avoid going back to the funny farm, and if she was secretly still homicidal, manipulative nutcase, only now endowed with more Patricia Highsmith cunning and less Raymond Chandler laudanum-fueled impulsiveness, well you would have Diana Granger. And what a lucky soon-to-be-framed man you'd be!

We can't all be like Phillip Marlowe and instinctively know not to have anything to do with such a hot mess. In the right midlife crisis frame of mind (glug-glug), any man can lapse into something he'll almost instantly regret. Sexual allure, an open invitation, and a moment's weakness have combined to topple presidents, kings, queens, despots evangelists and even TV stars, so why not a highball-sodden pro-golfer moping through a midlife crisis? Why not, indeed, Paul. All your better judgment is hereby suspended!

But though Diana is wild and able, and everything seems ducky for some sexy hijinx, Once You Kiss... is. not unlike their hook-up itself, wondrously staged (the real thrill of these kinds of Fatal Attraction/Misty-for-Me-type pics is the first third, but just as Diana's scheme falls apart as it unravels in the story, so too does the film fall apart since the writers don't know how to parcel out information to keep us guessing and worried over Paul's now shaky fate. Both Lynley's parents already know she's insane (vs. Bruno's in-denial parents), and she has already been committed once before, which kind of weakens her testimony. The fact that the guy she wants dead is her shrink (the ever-sane White Bissell). There's no reason to think some random golf pro, breezing through town, clean record, is going to want to kill some random shrink, as opposed to the shrink's psycho gamin patient who she knows was about to re-commit her. It's already basically a no-brainer who the cops will believe once you sober up long enough to tell them, Paul. What's worse, Diana even undoes the solid fake evidence she created from tape recording their manipulating the tape him into agreeing the criss-cross, by manipulating and splicing the tape to the point of obsessiveness, making it all too easy for the cops to discern. All this hastens to lessen the suspense as Diana basically becomes her own worst enemy before anyone else even gets a crack at it, destroying her chance at the sort of spooky credibility Robert Walker's Bruno kept almost to the bitter end. That's likely because his in-denial artsy mom and ever-disappointed tycoon dad would rather think their son is just a loafer or a delightful eccentric rather than admit to societal taboo of congenital insanity (i.e. he hasn't been violent enough in the past to be committed). 

 But all that's quibbling. And why do that? There's Jimmy Faggis' super cool jazzy scoring throughout-- nothing too fancy but nothing you wouldn't enjoy snapping your fingers to and feeling like a kind of post-beatnik jazzbo. And like all the best films of this period, there's a catfight between too crazy blondes armed with spearguns and a dune buggy chase along the day-for-night beach. Nothing quite tops the sight of Linley, in her cute minidress, lifting herself out from under a flipped-over dune buggy in the surf, all slow, sultry, and Venus-from-the-clamshell-like. Though you might think she's just playing a male fantasy coquette, Lynley makes the most of every gesture, the groovy bass-front-and-center jazz score races along like a down and dirty wind under her mean girl sails and she just takes off. There's no big set piece like Hitchcock's amok merry go-round, but the film makes up for that in sheer brevity. And at the end the symbolic beach ball is patched; the child neighbor looks slightly older, and, just like Guy in Strangers on a Train, Paul really does luck out, perhaps proving once and for all that straying with murderous coquettes can prove immensely profitable: at the end he gets his wife back, has a sexy memory that doubles as aversion therapy for future straying, and is destined for top prizes as his only tournament circuit competition has been left literally dead in a sand trap. Fore! 


"I can't say more, for to spoil even one twist or turn on this wild ride is to lessen its blunt force impact. Suffice it to say, for we fans of strong assertive women (those who score along the Hawks-Meyer GF spectrum rather than the 'strong-willed mother-type' Ford-Spielberg curve), this bonanza of badassery is--especially in the time of plunging markets and collapsing governments--something we desperately need. Why wait for a normal woman to be brutalized before turning savage? That, to me, is sexist, inferring a woman needs a man's cruelty to light her inner bomb's fuse." (more)

