Tuesday 30 November 2021

Top Sensation (1969)

Top Sensation is a sleazy 1969 Italian production which has one big thing going for it right from the start - it stars both Edwige Fenech and Rosalba Neri, and if you’re a fan of European exploitation cinema that’s reason enough to see it. But it has a lot more going for it as well.

The first thing to be considered is the genre question. This is not a giallo although it occasionally gets described as such. It’s more of a slow-burning erotic melodrama which eventually morphs into a twisted erotic thriller. It also has some amusing black comedy moments but it is definitely not a sex comedy.

The movie takes place on the luxury pleasure cruiser owned by a very wealthy woman named Mudy (Maud Belleroche). It was shot almost entirely on the yacht (which to be towed because if they’d used the engines there would have been too much vibration). This gives the film an interesting feel - both claustrophobic and isolated. Which is significant because these are people who have chosen to ignore the normal rules of civilised society.

Mudy has a son named Tony. Tony worries her considerably. It’s not quite clear what’s wrong with Tony but there’s definitely something wrong. He seems to be mentally slow, and he’s distant and uncommunicative. Today he might be described as autistic. He’s a grown man, but he lives in his own dream world, playing with his toy cars and toy robot.
Mudy might not be sure what’s amiss with Tony but she believes she knows how to cure the problem. If Tony could be persuaded to take an interest in girls he’d be OK. Losing his virginity might cure him. She has cooked up a plan to make sure that he does lose his virginity.

She has hired three people to bring this about. There’s Aldo, a good-looking entirely amoral young man. There’s Aldo’s depraved wife Paula (Rosalba Neri). And there’s Ulla (Edwige Fenech), who seems to be Paula’s sexual plaything and Aldo’s as well. If Paula can’t seduce Tony then they have Ulla as a backup. And if women as hot as these two can’t arouse Tony’s interest in girls then what can?

The plan is not going well. Tony is just not interested. Paula and Ulla amuse themselves with each other, Mudy amuses herself with Aldo and the two girls (all the women in this movie are bisexual and omnivorous and generally sex-crazed).

The fate steps in. Aldo runs the boat aground near a tiny island. There are only two people on the island, a peasant named Andro (Salvatore Puntilla) and his pretty blonde young wife Beba (Eva Thulin). And something wondrous happens. Tony actually seems to be interested in Beba. It seems like Tony goes for peasant girls rather than glamour babes. If Beba can be enticed aboard the boat then surely she and Tony can get it on. Meanwhile Paula and Ulla can keep Beba’s husband amused. And of course Paula and Ulla seduce Beba.

Oh yes, something else happens on the island. Ulla has an intimate encounter with a goat. A very very intimate encounter. I just hope it was as good for the goat as it clearly was for Ulla. You’re probably thinking that this can’t be right, even Italian sleazefests of this era wouldn’t go that far. But this movie does. So if the idea of Edwige Fenech making it with a goat is your very favourite fantasy this is the movie for you. It’s a female goat by the way so it counts as both bestiality and lesbianism!

Could this movie offer anything else in the way of depravity? You bet it could, but I can’t risk a spoiler by telling you what it is.

There are those who see some political content to this movie, some kind of commentary on the exploitative nature of the rich. While Italian movies of this period did flirt with political themes I don’t buy the idea of this movie having any political significance. Every character in the movie, rich or poor, bourgeois or peasant, is greedy and amoral. Greed and amorality are what this movie is all about.

One of the things that really makes this movie work is that Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech are so different. They’re both stunningly beautiful women but they’re beautiful in completely different ways and they project entirely different personas. And the characters they play are so different. Neri’s character, Paula, is depraved but she’s clever and actively manipulative and dangerous. Fenech’s character, Ulla, is just as depraved and just as amoral but in a more passive way. She’ll take pleasure when it’s offered and she’ll do anything for money but she just drifts from depravity to depravity. Paula’s mind, on the other hand, never stops calculating the angles.

