Now Showing on Midway Screen 2: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
I’m a part of a dying breed.
Sure, usually when I say that, I’m depressed or speaking hyperbolically…or both. But given the steady downward trend in the population of Drive-In theaters, only around 330 remain and there ARE states that have none, yes, those of us who have partaken in the drive-in experience are similarly dropping in number. Now, I’m not going to retread someone else’s turf here, there is a patron saint of the Drive-In in the person of Joe Bob Briggs. So, how do I not step on the big man’s toes?
By focusing in on my own drive-in experience. [Wait…this is going to be a story, isn’t it? Ugh. – Ed.]
You see, back when I was growing up, if I was going to see a movie…and it wasn’t with my best friend and his family but with my own brood…then it was likely going to be at the Midway Drive-In. Named “Midway” simply because it was between Ravenna and Kent on Ohio State Route 59, this is where the white Chevy station wagon (with really red leather interior) of my youth would take me and my siblings for a weekend or summertime double feature. Sure, I have all the standard memories: the heavy metal clip on speakers (eventually replaced by the radio poles) the animated advertising for the snack bar and the little burner things that were supposed to repel mosquitoes (but didn’t), the how many minutes until the next show started…so on and so forth. And while the particular experience that will serve as the foundation for future reviews to bear this moniker likely isn’t all that unique either, well, dammit, this is where I’m parking my car…so to speak.
Now, notoriously in the earlier days of the drive-in, the drive-in movie was its own genre. Sure, we’d probably call ‘em a hundred different things now: exploitation cinema, B movies, soft core porn and et cetera. By the time the 80s rolled around, drive-ins were essentially different venues for the same ‘indoor bullstuff’ that was being shown everywhere else. At the Midway though, they tried to keep at least a little bit of the tradition alive…which makes sense given how hard that portion of Ohio finds it to move into the latter part of the 20th century…to say nothing of the 21st. Screen 1 was typically reserved for the hits of the day: E.T., The Last Starfighter, Back to the Future and the like. Typically a family friendly summer blockbuster with a second movie attached…either somewhat less popular or a movie from months earlier that was released during Midway’s off-season. Screen 2, however, carried the torch…and my young eyes would see things there for the first time, especially the Three B’s: Blood, Beasts and Breasts. E.T. might be playing on screen 1, but the newest installment of Friday the 13th was playing on screen 2. There might be a heart-warming moment on screen 1, but there were boobs on screen 2. Hence why these reviews will bear the title ‘Midway Screen 2’; these are the reviews that are more than just a little bit seedy. While we might bring in the other two B’s later, movies that fly this banner will have an emphasis on Breasts.
I suppose this is as good a time as any to suggest that these reviews are intended for ages 18 and older.
So, if you’re gonna post reviews focusing on breasts, then you need to start off with the king…and while it’s not a name that is usually immediately recognized by most, that king is indeed Russ Meyer. And Russ had a very particular taste: BIG. We’re talking proper knockers here…like, as in having double D’s MIGHT get you a background extra role. This is not to say that he accepted…ahem…augmented talents (if you know what I mean…and I think you do) [Sigh, now we gotta kick a couple bucks to Mr. Bloom. How about sticking to your own material here, eh? – Ed.]. No, Russ’s girls were all natural. While his only studio picture, Beneath the Valley of the Dolls (written by Roger Ebert no less) might be the easiest of his works to find, his most famous one is the one we’ll be looking at tonight: Faster Pussycat…Kill! Kill!
The short version of the plot is that we’ve got a trio of wild girls with their own hot rods and a thirst for trouble. Varla is clearly in charge of this group, played by Tura Satana, and is also the most recognizable image from this film. We’ll get more into that later. The other two are Rosie, who is excessively Italian and more-than-likely in a lesbian relationship with Varla (it’s heavily inferred but never displayed…dammit) and Billie, the slacker/free spirit of the group. Anyhow, our girls are out in the desert flats racing around after their shift as go-go dancers when they’re interrupted by a fellow, Tommy, and his girlfriend, Linda, who are looking to do a time-trial. More than happy to take a moment to humiliate any man, Varla taunts the lovebirds into a race and…just as Tommy looks to pull ahead and win, naturally Varla resorts to some trickery to take the win. Not terribly happy with the outcome, our would-have-been champion protests…only to be karate-chopped to death. Wanting no witnesses, this now becomes a tale of kidnapping as the trio try to figure out what to do with the freshly single Linda. Trying to hatch a plan while filling up at a nearby gas station, the trio are told of a local man who was crippled by a train while saving a woman and was handsomely compensated by the train company. Having no trust for the banks, this old man keeps the money somewhere on his property which he shares with two sons Kirk (the intelligent one who rails against his father’s bitterness) and “The Vegetable”, the bulky yet feeble-minded one. Billie lusts over The Vegetable while Varla lusts after the money…and so a new scheme is formed. Will the girls succeed in their twisted plan? Or does the old man have a surprise in store for them? Put the pedal to the metal, daddy-o, and race to the conclusion to find out.
