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“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to violence. The word and the act, encased and contained within the supple skin of woman.”
And so begins the trailer for Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Made in 1965 for a budget of $ 45,000, it was a flop upon its initial release. It played in San Francisco on a double bill with the film Mudhoney. The review in the San Francisco Chronicle read: “Pussycat has the worst script ever made, and Mudhoney is the worst movie ever made.”
The films shared something aside from a slam in the Chronicle. Both came from the mind of the same man, Russ Meyer. Born in 1922 in the San Francisco suburb of San Leandro, CA. Meyer would grow up to become the embodiment of the mid-century American male, what future historians will one day call the Don Drapersaurus. A two-fisted, hard drinking man’s man obsessed with women’s breasts. Meyer served in World War 2 as a combat cameraman with the Army signal corp. In addition to newsreels, you can see some of his footage in the film Patton.
Returning home after the war, Meyer had a hard time making the transition from US Army signal corp cinematographer to Hollywood Studio cinematographer, and ended up doing still photography on set. He eventually became a glamour photographer, shooting pin-ups before graduating to the pages of a new pin-up magazine called Playboy. Meyer shot three Playboy centerfolds. One in 1955 of his then-wife, Eve. Still wanting to work in movies, he made a film in 1955 called The Immoral Mr. Teas. Teas, described as a “nudist comedy,” is considered one of the first “nudie cuties,” films incorporating a lot of nudity but stopping short at depicting actual sex. With titles like The Bellboy and The Playgirls, Love For Sale, and Adam and Six Eves, they played almost exclusively in grindhouse theaters.
The Immoral Mr. Teas was followed with some nudist short subjects and then another feature, Erotica. Erotica was followed by Wild Gals Of The Naked West which was the original title of The Searchers (I’m kidding). In 1964 Meyer entered his “Gothic,” period, earning him the sobriquet The Drive-In Steinbeck. Melodramatic potboilers that were light on the nudity but heavy, heavy, heavy on featuring actresses’ breasts.
What can I tell you? Meyer really like women’s breasts. Phrases like pneumatic and cantilevered come to mind, but we’re above that so let’s just move on.
I mean seriously… Hindenburgian.
These four films were Lorna, Mudhoney, Motorpsycho, and his early masterpiece, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! The latter, in addition to having a ton of punctuation for a title, plays like a pre-Tarantino Tarantino film. At the center is the film’s star, Tura Satana. Satana comes across as a combination of Bettie Page and Bruce Lee. The film is a gender-swap remake of Meyer’s previous film, Motorpsycho. It tells the story of Varla, Rosie, and Billy, three hot-roddin’ Go-Go girls on a murderous rampage through the American southwest. Part Terrence Malick’s Badlands and part Adam West’s Batman, the film was a flop upon its first release. Unlike Meyer’s previous movies it was big on cleavage but low on nudity. There was plenty of violence, and it came from women. The violent gang is made up entirely of women, two of them in a lesbian relationship. All the men in the film take turns getting their faces stomped.
In a 1995 interview with the Toronto Star, Meyer blamed the lack of audience response at the time on the film's depiction of a lesbian relationship. This, he surmised, may have been a little too much for the men of 1965. Over time, culture caught up with Faster Pussycat! and by the 1990’s it was a cult film milestone and critical darling. A two-fisted, sneering, leather-clad declaration of feminist power.
Burt despite its lukewarm critical and financial reception upon release, it had one important fan. Twentieth Century Fox’s executive vice president in charge of production, Richard Zanuck.
Together, Zanuck and Meyer would aim for the stars.... and hit the gutter.