The entire cast is excellent and it’s perhaps unfair to single anyone out but I do think that it’s Rosalba Neri who walks off with the acting honours. This was a really juicy rôle for her and she grabs the opportunity with both hands. Incidentally she was also the assistant director on the production.

Ottavio Alessi had had a distinguished enough career as a writer but was very inexperienced as a director and, reading between the lines, it’s possible that Rosalba Neri was more of a co-director than an assistant director.

This is a movie that exists in at least three versions. There’s the Italian version, which is sleazy. There’s the US version (released as The Seducers) which is even sleazier and has more nudity. And there’s the German version which includes major changes and has even more nudity. The Shameless UK release offers the Italian cut with some of the sleazier scenes from the US version added. Extras include an alternate ending which doesn’t really change things much, plus there’s a featurette that includes interviews with Salvatore Puntilla and Rosalba Neri. The transfer is generally superb except that a few of the more scorching scenes have had to come from source material that isn’t in great shape.

There’s also a Camera Obscura release which includes both the Italian and German versions.

Top Sensation is prime eurosleaze and it has a plot which takes some deliciously nasty turns. It takes a while for the full twistedness of the story to become apparent. There’s Rosalba Neri and Edwige Fenech so what are you waiting for? Highly recommend

Thursday 25 November 2021

Swamp Country (1966)

Swamp Country, a very low-budget 1966 effort filmed in the swampland of Florida, is a hicksploitation movie but it belongs to that fascinating sub-genre that could perhaps be called swampsploitation. Most were set, and shot, in the Okefenokee Swamp and a better setting for an exploitation movie would be hard to find.

Swamp Country has a couple of plotlines going on, one involving an aspiring country singer and a local gal and the other involving a woman from the city who is sent to a one-horse town on the edge of the swamp for some purpose that I must confess remained something of a mystery to me except that the guys sending her appeared to be mobsters. Before she leaves she is warned to stay off the sauce but of course as soon as she books into a motel she heads straight for a bar and gets thoroughly plastered. She gets back to her motel room and promptly gets strangled.

The poor schmuck in the room next door, a big guy called Dave Wetzel, gets arrested for the murder. There’s not a shred of evidence against him but that doesn’t bother the local sheriff. Wetzel, figuring he hasn’t got a hope of getting justice, escapes. And heads straight for the swamp where of course he has no chance of survival. There isn’t a character in this movie who isn’t as dumb as a rock.

Despite the fact that they have zero evidence against him the sheriff and the townsfolk decide to hunt Dave down and they clearly are not too worried about taking him alive. He’s from the city after all, so he’s probably guilty of something. They have guns and dogs and they’re going to get some sport.

But now we get a surprise twist. It wasn’t so dumb for Dave Wetzel to head for the swamp after all. He just happens to be an expert in jungle survival techniques. Hunting him through the swamp turns out to be more dangerous for the hunters than the hunted. Mostly it’s dangerous because the guys in the posse are incredibly dumb. Dave doesn’t have to kill them. They just get themselves into trouble. It’s as if they’ve lived next door to the swamp all their lives but have no idea of the perils that lurk there. For example they apparently have no idea that there are bears in the swamp.

The hunt through the swamp could have provided some real excitement but suddenly the movie loses interest in it and starts to focus on the romantic triangle between Nora Cox (who lives with her kid sister and alcoholic mother), Sheriff Jim Tanner and would-be country music star Baker Knight. The Sheriff is old enough to be Nora’s dad, or at least that’s what we’re told (actually actress Carolyn Gilbert is much too old to play the role).

This is not just a swampsploitation movie, it’s a musical swampsploitation movie. We get quite a few songs, all of which you’ll want to forget as quickly as possible. Baker Knight plays himself. He really was an aspiring country music star and he really did make the big time. I didn’t like his songs, but your mileage may vary.

The romance sub-plot slows down the action and there’s another sub-plot as well, which has Baker kidnapped by gangsters. There’s an attempt to tie the swamp hunt and romance sub-plots together at the end. The tying together of sub-plots doesn’t work too well but that’s part of the movie’s charm. It has an engaging amateurishness to it. This is regional exploitation cinema which was a big thing at one time. Low-budget movies like this were made purely for regional drive-in markets (where they did good business) and mostly never played markets like New York and LA.

