“The word is necrophilia — We’re quite normal people, we just have different — passions.” — Funeral Director Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott), from 1973’s Love Me Deadly
Honest to God, it’s hard to think of any form of aberrant sexual behavior more frowned upon, ridiculed, and just plain loathed by society at large than corpse-lovin’. Somebody into animals, little kids, being pissed on, shit on, stepped on, or even eaten alive is likely to get more respect than your average necrophile, and yet ya gotta ask yourself — as far as weird ways of getting your rocks off go, what could be more harmless? Talk about a truly victimless crime — the “person” being “violated” is already dead, what the fuck do they care?
All of which is not to say that your humble host is in any way suggesting that necrophilia is healthy behavior by any stretch of the imagination — it’s pretty damn creepy and incomprehensible, and weird as it may sound, to the extent that there are any actual “necros” out there, my first inclination is to feel profoundly sorry for the lot of ’em. It’s gotta be the most lonely, desperate sort of sexual need imaginable. Plus, your “lovers” usually aren’t gonna smell to good. On the plus side, however, awkward, post-coital “small talk” isn’t a skill you need to worry about perfecting.
Naturally, in the free-wheelin’, anything-goes days of 1970s exploitation cinema, any subject this taboo was bound to be one that some enterprising B-movie maestro would latch onto in the hopes of wringing a few bucks from an always-shock-hungry public, and in 1972 first (and, as it turns out, only)-time producer Buck Edwards got together with first (and, again, only)-time writer/director Jacques LaCerte (who was actually, believe it or not with a name like that, from Arkansas) to indulge the curiosities of the most morbid cineastes of the day with a little shot-in-13-days-on-$42,000 number called Love Me Deadly that would make its way into the grindhouses and drive-ins our nation was still blessed with in January of the following year.
Beautiful young (although hardly 18, as the poster claims, but whatever) trust-fund baby Lindsay Finch (Mary Wilcox) has a problem — she’s got an extremely unhealthy father-fixation that obviously veers well into incestuous territory. She’s tried to have normal relationships with other southern California wealthy layabouts, most notably the Ken Doll-esque Wade Farrow (Christopher Stone), but nothing ever works out. These guys just can’t measure up to daddy dearest. There’s just one problem — well, okay, one problem in addition to the fact that the guy she’s in love with is her own father : daddy’s dead, and has been for a long time.
Lindsay has recently taken it upon herself to do what, I guess, anybody in her situation would — she’s begun to troll the newspapers for funeral notices and spend her days hopping from one memorial service to another, waiting for everyone else to leave so that she can spend a private moment alone with the deceased. One of the more amazing things about this flick is seeing how she dresses for her “funeral dates” — all in black, of course, usually with a veil and hat, but her dresses are short and form-hugging, almost as if she’s trying to impress the guy in the casket. Yes, friends, it’s fair to say that in the entire history of emotionally-confused female movie leads, Wilcox’s Lindsay ranks right up near the top.
One day, though, while at a complete stranger’s wake, our forlorn young semi-heroine meets a real, living, breathing human being who awakens something within her — art gallery owner, and brother of the deceased, Alex Martin (popular “young buck” Lyle Waggoner of The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman fame). Alex doesn’t spend too much time grieving over his loss, as he’s too busy pursuing Lindsay, and soon she’s shuffled poor ol’ Wade to the back of the deck in favor of this suave n’ charming newcomer. To his credit, Wade doesn’t seem to take it too hard (hey, it’s Lyle Waggoner, how ya gonna compete with that?), as in one of the film’s numerous “musical-montage” sequences he’s seen double-dating at a Benihana with another girl with Lindsay and Alex on the other side of the table, but he never can seem to get the haunted-by-he-knows-not-what blonde socialite out of his head completely. Little does he suspect that the real reason Alex has won the rather open competition for her affections is because he reminds her of dear, dead dad.
Wade’s continued low-level obsession with her will prove to be his undoing, though, as in between all those quasi-romantic, dialogue-free montages (keep in mind that this is a movie that has its own, I shit you not, love theme) Lindsay has made some new friends. Mortician Fred McSweeney (Timothy Scott) has noticed her showing up for a lot of his viewings and, figuring she might be a kindred spirit, he takes the plunge and invites her to join his local necrophiliac cult. Hell, in the letter of introduction he mails to her, he even invites her to bring a friend along to their next “meeting” if it would make her more comfortable!
Fred’s a bit of an odd case, it must be said, even for a corpse-fucker — it seems that when he hasn’t got enough fresh meat in the freezer at his funeral home, he’s not averse to going out and getting some! In one particularly memorable — and, frankly, shocking — early scene we see him picking up a young male hustler, bringing him back to the (for lack of a better term) office, tying him down to a morgue slab, and pumping him full of embalming fluid while he’s still alive and kicking! This being 1973, of course, you could explicitly show one of your characters being a necrophiliac, but you’d better not even hint that he’s queer, so later in the film we see Fred, or “Greg” as he calls himself when he’s out on the prowl, cruising the strip for female flesh as well. It appears, then, that he’s an equal-opportunity necro, and he’ll take a crack at anyone, male or female, as long as they’re dead.