"The Partridge Family vs. Brady Bunch dichotomy provided parameters for our collective 70s pre-sexual psyche, and maybe that's partially the idea a Susan Dey archetype untethered from her prim bitch overprotective mom and ginger brother, running away with a Satan-worshipping boyfriend and winding up rabid (ala 1970's I Drink Your Blood --her first movie role) or foaming at the mouth thanks to some new STD (Shivers), chem warfare agent (The Crazies)--or just really speedy acid--rang so many popular unconscious gongs. The times demanded a girl who could slice off a woman's hand with an electric carving knife and come off as an innocent, a free spirit, cranked to eleven, a girl so pure the needle spins all the way around to the other extreme- batshit homicidal, with no stops in between. And no hysteria or hamming. If you've ever known and partied with the type then you know how rare and intoxicating they are, the sweet sudden shock of dread when what was once a feeling of smitten love and devotion to her sweet beauty becomes sickening blood-chilled dread, the realization you were so far on cloud 9 you made the mistake of letting her get between you and the exit." (more)

"If you look gamely into the rubble of collective abuse heaped on this year's MUMMY a true fan may find a true treasure in the form of lithe Algerian dancer/actress Sofia Boutella. As the warrior priestess assassin Ahmanet, Boutella (in the prologue) kills the pharaoh's baby or some lovely thing and is mummified alive in an unmarked tomb. Naturally she astral travels, tracing the seams in the fabric of time and space, riding the centuries like a surfboard until she's found just the right sky cult-brainwashed, Illuminati orgy-crashing, aging A-list actor to exhume her and see her safely ferried across the channel to jolly England. Damn right I'm talkin' bout you, Tom! " (more)

"The film's been compared to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and indeed there's a kind of bent similarity but Texas' qua-feminist throttle isn't all the way open the way it is with Faster. The buzzing you hear isn't Leatherface's chainsaw threatening Marilyn Burns but Varla's wheels crushing 'the Vegetable'. They'll have to send him away "from a lot of things" and we imagine suddenly that Carmen Sternwood would be a great candidate for this gang, to take Billie's place after she dies, as would Claudia Jennings from Truck Stop Women (1974). Well, we can't have everything, unless we want to make a movie ourselves.

Hmmm I'm not trying to put any ideas into anyone's heads, but it seems to me a badass girl gang crashing a lot of different genres would be just the thing. A lot of folks have tried and they end up being the usual overwrought nonsense with one too many well-scrubbed thugs locking overly siliconed strippers in trunks, in between lugging bags of cash in and out of hotel lobbies, shots of sunglassed douchebags smirking into rearview mirrors, abusive backstory, flashy meaningless over-editing (you know the ones I'm talking about - no names) and female violence done with "this hurts me more than it does you" anguish in their eyes rather than sadistic relish. (more)

Terry Liu as Princess Dragon Mom

All hail Princess Dragon Mom! Arggggh! Grrr! A shape-shifting, whip-snapping, go-go boots wearing master of monsterdom! A Shaw Brothers version of Japanese Kaiju kids movie, INFRA-MAN is wisely wrought with a vicious villainess or two (Many of the Shaw Brothers' films are remarkably feminist - with badass females on both sides and in the middle of their sagas). Dragon Mom is so cool all other evil supervillains of kaiju movies pale in comparison. Sending out her spies, monsters and hypnotized sleeper agents over to Infra-Man HQ to steal away their big scientific genius for her own nefarious ends, Liu projects real menace, and a refreshingly direct approach to her evil deeds. At the same time you can see her chasing some Buggle around a Sid and Marty Kroft- style evil lair one minute, chaining Batman to a water heater after stunning him with poison lipstick the next, then blowing /herself up to Godzilla-size and becoming a dragon to level Hong Kong after that. She's versatile! And her monster minions are great too, all of them in a row, waving their appendages around in great paroxysms of relish in their own evil while she issues orders from her grand psychedelic throne. 

