Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The Defilers (1965)

The Defilers, written and produced by David Friedman in 1965, is one of the better-known of the early roughies. The mainstay of the exploitation movie business had for several years been the nudie-cutie and Friedman and his partner Herschell Gordon Lewis had milked that genre for all it was worth. It was becoming clear that exploitation movies would have to move in a new direction. Lewis thought the answer was gore and he certainly had a great deal of success with movies like Two Thousand Maniacs! Friedman had his own ideas, for movies that would combine nudity and (mostly implied) sex with violence. 

Russ Meyer had already moved in that direction with his southern gothic melodramas Lorna and Mudhoney. Friedman wanted to push things a bit further. The sex and the violence would be intertwined, the sex would be kinky and the violence would be kinky and perverse. The Defilers was Friedman’s first serious attempt at the new sexploitation genre (which would become known as the roughie).

Nudie-cuties had almost always been made in colour. Roughies would almost all be shot in black-and-white. This was a deliberate choice, being intended to give the grungiest and sleaziest feel possible. The Defilers is most certainly one sleazy little film.

Carl (Byron Mabe) and Jameison Marsh (Jerome Eden) are two young men who devote themselves to pleasure. They seem to have an unlimited supply of women. But women are no longer enough for Carl. Even drugs are not enough. Carl wants kicks. Real kicks. He’s not sure at first exactly what he means by this but we do get some early hints that it’s likely to involved violence and the violence is likely to be directed at women.

Carl’s father is wealthy but he’s completely unreasonable - he actually expects Carl to work. Carl is of course shocked and appalled but really it’s only to be expected. His father is a square, and Carl hates squares. It’s also pretty obvious that Carl feels helpless and humiliated by his dependence on his father. Carl gets ordered about by his dad so he likes the idea of ordering other people about, he likes the idea of humiliating other people. 

Carl has set up a secret little hideaway in one of his father’s warehouses. It has a bed and a bathroom and that’s about it. It’s rather sad really but Carl is very excited about it. He has plans for it. He manages to persuade one of his girlfriends, Kathy, to check out his hideaway. She is clearly unimpressed, and quite mocking, and she then starts to lay down the law to him in a thoroughly humiliating manner. At this point Carl snaps. He decides the girl needs some discipline and he proceeds to administer a good spanking. It turns out that the girl enjoys the spanking even more than he does! He’s certainly not going to date her again but he has discovered how to get those kicks that he craves.

His next plan is more ambitions. He and Jamie will kidnap aspiring actress Jane Collins (Mai Jansson) whom they encountered a few days before. She’s from Minnesota, nobody in LA knows her, nobody will even notice her disappearance. Keeping her as a slave should provide lots of kicks. Carl is thoroughly pleased with the whole setup but Jamie is not so sure it’s a good idea after all. He’d agreed because he thought it was kind of like a prank, that Jane wasn’t really going to be hurt, that they’d release her after a day or so and everybody would agree it was just a bit of light-hearted fun. The trouble is that Carl doesn’t see things this way and he seems like he’s crazy enough to keep the girl captive indefinitely.

Well, I did tell you it was a very sleazy movie. It’s not that the violence is all that graphic but it’s the nastiness behind it that is disturbing. In fact it’s very disturbing at times. 

This is also an incredibly politically incorrect film. Of course if you’re into political correctness you’re probably not the sort of person who’s going to be attracted by the weird and delightfully twisted world of 60s sexploitation cinema.

Byron Mabe is genuinely worrying and creepy as Carl. He manages to persuade us that Carl is capable of pushing things way too far. It’s not a subtle performance but this is not a subtle movie. Mabe was hired as a grip but when the lead actor froze up on camera on the first day Mabe volunteered to play the part. It proved to be a stroke of good luck. He inhabits the role in an effectively scary way.

Jerome Eden as Jamie gets to do some actual acting. Jamie is accustomed to going along with whatever Carl wants to do. Jamie likes kicks as well but he does have limits and Carl is starting to worry him. Eden’s performance is actually quite effective. Jamie isn’t an overly sympathetic character but he’s not all bad. The various girls were obviously cast to some extent for their willingness to shed their clothes but they’re all quite competent.

The most surprising thing about this movie is that it’s rather well-made. It has a coherent plot. Friedman’s script provides some real drama and director Lee Frost translates that script into a fairly professional looking film. The pacing is good, with a low-key early phase before the craziness and the tension start to build. The sexual material might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s handled skillfully and it’s certainly erotic in its own twisted way. The two lead actors are not only solid they also play off each other extremely well. The girls are attractive and their acting skills are quite adequate. For a movie shot in five days on a budget of $11,000 it’s pretty impressive!

Something Weird’s DVD release pairs this movie with an earlier Dave Friedman offering, Scum of the Earth. There are plentiful extras, the highlight being Friedman’s audio commentary. Friedman was always wonderfully entertaining to listen to. The extent of his knowledge of the exploitation movie business was positively terrifying.

The Defilers works rather well as a movie. It largely defined the direction in which the roughie would go for the next few years. If you’re in the mood for a good old wallow in sleaze it delivers the goods. Highly recommended.

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