Which means that when judging a movie like this you have to keep in mind the audience at which it was aimed. They loved seeing city folks hunted through swamps, they loved sentimental country music and they loved corny romance.

Bad acting is usually a plus in movies such as this but it has to be the right sort of bad acting. In this case the performances are a bit too wooden. Surprisingly some of these people (like Lyle Waggoner who plays a deputy) went on to have actual careers.

David DaLie (who plays Dave Wetzel) wrote the screenplay. This movie seems to be producer-director Robert Patrick’s sole feature film directing credit. Which is not surprising since it’s a pretty amateurish effort.

Something Weird have paired this one with Swamp Girl in a swamp double-header release. The transfer for Swamp Country isn’t that great. There’s quite a bit of print damage. But then we should be grateful that movies such as this have survived at all.

Swamp Country is a bit of an incoherent mess but devotees of low-budget regional movies will find it has a certain odd charm.

It was shot in colour and in the ‘scope aspect ratio which was unusual for such a low-budget movie at this time.

Some reviews of other swampsploitation and swamp-themed movies that you might be interested in -
The Death Curse of Tartu (1966), 'Gator Bait (1974), Louisiana Hussey (1959), Roger Corman’s Swamp Women (1955), The Swamp of the Ravens (1974).

Thursday 18 November 2021

Momoe’s Lips (1979)

Momoe’s Lips is a 1979 entry in Nikkatsu’s “roman porno” series, the Japanese studio’s attempt to find a way to tempt audiences back to movie theatres by offering them something that television just couldn’t offer - outrageous helpings of sex and sleaze. They churned out an immense number of these films and they were hugely successful. The roman porno movies fell into two broad categories - goofy sleazy sex comedies and incredibly nihilistic sex and violence epics. Momoe’s Lips is about as nihilistic and sleazy a film as you’ll ever hope to see. Perhaps I should add that the original title was Rape Shot: Momoe’s Lips.

Tôru Miyake (Noriaki Abe) is a journalist working for a scandal sheet. His specialty is scandals involving the entertainment business. It pays well if you have no ethics and don’t mind being the journalist equivalent of a cockroach, and Tôru cheerfully describes himself as a cockroach.

He’d like to go after Momoe but going after her could be very injurious to one’s health. That’s the only mention of Momoe in the movie. Apparently it refers to a real-life pop star. I’m sure she was thrilled to have her name associated this film, and even more thrilled by a slightly later film called, wait for it, Molester Train: Momoe’s Butt.

Tôru decides instead to go after Yôko Miki (Minako Mizushima). She’s the latest singing sensation and her career is being managed by Mr Hoshino. There are rumours that Hoshino keeps his young female singing stars pliable by pumping them full of drugs. Tôru thinks he has a way of finding out if this is true or not (we’ll come back to this later).

Tôru discovers that poking his nose into Mr Hoshino’s business can be pretty injurious to one’s health as well.

Then Yôko gets kidnapped. Tôru isn’t sure whether it’s some stunt on Mr Hoshino’s part of if the kidnappers are part of someone else’s scheme or whether they’re just crazies. He doesn’t care. There’s a great story in this and that will improve his bank balance.

Tôru thinks he can get a lead from a friendly whore. He doesn’t get the information he wants but she does give him a good time. And at discount rates.

Meanwhile Yôko is not having a good time. She’s getting raped by three crazies, including an odd young man known as Dragonfly. Dragonfly is actually a big fan of Yôko’s. He has all her records. He worships her. That doesn’t stop him from raping her. Some fans do carry things a bit too far.

There’s one thing that puzzles Tôru. He is convinced that Yôko is injecting drugs (or perhaps is being forcibly injected with drugs) but he can’t find any needle marks on her. And he examined every square inch of her body. Yes, every square inch. Yes, even there. No needle marks. In fact Yôko is being injected with drugs but the method by which it’s done provides one of the movie’s many shocking moments.

