Director: Russ Meyer
Stars: Tura Satana (Varla), Haji (Rosie), Lori Williams (Billie), Ray Barlow (Tommy), Susan Bernard (Linda), Dennis Busch (The Vegetable), Stuart Lancaster (The Old Man), Paul Trinka (Kirk).
Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! has been on my list to cover off in this series since I decided to start writing them in the first place… but what to write exactly? How do you celebrate a film like this and not come off like you enjoy a roll in the gutter with as much ridiculous, gratuitous cleavage as possible? Because that’s exactly what this is, isn’t it? A dirty, filthy, pulpy slice of wrong, exploiting all your base desires. Why do I love it?
Answered my own question already, huh?
As much as I could (and frequently do) go on at length about some loftier, more noble work, sighting artistic merits or what-not, sometimes you just want to be entertained. Film snobbery often tends toward the celebration of the sombre or po-faced, as though heavy-hearted seriousness goes hand in hand with validation for cinema as an art form. And sure, there’s a time for those films. Schindler’s List, Dancer In The Dark etc etc. But there’s also a time for cracking open a beer and embracing the kitsch (yes, kitsch) of Russ Meyer at his best.
Because let’s not kid ourselves, this is largely about kitsch. Modern takes on exploitation cinema largely don’t work because we all know better now. We’re in on the joke, that it’s all so outrageous. The originals, the pictures built on a questionable moral compass and marketed with a shrewd eye for the salacious, those are the ones that work. The ones where you’re not certain they are kidding. But even then, a lot of exploitation cinema is about peaks and troughs. Moments of ingenuity in films that are largely of uneven quality. Or absurdly low quality. It’s part of their charm for many. The “its-so-bad-its-good” factor. I’m a sucker for it.
But some of them, precious few, avoid this category. Despite their tawdry subject matter, they reveal actual talent, creativity and wit. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one such movie. With a glint in his eye, like the barker at a turn-of-the-century cooch show, Russ Meyer invites his audience to step right up and enjoy the ride. Fast cars, tough women, and downright sleazy jazz. Lower that prudish raised eyebrow and allow yourself some fun.
So this is Meyer’s world, in which three go-go dancers drive recklessly into the desert, led by the mean and merciless Varla, who from the off instigates a pecking order, watching her accomplices Rosie and Billie rough it out in a lake as she smokes, conjuring up a drag-race to settle the score. But this isn’t enough. Thrill-seekers need to up their game, and for Varla if that means getting the better of bystanders, then all the better. Soon enough she’s beaten a man to death and kidnapped the poor fella’s girl. From here it’s on to the lion-share of the film; a ploy by Varla to uncover a supposed fortune at an old man’s washed-out farmhouse.
All of which is the flimsy framework for Meyer’s gaudy visual treats and multiple entendre, both single and double. Meyer was so often an entertainer without pretension. And whilst elsewhere his films spun off into pointless soft-core nonsense Pussycat holds itself together. John Waters, the godfather of trash cinema, sights Pussycat as his favourite film. It’s not as crazy a choice as you might think. This is a cool little movie, slick with style and the sweat of the desert. Saucy, but not too sleazy (this is one of the only Meyer films to feature no full-frontal nudity).
And accusations that Pussycat is degrading or misogynistic in its depiction of women simply don’t hold water. Throughout it is the men who are the fools. They are weak, dimwitted, consistently presented as wanting. Anyone mistaking the Old Man’s talk for the voice of Meyer is missing the point. Meyer mocks unenlightened attitudes here, the Old Man his proxy.
If Varla, Rosie and Billie may look like they stepped out of a teenage boy’s wet dream, they’re where the power is. And if male viewers feel threatened by them (as if this were a monster movie where the big bad is the female of the species), it says more about the attitudes being brought to the film than the one being advanced by Meyer, despite that (great) opening monologue. Meyer loved women. And if he exploits the viewer with the promise of a beautiful body, he backs that up with great characters and choice dialogue. Tura Santana, Haji and Lori Williams own this film as Varla, Rosie and Billie, and seem to be having a riot throughout. That kind of charisma is infectious, and they help carry us through the middle section of the movie, which is admittedly a little lacking when compared to that firecracker beginning or the roaring violence of the conclusion.
But maybe all this justification is beside the point. The final twenty minutes see Meyer deliver nearly everything he teased; carnage ensues as Varla loses control, her fury burning harder than the desert sun. What it provides is a trashy release, which is what this brew of sex-pot violence promised all along. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is about indulgence and hysteria. You’re not supposed to over-think it. Invite some friends over, breakout the popcorn and stick the DVD on. And yeah, laugh at the kitsch-factor. Of course it’s of its time. Of course there are ‘better’ films. But I won’t hear Pussycat filed along side any “its-so-bad-its-good” movies. File it under “its-so-good-its-great”.
Watch it for the crackling dialogue, the auteur filmmaking, the brash, brazen, brilliant girls, and the devilish brew of entertaining hokum. So maybe I do enjoy a roll in the gutter once in a while, with as much ridiculous, gratuitous cleavage as possible. With Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! I’m more than happy to admit it.