And when it's time for her to fight, she just turns into a flying monster to make it less awkward for our gallant hero to kick her, which is good because by then he's starting to sag along his sponge foam shoulder padding so it's time to call it a day. If she wasn't enough, Dragon Mom has compatriot hot female with a dinosaur skull helmet and big eyes painted on her hands that shoot lasers. Sigh, If we had DVDs in the 70s growing up, I would have watched this every single day after school and love it more than Ultra-Man, Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot, and Space Giants combined, and I'd be having all sorts of 'phallic stage' sadomasochistic daydreams over Princess Dragon Mom and her snake-like whip arm. All I can do now that I'm all old, discovering this in vivid color on Amazon Prime, is wistfully hit 'play from beginning' one more time (I watch it at least three times a year). Either way, sharp, abrasive voice or no, Dragon Mom rawks. (more)

"Millie Perkins stars as Molly "The Mermaid," a single barmaid at a seaside dive on the beach of Santa Monica, "The Boathouse," owned and operated by the pleasantly grizzled Long John (Lonny Chapman). She's not just great babysitter to her two adoring nephews, beloved of clientele and employees, but she has the ability to 'get' good-looking men as if fishing them out of the television. Aside from headaches as her brain struggles to keep the lid on her buried incest childhood by cloaking it in all sorts of nautical imagery and oceanic sound effects, she's perfect. Maybe she's mad as a hatter, and has a weird thing for good-looking men on TV, as if they can see her from the screen, and are propositioning her. Maybe she keeps talking about her lost-at-sea captain father as some kind of omnipotent hero despite her more grounded sister who assures her kids he was a monster. But she's not 'victim' crazy, not a cringing trauma victim or a twitchy mess. She's crazy in a way that encompass sanity within itself. When a bubbly blonde actress (Roberta Collins) at the bar bemoans not being liberated, which is now a requirement for TV she glances over at Molly in her patchwork denim and declares she could be in commercials: "You look liberated." The older barmaid Doris (Peggy Furey) adds that "Molly is a saint, a goddamned American saint." Later when her nervous welfare-collecting sister Cathy (Vanessa Brown) shows up to try and convince them of the truth, "you think she's just about perfect," she says to Long John. "Yeah," he snaps back, "why not?"

"Unafraid to be infectiously goofball rather than dully sexy, Soles, who so often played the best friend whose goofy, strident, horniness made ber blond danger (such as in HALLOWEEN)--lets fly as Riff. Her little lithe body bouncing around covered in the bright shiny colors that had not yet come to signify the encroaching 1980s, is sexy in its utter lack of sexuality. Her tendency to make funny faces, bug her eyes out, tighten and purse her already thin lips all help to keep her vivid as real-life teenager rather than jail-bait. Never adding more smarts than a normal teen would have, and twice as much heedless momentum, she's a tangle of sincerity, giggles, self-satire and genuine ferocity. I'd be scared to date her. But I'd want to be at parties she was at. That's the kind of girl every high school needs. And her kind would not come again." (more)

Dalle doesn't need a reason to kill or castrate- you don't gotta be a rapist or nothing-- it just comes naturally. Thus her crazy sexual frenzy in TROUBLE EVERY DAY is truly terrifying and sexy at the same time; she puts the softcore sleaze of BASIC INSTINCT's ice pick murders to shame. The guy she eviscerates in TROUBLE isn't even that bad of a guy, just broke into the wrong house and didn't run when he had the chance, not unlike the poor string of sods falling victim to doe-eyed Marilyn Chambers in RABID.  (more)

"What really sells it all though is the aliveness of Jennings, so good as the restless morally bankrupt Rose it makes it all the sadder to realize she'd be dead in just five years --victim in an accident off the Pacific Coast Highway (at age 30). Here she finds a good match in John Martino as the mafia-dispatched goodfella "Smith" for whom she serves as combination hostage, conspirator, and lover. He should be recognizable as one of Clemenza's button men in the first Godfather. Here he brings far more wit and character than you'd expect, even earning our sympathy on occasion. Best of all, he has some great chemistry with Jennings. The pair know just how to play a kind of villainous love scene, making it always just a little ambiguous whether they're really falling in love or just playing each other for a shot at all the marbles. There's a magical scene in their motel room together in the morning after some indefinite period of late night boozy conjugal bliss: they're getting leisurely dressed and drinking tumblers of breakfast whiskey on the rocks, and we realize maybe there is no difference between acting smitten for a (criminal) purpose and being smitten for real with a criminal. Either way, we want their love or whatever to survive, despite all our best judgment." (more)

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