Monday, March 18, 2013

Love Me Deadly (1973)

Written by: Roger Wall, Robert Cleere, Jacques Lacerte
Directed by: Jacques Lacerte
Starring: Mary Charlotte Wilcox, Lyle Waggoner, Timothy Scott

I love a good convergent psychopaths story. I think most people would agree villains tend to be more interesting and fun to watch than heroes, so it follows that two villains going head to head would tend to be a more interesting story than your typical hero/villain pairing. Of course, a lot of the time great ideas tend to outstrip the ability of the filmmakers. Specifically I'm thinking of a little direct-to-video flick from 2002 called Hunting Humans, about a serial killer who stalks another serial killer. I first heard about it from a review by Joe Bob Briggs, and while it's not an awful flick, it is a good example of a great idea wasted on someone who just wasn't up to the task of handling it.

I'm torn as to whether writer/director Jacques Lacerte, who has just this one movie to his credit according to IMDB, fits in that category or not. Certainly great swaths of this movie are either boring or bafflingly silly, but when he lands a punch, he lands it pretty damn hard. Harder than most other mediocre movies just coasting on a great idea. Aside from the one bit of trivia listed on his IMDB profile, that he taught drama and English at Inglewood High School from 1977 to 1981 (I wonder if he left “director of necrophilia exploitation movie” off his resume when he applied for that?), I can't find anything about him on the internet. There's a LinkedIn listing for a Jacques Lacerte in Canada who is some kind of computer programmer, and is a French comic book and action figure retail site, and it all goes downhill from here. Oh well. On to the movie, eh?

Lindsay Finch is a strange girl. When she's not having daydreams about her father, who died when she was very young, she goes to funerals for random strangers, sort of like Tom Baker, he of the long scarf and the robot dog, did when he was a lad. Of course, Tom picked up the habit because he accidentally wandered into a funeral once and a kindhearted mourner assumed the deceased was a member of his family and gave him some money, so he figured going to funerals was a good way to get some extra scratch. Ms. Finch, on the other hand, likes to hang around until all the other mourners leave and then make out with the corpses. At one particular funeral, she almost gets busted by Alex, brother of the stiff she was smooching. She's so flustered from the near miss she runs out in a panic that he mistakes for grief. But Alex isn't the only one whose attention Lindsay has attracted.

Fred McSweeney is the undertaker at this funeral home, and he did see Lindsay kissing the cadaver. Far from wanting to turn her in as a freak show, though, Fred sees an opportunity to recruit. You see, he's an even bigger freak than she is. Not only does Fred share her insatiable love for the dead, he leads some kind of cult whose sex rituals are based around boinking the dear departed's earthly remains, and if there's a dearth of death, Fred's not above a little murder. We know he's trouble long before Lindsay does, because very early on we see him kill a male prostitute in one of the movie's most effective and disturbing scenes. He takes the man back to his office, which he insists is a veterinary clinic (you'd think the lack of cages, animals, or any medical supplies beyond the embalming machine in the corner would be a hint), and then straps the poor guy to his slab and embalms him alive! It's seriously unpleasant to watch, right up until the incorrigible ham playing the gay hooker starts screaming, “AAAAAAHHH! MY BLOOD!” at the top of his lungs. Still, major icky points scored here. If you can think of a worse way to die than being embalmed alive, keep it to yourself, please.

Meanwhile, Lindsay has met up with Alex again, and with the encouragement of her friend Wade has begun what seems at first to be a very healthy relationship that has a definite positive effect on the damaged girl. But there's the fact that she can't bring herself to sleep with a warm body, and the increasingly creepy letters she's been getting from Fred about joining his group of corpsefuckers, and the daydreams about her father getting longer and longer and soon it's plain to see that there's no way this is going to end well for anyone involved.

When I was watching the movie initially, it was hard to look past the ridiculous AM radio fluff soundtrack and the blindingly awful 70's clothes and hair (although Lindsay and Wade's cars are pretty nifty), and how the montages of Lindsay and Alex doing happy couple things at the beginning of their relationship kept dragging the movie to a halt. And while the music and the fashion is still terrible and those montages are still too damn long, the more I think about it, the more I realize that saccharine overdrive was very well juxtaposed against the insanity boiling just under Lindsay's surface, and that its possible it was cranked up to such ridiculous levels to show just how hard she was trying to be normal. It certainly makes the nasty stuff that much more powerful when it happens, and although there's surprisingly little of it – perhaps too little to please some hardcore gore hounds looking for something rougher – when Lacerte does let the dark stuff come out it's pretty potent.

For being made in the decade known for the nastiest stuff the exploitation world had to offer, the first flick to focus on necrophilia for its gimmick has less necrophilia than you would expect, and derives very little of its shock value from it. Lindsay's derangement is really the driving force of the movie, but despite being relatively un-sleazy (and only people like you or I could say with a straight face that this movie isn't sleazy enough), there's some good stuff here.

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