Tôru figures, correctly, that Mr Hoshino will pay a lot of money to get Yôko back. He’s willing to pay five million yen. Returning her to Mr Hoshino probably is not doing the girl any favours but five million yen is five million yen.

The violence is non-stop. It’s not just the crazy kidnappers and Mr Hoshino’s goons getting violent. Other extraneous characters wander into the film simply for the purpose of beating up Tôru or getting beaten up by him. There’s a lot of sex, some of it consensual. Even the consensual sex is fairly sleazy. You may want to take a shower after watching this movie. The rape scenes are not particularly graphic but they are shocking and brutal. If you’re sensitive to such things then this is not the movie for you.

Tôru may be the most unsympathetic protagonist in cinema history. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s just a sleazebag. There are no heroes in this story. Just nasty cynical violent people out for their own interests. The ostensible heroine (or victim) is not exactly a paragon of virtue either.

It’s a movie that does manage to go places that I personally had never even thought of. When Tôru follows Yôko into the ladies’ room, follows her into the stall, slams her up against the wall and pulls her panties down you figure you know what’s going to happen next. And you’d be totally wrong. What he’s actually trying to do is collect a urine sample from her. He’s performing a kind of impromptu drug test.

Director Katsuhiko Fujii does a pretty solid job, adding a few nice visual flourishes.

The acting is more than adequate. These are not nice characters but Noriaki Abe and Minako Mizushima manage to give Tôru and Yôko just a little bit more depth than you’d expect.

Once you get past the sex and nudity there’s an effective and nasty little hardboiled crime story here with some very noir touches.

The Impulse DVD offers a very good anamorphic transfer. The only extra is in the shape of liner notes from Jasper Sharp.

There are sleazier roman porno films but I’m not sure there are any that are more thoroughly nihilistic than this one. But if you’re in the mood for sleaze and nihilism Momoe’s Lips is recommended.

Saturday 13 November 2021

Jean Rollin's Little Orphan Vampires (novel)

Little Orphan Vampires is a 1993 novel by Jean Rollin (1938-2010). Rollin is better known in the English-speaking world as the director of strange surreal erotic horror movies with the emphasis on the surrealism and with a twisted fairy tale feel to them. In his native France he enjoyed more success as a novelist, working in the fantasy and horror genres. As his health failed he concentrated on the writing of novels.

Rollin was a huge fan of the French movie serials and of the 19th century and early 20th century pulp fiction serial stories known as feullitons.

Little Orphan Vampires was the first of a series of six short novels dealing with two blind orphan girls who are vampires. In 1997 Rollin returned to film-making with his movie version of the tale, under the title Two Orphan Vampires.

Henriette and Louise are blind orphan girls living in an orphanage. No-one knows where they came from or even if they’re sisters or not. The kindly Dr Dennery, an eye specialist, decides to adopt them. He is genuinely moved by compassion but he is also fascinated by the case since there is no apparent physical cause for the girls’ blindness.

On the night before they leave the orphanage we discover several odd things about these young orphans. Firstly, that although they are completely blind during the day they can see very well at night. Secondly, they feed on blood. Thirdly, they are killers.

Leaving Dr Dennery’s house for nocturnal adventures is not difficult. The kindly doctor never imagines for one moment that two blind girls could or would sneak out of the house so it never occurs to him to check that they remain in their bedroom at night. Their favourite huntings grounds are cemeteries. They’re smart enough to pick victims who are vulnerable enough to be overpowered by two young girls. Their biggest advantages as huntresses is that one of them suddenly appears to a prospective victim that victim is unlikely to be on his or her guard against a poor little blind girl.

When they’re not hunting they indulge in bloodthirsty fantasies about being Aztec goddesses. It’s a lifestyle that suits them although eventually they grow bored and start to take greater risks.

