Posts Tagged ‘doris wishman’

"A Night To Dismember" Opening Titles

What would you do if you had a completed film “in the can,” so to speak, but a disgruntled lab worker at the processing facility where it was being developed set fire to the place and destroyed 40% of your movie, leaving you with just over an hour of usable footage, all from various unrelated segments of your flick?

And what if, by an even more cruel twist of fate, it turned out that the destroyed 40% was some of the most crucial material, and what you had left made little to no sense without its inclusion?

Imagine, for instance, you had a ten-minute short film about a couple who have an argument in the park that results in their breakup. You had six minutes of footage left relatively unscathed, but it was the six minutes showing them going to the park and leaving, with the crucial four minutes of argument and breakup material gone, leaving you with a “story” that looks, for all intents and purposes, like two people just walking to the park and then leaving under much the same circumstances as they arrived.

Would you just shoot the thing over? I guess that would make the most sense. But what if you were broke, since all your money was used up on the production of your little indie opus, the print itself was uninsured, so you couldn’t recoup any of your losses,  and it was due to play at a local short festival in a week or so?

Well, that’s what happened to B-movie auteur Doris Wishman in 1982, only on an even larger scale.

Despite being a key player in the exploitation movie business for nearly three decades at the time, Wishman had never actually made a proper horror flick before, with most of her efforts being sexploitationers like Nude on the Moon, Deadly Weapons, Double Agent 73, and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist — but in the early 80s, spurred on by the success of films like Halloween and Friday the 13th, slashers were all the rage, and Wishman, ever the savvy low-rent businesswoman, wasn’t about to let that gravy train pass her by.

And can you blame her? A genre that requires no big-name actors, no expensive sets, and has a guaranteed built-in audience at grindhouses and drive-ins all across the country was something no B-movie maker could really afford to pass on. As long as people were getting killed, audiences were happy, and if you made movies literally to pay your rent or make your mortgage payment, this was just too good a deal not to get in on. A license to print money!

Wishman began her first and only voyage into slasherdom the way she began all her productions — with a title, in this case the rather catchy A Night To Dismember. Then she filmed a roughly five-minute trailer, another staple ingredient in her filmmaking stew. With no completed script, no actual cast in place, and no idea where or when the movie itself would be shot, she then would shop these trailers around to potential investors in a bid to secure what she billed as “completion funds.” The movie’s budget would be whatever she was able to raise using this rather unconventional, but usually marginally successful, sales “technique.”

With these “completion funds” in place, she would then finish a script, get a cast in place, secure some filming locations (as often as not utilizing her own house as the primary scene of the action), and shoot a movie that often bore little to no resemblance to the trailer she’d shot earlier.

That’s putting it all on the line for you art, my friends, which is why I’ll always say, despite all physical evidence to the contrary, that Wishman had more balls than most of her male contemporaries.

Anyway, it’s 1982 and our lady Doris has just followed the MO outlined above to make this cheap little slasher flick, A Night To Dismember. She shot it over the course of a couple of weeks, mostly in and around her own house (in, I believe, New Jersey), the only “star” of note whose services she could secure on her budget was late-70s/early-80s second-tier porn actress Samantha Fox (not to be confused with the British topless “Page 3 Girl”/wannabe-pop starlet of the same name who would come along a few years later) who was looking to break into the “legitimate” film business, and the script was a fairly bog-standard little extra-gory murder mystery about a seriously dysfunctional family.

In short, a girl gets sent to an insane asylum as a teenager, gets out in her (supposedly) late 20s, and upon her release her brother and sister enact a devious little scheme to send her back to the bughouse because they don’t want her cutting in on daddy’s affections and, more importantly, his money. They figure they’ll subject her to all kinds of taunting and nightmare visions to make her question her own sanity, and hey, if that doesn’t work, they’ll maybe even kill some people and try to make it look like crazy sis must have done it. That ought to get her out of the picture.

