Well, this was better than I thought it was going to be!
Don’t get me wrong, Citizen Kane it ain’t. It was made on a more modest budget, the dialogue is overwrought in places and it’s clearly meant to appeal to an audience that asks only to see busty women in tight clothing. But I thought it was going to be on an extremely low budget and a poor quality overall; one step beyond Ed Wood, basically. Instead, it had a plot with a bit of nuance, some decent performances and some equally decent stunt work.
Our three anti-heroines are Varla (Tura Satana), Billie (Lori Williams), and Rosie (Haji), three go-go dancers in California. We only get a taste of their dancing during the opening credits – interspersed with shots of one of their customers, a frumpy older man hollering “Go!” at them – before they’re off the clock, each in her own car and joyriding on the desert salt flats. They run into Tommy (Ray Barlow), a fresh-faced auto enthusiast out to run a timed trial of his own car on a local course, assisted by his girlfriend Linda (Susan Bernard); Tommy and Linda are so clean-cut that the bemused dancers challenge Tommy to a race, and enjoy teasing Linda with jokes that sail straight over her head. It’s all good clean fun, though, until Varla and Rosie start playing keepaway with Tommy’s stopwatch, a prize from one of Tommy’s recent car shows. During the ensuing scuffle, Varla breaks Tommy’s neck, causing everyone to panic and load the hysterical Linda into one of their cars and sedating her as they flee the scene.
The plan is to stow the drugged Linda on a bus out of town and then scatter. But the nearest town is some distance off, and they need to fuel up. The chatty station attendant points out another customer to them – a huge beefcake of a guy pushing an older man in a wheelchair. The older man (Stuart Lancaster) had been in a rail accident, and was now largely isolated on his decrepit family ranch, assisted only by an older son Kirk (Paul Trinka) and this younger, mentally challenged son, cruelly nicknamed “The Vegetable” (Dennis Busch). Oh, and he’d gotten a big insurance payout, but had never used any of it and no one knew where the money was. Weird, huh?
Varla is intrigued enough by this information that she suggests the group take a detour to hunt for the old man’s money on the ranch. It’s remote enough that no one would be looking for them, and they’d be so far in the boonies that Linda probably wouldn’t try to escape. If nothing else they’d be able to get a ticket to send Linda even further away. And thus, they head for the ranch…
So – again, some of the lines in this thing are corny as hell. Varla is described as “a velvet glove cast in iron” at one point, and on the ranch Kirk gives into Varla’s attempts at seduction by babbling, “You’re a beautiful animal, and I’m weak and I want you”. When we first meet Linda, Varla has been teasing Tommy about his car, and when Varla quips that they ought to measure his run time “with an hourglass”, Linda suddenly pops into the conversation, simpering, “hey, did someone mention my figure?” And a narrator introduces the whole thing with a monologue about women and violence and sex:
“….Let’s examine closely then this dangerously evil creation, this new breed encased and contained within the supple skin of woman. The softness is there, the unmistakable smell of female, the surface shiny and silken, the body yielding yet wanton. But a word of caution: handle with care and don’t drop your guard. This rapacious new breed prowls both alone and in packs, operating at any level, any time, anywhere, and with anybody. “
And yet there’s real skill on display with the camerawork and the fight scenes. And Varla and the others seem to fall back on “seducing people to get what we want” a whole lot, but from some of their conversations we know that they’re being intentional about it – they know it works, and it’ll be some fun, so why not? They have some agency in the whole thing. Linda also changes dramatically – she’s perpetually in the bathing suit we first see her sporting with Tommy, but she goes from being a ninny cracking jokes about her figure to a terrified and desperate, and plucky, survivor type (let’s just say that she didn’t share Varla’s opinion about the ranch being too far away for her to think of an escape attempt).
It’s still seedy. But it’s the kind of seedy that I can definitely see left an imprint on people like John Waters and Quentin Tarantino (both huge fans of this work). And I think I can get why it did; there’s a bit more to it than meets the eye.