The conventional vampire lore was firmly established by the 1930s, by both books and movies. Vampires were immortal creatures, neither dead nor alive, they fed on blood, they feared religious symbols, they abhorred garlic, they slept in coffins, daylight was dangerous or even fatal to them. By the 1970s vampire fiction and vampire movies were starting to play around with these conventions. In 1971 in his film Vampyros Lesbos Jess Franco gave us a lady vampire who loves sunbathing.

Rollin played all sorts of games with the conventions of the vampire genre and in Little Orphan Vampires the exact nature of Henriette and Louise is very ambiguous. Are they vampires or murderesses? They drink blood, but do they need to do so? They can go out in the daylight but they are helpless due to their day time blindness. Is the strange fact that they are blind during the day but have excellent vision at night a sign of their supernatural natures or some rare medical condition? Are they immortal? They seem physically normal in most respects. Are they vampires or is it just a shared delusion?

Rollin’s movies are often regarded as belonging to the lesbian vampire sub-genre but that’s quite misleading. The eroticism in Rollin’s films is too diffuse for such a categorisation. Are Henriette and Louise lesbians? They certainly do not have sex with each other (or with anyone). Their close emotional bond could be explained just as easily by the likelihood that they are sisters (or believe themselves to be sisters in some mystic sense). The book has a sense of strange unhealthy eroticism but it’s a kind of non-sexual eroticism.

They are both evil and innocent. They do not see themselves as having any connection with any human beings other than each other. They cannot comprehend the idea of morality, or of any emotion apart from their fierce devotion to one another. They are complete outsiders. They enjoy killing, with a simple animal pleasure.

Rollin was always fascinated by female doubles. His protagonists are frequently two girls who might be sisters, or they might be lovers, or thy might be something else entirely. They might be two halves of a single personality. Or reflections of each other. Rollin liked to keep the true nature of these female doubles as mysterious as possible.

Rollin was also fascinated by vampires but you should never expect anything resembling a conventional vampire tale from Rollin, in either his fiction or his movies. Some of his vampires are real. Some think they are vampires but they aren’t. Some don’t know they’re vampires. The vampirism may be an illness. Rollin was quite prepared to throw a few science fiction elements into the mix so a Rollin vampire might well be an artificial creation. His vampires can be evil, or simply amoral, or they may inhabit an entirely different moral universe. They can fall in love. And they can have sex. But do not jump to the conclusion that Rollin produced mere vampire porn. The eroticism in his stories and movies is much more subtle and diffuse and strange and mysterious to be dismissed as porn.

Rollin was enormously influenced by the surrealists and his films do have definite art-house credentials. He was just as influenced by trashy pulp fiction serials. He had a sensibility that combined pop, pulp and artiness. You’re not really going to appreciate this novel unless you accept this. Little Orphan Vampires is as literary as it is trashy.

Little Orphan Vampires has been published in an English translation by Redemption. It’s a great pity that the subsequent books in the series have not yet been translated.

If you like your vampire fiction as weird and unconventional as possible but you still demand that it should be fun then Little Orphan Vampires is worth seeking out. Highly recommended.

Sunday 7 November 2021

Chained Heat (1983)

Chained Heat, directed by Paul Nicolas and released in 1983, has the reputation of being one of the tougher and more sleazy American women-in-prison films. I was a bit sceptical about this but yes, it is pretty tough and pretty sleazy. It was released on DVD a few years back as part of a three-feature women-in-prison boxed set from Panik House. The other two movies in the set are Red Heat (another Linda Blair WiP outing) and Jungle Warriors. I think the set is technically out of print but new copies can still be obtained without too much trouble.

Carol Henderson (Linda Blair) has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for manslaughter. Carol is really just a fairly ordinary girl who got real unlucky. She’s no hardened criminal and she is totally unprepared for life behind bars. Especially in this particular prison. The prison is awash with drugs, which is hardly surprising since the warden and most of the guards are dope pushers.

There’s also a simmering race war. Murders are frequent. Rapes (committed by one of the male guards) are par for the course. And if you’re wondering if this movies includes that staple of the women-in-prison genre, predatory lesbians, you won’t be disappointed.