Wishman, as ever, recorded the film without sound and shot it from a safe enough distance in most sequences so that audiences wouldn’t notice the shitty quality of the dubbed-in audio track later. When close-ups were required, she focused on eyes, foreheads, necks, nearby inanimate objects — literally anything but the actors’ mouths, just in case the sound and the images didn’t quite synch up — which they usually didn’t.

So, the movie’s done. And what’s more, it’s been sold. It’s set to play the bottom half of double-bills in various regional markets in early 1983, and as the prints make their rounds up and down 42nd street and around to various rural drive-ins, Wishman is sure to make enough to recoup her investors’ costs as well as line her pockets with at least a little bit of the change left over. After all, she’d done this  dozens of times in the past. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, if you’re an astute reader — hell, even just a reader with an attention span lasting longer than oh, say, five minutes — you’ll already know what went wrong. Wishman sent her print to a company called Movielab to be developed. Movielab was having some financial troubles. The paychecks for many of their workers bounced. And one particularly enterprising employee decided he wasn’t going to take this lying down — so he literally set fire to the place.

If the movie doesn't make any sense, why would a caption?

Wishman had never insured a print in her life, and didn’t do so in this case, either. So what she had left after the Movielab fire was 60% of her footage, for which no sound had yet been added, and no money to go back and try to do things over. And her movie was due to open in a couple of months.  This is when true B-movie makers bring their “A” game.

Doris went to work. First up, she edited what she had left into as close to a sensible order as humanly possible, even though, as mentioned before, a lot of the most crucial stuff was gone. Then she spliced in some footage from her promotional trailer, even though the “story” depicted there didn’t much resemble the movie she’d made (if you’ve read rather than skimmed this review, I’m assuming you’ll understand why that statement makes sense). She added in some outtake footage from other movies she’d made to pad out the run time. And she wrote and then laid out a feature-length narration track over the whole thing so that this discombobulated series of scenes, where one sequence would have absolutely nothing to do with what was on the screen right before it, would maybe, sort of, almost make something resembling, you know, sense.

Was it a successful effort? Hell no, how could it be? When you’ve got someone walking outside followed by people sitting in a room talking followed by someone getting an axe through their head, there’s only so much you can do. But the voice-over, provided by a supposed “private investigator” named Tim O’Malley, does at least put the completely unrelated events in some kind of plausible sequential order. He relates the events of “Bloody October” in 1986 (yes, the film was released in ’83, but I think Wishman was giving herself a little extra time in case the whole thing didn’t come together for a few more years — she may not have had any actual physical insurance, but narrative insurance is free) in the only way possible given what we see unfolding/haphazardly landing on the screen, the film clocks in at 68 minutes — the bare minimum to get feature distribution — and hey, Wishman got it out in enough time to ride the slasher gravy train before it petered out.

How much of a "plot" do you really need to understand what's happening here?

I’m not going to claim that Wishman accidentally found greatness with the end product here,  that dire circumstances proved to be an act of serendipity that resulted in an unheralded horror masterpiece. There’s a reason A Night to Dismember isn’t regarded as a slasher classic — it’s just not very good. But it certainly should be seen by any true B-movie aficionado. The fact that it even exists is a testament to Doris Wishman’s sheer determination and/or desperation — probably both. It exists because it has to, and in that sense it’s probably just about the most honest movie you’ll ever see.

"A Night To Dismember" DVD from Elite Entertainment

A Night To Dismember is available on DVD from Elite Entertainment. It’s a heck of a little package, considering the source, and features not only, surprisingly, a 16×9 widescreen transfer of the film, but also the promotional trailer footage (again, shot before the movie itself was actually made) and a feature-length commentary from Doris Wishman herself, recorded shortly before her death in 2002, and her longtime cinematographer Chuck Smith. This commentary is, as you might imagine, absolutely invaluable in terms of trying to actually understand the flick itself, and furthermore it’s a lot of fun with Wishman and Smith engaged in some fun bickering banter throughout (well, to be honest, Wishman bickers, Smith just sort of takes it all in good humor — but you can picture his eyes rolling almost non-stop throughout). To be honest, the movie’s a lot better with the commentary track on than it is on its own — but it definitely helps to watch it without it first, then to put it on in order to understand just what the fuck it is you’ve witnessed.

