Most people, when they think of the golden age of grindhouses and exploitation film, tend to focus heavily on the rough rides of S&M influenced sexploitation or the blood letting bonanza of a near endless parade of proto slashers and cannibal chomp downs. While both are valid aspects of exploitation era cinema, reducing the genre’s offerings only to a series of sanguine money shots is to miss out on some of the most singularly strange and unsettling corners of cinema history.
Two of the weirdest examples arrived in theaters within a month of each other in the summer of 1972. Both are deceptively prim affairs that avoid much overt gore or excessive nudity. What they are full of is female protagonists in kicky 70’s fashion, soap opera style musical themes, and base plots that wouldn’t be out of place in a Golden Age Of Hollywood “women’s picture” melodrama.
Love Me Deadly is the story of Lindsey Finch (Mary Charlotte Wilcox), a wealthy heiress torn between a sweetly attentive businessman and a mortician full of darker secrets. Both of them will have a hard time measuring up to the memory of her beloved dad.
Toys Are Not For Children‘s protagonist is Jamie Godard (Marcia Forbes), a toy store clerk who jumped into an unhappy sexless marriage to escape her overbearing mother. When she meets the fiercely independent Pearl (Evelyn Kingsley) in a chance encounter, it opens up a road to the two things she wants most. With Pearl’s help, she can both escape her husband, and finally reunite with the father who abandoned her.
The kickers? Lindsey’s obsession has lead her away from the kindly attentions of Alex (the late Lyle Waggoner) and into the hands of mortician Fred’s (Timothy Scott) cult, who supply her with bodies for her necrophiliac desires. Only corpses are as cold as dear old deceased daddy, so Lindsey has an easier time relating to the dead than the living.
As for Jaime, her new friend Pearl is a sex worker, who has seen Jaime’s dad as a client. Soon Jaime is turning tricks as well, no longer quite so repressed in the context of incest fantasy roleplay with older johns. Jaime’s dad loved working girls, and his philandering is part of the reason why Jaime’s mother threw him out. By becoming a working girl herself, Jaime hopes to finally regain her father’s lost attention and affection by any means necessary.
By surrounding these stunted child women with a sea of suggestive conceptual sleaze, the gaps we fill in at the edges of the frame are worse than any standard sex & splatter film likely could be. What exactly was Jaime doing with all of those kiddie toys in her bedroom? How long has Lindsey been cruising attractive men’s funerals? By leaving much to the imagination, both films become bizarre fever dreams you can’t quite sweat out, even if the logic of how you got there in the first place is quite fuzzy.
If all of that isn’t enough to make you want to scrub until you see bones, consider the barely concealed subtext in either film. In two pictures that deal with the deeply disturbing topics of incest and necrophilia, the shadow of female sexual agency and the (new at the time) women’s lib movement is positioned as the Wizard to this freaky filmic Oz. Jaime literally transforms from virgin to whore, and her possessive jilted husband is given plenty of the scant runtime to speechify for audience sympathy. As for poor Lindsey, neither Alex nor Fred seem much interested in helping her work through her obvious psychological damage. They both are eminently more concerned in reaping the benefits of a wealthy and beautiful decoration to their existing life plan.
Many of the cast and crew of both films (including both directors) never made another movie. With the philosophy and content at hand, this is the sort of retro shocker that truly could have only existed in the wild new frontier of the post studio system 1970s. This pair of candy colored cinematic obscurities are the embodiment of the Stanislaw Lec concept of “bitter pills in sugar coating”. A worthy watch for deep divers of genre cinema extremes of the sort that will never be slotted for a big budget Hollywood remake.
About The Author: G.G. Graham is a cult film cryptid, horror hag, and exploitation film explorer of the dusty and disreputable corners of cinema history. The street preacher of Z-grade cinema can be found at http://www.midnightmoviemonster.wordpress.com or on Twitter @msmidnightmovie