The latest murder victim is a girl who’s been acting as a snitch for the Warden Bacman (John Vernon). The warden decides that he has to have a snitch (if only to keep an eye on rival drug-pushing operations) and that Carol might be a suitable choice. Carol is so naïve that she is tempted.

There are numerous power struggles going on, the most notable being that between Duchess (Tamara Dobson), the de facto leader of the black prisoners, and Ericka (Sybil Danning), the de facto leader of the white prisoners. Captain Taylor (Stella Stevens) is not only mixed up in the power struggles she’s also involved in a romantic relationship with Lester (Howard Silva) whose job in the dispensary makes him a drug king pin. It’s a romantic relationship which probably won’t end well for Taylor.

Carol’s other problem is that she’s fresh meat and she’s attracted the attention of Ericka who is always on the lookout for pretty innocents.

Poor Linda Blair has never received much respect as an actress but she’s actually pretty good. She’s convincingly naïve and convincingly confused and terrified. Stella Stevens gives the standout performance of the movie as the corrupt Captain Taylor whose judgment is clouded by her unwise passion for Lester. Both Blair and Stevens take their rôles seriously and give their respective characters a bit of nuance. Blair handles her character’s slow transformation extremely well. Carol never becomes a tough girl but she becomes tough enough to have a chance at survival.

Linda Blair was an interesting casting choice because she’s not really a glamour babe, she just looks like a very ordinary reasonably attractive young woman. She was presumably cast largely on the basis of her notoriety as the star of The Exorcist but she has to rely on her acting rather than on her glamour or her willingness to take her clothes off (although she does have a couple of mild nude scenes). Fortunately she actually can act.

The other players go totally over the top but they do so very entertainingly and their performances work because it is a deliberately excessive movie about extreme subject matter and subtlety probably wouldn’t have worked.

John Vernon is a delight as the sleazy warden who has a jacuzzi in his office and likes to film himself having sex with a procession of female prisoners. Sybil Danning is deliciously nasty and deliciously sexy.

This movie contains every single exploitation element that you expect from this genre. There is of course a shower scene, with copious frontal nudity. There are vicious cat fights. There’s a rape scene which isn’t very graphic but it’s made rather chilling by the obvious enjoyment being obtained by the female guard who watches it happen (and who in fact set up the girl to be raped). There’s also a prostitution ring being run from the prison, more rapes and lots of reasonably graphic violence. And some imaginative killings.

This is one of those movies that seems to be pure exploitation but at the same time gives the impression that those involved really were trying to make a good movie.

Don’t expect too much complex political messaging. Insofar as there is a message, you could say that it’s simply that power corrupts, and it corrupts the victims of power as well as those wielding the power. But it’s really not a political film.

The most interesting characters are Duchess, Ericka and Carol’s friend Val (Sharon Hughes) because they’re neither heroines nor villainesses. They’re just doing what it takes to survive and they’ll form temporary alliances based on self-interest. It can be very useful to have Ericka on your side but it’s wise to remember that she’s still a scheming murderous bitch. The question is whether she’s going to be a scheming murderous bitch on the side of the good guys or the bad guys. Val at least does have one redeeming feature - her friendship for Carol is genuine and it’s the only genuine human relationship in the movie.

The anamorphic transfer is very good. This was supposedly the first opportunity that Americans got to see this film uncut. The extras include interviews with Stella Stevens and Sybil Danning and a brief introduction by Mr Skin (who apparently runs a celebrity nude website).

Chained Heat is certainly the best American women-in-prison movie I’ve seen, and the only American WiP movie that can stand comparison with the classics of the genre such as Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion. Chained Heat is sleazy fun and it’s highly recommended.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Picture Mommy Dead (1966)

Picture Mommy Dead is a 1966 horror thriller produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon.

Edward Shelley (Don Ameche) and his new wife Francene (Martha Hyer) go to collect Edward’s teenaged daughter Susan (Susan Gordon) from the convent where she’s been since the accident. It’s actually more of a mental hospital than a convent. The accident was a fire in which Susan’s mother Jessica was killed. At the time of the accident Francene was Susan’s governess.