A Night To Dismember is an exercise in pure cinematic necessity. It resembles, most closely, a piece of “outsider art” or surrealism, although it certainly wasn’t intended to. It just is the way it is because it literally can’t be any other way. But here’s the irony — if somebody like David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky (n0 offense intended to either of those two truly outstanding filmmakers, I invoke their names merely because it makes sense for reasons of comparison)  set out to make a movie like this on purpose, it would be heralded as an artistic triumph. Doris Wishman makes a movie like this because it’s the only thing she can do with what she’s got and everyone says it’s a piece of crap.

Go figure.

"Deadly Weapons" Movie Poster

“Seeing Is Believing! 73-32-26” reads the tagline for this Doris Wishman “classic,” and for once, the ad doesn’t lie. But after seeing star Chesty Morgan’s — ummm — “assets,” you’ll wish it did.

In 1974, veteran sexploitation director/producer Wishman — a true trailblazer for her time, who carved out a fairly successful career in the almost-entirely-male-dominated field of low-budget independent exploitation films, primarily with “nudie cuties” like “Nude on the Moon” and “Blaze Starr Goes Nudist,” but also ventured into the realms of the truly bizarre with flicks like “The Amazing Transplant” and, later, the must-see “shockumentary” feature “Let Me Die A Woman” decided that a new angle was needed to part the more lecherous members of the moviegoing public from their hard-earned dollars. And she certainly hit on a new angle here.

Enter Polish-born burlesque entertainer Chesty Morgan (real name Ilana Wilczkowsky, try saying that one three times in a row really fast — or even really slow — and billed in this film under yet another pseudonym, “Zsa Zsa”), whose strip act was, for reasons I honestly cannot discern, apparently quite popular (freak shows always are).

Apparently, Chesty wanted to break into the acting business in order to save up enough cash for a painfully obviously necessary breast reduction, and Wishman offered her not only a way in the door, but a star vehicle, to boot. Who could say no to that?

There was only one problem : Chesty can’t act. I mean, she really, well and truly, absolutely cannot act. The sound for this entire film was dubbed in later, but even still, it’s apparent that Ms. Morgan is literally being told exactly what to do at all times. She looks forlorn and confused for a moment before she does anything, and then whatever she does end up doing, be it walking across the room, picking up the phone, sitting down at the table, or even taking off her shirt, which she certainly had plenty of experience doing, she approaches it with visibly cautious, almost unnerving hesitation. Apparently she actually knew very little English (another actress’s voice was dubbed in over hers and since she’s got the majority of lines in the film it just made sense to dub all the voices for the whole picture — and hey, it’s cheaper to record without sound, to boot, so that never hurts), a fact that’s hysterically evident from start to finish. To make matters even more difficult, Chesty’s enormous endowments exerted so much strain on her back that she was apparently hopelessly hooked on pain killers — again, another fact that her strained attempts at “acting” make quite obvious.  And finally in the difficulty department, Wishman claims that Chesty was an absolute prima donna who, even when she understood what the fuck was going on, often intransigently refused to take direction and made it clear she hated what she was doing and was only in it for the paycheck. Oh, and she was apprently late to the set all the time, too.  Wishman has called her the most difficult actress she ever had to work with, which is really something when you consider that working with  untalented non-professionals with no experience and no clue was a staple of her career!

Russ Meyer, of course, is considered the king of big-breasted “B” movies, and rightly so, and given Chesty’s mind-numbing measurements, you’re probably wondering why she never appeared in one of King Russ’s pictures. It’s not like dubbing over a lady’s voice was anything new to R.M. — after all, he did it for both Kitten Natividad and Uschi Digard, among others. And it’s not like Russ required his ladies to be great actresses, either, although some of them actually did display old-school, almost vaudevillian-style comic ability. So why did Chesty never hook up with Russ?

