On November 13, 2006, Arrow released The Russ Meyer Collection in the UK. It’s an 18 film DVD box set. In February of 2011 I finally ordered one. Here’s my thoughts on each film in the collection.
(UPDATE: Arrow released an updated version of the box set in October of 2011 which includes the film Europe in the Raw and a 100 page booklet.)
The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)
Russ Meyer started out with good composition of his shots and decent editing, these would remain strong points in his films for years to come. This film has earned its place in history for starting the nudie-cutie genre, but there’s not much else positive to say about The Immoral Mr. Teas. Yes, there are several lovely ladies who bare the goods (and it takes a good while before they do), but this one is played out like a silent comedy with an annoying soundtrack, lame sound effects, cheap laughs (that never made me laugh), and some narration.
Eve and the Handyman (1961)
Leading lady, Eve Meyer (Russ Meyer’s wife at the time) is a very sexy woman indeed, but unless you’re a Russ Meyer purist, or just want to see Eve’s cleavage a lot, you can skip this boring tale of Eve spying on a handyman as he goes through his daily activities. The film features no character dialog, just narration from Eve and loads of campy sound effects and goofy music.
Wild Gals of the Naked West (1962)
Wild Gals of the Naked West could be described as an extended live-action western episode of Looney Tunes with topless women. There’s not much of a story here, and not much acting for that matter, but the film remains somewhat entertaining, although it gets painfully repetitious.
With Lorna, Russ Meyer’s films take a turn for the artistic and dramatic, which is a big change from his earlier nudie-cuties. It was also the first time Meyer shot with 35mm film. Lorna is a low-key film shot in black & white, it contains many great shots that make good use of light and shadow, and boasts a smooth jazz score. We only get one naked female in this one (Lorna Maitland), but she’s a beauty and Meyer makes ample us of her assets in multiple scenes. The comic relief pair of Luther (Hal Hopper) and Jonah (Doc Scortt) are reminiscent of the redneck farmers in the Ren & Stimpy cartoons (Jonah even sounds like Stimpy in a couple scenes).
Apart from a few clumsy edits, Mudhoney is a solid film from start to finish, telling the story of a no-good alcoholic husband and a newcomer to town who shakes things up, possibly for the better. The technical side is good as always, but this time around Meyer has a better selection of acting stock, even the busty beauties can act (one of which is a foxier version of Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera). Lorna Maitland and Hal Hopper return from Lorna along with a couple other Meyer favorites from previous films.
Motor Psycho (1965)
A so-so outing for Russ Meyer, Motor Psycho‘s strongest point is its middle-aged male characters, which turns out to be a strong point in many of Meyer’s films. Yes, the women in Meyer’s films are beautiful and chesty (this one features the debut of exotic beauty, Haji), but it takes more than good looks and large breasts to make a good film (well, maybe not much more). The plot is simple, three bikers are traveling across the desert to raise hell, but run into some hell of their own along way when they mess with Moe Greene’s Cory Maddox’s (Alex Rocco) woman. Even Russ Meyer turns up for an entertaining, and insensitive, cameo as the local sheriff.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
The Russ Meyer fan favorite and cult classic that John Waters called the greatest movie of all time. I wouldn’t call it that, but it’s a good time in the desert with tough chicks whose acting and attitude can easily be found as inspiration for Waters’ early films. These girls never disrobe, which is odd for a Meyer flick, but they do kick some ass. [On a weird side note, a few days after watching Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, I realized I watched it on Feb 4th, 2011 the day Tura Satana died. How strange is that?]
Mondo Topless (1966)
Passed off as a documentary, this return to the nudie-cutie genre features several topless dancers shaking their goods to the sound of rock music while their voices can be heard answering interview questions between the overly-dramatic narration that peppers the entire film. It’s no argument that these women are beautiful and have every right to be shaking their money makers (in Eastman Kodak color, as the narrator points out), but after 60 minutes of ridiculous 1960s dancing, uninspired dialog from the dancers, and that irritating narration, Mondo Topless may best be viewed on mute.
Common Law Cabin (1967)
Common Law Cabin (originally titled How Much Lovin’ Does a Normal Couple Need?) is an uneven project that feels like it could have been more. There’s a decent selection of actors this time around, each with at least a few moments of over-acting (all the male leads sound like they just came from doing voice-over work), but at least the women are beautiful. French dancer, Babette Bardot, returns from Mondo Topless (1966) and we get a couple of fresh faces with the youthful Adele Rein and the stunning Alaina Capri (who went on to appear in Russ Meyer’s next film, Good Morning… and Goodbye! (1967)).
Good Morning… and Goodbye! (1967)
The story of 11 losers who are searching for love in the arms of others (I’ll let you count for yourself to see if there’s really 11, because I have no idea). Nearly all of Russ Meyer’s staples are in place, everything from the beautiful, large-breasted women (one of which opens the film while running nude through a field, I have to admit, it’s a great way to start a movie) to the angry old man character (and, yes, there are even a few sloppy edits, because what Meyer film would be complete without them). The film is entertaining enough, but it falls victim to the same problem as Gone With the Wind (1939), the majority of the film is of a bitchy lady who needs to take a long walk on a short plank (unfortunately, she never does), however, much like Vivian Pierce in Gone With the Wind, Alaina Capri looks damn good doing it, so it’s easier to tolerate the nonstop bitching. Similarly to Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1970), Good Morning… and Goodbye! features a spirit-like character, which is portrayed here by Meyer favorite, Haji. It seems that she’s supposed to be some sort of tree dwelling gypsy/sorceress/forest spirit. Regardless, the film is worth checking out, but nothing too special for a Meyer film.
Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers! (1968)
Paul (the Robert Pattinson-looking Paul Lockwood) and Kelly’s (Anne Chapman, it’s a shame she wasn’t in more Meyer films) marriage is falling apart. It doesn’t help that while Paul leaves his trusted bar tender, Ray (Gordon Wescourt), to watch over his go-go bar, Paul runs off to a nearby brothel where Claire (Lavelle Roby) provides him with all the booze and lovin’ he can handle. Kelly, however, has plans of her own once her no-good husband shows up drunk again on the porch. Meanwhile, go-go bar patrons, Cal (Duncan “It’s that guy!” McLeod) and Feeney (Robert Rudelson), have plans of their own to rob the place after close. This all culminates into a crime caper gone awry as no one is where they are supposed to be and things quickly fall apart for everyone involved. The last half of the 1960s appears to be when Meyer, like all artists, leveled off and wasn’t producing anything exceptionally inspired. The films from this time period aren’t bad, but they certainly aren’t anything compared to Meyer’s 1965 classics, Mudhoney or Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Vixen! became a big hit in its day. In the world of Russ Meyer, Vixen! provides the much needed creative boost that put Meyer back on the map. The film attempts to tackle a variety of topics (racism, bisexuality, incest, politics, draft dodging, and even communism), many of which Meyer had not touched on previously, but it does so in a clumsy and naïve way. The scene of Vixen’s bisexual exploration is almost sweet, and, despite its naïveté, it comes across as genuine. Other topics, most notably racism, aren’t dealt with so well, and even when things are “resolved” the film doesn’t make much of an apology for the way it’s treated Niles (Harrison Page), the African-American who takes a lot of crap from Vixen (Erica Gavin) and his own buddy, Judd (Jon Evans). It should be noted that Erica Gavin possesses one of the best bodies in any Meyer film, and her red-headed exploratory partner isn’t too bad either.
Cherry, Harry & Raquel! (1970)
If sex and violence is what you’re after you’ve come to the right place. Russ Meyer enters the 1970s with a bang in this mix of sex and violence with a moral. That’s right, this film has a moral, but it has a lot more bare breasts and buns than anything else. There’s even an angry old man (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite Russ Meyer characters). Also, there is Charles Napier, yeah, I know, weird. Just wait till you see the movie.
Black Snake (1973)
Black Snake is an unusual fit in the Russ Meyer collection. An exploitation film through and through, Black Snake is Meyer’s most political and racially charged work. A film intended to raise awareness of the importance of civil rights, Black Snake is full of unintentionally hilarious lines (most of which contain racial slurs), but still makes its point, albeit a harsh way to go to get there.
Russ Meyer’s road movie, Supervixens, features a man on the run for a crime he didn’t commit. In this case, it’s the murder of his beautiful, manipulative, and bitchy wife, Angel (played by the stunning Shari Eubank, who’s not only a knockout, but she can act!). Meyer favorite, Charles Napier, makes an appearance as the crooked cop you love to hate. I really enjoyed this one and had very few complaints. The road movie aspect gives Meyer an excuse to showcase a variety of beautiful ladies while keeping the story from getting stagnant. It’s a shame that most of the women presented here didn’t end up in more Meyer titles.
When I was a kid, I would randomly catch and episode of Siskel & Ebert. If you would have told me that Roger Ebert, who, at the time, I felt was a stuffy critic who hated everything I liked, penned something as bizarre as Up!, I would have called you a liar. I’m here to tell you, Ebert is anything but stuffy (and on a side note, I’ve since learned that he and I have more in common in regard to taste in film than I had previously suspected). Although Up! contains many of the Russ Meyer staples, it’s one of the most bizarre murder mysteries I’ve ever seen. Up! could have just as easily been a John Waters film. Here Meyer not only covers topics such as role-playing, Nazis, BDSM, and graphic murders, but manages to combine them. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie. I’d like to add that the beautiful Raven De La Croix (who bares a resemblance to Rose McGowen), is a superb find for Meyer, but as with most of Meyer’s leading ladies, this is her only appearance in his filmography.
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979)
This was a fun movie. The third Russ Meyer film penned by film critic, Roger Ebert, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens is not only full of the great (and often full-frontal) nudity we’ve come to expect from Meyer, but we’re even treated to a full-frontal nude lesbian scene featuring Sharon Hill (now Sharon Ceccatti) whom you may know as the Lead Zombie Nurse in George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie-apocalypse, Dawn of the Dead. The plot, as if you even care, is true to Meyer’s naïve all-American views on sex. Lavonia (Kitten Natividad) has a problem with her man, he’s addicted to anal sex and this (in Meyer’s world) is a disorder that needs immediate treatment. Lavonia goes to all kinds of measures to “cure” her afflicted man. One of the best scenes (for a couple reasons) takes place when they visit the local dentist/marriage counselor. This really was a great way for Meyer to end his legacy, it’s just a shame he made the next film on this list some 20 years later.
Pandora Peaks (2001)
In the style of Russ Meyer’s blasé 1966 offering, Mondo Topless, Pandora Peaks takes this formula and runs it into the ground. Instead of getting several beautiful women to ogle during the over-the-top narration (which has mellowed since the days of Mondo Topless), we instead get the titular Pandora and the German, Tundi. Neither of these woman are interesting for very long. A couple of other women are shown, but only briefly. This is easily the worst film in the collection.