Lindsay’s shocked and sickened by her own desire for cold, clammy, lifeless flesh at first, but she soon finds herself drawn back to more corpse-bangin’ conclaves at the back of Fred’s funeral parlor (even though all these people really should wise up and pick a new de facto group leader because McSweeney always leaves his front door unlocked!), and when Wade discreetly tails her care one evening and finds her there, he quickly finds himself next on the slab of carnal pleasure.
Again, though, he needn’t take it too hard — a few montages and a quick marriage later, Lyle Waggoner makes the same mistake. Intercepting a registered letter for his new bride from McSweeney’s Mortuary (as opposed to Quarterly Concern — raise your hand if you got that reference) he examines the contents of the envelope and decides to surreptitiously follow the Mrs. to this “meeting” mentioned in the missive. Lindsay’s been as unresponsive as a , well, corpse in bed and Alex figures she might be stepping out on him. Little does he suspect, of course, what she’s really up to in her spare time —
On the bright side, by film’s end Lindsay does, finally, meet the man of her dreams — and in a nod to traditional values, it turns out that it’s the guy she’s already married to! On the minus side, at least for Lyle Waggoner, he’s dead. After rudely — but, let’s be honest, understandably — interrupting his wife mid-coitus, McSweeney dispatches him just as his lackeys did Wade, and then “prepares” his body for Lindsay’s — uhhmmm — enjoyment. For reasons I absolutely can’t fathom, he’s trying to cut one of Alex’s fingers off when Lindsay approaches her marital bed — this time with considerably more spring in her step than when hubby was, ya know, alive an’ all — and gets a statue busted over his head for his trouble, but apart from that, in between the (yet more) flashback montages that finally show why Lindsay’s so obsessed with her father’s passing ( an actually effective little plot twist) it appears that she and Alex are finally ready to live — and die — happily ever after. She’s found her husband, father figure, and dream lover, all wrapped up in one perfect, unbreathing, unfeeling, unliving package. She curls up next to his corpse and coos like a little girl as the credits roll.
To their credit, LaCerte and Edwards certainly aren’t squeamish about their subject matter here. The title credits on both versions of the flick’s theatrical trailer — included as a DVD extra (along with a fairly fascinating full-length commentary from Edwards that he recorded shortly before his death in 2007 where he reveals, among other things, that all of the extras in the film were members of the Los Angeles area Church of Satan, and were recruited into the production in exchange for a “small donation” to their organization) on the original Code Red/Media Blasters/Shriek Show joint release of the film (it’s since been re-released by Code Red as part of their “Maria’s B-Movie mayhem” line hosted by former WWE starlet Maria Kanellis, where it’s paired with The Curious Case Of The Campus Corpse — both versions feature a pretty-nicely-remastered widescreen picture and solid mono sound, and both mark the only complete and uncut home video iterations of the film, but the double-bill doesn’t have the extras) state, in no uncertain terms , “Love Me Deadly — A Film About Necrophilia (The Sexual Desire For A Corpse),” but to their discredit (although it’s probably fair to say that most of the blame here lies with director LaCerte), they have absolutely no idea how to play this material.
You would think — as Jorg Buttgeriet did the next time any movie had the balls to tackle this subject, well over 20 years later — that necrophilia would be pretty fertile ground for either genuinely grim psychological horror or a completely OTT horror-comedy hybrid, but in Love Me Deadly it’s presented as Lifetime Movie Of The Week or ABC After School Special material! The aforementioned trailers invoke Hitchcock’s Psycho, but in a movie overflowing with flowery montages and a repetitive love theme, it’s pretty clear that LaCerte’s biggest stylistic influence here was Love Story, with the only difference being that one of the lovers isn’t dying — he’s already dead!
The end result, as you can well imagine, is a pretty incongruous affair — morbid exploitative subject matter played out as bog-standard 1970s doomed romance is certainly nothing that’s been tried anywhere else before or since — but it’s also an unforgettable one, despite LaCerte’s dull point-and shoot style and the script’s insistence on going back to the same well in more or less exactly the same fashion for both its principal murders. I can certainly see why contemporary audiences were shocked shitless by this thing, and why modern ones continue to be. It’s simply entirely unlike anything else ever made, and despite the director’s best efforts to wrap a velvet glove over his subject matter’s iron fist, it still packs one hell of a punch. It’s about a lonely, desperate necrophile, for Christ’s sake — there’s no way you can make it very “cozy” and ‘warm” no matter how hard you try. If you’re in the mood for a genuinely unforgettable — and, yeah, unpleasant — movie experience, you need to see this as close to immediately as possible. And if you’ve already seen it but it’s been a few years, now would be the perfect time to give it another go and remind yourself exactly why it blew you away in the first place.
Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw taught us that “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” In Love Me Deadly, Mary Wilcox and Lyle Waggoner teach us that the perfect lover is one you never have to say anything to at all.