Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Meyer Files #8: Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! (1965)

'I don't beat clocks, just people!' - Varla 

If you are going to watch one Meyer movie -- make it this one.

This is the one where everything works: the camera work, the editing, the script and most importantly, the performances.

And the one thing responsible for pushing it to the next level is its star. Because if you want to talk about Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! you are really talking about Tura Satana.

Satana's performance as Varla takes the Meyer superwoman and fills out this archetype with something his previous leading ladies could not provide: rage. Satana had had a very hard life involving abuse, racism and alcoholism, but she had beaten them all by the time Meyer came calling, and that sense of self-worth pulses through Varla like an electrical current.

For a non-actress with little previous experience, Satana is a revelation. She gives Varla a don't-give-a-fuck attitude and a pitch black sense of humour which is like nothing else in the Meyer canon, and her experience with acrobatics and martial arts gives her a physical presence that is hard to forget, especially when she takes Ray Barlow's irate teenager to pound town.

Apart from the action scenes, Satana proves to be a fine actress. Whether it is seducing the hapless Kirk or putting down a leery gas station attendant who oogles her cleavage while blathering about finding the new world ('You won't find it down there, Columbus!'), Satana is a born star. Sadly, outside of Pussycat, roles were few and far between for the former stripper and she left the industry to become a nurse. Meyer always regretted not putting her in another movie, and it is a sad post-script to her work in Pussycat that she did not get more out of it.

Whereas Motorpsycho felt like a ripoff of The Wild One, Pussycat is its own beast. Three murderous strippers go out into the desert to have fun and see what trouble they can get up to. The trouble they find is a pair of sickeningly earnest teenagers. Unimpressed with the couple, Varla challenges them to a road race. After cheating to win, she starts a fight with the boyfriend (Barlow) and kills him with her bare hands.

I know this picture contradicts what I just said but it looks really cool

Taking his traumatised girlfriend as a hostage, the trio hide out on the decrepit estate of the Old Man (Stuart Lancaster), a wheelchair-bound cripple and his two sons, nice guy Kirk (Paul Trinka) and the musclebound Vegetable (Dennis Busch), a man with the body of a Greek statue and the mind of a child.

Figuring that the Old Man must be loaded, Varla decides to stick around and find out where the money is. Meanwhile, Billie (Lori Williams), the most wild of the trio, is more interested in seducing the Vegetable while Rosa (Haji), Varla's loyal girlfriend, is anxious to move on.

The longer Varla and her cohorts stick around, it becomes clear that the Old Man and the Vegetable are not as harmless as they appear...

What can you say about this movie which hasn't already been said?

The photography and editing are top-notch, and the supporting cast of familiar faces were never better.
The Old Man and the Vegetable

Stuart Lancaster was never better than here as the Old Man, filled with venom and regret for how his life has turned out. His best moment comes when he hears the sound of the train which is responsible for crippling him:

'Sound your warning. Send your message. Huff and puff and belch your smoke! And kill! And maim! And run off unpunished!'

The other members of the girl gang are able support for Satana's villainess. Haji is surprisingly empathetic as she tries and fails to curb her lover's monstrous ambitions, while Lori Williams gives Billie a sense of anarchic energy which is hard to resist.

Special credit has to go to Susan Bernard as the terrified hostage.

According to Jimmy McDonough, the terror was not fake. Bernard was a Hollywood product who got on everyone's nerves so much with her airs and poor acting that Meyer gave Satana the go-ahead to scare the living daylights out of her. Satana and her two co-stars spent the shoot stalking Bernard and keeping her on her toes. Since the film was shot mostly in chronological order, the film acts as a document of Bernard's growing discomfort, as her performance goes from wooden to sweaty, shivering agitation. Judging by Bernard's nervy, anxious performance, Satana's scare campaign was a major success.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (isn't that the best title ever?) is the movie that ensured Russ Meyer's immortality. Long after he had finished making pictures, his editing style had been usurped by MTV, and relaxed censorship put his work out of date, Pussycat was the movie that refused to die. Adopted by everyone from punk rockers to the LGBT community (John Waters calls it the best movie that WILL EVER be made), Pussycat's bizarre, compassionate look at its messed up characters found an audience Meyer never thought of. The story of three empowered women taking life by the balls was revolutionary in 1966 (which explains why it failed), and only became more popular as times changed and views on gender and sexuality evolved.

Meyer would keep making good movies, but nothing to match this, his one true masterpiece.

Russ Meyer will return with Mondo Topless!

For previous entries...

The Meyer Files #1: The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)

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