Well, let’s be honest — even if the more buxom ladies aren’t your own particular cup of tea, the ladies in Russ’s films were almost invariably good-looking. Uschi, Kitten, Raven de la Croix, Haji — these were all attractive women, and would be considered so even without their obvious “special features.” Chesty — well — Chesty just isn’t. Period. She sports a bad platinum blond wig, has a glassed-over look in her eyes at all times, and as for her boobs — well,  the liner notes on the old Something Weird VHS box for this film say that her ponderous endowments “look more like tumors than tits,” and that’s absolutely right on. They’re almost painful to look at. They’ve got deep bluish/purplish veins running throughout and I swear to God you can even see some cellulite in there. They really are, well — freakish, sorry to be so blunt. Even the world’s biggest breast fetishists would more than likely find these monsters to be too damn much for their liking.

Chesty's deadly weapons

It’s just as well, then, that Wishman makes the wise move to eschew titillation (no pun intended) here, since it really wouldn’t be possible anyway, and instead play up Chesty’s downright bizarre appearance as a bludgeon used against the stupidity of the male of the species and our collective obsession with the size  womens’ breasts, a genuine genius move that makes this movie incredibly watchable even though gawking at Ms. Morgan’s mams by all rights should get extremely old extremely fast, and certainly would in the hands of a less shrewdly sensible director.

Which brings us, finally, to the story itself. Chesty plays Crystal, supposedly a “successful advertising executive,” who’s dating a guy named Larry (Richard Towers, best known as the dad in the original “Last House on the Left,” and who is according to this film’s dialogue “pushing 40,” even though it looks a lot  more like he’s pushing 60), who happens to be employed, unbeknownst, apparently, to Crystal,  as a mid-level organized crime hood. One day after a hit on an underworld rival, Larry comes across a little black book in the now-dead man’s belongings containing names, numbers, transactions, dates — and decides to use it to blackmail his own boss by calling him, pretending to be someone else, and saying he’s got all the dirt on him and wants X amount of cash dropped off at X location in exchange for the black book’s safe return.

Larry’s boss, whose face we never see but who has a visible tattoo (or is it a scar?) on one of his hands (another move of improvised-out-of-necessity genius on Wishman’s part is that she doesn’t show the character’s mouths that often, focusing instead on things like the mystery crime boss’s hand and Chesty’s — well, chest, in order to conceal how awful the dubbing is for this film) figures out who  is behind the blackmail real fast and has Larry taken out by a couple of his other goons.

The boss thinks that things will probably be too hot for Larry’s killers in town (wherever that “town”  may be — the film was apparently shot in Florida), and flies sends them packing to various parts of the country for a little “vacation” — one from which, little do they know, they’ll never return.

You see, through the lamest and most obvious plot device possible this side of the mad villain giving away his entire scheme to the captured hero just before said hero escapes, Crystal finds out exactly who Larry’s killers are, where they’ll be, and , well, what guy could resist her charms, right? Ummm —- right? She’s especially mad because Larry, it turns out, was planning to take the cash he made from his “one big last deal,” fly her off to paradise, marry her, and live happily ever after. Now she’s got revenge on her mind, and do you care to venture a guess as to what she’s going to use to kill the guys who bumped off her sweetheart? You got it, my friends — they don’t call this movie “Deadly Weapons” for nothing.

Cue in the stock footage of airplanes taking off and landing and various locales ( I have a theory that almost all of this film was actually shot in the same house — it’s painfully obvious that all the various dwellings for each of the characters are in fact the same place, and the scenes at the “hotel bar” and “hotel pool” are also readily identifiable as being shot at a house as well) as Chesty goes about the business of tracking down Larry’s murderers (one of whom is played by Harry Reems of “Deep Throat” and congressional porn hearings fame) by any means necessary (including going “undercover” as, shock of all shocks, a stripper — again, the “strip club” appearing to be little more than a pole and mirrors set up in the finished basement of the house where I thik almost all of this was made), luring them to their doom with her supposedly-irresistible flesh torpedoes, and suffocating them with them!