Jessica had been very wealthy and she made a complicated will. Susan was left a vast fortune but it’s tied up in trust until she’s 25. Edward was left a sizeable sum plus the paintings and furnishings of Jessica’s palatial house Flagmore House. The house itself was left to the state with the proviso that it would not pass to the state during Susan’s lifetime as long as Susan is willing to live there.

There are further complications. If Susan dies or goes permanently insane the fortune goes to Edward. If Edward dies everything goes to Jessica’s cousin Anthony (who was left a measly five hundred dollars in the will).

And Edward is broke. He’s spent all the money Jessica left him so he wants to sell off all the paintings and furnishings of Flagmore House. He manages to persuade Susan to agree to this, much to the disgust of the family lawyer, Clayborn (Wendell Corey).

That will clearly has plenty of potential to cause trouble. 

It soon becomes very obviously that each one of the major characters could have had a motive for killing Jessica (we don’t believe for a moment that her death was an accident). They also have good motives for killing each other. Edward, Francene and Anthony are all morally corrupt in their own ways. And then there’s Susan, who seems like a nice young girl but she is clearly disturbed and could be totally innocent or a homicidal maniac. What’s also interesting is that while it’s possible that one or more people are trying to drive Susan insane, she may or may not be already insane. Or she may be completely sane but simply unable to remember the events of that fateful night. 

There are major sexual and romantic complications to add extra layers of motivation. And extra layers of perversity. Major league perversity.

There’s a hint at the beginning of the film as to the solution but it’s a cleverly ambiguous hint and you don’t want to make the mistake of drawing too many conclusions from it.

In fact you don’t want to make that mistake at any stage in this film. Some elements are predictable enough but there are other elements that are truly devious plot twists and the ending is one of the great endings in cinema history. And no, I’m not exaggerating. It’s seriously brilliant and twisted.

Andy Warhol once said that in the future it will be possible to be famous for being famous. Zsa Zsa Gabor had already achieved this. Her film career amounted to very little but she was very very famous indeed for being Zsa Zsa Gabor. What she adds to this film (her rôle consists entirely of flashbacks) is her presence and her notoriety.

Susan Gordon, the daughter of Bert I. Gordon, had a brief career as a child star. Picture Mommy Dead was her final film rôle. The character she plays in this film is supposed to be a teenager (I’d assume she’s supposed to be about fifteen) and it was a bold move casting a 17-year-old actress since it’s quite a demanding rôle. Susan Gordon carries it off exceptionally well. It’s a pretty extraordinary performance. She just nails it.

Don Ameche had been a fairly big star in the 30s and 40s but made only a handful of movies after that until staging a major late comeback in the 80s. He’s very good here. Martha Hyer adds glamour and perversity and it’s appropriate that she’s the same physical type as Zsa Zsa. Maxwell Reed as Anthony is deliciously slimy as well. Wendell Corey’s rôle is very brief, not much more than a cameo, but he makes the most of it as the most cantankerous lawyer you’ve ever seen.

I’d always assumed that Bert I. Gordon was just a hack director of schlocky B-pictures but clearly I was wrong. He does a great job here. This is a very well-crafted movie and it has some very nice visual moments (and lots of symbolism). Robert Sherman’s screenplay has an intriguingly cyclical touch to it. Events repeat themselves, but do they repeat themselves exactly?

While the ending is a shock if you watch the movie a second time there are definite clues pointing in that direction.

Apparently the movie encountered no major censorship issues. I can only assume that the censors simply didn’t understand what the movie was about. If they had understood they’d have gone crazy.

Picture Mommy Dead has been released on both DVD and Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber, with an audio commentary (by Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson). It’s a movie that really benefits from the commentary since there’s a surprising amount to unpack in this movie. 

Picture Mommy Dead is just a wonderfully twisted motion picture. There’s just enough of a camp sensibility and there’s a lot of outrageousness. Very highly recommended.

I discovered this movie through a review at Michael’s Moviepalace.