While, as a critic, one could easily dismiss the movie as being mostly plot driven with a lot of coincidences scattered throughout the movie…eventually proving to be little more than a simple morality tale…and dialog that tries too hard to be hip for hipness’ sake, to do so would be a mistake and miss a lot of the more cinematic landmarks the film gives. First and foremost is the screen presence of Varla herself. Anyone, and I mean ANYONE worth their salt when it comes to cult or exploitation cinema had damn well better be able to recognize her on sight. Her presence not only dominates the marketing materials associated with the film, but also the film itself. And with good reason. Clad in black, she contrasts with her surroundings. This serves two purposes: to cement not only her ‘black-hat’ status but to accentuate her contrarian stance…and, most obviously, to highlight her dangerous curves. Sure, Russ skimps out on the nudity that he’s known for in this film, relegating the viewer to only a few flashes of side-boob in a couple of scenes…but Varla’s outfit doesn’t leave much to the imagination, with her cleavage featuring prominently. [As it should. – Ed.] With her as the film’s focal point, we as viewers get something a little unique…a film from the point of view of the antagonist. Sure, the old man himself is in some ways a secondary villain, as his intentions for the girls runs a bit toward the murderous (and possibly rapey)…given his disposition to take vengeance on all women ever since his injury. This is laid out exceptionally well during the lunch scene, with all the players eating at the table and conversation rife with intent. For fans of horror, this scene is going to feel a little familiar. While it certainly doesn’t go to the same extremes, there are certainly hints of what Tobe Hooper would later do with the dinner scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Like any morality tale, our protagonists, in this case Linda, Kirk and The Vegetable, live to see the end credits while all other parties get their just desserts. In some ways, that’s a bit of a shame, as the audience has come to invest so much in Varla that…maybe just for a moment…we kind of want her to get away with it all.
But it’s not all good. The dialog, especially from Billie, can be hard to understand or even listen to. Actually, her character, period, runs the gamut from annoying to infuriating, making the viewer wonder why the hell Varla keeps her around. The other member of the trio, Rosie, doesn’t do anything in particular to earn her keep in the group…but given her implied relationship with Varla, perhaps that statement isn’t exactly 100% accurate. My criticism comes down to Haji’s performance…where-a sheee’s a leeetle TOO eeetaaaliano, ah? Not really seeing where that ‘acting’ decision came from and given she was Canadian from British and Filipino descent…it CERTAINLY wasn’t natural. My remaining complaints all seem to fall at the end of the movie: The Vegetable goes all Superman practically…and while I get that the low budget and fast shooting schedule (as per Russ’ M.O.) didn’t allow for stunt performers, how people got hit by cars…and how long they stayed alive and pretty damn mobile afterwards…wasn’t exactly a cinematic high point.
So, should you see it? Well, if you can find it for a reasonable price or to rent (either via streaming on Amazon or, speaking of dying breeds, a brick-and-mortar video rental shop), then yeah, definitely…especially if you’re into cult or exploitation cinema. You’re gonna need this in your portfolio to shore up your bona fides. The problem with trying to buy Russ’ films is that your options on where to get them is pretty limited: you can try to hunt down international copies from Arrow Video, which can be pretty cheap…but you’ll need a region-free player to watch them or you can go through Russ Meyer Films (which sells through Amazon or their own site)…but this venue will cost you a pretty penny…$40 a movie. With something like Faster Pussycat, that does have a cinematic significance, the price might be worth it, depending on how much you enjoyed it…and Tura Satana’s figure. But if you’re just casually dipping your toe into Russ’ breast-stroke-only pool, you’re likely better off renting.
Verdict: Happy Cat...on the strength of Tura Satana's bosoms alone.