At this point I simply have to mention the sound effects, dubbed-in as they are, for this film. Whenever Chesty reveals her “deadly weapons,” the “unveiling” is accompanied by cheap fuzz guitar and the sound of crashing bowling pins, once again stating in the most obvious terms that the intention hear has nothing to do with titillation (again, no pun intended). Yes, these boobs are meant to be gawked at — face it, how could you not? — but not as objects of lust, but as deadly (and freakish) forces of nature!

The soundtrack features appropriately cheap and cheesy music, as well, with the title song “Hard-Selling Woman,” repeated over — and over — and over — and over — again. The film is only 75 minutes long and frankly moves along at a nice little clip, but I swear to God that somehow, in defiance of laws of temporal possibility, the theme tune plays for at least 90 minutes, even if the movie itself isn’t that long.

The big finale has Chesty taking on the mystery head honcho of the criminal underworld himself, only to find herself in for a rude and unexpected shock when she learns his true identity! Never mind that we’ve seen this guy’s hands in other scenes and neither one of them is marked, you’re not in this for plot consistency. Or rather, you shouldn’t be, and if you are, then you’re missing out on the real point of this film.

“Deadly Weapons” is a freak show with a feminist undercurrent throughout. Yes, the entire film is essentially nothing buy gratuitous nudity, and yes, Chesty’s body is displayed like a bearded lady or the Lobster Boy or any other circus sideshow attraction, but it’s done to make drooling idiots of the men, who can’t shut off their desire for the biggest boobs possible even when confronted with the fact that the object of said lust is not only hideously unattractive, but downright deadly. In short, yes, the woman in this movie has enormous tits — but she beats the guys by outsmarting them, even if she’s obviously dumber than a bag of hammers. Sure, that doesn’t paint a very nice picture of Ms. Morgan, but the picture it paints of us guys even uglier, since apparently we can’t stop thinking with the wrong head even when it’s about to lead us to our death.

I don’t know if Chesty ever got her breast reduction or not. Besides appearing in another Wishman film less than a year after his, “Double Agent 73,” in which she plays a spy with a hidden camera surgically implanted into one of her gazongas (there’s plenty of room).  Apparently she also appeared in Fellini’s “Casanova,” but her scene was cut from the film. That was 1976.  I hope she was able to get herself to a doctor sometime soon after that. It’s possible, since that was her last screen credit.

"Deadly Weapons" DVD from Something Weird Video

“Deadly Weapons” is a film whose rights traded hands several times back in the VHS days, even landing in an edition hosted by Joe Bob Briggs as part of his line of grindhouse and drive-in classics, before finding a permanent home at Something Weird Video in the 90s. It’s been released as a stand-alone “special edition,” featuring the original theatrical trailer, a 1950s “educational” short on “breast development,” a gallery of stills and advertising material for this and other Doris Wishman fare, and an archival short on making a plaster cast bust of burlesque legend Tempest Storm’s — ummm — bust.

Or better yet —

"Deadly Weapons"/ "Double Agent 73" Two-Disc Set, also from Something Weird

The kind folks at SWV have also seen fit to package “Deadly Weapons” and “Double Agent 73” together into a two-disc set titled, appropriately if obviously enough, the “Chesty Morgan Double Feature.” It’s the same price as buying either one alone, so it’s self-evidently the way to go. “Deadly Weapons” is definitely the better of the two flicks, but both are worth a look — it’s just that you really only absolutely need to see this act played out once.

Okay, I use the term “absolutely need to” lightly, but really, if you’re any kind of B-movie fan and for some reason you haven’t seen this, you’re  missing out on a movie that for better, as well as for worse, you certainly won’t ever forget.