Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Cool It, Baby (1967)

Cool It, Baby is a truly jaw-dropping little gem released by Something Weird as part of a three-movie pack. Directed by Lou Campa and dating from 1967, this ultra-low budget oddity is immensely entertaining, although probably not in the way its makers intended.

It’s an expose of a white slavery/vice/blackmail racket run by a mysterious woman named Monica. The ringleaders are on trial on vice charges and the story is told in flashbacks. A woman tells how she was lured into posing for salacious photos by promises of help in starting her film career, then other unfortunate victims of this racket tell their stories. Other witnesses include Monica’s male partner-in-crime and the cop investigating the case.

The film-makers couldn’t afford to build a court-room set and couldn’t get access to a real court-room, so they cunningly improvised. They just used an ordinary office! In fact I don’t think it’s even an office. I think it’s just a room in somebody’s house that happens to contain a desk and a filing cabinet. It certainly adds a touch of the surreal to the proceedings.

The flashback sequences lack synchronised sound but are accompanied by incredibly talky and meandering voiceover narration. The whole movie has some of the feel of an Ed Wood movie, and some of the feel of the movies Paul Morrissey did for Andy Warhol in the 60s, with perhaps a dash of Doris Wishman as well. It’s tempting to think that there’s an element of parody in this film, but 60s exploitation movies were so strange anyway that it’s impossible to be sure. I’m inclined to think they were actually being serious.

And just when you think it can’t get any weirder, out of nowhere at the halfway point there’s a satanic ritual, as if the producers suddenly decided that what this film really needs is a satanic ritual sub-plot, because who doesn’t love satanic rituals? So now you have something that is like Rosemary’s Baby meets Olga’s Girls. Except that the torture scenes aren’t shocking, they’re just strange. And then there’s the orgy scene, in which dome of the participants have been so carried way by passion that they’re stripped to their underwear. Who knew that such debaucheries existed in our apparently civilised societies? The attempts to add spice to the mix by introducing elements of kinkiness increase the surreal qualities of the movie. Or perhaps sexual kinks involving licorice and scissors are quite common, and I’ve simply lead a very sheltered life.

Cool It, Baby is really quite insane, but you can’t help being mesmerised by it. There’s a crazy jazz score, an essential elements in films of this kind. Although there’s some very mild nudity it’s really one of the most unsexy movies you’ll ever see, but it’s unsexy in a fascinating way, as if the people who made the movie knew nothing whatever about sex except a few things they’d read in books. Nobody behaves as if they’re actually in sexual situations. It’s a very bizarre movie but in its own unique way it is entertaining. They definitely don’t make movies like this any more.

The DVD transfer is surprisingly good. The image quality is very crisp. And there are still two movies to go on this DVD. If they’re half as strange as this one I’ll be quite content.

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